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"You know what?" Magnus says, closing the front door of his apartment, newly-delivered pizza in hand. "People always whine about singledom, but at least you don't have to share your food with anyone." He cocks his head. "Well, aside from your only other single friend, that is."

Alec takes a deep breath, eyes on the TV.

"Good point," he says, and puts on a smile as he turns to Magnus, who makes his way over to the couch.

Magnus places the pizza box on the coffee table, and Alec opens it, immediately nabbing a slice to eat―and to keep himself from saying anything stupid. He only glances at Magnus as he plops down on the couch beside him. As usual, there's enough space between the two of them to fit another person there, the odd tension pushing them apart like same-pole magnets.

A particularly fitting metaphor, Alec absently thinks. Just a few months ago, it would have been the opposite effect. Where Magnus used to be the person Alec felt the most relaxed around, their easy friendship and dynamic has been replaced by this stale stiffness, which has been slowly creeping up on them both. Alec doesn't even know where it came from, or why.

Though he supposes he can guess, at least some of it. It's not easy, after all, being hopelessly and unrequitedly in love with someone for the better part of two years. Especially not when that someone is your friend―your best friend―and when that someone has made it abundantly clear, without words, that friendship is all your relationship will ever consist of.

Alec has accepted that. He has dated other people, but now it's been about four months since he last did. It's been just under two for Magnus, and given how all their mutual friends have paired up over the past year, their shared solo status has steadily become more noticeable.

"You think I could pull of green streaks?" Magnus asks out of nowhere, and Alec throws him a glance.

"I think you could pull off anything," he says, without hesitation. Magnus is twirling a strand of short, product-tamed hair between his fingers―it's solid black, just like the rest.

"Really?" Magnus says, looking up at the strand as though it's just within his field of vision. "I mean, I've done most colors at this point, I'm surprised I haven't gotten to green yet. Not a tacky, bright green, of course," he clarifies, turning to Alec. "Emerald green. Something more subdued."

"Of course," Alec says gravely, and Magnus quirks a smile.

"Maybe I'll do that," he says, turning back to the TV and the movie they're watching.

Alec nods, keeps his eyes on Magnus. He wasn't lying; Magnus really could pull off anything. Alec has seen him prove it, over and over. It's part of what drew him to him from the start. Back when they first met, their time together was spent mostly through group hangs and mutual friends, but it quickly became just the two of them. For a long time.

Sitting here, Alec finds himself wishing, for the thousandth time, that it were still as simple as back then. He doesn't want to erase any of the memories he and Magnus have made together, any of the impact they've had on each other's lives. He just wants this gone, this tension, this constant sense of something resentful simmering beneath the surface, the same thing that makes him feel strange about giving Magnus an outright compliment. Like he suddenly has to watch his words more.

He wants to be able to look at his best friend without imagining himself leaning over and kissing him right now, climbing onto his lap and pressing him into the couch, fingers digging into that styled hair as they breathe and move together.

Alec blinks, turns back to the TV. Even after all this time, he just can't seem to learn.

 


  2 years ago 

 

Alec doesn't bother knocking before opening the door to his sister's apartment―he can hear from out in the hallway that her housewarming party is already in full swing. Besides, she's never been much for boundaries, so why should he be?

Isabelle spots him within seconds, and Alec has barely closed the front door before she's on him, making a beeline through the small crowd.

"No," Izzy says, pointing at her brother. "No, get out."

Alec frowns.

"What?" he says, utterly confused, but Izzy isn't hearing it.

"Get back out there," she says, turning him around and opening the door for him. "Then ring the doorbell, and I'll let you in."

"Are you serious?" Alec says tiredly, but accommodates Izzy nonetheless, stepping back out into the hallway.

"Yes," Izzy says. "This is my new place, and I have the right to graciously invite you inside like a good host."

Alec rolls his eyes, before he nods, and Izzy looks pleased as she closes the door. Alec takes a breath as he rings the doorbell. This is ridiculous.

The door opens, revealing his sister on the other side, a big smile on her face.

"Alec," she says, feigning pleased surprise. "Thanks for coming! Please, come in."

Alec can't find it in him to do anything but smile, shaking his head.

"Thank you, Isabelle," he says, a formal tone to his voice, as he steps over the threshold.

It's not long before Alec is dragged into conversations with his sister as well as her guests, half of which he knows beforehand. The other half consists of acquaintances of hers, co-workers and friends and their significant others. It's barely half an hour after Alec's arrival that he's introduced to one in particular, who's already in the middle of talking to Izzy's friend, Clary.

"Excuse me," Izzy says easily, taking the stranger's arm and making him turn his attention to her. "Just need to borrow him for a minute."

"I feel so deprived, already," Clary deadpans, before throwing Alec a smile of friendly recognition. He doesn't know her well, but he doesn't really have anything against her, and he gives her a smile in return.

"Babe," Izzy says to the man, ignoring Clary's comment. "I'd like you to meet my brother."

She gestures at Alec, who meets the man's gaze as he turns, his eyebrows rising slightly in an expression somehow elegant and bright―much in the same way as his outfit. Alec hasn't seen anyone like him before, at least not in the sense that everything about his well-groomed, eclectic style seems perfectly intentional and highly personal. Alec likes it, he decides.

"Oh," the handsome stranger says, smiling. "Magnus."

He extends his hand, the gesture somehow formal and intimate at the same time, in a way Alec can't quite make sense of. His nails are painted black, Alec notices, rings adorning his fingers. Alec takes his hand, shakes it.

"Alec," he says, and Magnus's smile widens.

"It's lovely to meet you, Alec," he says, pulling back and stirring his drink. "Isabelle has told me so much about you."

Alec throws his sister a look, and she shrugs innocently.

"All good things," she says. "Promise."

"We work together," Magnus explains. "Her impressive big brother is only one of many topics to come up during the workday, but still."

Alec exhales a laugh through his nose, nodding.

"Sure," he says, a little self-conscious about the particular phrasing.

"Can you blame me for being a little starstruck, finally seeing you in person?" Magnus says it cheekily, his smile taking on an almost teasing quality, and it takes Alec by surprise. He has known this guy for all of twenty seconds, and yet there's something so inviting about him that Alec can't help but smile back.

"Guess not," he says. It's not much of a reply, but judging by the pleased expression on Magnus's face, the reaction is more than enough.

 

The night goes by quickly, after that. Too quickly, one might say. Alec finds himself spending most of the evening with Magnus, just talking and hanging out, basking in the bright warmth Magnus seems to exude.

There's something about him, Alec thinks. Something new, but simultaneously comforting. It's ridiculous, and he'd be embarrassed to admit it out loud, but Alec decides then and there that he wants to spend as much time with Magnus as he possibly can, even after the night ends. He can't quite put his finger on why.

He has his suspicions, however. Magnus is a very attractive guy, and Alec has long since admitted his own weakness for attractive guys―even if he hasn't admitted it to anyone else. Talking to Magnus makes it hard not to admit it, though. Near the end of the night, after the careful prodding of a few drinks, Alec even considers saying something. Doing something, anything to send a message of, I think you're really hot and interesting and I'd really like to see you again. It doesn't matter that it's something he has never dared to do before. Something about Magnus makes him want to.

Until Magnus mentions a boyfriend, that is.

He only mentions it in passing, and implies that it's not that serious, more of a rebound from a girl he broke up with a few months ago―but it's still enough. It's enough to make Alec immediately abandon any thoughts he may have just had about making some kind of move. What was he thinking? Even if Magnus were single, he clearly has no trouble remedying that, and it's a sharp contrast to Alec's near non-existent romantic experience. They're simply on different levels, that much is glaringly obvious.

So Alec just takes a deep breath, smiles, and doesn't mention it at all.

 


 present 

 

"Why don't we have more blankets?" Jace asks, stepping into the kitchen, a duvet wrapped around his shoulders like a medieval cloak.

"Because we already have three," Alec says. "And you're the one who said that getting any more was overkill, back when we moved in."

"That was before the heater died in the middle of winter," Jace says, some irritation lacing his words.

"Well," Alec says, sipping his coffee as he scrolls through his phone, catching up on some news, "you also said this place was temporary. And that we didn't need a lot of stuff 'cause we were 'moving out in a year, anyway'."

"How dare you use my own words against me," Jace says, eyes narrowed, face framed by the puffy duvet that's been pulled all the way up to his ears. Alec gives him a look, eyebrows raised.

"You knew exactly what kind of building this was, when we moved in," he says. "A broken heater isn't that shocking."

"Yeah well, when it's broken for a solid week," Jace says, "I reserve the right to be pissed about it."

Alec sighs. He's not wrong. Their landlord is an asshole and has never been very helpful when they've needed it in the past, but they've usually been able to fix things on their own. This is different, and still, it doesn't seem to be a priority for the busted heating to be fixed anytime soon.

"Well, you're not dead, are you?" the landlord said last time they asked, with a tone that implied he'd be happy to make them wait even longer to have it fixed, if they pushed it. Alec hates it, he and Jace both do. They only moved in here as a temporary plan, until their paychecks would allow for a better place. Which they now do. They just haven't gotten around to actually moving out, yet.

"I can't live like this anymore," Jace says, pulling the duvet tighter around him. It sounds dramatic, but Alec can relate. It's stupidly cold, and he's wearing a scarf even as he just stands here in the kitchen, combined with a very thick sweater.

"Then go somewhere else," he suggests. It's not a mean comment; despite the dryness, it's a genuine suggestion, and Jace knows it.

"What, and let you suffer here alone?" Jace says, eyebrows raised. "What kind of friend would I be?"

"I'll live," Alec says flatly. Jace sighs, mulls it over. "Can't you stay with Clary, just until the heater's fixed?"

Jace cocks his head.

"I could," he admits. "I mean, it's pretty crowded as it is, but maybe. I can ask. She'll have to take some pity on me, right?"

Alec huffs a laugh. Clary and Jace have been dating for the better part of a year, and he knows that both Clary and her roommates―Simon and Maia―would be surprisingly accommodating for a week or so, if Jace needed it.

"Absolutely," Alec says, sipping his coffee. It's blissfully hot, and it helps his mood at least a little. "You are pretty pathetic."

"Shut up," Jace says, without any edge to his tone. "What about you?"

Alec frowns.

"Like I said," he says. "I'll live."

"Come on, man," Jace says. He sniffles, the chill just enough to cause it. Alec seems to have a slightly easier time handling the unpleasant temperatures. "You can't just stay here by yourself, it's freezing."

"So?" Alec says. "It won't be any less freezing with you here."

"Body heat, bro," Jace says, and Alec gives him a flat look. "Fine. Company, then? Misery loves company."

"Well, I don't have much of a choice, either way," Alec says, turning back to his phone, scrolling. "And more blankets for me. I'll be fine."

"Or you could stay with someone, too," Jace says. "Just for a few days. Magnus, maybe?"

Alec's chest constricts just slightly, for the briefest moment. He clears his throat, doesn't look up.

"Yeah, maybe," he says. He'd like to think he doesn't know why he didn't suggest it himself, but he knows full well why he didn't. He didn't suggest it for the same reason he makes an effort to just... not be alone with Magnus, for any extended period of time. Not anymore. He wants to, but it's difficult when he is, and it's just not worth the tension.

"Maybe?" Jace sounds disbelieving. "He's the best host ever, you'd be more comfortable than I'll be."

"Then maybe you should stay with Magnus," Alec says, looking up.

"And suffer his passive-aggressive makeover attempts?" Jace says, referring to several occasions where Magnus has not-so-subtly remarked on his hair or his clothes, suggesting various improvements, sometimes with affection and sometimes not. "No thanks."

"But you expect me to?"

"No, 'cause he'd never do that to you," Jace says. "He likes you too much."

There's that constricting feeling in Alec's chest again, pleasant and jarring, all at once. Alec rolls his eyes in response to Jace, pushes that feeling right back down. It's too familiar, he knows it well by now.

"Sure," he says, turning back to his phone. Jace watches him for a moment, then huffs a laugh, and Alec looks up. "What?"

"Nothing," Jace says, but there's a half-smile on his face as he shakes his head. "I'll talk to Clary. You, go to Magnus's. We'll start looking for a new place tomorrow, and impose on our friends until this place stops trying to kill us."

"But―" Alec says, unprepared for the abrupt, decisive end to the conversation.

"It'll be great," Jace says. He leaves the kitchen, sweeping his duvet-cloak dramatically behind him as he goes. "We'll live like kings."

Alec presses his lips together.

"You look stupid," he calls after his brother.

"Your face is stupid," Jace retorts effortlessly, and Alec narrows his eyes as he hears Jace disappear into his room on the other side of the small apartment. He sighs, turns back to his phone. He exits the news app and brings up his text conversation with Magnus, hesitating.

As he types out a message, he hates how the idea of staying with Magnus for a few days, alone, is somehow just as thrilling as it is daunting.

 


  1,5 years ago

 

"I'm gay."

Magnus just stares, can't help but raise his eyebrows at the sudden admission, blurted from Alec's mouth with an oddly tense expression. He blinks.

"Okay?" he eventually says, after several seconds of Alec intently watching him, waiting for a reaction. "That's..." Magnus nods. "Okay. Good."

Good? Magnus mentally facepalms. Pull yourself together.

"What?" Alec asks, clearly not expecting that reply. He seems more stunned, than anything, slightly confused.

"I mean," Magnus starts. "Good, that you're―" He gestures at his friend. "That you're saying it. Admitting it? I'm happy for you, is what I'm getting at."

Alec exhales, a relieved breath that makes his shoulders drop.

"Thanks," he says. He doesn't look like he expected a negative reaction, but he still seems... nervous. Magnus can't imagine why, considering who he's talking to. After six months of friendship, Alec is more than aware of Magnus's own sexual orientation, since he never makes any effort to hide it. If anything, Magnus has made somewhat of an effort to show it, where Alec is concerned.

Showing it, for the same reason he felt a little jump in his chest at Alec's confession, just now. A tiny little jolt of surprise, of potential. Of hope. Stupid, annoyingly bright hope that has been poking at his heart since he and Alec first met at that party, since Magnus was immediately drawn in by this stunningly handsome man's quiet, soft intensity.

"Thank you," Magnus says, with a small, sincere smile. "For telling me. I can't imagine you came to this decision lightly."

Alec pauses, before glancing away and quirking a somewhat self-conscious smile.

"Yes and no," he says. "I've, uh... I've known about it for a long time. Just haven't―" he gestures― "said it before. Out loud."

He swallows, as though only now fully realizing that he in fact did just say it out loud. Magnus hesitates, puts his hand on Alec's upper arm, making his friend turn back to him.

"And now you have," Magnus says. He smoothes his thumb over the warm, thin fabric of Alec's T-shirt, Alec's muscles tensing just slightly beneath his palm. It's a friendly gesture, simple and casual, and the setting of Magnus's living room is one they've shared a hundred times by now. But something about this time feels private, almost intimate, and Magnus can't help but feel as though their friendship just took a huge step forward.

Friendship. That's what this is. Who cares that Magnus has spent months suspecting―hoping―that his hunch about Alec is right, and after that just waiting for Alec to admit it on his own. Waiting, as though Alec coming out would suddenly somehow change anything, as though that would finally give Magnus the green light to just... ask him out. Or something.

He hesitates. Maybe that's what this is.

"We should celebrate," Magnus says, taking a deep breath as he pulls his hand away from Alec's arm, a smile on his face that he hopes is convincing. He feels oddly nervous, all of a sudden. "Drinks?"

Alec just watches him with some surprise, for a moment.

"Uh, yeah," he says, when the moment ends. He nods. "Sounds good."

"Nothing big," Magnus assures him. "There's a place I know that I think you'd like."

Alec smiles a little, seems relieved. The expression is soft, nervous, like there's so much to say but he doesn't know how, and Magnus can't say he doesn't know the feeling. He remembers the elation that came with coming out, years ago.

Alec's expression shifts then, like he just remembered something.

"Shit, I was supposed to hang with Jace tonight," he says. He reaches into his pocket for his phone. "But I can just―"

"Bring him," Magnus blurts, before he can stop himself, and Alec looks up at him in soft surprise. "The more the merrier."

Why is he doing this? He explicitly wanted to go out with Alec alone, and now he's asking him to bring his brother? He likes Jace just fine, but come on.

"Okay," Alec says, a little hesitantly. Magnus can't quite make out what else―if anything―is hidden in his tone. "Sure."

Magnus smiles, and watches as Alec sends Jace a text. This is fine, he tells himself. He can still keep this on track. He can still finally make something of the feelings he's been harboring for his friend since day one.

 

"It's really not that complicated," Magnus says, as Alec looks around a little apprehensively. The music isn't too loud at this place―it's more of a bar, than a club―but Magnus still has to raise his voice to talk over it.

"Easy for you to say," Alec says, turning to him. "You're―" He gestures at Magnus, as though that explains everything, and Magnus smirks.

"Believe it or not," he says, containing the way Alec complimenting him always makes him feel, "I wasn't born this irresistible."

"You sure?" Alec raises a dubious brow, and gets a narrow-eyed, albeit fond look from Magnus, in return.

"Alexander," Magnus say patiently. "You don't need pick-up lines and plans, okay? Just a smile goes a long way." He cocks his head. "And body language."

And what a body yours is, he thinks, but doesn't say out loud.

Alec presses his lips together, in that disgruntled way Magnus has grown so fond of, as he once again glances around the bar.

"Right," he says. He doesn't seem too excited about the prospect of doing any of this, and Magnus would be lying if he said that didn't make him selfishly happy. He has no idea how ask Alec out, here's your chance turned into go out with the boys and help Alec pick up guys, but he's not against getting his intentions back on track. "What about the 'who'?"

"What?" Magnus says, confused.

"How is great, and all," Alec says, looking back at Magnus with some hesitation. "But how do you know who to do it with? I mean, if someone's... interested."

He gestures awkwardly, and it takes a minute for Magnus to understand what he means. He recalls that Alec is usually surprisingly unaware of his own appeal, and by extension, unaware of whether or not someone is interested in him. "The most oblivious, adorable idiot," Isabelle once said, with an eye-roll. Magnus can't help but agree. It would especially apply to someone closeted, who has never explicitly tried to express interest in―or allowed himself to find interest in―other men.

"Like I said," Magnus says, offering a small smile, but otherwise foregoing any teasing of this particular issue that Alec is already awkward about. "Body language. Eye contact. It's more obvious than you think."

Alec looks doubtful, but Magnus knows he's well aware of what flirting looks like. Alec isn't an idiot, and he's highly observant; not noticing flirting from others has always been more of a conscious effort to avoid it, than anything. Magnus tells himself that's the reason Alec hasn't realized Magnus is crazy about him, this whole time they've known each other. That has to be it.

"Right," Alec says, looking away with a sigh, and Magnus watches him closely, not saying a word.

 

It seems that Alec might be even more oblivious than Magnus thought. Over the next hour or so, Magnus sees plenty of guys checking him out, all of whom Alec seems blind to. While Alec gets drinks for himself, Jace, and Magnus, a guy even comes up and talks to him, so obvious in his interest that hitting Alec over the head with a brick would be less subtle. Magnus isn't sure how he feels about that. He doesn't like it, that much he knows, but Alec seems more apprehensive and awkward about the attention than anything, at least from where Magnus is standing. Meanwhile, Jace is flirting with some girl, and Magnus rolls his eyes a bit at the sight of it. It's Clary that Jace has been pining over for months now, and it's her he should really be hitting on.

They have a good time, overall. Alec isn't much for dancing, so Magnus answers the temptation of the dance floor on his own a few times, encouraged by a tiredly fond-looking Alec, who stays behind to talk to Jace. And as much as Magnus would have liked to have Alec join him, he has fun anyway, as always taking the opportunity to simply enjoy the atmosphere with other people. All the while, Alec seems content just keeping to himself, every now and then catching Magnus's eye and smiling, as he listens to Jace animatedly talking about something by his side. Things are going well.

When Magnus gets drinks for the three of them a little further into the night, he learns just how much can happen in the span of a few minutes.

Jace heads to the bathroom while Magnus heads to the bar, but when Magnus turns around to head back to where Alec still is, he stops dead. Like he just swallowed ice. Heavy, numbingly cold ice, falling down and settling in his stomach like a cruel, jarring weight. He realizes that he has never actually seen Alec kiss someone before. Simultaneously, he realizes that seeing it is... actually so much more painful than he somehow expected it to be.

He just stands there, stupidly, eyes on Alec and that guy from before, the one who approached him, now standing across the room with barely any space between them. Whatever apprehension Alec had seems to be gone, at least on the surface. They're kissing, deeply, and that guy has his fingers in Alec's hair and their eyes are closed and why is Magnus watching this like some kind of masochist?

"Don't mind if I do," Jace suddenly says, yanking Magnus out of his bubble of torment, as he takes a beer bottle from Magnus's hand. Magnus swallows, but the sudden lump in his throat makes it difficult. The music and noise around him increases in volume, as though it was muffled and dampened for a second, just now. "Hey, you okay?"

Magnus turns to Jace. He's frowning, and he doesn't seem to have noticed Alec and his current activities―or the connection between that and Magnus's expression.

"Yes," Magnus says, striving for normalcy, raising his voice over the music. That's a good thing; at a lower volume, his tone might have wavered. "Yes, uh― I got a text from Catarina, she's got a bit of a crisis."

Jace's expression turns surprised and a little concerned.

"Is everything okay?" he asks. He still hasn't spotted Alec, and Magnus makes sure to keep it that way for the next thirty seconds. Enough time for him to run away.

"Everything's fine," Magnus assures him, the lie smoothly spilling from his mouth. "It's― I just need to get over there. If that's okay?"

He has every intention to leave, either way. He can't imagine staying in this place for another minute.

"Yeah, of course," Jace says, frowning. He takes the cocktail out of Magnus's hand, as well as the beer for Alec. "I'll just―" He glances between both his own now alcohol-occupied hands. "I'll handle it."

Magnus can't help but smile. He may not know Jace very well, and Jace may be a little on the cocky side, but he really is a good friend.

"Such a trooper, you are," Magnus says, clapping a hand on his shoulder. He turns to leave, when Jace stops him.

"Wait, you're―" He gestures in the general direction of where he last saw Alec. "You're not gonna say bye, or anything?"

Magnus only considers that humiliating, heart-wrenching premise for a split second.

"Sorry," he says, in lieu of a proper answer. "But I'm sure he'll be fine."

Jace seems to accept that reply, though he still looks a little confused as Magnus walks away and leaves the bar.

After that night, Magnus hates how that cold weight persists for longer than it should. And when they talk, Alec doesn't even mention hooking up with that guy, which somehow makes the feeling worse.

Magnus hears from Jace three days later, however, that Alec left the bar just half an hour after Magnus did―with Jace, and not the guy. And that does make Magnus feel a little better.

 


 present 

 

"Welcome," Magnus says, doing a sweeping gesture into his apartment as he opens the front door. "Please, make yourself at home."

Alec breathes a laugh.

"It's not like I haven't been here before, Magnus," he says, stepping inside.

"Well, it's been a while," Magnus says easily, closing the door behind him. "Maybe you need a grand tour to refresh your memory."

He hopes he doesn't come off as annoyed, or resentful, or even passive-aggressive, but he  still fears that Alec somehow hears all of that. He's well aware that he and Alec don't hang out as much on their own anymore, and he wouldn't blame Alec for taking it personally, rather than realizing Magnus's real reasons for it.

"As long as you haven't gotten rid of the couch, I'm fine," Alec says, thankfully ignoring the elephant in the room. Magnus's expression turns apprehensive, and he slowly inhales a breath between his teeth. Alec's shoulders drop. "Are you serious?"

"No," Magnus says, breaking into a smile, unable to keep Alec in torturous suspense for longer than a moment. Alec exhales as he looks up at the ceiling, a tug at the corners of his mouth. "It hasn't been that long."

"How dare you joke about that," Alec says.

"How dare you imply I'd get rid of it," Magnus counters. "I've spent years making that couch the firm yet broken-in comfort cloud it is today. You don't just throw that away."

He gestures dismissively, a slightly outraged look on his face, and Alec's smile turns a little more fond as Magnus turns and heads into the apartment. Magnus makes sure Alec doesn't notice his own, warm smile. He has gotten very good at keeping his lovestruck expressions at the very least private, since he can't seem to control them entirely.

"I'm sure it'll be just as pleasant to sleep on, as always," Magnus says, while Alec follows him into the apartment. Alec drops his duffel bag on the floor with a soft thud.

"Thanks for letting me crash here, by the way," he says. There's something almost apprehensive about his tone, as though him crashing here isn't a given, like it always has been.

"You've already said that," Magnus says, not unkindly, turning to him. "A few times. And I've already said that it's fine. Better than fine. Tremendous, even. It'll be fun."

Alec raises his eyebrows in tired amusement.

"Like a sleepover?" he says.

"Exactly like a sleepover," Magnus says. "We can have cocktails and braid each other's hair."

"Good luck with that."

"Oh, I'm sure there's enough here for a small French braid, at least," Magnus says, reaching up and lightly pulling through Alec's hair with his fingers. "Don't you worry."

It's a quick gesture, casually done and simple in its familiarity. Magnus isn't sure why he pulls his hand away so soon, like he's not allowed to do it. He isn't sure, but he hates the way it makes him feel.

"I'm good with cocktails," Alec says after a moment, and Magnus smiles, despite how the atmosphere feels a little tighter than a moment ago. He's not sure he'll be able to handle a week of this, yet just the thought of having Alec so close for so long makes him foolishly giddy.

"I'll take what I can get."

 


 1 year ago

 

Alec feels like an idiot. A complete and utter idiot.

It's not the first time he's felt that way, not by a long shot. No, this is just another occasion when he's reminded of what an idiot he is―reminded of the fact that he's still pining after Magnus and that he still hasn't told him about it.

This reminder tends to take different shapes, and today, it's a particularly devious one.

"I mean, I like him," Magnus says, distractedly twirling a pen between his bejeweled fingers as he stares absently into space. Alec watches him as he does, gaze wandering over his friend's lovely hands and lovely face, lingering on that tiny frown above his even lovelier eyes. Magnus is wearing dark teal today, and it suits him so well. "He's fine."

"Right," Alec says, expertly hiding the way just talking about this makes his chest ache. He's used to it, by now. "'Cause 'fine' is exactly the word that should come to mind when describing a significant other."

Magnus turns to him, and Alec raises his eyebrows. Magnus makes an almost petulant face, and Alec can't help but smile.

"Fair enough," Magnus says. "I do like a partner to be more on the 'spectacular' end of the scale." He sighs, leaning back in his seat. "He's not that bad, though."

"Wow," Alec says flatly. "You just downgraded him from 'fine' to 'not bad', that's harsh."

"You know what I mean."

"I do," Alec says. "And I also know you wouldn't be talking about this unless it was bothering you. So what's up?"

Magnus watches him from across the table, pen still slowly twirling between his fingers. He sometimes berates Alec―however gently and fondly―about working while they're out spending time together, but he's not even doing that today. Alec has notes and papers spread out over his end of the small table, the two of them sharing a booth at their favorite café, and Magnus has barely commented on it, once.

Magnus does a thoughtful pout.

"I'm thinking that maybe we're not a good fit," he finally says. Alec has a split second of irrational panic that Magnus is somehow referring to him, before Magnus adds, "He and I, I mean."

"Oh?" Alec says, miraculously concealing how this statement makes a tiny little spark of joy ignite in his chest, temporarily pushing aside the ache. "How so?"

Magnus shrugs, a nonchalant look on his face.

"No particular reason," he says, absently fiddling with his ear cuff with his free hand. He frowns. "Though his love for bootcut jeans is definitely a strong contender, in terms of dealbreakers." Alec snorts, and Magnus smiles, pleased. "What about you?"

"What about me?"

"How's your ever-so-thrilling love life going?"

Alec's mouth turns down in a thoughtful frown, and he shrugs.

"Average," he says. "Like usual."

It's a half-lie. Since he came out, he has actually made a bit of an effort to date and meet guys, mostly to keep his mind off of Magnus. Because Alec isn't a fool. He has seen Magnus woo and charm people since they first met, without effort. He has seen him date and flirt, he has seen how others fall for him in a matter of seconds, without Magnus even trying. Hell, Magnus even helped Alec pick up guys once. Not that Alec has used those lessons to any major degree, since then―while he has been relatively successful at it, it has never lasted very long or gotten very far. No one has ever lived up to Magnus or what Alec feels for him, though Alec likes to pretend he just "hasn't found the right guy", whenever asked.

Especially when Magnus asks.

Alec still doesn't even quite like seeing other guys, but he can't see what else he's supposed to do. Like that time he came out to Magnus and they went out for drinks, and Alec told himself that finally he'd have the courage to tell, or at the very least hint, to Magnus how he felt. But that didn't happen. Magnus was clearly eager to help Alec find someone else anyway, and he wasn't exactly short on suitors of his own, that night.

So when that guy (Alec can't even recall his name) pretty aggressively came onto Alec and then kissed him out of nowhere, Alec couldn't really see why he'd say no. It was nice, fun, something he probably needed to do. Like a rite of passage, if not a means of pretending he was fine with the object of his affections not returning his feelings.

He still hasn't mentioned that kiss to Magnus, for some reason. It's been six months, and he hasn't.

"How riveting," Magnus says, leaning his elbow against the table and putting his chin in his hand. "Do tell me more, you casanova."

Alec glares at him, but smiles.

"Pretty sure that's you," he says, looking down at his work. "Not me."

"Well, you can't expect me to keep all the love in my heart contained," Magnus counters, and Alec glances up at him through his lashes. Magnus smiles, the sunlight from the window hits him just a certain way, and Alec's heart stutters.

"How about you share some of that love and get me a scone," Alec says dryly, and Magnus hums.

"I'll do you one better," he says. "I'll get one for myself too, and you pay for them."

Alec looks up, tilts his head with a tired, but undeniably fond expression. He sighs, nods, and Magnus quirks his eyebrows as he rises from the table to embark on his mission. Alec looks after him as he goes. He licks his lips, presses them together, tapping his fingers against the edge of his laptop. Then he looks back down, and uses Magnus's temporary absence to properly focus.

 


 present

 

A week is too long, Magnus decides. By Friday, Alec has been staying at his place for two days, and it's already one of the worst ideas either of them has ever had. Probably.

Magnus isn't sure how this happened. Being near Alec used to be one of his favorite things, and it still is, but now there's just something about it that makes him so irritated. Maybe this was actually it, all along. Maybe they just don't match anymore.

But that theory is only convincing until Alec does that one-eye squint at an almost-expired carton of milk, or when he makes all kinds of faces while reading something that apparently has him very invested. When he moves as silently and carefully as possible while Chairman Meow sleeps on his lap, or when he adds an extra cup to the coffee maker upon hearing Magnus stirring in his bedroom in the morning, or whenever he tilts his head with a sigh and eyebrows raised, looking softer than ever. Magnus witnesses any of these things, and any doubt he may have about his true feelings for Alec melts away. All of it.

He loves Alec. He knows he loves Alec, just like he has always loved Alec, and that hasn't changed. Just like it apparently will not change, anytime soon.

But that doesn't mean this is easy. Magnus knows just as well that this is the very reason having Alec sleeping on his couch is hell.

Everything irritates him. And it's clearly mutual.

"Okay, seriously," Alec says with annoyed exasperation, as he exits the bathroom. "You know that's my towel."

"So?" Magnus asks, focusing his laptop as he sits on the couch. It's early evening, but it doesn't seem that either of them is going anywhere, tonight. Instead, Magnus has work to do, and so does Alec.

"So, it's wet," Alec says.

"And what does that have to do with me?"

"Magnus."

Magnus looks up then, only to be faced with a very annoyed-looking, shirtless Alec, still sweaty after the run he just returned from. Paired with the biting cold outside, the exertion and indoor heat now makes him look flushed, and Magnus really doesn't need any of that right now.

God damn it, he thinks, tightening his jaw slightly. Alec is hot, always has been. Very hot. He hates it. And also really doesn't.

"I may have used it by accident, this morning," Magnus somewhat haughtily admits, turning back to his laptop. It wasn't so much an accident, actually, as subconsciously going for the nicest-smelling towel within reach―which just so happened to smell like Alec. "There are more towels in the cupboard."

"That's not the point," Alec bites.

"Then what is the point?" Magnus says, voice cold and acidic.

"That it's mine, and that means you can't just use it."

"Well, I did, so there's no point in arguing about it."

"You could just say 'sorry'," Alec says.

"Fine," Magnus says. "Sorry for forcing you to use my fluffy towels, instead of your sandpaper one."

"At least mine isn't covered in cat hair," Alec counters.

"Wow, low blow," Magnus says sarcastically, without looking up.

"Yeah, I was gonna mention the unbearable morning singing you do," Alec says with equal sarcasm. "But I figured this was more relevant."

Magnus inhales slowly, petty frustration and hurt bubbling up like black tar in his chest.

"Well," he says, in the driest and contrastingly most pleasant tone he can muster, as he meets Alec's eye, "then I guess you can either put up with it, or go back home and freeze to death."

There's a certain vindictive rush to saying it, especially when he sees Alec's expression of surprised annoyance. If there's a barely discernable layer of hurt in there as well, Magnus does his best not to notice it. Instead, he looks back down, suddenly frantically hoping that Alec won't take him up on that ultimatum.

Alec just stands there for a second, before going back into the bathroom. If he'd been a less mature person, Magnus is certain he would have slammed the door behind him. As it is, it just closes, and the moment it locks, Magnus lets out a heavy exhale and leans his head back against the couch.

He hates this. This isn't the first minor peeve or disagreement that has turned into a full-blown fight, since Alec temporarily moved in. They never used to fight. And if they did, it was always about important things, vital things, things that couldn't afford to be sugarcoated.

Magnus closes his eyes as he hears the shower come on. He feels frustrated, angry, but more than anything, he feels sad. Sad to be so wholeheartedly loving someone he'll never really have, and whose company has somehow just become a burden.

He allows himself another minute of wallowing, before taking a deep breath and getting back to work. Only a few more days, and things will go back to normal. Tense and awkward, and the new normal.

 


 5 months ago

 

"So where's your boyfriend, tonight?" Jace asks, more teasingly than sincerely, and Alec gives him a chagrined smile. Magnus manages to keep his expression pleasant, rather than pained, at the mention of Alec's love life.

"Not here," Alec says.

"For once," Isabelle says under her breath, Alec throwing her a look while Jace and Clary laugh.

"And he's not my boyfriend," Alec continues, almost defensively. "We're just... seeing each other."

"Uh-huh," Clary says, shifting in her seat to get more comfortable on the floor. Izzy, Jace, and Magnus are occupying the couch, while Alec has claimed the single armchair in his and Jace's living room. "Is that why he's been pretty much physically attached to you, lately?"

Alec sighs while the others laugh again, and Magnus can't help but notice the awkward, almost tired, look on his face. He suspects there might be more to it than just annoyance at being teased, but that might also be wishful thinking.

"He's social," Alec feebly explains, looking to the side as he rubs his temple.

"Social?" Jace says. "I'm social. Magnus is social―" he gestures at Magnus, who meets Alec's gaze with raised eyebrows― "and we somehow manage to behave. Your boyf― sorry, the one 'you're seeing', is borderline co-dependent."

"Says the guy I haven't seen more than five feet away from his girlfriend in the past few months," Alec retorts, and Clary cocks her head in admission. Jace just gapes, shocked and reluctantly impressed with that clapback.

"Whatever," he says, and Magnus chuckles. He must agree that ever since Jace and Clary finally started dating, it's been rather intense.

Clary reaches for the grocery bag on the floor next to the couch, which has been sitting there since she and Isabelle arrived and brought it with them. As a group, they've all settled on a rule that prohibits them from opening snacks until they've decided on what to watch for the night, lest the snacks run out even before the opening credits are done. Clary pulls out a bag of chips, and looks around, the bag unopened in her hand.

"Bowl?" she asks, perplexed, and after a few moments of shrugging from the rest of the group, Magnus rolls his eyes.

"I'll get it," he says, rising from the couch. "Please, don't get up. It's not like you're the host, or anything."

"You're the best," Jace calls dryly after him as he heads to the kitchen, and Magnus shakes his head.

He hears talking mingle with the music playing in the living room, as the others wait to start the night's movie until Magnus's return. Meanwhile, Magnus goes straight to the cupboard he knows usually holds bowls and such, but finds nothing suitable there. He's certain they have a punch bowl, or something. He sighs, pokes his head out of the doorway.

"You don't happen to know where the bowl is, do you?" he asks no one in particular, and Alec is the one who immediately gets up.

"I got it," he says, and Magnus gives him an exaggeratedly sweet smile.

"You're the best," he says, before throwing Jace a look, which is returned in an equally jokingly scathing fashion.

"We moved it, I think," Alec says, as Magnus retreats back into the kitchen. He's looking through the cupboards, and Magnus allows himself a quick peek at the skin bared below the hem of Alec's sweater, as he reaches up. Just a peek is harmless, even though he knows he shouldn't. He should have gotten over this infatuation long ago, but it seems it just keeps persisting.

"Here we go," Alec says, grabbing the punch bowl Magnus had in mind, half-hidden behind other stuff on the highest shelf.

"Thank you," Magnus says, reaching for the bowl, but Alec pulls it back.

"Hold on," he says, in a tone others might mistake for serious, but which carries a distinct layer of playfulness to those who know him. "You're just gonna take credit for getting this?"

He gestures with the bowl as he closes the cupboard.

"It was my initiative," Magnus says seriously, "so yes."

"But I'm the one who found it, though," Alec deadpans. "Seems unfair."

"How about you just give it to me?" Magnus argues calmly. "And we'll call the matter settled?"

"How about no?"

Magnus sighs, reaching for the bowl yet again, only to have Alec raise it above his head.

"So much trouble for so small a thing," Magnus says dramatically.

"If only you weren't so short," Alec laments.

"We both know I'm not," Magnus says. He holds a hand up to measure their heights, the top of his head in line with Alec's forehead, and he pokes at the spot with his finger. "You're just freakishly tall, with a skewed sense of actual size."

"Sounds like something a short person would say," Alec says.

"Sounds like something an overall tall, and second-tallest person in this apartment, would say," Magnus counters.

"Fine," Alec relents with a certain sense of dramatics that Magnus likes to think he learned from him. "Being tall is all I have, let me keep that."

"Fair," Magnus says. He holds his hand out for the bowl, and when Alec still doesn't hand it to him, he reaches for it. Alec moves it behind his back this time, and Magnus reaches for it again, only to once again have it snatched away.

It's a ridiculous situation, but somehow he doesn't bother to care at the moment. Not when the movement puts him close enough to Alec for their chests to be just half an inch shy of touching, Alec's eyes on his, that lovely mouth shaped into an amused half-smile. It's somehow bold, for lack of a better word. Magnus doesn't often see his friend like this.

"What are you doing?" Alec says, some of that amusement shining through in his tone. "We don't have time for this, movie night is at stake."

"Oh, don't worry," Magnus says. "I'll just throw you under the bus if questioned about why this is taking so long."

"You'd do that?" Alec says, his smile wider now, matching Magnus's. Magnus doesn't try reaching for the bowl again―his hand has instead settled on Alec's waist, for some reason. Neither of them acknowledge it, and neither of them make a move to change it.

"I would," Magnus says haughtily. He feels a little dizzy, all of a sudden. The two of them have been close together before. Especially Magnus is not one to shy away from physical affection with people he considers friends, but this is different. There's something charged in the air that he's not just imagining―or at least that's what he tells himself―and Alec doesn't seem to mind any of it. Or maybe he just doesn't sense anything amiss or different about this situation, one so very much like hundreds they've had before.

Either way, Magnus suddenly wants to kiss him. Badly. And what's worse, he allows himself to imagine that Alec would kiss him back, if he did.

The soft ding of Alec's phone might as well have been a record scratch, considering how abruptly it breaks the moment. Alec blinks, lets out a slightly awkward chuckle, as he looks down to pull his phone from his pocket. Magnus keeps his smile, still soaking up the warm glow lingering between them, eyes on Alec and helplessly wondering what it might be like to actually give in to his impulse, to just move closer and―

Alec's expression shifts slightly. Just a little.

"Oh," he says, eyes on his phone's screen. "It's, uh..."

Magnus's stomach tightens as he recognizes the name on the screen, and that warm glow is instantly gone, sucked from the atmosphere. He swallows, doesn't really know why he's so disappointed. He knows Alec is seeing someone. He knew it a minute ago, when they were frozen in that strange almost-embrace. Even as Magnus was entertaining the idea of Alec kissing him back if he were to make a move, he knew that Alec was seeing someone else.

Someone who's not Magnus. Just like always.

"Hm?" Magnus says. He keeps his tone light, politely curious.

"Yeah," Alec says, eyes on the message on the screen. There's some discomfort in his tone. "I told him I was hanging out with you guys tonight, but―" He shakes his head, lets the sentence trail off. "I'll just tell him we'll talk tomorrow."

Magnus nods slowly. He takes these moments of distraction on Alec's part to compose himself, taking a breath as he steps back. He moves his hand from Alec's waist. The two of them are still a little too close together, but where the proximity created warmth a moment ago, it now only feels tense.

"I suppose I should get this out there," Magnus says, taking the bowl from a now inattentive Alec's grip. "Can't have them eating straight out of the bag, like animals."

Alec looks up, a little surprised.

"Oh," he says. "Yeah, uh―"

"Thank you so much for your generous help," Magnus says lightly, smiling, even as he takes another pointed step back from his friend.

Alec just nods, still seeming a little awkward, and Magnus gives him a nod in return, before exiting the kitchen.

This is no big deal, he tells himself. It's not like he has never been left feeling like this before, after an interaction with Alec―equal parts disappointed and foolish. Especially lately. It'll be fine. Things will be a little tense for another few hours, and then that tension between them will pass, like it always does.

Except this time, it doesn't. For months, it doesn't.

 


 present

 

For a little while, Alec considers actually going back home after finishing his Saturday errands―he'd suffer the effects of a broken heater, rather than face the tension of Magnus's place. But then he realizes that not only would it be childish and entirely counter-productive to mending their friendship, but he would also be leaving a lot of his stuff behind here. Going back to get that later on would be worse than going back, right now. And as much as Alec hates dealing with this, he has to, he wants to. Fighting with Magnus is killing him.

Magnus must notice Alec at the front door, despite the soft music playing from the living room speakers, but he says nothing when he enters. It doesn't take more than a few moments for Alec to quickly look around the apartment and hear sounds from Magnus's bedroom, and he takes a breath as he heads there.

Sure enough, Magnus is in front of his wardrobe, coat hangers rattling softly as he goes through them and picks out certain garments while leaving others. Alec glances at the clothes-strewn bed; Chairman Meow is casually lying on top of a blue velvet jacket, one which Alec knows Magnus is partial to, licking his front paw for some light grooming. Just the fact that Magnus apparently hasn't noticed this is proof enough of how distracted he is. Or trying to be.

"A little early for spring cleaning, isn't it?" Alec says, lingering in the doorway. He tries to sound casual, light, but hiding his awkwardness has never been his strong suit. Magnus knows this, and he seems to notice it right now―he doesn't even throw Alec a glance as he keeps going through his varied, carefully curated wardrobe, according to a system Alec doesn't understand. Alec sighs, looks down at the floor, nervously rubbing at a spot on his hand.

"Look, I―" he starts, deciding to just skip any preamble. He licks his lips. "I'm sorry. For―" He gestures at nothing and everything, unable to pinpoint one thing to apologize for, since any and every interaction between him and Magnus seems wrought with frustration, lately.

Magnus stills, and Alec watches him. Then Magnus looks over at him, though avoiding Alec's gaze, instead focusing on something right next to him.

"I'm sorry, too," he says, before starting his organizing again. He's not as steadfast as Alec is about the words, not as assured―but he never is when it comes to things like this. His sense of pride is just a little too strong for that. Not that that makes it any less sincere, or valid. Alec knows Magnus well enough to realize that he means it, and he feels that harsh tension loosen in his shoulders and back.

It's amazing how clear the air suddenly feels. How bright. Just twenty seconds ago you could have cut the thickness of it with a knife.

Alec nods, leaning against the doorframe. He swallows.

"Okay," he says, for lack of anything else.

He just stands there for a little while, for almost a minute, but the silence has gone from cold to oddly comfortable. There's still so much hanging between them, so much that needs to be said but also doesn't―but Alec rather enjoys it. This is the closest they've been to how it used to be, in months.

Magnus suddenly sighs, stepping away from the wardrobe and turning to leave the room. He pauses when he spots Chairman Meow, but after a brief standoff―the Chairman's paw frozen in mid-groom as he holds Magnus's gaze―he just narrows his eyes and lets it be. Alec watches the cat immediately resume his grooming, before he follows Magnus out the door. Just staying put feels silly.

"You want tea?" Magnus asks, heading for the kitchen. Even from behind, Alec sees him absently run his fingers along his eyebrow; a nervous gesture.

"Yeah," Alec says, grateful for the attempt at normalcy.

They end up at the small kitchen table, sitting opposite each other, with mismatched cups and heavy, comfortable silence between them. Every now and then, their eyes will meet, before looking back down, and Alec is reminded of all the times before they've just spent enjoying each other's company. Working separately in the same room, with music in the background, just like now; Magnus talking on the phone while Alec reads or works on his laptop; sharing takeout while watching some movie or show they've already seen a hundred times.

Just having tea or coffee, sitting across from each other, without speaking.

"I miss this," Alec says suddenly, his words somehow loud in the stillness that's now stretched on for a good ten minutes. He looks up at Magnus, whose somewhat surprised gaze is already on him. "Is that weird to say?"

Magnus considers that for a moment, before shaking his head. He seems to know exactly what Alec means, as though he was just thinking the same thing.

"No," he says, something soft about his tone, just as honest as Alec's. "I don't think so." He sips his tea, pauses. "I miss it, too."

Something flickers to life in Alec's chest, glowing, softly hopeful. He doesn't wonder out loud how they got here, how their friendship ended up like this, why they drifted apart while they clearly still want to be around each other. He doesn't ask, because he knows he'll have to be more honest, if he does. And as lovely as this familiar security feels, he's not about to jeopardize it by throwing his more complicated feelings into the mix. Not now, not when it's still so frail, this understanding that they've reached.

"Hey, uh," Alec starts, a little tentatively. "You wanna go get something to eat later? Maybe?"

Magnus just watches him for a few moments. Then he nods, his expression softening.

"Yeah."

 


 2 months ago

 

"How did this even happen?" Alec says, mostly to himself. His voice is slightly strained from having Magnus's weight against him, his arm heavily draped over Alec's shoulders. Alec makes sure to push the front door of Magnus's apartment shut behind them, as they enter.

"The dangers of alcohol, darling," Magnus says, impressively eloquent despite his inebriated state.

"And how much did you have, exactly?" Alec says, leading his friend through the living room and to his bedroom.

"Just a nip," Magnus says with somewhat exaggerated, casual innocence.

"Uh-huh," Alec says doubtfully. They make it to Magnus's room, where he dumps Magnus on the bed, and Magnus sits on the edge, blinking. "From what Cat told me, it was a little more than that."

In fact, Catarina specifically called Alec to come pick Magnus up, since he was apparently getting a little too rambunctious for her and Dot to want to deal with on an average night out. It's not quite like Magnus; while he does enjoy drinking, it's usually in a much more subdued manner.

Magnus makes a face―it goes from outraged, to petulant, to agreeing, all in a matter of seconds.

"Fine," he admits, waving his hand, as though shooing the subject away. "A little more than a nip. Several. But it's nothing I can't handle."

Alec raises his eyebrows.

"Since when are you such a lightweight?" he teases, tugging at Magnus's fitted jacket to help him get it off. It's got a nice paisley pattern, dark purple and red woven into a black base, all of which suits Magnus quite nicely. Once it's off, Alec takes great care to place it on a coat hanger before putting it away. Magnus will kick himself tomorrow if his clothes pay the price for his drunken shenanigans.

"You take that back," Magnus says, only slightly slurring and his voice a lot softer than he probably intends, even as he points at Alec accusingly. Alec smiles, and Magnus heaves a heavy sigh, looking down at his lap. "But that's a good point. Alas, heartache muddles one's judgment."

Alec pauses. He knows Magnus broke up with that girl last week, but he must admit he's surprised he's taking it so hard. It's not like it was anything serious―they only dated for a month or so, and he's usually more casual about it. Still, Alec sighs, leaning down in front of Magnus and settling into a crouch.

"It's her loss," he says, and Magnus looks up. There's a frown on his face, one that looks almost surprised, confused.

"What?" he asks.

"Breakups suck," Alec clarifies. "Right?"

Magnus just stares for a moment, like he can't quite make sense of Alec's words. Then his expression changes into one of sad understanding, and he nods.

"Yeah," he says, with the smallest smile. "Right. Exactly that."

Alec can't help but feel like he's missing something, but he decides to ignore it. Being drunk does tend to make one more dramatic and less articulate after all, as a general rule. Even where Magnus is concerned.

"You don't need to date so much, you know," Alec says, looking down and unlacing Magnus's right shoe. "You could just be on your own, for a bit."

Magnus makes a pfft sound, and Alec huffs a laugh.

"Like you?" Magnus says, and Alec throws him an amused glance, before pulling his shoe off. "Also, I am quite capable of doing this myself, thank you."

"I know," Alec says, unlacing the other shoe. He looks up at Magnus. "But you'll forget. And then you'll get cranky about it tomorrow, and I'll be the one who has to deal with that." He pulls the shoe off. "Call this a selfish pre-emptive measure."

Magnus narrows his eyes at him.

"Sound logic," he reluctantly admits, and Alec smiles at his drunkenly annoyed expression. "And a solid argument against being on my own. Who would so considerately think of this, then?"

He gestures at himself, Alec, at the discarded shoes, and Alec sighs. He knows Magnus is joking―the guy has no trouble whatsoever being on his own, in more ways than one. Alec has always kind of admired that.

"You know what I mean," he says, allowing some seriousness to creep into his tone. It makes Magnus's expression soften a bit.

"I do," Magnus says, his tone mirroring Alec's. "And you may be right."

"Then why waste your time with people you don't really want, anyway?" Alec says, after a second's hesitation. He doesn't sound accusing, and he doesn't mean to. He just vaguely hopes Magnus will realize he deserves so much more than all of that―even though he's pretty sure that Magnus already knows. "And if you do want them, why do you always end up breaking it off?"

Magnus holds Alec's gaze for a little longer than he perhaps would while sober, and Alec hopes he didn't say something wrong, or weird, or out of bounds. Not that there's much that's out of bounds in their friendship, these days.

"Because no one loves me like you do, Alexander," Magnus eventually says, with a small smile. He puts his hand against Alec's cheek, pats it ever so gently. "That's the problem."

Alec allows himself to smile back, desperately ignoring the way his skin seems to grow hot in response to Magnus's words. In response to his touch, his gaze.

"So this is my fault, is it?" he says. He can't help but say it softly, even in his attempts to sound at least a little reprimanding in his teasing. Magnus blinks at the accusation, before his smile widens and his eyes grow warm.

"I didn't say that," he says, leaning in closer. Close enough to almost whisper. "And you know I love you, too."

He smoothes his thumb over Alec's cheek, so tenderly, and Alec is certain that his heart is about to explode. Magnus has only ever said the words twice before―Alec remembers both occasions clearly―but he still knows Magnus doesn't mean them the same way Alec would. That's the main thing that's stopping him from kissing him right now.

"I know," he says instead.

 


 present

 

Alec frowns, pausing in the kitchen doorway.

"What are you doing?" he asks evenly, and Magnus heaves a dramatic sigh.

"The Chairman is misbehaving," he says, currently lying on his stomach on the floor, reaching in underneath the couch. When Alec walked past him to enter the kitchen for a glass of water, he was just searching through the couch cushions―it seems things have escalated in the past forty seconds.

"Uh-huh," Alec says, slowly making his way over. "What did he do?"

"I couldn't find my silver skull necklace," Magnus says, a little irritably. "And he's been eyeing it for days, the little bastard. He took it, and kindly left it under the couch."

Alec breathes a laugh, coming to a halt next to the couch. It's barely noon, on a Sunday, and Alec must admit he's not entirely against spending at least some of this free day watching Magnus spread out on the carpet. Those black jeans hug his shapes very nicely, and Alec allows himself to stare while Magnus's attention is averted.

"Did he, now?" Alec says, taking a sip of water. Magnus sighs again, a little less suffering this time, and rolls onto his back. It does not help Alec's situation; Magnus is always a vision, but in this particular position even more so. The dark grey henley he's wearing is so simple compared to his jewelry and makeup, but no less perfect in how it suits him, tightening across his chest and over his arms.

"He stole it in the night, Alexander," Magnus says, betrayed, looking up at Alec. "While I slept. Like a common thief."

Alec snorts, then sighs as he sinks into a crouch next to Magnus, putting his water glass on the coffee table.

"I'll give him a stern talking-to when he wakes up from his nap," he says.

"I appreciate that," Magnus says gravely, tucking his elbow under his head so as to more comfortably keep his eyes on Alec's, where he sits parallel to Magnus. "He respects you."

"Is that why he likes to sleep on my face?" Alec says.

"Well, it's a nice face," Magnus says easily. "Can you blame him?"

Alec presses his lips together, glancing down at the floor. Magnus throws compliments around all the time, it's nothing new. Alec has never been shy about complimenting him, either. So why does he feel like he's blushing, this time? Maybe because things feel... good, now. Better. Dinner last night was great, and it's like the previous tension that plagued this place has dissipated entirely.

"Guess not," Alec says, looking back up at Magnus. Magnus smiles, slowly blinking in a content, affectionate way that is―incidentally―decidedly catlike. The light from the large windows falls nicely over his face, not quite golden, but still warm, as it is in the middle of winter. It's breathtaking,. For once, Alec doesn't bother stopping himself from just taking it in.

Does he look different? Alec can't put his finger on it. There's something new about Magnus, something that wasn't really there yesterday. Something open, something vulnerable, something softer than he's seen in Magnus for a very, very long time. He looks unbothered and content, lying there on the floor, slightly disheveled and now unsmiling, his gaze unwavering yet soft. Alec can't think of a time he has ever looked more beautiful. So he just stares, speechless, for so many, long seconds, something building and pressing inside his chest. It makes his muscles tense with anticipation, makes him feel brave.

It makes him fall forward onto his knees, lean down over Magnus, and kiss him.

A jolt surges through his veins as he realizes what he’s doing, and he places a hand against the floor by Magnus’s head for support, standing on all fours. Magnus’s lips are pliant and eager under his, his free hand immediately moving to the back of Alec’s neck, without hesitation, as though he was waiting for this to happen. Expecting it, hoping for it, for longer than just these past several moments. Something about that makes a warmth stir and replace that pressure in Alec’s chest, and he sighs, eyes closed as he runs his fingers along the soft skin of Magnus’s jaw.

It doesn’t last long, but when Alec pulls away, the world could just as well have ended in the meantime, and he wouldn’t have noticed. Instead, he just watches Magnus’s face as those lovely, brown eyes slowly open. It’s a beautiful sight, and Magnus smoothes over the short hairs at the nape of Alec’s neck. He's still not smiling, his expression now serious and somewhat stunned. He keeps his gaze on Alec's, as Alec hovers above him, suddenly unsure of whether or not he just made the biggest mistake of his life. Dramatic, perhaps, but in the moment the fear feels completely warranted.

There's a question there, yet again, hanging in the air between them. This time, Magnus is the one to answer it, and Alec just closes his eyes as Magnus pulls him back down to his mouth.

This kiss is still soft, still hesitant, but with an inexplicable sense of relief, of excitement, a delirious feeling of joy and wonder at how surreal it all is. Surreal, but good. Familiar and brand new, all at the same time, full of mutual excitement.

Alec inhales deeply, cups Magnus's face as Magnus moves his other arm to wrap around Alec's lower back, making Alec shift so that he's half-lying down on top of him. It's a strangely mind-blowing sensation. He knows what Magnus's body feels like, has memorized how those strong arms feel wrapped around him in a hug, how his form feels pressed against Alec's own―but not like this. Never like this. Never without a trace of just platonic, never with this overwhelming sense of want in its place, and that want being not just allowed, but encouraged, shared.

Magnus exhales heavily as he tightly grips Alec's t-shirt, almost like a sigh of relief, of contentment. It prompts Alec to push his tongue into Magnus's mouth and just linger on the way he tastes, how he feels, how he moves. Magnus kisses the way Alec thought he would―not that he has allowed himself to think about it too much―with passion and softness and a selfless kind of greed. It's everything Alec has wanted for what feels like a lot longer than just the past couple of years, and he can't believe it's actually happening.

Perhaps that's what makes him muster up some kind of coherent thought, in the middle of it all.

"What the hell are we doing?" he breathes between kisses, can't help the disbelieving laugh that mingles together with his words.

"I have no idea," Magnus says, mirroring his tone and shaking his head. He laughs, face lighting up with a smile as he watches Alec's mouth, fingers digging into Alec's hair. "But I've wanted it for some time, so I'm gonna choose not to care, at the moment."

Alec makes a sound halfway between an agreeing hum and a moan as he presses his lips to Magnus's again, pulling him closer and sighing against him, one hand sliding up underneath his shirt. Magnus's skin is hot and smooth, and when he sucks in a sharp breath at the touch, the sound is like music to Alec's ears. Still, Alec pulls away by just an inch, as he realizes what Magnus just said.

"Wait, what?" he asks, already out of breath.

"What?"

"For how long?" Alec feels stupid asking, but he can't help it. Magnus slows down, shaking his head.

"I don't know," he says, his breathing shallow. "Since always?"

Alec frowns, pull back a little further, so as to properly watch Magnus's face.

"What does that mean?" He hopes he doesn't sound accusing, because that's not what he's going for. He just needs to hear it, needs to unequivocally know just what Magnus is saying. To know if he's saying what Alec desperately hopes he's saying.

Magnus hesitates, as though afraid to answer.

"Since I met you?" he eventually says, said hesitation clear in his voice. "Give or take?"

Alec just stares at him for a second, licks his lips. They feel sensitive and kiss-swollen, and it makes him dizzy to think Magnus is the cause of it.

"Are you kidding me, right now?" he says, full of disbelief. Magnus frowns.

"No," he says. He sounds vaguely confused, almost disappointed.

"You mean we could have been doing this, this whole time?" Alec blurts without thinking, and Magnus blinks.

"Wait, you―?" he starts, and suddenly Alec just feels ridiculous, like he's misunderstood some major thing about their current situation, like he's missed something. Then Magnus's expression shifts, and he closes his eyes with a sigh. "Oh my god, I'm an idiot."

Alec frowns.

"What?" he says.

"All the times I've judged romcom characters for being oblivious," Magnus laments dramatically, shaking his head. "And I go do the same thing."

Alec doesn't ask what he's referring to. Context alone implies pretty heavily that it means what Alec wants it to mean, never mind what Magnus has admitted already; Magnus has wanted this for as long as Alec has. Somehow. So instead of asking, Alec leans down further, gaze on Magnus's mouth. He can't contain the small smile on his face, his entire being suddenly shining with excited bliss.

"Well, if it helps," he says in a low voice, "we're both idiots."

Magnus opens his eyes, and Alec meets them.

"Then you're a very cute idiot," Magnus says, a much more relaxed smile shaping his lips as he firms his grip on the back of Alec's neck. "And I should have done this two years ago."

There's something slower about this kiss, when he brings their mouths together and sighs, pulling Alec closer against him. It feels more urgent, longing. Alec is elated, but in the midst of it also irritated that they've wasted two damn years not doing this when they could have just jumped each other that first night and―

The way Magnus slowly grinds against him then short-circuits any thought in his mind, and Alec emits a low moan into the kiss. Whatever's on his mind can wait until later, he decides, pushing Magnus's shirt up further until they manage to pull it off completely and throw it to the side, lips surging together again. It can wait.

 


 

How odd. Magnus never imagined this would happen. Well, he has, but in his defense he never imagined it would actually happen. Whenever he has allowed himself to imagine Alec in his bed, undressed and with hair mussed from something other than lack of maintenance for once, it has been hypothetical. Purely hypothetical, untouchable, unattainable.

Yet here Alec is. Lying on his side, mirroring Magnus, one arm tucked under his head, eyes open and watching. Alexander.

"Stop that," Magnus says softly, just barely reprimanding.

"Stop what?" Alec says.

"You're staring."

"You don't like my staring?"

"You have a very intense stare." Magnus's tone is almost playful, as is Alec's, but he still half-means what he says. He never dreamed Alec would look at him like that, with such unguarded affection and dreamlike joy. It's intoxicating, and a little scary.

Alec smiles, amused.

"I'll dial it back," he says, and Magnus can't help but smile as well.

"Just a little," he says.

Alec does dial it back, by about a fraction. After another few seconds of silence, he raises his free hand to Magnus's chin, softly giving his goatee a quick stroke with his thumb. It's a familiar gesture, an affectionate one he's made a few times before, but it somehow feels different this time. Amazing, how the smallest things can change in meaning just from context.

"Yours is pretty intense too, you know," Alec says, his tone only slightly more reprimanding than Magnus's was. Magnus hums in thought.

"Fair," he says. He shuffles a little closer, lowers his voice. "I suppose I'm just taking it all in."

He adds a small, almost teasing smile for good measure, and Alec nods.

"Yeah," he says, his mouth shaping into a smile of his own. His eyes dart across Magnus's face, his hand sliding up to cup his jaw. "Something like that."

He's so beautiful. The thought comes out of nowhere, like hundreds of thousands of times before. The only difference is that Magnus can indulge it, this time. So he does, leaning in and pressing his lips against Alec's, Alec kissing him back and softly, almost absently, running his fingers along the shell of Magnus's ear. It sends shivers across Magnus's skin, shivers of the best kind, and there's a soft feeling in his very bones when the kiss ends.

"Should we―?" Alec starts after a moment. "I don't know, talk about this?"

Magnus sighs, pulls back just enough to properly meet Alec's eye, settling against the pillows.

"Probably," he says, with complete sincerity. Now, with them both naked and soft and warm in Magnus's bed on a snowy Sunday, seems a good a time as any.

Alec watches him for a second, as though waiting, before he speaks.

"Okay," he says, a little hesitant. "I guess I'll go first?" Magnus breathes a laugh through his nose, and Alec seems to take that as permission. He inhales, exhales. "First time we met, at Izzy's housewarming party, I wanted to ask you out. Like, really wanted to."

Magnus is more surprised by that than he expected, and he just blinks.

"Why didn't you?" he asks, unable to stop himself.

"First off, you had a boyfriend," Alec points out, and Magnus sighs.

"Right," he says. "That. And second?"

"What?"

"You said, 'first off'," he says. "What's second?"

Alec considers that, does an awkward lying-down shrug.

"I don't know," he says. "I mean, I wasn't out. And you... Well, you can be a little intimidating."

Magnus snorts, and Alec smiles a little wider.

"Fair enough," Magnus says. It's not like he hasn't been told that before. But he pushes the thought aside in favor of giving an answer of his own, Alec's expression a little more expectant than before. "I don't really have a good reason, like that. Not that you can't be intimidating," he reassures, and Alec rolls his eyes. "But I... I suppose I just didn't do anything. Couldn't. I wanted to back then, I really did. But I wasn't sure you'd be okay with it, and then you turned out to actually be okay with it, but by then it was just... It just never happened."

His voice goes a little softer at the end, recalling that night at the bar when everything his more-than-a-crush had built came crumbling down around him. He averts his eyes, watches his fingers trail along Alec's, whose hand has returned to resting against the sheets between them.

"Bad timing," Alec suggests, and Magnus looks up at him.

"Maybe," he says. "A lot of the time, it seems one or both of us was always just... busy with other people."

It's only half-true, he knows. It's far from the only reason, and Alec seems to be thinking the same thing.

"I only kept busy 'cause you did," Alec says, his tone half-serious but the statement completely so. "Helped distract me from being in love with you."

He doesn't falter at all as he says it, and the confession doesn't surprise Magnus at this point―he can't imagine Alec would have made a move based on just impulse or physical attraction, that wouldn't be like him at all. But while he's not surprised, Magnus has never heard Alec say he loves him (except that one time Magnus brought him soup, when he had the flu), let alone that he's in love with him. It feels warm, stirring, alive.

"Me, too," he admits with a small smile, and he swears he sees some kind of relief in Alec's eyes. He swallows. "That's no excuse for how I've been behaving lately, though. I've been... cold, to you."

Alec presses his lips together, looks down at the sheets.

"I haven't been too great, either," he says, subdued. "I just― It got too hard. I guess."

He tentatively looks back up, and for a moment, there's just a look of understanding between the two of them. A sense of, we need to talk about this more, but not right now.

"I like your morning singing, by the way," Alec says in a low voice, as though trying to bring the softness back into the mood. "It's nice."

Magnus breathes a surprised laugh, smiling.

"And your towel isn't that bad," he confesses.

"I know, right?" Alec says, smiling properly now, relaxing back into the mood he attempted to recover. Magnus savors it for a moment, before he sighs in exasperation.

"Why are we so stupid?" he says.

Alec groans, moves closer and burrows his face against Magnus's neck.

"I don't know," he says, his voice slightly muffled, his breath warm and pleasant against Magnus's skin. His arm is too, a nice weight as it settles around Magnus's waist and pulls him closer, bare chests pressing together underneath the covers. "I really don't."

"Well, bright side," Magnus says, sliding his arm around Alec in a reciprocating embrace. "Maybe we can give Clary and Jace a run for their money now, in terms of annoying PDA."

Alec seems to consider that, slowly pulls back.

"That is a bright side," he says conspiringly. His expression gets a little serious when he continues. "Still sucks we could have done this ages ago and didn't, though."

Magnus agrees, but has always figured that looking forward rather than backward is the best approach. So as much as he does sympathize, and as much as he is kicking himself for not making this happen sooner, he decides to enjoy it from this point onward. And to have Alec enjoy it, too.

"All I'm hearing," Magnus says, eyebrows slightly raised, "is that we've got a lot of lost time to make up for."

Alec watches him for a moment, before narrowing his eyes, any seriousness gone.

"You hear things weird," he says with a sly smile, and Magnus hums innocently. Without warning, he pushes against Alec and rolls him onto his back, settling on top of him.

"Feel free to offer an alternative interpretation," he says. Alec's smile turns into a grin, as he slowly slides his hands up along Magnus's back.

"Nah," he says, pulling Magnus down for a kiss.