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Of Roses and First Dates

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Magnus was standing in the middle of his bedroom in nothing but a pair of black lace panties, staring at the pile of clothes on his bed. He'd been debating what to wear for the last half hour. He just wasn't sure what exactly Alec would be impressed by, or even if he should be going for impressive. Isabelle had always given the impression that her eldest brother was shy and somewhat conservative, an impression that had been reinforced by their interaction over the past week, and he was a little worried about scaring the poor boy off.

Finally, sighing in resignation, he called Cat. “What am I supposed to wear?” he asked as soon as she answered the phone.

Her sigh was amused, he was sure. Just because it sounded exactly like her exasperated sigh didn’t mean she wasn’t thrilled to be speaking to him. “Magnus, you literally design outfits for a living. Wear clothes.”

Magnus rolled his eyes. “Obviously I’m going to wear clothes. But which clothes?”

Catarina sighed again. “Where are you taking him?”

“That little Indian place Jem likes,” Magnus told her, picking a shirt off the bed and tossing it back into the closet. “He said he’d never tried Indian food, which is a travesty that absolutely must be corrected.”

“Then wear jeans. Don’t go overboard, you don’t want to show him up too badly.” Her tone was resigned. She’d been taking that tone with him a lot lately.

Nodding even though he knew she couldn’t see him, he pulled out a pair of dark blue skinny jeans with gold embroidered pockets and set them aside. “Do you think that rust-colored v neck is too loud? Should I do the green button down?”

He could hear her roll her eyes in the silence that followed. “Honestly, Magnus, I have better things to do. Last time he saw you you were wearing sweatpants, I really think anything is going to be an improvement.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. Fine. I’ll wear the rust. It’s got that gold shimmer that will match my jeans.”

“Have I averted the fashion crisis to your satisfaction?” she asked sarcastically.

“Yes, darling, thank you. You know I’d be lost without you.”

“You’re lucky I love you, you crazy person. Now leave me alone, and get ready for your date. Honestly, you’re more of a teenage girl than Tessa and I ever were.”

He chose to ignore that. “I love you too. Don’t forget to call Ragnor about that show next month.”

“Don’t worry. And have a good night—I hope it goes well.”

“Me too. I’d hate to have to find a new pizza place.”

She was laughing as she hung up on him.

***

“So you guys are sure you’re fine without me?” Alec asked again. Friday nights were always pretty busy, and he felt bad leaving Clary and Jace to close without him, even if it was only a few hours.

Clary swatted him in the arm with a spatula. “Alec, we’ll be fine. How many times have Jace and I left you to manage alone for the last couple hours? We’ve got this.”

He rubbed at the back of his neck, still hesitating by the door. “It’s been pretty busy—I can cancel, I’m sure he’ll understand if you guys need me to stay.”

Jace leaned around Clary to glare at him, stabbing a finger in his direction. “You are not cancelling. We’ve been waiting for this day for years.”

Alec rolled his eyes. “It’s just a date. I barely know him—he’ll realize that I’m horribly awkward, we’ll have a terrible time, and I’ll never have to see him again. Just because you and Izzy have these perfect romances doesn’t mean I’m going to.”

Clary rolled her eyes. “If he doesn’t see what a catch you are, I’m never making him pizza again. He wouldn’t deserve it.”

“Seriously,” Jace agreed. “Hell, if he tries to order from us again, we can send Izzy to kick him in the nuts. You know she’ll do it.”

“I’m really not sure how this is supposed to make me feel better.”

“Alec,” Clary said, “you know we all love you and we wouldn’t ever make you do anything you didn’t want to do…”

“But if you bail on this date because you’re scared he won’t be your soulmate or whatever, I will punch you in the face,” Jace finished. “Now get out of here! You’re distracting the employees!”

Alec sighed heavily and headed up the back stairs to the loft they all shared (when he and Jace had pitched the pizza place to their parents, they'd expected to get a little help funding a hole in the wall rental. Instead their parents had bought this building in Brooklyn and paid to have the old delivery-only Thai restaurant on the ground floor turned into a pizza kitchen, with the upper two floors as a living space for their three children. Then Clary had moved in a few months later, and Simon had finally moved the last of his things into Izzy's room three months ago).

Isabelle had helped him pick out an outfit that morning, so all he really had to do was put it on, but he found himself hesitating in front of his closet, work t-shirt balled in his fist. What was he doing, going on a date with a customer? With Magnus Bane? Izzy said he was a fashion designer, a pretty famous one, apparently. He and his partners Catarina Loss and Tessa Gray ran a line called Warlock, which Izzy assured him was all the rage in circles that cared about that sort of thing.

Alec was not in one of those circles. He got most of his clothes at Goodwill or as gifts, and he didn't pay attention to who had designed them. The shirt Isabelle had chosen for tonight was one of his few button-downs, solid black like practically everything else he owned (“It's not faded,” she'd said, “and at least it has a collar.”), and she’d told him to pair it with the one pair of black jeans he had that wasn’t gray with age. He was pretty sure she’d gotten him the shirt for his birthday last year and that he’d worn it exactly once since then, but he didn’t have a lot of other options—he did want to look nice, even if he knew this was going to go terribly, and most of his shirts that didn’t have holes were work shirts. Even Alec knew better than to go on a date with a fashion designer in a t-shirt with his company logo on it. He just really wasn’t sure he didn’t know better than to go on a date with a fashion designer at all.

He and Magnus had been texting each other since they’d met on Tuesday, nothing too personal, mostly just getting to know each other and figuring out what they wanted to do tonight. That, and Magnus had been flirting with him. Alec had even managed to flirt back, a little—it was easier in a text, when he didn’t have to look at Magnus and he could take as long as he needed to think of a reply. A lot of why he was worrying about tonight was that he knew he couldn’t be as smooth in person, and now Magnus was probably expecting it and they hadn’t actually talked except the one time and he knew, just knew , that as soon as he opened his mouth on this date he was going to blurt out something idiotic and Magnus would be offended and it would all be over.

As much as Jace teased him about not having to find “the one” right away—he liked Magnus, really liked him, and he couldn’t help but feel (at 23, never having had a real boyfriend), that he was some kind of failure if he didn’t make this work. Jace had been in love with Clary since he was seventeen, and they’d been together just as long. Everyone was just waiting for him to propose. Isabelle and Simon had only been officially together for about nine months, but anyone looking at them could see: this was it. Even Simon's sister Rebecca was engaged. And then there Alec was, the oldest in his family, having been on three terrible dates in his life, and having had exactly one terrible, chemistry-less kiss with Aline Penhallow back in high school (the next week he’d come out to his friends as gay, and Aline had come to school holding hands with Helen Blackthorn. They’d gotten married last summer). He knew he wasn’t really that old to not be settled down—Magnus was even older than he was, 28, and he clearly hadn’t found a partner—but he could see everyone in his family looking at him whenever they got together in a group, wondering when he would finally have someone to bring to Christmas.

Jace was right, though. It was just a date. Just dinner. And if he didn’t go, he threw away his first chance in years at any kind of romance. Even if it wasn’t “true love” or whatever, it would be nice to go out with an attractive man, who found him attractive, and pretend for a night that maybe he could have this.

***

Alec was supposed to be meeting him at his loft at nine. Magnus had been completely ready, sitting in the living room with shoes on, since 8:30. Always better to be prepared, just in case Alec decided to show up early—and he hadn’t been sure how long it would take him to get ready. Some outfits required him to do a lot more with his face than others; this one was glittery enough on its own that he’d opted for fairly simple make-up, just a little gold eyeliner, which hadn’t taken nearly as long as the full face he would’ve done with the green shirt. It was also possible he’d been a little nervous. He really didn’t want to lose his favorite pizza place.

When Alec still hadn’t arrived at 9:15, Magnus went back to his bedroom and picked up his cat (who protested loudly at being woken up) and brought him out to the living room to sit with him. If he was going to be stood up, he wasn’t going to do it alone. Flopping down on the couch, he toed off his shoes and set the Chairman on his chest, scratching the little gray cat under his chin. Chairman Meow snuggled into him and purred, looking perfectly content to settle back to sleep here on his owner’s chest. On a typical Friday, Magnus would be perfectly content to let him do so.

He wondered idly what had happened. Maybe there had been a pizza emergency and Alec had been held up in the kitchen. Maybe he’d been mugged on his way over. Maybe he’d decided Magnus wasn’t his kind of person and he just wasn’t going to come.

The buzzer went off and Magnus leapt up from the couch to answer the door, flinging his startled cat to the floor. He hardly noticed the Chairman’s disgruntled hiss, though, because when he opened the door he found Alec standing there looking like a vision in all black, wearing a sheepish expression and holding out a bouquet of red roses.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he said, before Magnus could do anything but stand there in shock. “Izzy said I should get you flowers, and there was a line, and I know roses are cheesy as hell but I didn’t know what else to get you.”

Magnus stared at him, struck dumb. Alec was not late because he didn’t want to come or because of some catastrophe, but because he’d been getting him flowers . Magnus couldn’t remember the last time anyone had given him flowers. He wasn’t sure anyone ever had.

Mistaking Magnus’s surprise for a rejection, Alec frowned. “You don’t like them. Oh, god, you’re probably allergic to roses, and here I am, trying to kill you before we’ve even gone on a date. I’ll just go, okay, I’m sorry, I knew this was a bad idea…”

He started to back away from the door, and Magnus finally unfroze, one hand darting out to grab Alec’s wrist as the other took the bouquet from him. “Alexander, I love them . I was just surprised.”

“You—you do? Oh. Uh.” He rubbed the hand that had been holding the flowers on the back of his neck.

Magnus beamed at him and let go of his wrist, stepping back into his apartment. “Come in for a second and let me find a vase for these. You can meet my cat. After all, I never date anyone he doesn’t like.”

Alec laughed nervously, stepping after him into the apartment and looking around. The loft space was a riot of color, mismatched furniture in bright jewel tones with a wall covered in different swatches of fabric for the project he was working on, and Magnus couldn’t help but feel a bit self-conscious. Alec didn’t say anything, just taking it in, until his eyes lit on Chairman Meow, who had curled himself into a ball in the center of the couch.

“Hello,” he said, voice going soft as he approached the cat slowly, one hand outstretched. The Chairman stared at him for a second before stretching his head forward and sniffing Alec’s fingers. “I bet I smell like bacon, huh, buddy?” The little cat responded by butting his head against Alec’s hand and purring as he scratched behind his ears. “Aren’t you sweet? What’s his name?”

Magnus stopped staring at them and walked toward the kitchen to get a vase for the flowers. “Chairman Meow.”

“So, do I pass?” he heard Alec ask the cat, as if it were even a question. The Chairman didn’t purr for strangers very often, even if they did smell like bacon. And he’d brought Magnus flowers. He’d brought roses .

Magnus braced his hands on the counter in front of him and closed his eyes for a second, taking a deep breath. Just because he was gorgeous and sweet and the Chairman liked him did not mean that Magnus needed to get ahead of himself. Plenty of people were endearingly kind and liked by animals. It shouldn’t be making his heart beat double time in his chest.

Sighing to himself (get a grip, Magnus, you haven’t even had one real conversation with him yet) , Magnus cut the ends off the roses and arranged them in a clear glass vase.

“All set?” he asked, walking back into the living room and setting the vase in the center of the table. Alec was still leaning over the cat, petting him and murmuring. “Or should I leave you two alone?”

Alec shot up, spluttering, before he realized he was being teased. His face was very red. Magnus couldn’t help but feel slightly smug that he could fluster him so easily.

“Shall we?” Magnus asked, gesturing to the door.

“Yeah, sure, let’s go.”

***

Alec wasn’t sure if this counted as “going well” or not. He’d been almost 20 minutes late, which was bad, but Magnus had liked the flowers, which was good. And his cat had liked him, which definitely couldn’t hurt. Alec had always loved cats, but his mom was allergic so they’d never had one. The only cat he’d ever interacted with on a regular basis was Simon’s mom’s, and Yossarian didn’t like anyone.

They’d been pretty quiet since they got to the restaurant, other than Magnus explaining a few things off the menu for Alec. The restaurant was small and didn’t have much atmosphere, but it smelled amazing. The way Magnus described the food made it sound delicious, but mostly Alec was just hoping to make it through the meal without making a fool of himself. The silence was awkward enough.

“So,” Alec blurted, desperate to get a conversation going. “You’re cat’s really sweet.” Great one, Lightwood, he berated himself. He’s already teased about liking his cat too much.

But Magnus just smiled brightly, seeming pleased. “He is, isn’t he? I’ve never seen him take to someone like that. I’ve had him for three years and he still won’t let Cat pet him.” He chuckled. “My cat doesn’t like Cat.”

Alec laughed a little nervously. “Cat. Is that the lady who answered the door the other day?”

“Yeah.” Magnus nodded, waving a hand in the air vaguely. “Catarina. She’s my partner—business partner—along with Tessa. I don’t know if you saw her, but she was laughing at me in the background.”

Alec shrugged. He hadn’t really been paying attention to the people in the apartment, but he did recall vaguely noting that there was another woman there. “And you guys...design clothes?”

“Yes. Warlock is very big this year—we made it to the Paris Fashion Week.” Magnus smiled. “And Ragnor—he’s our technical designer—says we’ll probably make it to New York in the Spring.”

Alec blinked at him, not entirely sure what any of that meant. “Um, aren’t you already in New York?”

Magnus stared at him, and Alec was sure that this was the moment he was going to leave because Alec didn’t know anything about fashion and had said the wrong thing and—and Magnus was laughing, his eyes happy and bright. “You know,” he said when he’d sobered (he was still smiling, though, looking impossibly warm and fond). “It’s been so damn long since I talked to anyone outside the industry that it’s stopped occurring to me how strange it all is. New York Fashion Week, my dear, is one of the top three fashion events in the world. Simply living in New York is not enough to get one on the billing.”

“Oh,” Alec said, feeling dumb even though Magnus was still looking at him with a surprising amount of affection. “Sorry. I’m, uh, I’m not really into. You know. Clothes and things.”

Magnus’s smile grew wider. “Well, I probably know less about making pizza, honestly. I can’t really cook at all.”

“But it’s pizza ,” Alec said, eyebrows coming together. “Everyone can make pizza . Not as well as we can, maybe, but it’s just bread with sauce and cheese.”

“Sweetheart, I can’t even do boxed mac & cheese without it being a health hazard. I’ve burnt canned soup.”

“You’re just saying that,” Alec protested. “Even Izzy can do canned soup. Well, as long as it’s the kind you don’t have to add water to.”

Magnus laughed again. “I’m beginning to suspect I have a lot in common with your sister.”

After that, it was easier. By the time the food came, the conversation was flowing easily, and Alec was feeling a lot more confident, though he wasn’t sure what to do with all the bowls of food placed in front of him. “So, um, how do we do this?”

Magnus demonstrated, spooning some rice onto his plate and then adding some of the thick meaty curry from one of the other bowls. “The curry is pretty hot, so you want to use the rice and naan”—he gestured with a piece of flatbread—“to mellow it out a little. I’d start with a lot of rice and a little curry until you figure out what you like.”

It was spicy, but also rich and flavorful, and the slightly sweet bread cut through the heat perfectly. He couldn’t believe he’d never tried this before. “I wonder if we could make some kind of curry pizza?”

Magnus shrugged. “I don’t know why not. It’s bread and sauce and meat, so is pizza. Cheese is a little non-traditional, though.”

“You can make pizza without cheese.” Alec wondered if he could convince Clary to come here with him. She had a better spice tolerance than he did, and so would probably do a better job of picking out what made the sauce so delicious. “And I know Jace would enjoy learning to do something different with the crust. This bread is amazing.”

“If you figure it out, let me know. I could probably stand to vary my order a little.”

Alec chuckled. “You know we called you ‘pep and olive guy’ around the kitchen before this all happened, right?”

Magnus grinned and shook his head. “I did not. But it’s probably only fair to tell you that you were ‘sexy voice guy’ and Jace was ‘full of himself dude’.”

Alec laughed, a bit startled. “And Clary?”

“Was Clary. There’s only one girl working for you I hadn’t met. I just never felt comfortable asking your family members which of you was hot and which one was arrogant.”

“In the interest of honesty, most people think Jace is at least as attractive as I am.”

“Then most people are idiots. I haven’t even met him, but I can tell you, he doesn’t hold a candle to you.”

Alec flushed and looked down. “You can’t just say things like that.”

“Why not?” Magnus reached out one careful finger and tilted Alec’s face up to look him in the eyes. “I thought I’d made it pretty clear that I found you attractive, Alexander. I didn’t ask you out just because of your sexy voice.”

Alec rolled his eyes. His face must be brick red by now and most of his attention was on the spot where Magnus was still touching him, but he couldn't help but feel pleased. “Well, I didn’t agree to go out with you just because you threatened to take your business elsewhere.”

Magnus grinned, sudden and blinding, and his voice took on a teasing edge. “Are you saying you think I’m hot, Alec?”

“Maybe.” Maybe it was the way Magnus had leaned forward to touch his face, but they seemed awfully close together. Alec couldn’t keep his eyes from drifting to Magnus’s lips, and his mouth fell open slightly. It wouldn’t take much, he could just lean in and—

Someone cleared their throat loudly beside the table, and Alec jumped back, letting Magnus’s hand fall and turning to see the waiter standing there with the bill.

Magnus frowned at the intrusion, blinking, and then snatched the bill before Alec could take it. “I asked you out, I’m paying,” he said firmly. “Don’t argue.”

Alec held up his hands in surrender, still a little dazed from their moment earlier. “All right, but I’m paying next time. It’s only fair.”

“Someone’s gained some confidence there,” Magnus said, not looking up from the bill in front of him.

Alec froze in horror, realizing that he’d just casually implied there was going to be another date. “I—uh—oh, god, I mean—”

Magnus looked up and shushed him with a finger in front of his lips, not quite touching. “I’m not complaining. I’d love to do this again. In fact, I’m not ready for it to be over. Walk me home?”

Alec nodded. “Yeah, that’d be—yeah. Sure. I'd love to.”

Magnus smiled at him again, the warm fond one from earlier, and Alec felt his heart rate kick up a notch. Yeah, he’d say this date was going pretty well.

***

As they walked back to Magnus’s apartment, he considered the probability that Alec would let him take his hand. In the yes column he had the fact that the date had been going incredibly well and that he was almost sure Alec had been about to kiss him earlier. In the no column he had the fact that Alec had flinched away from him the moment that he realized someone was watching them and that if Alec pulled away right now there was a decent chance that that would be the end of whatever this was. He found he wasn’t willing to risk that. If they kept doing—this—they’d eventually have to talk about what exactly Alec’s boundaries were, but that was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Some people just weren’t big on public displays, there was nothing wrong with that. For all Magnus knew, Alec had been victim to some unpleasantness from someone about his sexuality. Lord knew the world was full of homophobic assholes.

Alec was talking as they walked, something about one of Izzy’s exes trying to break into the kitchen so he could talk to her, and Magnus was half-listening, nodding along and humming at the right parts. It had been a long time since he’d been on a date, and a longer time since he’d wanted a second one. He’d stuck mostly to stringless hookups for the last couple of years, unwilling to try again after having his heart broken by Camille Belcourt. It was hard to move on when your ex was your main business competition. But now, walking through the quiet night with Alec, he thought maybe it was time. This was so nice, just this, even if they weren’t holding hands. Even if Alec didn't come in for a drink and didn’t kiss him goodnight on his way home.

Something in his expression must have changed, because Alec broke off and stopped walking. “Magnus? Are you okay?”

Magnus blinked, realized his eyes were wetter than they should have been. “I’m fine, Alexander. Sorry. I was just thinking how nice this is and I—got a little caught in my own head.”

Alec smiled at him softly, reaching out to take his hand and rub soothing circles in it with him thumb. “I understand,” he said, and to his surprise, Magnus really thought he did. “I like this too.” And then, seeming to realize what his hand was doing, “Is this okay?”

“It’s perfect,” Magnus said, squeezing his hand and tugging him gently back into motion. They walked the rest of the way with their joined hands swinging between them, and Magnus felt like he was floating on air.

They paused outside the entrance to Magnus’s building, and Magnus turned to find Alec looking at him.

“Do you want to come in for a drink?” Magnus asked.

“I should really get home,” Alec said, though he made no move to let go of Magnus’s hand. “It’s pretty late and we’re open tomorrow.”

“I suppose I can let you go,” Magnus replied. Alec was still standing still, staring at his face, and Magnus couldn’t help but stare back. Alec had the most enchanting eyes—even in the darkness, he could pick out flecks of green in the bright golden brown. “I had a really lovely time.”

“Yeah,” Alec said, and his voice was a little rougher. Magnus swayed a little closer. Alec licked his lips. “Can I kiss you?”

Instead of answering, Magnus surged toward him, free hand going behind Alec’s neck and lifting him up so he could slot their mouths together. Alec gasped into the kiss, letting go of Magnus’s hand so he could wrap an arm around his waist and cup his face in his hand. It was a long moment before either of them pulled away, and even then it wasn’t far.

Alec rested his forehead against Magnus’s and took a deep breath. “So,” he said, a little breathless. “When can I see you again?”

Magnus laughed, overcome with the happiness of this moment. “I’m pretty flexible.”

“Is that so?” Alec teased, and then he laughed too, bright and happy, like nothing mattered in that moment but them. “I have Sunday morning off? We could go for coffee or something?”

“I would love that. Pick me up at 10?”

“Perfect,” Alec said, and then he leaned in to kiss him again. It was gentler and slower and it came with the promise of more soon. When they broke apart, Alec stepped away. “I’ll see you on Sunday?”

“I can’t wait.”

Magnus stood in the doorway and watched as Alec walked away down the dimly lit street. In the low light, he looked like something out of a dream, a figment of Magnus’s imagination far too perfect to be real. Closing his eyes against the thought, Magnus headed inside.

The bouquet of red roses sat in the center of the living room, bright and lovely and so solidly real after the unreality of the street below, and Magnus felt something in his chest squeeze almost painfully. Alec was real. Alec had brought him roses and held his hand and kissed him and wanted to see him again. Wanted to see him again soon. He picked up the vase and hugged it to his chest, smiling stupidly. “I think,” he said aloud, ostensibly to the cat glaring at him from an armchair. “Chairman, I think I am in trouble.”

The cat blinked, unimpressed. He did purr when Magnus picked him up, though, and Magnus was too happy to care if his cat thought he was ridiculous.

Alec had brought him roses.