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like the stars chase the sun

Chapter Text

Magnus Bane had never been to a funeral before.

Green-Wood Cemetery positively glowed in the early summer. The carved gothic arch over the entrance glowed pink in the sunlight; the tree canopies above painted dappled shadows on mourners’ heads. Trampled dandelions, still golden yellow, stood out against the surrounding green grass.

Magnus stood over his mother’s grave and willed some feeling to come, but he was numb.

Catarina Loss stood on his one side, gripping his hand so fiercely it should have hurt. She’d come straight off a rotation at the ER and still had the top of her scrubs on, peaking out underneath her black sweater. When she’d arrived, the sight had almost made Magnus smile. 

On his other side was Clary Fairchild. Her pale skin was washed out by her charcoal dress, her red hair popping against the dark colour and shining almost gold in the sunlight. It wasn’t right for the weather to be so cheerful today, the sun so bright and full of optimism and hope on a day when Magnus felt nothing. 

All that was left was emptiness.

Next to Clary, Ragnor Fell stood solemnly, completing Magnus’ line of friends in attendance at the funeral. Opposite the four, across a gulf much greater than the grave they stood by, was Magnus’ step-father, flanked by his sister and best friend. Every time Magnus glanced across, his step-father’s face was tight with rage and grief, and his fingers twitched sporadically into fists and then relaxed. 

Magnus dropped his gaze to the ground. How could it be that the area below their feet held a box that held his mother’s body? 

Blocking out all other noise in the area, Magnus found himself focusing solely on the small golden plaque on his mother’s coffin that bore her name. After a moment a lily was thrown down, obscuring the writing, but still Magnus stared at her coffin through his tear-blurred vision. It was as if he could hold onto her by not looking away from her name; because if he did, even for just a few seconds, everything that she was would be gone. Dustings of soil covered the plaque, and Magnus looked and looked until he could no longer make out the lettering.

He blinked, letting a tear fall, and knew that she was gone. 

It was unusual for Magnus to take so little pride in his appearance, but on that morning he could not bring himself to care. He’d dressed simply in a black button-up with swirls in a metallic thread and black jeans, a smudge of eyeliner.

Now Magnus rolled the sleeves of his shirt up, leaning heavily against the back of the couch.

He was sat on the floor, knees tucked up to his chin. To his right was a bottle of scotch, to his left a half empty glass, and Ragnor sat opposite him, leaning against the sideboard and ignoring Chairman Meow, who kept butting his head against Ragnor’s hand.

“Don’t make me regret my duty-free purchases,” Ragnor said, watching Magnus drain his glass.

Magnus winced as the liquor chased down his throat and waved a hand distractedly. 

“Details,” he said, and then sniffed heavily. “She’s only gonna miss my 21st by a few months.”

Ragnor nodded. Silence fell between them, broken only by Magnus unscrewing the bottle lid and pouring more amber liquid into his glass.

Magnus’ phone beeped across the room from where it had been tossed carelessly on the side when he’d got back to the house earlier. The place no longer felt like his; he was a guest, a trespasser in the childhood home that had his step-father’s name on the property deeds. Most of his stuff was in his room at NYU, anyway, and even before his mother had died he’d felt out of place returning home for vacations. Perhaps it was part of growing up; perhaps his step-father was getting more used to the idea of having Magnus out from under his feet. Whatever had happened, the first time Magnus had come back for winter vacation, he’d felt like something wasn’t quite right.

Spending the evening with a bottle of scotch wasn’t going to make it feel more wrong.

“It’s Cat,” Ragnor said, indicating his own phone. Catarina must have put the message on their group chat. “She wants to know how you’re doing.”

Clary’s father Luke Garroway had given Magnus and Ragnor a ride home, stopping to let a reluctant Catarina out along the way. She’d been on a shift for too many hours and yawned through her protestations that she was fine, so Magnus told her to go home and sleep on the promise of meeting her for breakfast at some point in the next week. He knew it was only to get him out the house; he was on summer vacation from his penultimate year of college, and his boss at the shoe store where he worked downtown had given him a few days off for bereavement. With nothing to do, and only his step-father for company, Magnus knew Catarina knew he would spiral, and she wasn’t going to let that happen. 

“Tell her I’m fine,” Magnus mumbled, “but next time, I’d appreciate a scotch that’s older than I am.”

Ragnor gave him a flat look. “You’ll have to take that up with Heathrow airport,” he said, tapping away at a reply on his phone. 

Magnus closed his eyes and tipped his head back against the couch.

“I know you’re not fine,” Ragnor said later. “But you’re quite within your rights. It’s okay to not be okay - we’re here. We’ll be here.”

Magnus swallowed the lump in his throat, blinking furiously. He petted Chairman’s head, searching  for something to distract him.

He didn’t speak for a long time, but Ragnor seemed to understand. Eventually, at half past nine, Ragnor crouched in front of him and placed a hand on his shoulder. 

“Go home,” Magnus said, not ungratefully. “Your parents will be wondering -”

“They know where I am,” Ragnor said, interrupting. “Do you want me to stay?”

Magnus took a couple of heavy breaths and then shook his head. “Go,” he said. 

Ragnor patted Magnus’ cheek and stood. It was only when he was halfway out the door that Magnus spoke.

“Ragnor?” 

He pulled himself up off the floor, a little unsteady, and clutched onto the back of the sofa. He cleared his throat. 

“Thanks.”

Ragnor’s eyes softened. “Don’t mention it, my friend. Now go and eat something or you’ll be puking your guts up later.”

Magnus half smiled for the first time that day, the rawness in his heart easing the tiniest fraction. 

A month later, the reminders of his mother hurt less. Magnus would still turn to her to mention something and remember that she wasn’t there, would never be again, and at first it had bulleted him through with pain. But now it was a little lighter, a little easier. 

His chest would still constrict, but now he wouldn’t double over. He would keep breathing.

At breakfast, Magnus’ step-father dropped an envelope on the table beside him. Collecting the mail had always been Magnus’ mother’s job, and he could feel the brush of her fingers against his cheek as the mail plopped down; the tender gesture was forever linked with the sound. 

“Thanks,” Magnus said. His step-father just took his own seat and began to eat. The silence between them was how it had been since Magnus’ mother had been discovered dead.

He tugged the envelope towards him; noticed it felt heavier than usual. The address inked on the front was in cursive, the paper postmarked from outside the USA. 

Magnus frowned and flipped it over. He traced a painted nail over the back and then slipped his finger under the fold, ripping the envelope open. He pulled two sheets of thick cream paper from within and scanned them. 

Magnus, the letter began, and then -

Magnus, my son.

He scrambled up from his chair and stumbled, unsteady, over to the kitchen window. In the light of the late summer morning, he gripped the letter in shaking fists and, heart pounding, read on.

Magnus, my son.

Terrible news has reached me, and I must offer you my most profound condolences. Your mother was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met; her passing has devastated me. 

My sincerest wish is that I could meet you, that we could share our grief - and, I hope, our recovery. If this would be your wish too, arrangements will be made with haste.

If you would prefer to wait, I understand. However, in the circumstances, it would be wise for us to meet before long - I am surely your legal guardian, and will be the one to take care of you during this awful time. 

I will hear from you soon.

Your father,

Asmodeus, His Royal Highness

Magnus had hardly breathed reading the letter, and exhaled in a rush of air. He read the letter again, flipped the paper over, and then scanned it once more.

“My father,” he muttered, and then, louder, “my father. Did you know?”

He shoved the letter towards his step-father, who looked at him with eerie slowness. 

“Did you know who he was? It says -” Magnus jerked the letter back to himself so he could point at the salutation with an indignant finger. “- It says ‘His Royal Highness’. What the hell does that mean? He’s - I’m - ?” He broke off, running a hand through his hair. “Did you know?”

“I know nothing,” came the reply. “Your mother knew not to mention him.”

Magnus let out a confused noise and fell back into his chair. “I don’t get it. ‘His Royal Highness’ - does that mean? Mom never said…” he trailed off, mumbling mostly to himself. “Why didn’t she say anything?”

Magnus’ father had been a thorny issue in the family for almost as long as he could remember. There had been a time, long ago, when Magnus had thought he lived with both his biological parents. Then he’d overheard a hushed argument which concluded in ‘that brat is not and never will be my son!’ and the slam of a door. His mother had rushed to wrap him in her arms, and later he’d been given a bag of sweets by the man he’d thought was his father and told that it would be better to not call him Dad anymore, but to use his first name, and that they could still be friends.

Once, when Magnus had accompanied his mother to the market, she’d stopped by a crate of limes, brushing her fingers across the dimpled green skin. She said to Magnus that she was happy, because she was remembering a good man. Magnus asked if she still knew him, and whether he might be coming to tea, and she smiled sadly and reminded him that promise doesn’t always deliver.

Sometimes, when the two of them were in the kitchen, Magnus doing homework and his mother preparing dinner, she’d laugh and come out with a story about his father, or their romance. Whirlwind, that was always the word she used to describe it. Like a thunderstorm, she’d say. Intense. Powerful. Short lived. And after that, she’d say, she got her sunshine: Magnus. 

He’d protest and push her kisses away in thirteen-year-old ignorance, but her melodic voice whispering goodnight, sunlight  always lulled him into the calmness of sleep. 

The dramatic romance of his parents’ story always appealed to Magnus; often he wished that the man who featured in these rare-told stories would come and whisk he and his mother away, that he could have a father who loved him. 

Magnus knew his step-father loathed him for being a physical embodiment of his mother’s relationship with another man, but he couldn’t forgive it. His step-father didn’t own his mother; she wasn’t his possession. She was a person before and during their relationship. She had chosen to be with him - wasn’t that enough?

And, as much as Magnus might hate it, whatever he thought of his step-father, his mother loved the man. He’d peered round the doorframe at them slow-dancing in the kitchen, witnessed her mother humming happily as she arranged a surprise flower bouquet from him; countless little gestures of love and affection that made Magnus burn with guilt over his wish to be a family with both his parents. 

Magnus’ mother loved and lived with a man who hated her son, and it was the one source of contention in their relationship. Silence was Magnus’ step-father’s preferred way of communicating with his step-son, and, true to form, when Magnus looked up at his step-father, he saw he was eyeing the envelope with badly hidden interest, saying no words at all.

“Can I go and look through Mom’s things, please?” Magnus asked politely. Magnus knew his mother kept her private files in the top drawer of her vanity table, which was in the room she shared with his step-father. 

He received a grunt of affirmation in reply, and, in spiteful response, he gathered up the letter and envelope and took them through to the bedroom with him so his step-father couldn’t look at them. They were addressed to Magnus, after all.

Magnus wasn’t sure what he was looking for as he rifled through the drawers - his fanciful side yearned for a hidden bundle of love letters, or a locket with a tear-stained photograph. But he couldn’t find anything, not even anything as mundane as financial confirmation of child support payments. Magnus sighed heavily and sat down on the vanity stool, pulling his phone from his pants pocket and opening Google. 

He typed in Asmodeus HRH, and, fingers shaking in anticipation, pressed Search.

A score of articles popped up, the top hit being his Wikipedia page.

Magnus’ father had a Wikipedia page

Jesus Christ.

Magnus skimmed the article - late forties, king of a small European country called Edom, widowed, and later divorced, with no children. He locked his phone then, staring blankly at the black screen. It was too much to take in and he forced himself to take a couple of measured breaths.

He looked at the now slightly crumpled letter and read it again. My sincerest wish is that I could meet you…If this would be your wish too, arrangements will be made with haste. 

Magnus swallowed. His stomach was a maelstrom of emotions: intrigue, anticipation, bitterness, fear. Somewhere underneath, hope swum against the tide of negativity, just clinging on. What harm could it do to write Asmodeus back? To meet him, even? Magnus didn’t have to stay with his father. It wouldn’t change his life that much.

He let out a shaky breath, slowly coming to a decision. Tapping onto his text messages, he opened his group chat with Raphael Santiago, Catarina, Ragnor and Clary, and wrote out a message.

 

To: [are you there god? it’s me, magnus]

From: [Magnus]

09:37 guys i have News

 

To: [are you there god? it’s me, magnus]

From: [Biscuit]

09:38 new eyeliner news or getting tweeted by tyra news?

 

To: [are you there god? it’s me, magnus]

From: [Magnus]

09:38 tyra

09:38 can we all meet?

 

To: [are you there god? it’s me, magnus]

From: [Rafa]

09:39 you know today’s my day off

09:39 it better be good for you to have woken me up this early, bane

 

To: [are you there god? it’s me, magnus]

From: [Magnus]

09:40 that’s ‘your royal highness’ to you, santiago

 

To: [are you there god? it’s me, magnus]

From: [Biscuit]

09:40 SRS ?? WHAT !!!!!

 

That afternoon Magnus met his friends at Java Jones for coffee. Ragnor, Raphael and Clary were already seated when he arrived, and five minutes after he’d ordered his drink Catarina appeared.

She waved at them and spoke as she happened past another table.

“Sorry for making you guys wait - no, not you -” Cat answered the people sat at the table’s confusion with a look of her own “- I don’t even know you.” 

She plumped down in her friends’ booth with a bemused expression on her face.

“I went into Medicine to help people, but some of them make me wonder.” Cat shook her head “Anyway, what’s this royal thing, Magnus?”

Magnus smiled at her. “Get a drink, darling, and then I’ll explain.”

Once Cat returned with a latte and espresso shot, Magnus’ unloaded everything he’d found out that morning to the disbelief and amazement of his friends. He started with the letter’s arrival, reading it through, trying to trace any mention of his father within his mother’s belongings. He told them about trawling the Internet after the search turned nothing up, freaking out about finding the website of the Edom monarchy. 

“So, you’re a prince?” Clary asked slowly, after the story was finished.

Magnus shrugged and stirred his coffee idly. “I think so. I mean, it would make sense, right?” 

There was a mutual hum of assent around the table. Raphael raised an eyebrow. 

“I thought if any of my friends turned out to be secret royals, it’d be Ragnor,” he said, lips twitching teasingly. 

Magnus shot Raphael a look and pulled a piece of paper from his bag. 

“He’s welcome to it,” Magnus said. He smoothed the sheet before him. “Do you think this reply is okay?” He read it aloud to them, scribbling their amendments and alterations onto the paper as they gave them.

After a couple of hours, Ragnor, Raphael and Clary left. Remaining at the table, Catarina eyed Magnus shrewdly.

“You’re doing this, then?” she asked him. 

He glanced down at the table. “I have to, Cat. It might not be perfect, but he’s got a point, hasn’t he? He’s my guardian - my step-father doesn’t want anything to do with me.”

“You’ve both lost someone close to you,” Catarina pointed out gently. “Look, I know your situation. Your step-father is awful. But I also know you. You don’t know anything about Asmodeus, and I know it seems like the perfect solution, but I don’t want you to run headfirst into it and find it’s not all it seems.” She laced her fingers through his, dark brown skin patterning against his light brown. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Magnus squeezed her hand. “I know. But it’s just one meeting, right?”

Catarina didn’t look convinced but said no more, and they moved onto another topic of conversation. 

By the time they left the coffee shop dusk was drawing in. Magnus hugged Catarina tightly before he walked home, and she made him promise to be careful. 

The next day he mailed his reply to his father, agreeing to meet with him as soon as they could and giving his contact details. That evening, he received an email to the address he’d given: Asmodeus was staying in New York on diplomatic business and would be available for lunch over the coming week, if that suited Magnus?

Magnus swallowed hard. He replied, suggesting a time and place, and then lay back on his bed, heart pounding. This was really happening. 

He hugged Chairman close to his chest and buried his face in Chairman’s fur. 

“It’ll be okay,” he said, more to himself than the cat. “It’s just one meeting.”

His email alert pinged and he dragged in a ragged breath. Asmodeus had confirmed Magnus’ suggestion and said he was looking forward to meeting him. 

Magnus rubbed a shaky hand over his face. This was really happening.

In two days time, he was going to meet his father. A King.

Holy shit.

Chapter Text

13:23.

The time hadn’t changed since the last time Magnus had checked it, and he sighed. He rubbed at his eyes, careful not to smudge his make up, and shuffled from foot to foot.

Magnus took a couple of measured breaths, trying to keep calm, and clenched his free hand into a fist. His nails - black and gold today - left crescent moon indents in his palm.

Glancing around the street, Magnus couldn’t see anyone who looked like they were here to meet him. There was the usual mix of business people out for lunch, but no-one stopped near Magnus or entered the restaurant he was standing outside. The windows of The Spiral Labyrinth went floor to ceiling and inside Magnus could make out classy black and white decor and a glittering chandelier.

The clock ticked over to 13:24 and Magnus blew out his breath. He tried to calm himself by scrolling through his friends’ good luck messages on Game of Phones, the group chat Catarina had renamed in honour of Magnus’ newfound royal status. 

Clary had cried with laughter over it, and once she’d calmed down she’d jumped into action, changing their contact names with ruthless efficiency.

“Why am I Jon Snow?” Magnus had asked.

“Don’t sound so put out, that’s a good thing. Listen, you’re just a regular guy who never thought he’d end up being a leader, but here you are. Plus, everyone loves you.” She thought for a moment. “Or at least they should.”

Then she cleared her throat importantly. “Cat, you have to be Catelyn Stark - wise, level-headed -”

“Dead,” Catarina cut in, and then glanced guiltily at Magnus. She shook her head. “And I don’t hate Magnus. Clary, you’re really bad at this.”

Clary huffed. “No, I’m not,” she argued. “Fine, be Sansa: good at reading people, emotionally intelligent, caring.”

Catarina sat back, pleased, and Clary moved on.

“Ragnor, you’re Doran Martell. Raphael, you’re Tyrion Lannister, but only for the snark. I’ll be… Arianne Martell,” she decided. “Tiny but strong-willed.”

Magnus shook his head and locked the phone. It was no use - the messages were just a reminder of what was to come. The clock moved over to 13:28, and the whispered doubts in the back of his mind began shouting. God, his insecurities were out in full force this afternoon.

It had obviously all been an elaborate practical joke: why would his father want to meet him after all this time; why would he care? Why would he want to spend time with Magnus? Almost everyone left him in the end. 

13:31. Maybe it would be better to call this off before the inevitable happened.

“Excuse me.”

Magnus’ head whipped to the side embarrassingly fast and he came face to face with a man in a black suit. 

The man simply looked at him, and Magnus sensed no recognition. Deflating, Magnus glanced down.

“Sorry,” he said, stepping out of the man’s way. When he didn’t move, Magnus frowned at him. He was opening his mouth to ask what the hell the man’s problem was when he heard his name being spoken, and his attention was caught by a movement over the man’s shoulder.

“Magnus?”

It was as if someone had given him a shot of energy; his pulse picked up and his fingers were suddenly jittery. His tongue felt too big for his mouth and he swallowed twice before speaking.

“Uh, yeah.”

From behind the suited man another appeared. He was tall and dark-haired; he held himself upright, proud, and his gold-specked eyes sparkled warmly. Magnus drank him in; this was his father, a man he’d wished to know for as long as he could remember. Emotions swirled in Magnus’ chest, equal parts anticipation and nervousness.

“Asmodeus,” the man said, introducing himself. 

Magnus wasn’t quite sure what he was expecting - a big bear hug, maybe, or a stiff and formal handshake. Asmodeus did neither, to Magnus’ relief; he simply looked Magnus over and, apparently satisfied, gave him a kind smile. 

“I hope you’re well?” he asked. 

Magnus nodded, hardly trusting himself to speak. “Yes, uh, Your Highness,” he said, wondering if maybe he should curtsey. 

Asmodeus waved a hand. “You’re my son. We’re here as family. There’s no need for titles,” he said plainly, and Magnus nodded.

“Then, I’m fine, thanks,” he amended, and he let a moment go by before asking, “and you?”

Asmodeus smiled again and put a hand on Magnus’ shoulder - a warm, if heavy, weight. 

“Never better - I’m meeting you at last,” Asmodeus said. “Shall we?”

Magnus liked to pride himself on being a good judge of character, and he knew Asmodeus was likely exaggerating, or at least playing overly nice. But he couldn’t stop the pleasant feeling in his tummy at the implication of his father’s words.

Asmodeus led the way into the restaurant, stopping only to confer with the maître d’. He beckoned for Magnus to follow as they were shown to a table towards the back of the restaurant, slightly secluded. The man who had stopped in front of Magnus took a seat to the left of the table; another in a dark grey suit sat two booths over. They both wore earpieces and Magnus had the uncomfortable feeling of being watched, even when they were looking away from him.

“Forget they’re there,” Asmodeus told him as they themselves took their seats. Asmodeus sat at the back of the booth, velvet seating curving around behind him. Magnus sat on a chair opposite, contained within himself. “Let us talk.”

A waiter appeared in Magnus’ line of vision and asked to take their drinks, and Asmodeus’ eyes barely flitted to him. 

“Just tap water is fine, thanks,” Magnus said, swallowing. He wasn’t sure if he’d keep anything else down - he was finally meeting his father and the questions he had were waiting, crouched and ready to pounce off his tongue as soon as they got the chance.

“Perrier,” Asmodeus said, and then dismissed the waiter. Then he gestured openly with his hands. “So, what would you like to know?” he asked.

Magnus blinked. He’d expected a little more preamble - maybe an attempt at a father/son bonding session before the interrogation began. 

“Give me some credit, Magnus,” smiled Asmodeus. “I have considered how you will be feeling - and I imagine the first item on your list will be to find out who I am.”

Magnus allowed Asmodeus a small smile. 

“I guess that’s why we’re here,” he conceded. He paused for a moment. An immeasurable amount of questions fought for his attention, and he found himself overwhelmed. Magnus glanced down and pretended to study the menu. “I don’t know what to ask,” he admitted finally, when the silence had dragged on too long. 

But Asmodeus didn’t laugh, or act like Magnus was being difficult. He simply said, “Yes, sometimes words can never be enough,” and traced a finger down his own menu. “If you like seafood, the mussels are divine here.”

Magnus was a little thrown by the conversational offering, but pulled himself together and commented on a couple of other dishes he was considering. This kind of small talk usually didn’t appeal; surface conversations were for strangers, and he wanted to go beyond that with his father. But it was a start, and it calmed him considerably.

Once the waiter had taken their order, Asmodeus asked if he could inquire about Magnus’ life, as Magnus was unsure where to begin. Magnus nodded, playing with his rings as he began to talk about himself: his major in Physics at NYU; his friends, and how he’d met them; his aspirations and thoughts of the future. Asmodeus listened, asking questions at certain points, and Magnus relaxed somewhat.

He paused while the waiter brought their food, but the silence wasn’t awkward as the dishes were served. The meeting appeared to be passing without a hitch - Asmodeus was attentive, interested, and Magnus felt at ease. 

Even when their conversation inevitably turned to his mother, Magnus didn’t blanch.

“Did your mother ever talk about me?” Asmodeus asked. 

“Sometimes, but not often,” Magnus said truthfully. “She’d mention things about you, but she never told me your name, or that you were - well. A King.”

“When she knew me, I was only a prince,” Asmodeus said, and Magnus raised an eyebrow. 

“‘Only’.”

Asmodeus smiled. “We met while I was on a state visit to Indonesia,” he said, after a mouthful of food. “My father was quite ill at the time -” here something flickered in Asmodeus’ eyes, but he didn’t falter “- so I was there as his representative. I bumped into your mother one day while exploring the local market, and we had quite the time of it. Running all over the place, sneaking away - it was only when we were discovered by my bodyguards that she found out who I was.” 

Magnus frowned. “You didn’t tell her?”

Asmodeus shook his head. 

“It wasn’t my finest moment, being so dishonest with her,” he said. Then he sighed. “But my status scares some common girls away, you see, and she was one I didn’t want to let out my sight. Beautiful, she was. I was entranced.”

Magnus felt like he’d been doused in cold water. The implied superiority contained in his father’s tone…he blinked and was seeing Asmodeus through new eyes.

“Right, because usually poor people are so ugly,” Magnus said disdainfully. 

Asmodeus chuckled. “You’ve got spirit. I like that.” He took a sip of his water, not seeming at all abashed. Magnus shook himself. He should have known not to expect anything good to happen to him. Asmodeus leant back in his chair, surveying Magnus. “I like a lot about you.”

“You don’t know me enough to like me,” Magnus said before he could stop himself, bitterness coating the words. He shoved some food in his mouth before he could speak again and give more away.

“I don’t,” Asmodeus said, with a nod of his head, “though had circumstances been different…”

His words seemed laced with regret, but doubt prickled at the edge of Magnus’ mind. Asmodeus was a king, someone with a perfectly-crafted image - he would know how to maintain a façade. Magnus’ mother’s words, uttered long ago, returned to him: promise doesn’t always deliver

She’d known. Asmodeus, the thunderstorm: loud, showy, but over almost before it had begun. She’d seen right through him.

“You mean, if you hadn’t seen her as a common girl to pass the time with?” said Magnus, words dripping with disgust. His mother might not be here to say it, but the least Magnus could do was to honour her memory and hold Asmodeus accountable himself. He tried to keep his tone neutral. “How long did you wait to leave her once you found out she was pregnant?”

Asmodeus was silent for a moment, gaze sliding over Magnus.

“It wasn’t like that,” he said finally. “I was only in Indonesia for a short while. Not long after I returned home, my father died. By the time your mother wrote to me and said she was expecting you, I was King. I was in no position to be raising a child with an unwed mother I’d known for all of two weeks.” Magnus bristled and opened his mouth, but Asmodeus held up a hand. “That was how my advisors saw it. Whatever you may think of the situation, of me, I had grown to care for your mother.”

Magnus let this pass without comment. He finished his food in silence, noting Asmodeus didn’t try and fill the space between them. He set his cutlery on his plate and leant back in his chair.

“Magnus,” Asmodeus began, but Magnus shook his head.

“Did you ever try and find us?” he asked, hating how small his voice sounded.

Asmodeus finished his own meal and sighed. “Only once,” he answered. “Your mother replied to say that you were happy together, that she’d married someone. She didn’t want me to contact you again.”

Betrayal washed over Magnus, and then he felt irrevocably guilty. His mother couldn’t just look out for Magnus; she had to look out for herself as well. She obviously hadn’t wanted anything to do with Asmodeus.

Still, he couldn’t stop himself from biting out, “Convenient.”

“Yes,” Asmodeus agreed, “but not in the way you suppose. I was more than happy to provide for you, but I wanted it to be quiet. Shortly after my coronation, I got engaged to my first wife. If your mother had been less discreet, insisted on -” 

Asmodeus broke off on a raspy laugh at Magnus rolling his eyes rather spectacularly.

“You don’t like me, do you, Magnus?” he asked, still smiling. Magnus didn’t respond, staring at his glass of water. “No matter, we have time. Time to make up on, time to make up.”

“I wanted to,” Magnus said honestly. Earlier hopeful anticipation had been obliterated by resentment. “But you can’t fix twenty years of absence with dinner at a fancy restaurant. Why would you even want to? Don’t you want to be able to count on me being as discreet as my mother?”

Asmodeus fixed him with a look.

“Magnus,” he said, “I’m your father. Maybe at this moment only by blood alone, but I know what it is to lose a parent. I’m here to offer my condolences, and my strength, to you. That takes precedence over what anyone may say or think.”

Magnus toyed with his napkin. 

“Won’t your family find it weird?” he asked, feigning ignorance as he smoothed out a wrinkle in the napkin. He knew from his Internet research that Asmodeus had no immediate family, but he was interested to hear it directly from the devil’s mouth.

“Will you?” Asmodeus shot back, and Magnus shrugged. “Then once you decide, you will know. You are my family, Magnus.” Asmodeus’ eyes softened as he looked down at the hand, his left, that rested on the table. “My first wife died many years ago. We hoped for children, but it wasn’t meant to be. My second marriage was…not optimal.”

Magnus couldn’t help snorting, and he raised an eyebrow. “Not optimal? God, I can see the romance my mother saw in you.” 

He meant it to sound scathing, but Asmodeus seemed to take it as well-intentioned teasing, for he smiled widely. “Remember who you’re talking to,” he said lightly. 

Magnus sucked his teeth and took a sip of water. “In your letter, you said you were my legal guardian now. I’ll be going back to college in September, though, and I’ll be 21 soon. So you don’t have to worry. I’m fine here.”

“Parents worry whether we have to or not,” Asmodeus said, and Magnus had opened his mouth to say, ‘Look, can we quit acting like you’re a father and not just a sperm donor’ when the waiter appeared to clear their plates, and he kept quiet. 

“Magnus, I appreciate that this is a difficult time for you, and it’s certainly not how I envisaged us meeting. But my offer is this: you can live with me for as long as you need to.”

Magnus ran a finger around the rim of his glass. 

“Right, okay, let’s say that I just agree to move to another country without any problems. You’re saying I would be accepted, straight away? People would be happy with your son just suddenly turning up?”

Asmodeus brushed his knuckles along his jawline in thought. “There may be some resistance to you, given that your mother and I were not…”

“Given that I’m your bastard?” Magnus asked flatly. That whole Jon Snow thing Clary had come up with was seemingly faultless.

“A lovechild, yes,” Asmodeus said carefully. “But even without legitimacy, I doubt there would be too much trouble caused by a father supporting his son through such a tough time, given the…circumstances around your mother’s death.”

Jaw clenched, Magnus closed his eyes briefly, fighting off the image of his mother’s body.

“You can say suicide,” he said quietly. “My mother killed herself as a side effect of her mental illness.”

Asmodeus inclined his head. “I did not mean to be discourteous.”

“Accepted,” Magnus said. He stared at the table. “You’re expecting too much,” he said finally. Looking up, he met Asmodeus’ eye. “We met today, for the first time. I can’t come and live with you. My whole life is here.”

To Magnus’ surprise, Asmodeus did not protest. “I understand,” he said. “You’ll consider another meeting, or a visit to Edom, instead?”

Magnus knew then that Asmodeus was not used to people declining him. He thought on their time together today: the initial hope growing, blossoming smile by smile, and dying, shrivelling callous remark by callous remark. Catarina had been right. 

Asmodeus might not have given him any room to debate in the reply, but Magnus was going to carve himself some anyway.

“I’ll consider it,” he said.

The waiter appeared at his side to ask if either of the pair wanted dessert or coffee, and Magnus spoke before his father had a chance to.

“No, thank you,” he said firmly. “We’re done here.”

Magnus waited until the two of them were alone before he spoke again. He couldn’t help himself; he liked to push people’s buttons.

“You’re not going to make a broke college student pay the bill, are you?” he said, watching carefully for Asmodeus’ reaction.

As expected, Asmodeus simply smiled, though his jaw seemed tight. 

“Of course not,” he said. Magnus held his gaze for a moment, then stood, ready to leave. “You’re not going to refuse a lift, are you?” Asmodeus gestured outside the restaurant. “My driver will take you wherever you need to go.”

Magnus remained still, trying to work out Asmodeus’ game. Was it simply him being the bigger man, offering Magnus a ride home despite Magnus’ rudeness? Or was it more sinister? Magnus had seen way too many crappy gangster movies for his imagination not to come up with a load of violent scenarios that could happen in the back of a car.

“Okay,” he said finally. He probably shouldn’t piss a king off too badly. He didn’t doubt that Asmodeus could kill him and get away with it if he put his mind to it. “Thanks, then.”

They walked to the car, Magnus hanging behind slightly. The driver opened the door for them, and, once Magnus had given his address to the driver, they set off, car purring quietly along the road. 

Asmodeus withdrew a phone from his jacket pocket, pressed a couple of buttons, and then handed it to Magnus.

“Would you mind?” he asked, and Magnus glanced down to see a ‘new contact’ screen.

“Sure,” he said hesitantly, and he could feel Asmodeus’ eyes on him.

“Is there a problem?”

Magnus saw Asmodeus was watching him quizzically. “No.” He tried to stay curt, maintain the final impression he’d given at the restaurant, but the ridiculousness of what he was about to say made him unsuccessfully fight off a smile. “I just didn’t expect a king to use a cellphone, I guess.”

Asmodeus chuckled, but said nothing, and they rode the rest of the way in silence.

When they pulled up outside Magnus’ house, he opened the door to leave, but Asmodeus’ voice stopped him.

“I enjoyed today. Like I said, you’ve got spirit. I like that. Edom needs someone like you.”

Magnus narrowed his eyes. “I didn’t agree to anything,” he pressed. “I said I’d consider it.”

Asmodeus just smiled. “See you soon, Magnus.”

Magnus shut the car door with a simple, “Bye,” and it pulled away. Magnus sighed heavily and pulled out his phone.

 

To: [Sansa Stark]

15:02 cat don’t tell anyone but you were right about my dad

15:02 oh my god were you right

 

He pocketed his phone without waiting for a reply and trudged up the pathway to the front door. Magnus was barely a step inside when Chairman Meow came running up to him and wound between his legs. 

Magnus petted him for a minute. When Chairman trotted off down the hallway, Magnus wandered through to the living room and stopped short. 

Cardboard boxes piled high, some mostly filled, some taped shut. Magnus’ step-father was knelt over one box, unceremoniously dumping stuff inside it. Magnus caught sight of a pair of his boots and one of Chairman’s toys and yelped.

“What are you doing?” he asked. His step-father didn’t stop packing as he spoke.

“You’re leaving,” he said. 

Magnus shook his head and headed over to one of the boxes, rifling through it. “No, no, no. I’m not. I live here. I’m staying here.”

His step-father finally turned to him, face the picture of calm. “You’re mistaken. Your father has come to take you and I’m helping you on your way. Grab a box and get started.”

Magnus’ eyes went wide. “No. That’s not what this was. We only went for lu -” he broke off. “How do you know about my father?”

“I saw your letter.” Steady hands moved items to boxes in a consistent rhythm. “He’s finally accepting responsibility for you. Taken long enough.”

The calmness of his step-father’s voice unsettled Magnus no end.

“That’s not why he’s here. I’m not going with him,” he said, fighting to keep his voice measured. “This is my home.”

Magnus’ step-father closed a box and taped it up, then turned to him. “This is not your home,” he said. He gestured around him. “All this crap, taking up space in my house. You do not belong here. You never belonged here.”

Magnus flinched. They were words he knew, words he’d told himself, but hearing them from someone else’s mouth was a blow to the stomach. In some twisted way, he would have preferred if his step-father was yelling. At least then, in the dead of night, Magnus could tell himself they were heat-of-the-moment-words. But Magnus’ step-father sounded like he was reading out a grocery list. This was something he’d clearly wanted to say for a long time.

“I let you stay here for her. I put up with you for her. But now she’s not here, she’s gone, and -” his step-father’s voice broke, finally betraying some emotion, and his face crumpled. “It should have been you! It should have been you, not her! Get out!”

Magnus couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, couldn’t think. 

Get out!”

His step-father loomed over him, face pained. A vein in his neck stood out, transfixing Magnus, and then from the corner of his eye Magnus saw a fist, raised, and he ducked out the way. He stumbled backwards, hands raised in surrender, and backed towards the door.

Magnus fell into the hall and leant against the wall, fighting for breath. His pulse was racing and his head spun; what the hell was he going to do?

His step-father pushed past him and wrenched the front door open, tossing out one of the boxes. He didn’t so much as breathe in Magnus’ direction. 

Magnus rushed out onto the porch and pulled the box upright. He yanked his phone out of his pocket, fingers scrabbling to call someone, anyone -

 

From: [Unknown]

15:03 Magnus, it’s Asmodeus. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch - my offer still stands.

 

Magnus hadn’t heard his phone beep with his father’s message and, without thinking, tapped onto the number. He jammed his phone between his ear and shoulder as he dragged the box from the porch down to the edge of the front yard by the sidewalk. Asmodeus picked up on the third ring.

“Hello?”

“Change - of - plan,” Magnus said immediately, not caring that his breath was coming in harsh pants and he was struggling to talk. His throat was thick with emotion. “When - do you - fly home?”

Chapter Text

The hotel room door closed with a quiet click. 

In the silence of the suite, he meandered to the bar and found himself a tumbler. The amber liquor fell gracefully from the crystal decanter, splashing into the bottom of the glass. He stood at the bar and took a long sip, savouring the taste.

Asmodeus picked up his glass and moved to the couch. His suite in The Lucifer hotel was both opulent and exclusive; he could count on not being disturbed. The only people around him were his bodyguards on the other side of the reinforced door, and the walls were thick enough that his conversations wouldn’t be heard. He reached for his tablet computer, opened up the video calling app, and tapped on his Private Secretary’s number.

After two rings she appeared on the screen, which he propped up against the arm of the couch. 

“My Lord,” she said, and he raised his glass to her. “How did your meeting go?”

Asmodeus sipped his whiskey. “With Magnus Bane, or with Dr Gupta?”

The woman fixed her grey-blue eyes on Asmodeus, even over the computer screen. “I assumed from the new room booking made under his name yesterday that your meeting with Magnus went well,” she said lightly. “I meant your appointment with the consultant.”

Asmodeus sucked his teeth. “As well as could be expected, I suppose.” He exhaled slowly. “You know how I dislike hospitals, and the Beth Israel did little to change my mind.”

“Was the doctor pleased with your test results?” she asked. “Did they show an improvement?”

“They were stable,” said Asmodeus, “so in that sense, yes. But she was very frank that the most likely scenario is deterioration, whether it be in a few weeks or a few years.”

The woman nodded, her eyes growing sad. “Not entirely unexpected news,” she said quietly. Then she cleared her throat. “So Magnus agreed to be your heir, then?”

“You assumed our meeting went well - you assumed wrong,” said Asmodeus, smiling slightly. He took another drink. “The boy’s got fire. He seemed to believe my story, but he wasn’t taken by the idea of moving to Edom.”

“Yes, well. I did tell you,” the woman said, arching an eyebrow, and Asmodeus couldn’t help but laugh.

“I know, and I never listen to you.” The woman smiled too, and Asmodeus shrugged. “Your softly-softly approach probably would have worked in the long run, but we both know I don’t have time for that. As luck would have it, circumstances have pushed him to me anyway. The upshot of a long-winded story is that his step-father has thrown him out, so he’s temporarily staying with a friend.”

The woman’s face fell. “The poor boy. Is he hurt? Will he be okay?” she asked. “You must offer whatever you can.”

Asmodeus fixed her with a look. “What do you take me for? Of course I did. He has my full co-operation. It will win me at least another meeting with him.” 

The woman pursed her lips. Asmodeus ignored it. 

“He’s not a game to win, you know,” she reprimanded. “You need to tell him the truth. If he’s already unsure of you, how do you think he’ll react when he finds out you’ve lied about your reason for meeting him, however long down the line?”

“Oh, it’s harmless enough,” Asmodeus said with a wave of his hand. “You know the most terrible thing?” He sipped his whiskey, lips twitching. “I can’t even remember her name.”

The woman’s face darkened and she looked down at the desk. “Was there anything else you needed, my Lord, having kept me updated on the progress of your meetings?” she asked tightly.

“Don’t be like that,” Asmodeus said placatingly. “Magnus believes what he wants to believe about his mother and I. How about this? I will tell him that I require him to be my heir before he turns twenty one, hm?”

“With all due respect, my Lord, all you can do is ask him,” the woman said. “I fear if you order him -”

“I said ‘tell’, did I not?”

“- if you order him to, you will lose any chance you have of him agreeing.”

“I am his father,” said Asmodeus.

“Then you should want what’s best for him,” the woman said after a beat. 

Asmodeus narrowed his eyes. “I want what’s best for my country,” he said.

The woman inclined her head. “Of course, my Lord. But for Magnus to agree, he must want that too, wouldn’t you say?”

Asmodeus smiled reluctantly. “I would,” he agreed, though the words didn’t quite sit right in his mouth. “You’re too damn clever, Tessa Gray,” he added, smile widening.

The woman accepted this with a nod. “Well, one of us has to be. We’ll speak soon, my Lord?”

“Of course. And let me know the date of my flights, would you?” She nodded, and Asmodeus held up a hand. “Until later, then.”

Asmodeus disconnected the call. He swilled the whiskey around his glass, then drained it, and set it down on an end table next to the couch. He settled back onto the couch, rested his head against the arm, and closed his eyes.

Magnus flopped down onto the futon in Raphael’s spare room with an exaggerated groan. He pressed his face into the pillow and exhaled. 

After the disastrous return to his house, Magnus had been left understandably shaken. Asmodeus had listened while Magnus garbled an explanation of the situation down the phone, and he promised to take care of everything. He’d sent a truck to pick up the boxes Magnus’ step-father had packed and arranged for them to be taken to storage; they could stay there until Magnus decided what he wanted to do. 

Asmodeus had insisted Magnus take several days to think everything over, and had offered to book him a hotel room in the meantime. Magnus’ decision to accept his father’s offer and fly to Edom with him had been the product of a spike of panic and grabbing the first lifeline available to him - Magnus hadn’t expected Asmodeus to understand, but he had. Magnus had informed his father that Raphael was giving Magnus a place to stay, but thanked Asmodeus wholly. He hadn’t forgotten the disappointing end to their lunch meeting, but Asmodeus’ response to Magnus’ current situation was making him reevaluate his assessment of his father somewhat.

Díos, can’t you keep el diablo pequeño from under my feet?” Raphael said irritably, dumping Chairman Meow unceremoniously into the spare bedroom. Magnus lifted his head from the pillow and glared at Raphael.

“Don’t listen to the bad man, Chairman,” he said, blowing air kisses to the cat. “He doesn’t like anyone.”

Raphael ignored this. “You know I can hear you moaning from the kitchen?” 

“You could shut the door,” Magnus muttered, pushing his face back into the pillow. Raphael made an unimpressed noise, and Magnus inferred, from the silence that followed, that he’d returned to the kitchen. A moment later a soft nose brushed against his cheek and he turned his head, coming face to face with Chairman Meow. 

“Hey, kitty,” he said, sitting up and cuddling the cat. “It’s been a rough day.”

Magnus looked out on the room, the floor of which was almost entirely strewn with clothes. He knew his step-father worked long hours on a Thursday, so Raphael’s boyfriend, Simon, had lent him the keys to his van and Magnus had driven to his house. He’d let himself in, gone straight up to his room, and at once, he felt like crying.

The room was mostly bare; Magnus’ posters and lights had been taken down. His bed was stripped down to just the bland white mattress, and his desk empty of its usual folders, books and trinkets. The wooden shelves on the now blank walls were devoid of their photo frames; next to his empty bookshelf a cardboard box was lodged, almost half-full, with an assortment of Magnus’ various remaining belongings that his step-father obviously hadn’t managed to fit in the rest of the packing.

Magnus took a step into the room, leaving the suitcase he’d brought with him on the landing, and swallowed hard. Steeling himself, he walked over to the wardrobe. It was clearly the last item on Magnus’ step-father’s to do list, because almost all his clothes remained on their hangers, and his shoe boxes were still stacked in the wardrobe’s base.

Magnus returned to the hallway to wheel the suitcase over, and started pulling clothes into it. Around halfway through he gave up being gentle, simply wanting to get the hell out the house, and began yanking things off their hanger, stuffing them in the case. 

Once it was full he took it down to the van and lifted out the holdall he’d brought, and then returned to the house to stuff any remaining clothes into the bag. It took him a couple of trips to load all of his shoes into the van, thundering down the stairs and almost tripping once in his haste; when he was finished, he was panting with exertion. He leant heavily against the side of the van.

How had it come to this?

Magnus pushed off from the van and headed back into the house. He checked his room for a final time, satisfied he hadn’t left anything behind, and then he gave the rest of the house the once over. 

He debated leaving a note, but decided his step-father would work out that he’d been, and if he couldn’t finish sending Magnus’ things on, would he care anyway?

Magnus stepped out onto the porch and the door closed behind him with finality. He held his head high as he walked to Simon’s van, and the drive back to Raphael’s was nothing more than bittersweet.

When he returned to the apartment, he opened the cases and started to unpack his clothes. Then he realised there wasn’t that much hanging space in the room, and he might only be staying here for a few days. He allowed himself to wallow dramatically in the unfairness of the situation, gave up tidying, dropped his clothes on the floor and threw himself onto the bed.

Some time later - Magnus hadn’t been keeping track - Simon poked his head around the doorframe.

“Food’s ready. Raph says you aren’t allowed to bring the cat. Although he didn’t call it that, but I don’t think you’ll thank me for telling you exactly what he did say…” 

Simon’s eyes widened as he took in the state of the room.

“I know I made a mess,” Magnus said tiredly, putting Chairman down at the foot of the bed and then standing. He stretched widely and yawned. “I’ll tidy it tomorrow.”

Simon shrugged. “It’s okay,” he said, pushing his glasses up his nose. “Not really my room anymore, anyway. I know you’re going through a shit time right now.” 

Simon was right: the room wasn’t really his any longer. It had been, to start with, when he and Raphael had just been flatmates, sharing the cost of living in Brooklyn. Then they’d started sharing other things, too, and somehow without realising Simon had slowly migrated into Raphael’s bedroom and his own became a spare. 

Magnus managed a half-smile.

“Thanks,” he said, and Simon shook his head.

“Don’t mention it.”

They ate in front of the TV, Raphael and Simon bickering about what channel to watch. Later, once Magnus had done the washing up and returned to the couch, Chairman Meow came running out of his allocated quarters and curled up on Magnus’ chest. Magnus glanced over at Raphael, expecting some snarky comment, but Raphael had fallen asleep on Simon’s shoulder. He looked positively angelic.

Magnus saw Simon smiling lovingly at Raphael as he ran his fingers through his hair, and decided it was time to excuse himself. He bid Simon goodnight and retired to the guest room. Once he’d changed into some pyjamas and brushed his teeth, he snuggled down in bed, the weight of Chairman Meow on Magnus’ feet comfortingly familiar.

He could hear the murmurs of Simon and Raphael talking, each using a fluid mix of English and Spanish that tripped off each of their tongues into the air. Magnus drifted off to the sound of their quiet, sleepy laughter.

Asmodeus had promised to notify Magnus of his plans to return to Edom, and the following day Magnus received a message to say his father would be flying back on August 13th, which gave Magnus a few days to make his final decision. If he needed longer, the message said, he could fly out on his own and come later. 

It was all very accommodating.

Something about it was unnervingly pleasant, but mostly, Magnus was just grateful someone cared about him, about his feelings, about his well-being. 

Catarina rang him later that day to ask how he was doing, and to invite him out for coffee. Magnus agreed, knowing how precious her time off was. They talked about nothing for a good hour, and Magnus basked in the light of their friendship, something that would follow him - and that he would protect - no matter how far from each other they were.

“I love you, Cat,” he told her seriously, as they hugged goodbye.

She pulled back from him, hands on his shoulders. “Oh my God,” she said, eyes wide, “you’re going, aren’t you? You’ve decided.”

He held her gaze, her dark brown eyes fixed on him intently. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I quit my job and everything.” Magnus licked his lips. “I’m just gonna see what it’s like. Not forever, you can’t get rid of me that easy.”

Catarina smiled and wrapped him in a hug, squeezing him tightly. “Go on then,” she said, with a sniff. “Get your gorgeous ass on that plane.”

When he’d been choosing which college to go to, Magnus had visited UCLA, and on one leg of his return flight to New York he’d been upgraded to Premium Economy. He’d called it a stroke of luck, enjoyed back and forth flirting with the woman he’d ended up sitting next to, been served two free drinks, and generally ended up thinking his area of seating was pretty fancy.

Premium Economy was nothing compared to his father’s private jet.

Logically, Magnus knew rich people owned expensive things, and he knew his father was rich. He knew powerful, important people didn’t often travel with the masses, and he knew his father was powerful and important.

But fucking hell. He had a private jet.

Magnus stretched out in the reclining seat he’d chosen, crossing his legs at the ankle. Beside him, Chairman Meow sat on his cat bed, preening and generally looking pretty pleased with himself. Magnus stared out the window, watching the clouds drift by, and idly wondered if he should start a diary.

The flight to Edom was a fairly long one, around eight hours. Though they’d left New York early in the morning, Magnus found himself dropping off during the journey. 

When he woke, he sat bolt upright, disorientated, and then he caught sight of Asmodeus sitting in one of the chairs on the other side of the plane. He lifted an eyebrow.

“Are you okay?” he asked, and Magnus nodded slowly, turning onto his side. The bright lights of the cabin were harsh against his still sleepy mind and he closed his eyes.

“Where are we?” he mumbled.

“Turning somewhere over Scandinavia,” Asmodeus told him softly. “Not long to go.”

Once he’d woken up properly, Magnus amused himself by playing games with Chairman Meow for a while, and then he checked his phone. Saying goodbye to his friends had been heart-wrenching, but they were only on the other side of a screen. Clary was already making plans to come and visit him, whether he wanted her to or not. He had no doubt that when he switched his phone off airplane mode he’d be inundated with a host of messages, and the thought warmed him from the inside out.

When they got off the jet, dusk was drawing in. Having slept on the plane, Magnus felt reasonably alert. Asmodeus warned him to keep his wits about him, as they would be greeted by a few staff and a driver on the other side of Arrivals, and he couldn’t say for sure that there wouldn’t be a few photographers hanging around.

Magnus nodded and took all of this in, but it was only when he saw the reactions of the welcome party that he realised, for the first time, that his father was actually a king. 

The monarch. 

He was the actual sovereign of an actual country, and the closest to royal Magnus had come was an ace-high flush in an ill-advised strip poker game. 

Magnus sighed, causing Asmodeus to shoot him a glance. Magnus nodded in response, and Asmodeus put a hand on his arm, guiding him towards a slight, bald man, who smiled and shook Magnus’ hand. 

“Good to meet you, sir,” he said. “I’m Joe.”

Magnus smiled at him and followed Joe as he led the party to the waiting car. Asmodeus gestured for Magnus to enter first, and Magnus was fairly proud of how gracefully he managed to clamber across the backseat. 

They waited until a car in front, which was to take the staff back to the palace, had pulled out, and then Joe followed. A black Range Rover tailed Asmodeus and Magnus’ car, and three of the security detail rotated around them on motorbikes.

Magnus watched the changing view from the car window as it flashed past. The road from the airport was dark, the only light coming from the occasional car going the other way and the cat’s eyes buried in the tarmac. After a while, they ended up on a freeway, and Magnus lost himself in the glare of the headlights of cars shooting in the opposite direction. 

He checked his phone and adjusted it to local time; it was around ten in the evening. As predicted, he had texts from Clary and Catarina which made him smile, and Ragnor had even deigned to send him a good luck message.

The car pulled off the freeway and wound through some less busy roads, until eventually it turned onto a stone track that was bisected by a pair of wrought iron gates. A security booth sat on the outer side of the gates, and as the first of the procession of vehicles pulled up, the gates were opened. 

They followed the track through the palace grounds, Magnus studying everything intently through the window. He tried not to look too much like a kid in their first candy store, but couldn’t help gasping when he saw the palace for the first time.

Despite the dark that had fallen around it, the building stood grandly in Magnus’ view. Its white marble bricks gleamed in the light cast by outdoor lamps and the vehicle procession’s headlights. The palace primarily extended over two floors, judging by the lit windows Magnus could see, but towards the centre of the building more floors rose. 

Domed roofs covered the palace, though the entranceway was sheltered by a portico. The columns had been gilded to create three giant archways, and through which Magnus could see a set of elaborate doors.

The car doors were opened for them and Magnus got out. He stood still, gazing up at the palace, bathed in moonlight, and pinched his arm to check he wasn’t dreaming. 

Asmodeus came to stand next to him. He placed a hand on Magnus’ shoulder.

“Welcome home,” he said, and for a minute Magnus thought Asmodeus was going to hug him, but he didn’t.

He nodded to one of the women who had been waiting for them at the airport.

“Dorothea, show him to his room.” Asmodeus looked at Magnus. “I hope you sleep well. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Magnus felt oddly disappointed when his father jogged up the palace steps and began talking to a brown-haired woman in a pencil skirt. He kept his eyes on his father until he and the woman disappeared through the ornate double doors of the palace entrance, and then his attention was diverted by Dorothea coming to stand in front of him. She was young, about the same age as Magnus, and her soulful eyes were warm.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, my Lord,” she said, bending in a curtsey. “If you would follow me?”

Magnus eyed her in surprise. “You don’t have to call me that,” he said, voice strained. “You can call me Magnus.”

“Then I’m Dot,” she said, and turned away, as if to lead Magnus to his room.

“What about our bags?” he asked, suddenly remembering them. “Should I grab my suitcase, or…”

“They’ll be brought up,” Dot told him, and he nodded. Of course they would.

Magnus, wide-eyed, followed Dot through the corridors of the palace. The walls were covered with paintings, soaring landscapes and stern portraits. They turned right into a long stretch of hallway with mahogany paneling which Dot led Magnus down. About halfway, they stopped. She pushed the door open and gestured for him to follow her. 

"This will be your room," she told him. Magnus stepped inside. The walls were a deep red, wallpaper patterned with swirls. A luxurious canopy bed stood in the middle of the room; the bedspread was cream and gold and on top of it were more pillows than Magnus could count. 

"Of course,” Dot said, as Magnus ran his fingers over the walls, taking everything in, “if you don’t like anything, we can change it for you.” 

A pendant chandelier hung from the ceiling; two doors led off from the main room, which Dot informed him led to a bathroom and a closet. "You're in the West Wing for now. I’ll give you the proper tour tomorrow.”

Magnus nodded half-heartedly. The West Wing. It was almost too much. 

“Oh!" Dot wandered over to the window, where a quilted seat lay across the bay. Beyond, Magnus couldn't make out much of the view in the darkness, but the stars were brighter than he'd seen for a long time, without the urban lighting of New York. Dot gestured to a fluffy circular cushion on the floor. “Yeah, I almost forgot. This is for your cat.”

Magnus looked at her for a moment, then smiled. A bud of hope bloomed in his chest. Maybe this could be home. 

The next morning, Dot took Magnus on a tour of the palace. It was a sprawling mansion; bedrooms on the upper floor of the East Wing, drawing and dining rooms on the lower. In the centre of the palace were offices and council rooms, and the kitchens and staff quarters. The stairs to Asmodeus' solar wound up through the West Wing, and beyond that were more bedrooms. The West Wing also housed a magnificent ballroom, and by the time Dot brought him back to the entrance hall, Magnus was still struggling to wrap his head around the fact that his father had a ballroom. 

Asmodeus was waiting for him with a smile. He asked if Magnus had eaten yet, and when Magnus said he hadn't, gestured for them to walk. 

They sat in an opulent dining hall at a dark wood table with gold padded chairs, provided with a feast of breads and brioches, pancakes and pastries, fruits, preserves, cereals, eggs, and Magnus was assured that anything he wanted but couldn't see could be provided. 

They were halfway through eating when the dining room doors opened and three people came to sit with them. 

Asmodeus held out his hand. “Let me introduce you to my Great Officers - yours, in fact,” he said.

Magnus couldn’t help quipping, "What's mine is yours,” but he tried to keep it to himself. 

Asmodeus gestured to a tall, pale woman with wavy brown hair, the one Magnus had seen his father talking to the night before.

“Theresa Gray,” Asmodeus said, “Private Secretary to the Sovereign.”

“Please, call me Tessa, my Lord,” she said warmly, leaning across the table to shake Magnus’ hand. Up close she was younger than she’d initially seemed, and her grey-blue eyes twinkled in the light.

“Well, please call me Magnus, then,” he said, smiling. “I have no idea what you do, but I’m sure it’s very important.”

From the corner of his eye he saw his father pull a face, but Tessa let out a puff of laughter.

“It’s nothing,” she said, with a teasing glance at Asmodeus. “I only keep this place running.”

Asmodeus coughed pointedly and gestured to the woman sitting next to Tessa.

“Samira Hussain, my Keeper of the Purse.”

The silver stitches on Samira's pale lilac headscarf glittered beautifully in the light as she nodded at Magnus. 

“That basically means Treasurer,” she told him, smiling.

Asmodeus gestured to the only man who'd joined them. He was white-haired, even though Magnus guessed he was around thirty, and his eyes glinted almost purple in the light.

“And finally,” said Asmodeus, “Master of the Household: Malcolm Fade.”

“I have to disagree with Theresa,” Malcolm said conversationally, plucking a grape from a bowl of fruit salad on the table and rolling it between his fingers. His accent was incredibly familiar. “Magnus, you’ll find I’m the one who keeps the place in order.”

He popped the grape in his mouth and chewed, smiling.

“Are you from the States?” Magnus asked him. 

Malcolm hummed. “I am and I’m not,” he said, and Magnus just refrained from rolling his eyes. “I was born here in Edom, but I lived in LA for a long time.”

Magnus nodded. He glanced at his father, and found Asmodeus watching him.

“Excellent,” Asmodeus said. “Malcolm will take you through and introduce the rest of his staff once we’ve eaten.”

It was a lot to take in before Magnus had had his second cup of coffee for the day, but he managed to smile, if half-heartedly. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around the fact that his father had so many people working for him, waiting on him; it was alien to Magnus. But, on the positive side, almost everyone he’d spoken to so far had been very pleasant. He was waiting for a chance to see the palace in daylight, to explore on his own after everything he’d seen with Dot, and to unpack some of his things. 

A voice in the back of his head was warning him not to get too attached, not this fast, and unpacking was surely a tangible sign that he was doing that. 

Magnus ignored it and took a sip of his coffee. He could deal with it later.

Chapter Text

Tessa caught Magnus on his way down to lunch, and she smiled when she saw him.

“Hello, Magnus,” she said, lifting her free hand in a wave. She was carrying a bundle of folders under her arm and had a phone in one hand.

“Afternoon, Tessa,” he said. Magnus gestured to her. “Do you need any help?”

She glanced down. “Oh, no. It’s fine, thank you. You could always walk a girl to her office, though,” she finished, teasing.

Magnus grinned and offered her his arm, which she swatted away with a laugh. 

The two of them had struck up an easy relationship over the four weeks Magnus had been staying in Edom. He had been surprised to learn that Tessa was only a couple of years older than him; he’d expected someone in her position in the Royal Household to be at least thirty. But she explained that her family had lived and worked at the palace for at least four generations, so she’d been able to rise to her role with relative ease. Not that she didn’t work hard - almost every time Magnus saw her she was talking to someone important-looking or consulting with Asmodeus, but it was clear as she moved about the palace that she was familiar with the setting.

On odd occasions when she wasn’t working, Tessa and Magnus shared a few drinks and much conversation. She’d told him about her grandmother, who had been Head Chef in the palace kitchens before retiring. In exchange, he told Tessa about his friends back in New York, and she confessed, almost wistfully, that she’d love to see the city. 

She had asked Magnus once if he was with anybody, and he’d told her no. She wondered if anyone about the palace had caught his eye, but he’d just laughed. Magnus had asked her the same question, and she’d told him the interesting story of her polyamorous love life.

Tessa had left the subject alone since then, but she did like to pry into Magnus’ relationship with his father.

“Have you seen Asmodeus today?” she asked, true to form.

Magnus only just managed to refrain from rolling his eyes. 

“No,” he said, “and I don’t know if I will. I missed him at breakfast.”

Tessa made a disapproving sound. “I keep telling him,” she said, more to herself than Magnus. They reached her office and she stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Listen…he won’t thank me for this, but you should go and talk to him. You’ve been here a while - don’t get me wrong, I love having you around - but you’ve seen how we do things. You’re ready.”

Magnus frowned at her, nonplussed. “Ready for what?” he asked.

Tessa shook her head. “It’s not my place to say,” she said, “but your father can tell you.”

“Are you naturally this cryptic, or do you have to try really hard?” Magnus asked, partly to lighten the mood and partly to try and shake how wrong-footed he was feeling. 

Tessa laughed. “I try really hard,” she said, “but don’t tell anyone.” She left him with a pat on his arm.

Magnus knocked on the door of his father’s solar with some trepidation. 

Ever since his conversation with Tessa the previous afternoon, he’d been going around in circles trying to work out what she could have meant. His friends had been no help, with Raphael eventually calling him up just so he could yell at him in Spanish to go and talk to Asmodeus.

Clary had snatched the phone from him after that, and Magnus had been somewhat distracted from the problem at hand by her explanation of her plans to come and visit. They spent about an hour working everything out, co-ordinating flight times and outlining an itinerary, and momentarily Magnus felt happier. Then they’d all shouted goodbyes down the phone at him, Clary and Raphael and Simon, and even though Magnus knew he’d sort of left them behind, a stab of pain went through him at the reminder. 

They still had each other, and he was alone with nothing but his confusion for company.

“Father?” he asked, tilting his head towards the door, “It’s Magnus. Obviously.”

Asmodeus opened the door with a smile. “Obviously. Come in.”

The solar had a large, intricate stained-glass window taking up most of the main wall, and the sunlight bathed the room in reds, turquoises, golds. The wall with the door in was covered in paintings and sketches; the final two walls were composed of floor to ceiling bookcases. 

They took seats opposite each other. Lit from behind by the light from the stained-glass window, Asmodeus looked like some ethereal being. Various papers and important looking documents were scattered about the surface of Asmodeus’ stately desk and he brushed them to one side. He leant back in his velvet-seated chair and surveyed Magnus. 

“How can I help?” he asked. 

Magnus cleared his throat. “I saw Tessa yesterday,” he began, and Asmodeus’ nostrils flared.

“Go on.”

Magnus hesitated. “Well, she said that I should talk to you. She didn’t say what it was about, but she said I was ready.”

Asmodeus rubbed his thumb and forefinger over his brow, eyes closed for a moment. 

“That woman…” he muttered. “Very well. There is something I want to talk with you about.”

Magnus nodded, gesturing for Asmodeus to continue. 

“At the risk of stating the obvious,” said Asmodeus, “as you recently became aware, you are my son. No doubt you’ve surmised: this makes you a prince.”

“Sure,” said Magnus, brow wrinkled, “I kind of worked that out.”

“Of course,” allowed Asmodeus. He licked his lips and inhaled. “It makes you a prince by blood, but not profession. You’ve spent some time in Edom, around the people who work here. I had hoped for you to become yet more informed before I asked you, but I suppose it will work this way too. Tessa’s usually right about these things…Magnus, will you accept the role of Crown Prince?”

Magnus felt his lips part, but no sound came out. He stared at Asmodeus. 

“Think of it as a formalisation process,” Asmodeus continued, looking at Magnus, “whereby you would be inherited. You would become my heir.”

Magnus choked on his tongue. “Like, I would be king one day?” he asked, incredulous.

Asmodeus gave him the ghost of a smile. “That’s generally the definition, yes,” he said. 

“Well, I - wh -” Magnus cleared his throat. “I haven’t even graduated college and you want me to run a country one day? Seriously?” Asmodeus nodded, regarding him. “Can I think about it?”

Asmodeus nodded again. “Of course. I wouldn’t expect an answer immediately. Our national day, the Eve of Edom, will be ten weeks tomorrow,” he said, stroking his jaw. “Will that give you enough time? An announcement about the future of the country would be quite fitting then, I think.”

Magnus blew out his breath. “Ten weeks? I guess I’ll manage.”

Asmodeus did smile then, eyes softening. “It’s entirely your decision,” he said, “but I hope you’ll make the right one.”

“The right one?” Magnus asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“Was that all you wished to discuss?” Asmodeus asked, instead of giving an answer.

Magnus nodded, and then cocked his head. “Oh, actually, there was something I wanted to ask you,” he said. 

“I can’t promise an answer, but go on.”

Magnus gestured around them. “How come an Asian guy ended up ruling a country right in the middle of Europe?” he asked.

Asmodeus smiled. He didn’t answer for a while, instead crossing his legs and settling more comfortably into his chair.

“Several generations ago, your paternal…what would it be? Great-great-great-great grandfather took an Indonesian wife. The stories say it was all very romantic - he an intrepid explorer, she a beautiful blushing bride.” Asmodeus pulled a face. “But you know what white people are like. Always trying to spin their history into something it wasn’t.”

Magnus nodded. “I’m surprised the people accepted her,” he said with a frown.

Asmodeus tilted his head. “You have to remember, the European rulers had been marrying their children to people of different nationalities for hundreds of years. The English Kings alone married princesses from France, Spain, Germany. It was not unusual for him to marry someone from another country.” He exhaled slowly. “But you’re right, of course. She was ostracised at first, and then tolerated. When her husband died and their son took the throne, he was always treated with some suspicion. But the King’s mother didn’t stop her charitable work, and eventually she won over public opinion.”

Magnus nodded again. “What’s public opinion like now?” he asked.

“Oh, the people love me,” Asmodeus said wryly. “At least that’s what I’m told.” He shrugged. “The country likes to forget what it’s done, and having an Asian king lets them think they’re not racist anymore. That’s actually part of the reason why I was in Indonesia when I met your mother.”

“A state visit, you said?” Magnus asked, recalling their lunch-time conversation at The Spiral Labyrinth.

Asmodeus nodded. “We maintain strong diplomatic relations,” he said. “It’s a beautiful country.”

Magnus smiled. “I’ve only been once. I went backpacking with Ragnor - my friend from home - the summer after our senior year of high school. We did South-East Asia and then South America and…” Magnus trailed off. 

Asmodeus arched an eyebrow at him. “And?”

Magnus hummed. “Not to change the subject, but would it be an issue if a potential heir to a throne was banned from a country? Like maybe, say, Peru? Asking for a friend…”

Magnus zoned out about ten minutes into Malcolm’s lecture.

Well, it was technically a lesson, he supposed. But Malcolm Fade did like to drone on, and even if he had been talking about something interesting, his voice grated on Magnus’ ears.

He was supposed to be learning about the lords and ladies of court - a task he suspected that Sansa Stark might find interesting, but as it was Magnus had a hard time conjuring up any feeling relating to these people except boredom. 

“My Lord,” Malcolm huffed, “I will admit, I’m beginning to lose patience.”

Magnus looked at him. “Well, I’m beginning to lose the will to live,” he said flatly.

Malcolm breathed deeply. “It’s your father’s instruction that -”

“I catch up on everything I’ve missed, yeah, I know,” said Magnus. 

He could see the point in it. If he was to accept the role of Crown Prince, he would need to know much more than he did - not just who the people in his court were, but what they did, the influence they held. He would also need to learn all the people in Edom’s government, because the monarchy was symbolic: Asmodeus had the final say over signing in new laws and such like, but most of the decisions affecting the country were made in the parliamentary buildings and the First Minister technically ran the country.

The whole ‘learning about people’ thing made sense, in theory. But Magnus was sociable, personable, and couldn’t put a name to a face from paper alone.

“How about a change of subject?” offered Malcolm. “We could move onto History.”

Magnus had read up on a couple of the main events in Edom’s history: that, prior to its unification around three hundred years ago, it had consisted of several small territories; that it became a British colony in the early 1800s and achieved independence from them at the turn of the 20th century. He was of the opinion that history was far more interesting lived through than learnt about, and shook his head in answer to Malcolm’s question. 

“Can I take a break?” Magnus asked.

“You took a break ten minutes ago,” said Malcolm.

Magnus flopped forwards, banging his head against the table. “Okay. Positive reinforcement. If I can tell you the surnames of all the aristocratic families in Edom, can I have a break?”

Malcolm snorted. “Go on then,” he said disbelievingly.

And if there was one thing Magnus couldn’t resist, it was proving someone wrong.

Slowly, week by week, he was getting there.

Malcolm seemed to have taken Magnus’ complaints to heart and had set him up several meetings with various important figures. One time it was a conference with Samira and the Minister of Finance; another he met the First Minister and took a tour of their residence. 

He had also been given permission to sit in on the weekly parliamentary sessions his father attended, and a couple of times he had attended a meeting with his father, the Great Officers and the First Minister.

The system of government was different to what he was used to from home, but he was learning it. He had also made a couple of friends in the young adult sons and daughters of the aristocracy, who were inducting him into their ranks far more successfully than Malcolm had managed.

Copious amounts of alcohol probably had something to do with it.

Magnus was also learning his way around the palace. On his second day, he discovered a lake in the grounds that looked like something out of a fairytale: a weeping willow, bullrushes and lilies decorated the clear blue water. Magnus spent several early autumn afternoons out there on his own, thinking about the role his father was offering, about the friends he’d left behind in New York, about his mother.

One of his favourite places in the palace grounds was the stables. Due to some antiquated tradition, it was expected that all members of the royal family should be able to ride a horse, and Magnus took to it quickly. The stable master, Jem Carstairs, doubled as his teacher, and once Magnus had learned the basics they rode in the paddock for hours. Magnus was delighted to discover that Jem both knew Tessa and owned a cat, but only one of them seemed to like him.

Magnus enjoyed archery far less than seeing the horses. It was a sport he rapidly picked up to a level of mediocrity, but getting good at it took time and patience he wasn’t willing to give. Polo was more interesting, because he got to ride, but most of the men he had to play against were insufferable. 

By far the best part of the Crown Prince role was the charity. Samira took the time to talk at length with Magnus about the different causes they supported, both donating money to independent charities and the trusts set up by the palace itself. 

When Magnus had turned up in the palace kitchens, ready to help bake for a cake sale being held to raise money for a mental health charity, a few of the staff had looked at each other, confused. But when he explained what he was there for they accepted his help. 

He enjoyed listening to their stories; they gave him a more level view of Edom, one he could relate to, and Magnus made good friends with many of the staff, especially Dot and Elias, who worked under Malcolm. In fact, he saw more of the staff than he did of his father. 

Asmodeus was an early riser; Magnus woke before midday with much reluctance. Asmodeus usually dined in his solar with either Tessa or Samira or Malcolm; Magnus craved the company of a crowd and usually ate with a litany of staff in their quarters. The dining room was too extensive for him to eat in alone.

It wasn’t the done thing, perhaps; Asmodeus had mentioned it, once. He requested he and Magnus share an evening meal each weekend, and it was then that they caught up on their week. But Magnus had firmly shut him down by saying that if he was to be Crown Prince, he would have a duty to every person in the country, regardless of status, and Asmodeus had remained silent on the issue since then.

Despite his busy days, Magnus made time to regularly catch up with most of his friends from home. Each time he spoke to her, Clary was more excited about her upcoming visit. Catarina had told him about being chosen to assist with an actual surgery, which he knew meant a lot for her. Raphael was in the middle of a stressful time at work, as the construction company he worked for were in the middle of taking over a rival firm. 

Magnus was trying very hard not to talk to Ragnor.

Magnus’ 21st birthday was coming up in a few weeks, and Asmodeus had gotten himself into Magnus’ good books by insisting on throwing a celebration. Granted, it wasn’t going to be the type of birthday party Magnus was used to hosting, but he felt like bursting with happiness every time he thought about it.

As soon as he knew it was going ahead he had, of course, invited his friends. Neither Raphael nor Catarina had been able to get the time off from work, and Clary’s flight would get her to Edom the day after the party. Ragnor was the only one who was available, but declined on the basis that none of the others could go and it would mean spending at least a day with, and only with, Magnus for company.

Magnus had removed him from Game of Phones after that.

As a result of his three friends and the traitor not being able to attend, Magnus effectively had a bunch of unclaimed invitations to his party, so Clary had asked if Magnus would give them to her parents. Luke and Jocelyn were honeymooning around Europe, and Clary thought they’d have the flexibility to make a spontaneous trip to Edom. After how close he’d gotten to Luke and Jocelyn over the years he’d known their daughter, how could he refuse? He told Clary he would make arrangements for the invites to be emailed to Luke and Jocelyn, and that he was looking forward to seeing them.

Magnus had his nose in a textbook when the dining room doors opened to let someone in, and he barely glanced up.

“Morning,” he said distractedly, engrossed in what he was reading.

After deciding to stay in Edom for the foreseeable future, Magnus had had a lengthy discussion with an undergraduate advisor at NYU, explaining his situation, and they’d agreed that the term ‘exceptional circumstances’ could hardly have been more appropriate. They’d given him permission to defer his junior year of college a full twelve months, so he could simply rejoin the cohort a year younger than him the following September, but he didn’t want to become complacent. Behind all the glamour and carefreeness, Magnus actually worked his ass off - not that any of his peers needed to be privy to that information.

“Good morning,” greeted Asmodeus, and Magnus’ father’s voice was enough to make him look up from his reading.

“Oh, hi,” he said, as his father took the seat opposite him.

Asmodeus nodded at Magnus and then helped himself coffee from the French press that had been brought over for Magnus earlier in the morning. Magnus rarely ate in the room; it was only when he was surrounded by a littering of scribbled pages and journal articles that he utilised the spacious dining table.

“How’s it going?” Asmodeus asked, and Magnus couldn’t hold back his smile at the question. The words should have been informal, relaxed, but they seemed stilted coming from his father’s mouth.

“Uh, I’m good,” Magnus said. Asmodeus gestured to the books in front of Magnus. “Yeah, the studying’s going okay too.” 

Magnus had once tried to explain some of his lecture topics from freshman year to his father over a delicious coq au vin, which had sent Asmodeus towards complete bewilderment, and so now kept his comments general - bland, even.

“Good,” Asmodeus said. His right index finger was tapping on the tabletop. “I have something to discuss with you.”

The last time Asmodeus had used similar words he’d dropped the Crown Prince bombshell all those weeks ago, so Magnus steeled himself for something important. He couldn’t help pouting the smallest amount, though, and dropped his gaze to his textbook. Of course there had to be a secret motivation behind every action of his father’s. He couldn’t just visit because he was interested in Magnus.

“Can it wait until I’m done?” Magnus asked, aiming for disinterest. He turned a page, even though his eyes were just skimming the text, and picked up his pen, as if to make a note.

Asmodeus cleared his throat.

“No,” he said simply, and Magnus wrinkled his nose. He laid the pen down and lifted his head, looking at his father expectantly. 

“It’s a delicate matter,” Asmodeus began. Magnus felt dread swirl in his stomach. “You’ll be twenty-one in a few days. I appreciate that our customs are new to you, and you may not have considered this, but that means you will be of age. In view of your new role, it would be pertinent for you to consider finding a suitor.”

Magnus struggled to breathe for a moment, and once he remembered how to, he felt like laughing deliriously. 

“A suitor?” he asked, slightly breathless.

Asmodeus raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, a girlfriend,” he said. A pause drifted past before he shrugged and said, “or a boyfriend, I suppose - times are changing. Surely you’ve heard of those concepts?”

Magnus managed a jerky nod. “Yeah, I - obviously.” Magnus eyed Asmodeus suspiciously, nibbling on his lower lip. “Can I choose who I…”

Asmodeus gave him a look. “Yes. I will be providing you with some guidance. But the final decision is, of course, up to you.”

It was suddenly much easier to breathe. Magnus flopped forward, leaning his elbows on his momentarily discarded notes. He exhaled shakily.

“Okay. I guess.” He swallowed. Now he was over the initial shock, the concept didn’t actually seem too bad. His father wasn’t forcing him to get married. “Just don’t give me any Joffreys.”

Asmodeus’s brow crinkled. 

“It’s from a…never mind,” Magnus said absently, waving his hand. He realised belatedly that his father had spoken about Magnus as if he had already accepted the role, but he let it go this once. As it was, he was only a couple of weeks away from needing to decide. “Is that it?”

Asmodeus nodded, one sharp tilt of his head. He narrowed his eyes at Magnus.

“You’re taking this remarkably well,” he said, and he seemed both a little confused and a little proud.

“Don’t worry,” said Magnus, running a hand through his hair, “inside I am dramatically freaking out.”

It was a half-truth. Magnus could assume that any relationship he entered into as the King’s son - as the Crown Prince, if he chose so - would be subject to a fair amount of scrutiny and media attention, especially if it was with another man. He wasn’t sure if he was ready for that level of weird, even if he was getting to the fact that he was half royal. On top of that, the first meeting with his future partner wasn’t going to be born of serendipity, but pre-arrangement, which wasn’t exactly the romantic start to a relationship Magnus had dreamt of. 

But it wasn’t as if he’d be going through that feeling alone. The other person would know just how it felt, and that would give them something to bond over. It had been almost a year and a half since Magnus and his ex-girlfriend, Etta, had ended their relationship, and he was ready for something new. 

Asmodeus smiled. “Some of the potential suitors will be attending your birthday celebration this weekend,” Asmodeus told him. “It might be a good chance for you to meet them.” He got up from his chair. 

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Magnus said lightly. Asmodeus nodded.

“Make sure your freaking out doesn’t distract you too much from your studies,” he said, to Magnus’ exasperation - as if he wasn’t the one who’d raised the issue in the first place.

Magnus shook his head and returned to his page, running a manicured nail down the text to find his place. Asmodeus said nothing more and left him in peace. 

A whisper of excitement stole through Magnus’ body, and he failed to force it down as he focussed on his textbook again.

Chapter Text

Saturday came around with surprising haste.

Released from Malcolm’s clutches and allowed to spend his birthday as he pleased, Magnus relished the chance to lounge in bed until the early afternoon. He curled up with Chairman as he opened his cards, reading them out to the cat while adopting different voices. Chairman didn’t look too impressed by Magnus’ impressions of various dignitaries and friends alike.

Magnus’ stomach clenched painfully when he scrolled past ‘Home’ in his phone contacts, realising again that it was his first birthday without his mother. He’d known it for a long time, but knowing it was coming and actually experiencing it were two different things. Magnus hugged Chairman close to him and squeezed his eyes shut, missing his mother so much it manifested as a physical ache.

After a moment of silence he let out a ragged breath and then sucked air back in, and slowly he returned to himself.

When he was ready, he video called his friends in New York. They’d all gathered at Clary’s, because the loft was almost empty while Luke and Jocelyn were away. Clary was in the middle of packing to come and visit Magnus; her flight was that night, so she popped up occasionally into the frame looking a little frayed, and then she would scurry off somewhere again.

They chatted for over an hour, Magnus catching them up on everything that had happened. It wasn’t quite the same as seeing them in person, but he had missed their regular coffee sessions and the call lifted his spirits no end. 

As the early evening arrived, a knock came at Magnus’ door. He opened it to reveal Dot, and she smiled at him at once.

“Happy birthday,” she said warmly, giving him a hug. “Your father requests your presence in his solar when you’re ready. Dinner will be at eight, but the guests have already started arriving.”

Magnus nodded.

“Of course.” He glanced back at his closet. “Should I wear anything in particular?”

“It’s a black tie event,” she told him. “You’ll find a couple of new suits on the rail, if you don’t already have one to wear.”

Magnus thanked her and she departed, leaving him to get changed.

He did his hair first, styling it so it stood tall from his head, dyed gold tips curling slightly. Then he moved to his face; dark kohl on his top eyelids and a line of sparkling gold under his eye, bronzed cheeks and neutral lip colour. 

The tuxedo he chose was one of Magnus’ own, one he’d worn to a ball at college that his mother had helped him pick out. He would keep something of her with him for the evening.

He changed into a white shirt tucked with double cuffs and put on his bow-tie, indigo with shining gold threads stitched through it. A single-breasted jacket and pants in matching midnight blue velvet completed the basic outfit. Magnus debated over shoes; should he stick within the black tie rules and wear his black patent Oxfords, or flout them and wear something flashy? He decided to go with the metallic gold brogues and to either plead ignorance or pull rank if questioned. 

He fastened a pair of gold cufflinks his mother had given him for his 16th birthday into his shirt, and then added an assortment of rings to his fingers. His nails glittered with shining polish.

Magnus gave Chairman a kiss before he left the room. He made his way up the stairs in the West Wing to the fourth floor, his father’s solar, and knocked once on the door.

“Enter,” said Asmodeus. He was standing by the desk, and when he turned to Magnus his eyes seemed to glint gold in the late afternoon light filtering in through the stained-glass window.

“Ah, Magnus.” Asmodeus walked to him and placed his hands on Magnus’ shoulders. “Some of the guests are already here. We shall greet them together.”

Magnus nodded, swallowing down bitterness. It was annoyingly typical; Asmodeus hadn’t asked him to the solar to wish him a happy birthday, or to see how Magnus was on a day that would undoubtedly remind him of his mother. Asmodeus was all business, and it hurt, but Magnus was slowly getting used to it.

The guests who had already arrived were in the antechamber that led through to the dining hall, enjoying champagne and canapés. As they walked through the palace, Asmodeus mentioned a few of the aristocratic families from Edom that would be in attendance, as well as some of the most esteemed guests who had been invited from neighbouring countries. 

They reached the entrance to the antechamber. A couple of guards stood to attention and got ready to open the doors. Asmodeus turned to Magnus.

“A little late to check, perhaps,” he began lightly, “but I trust Malcolm taught you something about arrival etiquette?” 

Magnus nodded. Over the week running up to the ball, Malcolm had been drilling into him the rules and traditions surrounding greeting guests, conversational topics, banquet etiquette, how to stand, where to go and a thousand other things that Magnus had never before had to consider. 

After the fourth day of the torture, he’d debated stabbing Malcolm with an oyster fork, but decided that probably wouldn’t have endeared Asmodeus to him.

“After you, then,” Asmodeus said.

The guards opened the doors for Magnus, and he stepped through to the sound of music announcing his arrival. 

Malcolm stood just to the side of the doors and called loudly, “Announcing Magnus, the King’s son!”

Magnus stood at the top of the room for a moment and smiled, before heading somewhat awkwardly to the side while Asmodeus entered.

“Announcing His Royal Highness, Asmodeus,” Malcolm said. Asmodeus made his entrance, stately and imposing, head held high and shoulders strong.

Magnus estimated it to be around half past seven when mingling finally ended and the guests began to mill into the dining room. He had managed to get away from most of the women his father had rather pointedly introduced him to, and was glad to be able to escape into the dining room where his father’s matchmaking ability would be limited.

All the guests were already seated when Magnus and Asmodeus made their entrance. As they walked the length of the hall Magnus looked up and down the table for Luke and Jocelyn, but he couldn’t see them in the blur of faces. The usual table that ran most of the length of the hall had extended to seat all the guests, and it was laden with gleaming silver cutlery and centrepieces, crystal glasses. 

His father was honoured with the seat at the head of the table, and Magnus sat to his left. Joining them at their end of the table were Edom’s First Minister and his husband, as well as the Prince of Monaco and the Queen of Genovia. 

Having sat in on many governmental meetings, Magnus struck up an easy conversation with the First Minister. From the corner of his eye, Magnus saw Asmodeus rubbing at his temple once or twice, and realised that his style of conversation may not have been entirely appropriate, but the two royals and the parliamentarians laughed loudly at all his jokes, so he didn’t care too much.

Their talk was pleasantly interrupted by the food arriving. The starter tasted divine, and Magnus could quite happily have eaten it all night, but there were three more courses to follow.

More conversation was shared over a couple of glasses of white wine, which went very well with the fish course. In all honesty, Magnus was more partial to cocktails than wine, but whoever had chosen the menu for the night had done an excellent job.

After finishing the main course that followed Magnus was almost certain he was about to burst. There was a brief interlude between the courses, a wait of around fifteen minutes wherein Magnus learned a stupefying amount about the First Minister’s Christmas plans and started on the champagne. 

Eventually desert arrived, which both quieted the First Minister and sent Magnus to heaven. As he put his spoon down, Magnus knew he couldn’t touch another bite. He almost laughed in disbelief when the doors to the kitchen opened again several minutes later, but it was only Malcolm coming through. 

Malcolm cleared his throat. “My Lords and Ladies, if you would proceed to the ballroom,” he called, and the guests began to file out of the dining room. 

After most of them had left, Asmodeus rose from his place, gesturing for Magnus to follow him. Magnus reluctantly left his half-full champagne flute on the table and walked after his father. 

The sight of the ballroom was enough to take his breath away. It was opulent enough without the newly-added decorations: marble columns, painted frescos dating back a hundred years, high gilded ceiling hung with crystal tear-drop chandeliers. For the party, swathes of gold silk had been draped around the walls, and the fixings of ivory and gold balloons were hidden by swirling cascades of shimmering ribbon.  

A gathering of chairs had been added at one end of the room, and a temporary bar constructed between them and the set of mahogany double doors that led out onto the grand veranda. Magnus had been half-joking when he’d suggested there should be a bar at his birthday party, but Malcolm had added it to the list and Samira had later signed everything off on Asmodeus’ word without comment. At the other end of the ballroom was a stage for the live musicians; an orchestra, who were playing a mix of traditional pieces and instrumental covers of contemporary songs.

Magnus drank the sight of the elaborate room in, hardly daring believe this was all for him. He knew, in some way, that it wasn’t; the party wasn’t being thrown for Magnus Bane, but for the King’s son. But it was still nice on the surface.

His father left him to talk to a couple of foreign ministers, and Magnus wobbled for a moment. He took a step further into the ballroom and sort of smiled at a couple of guests who bowed to him, feeling wholly uncomfortable. He regretted leaving his champagne flute on the table and began searching the crowd for the two familiar faces that he had sorely missed at dinner.

Luke and Jocelyn were out of immediate sight, but when Magnus, already tall, rose onto his tiptoes, he could see above almost all the heads and spotted the pair standing on the outer edge of a circle, looking like they were attempting to fit in but were unable to keep their eyes off each other.

Magnus’ heart swelled with happiness for the couple. He started off towards them and had barely taken two steps when someone knocked into him, making him stumble. A pair of steady hands darted out to keep him upright.

“Sorry, I -" 

Magnus looked up at the man who had run into him. He was tall, a couple of inches taller than Magnus, and was blinking down at him, lips parted. His gaze ran over Magnus and he appeared to realise who he’d just trodden on, because he blushed, a tempting red flush that bloomed in his cheeks and disappeared down his neck under the collar of his pressed white shirt.

“My Lord, I am so sorry,” he said, distressed, immediately pulling his hands away. “Please forgive me, I can only -”

Magnus held up a finger and the man stopped abruptly. His hazel eyes traced the moment of Magnus’ finger and his lips curved upwards. 

"It's fine," Magnus said, with a smile. "No harm done." He cocked his head, letting his gaze drift to the fit of the man’s black dinner jacket over his shoulders. "You have me at a disadvantage: you know who I am, but…” Magnus snapped his gaze from the man’s broad chest to his lovely face. “Who are you?

"Alec," the man said, shuffling from one foot to the other, "It's - I'm Alec."

"Well, Alec," Magnus said, "it was lovely to meet you."

Alec smiled more brightly at him, and then it dimmed behind a look of confusion. ”It was?" he asked.

Magnus looked Alec up and down again, rather more obviously this time. 

"I fear the pleasure was all mine," was all he said, and then he smiled coyly and took a step away from Alec, towards Luke and Jocelyn. "Enjoy your evening."

Magnus reached Jocelyn and Luke in a few minutes, stopping on his way over only to talk to a few ministers or important envoys he recognised. Malcolm had given up trying to force Magnus to rote learn their names and had just dumped a pile of folders outside Magnus’ bedroom door, which Magnus had been studiously ignoring. He had a knack for remembering people once he’d seen them in the flesh, but the scale of the task was daunting - he’d missed twenty-one years in this world.

Luke, grinning, barely had time to raise his glass in Magnus’ direction before Jocelyn was enveloping Magnus in a hug. Magnus allowed himself to relax into her embrace; for a moment, it was if his own mother’s arms were holding him, and he had to take a sharp breath against the deep stab of loss that came with remembering her.

When Jocelyn released him, Luke pulled him into a one-armed hug, and told him that they’d all missed him.

Jocelyn was looking him up and down, and she straightened his tie as she asked whether they were treating him alright. Magnus smiled at them both. 

“I’m fine,” he told them honestly. “I miss you all too. But I’m kind of okay here.”

“You need anything, you know we’re just at the end of the phone,” Luke said seriously, and Magnus nodded.

“How’s your vacation?” Magnus asked, and Jocelyn’s face lit up as she described their tour around the continent. Magnus asked if she’d seen much of the palace, and they told him that it was on their to-do list for the next day once they’d met Clary at the airport.

A comfortable silence fell over the three, Jocelyn looking out at the view from the veranda. Magnus nodded to the glass of scotch in Luke’s hand.

“On the hard stuff already?” he asked playfully.

Luke swatted him. “It’s never too early for good alcohol,” he said. 

Magnus tilted his head in agreement. “It’s happy hour somewhere,” he said, and Luke toasted him. 

Jocelyn turned back to them, rolling her eyes, but she was smiling. “Just watch it, Luke,” she said, grinning. “Trying to keep up with the young ones, you’ll be in bed with a hangover for days.”

Luke raised an eyebrow at her. “Are you saying I’m old?”

Leaving the pair to their banter, Magnus kissed Jocelyn’s cheek and then clasped Luke’s hand as he left.

Asmodeus caught up with him somewhere between Luke and Jocelyn and the bar, and Magnus found himself looking longingly in its direction. 

“I trust you’re enjoying yourself?” Asmodeus asked.

“It’s very…” Magnus trailed off, searching for an appropriate word. “Proper,” he settled on. Asmodeus quirked an eyebrow. “At my birthday parties, everyone is usually way drunker than this,” Magnus elaborated, “and probably wearing less clothes.” 

Asmodeus managed to look disapproving and amused at the same time. “I don’t think I want to know,” he said, and despite Magnus’ earlier disenchantment with his father, he found himself grinning. Asmodeus’ eyes softened a fraction. “Happy birthday, Magnus.”

Magnus nodded, accepting Asmodeus’ clap on his shoulder. Asmodeus looked for a moment like he was going to say something, but then he just pursed his lips and let his hand drop. 

“Don’t let me stop you from mingling,” Magnus said, when the silence had hung around for too long. 

Asmodeus gifted him the ghost of a smile. “Most important part of the job,” he said, and he left Magnus alone in the crowd.

Magnus turned on his heel, towards the bar, and started on his way. He walked past an elderly lady he recognised as Tessa’s grandmother, and he stopped momentarily to make sure she was having a pleasant evening. She complimented his hair, approving of how he matched with the golden decorations, and he promised to let Tessa know the shade of dye so she could pass it on to her. 

He left her with a bright smile, and was tantalisingly close to the bar when his path was blocked by a woman in a dusky pink floor-length dress. Her black hair was swept to the side in an elegant braid, revealing the diamonds glinting in her ears, and a shining pendant nested just above the neckline of her dress.

"Good evening, Your Highness," the woman said, dropping into a curtsey. She looked up at him through her eyelashes, rosy lips rising into a smile. "I'm Lady Isabelle Lightwood. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Magnus took her proffered hand and kissed it. 

"It's lovely to meet you, my Lady," he said, and he was sure she was perfectly lovely, but honestly if one more person interrupted him before he could get his hands on a drink he was going to scream.

Isabelle’s dark eyes ran over Magnus’ outfit.

“I love your suit,” she said, fingers hovering a breath away from the material. It was as if she wanted to touch Magnus but dared not to, and she pulled her hand away, fingers retracting into a loose fist.

Magnus snapped his eyes away from the bar and met her gaze with a smile.

“Thank you, though I can’t claim all the credit. My mother had fabulous taste,” he said lightly, ignoring the pang in his heart at the mention of her.

Isabelle smiled. She glanced over to where Asmodeus was standing, and then back to Magnus.

“You’re the hot gossip, you know,” she said, leaning into him a little. “Everyone wants to know the story of Asmodeus’ secret son.”

Magnus grinned. “Let them talk,” he said, and he offered Isabelle his arm. “The story requires alcohol. Would you like to get a drink?”

“Of course,” she said at once, and he was infinitely grateful that she’d accepted. “Makes these things way more bearable.” Her eyes widened a fraction. “I don’t mean - not you, my Lord.” Her hand spun in an elegant motion. “Just the general event.”

Magnus stopped her with a gesture of his own. “No, I totally get it. If I didn’t have to maintain decorum for the whole evening, I’d probably be curled in the corner with my own bottle of vodka right now.” He declined to mention that he was rapidly heading towards doing that regardless of his need to keep up appearances.

Isabelle smiled, looking a little relieved. "How much can you drink before your -" here she paused and raised one perfect eyebrow "- decorum dies dramatically?"

"I don't know," Magnus admitted, as if it was a moral failing. He was liking Isabelle more and more by the minute. “But we’re going to find out.”

"Who am I to resist an offer by the Prince?" Isabelle teased. They arrived at the bar and he gestured for her to choose them both a cocktail. She ran a painted nail down the menu, stopping at one that contained a surely lethal combination of absinthe, white wine and vodka. 

"Two Jaded Ladies for myself and His Highness, please," she told the bartender. 

"Thanks," he said, leaning a little closer. "And please, just 'Magnus' is fine."

Isabelle eyed him dubiously for a moment. "Are you sure?"

Magnus nodded. "Why else would I say so?” he asked.

She hummed. "True. I guess it's only fair to say you can call me Izzy." Isabelle picked up one of the cocktail glasses the bartender had placed down. "Well, here's to the start of a wonderfully drunken evening, then." 

Magnus clinked his glass against hers. "Cheers, Izzy."

She smiled at him, lips curving over the rim of the glass. "Cheers, Magnus.”

As he finally took a long drink, Magnus swore up and down he’d gone to heaven. The cocktail was tangy and sour on his tongue, and he sighed happily. After a moment, he followed Izzy’s lead and perched on a bar stool of his own, although he did it with slightly less grace than she managed, even in the five inch heels Magnus saw peeking out from under her velvet dress.

“Given that you know I’m new to all of this,” Magnus said, leaning towards Izzy, “will you be mortally offended if I admit to not knowing who the Lightwoods are?”

Izzy placed her hand on her chest, mock-scandalised, and then laughed. She took a sip of her drink.

“I’ll let you off,” she said conspiratorially. “We’re from Idris - that’s a neighbouring country.” She sat up a little straighter, looking out at the crowd in the ballroom. “My mamá and papá are over there. The Earl and Countess Lightwood.” Magnus wasn’t sure if he was imagining the sharpness to Izzy’s words, but she soon moved on. “I can’t see my big brother, which is weird ‘cause he’s practically a giant, but anyway, he’s around here somewhere. My little brother was too young to come tonight, so he’s in his room in the East Wing where we’re staying. And Jace is… there.” 

Magnus looked in the direction she was nodding and saw a blonde man with an undercut laughing with a group of people. As Magnus absorbed the information he stirred his cocktail with his pinky finger, much to the reproach of an older gentleman sitting next to him and Izzy.

“Jace is my father’s ward,” Izzy explained, “but he’s been with us for so long he’s family in all but blood. Do you have any siblings?”

Magnus squinted at her. “Why do I get the impression you already know the answer to that from all the ‘hot gossip’?” he asked. 

Izzy glanced down at her drink and then back at him, gaze softening. “Okay. I know some stuff about you. It’s only polite to research your host before you attend their party, right?”

Magnus didn’t answer for a moment. He looked over the crowd. “I think my father’s hosting, technically,” he said lightly. When he looked back to Izzy, she was staring at the surface of the bar, finger tracing over the black marble.

“Sorry,” she said, still looking down. “I imagine it’s fairly unnerving when the people you’re talking to know more about you than you them, especially if you’re unaware of it.” She met his gaze and sighed, resting her chin in her hand. For a moment, Magnus was surprised that someone like Isabelle Lightwood, who seemed so elegant and aristocratic, would perform such a mundane action, and then he shook himself. She was human, too.

“Can we start again?” she asked.

Magnus signalled for the bartender. “No,” he said, and when Izzy opened her mouth, “because we don’t need to.” He drained his glass and asked for another. “Honestly, I’m kind of used to everyone knowing more about me than I do by this point.”

Izzy’s forehead crinkled and she bit her lip, looking guilty.

“It’s kinda my own fault,” Magnus said. “I’m supposed to be reading up on all the stuff I’ve missed, but I may have been rather liberal in my interpretation of the task.”

Izzy smiled for the first time in a while. “Okay then,” she said. Izzy moved on her stool so she was facing the crowd. She adopted a narrator’s tone of voice and quirked an eyebrow at him. “Here’s what you missed on ‘Edom’s Aristocracy.’”

Magnus grinned. She began telling him about various faces they could see milling around, and more than once her stories had him snorting laughter into his drink. By the time Izzy was running out of anecdotes, Magnus had come to the conclusion that not only was Izzy stunningly beautiful, she was observant and warm and had a wicked sense of humour to boot.

He noticed her eyes lingering where her parents were stood; she seemed to be locked in a silent conversation with her mother. Countess Lightwood - Magnus might have to do some research of his own - was an imposing woman. Her hair was pulled tightly back from her face and brought in a sleek ponytail over her shoulder, and her metallic grey dress shimmered under the light from the ballroom’s chandeliers. 

“Are you okay?” Magnus asked, drawing Izzy’s attention. She shook herself and smiled at him.

“Fine,” Izzy answered, though her lips flattened to a line once she had spoken. She finished her second drink and licked her lips. “Would you like to dance?” she asked.

“Of course, my Lady,” Magnus said teasingly, and Izzy rolled her eyes. She led them onto the dance floor, positioning them so Magnus was facing towards her parents. He rested one hand on her waist and took her hand in his other, and they started to sway in time to the music.

“What is this dance?” he asked her.

“A bit like a waltz, a bit like a tango,” she said.

Magnus spun her. “A wango?” he asked, and she laughed into his shoulder.

They danced for a while, Magnus humming along to the music. Izzy giggled at his singing at times, and he poked his tongue out at her in response. Behind her head, he thought he caught a glimpse of Alec walking away from near where Izzy’s parents were standing, and started.

“What?” Izzy asked.

“Nothing,” Magnus said absently. “I just thought I saw…I think my Prince Charming might actually be a Cinderella, given how quickly he’s leaving the ballroom.”

Izzy peered over Magnus’ shoulder. Whether or not she saw Alec Magnus couldn’t say, but her face tightened and he felt her tense in his hold. He stepped to the side to see where she was looking, and found her once again locking gazes with her mother.

“If you’ll forgive me, I must retire to my room, my Lord,” she said stiffly, backing away from him. Magnus didn’t know what had brought about the sudden change in her demeanour, but he nodded. He gently touched her elbow.

“Of course. Are you okay?”

Izzy nodded a little jerkily. “Fine. See you later.”

Wondering what had been imparted in the exchange between mother and daughter, Magnus wandered back to the bar and picked up another cocktail. He then went to find Luke and Jocelyn amongst the crowds and stayed talking to them until they turned in a couple of hours later, needing to be up early to fetch Clary from the airport. He hugged them both and bid them goodnight, and was watching them leave when Asmodeus found him again. He looked strangely pale under the lights of the ballroom, but Magnus supposed it was just from the stress of the event.

They spent a while doing circuits of the ballroom, talking to dignitaries and foreign nobles. Magnus kept half an eye out for Alec, but didn’t see him in the ballroom, though he did catch another glimpse of Izzy’s brother Jace. 

He greeted and thanked and smiled at more faces than he could remember, and was finally allowed to excuse himself to get some air. Magnus escaped to the veranda, taking in several deep breaths.

The view of the palace was as stunning as it had been the first night he’d arrived; Magnus could scarcely believe this was somewhere he was allowed to call home. He stared out across the palace grounds, lost in thought. 

Magnus started at the sound of footsteps on the veranda’s flagstones and turned. 

“My Lord,” said Alec, inclining his head. 

He took a hesitant step forward and looked Magnus over. 

“Oh,” said Magnus, realising Alec was waiting for his approval, “please, come and -” he gestured to the space beside him “- stand.” He cocked his head and smiled at Alec. “Can I call you Alec, or is it ‘my Lord’ too?” he asked. 

Alec shrugged. “Alec is fine,” he said. “But I guess…I mean, I’m a Viscount.”

Magnus raised his eyebrows. “Ah, firstborn son of an Earl,” he said, pleased to have remembered something that Malcolm had taught him about the aristocratic hierarchy.

Alec hummed. “Uh, do you mind?” he asked.

Magnus blinked. He was about to ask Alec what he meant when Alec spoke again.

“S’just - too hot in there,” he said, slipping out of his jacket. He began undoing one of his cufflinks. “It’s good to get away from all the people.” Once he had rolled back both his sleeves he leant forward, forearms resting on the veranda’s wall. Magnus tried not to stare. 

“Anyone in particular?” Magnus asked, managing to keep his voice steady.

Alec stubbed a finger along the veranda rail. “Do you promise not to tell?” he asked.

“Of course,” said Magnus. “Princes have to keep secrets.”

“I think that’s priests,” Alec said, smiling, and Magnus laughed. 

“Alright, you got me.” He nudged Alec with his elbow. “Come on, then. Who?”

Alec ducked his head, cheeks pink. “My parents.”

Magnus nodded, at once wholly sympathetic. “I know the feeling,” he said. 

Silence fell over the two for a while, each of them watching the grounds. Magnus started to get a little chilly in the November air and said as much; Alec nodded and said he was going to head back inside, if that was okay by Magnus?

Magnus smiled. “Anything you want to do is fine by me,” he said, letting his eyes linger on Alec’s lips. 

Alec busied himself by unrolling his sleeves, but Magnus thought he saw him smiling.

“Uh, happy birthday, my Lord,” said Alec, once he had put his jacket back on.

Magnus gazed at him warmly. “Thank you,” he said, and Alec smiled.

“Good night.” 

He disappeared back inside the ballroom and Magnus turned back to the grounds with a sigh. 

Magnus lifted his head to the sky and sent a kiss to his mother, and then returned to the ballroom. It was gone one in the morning; the crowd had thinned considerably, and Magnus quickly said goodnight to his father before he retired to his room. 

It had been a day of mixed emotions, and the exhaustion caught up with him as he laid his head on the pillow. He yawned widely, already falling asleep, and his last thoughts before he drifted off were of a pretty hazel-eyed boy.

Chapter Text

Magnus was jerked from a peaceful sleep by a warm weight landing on him and bolted upright, heart pounding. He pried his eyes open to see his attacker, then immediately snapped them shut against the harsh glare of morning light.

Groaning, he batted a hand out, trying to fend off whoever was about to kill him, and hit something soft. Something giggling.

“Wakey wakey, sleepy head,” his attacker laughed, prodding one of his eyes open.

At the familiar voice his heart rate decreased substantially and he rolled over, cocooning himself in his blankets.

“Go away, Clary,” he protested, “I’m sleeping.”

“Nope,” Clary said happily, “you invited me! Deal with it, buddy.”

“I didn’t,” he mumbled, “you invited yourself. It’s practically six am and I’m hungover, leave me alone.”

Clary sighed dramatically and slipped under the covers next to him. She tugged at his arm until he relented with a groan and wrapped it around her. 

“Magnus, it’s after lunchtime,” she pointed out. “I should probably be offended you didn’t wake up before I got here, but Mom did say you were knocking back the champagne.”

Magnus opened one eye. “Remind me not to buy Jocelyn a Christmas present,” he said.

They laid there for a few minutes, and Magnus was just falling back to sleep when Clary shifted, moving away from him and rudely allowing a rush of cold air to sneak in under the covers.

“Hey, I brought you water,” she said softly, handing Magnus a tall glass of cold water. He took with grateful thanks and drank.

“How did you get in here, anyway?” he asked, watching Chairman Meow. The cat was falling off the bed and nonchalantly trying to pretend nothing was happening.

“Oh, a woman let me in. A pretty one. She smelled like flowers,” said Clary.

“Old lady flowers or nice perfume?” asked Magnus. 

Clary smiled. “Nice perfume.”

Magnus got out of bed and slipped into a robe. “Her name’s Dot. Where are your parents?” he asked.

“Out in the grounds,” Clary said, getting out of bed as well. “Dot said they could take a look around. Apparently there are still a lot of posh people about from your party yesterday.”

Magnus nodded. “Most of the guests are staying for a couple of days,” he told her as he opened his closet door. 

“Holy shit,” gasped Clary, coming over to where he stood. “Castle Black is treating you fine.”

Magnus laughed and pushed her gently. “Let me get dressed in peace,” he said, and she shrugged and wandered back over to the bed. She scooped up Chairman Meow and gave him a cuddle, which Magnus took as acquiescence, so he stepped into the closet and got dressed.

Once he had done so, he asked Clary what she wanted to do on her first day in Edom, and she told him she wanted to walk around, having been sat on the plane for such a long time the previous night. 

Since he hadn’t yet eaten and thought some fresh air might cure his hangover, he suggested they go to the kitchens and pack a picnic and then go out into the grounds to have brunch. 

Clary pointed out that it was almost the end of November, hardly picnic weather, but Magnus just showed her the array of coats and scarves in his closet and she didn’t take long to agree.

“It’s so pretty,” she said, walking along beside him. She was hugging a folded blanket in her arms and had her eyes fixed on the palace. “That copper on the roof is such a gorgeous shade of blue.”

Magnus nodded. “I still can’t believe I live here,” he said and she stopped suddenly on the path, holding onto his arm. The picnic hamper he was carrying jerked at the movement.

“You live in Brooklyn, though,” she said, blinking at him. “You told Cat you were just going to see what it’s like here.”

Magnus sighed, his breath clouding in the cool air, and carried on walking. “I don’t know anymore,” he said. “It’s never going to be home in the same way as New York - nothing compares to New York. But I like it here, mostly. I have friends - there’s Dot, Jem, Elias, and - even though she works for my father - I love Tessa.” He chanced a glance to the side. Clary’s lips were pressed together and her face was unreadable. “I’m never going to forget about you guys. You’re my family.”

Clary nodded. “But your family’s here too, right?”

“Yeah,” Magnus agreed, “my father lives here. We’re never going be like you and Luke, that’s for sure, but I think he’s kind of trying.”

They stopped at the lake Magnus had discovered early on and spread out the blanket, then sat down. 

“I have dual citizenship now,” Magnus continued, unpacking the hamper. “Edom and the US. So I can live wherever.”

“But if you accept the role of Crown Prince, you’ll have to live here,” Clary pointed out as she took a despondent bite out of an apple. 

Magnus accepted this with an incline of his head. “True,” he said, “but I don’t know if I will yet. I’ve got a couple of weeks before I have to make my final decision.”

“What are you leaning towards at the minute?” Clary asked.

Magnus shrugged. “I honestly don’t know.”

Clary regarded him for a minute. “Toss a coin,” she said finally. “Whichever one you’re hoping for as the coin falls will tell you what you really want to do.”

Magnus hid a smile behind a swig of orange juice. “And that, darling, is why you’re an arts student,” he said teasingly.

“Physics nerd,” Clary shot back, and Magnus only narrowly avoided the half-eaten apple she chucked at him.

Magnus dumped a notepad and set of gel pens on the couch, then fell onto it himself. He sunk into the cushions, wiggling his butt till he was comfortable, Clary looking on with a raised eyebrow.

“You’re literally a cat,” was her comment, and he scrunched his nose at her. 

Clary sat at the other end of the couch and kicked her feet into his lap, him snorting at her sock choice - white with poop emojis - as he turned the TV screen on with a press of a remote control button. They were set up in one of the informal drawing rooms on the lower floor of the East Wing, prepped with snacks and soda and enthusiasm.

Clary lifted the bowl of nachos to her from the table.

"What are we rating them on?" Clary asked, scooping some guacamole onto a tortilla chip.

"Hair, eyes and smile. Family connections, history and reputation. Instagram photos, whether they write their own Tweets, and if they put a nose in their smiley faces."

Clary's brow furrowed. "I mean, most of those are subjective and I've no idea how we find out about the smiley face thing, but we can try."

"Put your Facebook-stalking skills to good use," Magnus teased, choosing a chip loaded with salsa. 

"Hey, that was one time, okay?" Clary said, poking Magnus' thigh with socked toes. "Simon wouldn't tell me Maureen's name cause of some one-night-stand they had or something, so I had to do some digging. In my defence, she was really cute."

Magnus just smiled at her and turned to the first contender. On Asmodeus’ orders, Malcolm had provided Magnus with a slideshow of potential suitors and background information on them all, some of which was far too boring for Magnus' liking - who gave a shit about a twice-removed cousin who'd had a manor estate named after her, or a brother who'd married a foreign Royal? Magnus wanted to know useful facts about his potential spouse - real information, like whether they preferred sunset or sunrise and what the curve of their ass was like. 

"She was a great kisser too," Clary was saying, and then she choked on a bit of nacho and had to take a gulp of water. Magnus skimmed the information alongside the picture of the first woman on the slideshow. 

“How can she say that she supports people being less dependent on the state and in the next sentence mention she loves driving the Porsche her father gave her for, quote unquote, ‘just being her’?” he scoffed, wrinkling his nose.

Clary shrugged as she crunched a tortilla chip. “Genetic immunity to self-awareness?”

Magnus snorted humourlessly. His mood had plummeted in no time at all. 

He’d naively been excited at the prospect of finding a potential partner; someone who could become a best friend, a confidant, a lover. But the description of the woman on the first slide made her seem like a pompous asshat, and for all Magnus knew, Asmodeus could have put as much thought for Magnus’ wishes into his guidance as he did breathing.

Even though this dashing of Magnus’ expectations was becoming common with his father, he still felt strangely disappointed.

By the time they’d got to the eighth slide, he was no longer talking, and the only sound was Clary chewing beside him. 

"At the risk of stating the obvious," Clary said, finally breaking the silence, "these are all women."

Magnus only hummed in response. His chin had dropped into his hand somewhere around picture number three. 

"Does your father know you're bi?"

"I don’t know," Magnus said honestly. “He was open to the concept, when he mentioned this whole thing, but I don’t know whether that was general or specific.” He clicked on to the next slide, and this time it surprised both of them: a man, standing in front of a castle with a white grin and pink golf shirt. “Okay, he knows.” 

Magnus realised with a jolt that if one man had made it into the pile - well, maybe Alec would be in there too. The Viscount. Magnus’ tummy fluttered pleasantly, mood brightening. 

"Are you okay? You suddenly look excited."

"Fine," Magnus said simply, settling back against the cushions. Clary raised an eyebrow at him, unimpressed, but made no comment. 

Magnus clicked on through the slides carelessly, only looking for messy dark hair and warm brown eyes, until a woman's face caught his attention and he stopped. 

"She's pretty," said Clary. She read on. "Lady Camille Belcourt. Age: 24. Birthday - ooh, she's a Gemini. Very compatible with you Sagittariuses.”

"That is definitely not the plural, biscuit," Magnus snorted, and Clary poked him again. 

"Whatever. She's English, I bet she's fancy."

"Mm. I don’t know if I can deal with more English friends. I already have one too many."

"Ragnor won’t be pleased to hear you say so," Clary pointed out. 

"Ragnor’s never pleased," Magnus threw back, the twitch of his lips revealing the falseness of his annoyance. "It says she’s living in with the Du Monts in East Harlem. I’ve never heard of them, have you?"

"No," Clary said, scooping up the last of the salsa with her finger, "but then I didn’t get thrust into a new world on a big birthday, so I am not up to date with the royal situation in New York. Lots of gentrification round there, though.”

Magnus wrinkled his nose. 

"She’s the only one who’s caught your attention so far," Clary pointed out. "You should put her on the shortlist."

"Is a list of one thing a list?" Magnus asked, writing Camille’s name down.

"Is an orange an orange because it’s orange, or is orange orange because of an orange?" Clary replied, and shrugged at the look Magnus gave her. "You know Nine’s my favourite Doctor. Neither of us have time for your philosophical bullshit."

Magnus grinned at the reference. “Whatever,” he said, still smiling. “I’m literally bored out of my mind here. I need something to entertain me. Can we get back to the slides? The quicker we’re done here, the quicker we can start drinking.”

Clary sighed. "You know, I was kinda hoping coming to see my royal friend would be fun." 

“Yesterday was fun," Magnus said, exaggeratedly offended. “Would ice cream help the situation?"

"You have to ask?" Clary said, crossing her legs under her. "Cookie dough, please," she said, as Magnus stood up. 

Magnus tapped away on his phone as he set off towards the kitchens. He got engrossed in the latest Game of Phones messages from Ragnor, who Magnus had been cajoled into reinstating into the group, and only looked up on his way downstairs when someone called his name.

"Izzy!" he said happily, catching sight of her. She was waiting on the first step of the staircase, smiling at him.

"How are you?” she asked as he drew nearer.

“On my way to get necessary supplies to allow me to endure the torture that is my life,” Magnus said. “You?”

“Waiting for my brother,” she said, and as Magnus nodded someone appeared in his line of vision and joined the two of them.

"Alec?" Magnus asked. He glanced between Izzy and Alec, and recognition dawned on him even as Izzy spoke.

Mi hermano,” she said to Magnus, “el gigante.” She ignored Alec’s indignant jibe of “short-ass”, fended him off as he poked her, and continued, "I didn’t know you guys had met. Alec, why don’t you ever tell me stuff?"

"I do," he protested weakly. 

Izzy rolled her eyes and leant against the balustrade. "Yeah, not important things."

"It was at the ball," Magnus said placatingly, sensing a potential eruption of sibling bickering that he wasn’t particularly looking forward to. "Before I met you, actually. We just happened to bump into each other."

Alec toyed with the cuff of his shirt. "I’m sorry again about that, my Lord -"

"Hah!" Izzy exclaimed delightedly. "I got the ‘just call me Magnus’ before you then, obviously. Therefore I win."

Magnus grinned, then cocked his head. 

"Your brother can call me whatever he wants," he said lowly to Izzy, but his eyes were on Alec, and she snorted. Alec rolled his eyes, but there was a pleased little smile playing at his lips when he ducked his head.

Magnus was about to speak when he heard his name being called again, and Clary appeared at the top of the staircase. 

“Honestly,” she said loudly as she came down the steps, “you went to get ice cream, not to the North P -" she broke off, catching sight of the two siblings, and a moment later was smoothing down her hair. “Hey."

Magnus gave her a knowing look and she half-glared at him. "Alec, Izzy - this is Clary,” he introduced. “She’s one of my friends from home."

Izzy hopped up a couple of steps to where Clary had come to a stop and held out her hand. "Isabelle Lightwood," she said. Clary took her hand and Magnus saw that the girls were smiling widely at each other. "Nice to meet you."

When Clary finally tore her eyes away from Izzy, she turned to Magnus. "Ice cream?" she asked, sounding a little disorientated.

He wagged a finger between Izzy and Alec. “I got distracted.”

“Clearly,” said Clary, although she didn’t seem too annoyed. “I might as well go with you now.”

Magnus looked at the siblings. “Did you two want to come?” 

“Alec, you go with Magnus,” Izzy said brightly. “I’ll stay and talk to Clary. See you in a few minutes!”

Alec opened his mouth and then closed it, giving his sister a look.

“Be good,” Magnus said to Clary, and then he jumped the last couple of stairs. “If you have somewhere to be, don’t let me stop you,” he told Alec, who shook his head.

“No, it’s uh - I’m supposed to be taking my brother down to the archery range, I said I would if we were allowed,” he explained, falling into step beside Magnus, “but he can wait a couple of minutes. He’s with Mom anyway.”

“Your brother looked a little old to need archery lessons,” commented Magnus, thinking of the blonde boy he’d seen at the ball the previous evening.

Alec looked confused for a moment, and then breathed out in recognition. “Oh, no, that’s Jace. He’s - it’s Max who I’m taking out. He’s only ten.”

Magnus nodded. They reached the kitchens and he held the door open for Alec. “Very charitable of you,” he said. 

Alec shrugged. “He’s my brother.”

Magnus couldn’t help smiling at him. He waved at Dot, who was having tea with one of the sous-chefs, and headed over to the freezer. They rifled through the shelves until Alec struck gold and found a tub of cookie dough ice cream, and then, having grabbed some spoons from the drawer, they started back to the staircase where the girls were waiting. 

“Have you ever been to Peru?” Magnus asked as they walked along the corridor.

“I’ve never been outside Europe,” Alec confessed, rubbing the back of his neck. 

Magnus hummed. “Well, you should definitely go. I’d love to take you, but I’m a little bit banned from the country. Anyway, while I was there, my ex-boyfriend showed me this delicious ice cream they make from the lúcuma fruit.” He chanced a glance sideway to see how Alec had reacted; Alec was looking at him with wide eyes and seemed to be hiding a smile. “I can’t find it anywhere in Edom, though.”

“How can you be a little bit banned from a country?” Alec asked, grinning more fully. 

“That’s a state secret, darling,” he said, and then lowered his voice and leaned closer to Alec. “You’d definitely have to give me something in return before I could tell you.”

Magnus was delighted to find Alec’s gaze dropping to his lips, and Alec looked like he was about to say something but they reached the staircase again and he pressed his lips together.

“Tell him what?” Clary asked, breaking away from her conversation with Izzy. She leant over the balustrade and rested her chin on Magnus’ shoulder.

“About Peru,” said Alec, and Clary rolled her eyes.

“Not again,” she sighed. “It’s not even that -”

Magnus held up a hand to stop her and glared. “I have cultivated quite the air of mystery, thank you, biscuit. Don’t go destroying it.” He shoved the tub of ice cream at her and she yelped at the sudden cold.

“Clary told me about your situation,” said Izzy, nodding to the ice cream.

“Yes,” Magnus sighed dramatically. He saw Alec’s confused expression and explained, "My father has given me a bunch of potential suitors to sort through. They’re all completely horrible, and it’s making me ridiculously pessimistic about the future.”

The two siblings shared a glance he couldn’t decipher, and then his attention was diverted by Clary.

“Izzy suggested we make going through the slides a drinking game,” she said. 

Magnus considered it. “Well, on the plus side of that plan, we’ll both be dead by seven, so I won’t have to find anyone,” Magnus said, brightening. “Thanks for the suggestion.”

Izzy laughed. “I’d love to join you,” she said, “but I’d rather hold off on the dying.”

Clary smiled at her and Magnus nodded, then asked Alec if he’d like to join.

“I should find Max,” he said, though he was smiling. 

Clary tugged on Magnus’ arm. “Let’s go, Jon Snow. Winter is coming.”

Magnus rolled his eyes fondly and let her pull him up the stairs.

"See you later," Magnus said, and Izzy waved to Clary as they departed.

After half an hour of work and two more trips to the kitchens for food supplies, Magnus and Clary gave up on the suitor pile. Magnus had thrown the pen across the room in a fit of anger at one particularly bigoted man’s self-description, and so the list remained a list of one: Lady Camille Belcourt.

Clary sighed as she gathered up their dirty dishes to return them to the kitchens. “Maybe it’s for the best,” she said. “Clearly none of these are meant to be, you can explain that to your father. If you end up just meeting someone, it might happen more…organically.”

Magnus pinched the bridge of his nose. “Clarissa, we’re talking about a relationship, not a vegetable.”

Clary snorted and patted his shoulder. “Missing your dearest cabbage?”

Magnus gave her an affronted look. “D’you know the little bugger still hasn’t apologised for what he said about not coming to my party?” He sank his chin into his palm. “Anyway, I don’t think my father would listen. I feel like he doesn’t really care who it is, as long as it’s someone he’s suggested.”

“Surely someone who makes you happy is more important?” she asked, frowning, and Magnus dropped his gaze.

“You haven’t met him yet, have you?”

He meant it rhetorically, but Clary answered anyway. 

“Luke said he spoke to them at your party,” she said. “He was very charming apparently.”

Magnus hummed half-heartedly, feeling downcast. Clary’s pep talk had sort of made things worse, and he wanted to do something to take his mind off the situation completely. He couldn’t decide whether to talk to his father and get the conversation out of the way, or leave it until he was feeling less emotional and more able to talk to him levelly. 

“Yeah, he does that sometimes,” Magnus said finally. “Should I talk to him?”

Clary looked down at the dishes in her hands and chewed her lip in thought. “I think so,” she said after a while. “If you leave it, you’ll just end up worrying about it, and then that’ll make doing it seem even worse than it is.” She gave him a sympathetic smile. “I’ll drop these off, you go talk to him, and then we’ll go and do something fun, okay? We can meet in your room.”

Magnus swallowed, and then nodded. “See you later, then.”

They went their separate ways. Magnus trekked up to Asmodeus’ solar and found the door was closed. He knocked tentatively and waited for an answer.

“Who is it?”

“Magnus,” he said. 

The door was opened by Tessa, and she smiled at him.

“Sorry, we were in conference,” she said, and showed Magnus in. “Would you like me to leave?”

“No, it’s fine, you can stay,” he told her. Magnus wasn’t sure exactly how much influence Tessa had over his father’s decisions, but he liked to think she had his best interests in heart and would fight his corner if he needed her to. “I just wanted to talk about the suitor thing,” he said to his father.

Asmodeus nodded. “Did any of them take your fancy?” he asked. His hand hovered over the screen of his tablet. “I have a complete list of contacts here - you can talk to them if you wish.”

“No,” blurted Magnus, and then he shook his head and calmed himself. “I didn’t really like any of them.”

“There had to be at least thirty people on the list,” said Asmodeus, frowning.

“I think it’s the list that’s the problem,” Magnus said. “I can’t choose someone I want to date based on a collection of traits and a personality description. But please don’t think that means I want them all to come over for some horrific speed dating event.” 

Tessa laughed. “He’s got a point,” she said. “There are better ways to meet people than a PowerPoint presentation.”

Magnus took a breath. “Actually,” he said, “I think I have met -”

“There was honestly no-one on the list you’d even consider?” asked Asmodeus, interrupting him.

Magnus sighed. “Well, I don’t know - I guess maybe Camille Belcourt? But honestly? None of them.” He licked his lips. “And, like I was just saying, I met a Viscount at the ball, his name -”

“Lady Belcourt,” Asmodeus mused. “She’s beautiful, intelligent. She could be an excellent match for you. Should I get in contact with her?”

“No, thank you,” Magnus said hastily. “I - I would like some time, please. To make sure I come to the right decision.”

Asmodeus looked him over and said nothing.

“I think that’s wise, Your Grace,” said Tessa, looking pointedly at Asmodeus. “Magnus has only just turned twenty-one, anyway; there’s no rush. This is a big decision for him, and potentially for all of us.” She turned to Magnus and smiled kindly. “I know you’re still deciding about whether to accept the role of Crown Prince.”

Finally, Asmodeus nodded. “As you wish,” he said. “I won’t contact the Lady just yet.”

Magnus nodded. “Thank you, father,” he said, “and thanks, Tessa. I’ll leave you to your council.”

He left the room quickly, then stopped outside, leaning back against the wall feeling drained. He was about to leave to meet Clary when he heard Tessa speak.

“You can’t push him, you know,” she was saying. “It has to be his own decision.”

Magnus didn’t wait to hear what his father had to say and almost sprinted away from the solar.

The following morning Magnus took Clary, Luke, Jocelyn and, on the orders of the Head of Security, a bodyguard to the market. For the rest of the day they wandered around the older parts of Edom’s capital city, Luke clicking away with his camera and Clary making them stop multiple times so she could do a quick sketch. 

It was a lovely day, spent in the company of good friends and good views and, later, good wine. Magnus felt his heart grow heavy on the drive back to the palace; these were the people and the times he would be leaving behind if he decided to stay in Edom permanently.

He pressed his forehead against the window, relishing the chill against his skin. The gentle press of fingertips on his wrist pulled him from his thoughts.

“You okay?” whispered Clary. Luke and Jocelyn were deep in conversation and she likely didn’t want to disturb them, or for them to hear too much of Magnus’ dilemma. “Are you angsting again?”

Magnus snorted. “Thanks for the sympathy, biscuit.” Clary smiled and leant her head against his shoulder. “I can’t believe you’re all going home tomorrow evening.”

Clary sighed. “I know. I don’t want to leave you. Or Izzy.” She hummed. “Mainly Izzy, no offence.”

Magnus breathed a laugh. The previous day they’d bumped into the Alec and Izzy again after giving up on the suitor pile, and the four had spent the afternoon and evening together. Magnus supposed that even if Clary leaving meant he would be slightly lonelier than he had been for the past couple of days, it would give him the chance to get to know the Lightwoods better. 

And If Magnus mentioned Alec again, maybe his father would actually listen this time.

“Did you get her number?” he asked.

Clary let out a quiet excited squeak. “I did.”

Magnus bit his lip on a smile. “Get it, Clary!”

She giggled into his shoulder and hid her face, which Magnus knew from past experience would be red as a tomato at any mention of girls she liked.

“I know we only met yesterday, but I think she’s amazing. I think your whole ‘falling in love too quick’ thing must be contagious.”

“You’re in love with her?” Magnus asked.

“Well, no,” said Clary, “but I really like her. And don’t act like you don’t want to make out with Alec, I’ve seen how you look at him.”

It was Magnus’ turn to giggle. “He’s very pretty, I’m only human. I do want to make out with him, but I also just want to talk to him for hours and hold his hand and stuff too, you know?”

Clary squealed delightedly, which caused Luke and Jocelyn to turn to them.

“Magnus has a crush!” she said happily, and Luke and Jocelyn laughed. 

Magnus almost denied it, but what was the point? He had a serious crush on Alec Lightwood, and next time he saw him, he was going to try and do something about it.

Magnus was helping Clary pack up her suitcase the next day when a knock sounded at his bedroom door.

"My Lord?” someone called.

Magnus dumped Clary’s sneakers unceremoniously on the floor and padded over to open the door.

"Hey, Elias," he said, catching sight of his friend.

"You have a guest," Elias said. "Your father has requested you meet her on the steps."

Magnus glanced back to Clary, who waved at him. 

"Go do your prince stuff," she said with a smile. “I’ll still be packing when you get back. Or maybe saying goodbye to Izzy. Who knows?"

Magnus laughed as he left the room, following a step or two behind Elias. 

"Is she already here?" Magnus asked.

Elias shook his head. “She’s arriving any time now, apparently.”

Magnus nodded, and then realised Elias hadn’t actually told him who was coming. “Who is it?” he asked.

Elias stopped in the middle of the corridor. “The King didn’t tell you he’d invited her?" he said, surprised. At Magnus’ blank look he said, “It’s the Lady Camille,” and took up walking again.

Magnus almost stumbled. 

Oh.

Chapter Text

The ground was hard and unforgiving under their horses’ hooves, but the delicate traces of winter coating the palace grounds made the view spectacular. Early morning dew froze in teardrops to plant leaves; wiry brown tree branches stood boldly against the pale grey sky. 

Camille Belcourt’s long dark hair and woollen scarf streamed behind her as she rode. She’d taken the grey, the white horse that was Jem’s favourite; Magnus was on his usual raven black horse, who he was pretty sure only liked him because he brought him apples rather frequently. When Camille looked back to Magnus her eyes were bright and cheeks pink, and she called out to him teasingly.

“Can’t keep up, My Lord?”

Magnus grinned and urged his horse on so he could ride beside Camille, who had slowed to a trot up ahead.

“Just taking my time to admire the view,” he said, smiling.

She cocked a perfect eyebrow and leant closer to him. “The grounds, or me?”

Magnus held her gaze for a moment before he shrugged and said, “I’ve never seen the palace in winter.”

If Camille took offence she didn’t show it; she simply pulled back to sit upright on her saddle again and clicked her tongue to spur the horse on to a slightly faster pace. 

Magnus watched her, a mixture of emotions swirling in his stomach. Camille was beautiful, astute, confident; even though they’d only met the previous afternoon, Magnus could tell it would be difficult to become bored around her. He knew exactly why his father had wanted him to meet her, but the whole situation had him on edge. 

He was putting off seeing his father, because he wasn’t sure whether he would be able to contain his anger, and he was holding back from Camille because she was a tangible reminder of the fact that his father did whatever the hell he wanted to, regardless of Magnus’ feelings.

And then there was Alec. 

Magnus had yet to see Alec since he’d resolved to tell him about his feelings, but in some ways he was grateful. Camille being around rather complicated things, because even though Magnus hadn’t invited her, she was still here as his guest. He couldn’t just ignore her to go and spend time with Alec, even if that was what he wanted to do. 

There was something about Alec - he was warm, especially around his siblings, and he seemed to open up around Magnus, which Magnus encouraged by doing the same in return. Magnus trusted him, even from the short while they’d known each other. It went beyond physical attraction. Even if there was no romantic relationship for them to have, he wanted to be Alec’s friend.

That instant connection was there with Camille, too; Magnus had felt the spark when they first met. But he was wary of letting the flame grow; there was a sharpness to Camille that made him wonder if that flame wouldn’t one day swell into an inferno and leave his heart as ashes. 

“Riding always reminds me of my father,” Camille said, drawing Magnus out of his thoughts. “He used to take me the races when I was little.”

“Not anymore?” Magnus asked.

“I go to Ladies’ Day at Ascot,” she told him, and then, at his quizzical look, added, “It’s a big event in the UK.” She lifted her chin and looked ahead. “But no, no longer with my father. He died a few years ago.”

Magnus exhaled a sympathetic sound, remembering his own loss. “I’m sorry,” he said sincerely. “I know what that feels like.”

Camille hummed. “He made some foolish decisions,” she told him, “but I loved him until the end.”

Magnus didn’t push the subject. Instead he started telling Camille about the history of the palace and its grounds.

“Clary and I came here,” he said, mostly to himself.

“Clary?” Camille asked.

Magnus nodded. “My friend from home,” he said. “She left yesterday.”

“Oh, the little redhead?” Camille asked. “I did wonder why there was a common girl staying in the palace, but I thought it would be rude to ask.”

Magnus bristled. Camille clearly had an instinctual superiority like his father, and he didn’t like it in either of them.

“Well, Clary and I are both common, then, I guess,” he said, a bite to his tone. “We practically grew up together, after all.”

Camille looked him over and smiled. “Yes, darling, but some of us are more refined than others.” She cocked her head, seemingly unaffected by Magnus’ sudden coolness. “Where do we go from here?” 

Magnus gestured in front of them. “Wherever you wish, My Lady.”

Magnus managed to avoid his father for another day before his luck ran out.

He bumped into Asmodeus and Tessa walking out of one of the downstairs offices, and didn’t have time to dash behind a marble pillar or launch himself out a window before they saw him.

“Magnus!” said Tessa. “How are you?”

A number of answers ran through his head, none particularly polite. He didn’t want to upset Tessa; the simmering frustration he felt was directed at his father, after all.

He settled for a noncommittal noise and half-smiled at her. “How are you?”

“Good, thank you,” she said. As if noticing the tension in the air, she glanced between Asmodeus and Magnus and said, “I…am going to go and do that thing I need to do.”

And the worst thing was, both Magnus and Asmodeus called somewhat desperately after her.

Magnus gritted his teeth and finally acknowledged his father.

“Can we talk?” he said. 

Asmodeus nodded once, sharply, and started up the stairs. Magnus assumed they were heading up to the solar and followed wordlessly. 

It wasn’t until they were sat in the privacy of the solar that Asmodeus spoke.

“What’s on your mind?” he asked as he settled into his chair.

Magnus was too annoyed to take a non-confrontational approach.

“Why did you invite Camille when Clary was still here?” Magnus asked. “Why did you invite her at all?”

Asmodeus barely spared him a glance, picking up a report from his desk. “I thought your little friend had gone,” he said dismissively. 

“Well, she was leaving the day that Camille arrived,” Magnus said, “but that’s not the point.”

Enlighten me, then,” Asmodeus said, gold-green eyes flashing. 

“I told you that I wasn’t sure about any of them, the suitors, that I wanted more time to decide and meet people and everything, and you just completely ignored me,” Magnus said.

Asmodeus sucked his teeth. “I am your father, and I am a King,” he said. “I should think I’m a little more qualified to know what’s best for you and your future than you are.”

White-hot anger flared in Magnus. He rolled his eyes. “I get to make decisions like that,” he bit out, “not you. Whatever mistakes I might make, they’re my choices. You can give me all the guidance you want, but you do not get to dictate my life.”

“Magnus,” Asmodeus said sharply, “just remember who you’re talking to.”

“Yes: my father,” Magnus shot back, “so maybe you should start acting like it.”

That was it. 

Magnus knew he’d gone too far.

Asmodeus’ eyes burned and he inhaled deeply for a long moment, but when he spoke again, his voice was perfectly calm.

“Forgive me,” he said. “I’m new to all this. All I want is for you to have a good partner at your side to help you with the demands of being the Prince. I’m trying to do what’s best for you.”

Magnus almost believed him. Some of his anger drained away nonetheless.

“I appreciate that,” he said. “I’m grateful for everything you’ve done for me, I truly am. But wouldn’t the love of someone I choose be the best thing to help with a new role? A role which, by the way, I haven’t decided if I’m going to take up yet.”

Asmodeus looked at him for a long time without saying anything. Finally: “The Eve of Edom is only a few days away, Magnus. I need you to decide.”

Magnus nodded, irritation spiking once more. “I have been thinking about it. I’m not just a pretty face.”

Asmodeus stared at him for a moment and then snorted a laugh. The tension broke somewhat and he leant back in his chair. Magnus watched him, a maelstrom of emotions still swirling in his stomach. 

Asmodeus’ eyes fell to something on his desk. From the back, it looked like a photo frame, and he passed it to Magnus. A much younger version of Asmodeus, dressed in red ceremonial garb, and woman with shining black hair stood hand in hand, smiling.

“My first wife, Lilith,” Asmodeus said, with a sigh. “We never had any children. If things had been different…” He stood with purpose and looked away from Magnus, facing the stained-glass window. “I realise I’m placing a burden on you, which was never my intention. But you must understand the gravity of the situation: you are my sole heir, Magnus. If anything were to happen to me…”

Magnus swallowed. No matter how angry he might have gotten, he wasn’t quite ready to lose his only living parent so soon. “But it won’t, right?”

Asmodeus sighed. “No one can predict the future. And, of course, I am not immortal.”

“There’s a line of succession, though,” Magnus pointed out. “I mean, Malcolm’s history lessons are boring as hell but there’ve been kings and queens who died without children before.”

Asmodeus turned to look at Magnus. “This kingdom has passed father to son in our family for eight generations,” he said, somewhat icily. 

Magnus was quiet for a while. The spark of his anger had been extinguished and now he just felt weary. “What happens if I don’t want to be number nine?”

“You will make your decisions and I will make mine,” Asmodeus said, and Magnus wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a threat but it veered dangerously close.

He looked at his father now, seeing the lines around his eyes, the slight hunch to his shoulders, but the determined set of his mouth and the steadiness of his presence. 

“Right,” said Magnus, feeling unsettled. “I’ll leave you to your decisions then.”

Magnus had kind of taken over the drawing room where he and Clary had reviewed the list of suitors and he made his way to it after leaving his father’s solar. He slammed the door and sighed loudly, running a hand through his hair. 

An amused cough told him the room wasn’t empty. Izzy and a little boy he assumed was her younger brother were curled up on a couch, going through some flashcards.

“Oh,” Magnus said, surprised. “I wasn’t expecting anyone to be in here.”

Izzy’s lips twitched. “Clearly,” she said. “What did the door do to you?”

Magnus groaned and flopped down onto the couch. The little boy raised his eyebrows and waved at Magnus.

“I’m Max,” he said.

“I’m Magnus,” said Magnus. “I'm usually more fun to be around, but I'm in a bad mood.”

Max considered this. “Alec and Jace shout a lot when they're in a bad mood," he said thoughtfully. "Izzy just gets huffy.”

Despite himself, Magnus found his mood lifting and a laugh rose in his chest. 

“I can see that,” he nodded, laughing at Izzy’s protestations.

Max grinned, clearly enjoying having someone who also wanted to poke gentle fun at his sister. They stayed chatting for a while. Izzy kept sending Magnus furtive glances, but she clammed up when Magnus sent her a quizzical look.

“What?” Max asked, head turning between the two. He obviously wasn’t as oblivious as Magnus hoped. 

“Nothing,” Izzy said quickly, ruffling his hair. Max grumbled but didn’t press the issue, and Magnus distracted him by asking if he’d played any pranks around the palace yet.

A while later, Izzy was startled by Magnus’ phone chiming into life, blaring an obnoxious Pussy Cat Dolls ringtone set by Catarina. She leant over to the couch Magnus was on and peered at his phone, which was somewhere near his feet.

“Um,” Izzy said tentatively, “Tyrion Lannister is video calling you.”

Magnus laughed. “I’ll explain later,” he said, in answer to her look of utter confusion. “Sorry, darlings, would you mind?”

Izzy shooed Max up and they left the room. Magnus picked up the call.

“Hey, Raph,” he said.

Raphael scowled. “I’ve been telling you not to call me that for at least five years.”

Magnus grinned. “But you let Simon call -”

“I need to talk to you about something,” Raphael intoned, and Magnus rolled his eyes.

“And people say I’m the dramatic one,” he grumbled, rolling over onto his stomach and burying his face in the pillow created by his arms. “Fire away.”

“Clary’s here,” Raphael said, looking like the very idea gave him physical pain.

“You like Clary,” Magnus reminded him. 

“I tolerate Clary,” Raphael said flatly, “but that’s not the point. She was telling Simon about how your father’s found you a girlfriend.”

Magnus sighed in annoyance. “Let me guess, you wish I’d told you straight away so you could have started the teasing immediately?”

“No,” said Raphael, and the seriousness of his voice made Magnus pause. “I know your girlfriend. Well, I know of her. She’s bad news.”

“In the Raph sense or the Magnus sense?”

“The ‘anybody who has a shred of self-preservation’ sense,” said Raphael, and the fact that he let the nickname slide made Magnus even more worried. “She’s been staying with the Du Monts in New York, and it’s not a coincidence that people have started calling them Du Morts.”

Magnus felt his chest compress. “Camille murders people?”

Raphael rolled his eyes rather spectacularly. “It’s a metaphor. The Du Mont family used to own the construction company we just took over. Something happened in London with Camille’s old business partner, de Quincey, which is why she came to New York, and whatever bad luck she had there she brought with her. The Du Morts’ business sank and she was the only one who got out with heavier pockets.” He grimaced. “Have you met her yet?”

Magnus nodded. “Yeah, we’ve had dinner together a couple of times and we went riding yesterday.” He ignored Raphael’s snort at that. “She’s…interesting, definitely.”

Raphael pursed his lips and looked like he was about to say something. “She’s dangerous, Magnus,” he said finally. “Don’t be un idiota.” 

Magnus smiled for the first time in a few minutes. “Who, me?” he asked.

“Seriously,” Raphael continued. “St -” 

A crash on Raphael’s end of the line muffled his words, but Magnus had heard the general sentiment and couldn’t resist teasing his friend.

“Sorry, what was that?” he asked.

“I said ‘go away’,” said Raphael irritably. “Adiós.”

“Really? ‘Cause it sounded like ‘Stay safe,’” Magnus said, grinning, and the fact that Raphael ended the call on him just made him smile harder.

When Izzy and Max left Magnus in the drawing room, they made their way back to the Lightwoods’ allocated rooms in the East Wing. Max chattered excitedly to her on the way about a monster he had heard lived in the palace grounds, which made Izzy laugh. Her smile dropped as soon as she caught sight of their father’s face on entering their parents’ room. 

“Max,” she said distractedly, “why don’t you go and play with Al -” she saw Alec sitting on the end of the bed, obviously not looking at either of their parents, and changed tack “- with Jace? I think he’s out on the balcony.”

Max gave them all a dirty look as he crossed the room to get to the balcony. “I never get to hear the good stuff,” he complained, scuffing the floor with his foot.

Robert ignored him. “Isabelle, your mother and I would like to talk to you,” he said. 

“Then you can let Alec go, can’t you?” Izzy said immediately. Alec reached out from the bed and squeezed her hand.

Robert and Maryse disregarded this too. 

“Have you seen the Prince today?” Maryse asked. 

Izzy barely refrained from rolling her eyes. “Yes, I have, actually. Ask Max if you don’t believe me.”

Robert frowned. “I hardly think it’s appropriate to take Max along,” he said.

“You seem to have spent most of your time so far with that American girl, too,” Maryse sniffed.

Izzy wanted to laugh. “We’ve been here a week,” she said. “I’ve heard of whirlwind romances, but…” she sighed. “Mamá, Clary is Magnus’ friend. How could I not spend time with her if I was with him?”

Maryse pursed her lips but said nothing, gaze flickering to Alec, then back to Izzy.

“You need to do better,” she said. 

Izzy felt like crumbling, but she kept her shoulders thrown back.

“Magnus has no romantic interest in me,” Izzy told her mother curtly. “I know you don’t care about that, but it’s kind of an important factor if you want him to propose to me of his own free will.”

“How can you tell that already? We’ve been here a week, as you say.”

Izzy pursed her lips. “I just can.”

Maryse looked to Robert.

“Isabelle,” he said, “try a little harder, won’t you? If you do this, you’ll be known as the person who restored honour to the Lightwood name. Mi princesa, isn’t marrying a prince what you dreamed of as a little girl?”

“I’m not a princess, papá.” Izzy shared a glance with Alec. “I can’t do it. He’s not going to choose me.”

Maryse narrowed her eyes. “You say that like you know who he will choose,” she commented. Izzy only shrugged, steadfastly not looking in Alec’s direction.

Robert lifted his chin. “Alec, you should talk to him. I’ve heard rumours. People say he’s…like you.”

Something flashed over Maryse’s face, gone in a moment. She walked over to Alec and sat next to him on the end of the bed. 

Alec stiffened. He looked to Izzy for help and she opened her mouth, but Maryse was quicker.

“When you told us you were -” the word went unsaid and Maryse powered on, placing her hand on Alec’s arm “- I feared you would never get the chance to uphold the Lightwood name. But here it is, mijo! This is your chance to make us proud.”

Alec closed his eyes briefly, face pained, and when he opened there was a new determination in them.

“He’ll never go for it,” he said, “so there’s no point in trying. I won’t do it.”

“Alexander,” said Robert warningly, but Alec shook his head.

“I won’t.” He glanced at Izzy. “And you can’t make Izzy do it, either. You don’t get to use us - or Magnus - to fix what you broke.”

Robert paled slightly and Maryse made an angry sound, but Alec just shrugged and carried on.

“Besides, Magnus invited Lady Camille to court, or did you not hear everyone talking about her? They say the two of them would make a lovely couple.” 

His voice caught and he stopped talking, ducking his head. Izzy took his hand and held it tightly.

“It’s over, mother,” said Izzy.

Maryse’s eyes flashed. “Oh, honestly. Alec, if you’d just married Lydia Branwell like you planned to…” 

With that she got up from the bed and departed. Robert looked small in the room without his wife.

“She doesn’t mean that,” he said to Alec.

Alec looked at his father. “Of course she does,” he said flatly. “She’d rather us be miserable than lose favour with her precious Clave.” He didn’t wait for Robert to deny it; it would be a lie anyway. “I’m going to spend time with Max. He deserves some happy memories of his vacation.”

Alec left without looking at his father, only glancing backwards to check on Izzy. She offered him a weak smile and then turned to Robert.

“Alec’s right, papá,” she said. 

Robert kissed her forehead. “Your brother is young,” he told her. 

Izzy pulled away from her father and shook her head. “But old enough to see through lies,” she said. “This isn’t fair, or right.” She lifted her chin, daring her father to contradict her, but he simply regarded her, and in response she too departed.

Will Herondale, the groundskeeper, had assured Magnus that when the temperature dropped low enough, the lake would freeze over and could be skated on - he’d apparently taken Jem and Tessa out in previous years. The weather was trying very hard to snow, but all that it had brought so far were some light flurries and a bracing wind. 

Magnus and Camille, both engulfed in warm coats and chunky knitted scarves, sat on the bank of the lake, watching a robin dance around the edge of the icy water. Around them, the willows had lost their leaves, but the firs remained evergreen.

“It’s very pretty out here,” Camille commented. The words created puffs of air.

“You lived in New York with the Du Monts, right?” Magnus asked, even though he knew the answer already.

Camille nodded. “It’s no London, but…” she smiled at Magnus’ expression. “I suppose London is no New York,” she added graciously.

Magnus smiled too. “How come you left?”

“Your father invited me here,” she said. “He said you wanted to meet me. How could I refuse?”

Magnus tensed and looked away. “That isn’t entirely accurate,” he said lightly. 

“Well, I hope your opinion of me has changed,” she said. “I’m not naïve, Magnus. I know why your father invited me, as do you.” She regarded him, tilting her head. He could easily see how people could fall in love with her deep brown eyes. “We need to make this work, for both our sakes.”

“Camille, I…” Magnus took a breath. “I’m not sure there will be anything to make work.”

Camille’s eyes glinted. “You’re disobeying your father?” she asked. “But he’s the King.”

“Believe me, I’m aware,” Magnus snorted. “I have to do what’s right, but not just for me. If I’m to rule Edom one day, I want to do it alongside someone I love.”

“How...noble,” said Camille. Magnus got the impression she was mocking him, but he didn’t comment on it. “Do you have that luxury?”

Magnus glanced down at his fingers. “I have to hope so,” he said quietly.

They stayed talking by the lake for about half an hour more before the cold got too much. They hurried back inside and were shaking snow from their coats when Alec appeared.

His hazel eyes widened as he took the two of them in, and he pressed his lips together and bowed his head slightly.

“My Lord,” he said to Magnus, and then, “My Lady.”

Magnus took him in: the smart black coat, the dark grey scarf wrapped around his neck; the leather gloves and heavy-duty boots. Alec was obviously heading outside. The stiffness in both his posture and voice made Magnus’ heart contract. 

“Alexander,” he said, “I told you before, you don’t have to…”

Camille looked Alec over. “Forgive me,” she said, interrupting Magnus, “I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you before.”

“Viscount Alec Lightwood,” said Alec, nodding to Camille.

“Lightwood? From Idris?” she mused. “Weren’t your parents involved in -”

“Yes,” Alec said shortly. He looked at Magnus. “But we’re not all our parents.”

“Quite,” hummed Camille. She turned to Magnus and wrapped a hand around his arm. “Magnus, let’s get out of these damp clothes and put something warmer on.” She barely glanced at Alec. “It was lovely to meet you, My Lord.”

Camille started walking again and clearly expected Magnus to follow her, because a moment later she turned around and gave him a look that was almost annoyed.

“Magnus, darling?” 

“Go ahead, My Lady,” he told her. “I’ll catch you up.”

Her eyes turned to flint for less than a moment before a gracious smile was back in place and she nodded. “Of course.”

Magnus waited until she was out of earshot before he spoke to Alec. He was painfully aware of his promise to himself about telling Alec how he felt, but now hardly seemed like the appropriate moment.

“Are you okay?” he asked, frowning in concern. “You seem…tense.”

Alec regarded him, eyes eventually flickering away. Some of the fight drained from him and his shoulders relaxed. “I’m fine, thank you,” he said politely. “Just…personal stuff.”

Magnus nodded. “Did you want to talk about it?” he asked. Before, he would have said that Alec’s terseness was directed at Camille, but it had lingered even after she’d left, and he was feeling uncharacteristically awkward.

Alec shook his head, then rubbed a gloved hand across his jaw. “Just my parents,” he said blandly. “Don’t worry about it - you’ve got enough going on.”

Magnus lifted an eyebrow. “Them again? Well, something we have in common.” He nodded down the corridor in the direction Camille had walked off. “This was my father’s doing.”

Alec’s pained expression morphed into one of confusion.

“My father invited Camille here,” Magnus clarified, “even though I told him I wasn’t interested in any of the suitors he’d picked for me.”

Alec’s lips parted. “You didn’t ask her to court?” he said, a strange note in his voice. Magnus shook his head. “Oh.”

Magnus searched Alec’s face. He seemed a lot more relaxed now, for reasons Magnus wasn’t quite sure of. A voice in the back of Magnus’ mind whispered that it was almost as if Alec was only bothered by Camille because he thought Magnus had invited her, which was…an interesting thought. And maybe that meant that Alec…

No. Probably not.

Magnus cleared his throat. “She’ll probably leave soon, anyway,” he said. “I’m not ready for…any of that. I did tell my father, but he never listens.”

“Join the club,” snorted Alec. 

Magnus smiled. “Well, you seem happier, anyway,” he commented lightly. “That’s my job well done, I would say.”

Alec gazed at him, lips curving upwards. Magnus found himself transfixed by the warmth in Alec’s eyes.

“Thanks, Magnus,” he said. “Are you okay?”

Magnus waved his hands in a noncommittal gesture. “I will be,” he said, and Alec half-smiled.

“I know you’ve already been outside, but I was just going to go for a walk, if you wanted to join me?” He cleared his throat, cheeks a little bit pink. “I mean, to take your mind off whatever you’ve got going on?”

Magnus’ heart leapt. “I would love to,” he said honestly, “but if I spend another minute outside I think I might lose multiple appendages to frostbite.”

Alec’s expression cycled from dejection to amusement in a second. “I guess I’ll let you off, then,” he said.

“How about a drink, instead?” Magnus offered. “That’s very warming.”

Alec’s eyes flickered outside and then back to Magnus. 

“Okay. Can I find you later?” he asked, a hopeful smile on his face.

Magnus opened his mouth and then closed it, disbelieving. “Yeah,” he managed finally. He pulled himself together. “I mean, yes, of course you can.”

Alec gave him a small, pleased smile, and Magnus found himself returning it with a full-watt grin. His chest felt lighter and he was hit by a sudden happiness.

“I look forward to it,” he said honestly. “Until later, then - say, seven? I’ll wait by the stairs.”

Alec nodded. He opened the door, which allowed a rush of frigid air into the palace, and pulled a face. “See you in a bit.”

Magnus smiled happily at him, and noticed that Alec was so busy looking at him that he tripped over the threshold on his way out of the door. He looked up, face red, and gave an embarrassed huff of laughter before shaking his head and walking away, not knowing that Magnus’ heart was doing cartwheels.

Chapter Text

Alec was sitting on the bottom step of the main staircase when Magnus began his descent down it, and as he drew closer he could see Alec’s long fingers drumming out a pattern on his thigh.

Alec looked around and locked gazes with Magnus, eyes crinkling at the sides.

“Hey,” Alec said in greeting, looking Magnus up and down.

“Hey, yourself,” Magnus said, smiling at Alec. “How was your walk?”

Alec nodded. “Cold. Good for clearing my head, though.” His tongue swiped over his bottom lip. “You look incredible.”

Magnus’ smile blossomed brighter. “Thank you,” he said, happiness bubbling in his chest. “So do you, like always.”

Alec smiled a little and shrugged. “Where did you want to go?”

Magnus cleared his throat. He had considered a range of possibilities after leaving Alec earlier that afternoon. Heading into the city would give them a welcome break from the palace and its people, but they’d be surrounded by the public and might not get any privacy. The palace’s dining room was sophisticated, but still some of the noble guests from Magnus’ birthday were milling around. In either case, whether they stayed in the palace or left the grounds, Magnus wasn’t sure what Alec would want - what he could have for himself.

Magnus was almost certain that Alec was attracted to him, but he was less sure of whether anyone else knew. Of course, what really mattered to Magnus was what happened between the two of them, but if no one else was aware that Alec might like to go on a date with another man, Magnus didn’t want to be the one to cause that conversation. He didn’t want to force Alec into something he wasn’t ready for.

“I thought I’d leave the choice up to you,” Magnus said honestly, gesturing around them. “There’s a small bar in the dining room, or we can go to the drawing room I took over. Or we could go to my bedroom, I guess. It’s probably the most private.”

Alec’s lips parted and he blinked twice at Magnus.

Magnus held up a hand. “I don’t mean that kind of privacy. I just wasn’t sure how…discreet you required us to be.”

Alec glanced down at the ground, and when he looked back up there was a soft smile on his face. “Thank you for thinking of that,” he said, moving a little closer to Magnus. “I came out to my family a while ago. They know I’m gay.”

Magnus nodded. “Okay,” he said easily. “Where did you want to go?”

“Your drawing room sounds good,” Alec decided, and held out his arm. “After you.”

They made their way to the drawing room, winding right, along past the staff quarters and kitchens. They stopped there briefly so that Magnus could fetch two clean glasses, and then continued on their way.

“Has your brother been enjoying his archery lessons?” Magnus asked, thinking the topic would be safe and familiar to Alec. He seemed most at ease when talking about his siblings, and Magnus hoped the date would sail smoothly if they could both relax.

“Yeah,” Alec smiled, “though I think it’s more the spending time together thing.” He shook his head. “I don’t mean that in a big-headed way. It’s just that we don’t get to see him much at home - he’s usually with his tutor or whatever. And of course, we have all our duties to attend to.”

“Mm,” Magnus mused, teasing, “you know, when I was little, I always wanted to grow up and fulfil my duties.”

Alec snorted, sending him a sideways glance. “You think you’re funny, huh?” he asked, a smile playing around his lips.

“I do,” Magnus agreed, and he was sure he wasn’t the only one who felt the spark of heat between them when their eyes met.

“I did, actually,” Alec said, tearing his eyes away and looking around the corridor while they walked. “Want to fulfill my duties, I mean. I used to - God, this is so embarrassing -” He broke off with a chuckle and Magnus smiled at the sound. “I used to sneak into my father’s office and put my teddy bears in the chairs and pretend to have meetings with them. I only stopped when Izzy found me and wanted to join in.”

Magnus couldn’t help it. “Oh my God,” he laughed, “that’s so precious. Why didn’t you let Izzy play with you?”

“She never agreed with any of the motions I wanted to pass,” Alec said, mock exasperated, but he was grinning widely.

Magnus felt the laughter sweep through him, lightening his every step, and he was still laughing when they reached the drawing room. He pushed open the door, standing by to let Alec in, then placed the glasses down on one of the end tables.

“Drink?”

Alec nodded, settling on one of the couches. “Thanks,” he said. He licked his lips and gestured towards the cocktail shaker on the sideboard beside the drink cabinet. “I’m, uh, not much of a drinker, so whatever you want to make is fine by me.”

Magnus hummed interestedly. “What do you think you might like?”

Alec’s eyes lingered over Magnus’ body and the corners of his mouth tugged upwards. “Surprise me,” he said, after a beat, and Magnus narrowed his eyes before acquiescing and spinning gracefully on his heel to face the cabinet.

As Magnus pulled out a bottle of whiskey from the shelf, Alec spoke up. “Did you try a lot of cocktails when you were travelling?”

Magnus nodded. As he mixed the two cocktails, he told Alec about his adventures travelling with Ragnor before they’d started college. Alec listened attentively, a soft smile on his face as he watched Magnus work.

“This,” Magnus said, coming to the end of his story and handing one of the glasses out to Alec, “is something a little closer to home.”

Alec raised his eyebrows and took it from Magnus’ outstretched hand with thanks. Their hands brushed with the movement and tingles rippled from the place their fingers touched.

“To us,” Magnus said, as Alec tipped his glass towards Magnus and clinked them together. Magnus watched over the rim of his glass as Alec took his first sip. The contorted expression on his face was equal parts amusing and adorable, and Magnus smiled into his cocktail as he watched.

Alec swallowed and blinked at the dark red liquid in the glass. “What is it?” he asked.

“A Manhattan,” Magnus replied, as he sat down on the couch next to Alec. They both sat close to the middle, bodies curving towards each other, their toes just brushing. “You don’t like it?”

“No, it’s —” Alec shook his head. “It’s great.”

Magnus raised one eyebrow, but he couldn’t stop the affectionate smile rising to his face. “Such a gentleman,” he said. “Thank you for saying so, but you don’t have to drink it if you don’t like it.”

Alec ducked his head, a guilty smile on his face. “Do you miss it?” he asks, running his fingers around the base of the glass. “New York, I mean.”

Magnus hummed again. “I never pictured myself living anywhere else,” he said. “I know some people want a quieter life, but the city was my home, you know? It’s where I belong.” He dropped his gaze to his drink. “At least, I thought it was, but I don’t know anymore. I like it here.”

“You weren’t expecting to?” Alec asked, drinking some more of his cocktail. It seemed to go down better that time, if his lack of grimace was anything to go by, and Magnus found himself temporarily distracted by the way the liquid stained Alec’s lips a tempting pink.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Magnus said, pulling his eyes away and looking out into the room, “about any of it. I know I need to make up my mind soon, but -” he broke off, shaking his head. “Idumea is no New York, that’s for sure.”

Alec laughed. “It’s very similar to Alicante, at home in Idris, actually,” he said contemplatively, settling back into the couch. “The architecture and the atmosphere. Very European.”

Magnus sipped his drink. “Maybe you can show me, some time,” he said, meeting Alec’s eye with a teasing smile. To his delight, Alec just smiled back, something slow and syrupy that spread across his face and brought a sweetness to his gaze.

“I’d like that,” he said.

Magnus’ heart jumped in his chest and he bit down on his elated grin. “I’ll hold you to that, then,” he said, tipping his glass towards Alec’s once more. Their glasses clinked, a light ting in the otherwise quiet room, Alec watching him as they did so, and Magnus felt giddy with excitement about what the rest of the evening would bring.

The following morning, Magnus rose early. He was warm when he woke, wrapped in a blanket cocoon, and the soft press of a paw against his nose roused him fully.

“Morning, Chairman,” he greeted, then checked the time on his phone. It was four minutes to eight, the time his alarm was set for. He pulled the cat closer to him and cooed. “You’re the best alarm clock.”

Magnus cuddled Chairman, stroking him absently, his mind on the previous evening. Spending time getting to know even more Alec had been absolutely delightful, and he’d caught Alec’s eyes drifting to his lips on more than one occasion. It made his tummy fizz pleasantly to know that the attraction was mutual, but, beyond that, he genuinely felt a connection to Alec.

They’d gotten closer, swapping entertaining stories - Magnus had perhaps taken up an unequal share of the conversation, but how could he not when Alec kept encouraging him, with those bright hazel eyes and smiling at everything Magnus said?

Alec had declined Magnus’ offer to walk him back to his room because he wasn’t sure whether his parents were still awake, but they’d ended up walking part of the way together anyway. A smiling Alec bid Magnus goodnight with a kiss on the cheek, and it had taken significant effort for Magnus not to swoon. He’d had to clamp down on the urge to ask Alec if he’d be okay with Magnus pushing him up against the nearest pillar and kissing him till they were both breathless.

After several more long minutes revelling in a bubble of happiness, Magnus pulled himself from his bed and set about getting ready for the day. By nine o’clock he had gotten dressed, eaten breakfast and made his way to the council chambers, and was ready to meet his father and the First Minister for their weekly session.

The first item on the agenda was debating a change in threshold for a savings initiative dubbed a ‘mansion tax’ by the press, one that aimed to charge people a higher rate of tax if they had a larger, more expensive property. Magnus didn’t claim to be a politics student, but anything that charged richer people more tax and poorer people less tax seemed like a good idea to him. His father, clearly, disagreed.

The First Minister and Asmodeus had been back and forth about the issue for a long while. Asmodeus had sent the bill back to the Lower House twice, and they were still arguing about amendments now. Asmodeus had snapped and called it a Robin Hood law at the conclusion of their last meeting, storming out of the council chambers, leaving Magnus to - somewhat awkwardly - make small talk with a tired-looking Minister.

Magnus watched the argument volley between the two of them - the Minister pointing out how the tax made little difference to, and even benefitted, most of Edom’s citizens, and a bunch of other worthwhile arguments Magnus found himself agreeing with. Asmodeus’ temper, which ran cold at the best of times, had him shooting down every valid argument with a cutting remark.

Magnus had forgotten - or perhaps never truly appreciated - the callousness of his father’s mind.

“Father,” Magnus said, leaning forward on the table and steepling his fingers, “forgive me for speaking out of turn, but I think the Minister makes a good point.”

Asmodeus’ eyes swivelled to Magnus. Magnus held his nerve, jaw clenching as he met his father’s eye.

“You’ve studied the figures, have you?” Asmodeus asked, voice frosting over. “Looked at the reports? Met with all the other ministers and think tanks? Studied economics?”

“No,” Magnus said, refusing to rise to the bait, “but I have listened to the debates you’ve been holding here for the last few weeks. I believe it’s a law that could benefit the majority of people in the country, and some of them are the people who need it most.” Magnus raised his eyebrow, his tone growing colder. “You want me to learn how to make decisions for the good of the people, don’t you?”

Asmodeus said nothing for a moment, nostrils flaring.

“Of course,” he said levelly, after a pause. “I only wish you’d understand that life is more complicated than you believe. There are no easy answers, Magnus, especially not when it seems this simple.”

Magnus stared at his father for a moment, unable to believe what he was hearing. He ground his teeth but said nothing, knowing this was not an argument Asmodeus would back down from, especially not in front of company. He’d known his father was arrogant and contemptful, sometimes, but he hadn’t realised how little he truly cared for the people of Edom.

Perhaps Asmodeus was right and Magnus - an outsider, a newcomer - was hopelessly naive and optimistic. But if accepting the rule of Edom meant obstructing laws that could help ordinary people, people like Magnus, and being forced into marrying someone he could never be himself around for the sake of his father’s antiquated views -

Magnus suddenly saw that the answer was easy.

“Excuse me,” he said, pushing his chair back with a cringe-inducing screech and striding from the room on shaky legs. His stomach was clenching painfully and his heart thumped rapidly in his ears.

Thinking about one thing led to a domino chain in his mind, and before he knew it, everything was bearing down on him: taking up the mantle of his father’s position; the weight of the country’s expectations; his impending engagement to Camille, and all of Raphael’s warnings.  His breath came in quick, short pants. He was lightheaded and could barely think to excuse himself from the council room before he was stumbling into a hallway that lead to the main corridor, fingers jerking past the ornate wallpaper as he struggled to keep his ground.

Magnus pitched into an empty office and slid to the ground, hands around his knees. He gripped his lower legs tightly, knuckles going white, and forced himself to breathe.

Forehead to his knees, Magnus shakily counted to four while he inhaled, then exhaled. He was on his third repetition of the cycle when he heard the door to the office open, then close quietly. He didn’t look up, expecting Elias, or maybe Tessa - in any case, it wasn’t going to be Asmodeus. He was the King before he was Magnus’ father.

Whoever it was coughed awkwardly, but Magnus did not raise his head immediately. Couldn’t he just have a panic attack in peace?

"Are you okay?"

The voice was quiet, warm, and one Magnus recognised, though he wasn’t as intimately familiar with it as he wanted to be.

"Alexander?"

Back against the door, Alec mirrored how Magnus was sat. He gave Magnus a slightly embarrassed smile.

"Hey."

Magnus prodded at his hair with still-shaky fingers. There was something sombre about the situation: Magnus lacked his usual verve, and part of him wanted to revert to light-hearted flirting and maybe forget his problems with a kiss or several from Alec. But he was also acutely aware that Alec had come to find him and see if he was alright, and after the drinks they’d had yesterday… Maybe it was acceptable to be a little less than his stellar self at the moment.

He took a couple of breaths, calming himself fully.

"Why are you here?" he asked Alec.

Alec nibbled on his lower lip. "I just - I was walking along the corridor and saw you kind of uh, fall? Into this room, and I wanted to see if you were okay."

Magnus tipped his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. "I’ve been better," he said honestly, grimly amused at how the response somewhat understated the situation.

"Did you wanna talk about it?" Alec’s voice was a low rumble in the otherwise silent room, and something about it soothed Magnus. “If you want, I can go and get someone more..."

Magnus opened one eye. "More what?"

"Appropriate," Alec settled on.

"No," Magnus breathed, relaxing a little more. "This is good."

Alec smiled at him. Magnus watched, chin sunk in palm, as Alec crossed his long legs at the ankle.

“Even after everything, my father won’t accept that I don’t want to be with Camille,” Magnus said eventually. “And now he’s telling me that I should be trying to get into a…committed union with her.”

Alec raised an eyebrow. "He's trying to marry you off?"

Magnus couldn't help but smile at Alec's bluntness.

Alec paused to lick his lips before he spoke again. “Do you want to marry a woman?"

There was something in Alec's tone that Magnus couldn't decipher, and he had to ask.

Alec's cheeks went pink and he didn't look at Magnus as he spoke. "Sorry, I’m not trying to pry. It’s just, you mentioned your ex-boyfriend, and then -” here he smiled “- we had drinks yesterday, so I thought…”

Realising the implication of Alec’s words, Magnus’ heart rate picked up and warmth trickled over his shoulder blades at Alec’s protectiveness. “I’m bisexual, darling. So, it’s not that I don’t want to marry Camille - at least, not for the reason you’re thinking of.”

Alec nodded. “That’s something, then. Trust me.”

Magnus met Alec's gaze. "Your parents tried to force you to marry a woman?”

“Mm.” Alec thought for a while before he elaborated further. “I always knew my parents would want to choose who I married,” he began, “but when it came to it, they were only interested in finding a match that would help restore the tarnished family name. I guess I just…decided to beat them to it. I kind of knew Lydia anyway, and the Branwells are a well-respected family back home. It was a political thing.”

Alec sighed. Magnus moved closer, so they were both leaning against the door, and rested his hand comfortingly on Alec’s arm. “I was willing to marry a woman for the sake of my family - they’re who I was raised to protect, to put before anyone and anything else - but it wasn’t going to make me happy. It was suffocating, and she was someone I’d chosen. Someone my parents picked would have been even worse.”

He cleared his throat. “I’m fairly sure my mother hoped that because I proposed to Lydia I magically wasn’t gay anymore. She couldn’t understand that there might have been a reason besides attraction that would lead me to do it.” He shook his head. “Anyway, I couldn’t go through with it and ended up calling off the engagement. And now Izzy thinks she needs to take the heat for me, so she’s let our parents choose someone for her.”

Magnus arched a questioning eyebrow. Alec smiled slightly.

“I can’t tell you who, but it hasn’t exactly gone to plan. And it seems I’m the back-up.” His smile faded. “My parents are single-minded about restoring honour to our name,” he said tiredly. “They don’t care if it makes Izzy or me miserable to do it.”

Magnus sat in silence as he digested Alec’s story.

“Well, thanks for cheering me up,” Magnus said after a while.

Alec glanced at him, then spluttered out a laugh. Magnus couldn’t help chuckling too, and soon the two of them were almost doubled over, a little hysterical.

“Sorry,” Alec said eventually, wiping at his eyes. “Yeah, that story really is a mood-killer.”

Magnus hummed, still laughing a little. When he had calmed down, he said, “Seriously, though: I’m sorry you had to go through that. If your parents don’t appreciate the level of sacrifice you were willing to make for them, they really don’t deserve you.” He placed his hand over Alec’s.

Alec turned his hand over so their palms met, and he interlinked their fingers. “They were quite happy for their gay son to marry a woman, for the sake of restoring honour to a name that they disgraced.”

“Where’s the honour in you having to live a lie?” Magnus asked, frowning.

Alec shrugged, mouth downturned. “It took me a long time to realise it, but that doesn’t matter to them,” he sighed.

Magnus was quiet for a moment. “I guess I should count myself lucky that my father is trying to marry me to someone of a gender I’m attracted to, shouldn’t I?”

Alec’s eyes were serious, but warm, when he regarded Magnus. “That still doesn’t make it right,” he said firmly. “If you don’t want to marry Camille, you shouldn’t have to. Your father should respect that.” Then he glanced down at their joined hands. “Forgive me if that’s rude.”

Magnus shook his head. “No, I appreciate it. It’s nice to hear someone validating my own thoughts on the matter. Thank you.” He shuffled a little closer to Alec. When he pulled his legs up and sat cross-legged, his knee ended up resting against Alec’s thigh. Neither of them made to move.

The pair were quiet for a while. Alec took Magnus completely by surprise when he dropped his head to Magnus’ shoulder and rested it there. Magnus knew Alec was affectionate - anyone who spent time around the Lightwood siblings could see that - but he didn’t know the two of them had reached that stage.

It made his tummy swoop pleasantly.

Magnus tilted his head so he could lean it against Alec’s.

“Yesterday was fun,” Alec said. “When we had drinks.”

Magnus smiled. “Yeah, it was.”

“We could, uh. You could show me around Idumea, if you wanted to?” Alec asked. His voice was sure, but a hint of uncertainty laced through his tone. “You know, just so I know the standard of tour guiding I’m up against.”

Magnus’ pulse fluttered and he had to take a moment to compose himself before answering. Alec was too cute for words and it wasn’t fair that he expected Magnus to be able to function properly around him.

“I’m sure I can find room for you in my schedule,” Magnus said, and he wanted to add and in my bed , but didn’t. “How long are you staying in Edom?”

Alec shrugged, a movement that Magnus felt rather than saw. “I’m not really sure. My parents told us it was a vacation - maybe a few weeks? I think they’re waiting for their ‘restore honour to the Lightwood name’ plan to become a success, but that’s really not gonna happen here. Until they realise that, I guess we’re staying indefinitely.”

“It’s me, isn’t it?” he asked, moving his head away so he could look at Alec. Alec blinked at him. “Your parents want Izzy to marry me.”

A smile tugged at Alec’s lips. “You didn’t hear it from me.”

“Yeah, that plan definitely needs fine-tuning,” Magnus said, highly amused. He glanced at Alec, who was already watching him. “Izzy’s absolutely lovely, but I don’t see her in that way. Besides, I think Clary would kidnap Chairman Meow if anything like that happened.”

Alec’s grin broadened. “ Chairman Meow?

Magnus gave him an affronted glare. “My baby,” he said, pulling out his phone. His lock screen came to life, showing a picture of him and his mother. He felt a rush of love on seeing her happy smile and blinked away the sudden wetness in his eyes. Tapping through his pictures, he found a photo of Chairman.

“He’ll be around the palace somewhere,” Magnus said. “I’ll have to introduce you one of these days.”

Alec smiled, eyes dipping down. “Was that your mother?” he asked, gesturing to the phone.

Magnus nodded. He pressed a button, lighting the screen again to show Alec the picture.

“I miss her so much,” he confessed. “I still think about her all the time.”

Alec held Magnus’ hand more tightly between his own. Magnus looked at him, finding Alec’s eyes - beautiful swirls of green and brown up close - fixed on him, searching his face. There was a crinkle in Alec’s brow as he looked sympathetically at Magnus.

“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely. “I can’t imagine what losing her must have been like.”

Magnus nodded, throat tight with emotion. He swallowed a couple of times and eventually managed to speak. “Well, I still have her smile to brighten my day,” he said.

Talking about his mother seemed a natural segue into telling Alec how he’d got here in the first place - his mother’s death, and the invitation from Asmodeus to come and heal in the company of someone who had cared about both of them, once upon a time.

Even though he was a natural conversationalist, Magnus grew a little self-conscious, hoping Alec wouldn’t think him conceited for talking about his own experiences so much. But every time he glanced to the side, Alec was looking at him intently, seemingly content to be an interested listener rather than an active participant in conversation.

Losing track of time, Magnus got around to his anxieties about accepting the role of Crown Prince. The Eve of Edom was four days away; a week of celebrations had already begun. Tomorrow would bring a parade in honour of the national day, and later in the week various other events were planned. Alec was ridiculously easy to talk to, and Magnus found himself being more honest than he had been before with anyone barring Catarina.

Talking about his worries out loud made it seem even clearer in the plain light of day; Magnus had been foolish to even consider the idea. He could see his father’s flaws and knew what he’d do differently, but that was all immaterial now. He had no idea if his father would even want Magnus to become his heir after what had happened in the council chambers.

But Magnus bit his tongue before he got too far ahead of himself. No matter how wonderful Alec was, Magnus remained aware of how it would look to outsiders: Alec was the son of a family from another country that - from the way he spoke about them - clearly had a dodgy past, and Magnus telling him about conversations between the King and First Minister probably wouldn’t go down too well.

“Sorry,” Magnus said, when he had run out of other things to say. His mouth felt dry. “I realise I’ve been blabbering on for ages. You could have told me to shut up.”

Alec sent him a soft smile. “It’s okay. It sounded like you needed to get it off your chest,” he said simply. “And you, uh, have a nice voice.”

Magnus smiled, feeling uncharacteristically shy. “Thank you,” he said quietly. Alec swallowed, his gaze dropping to Magnus’ lips. “I’m very glad you came to check on me.”

Alec licked his lips. “Magnus, I -”

But Magnus didn't get to find out what Alec was about to say, because suddenly they were shoved forward by the movement of the door, its sharp edge jabbing into Magnus' back. Alec scrambled to his feet and held out a hand to pull Magnus up.

Malcolm stood in the doorway.

“He’s here,” Malcolm called down the corridor. Then, to Magnus: “We were about to send out a search party.”

Magnus ignored the ache in his back and glared at Malcolm. An acerbic retort was on the tip of his tongue when his father’s figure appeared behind Malcolm, who departed with a slight bow.

“Viscount,” Asmodeus said to Alec through clenched jaw, “leave me and son."

Alec nodded. "Of course, Your Highness."

He glanced worriedly at Magnus on his way out of the room, and soon his footsteps could not be heard. Silence reigned.

Magnus drew himself up and levelled his gaze at his father.

Asmodeus stepped into the room and closed the door. “Do not think we are going to ignore your insolence in the council chambers,” he began, “but first I will tell you this: you are not to see the Lightwood boy anymore.”

Magnus tried to keep his breathing measured. “He’s my friend.”

Asmodeus scoffed. “Friend? The Lightwoods don’t have friends , they have acquaintances and they have enemies. They are not the type of family I want associated with you - especially as your dalliance with Alec could taint your relationship with Camille.”

Magnus held up a finger. “What I have with Alec isn’t a dalliance, and what I have with Camille isn’t a relationship.”

Asmodeus’ eyes flashed.

“Why do you despise the Lightwoods so much?” Magnus asked.

Asmodeus sighed heavily. “The Lightwoods were heavily involved in an attempted coup on the Idrisian government almost twenty years ago. When the attempt’s defeat was all but confirmed, they defected, buying pardons with blood money and selling out scapegoats. The Lightwoods kept their titles, their land, but...” He paused for a moment. “Their name? Their reputation? Tarnished. And they are desperate to claw back some status.”

His tone sharpened to steel.

" Et factum in gloria est - 'the honor is in the deed’, that’s their family motto. They're some of the most dishonorable people I've ever met. And you? Magnus, can’t you see, you’re a pawn? Their boy sweet-talking his way into your bed is just the latest in a long list of attempts by Robert and Maryse Lightwood to find favour once more.” Asmodeus smiled wryly. “I’ll bet they didn’t want to leave anything to chance, and also tasked the Lady Isabelle with capturing your heart?”

Magnus held his tongue against acknowledging this as the truth, not wanting to give his father justification. He shook his head.

“You of all people must know that children are not their parents,” Magnus pointed out. “Is it fair to blame Alec and Izzy for their parents sins?”

Asmodeus narrowed his eyes. “They’ve really taken you in, haven’t they?”

Magnus finally let some of his frustration show. “Why did you bother inviting them to the palace if you hate them so much?”

"It would've been a slight not to," Asmodeus said dismissively. “As smaller European countries, Edom and Idris have long had strong diplomatic relations, and most of their noble families were invited to your birthday celebration. Appearances to maintain, and whatnot.”

Magnus swallowed. “So, those long-held relations would be something to nurture, then?” he said determinedly. “Like, if the Crown Prince of Edom and a noble son of Idris were dating?”

“You and that boy are not ‘dating’,” Asmodeus scoffed. “I have spoken to Lady Camille; she is honoured to -”

“For God’s sake!” Magnus exploded. “ Nothing is going to happen between me and Camille! You told me that I needed to find a suitor, and I have: Alec. Why won’t you accept that?”

Asmodeus’ eyes flared with fury. “He is a Lightwood, Magnus. I am thinking about you, about your future, and the future of this country. He’s a man - our family line could not continue with him.”

Magnus rolled his eyes rather spectacularly.

“Look,” started Asmodeus, “I don’t have a problem with you being a bit gay -”

“I’m not ‘a bit gay’,” Magnus interrupted. “I’m bisexual.”

“Well, whatever it is, I don’t have a problem with it, but it’s not a proper way to behave in front of the country. You can’t be seen carrying on with him while you have a wonderful partner in Camille. A partner who would be able to provide you - and this country - with heirs.”

Magnus could barely see through his rage. His father’s bigoted attitude was blindingly infuriating, and he was about five seconds from storming out of the room.

“Magnus, you are my first priority here. It is of utmost importance that you are seen to keep appropriate company.”

"Well, in that case, father ,” Magnus said, injecting the word with as much venom as he could, ”you'll have to forgive me for leaving."