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It's not often that Alec finds himself in this particular area. When he does, it's always on business, and today is no exception―he rarely does have any other reason to visit the home of Magnus Bane.

He'd be lying if he said he had to be here on this particular occasion, though. He could have easily put this run-of-the-mill errand on someone else, but he's not about to pass up an opportunity to speak to this particular warlock. Especially after the conversation they had last time, he feels a strange need to check in, though he's not entirely sure why. Maybe he's just grateful, even if Alec can't quite think of a good way to convey that.

He doesn't have to wait long after knocking on Magnus's door, before the door swings open and reveals the man himself. As always, he looks effortlessly stunning, and Alec takes a slow breath, surprised by the way the sight of Magnus somehow makes the air shift from still to crackling, in a matter of moments.

Magnus's face lights up with a surprised, but genuine, smile.

"Alexander," he says, his voice as smooth and warm as ever. "How lovely to see you. Please, come in."

"Thanks," Alec says, following Magnus inside and closing the door behind him.

"Haven't seen you in a while," Magnus says, making his way through the loft and disappearing from view, raising his voice slightly as he goes. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm just here to pick up some books the Institute requested," Alec says, looking around. He hasn't been here in over a month, and he's not surprised to see that Magnus has rearranged some furniture and colors since then. It still looks great, as stylish and tasteful as ever, albeit with a distinctly personal touch.

Magnus backs out from another room, just enough to lean over and catch Alec's eye.

"Which ones?" he asks, frowning slightly.

"Uh, I'm not sure," Alec says. "I didn't put in the request, Lindsay did. From intelligence."

Magnus's face lights up with recognition.

"Lindsay, right," he says, once again disappearing from view. "Lovely young woman."

Alec cocks his head in objective agreement, even though Magnus can't see.

He makes sure to stay in the lounge area of the loft while he waits, slowly making his way over to the open balcony doors. The long curtains on either side are sheer and light, swept up by the breeze from outside and twisted into graceful shapes that frame the city view rather nicely. There's always a certain stillness here that Alec finds himself appreciating, even though he hasn't been to Magnus's home more than a handful of times.

"Here we are," Magnus says, making Alec turn around. Magnus is carrying a small stack of books, a few of them heavier and older-looking than others. "Some were a little hard to find, but it's nothing the Institute's tab shouldn't be able to handle."

Alec quirks a small smile, accepts the books as Magnus hands them to him.

"Thank you," he says, and Magnus gives him a nod.

"You are very welcome," he says. He pauses, tilts his head. "You should come by more often, you know. I do enjoy some good company. And especially after last time, I know you definitely fit that bill."

Alec lets out a silent, sheepish groan, as Magnus makes his way to the other side of the room.

"Yeah, sorry about that, I'm not sure what happened," Alec says. "Well, I guess Izzy happened. But still."

"Oh, please don't apologize," Magnus says with a frown, turning around. "Who knew you were such a fun drunk. Or such an honest one."

Alec presses his lips together, tries not to think too hard about that night Izzy talked him into going out and having drinks with her, Jace, and Clary at the Hunter's Moon. Magnus was there, as were several other Downworlders. Alec will admit he did have a good time, but it was still something he doesn't usually do. The fact that someone as high-ranking as Magnus saw him in that state is slightly embarrassing on its own. Especially given the fact that Alec even then found Magnus to be rather fascinating―and especially given what they talked about, at the time.

"Yeah," Alec says a little awkwardly. "I shouldn't have mentioned any of that, probably."

"I politely disagree," Magnus says. There's something light about his tone, but also undoubtedly sincere, as he slowly walks back over to Alec. "I hope I was able to help, if nothing else, offer some insight. At least a little."

Alec holds his gaze.

"You did," he admits. He swallows. "And I'm guessing you heard about it, after."

Magnus inhales slowly, and his expression says that he indeed did hear about it.

"Mostly rumors," he says. "When a shadowhunter comes out, it spreads fast, especially if it's someone like a Lightwood." He hesitates. "How did it go?"

Alec sighs.

"It went... about as well as you'd expect," he says. "My parents weren't happy, they're still not quite happy. But it's mostly turned out okay. Aside from them still trying to set me up with girls, I mean."

Magnus breathes a laugh.

"Right," he says. "Well, I'm glad."

"Yeah," Alec says with a sigh. He licks his lips. "I wanted to thank you, by the way. For your advice. It was helpful."

His voice softens slightly as he says it, and he hopes that Magnus hears the sincerity.

"No problem at all," Magnus says.

"Really, though," Alec presses. "Thank you. I don't know if I'd been able to do it, otherwise. At least not for some time."

Magnus watches him for a moment, seemingly surprised yet not at all at this admission.

"Like I said," he says, clearly moved by Alec's words all the same, judging by his expression and his tone. "No problem at all. We all deserve a chance to be free. To follow our hearts, as it were."

Despite being rather intoxicated at the time, Alec clearly remembers what Magnus said in response to his uncharacteristic rambling. All the things he said about never being good enough for his parents or the Clave―part of which included him being gay and unable to admit it to anyone, as well as his unrequited feelings for Jace, growing up. He's still not sure what compelled him to admit any of it to Magnus, of all people.

"Maybe you should start living for yourself," he remembers Magnus suggesting. "Do what's in your heart." It was such a simple thing, but Alec found himself agreeing, for some insane reason. It wasn't the sole cause of him finally coming out to his parents a few days later, but it definitely gave him the push he needed. As though he just needed someone from an outside perspective to outright tell him that he deserved more than he was getting.

Who would have known that an acquaintance like Magnus, a High Warlock of all people, as well as a kind of-crush, would end up being the one Alec confided in. Aside from his siblings, that is.

"Yeah," Alec says, mouth tugging in a careful smile. "I think you're right."

 


 

 

"The wards have been reinforced," Maryse says, verbally ticking items off the list in her hand as she slowly paces back and forth. "Quarters have been prepared for all the guests, Portals, extra personnel..." She looks up at Alec. "Did you organize the patrol schedule?"

Alec nods, hands folded behind his back as he stands in his mother's office. He hasn't seen her this tightly wound in some time, but he's not surprised that something like this would do it. All the demons in the world aren't as threatening as the concept of hosting several shadowhunter envoys and guests from around the world, and this weekend, that's exactly what's happening. As official head of the Institute, it's up to Alec's parents to make sure it all runs smoothly, at least in theory.

"Are you sure?" Maryse asks, and stops pacing. "Because―"

"Everything is in place," Alec assures her calmly. "New York will still be kept safe, even during a party. We've got this."

Maryse straightens where she stands, gives Alec a nod.

"Good," she says, with a pause. "I know you've never particularly enjoyed attending these things, but maybe it'll do you some good."

"How so?" Alec says flatly. She's not wrong; he has never been too fond of parties, especially not formal receptions, like the one happening a few days from now.

"Mingle," Maryse says, taking a step toward him. She plucks an invisible speck of something or other from the front of his jacket, before smoothing over the tough fabric. "Shake some hands, make some impressions. Maybe entertain a prospect or two."

Alec heaves a tired breath. Here we go.

"Mom―" he starts, but Maryse cuts him off.

"I know, I know," she says. "But you're not getting any younger, and it's about time you at least tried to find someone to settle down with."

Alec doesn't mention the fact that he's barely twenty-three; despite the norm of shadowhunters marrying young, he knows there's more to it than that, in his case and in his mother's eyes.

"Right," he says dryly. "I'm sure the candidates you have in mind are totally my type."

The sarcasm is impossible to miss, but Maryse ignores it.

"Idris alone is full of eligible young women," she says. "Like the Penhallow girl, Aline. You've known each other forever. She'd be such a good match for you."

Alec takes a deep breath, refrains from rolling his eyes―and from pointing out the irony of his mother's suggestion. Clearly, Maryse has not yet found out that Aline is about as gay as Alec is, and he's not about to be the one to tell her.

"Mom," he says calmly, instead. "You know I don't want a wife, right?"

Maryse pauses, takes a collecting breath.

"I know you say that," she says, a little uncomfortably, but with patience. "But there are plenty of young women we could invite, from good families. Maybe you could just at least give it a try."

Somehow, that's enough to make Alec lose his patience.

"Actually, I have a boyfriend," he blurts, a little harshly, and Maryse stiffens.

"I'm sorry?" she asks, as though she hopes she just misheard.

"A boyfriend," Alec says, a little more confidently this time, despite screaming on the inside. He can't seem to stop himself from talking, from repeating the blatant lie. "As in, a guy. So, uh... Don't bother with the matchmaking stuff anymore."

Maryse just stares at him, clearly not having expected that kind of response.

"Oh," she says, slowly adjusting to this new information. "I see." She seems to mull it over for a moment, but at least she's not upset, from what Alec can tell. At least not nearly as upset as he would have expected her to be. He's just about to relax, when Maryse surprises him. "You should bring him, then."

Alec feels himself go pale.

"What?" he says dumbly.

"Well, despite our aversion to your choices," Maryse says apprehensively, and Alec can tell she's really trying, no matter how badly she wishes Alec weren't dating a man, "your father and I would like to meet this person, I suppose. Bring him."

"To―"Alec starts, stuttering slightly. "Here? To the Institute?"

"Yes," Maryse says, and Alec nods slowly.

"Yeah," he says, before he can stop himself and handle this situation more wisely. "Sure. Okay, I will."

Maryse smiles, somewhat relieved.

"Good," she says, pausing. "What's he like?"

Alec knows what the question really means. What's his name? What's his family like? Is his name any good? Is he a shadowhunter, or worse, a Downworlder?

Alec opens his mouth to reply, frantically tries to think of anything that might be bland and generic enough for virtually any guy to fit the description. Then, as though to answer his silent prayers, his phone dings. He draws a quiet breath of relief and checks the screen.

"You know what," he says, looking back up from the text message, "I actually have to go, they need me in the op center. But uh, you can meet him this weekend. Get to know him then."

Maryse seems a little startled at the sudden interruption.

"You can't tell me anything before then?" she says with some disbelief.

"No, I can, just―" Alec holds up his phone while backing out of the room. "Just not right now. Later."

Before his mother can stop him, Alec has made sure to leave and hurry down the hall outside the office. He needs to figure this out quickly.

 

It's only a matter of hours before Alec is confronted with his lie. Thankfully, it's through Izzy, who catches up with him in the halls of the Institute, tugging on his arm.

"Mom tells me you're bringing your boyfriend to the reception?" she says, her frown matching the slightly outraged tone of her voice as she stops her brother in his tracks. "What the hell, Alec? I didn't even know you had a boyfriend."

"I don't," Alec says. He looks around, and uses the momentary confusion on Izzy's part to steer them both into a nearby empty training room. He closes the door behind them.

"What do you mean?" Izzy asks. "What are you talking about?"

"I don't have a boyfriend," Alec says, turning to her. Even though he knows they probably won't be overheard in here, he makes sure to keep his voice down. "I just said that to get mom and dad off my back."

Izzy is still frowning, but she looks more confounded than annoyed, now.

"Wait," she says, folding her arms. "Why would you do that?"

"Because they won't stop talking about all the eligible young ladies that'll be at the reception," Alec says. "And I don't know, I just got fed up with them trying to set me up with some girl. I improvised."

Izzy just stares at him.

"Okay," she says after a moment, taking it in. "So you made up a fake boyfriend. They don't have to meet him, right?"

"That's the thing," Alec says, almost sheepishly. "They asked me to bring him. Said they wanna meet him."

"And?"

"And I said I would."

"Well, do you have any prospects?" Izzy asks, businesslike in a way Alec is so grateful for, at the moment.

"No," he says, and Izzy sighs.

"Oh, Alec," she says, closing her eyes.

"I wasn't exactly planning for this, okay?"

"So, there's no one?" Izzy asks, meeting his eye. "At all?"

"What do you think?" Alec says flatly.

"Right," Izzy says. "You're not exactly the social type."

"Yeah, thanks, none of that―" Alec gestures at her with his hand― "is helping."

Izzy takes a deep breath, purses her lips.

"Can't you just say he couldn't make it?" she suggest, and Alec sighs.

"I could," he says. "But mom and dad have been pestering me about this more than ever since I came out, like they're hoping it'll suddenly turn me straight. And now, I've told mom I have a very real and not-fake boyfriend, and I'm not even sure she bought it, since I wouldn't even tell her his name. If I show up without said boyfriend, it would just be... really embarrassing, okay?" Alec rubs the palm of his hand restlessly, glancing away. "It's bad enough that mom and dad don't like me wanting a boyfriend in the first place. If it turns out I lied about having one, or that my boyfriend apparently stood me up, they'll just take it even less seriously. As in, they'd just keep throwing wife-suggestions at me. I'd never hear the end of it, you know that."

He turns back to his sister, whose expression is one of sympathy. She sighs.

"Okay," she says with a nod. "Let's figure this out, then. So, you're not seeing anyone?"

"No."

"But this is just for the reception?"

"Yeah," Alec says. "I'm guessing."

Izzy shrugs.

"Then we'll just find someone to go with you," she says. "As your date."

"Just like that?" Alec says with a somewhat suspicious frown.

"Trust me, big brother," Izzy says. "You're easy on the eyes. There's bound to be plenty of guys out there who'd happily be your arm candy for an evening."

"Yeah, well it can't be just anyone, though," Alec says, a little self-conscious about Izzy's comment. "I mean, technically it'll be the first guy I bring home to meet the parents."

Izzy shrugs.

"So make an impression," she says. "Or, just pick the most basic guy you can find, and they'll forget all about him. But that's the more boring option, in my opinion."

Alec nods, then realizes the reality of the situation and groans, dragging a hand down over his face.

"How did this even happen?" he says, mostly a rhetorical question directed at himself. "I'm an idiot."

"Don't beat yourself up," Izzy says dryly. "If I had mom and dad on my back like that, I'd have snapped, too."

"I didn't snap, though," Alec says. "I made up a guy that doesn't exist."

"Well," Izzy says with a sigh. "With that whole Jessica Hawkblue thing you pulled, I'm not surprised."

Alec closes his eyes, taking a deep breath to summon patience.

"You're never letting that go, are you?" he says flatly.

"If you'd come up with a less fake-sounding name, I might have." Izzy is grinning impishly at him when he opens his eyes, and Alec gives her a tired look.

"Again," he says. "Not helping."

Izzy rolls her eyes.

"All right, look," she says. "It's a mess. We'll fix it. We'll find you a guy. Trust me on this."

She puts her hand on Alec's shoulder in a way that's much more genuinely comforting, than joking, and Alec nods. Against his better judgment, he chooses to believe her.

 


 

When Alec shows up at Magnus's door the next day, Magnus seems vaguely confused, more than surprised.

"Two visits in one week?" he says with narrowed eyes and a smile, all the same. "You spoil me, Alexander."

Alec does his very best to tell himself that that comment does nothing whatsoever to make his face heat up. At the very least, he tells himself that Magnus can't see it, if it does.

"Yeah," he says, as Magnus turns around and heads into the apartment. Alec closes the door behind him and follows. "Still just business, though."

Magnus emits a disappointed noise.

"And so, all my hopes are shattered," he says dramatically, and while Alec knows he's kidding, it makes that heat rise in his face again. He bites back the urge to ask Magnus to stop flirting―he realizes it's just the way Magnus talks, but it's really not helping with whatever intrigued interest Alec has developed for him, as it is. It already goes beyond just the platonic or professional kind, and that's bad enough.

Attraction, some might call it, a crush, though Alec is doing what he can to pretend that's not it at all.

Magnus turns around as they reach the open lounge. Though, spins around might be a better phrasing; it's so gracefully done that it looks more like a conscious, choreographed dance move, than anything.

"What kind of business do we have today, then?" Magnus asks.

"Just checking in, really," Alec says. "And letting you know that Lindsay wants to hang on to those books a little longer."

When he says it out loud, he realizes how lame it sounds. Magnus seems a little surprised, and he gives Alec an odd, albeit not unfriendly, look.

"And you had to come here to tell me that?" he asks. Alec's pulse quickens a little out of something an awful lot like nervousness.

"Well, I was―" he starts, gesturing vaguely, and Magnus's eyebrows rise slightly in an almost amused expression.

"In the neighborhood?" he suggests, and god, Alec suddenly wishes he hadn't come here.

"Yeah," he says, all the same. He adds a small, awkward smile for good measure. "We had some ravener demons to deal with nearby, and I just..." He half-shrugs, hopes that it comes off as casual more than desperately nonchalant.

Magnus nods, eyes him up and down quickly.

"Well, you're always welcome," he says―he sounds like he means it―before their conversation is interrupted by a low, rumbling noise. Magnus turns his attention to it, a startled look on his face. He holds a finger up, eyes directed away from Alec. "I'm sorry, one moment."

He hurries off into another room, while Alec just awkwardly stays put, unsure of whether he should leave or not. He doesn't want to, but he has also done what he came here to do, and Magnus is clearly busy.

His decision is half-made for him when Magnus takes longer than thirty seconds to return, and Alec figures it would be rude to just leave without saying anything. Instead, he starts slowly wandering around the room, observing the rows of books resting on shelves against the wall. Some of them catch his eye, but he refrains from touching or examining them more closely―he's just a guest here, after all.

When Magnus returns a minute or so later, he seems a little surprised to see that Alec has moved, but doesn't seem to mind his current position.

"Sorry about that," he says, making his way past Alec and across the room. "Some potions are a bit trickier than others. This one misbehaved a bit, but it should be fine now."

Alec nods. He doesn't know anything about potions, and therefore decides not to attempt to contribute anything  on the matter. He turns his attention back to the books, and Magnus pauses.

"Find anything interesting?" he asks, and Alec would have felt intrusive about still being here at all, if Magnus's tone weren't so light and casual. As though Alec comes here all the time, and this isn't weird at all.

"Yeah, just..." Alec trails off, eyes the many interesting and worn spines along the shelf. "I mean, we've got a lot of books at the Institute, but none like these, really."

"Well, some of those are one of a kind," Magnus says. "And some are impossible to find anymore, outside my humble lair."

Alec smiles to himself; he knew that already, since the Institute does require such books from Magnus sometimes, but still. His interest in everything about Magnus keeps growing, it seems, and he's not sure if that's a good thing.

"Noted," he says, as he keeps reading the different titles. Or trying to read; some are so worn the letters can barely be made out, and some aren't even in English.

"You're free to borrow a few, if you like," Magnus says, and Alec turns to him, surprise no doubt written all over his face. Something about the way Magnus says it implies that he doesn't mean borrowing the books on the Institute's behalf, but rather for Alec personally, and it's a gesture Alec isn't quite ready for.

"No, I can't―" he starts, shaking his head, but Magnus gently cuts him off.

"'Borrow'," he emphasizes. "Not 'rent'." This confirms Alec's assumption, and Magnus raises his eyebrows pointedly in an expression much softer than Alec is used to. It looks a lot like the one he had that night, weeks ago, while offering Alec some sincere advice he really didn't have to give. "You can."

Alec processes that for a few moments, before he swallows, nods.

"Thank you," he says, and Magnus smiles. It's such a nice smile, and the warmth of it reminds Alec once again of why he likes spending time with this man, in the first place.

Alec turns back to the books, now actively trying to decide which ones he might want to borrow and study more closely, while Magnus moves around the room behind him.

"So," Magnus says after a few moments, his tone easy and light. "What are your weekend plans?"

It's so conversational that it almost sounds joking, and Alec's smile grows at the menial subject. It's a nice change from business-talk.

"Work," Alec says flatly, looking over at Magnus, who's now standing by the drink cart across the room. "And a party, but that's technically also for work."

"Oh?" Magnus says, pouring himself a drink. He gestures at it when it's done, with a questioning look, but Alec shakes his head, declining the offer of a drink of his own.

"It's a summit at the Institute," he explains. "We've got envoys and such coming in from around the world. It's a whole ordeal, and there's a big reception."

Magnus makes a softly appalled noise, picking up his drink and swirling it around in its glass.

"An Institute party? Huh." He sits down in a stylish, velvet-clad armchair, crossing one leg over the other. How he manages to always look so effortlessly suave and elegant, Alec will never understand―or cease to be impressed by. "I've never been to one of those. Understandably. But I can imagine it would be fascinating. Like observing an exotic animal in its natural habitat."

Alec huffs a laugh, and he sees the pleased look on Magnus's face when he looks away, out of the corner of his eye. He moves his hand up to trail his fingers lightly along the worn book spines, careful not to touch.

"Trust me," he says, "it's not that interesting. Just a bunch of politics, dressed up as a party. An occasion to show off, and―"

He's hit with an idea. A stupid idea. A stupid, implausible, but maybe brilliant idea, and he inhales slowly, considering it.

"And, what?" Magnus prompts. Alec hesitates, lets his hand drop from the bookshelf.

"You know how I came out, a while back?" he says after a moment, turning back to Magnus. Magnus looks a little startled by the sudden subject change, but takes it in stride.

"Yes," he says. "Why?"

"My parents wanna meet my boyfriend," Alec says bluntly, and Magnus blinks.

"Okay?"

"I'm supposed to bring him to the reception," Alec continues. Magnus nods slowly, clearly waiting to have it explained to him where, exactly, this is going. "Except I don't have a boyfriend."

Magnus frowns, eyes drifting to the side in thought, still trying to make sense of what Alec is saying.

"Okay," he says, looking back at Alec. "And?"

Alec swallows hard.

"Look," he says, taking a step forward, can't quite believe that he's even going to suggest this. And to Magnus, of all people. "I know we don't really know each other that well, and I know you're a busy guy. I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important. But even after everything that's happened, and that whole coming out-mess, my parents are still just really on my ass about finding a wife. And now I've told them I have a boyfriend when I really don't, and if they find out I lied, or I'm stood up, it'll just be humiliating and they'll never let it go. And I know it's a lot to ask, but I don't really have anyone else, and I was thinking―"

"Spit it out, Alec," Magnus interrupts calmly, and Alec takes a deep breath.

"Will you pretend to be my boyfriend?" he says, keeping his voice even. He knows exactly how dumb it sounds, and clearly, so does Magnus, judging by the sudden silence.

"You want me," Magnus says after a moment, pointing at himself, "to pretend to be your boyfriend."

He sounds wholly unimpressed, and Alec has a moment of panic when he hears it out loud.

"Yes," he says anyway. "Temporarily."

"You want me to fake date you," Magnus says flatly. It's not even a question, but more a way of really driving the point home about how dumb the idea is.

"Pretty much," Alec says, holding his ground, all the same. He has brought it up, he might as well stick with it until its undoubtedly embarrassing and disappointing end.

Magnus narrows his eyes.

"You do realize that this never works out well in movies, right?" he says. "Ever."

Alec feels a distinct sense of embarrassment creep up now.

"Look, I―"

"Ever," Magnus emphasizes.

Alec sighs.

"It's just for a night," he says, as though that will make this sound more logical.

"You say that now," Magnus says. "But I've seen enough romcoms to know that a lot can happen in one night. Before you know it, you'll be chasing after me at the airport, publicly pouring your heart out to me."

"How would an airport even factor into this equation?" Alec asks flatly, surprised by Magnus's flippant reasoning. "And I'd never do something like that."

He folds his arms, while Magnus straightens slightly in his seat.

"Well, I might," he says. "It's not tacky, if it's sincere."

Alec sighs, bites back a smile. On some level, he is relieved that Magnus isn't just laughing at him.

"Will you help me, or not?" he asks boldly.

"Are you asking me to be part of one of the oldest and most worn-out romance tropes of all time?" Magnus counters. "While potentially pissing off some elitist shadowhunters in the process, on their own turf?"

His expression is curious and slightly judgmental―a look which Alec has never seen anyone else pull off as well―as he tilts his head, just as gracefully as he does everything else. Alec hesitates for a second, watching Magnus slowly swirl the drink around in its glass.

"Yes," he says. "I am."

Magnus ponders that for a moment, rubs his fingers together in thought, eyes on Alec's for what feels like an eternity. Alec is just about to finally give up and awkwardly rescind the offer, when Magnus smiles.

"Sounds fun," he says. "I'm in."

Alec's heart stutters from what he's sure is just sheer surprise.

"Wait, really?" he says, and Magnus nods.

"Yes, really," he says, sipping his drink. "Unless you've changed your mind, in the past five seconds."

"No," Alec says, shaking his head. "No, I just wasn't really expecting you to say yes."

"Me neither, to be honest," Magnus says. He gets up from his chair in one smooth, fluid movement, and slowly makes his way over to Alec. "I feel I should mention something, though," he says carefully. "Before you decide, keep in mind that I have... somewhat of a reputation. Which I am certain your parents, as well as everyone else, are aware of."

"Meaning?" Alec asks.

"Meaning that if you essentially date me for a night," Magnus explains, "and then we suddenly break up a few days later, it might not help your case. You said it yourself, admitting you lied would look just as bad as being stood up, in terms of your parents taking you seriously. And having a fling with someone like me?" He inclines his head. "Might look even worse."

Alec takes a breath, nods slowly. Magnus isn't wrong, he knows that. At the same time, Alec is surprised to find that this hadn't even occurred to him before. He cares so little about Magnus's reputation in that department, that he forgot that others might care a lot more.

"Well," Alec eventually says. "Fine. Let them think whatever they want. At least it'll show I'm not interested in finding a wife. And we could just say... we've been dating a little while, and it just didn't last long. That happens."

Magnus's lips form a pout while he considers this.

"True," he muses, making his way past Alec as he starts pacing slowly. "Or, you could just find someone else to do this. Make it less complicated."

Alec turns around, arms falling to his sides.

"I don't want to find someone else," he says, a little more sharply than intended. Magnus meets his eye, and he sighs. "Look, I don't care what your reputation is. And Izzy said I might as well make an impression, anyway. Maybe she's right."

"She is wise in her own way," Magnus agrees. His expression grows serious. "Are you sure about this?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" For so many reasons, a voice tells Alec, but he ignores it. He exhales, as something else occurs to him. "But there are different kinds of reputations, and I get that it's not just mine at stake, so to speak, professional or otherwise. So if you don't want to do this, that's―"

"I didn't say that," Magnus says, holding up a finger to silence him. "I just want to make sure you know what you're doing."

"Well, I can't say I do," Alec admits with a heavy breath, folding his hands behind his back. "But no matter how ridiculous it is, I don't really know what other options I have, at this point."

Magnus observes him for a few moments, eyes him up and down a little slower than he normally would. Alec can't tell if it's on purpose or not, if he wants Alec to notice, but Alec does. And it makes the back of his neck feel oddly warm.

"Then I'm all yours," Magnus says with a smile, meeting his gaze once more. "For the right price." Alec just blinks, realizes he really hadn't thought about that. Thankfully, Magnus quickly puts him out of his misery, his smile widening. "Kidding. I'll happily write it off as a favor for a friend. Just say when and where."

 


 

"Wait, go back." Izzy takes a breath. "You're taking Magnus to the reception? As in, Magnus Bane?"

"Yes," Alec says.

"As your fake boyfriend," Izzy clarifies. "Which I can't believe I'm saying out loud, by the way."

"Me neither," Alec says. "And yes."

"How did you get him to agree to that?" Izzy says, frowning.

"I―" Alec shrugs. "I don't know. I asked."

"You asked?" Izzy says flatly.

"I asked nicely?"

Izzy folds her arms.

"You know he doesn't just do stuff for free, right?" she points out.

"I know," Alec says, a little uncomfortably. "He said he would, though. Said he'd do it as a favor for a friend."

Izzy raises her eyebrows, a small smile shaping her lips.

"Well, what do you know," she says, a teasing edge to her tone. "He likes you."

There's a swooping feeling in Alec's stomach at the words, but he ignores it.

"That's not what it means," he says flatly.

"Hey, I didn't say 'romantically'," Izzy says. She inclines her head. "Although―"

"No," Alec cuts her off.

"What?" she says innocently. "He's hot. Don't tell me you haven't noticed."

Alec has noticed, actually. On multiple occasions. Too many occasions, especially more recently.

"Besides the point," he says. "You asked for an update, you've been updated. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got work to do."

He turns around and leaves, but still hears Izzy laugh behind him.

"Told you it would work out," she says, but Alec doesn't turn around. Instead, he just keeps walking down the hall, heading for the op center.

He is relieved that it worked out, but explaining the solution to Izzy―saying it out loud―just makes it feel more ridiculous and more surreal.

How did this happen? What kind of bizarre scenario has he fallen into?

The whole situation makes Alec feel uncharacteristically nervous. While mingling and politics and keeping up appearances aren't exactly his favorite things, he usually handles it pretty well; he's generally met with respect when talking to other high-ranking shadowhunters, given his proven skill and good family name. And despite the fact that his parents technically run the New York Institute, everyone knows he's the de facto leader of the place. So, normally, Alec wouldn't worry about this reception.

But this time, it's different. Ever since he came out―while that wasn't a public affair, in itself―most of the shadowhunter community has found out, and now views him slightly differently. It's bad enough that he'll have to face them. Suddenly, Alec worries that he made the wrong call by inviting Magnus along. Or any man, for that matter.

But then, Alec remembers the looks on his parents' faces when remarking about his 'choices' and his 'lifestyle', and he remembers how other shadowhunters especially from his parents' generation look at him now. And suddenly, he feels vindictively certain that he made the right call, by inviting Magnus along. Especially Magnus. Disregarding the impact his presence will have on its own, Alec will strangely feel better having him, of all people, by his side.

Alec's thoughts are interrupted by his phone vibrating in his pocket, and he brings it out. It's so dumb how his spirits lift as he recognizes the caller ID, but he takes a deep breath and answers it anyway.

"Magnus," he says, making sure to keep his voice even. "Hey."

"What are you wearing?" Magnus asks bluntly on the other end, and Alec stops dead. He opens his mouth in a hesitant uh-sound, prompting Magnus to elaborate. "To the reception."

Alec shouldn't feel as relieved and stupid as he does upon realizing that Magnus wasn't flirting for once, and he closes his eyes for a second to pull himself together.

"Does it matter?" he finds himself asking.

"Well, we should somewhat match," Magnus says. "I am your date, after all. Wait, no. Boyfriend. Need to remember that."

"It's really not a big deal―" Alec starts, but Magnus gently cuts him off.

"Alexander," he says solemnly. "The relationship may be fake, but to your parents and everyone else, it's real. The least we can do is make an effort. This is a formal event, and short of making out in public, complementary outfits are the way to go."

Alec has a brief image of himself and Magnus making out, and dismisses the thought in a second. Imagining it feels weird, albeit not in a necessarily bad way. More like he's violating a friend's trust by picturing himself with his tongue down his throat. Alec makes a note of not imagining it again. Even though this isn't the first time it's happened.

"Right," he says instead. "Good point. Uh, Izzy picked something out. I could send you a photo? I think that'll do a better job of describing it than I could."

"Excellent," Magnus says. "I'll be waiting."

As soon as Alec hangs up, he realizes that he may have miscalculated. He figured taking a photo would just be easier than trying to explain the details of the outfit Izzy put together, but he soon finds himself lost. Should he just take a photo of the clothes laid out? A selfie? Maybe―

Alec groans under his breath. He's overthinking this. Izzy will know what to do.

 


 

Magnus will admit that this won't be the first time he has pretended to be someone's significant other. Granted, most of the other times have been very spur of the moment, and usually to keep either himself or someone else from being pestered too much by unwanted suitors, but still. He's not a stranger to the concept.

But he has never been asked by a shadowhunter to pose as their boyfriend at a shadowhunter event, and definitely not by a male shadowhunter who already has a rather good reputation. This whole situation is unprecedented, to be honest, and Magnus is still surprised Alec suggested it at all.

Ever since he first laid eyes on Alec, the young man just keeps surprising him, amazing him. It's enough to make Magnus half-regret not asking him out, already. Because he has definitely wanted to. How could he not? Alec is smart, attractive, reserved in a way that's intriguing more than standoffish, and Magnus honestly just wants to know more about him. Everything there is to know about him.

He makes sure to put all of those thoughts on hold, however, at least for the night. He's not an idiot; he doubts that Alec would have asked him to do this if he had even the slightest interest in Magnus in any serious sense. As it is, Magnus is just glad that Alec trusts him like this. Not to mention, he can imagine it'll be a fun experiment, just seeing everyone's reactions at this thing.

In a perfectly punctual fashion―now is not the time to be fashionably late, after all―Magnus Portals in front of the New York Institute on Friday night, at his and Alec's pre-decided hour. To Magnus's complete lack of surprise, Alec is already standing there, waiting, and Magnus gives him a smile.

"Good evening, Alexander," he says easily, closing the Portal behind him and making his way across the grass. It's not far, just a few steps between them, but it's enough time for Magnus to take in Alec's appearance―all black, of course, but with a very nice fit and a jacket made from a nicely textured fabric. Isabelle has good taste, that much is obvious.

"Hey," Alec says, and it's only when Magnus comes to a halt in front of him that he realizes Alec is staring―not in a bad way. He looks almost startled, nervous, though Magnus guesses it has more to do with the evening ahead, than anything else. But still, he flatters himself with the rather likely idea that Alec finds him as handsome as Magnus finds him.

"Everything all right?" Magnus asks, and Alec nods, as though being pulled out of some deep thought.

"Yeah," he says. "Thanks for coming."

"I said I would," Magnus says. "You look very nice, by the way."

A sudden flush creeps up Alec's neck, and he swallows. It's immensely satisfying to see, and Magnus chooses to think it's all because of him, just for a moment.

"Thank you," Alec says. "So do you."

Magnus's smile widens, happy to have his conceited assumption confirmed.

"Thank you," he says. He gestures at the church behind Alec. "Shall we?"

There are a few people entering and exiting the Institute, but Magnus imagines that most of the guests are already inside. The large, beautiful windows are lit up from within, and he feels perfectly calm as he and Alec approach the entrance.

Just as they reach it, however, Alec slows to a halt, and Magnus stops as well. He glances at the closed doors, then back at his date, and he raises his eyebrows slightly, trying to keep his expression friendly and open. Not that it's difficult, where Alec is concerned. Alec does have a tendency to make Magnus feel lighter and warmer than he can remember feeling in decades, regardless of if the young man means to, or not.

"Nervous?" Magnus asks, and Alec turns to him.

"No," he says, a little too quickly, tugging lightly at the sleeves of his jacket. Magnus sighs.

"Just breathe," he says, reaching up to adjust Alec's lapels, smoothing over the collar of his shirt with his fingers. Alec seems a little startled by the contact, but not negatively so, and Magnus meets his eye. He tries to silently remind Alec that this is part of standard relationship behavior, without stating it outright.

"Not sure I can," Alec says after a moment, and his shoulders are tense in a way that makes it obvious he's not exaggerating. Magnus smoothes over the lapels, and smiles.

"Sure you can," he says soothingly. "You're going to be fine. If anyone judges you, let them. Although, if anything, I'm sure they'll be jealous."

Alec frowns.

"Of whom?" he asks, and Magnus gestures airily, taking a step back.

"Both of us," he says simply. The way Alec's expression melts into a fondly exasperated smile is just lovely. Alec nods, taking a deep breath.

"Right," he says, as though he doesn't quite agree, but doesn't want to argue. He exhales. "Now what?"

"Well," Magnus says easily, "this is usually the part where the main characters have to convince people of their love. And therefore they eventually end up in all kinds of awkward situations for the sake of humor, but we'll get to that."

"Could you please not reference movies, right now?" Alec says. "This isn't a movie."

"Hey," Magnus reprimands gently, "you're the one who thought it would be a good idea to not just bring home a boyfriend, but a Downworlder one. And a high-ranking warlock. And me." He gives Alec a pointed look. "You're really checking all the boxes when it comes to pissing people off, especially your parents. Might as well commit."

He holds out his hand, and Alec gives him a slightly disgruntled frown, before glancing down at his hand, and taking it. Magnus chooses to ignore the pleasant, warm jolt that shoots across his skin as they touch, and instead just gives Alec a smile when he looks back up. Alec swallows, but his face relaxes slightly. When he speaks, he sounds much calmer than a minute ago.

"Let's go."

 


 

Alec realizes that he never actually saw what Magnus picked to wear for tonight―it didn't really come up. He also doesn't know what Magnus thought of the photos Alec sent him, the purely practical ones of his own outfit, which Izzy insisted upon him modeling himself. Which Alec did, albeit with great reluctance. He doesn't like having his picture taken in general, and knowing that Magnus would see―and judge―the photos just gave it an extra layer of discomfort.

As they enter the Institute together, Alec steals another glance at the man beside him. Magnus is wearing a tasteful ensemble of black and dark, deep reds, with more skin covered than Alec was somehow expecting. He looks elegant, the outfit different from what Alec is wearing, but still complementary in its style and color scheme. The dark makeup and usual array of jewelry give it a personal touch, and while Magnus has clearly made an effort―no matter how effortless it seems―Alec reminds himself again that this is all pretend. Magnus is doing him a favor. A huge, unbelievable favor, while probably thinking of Alec as some awkward kid who somehow, embarrassingly, got himself into this situation to begin with.

Alec isn't sure what he expected. This isn't an actual date, and he needs to remember that.

"So," Magnus says in a low voice as they make their way into the great hall that's usually reserved for rune ceremonies and such. At the moment, it's filled with rune-covered people in formalwear, and the way some of them are already glancing at the pair isn't lost on Alec. "What's our first move?"

He releases Alec's hand and slides his own up along Alec's arm, making Alec momentarily lose his breath. He only relaxes once more when Magnus is holding his lower arm in a manner appropriate for the situation, though it still means ten times more physical contact with the guy than Alec is used to.

"Uh," Alec starts, very eloquently. "Not sure. I don't― I usually come alone to these things."

He doesn't mention that he has only been to a handful of 'these things', as it is―he's sure Magnus knows.

"Improvisation, then," Magnus says, and Alec doesn't object.

 


 

They find some familiar faces rather quickly, and Alec is clearly relieved at the complete lack of judgment in their expressions as he and Magnus approach. Sure, there's curiosity there, at least in the case of Clary and Izzy, but it's nothing negative. If anything, Jace's pointed looks and eyebrow-raises he no doubt thinks are subtle seem to be doing a better job of making Alec feel self-conscious.

Magnus has met them all before, of course, but he still hesitates, unsure how to present himself―he doesn't know how much, if anything, Alec has told them about his and Magnus's arrangement. Thankfully, however, Isabelle comes to the rescue.

"We're up to speed," she assures Magnus when she senses his hesitation. "Don't worry, your secret's safe with us."

Magnus gives her a nod and a smile.

"I gotta say," Jace says in a low voice, as though making sure no one around them can hear, "I didn't think Alec had it in him. I mean, it's like you're cramming all your rebelliousness into one thing."

He turns to Alec, who gives him a quiet glare.

"I think it's great you're doing this," Clary says to Magnus, gently talking over her boyfriend with a tone as sincere as ever. Magnus makes a slightly incredulous face.

"Are you kidding?" he says. "Free drinks, judgmental looks, being the center of attention? My inner diva is thriving."

This prompts a ripple of laughter from the small group, but Magnus would be lying if he said Alec's reaction didn't matter most. Next to him, the young shadowhunter is grinning, albeit while deliberately avoiding Magnus's gaze, and Magnus is pleased to have caused such an open, yet somehow bashful reaction.

Not too long into the evening, the moment of truth comes along, in the form of Robert and Maryse Lightwood. Magnus spots them in the crowd a few times after he and Alec arrive, but he seems to have gone unseen every time. They won't be able to avoid this any longer now, though.

"Alec," Magnus says, keeping his light―but gently possessive―hold on Alec's arm as they slowly move through the crowd. "Just breathe."

"You keep saying that like it's easy," Alec exhales, and Magnus smiles.

"You've got this," he says. Alec meets his eye. "I promise."

Alec watches him for a moment, then takes a deep breath, and nods.

The way the facial expressions of Alec's parents shift is fascinating to see. Alec gets their attention by gently touching Maryse's shoulder, and she turns around, her face bright―until she sees Magnus, and her expression stiffens into one of silent shock, her smile still in place.

"Mom, dad," Alec says, before either of them has a chance to speak. "This is Magnus."

He knows they've already met, and so Magnus resists the urge to mention this fact. Instead, he must admit he derives some petty satisfaction from the way both the Lightwood parents regard him stiffly, clearly doing their very best not to cause a scene. Obviously, when their son mentioned a boyfriend, this isn't what they were expecting.

"Magnus," Maryse repeats tightly, forcing a slightly wider smile.

"Nice to see you, Maryse," Magnus says with a smile that's slightly more sincere. He's not here to make Alec look bad, after all. "As always."

Maryse seems at a loss for words for a second, so Robert steps in.

"I, uh―" he says evenly. "We weren't aware that―"

He gestures, as though searching for the words.

"That we're dating?" Alec suggests, his voice much steadier than Magnus was somehow expecting. He ignores the little jolt he feels at someone, especially Alec, out loud saying that they're dating. Even though they're really not. "Well, we are. So... I thought you should meet him."

Magnus just keeps smiling politely, and he sees the way the Lightwoods' eyes flick down to his hand on Alec's arm, the slightly panicked disapproval obvious to anyone watching. Which quite a few guests nearby are actually doing, Magnus notices, no matter discreet they think they're being.

"We have met him," Maryse says, turning back to her son. "As you well know."

"Yes," Alec says. "But not like this. Not as my b―"

"How long has this been going on, exactly?" Robert interrupts, and Alec swallows.

"Uh, for a while," he says vaguely. Magnus can sense he's getting more tense, can feel it in the way his muscles tighten ever so slightly. "Not that long. It's― It's sort of a different―"

"It's still rather new," Magnus cuts in softly, and Alec draws the slightest breath of relief, his shoulders relaxing as Magnus slides his hand down to Alec's and entwines their fingers. "But thank you for inviting me. I realize it's a little unorthodox."

He knows the Lightwoods didn't strictly speaking invite him, and they know it, too. But Magnus is determined to play nice right now, for Alec's sake.

Maryse holds his gaze steadily for a few seconds, as though deliberating whether to play nice or not, as well. Eventually, her smile softens just a little.

"Thank you for coming."

 


 

Foolishly, Alec half-expects that to be the end of it. As he turns his back on Magnus a little later and goes to get some liquid courage, he feels relieved, anxious and excited, all at once. He did that, he did it. He pulled it off.

But of course, it's not the end of it.

"What is this?" Maryse asks when she tracks him down, out of earshot of anyone who might matter.

"What is what?" Alec replies evenly, and Maryse takes a calming breath.

"Magnus Bane?" she says, biting out the name with sharp annoyance, almost anger. "Is this a joke?"

"No, it's not," Alec says firmly, accepting two glasses of champagne offered. "He's here as my guest, as my date. That's it."

"As your boyfriend?" Maryse seems to be having a hard time saying the word, judging by the way it disbelievingly twists its way out of her mouth.

"Yes," Alec says. He was expecting it to be harder to lie to his parents, but the reply comes quickly and easily. "You're the one who wanted me to bring him."

Despite the easy lie, it's at that moment that Alec fully realizes the position he's put himself in. He could have brought anyone, chosen a random, bland stranger to be his boyfriend for the night. Almost anyone would have been an easier and less risky choice than Magnus. Magnus knew this from the start, of course, but while Alec did too, it was really only on an intellectual level. Until now. Now, he fully realizes that everyone in this room―except his siblings―believes that he is actually in a relationship with Magnus Bane. And everything that that entails.

Suddenly, Alec can feel people's eyes on him. All the more physical things they think he does with Magnus on a regular basis―just imagining it makes a flush of heat cover his skin. A moment later it becomes a chill, a cold sweat, and Alec swallows dryly.

He really hopes his mother doesn't notice any of these reactions. Thankfully, she doesn't seem to, instead just presses her lips together.

"I didn't ask you to bring someone like him," she says in a low voice. She's clearly trying, in her own way, but Alec gets the distinct impression that the fear of making a scene is the only thing keeping her from having Magnus escorted out of here. That alone makes him bristle.

"Well, tough," he says, his tone matching hers. "He's here, and I brought him here. And he's staying. I suggest you deal with that."

He doesn't stick around to hear what else Maryse might have to say. He just glimpses her expression of slightly offended shock as he turns and leaves, weaving his way through the crowd to find Magnus. Fake boyfriend or no, he's the only person Alec feels like talking to, right now.

"There you are," Magnus says when Alec finds him, offering a smile when Alec hands him a drink. "Right on time. I swear I was just another minute away from turning that guy into a frog."

He nods at a man Alec vaguely recognizes from somewhere beyond the New York Institute, a shadowhunter in his late forties who clearly doesn't approve of a warlock even being at this event. At least, his expression of total contempt not-so-discreetly directed at Magnus says as much. Alec frowns.

"You can do that?" he says, turning to Magnus. Instead of giving a proper answer, Magnus just raises his eyebrows and sips his drink, which Alec reluctantly finds utterly charming.

Alec supposes he shouldn't be surprised that spending time with Magnus is easy. He was afraid this night would be all kinds of awkward, and while it definitely is, it has unexpectedly not had anything to do with Magnus. Not directly, at least. Instead, Magnus has already proven to be more of a reprieve from everything else here tonight, and Alec is so happy that he agreed to be here at all.

"So," Magnus says after a few moments, unabashedly eyeing the crowd, even as several people watch him disapprovingly. "Any fun gossip about the guests?"

"That's more Izzy's territory," Alec says, with some hesitation. Magnus cocks his eyebrows in something like disappointment, and Alec licks his lips, lowering his voice. "Though, someone did mention that a certain envoy couldn't be here because of demon pox. But it's probably just a rumor, standard Idris gossip."

Magnus's expression brightens with interest.

"Sounds scandalous," he says. "Go on."

He sips his drink, and Alec can't help but laugh, as he dives into the story.

They quickly settle into their own little world, Alec completely forgetting about everyone around him and their disapproving looks and whispers. He realizes that he loves making Magnus laugh, which happens a few times during the various gossipy stories from the shadowhunter homeland. He has seen Magnus smile, grin, smirk and flirt, but never outright laugh like this―so openly, warmly. Alec knows it probably doesn't mean anything, but he still drinks it in, his heart warm and light at the sight of it.

They've moved closer to one of the open doors leading out to a balcony, closer to the night sky outside than the thick of the mingling crowd, and Alec feels surprisingly at ease. It's when a shadowhunter he doesn't recognize makes his way past them and nearly bumps into Alec, that Alec remembers where he and Magnus actually are. Even more so when the young man eyes him up and down with a sharp, charged look, before he keeps walking. Alec sighs. He looks down into his drink, which is half-empty by now.

"You'd think the novelty would eventually wear off," he says with some bitterness.

"What do you mean?" Magnus asks, and Alec looks up at him.

"That guy," he says, cocking his head in the man's direction. "I mean, how much judgment can there be?"

Magnus gets a bewildered expression, and his gaze darts between Alec and the man, who's now several feet away and disappearing into the crowd.

"Alexander, he was checking you out," Magnus says after a moment, as though baffled that Alec hadn't noticed. Alec frowns in surprise, his stomach dropping.

"What?" he blurts, glancing after the man in question. "No, he wasn't."

"Believe me, he was."

"Pretty sure it was just a disapproving glare," Alec says dryly. "There have been a lot of those."

Magnus frowns, but there's almost a kind of concern there now, as well as confusion.

"You really think you're the only non-straight shadowhunter here?" he asks, not unkindly. Alec doesn't quite know what to say to that, and Magnus continues. "You coming out was a big deal. You coming here with another man is an even bigger deal. There is definitely disapproval here, but trust me, at least some of those looks are going to be ones of either admiration, intrigue, or blatant attraction. You're a handsome man, and now knowing what team you play for is bound to stir some interest in men not necessarily out yet, themselves."

Alec takes it in, even though his brain momentarily catches on the phrase, you're a handsome man, making it repeat three times over before he lets it go.

"Still," he says, a little self-consciously. "Pretty sure that guy wasn't checking me out."

Magnus sighs, but it's with an air of what am I going to do with you?, more than anything else.

"He was," he says calmly. He watches Alec for a moment, before taking a step closer, crowding Alec's personal space in a way really only significant others are generally allowed to do―which Alec guesses is the point. Still, it makes his heart stutter in his chest, stupidly and without his permission. "And if you need me to play the jealous boyfriend-card, just say the word." Magnus cocks his eyebrows. "That's always fun."

Alec swallows.

"I'll remember that," he says, with a nod. "How would you do that, exactly?"

He's genuinely curious, and though he realizes as he says it that it might come off suggestive, he hopes that Magnus doesn't take it that way. He doesn't seem to. Instead, he hums thoughtfully.

"Well, I could throw a drink in their face," Magnus says easily, almost jokingly. "But that's a bit dramatic, even for me. Maybe something more subtle. Like pointedly holding you, or stealing you to the dance floor."

Alec's muscles tense, despite Magnus's matter-of-fact tone.

"I don't―" he says. "I'm not really a fan of dancing."

Magnus nods, takes it in stride.

"Very well," he says. He glances around them, then unceremoniously places his drink-free hand on Alec's waist, making Alec suck in a sharp breath. He really hopes no one notices.

"I'm assuming this is part of the act?" he says in a low voice.

"Of course," Magnus says, though the way his eyes briefly drop to Alec's mouth says otherwise. "Call it a demonstration."

He slides his hand down further to settle above Alec's hip, then leans in closer, tilting his head up so that his lips are dangerously close to Alec's jaw. It's all Alec can do not to physically flinch, his heart suddenly pounding against his ribs.

"What are you doing?" he blurts, still making sure to keep his voice low and steady.

"Whispering sweet nothings in your ear," Magnus says with some amusement. His breath is warm, fanning over the black rune on Alec's neck, and Alec takes a deep breath at the sensation. His skin is tingling. "Or at least, making it look like I am."

His voice does drop to a whisper then, and hearing it so close makes a shiver run across Alec's arms. He swallows, gingerly places a hand on Magnus's waist, mirroring his hold. Magnus feels warm and firm beneath his palm, even through layers of expensive clothes and their soft fabric. Alec exhales.

"I feel like people are staring," he says in a whisper, but he doesn't quite dare look up to make sure. Magnus hums in thought, and Alec swears he feels the sound vibrate through his skin. Magnus smells so nice, so inviting.

"A little," Magnus admits. He pulls away, and Alec mourns the loss of closeness immediately, even as Magnus meets his eye. "We could go somewhere more private, if you'd like?"

There's nothing suggestive about his tone, which Alec somehow appreciates, but it still makes him breathe a dry laugh.

"Yeah," he says. "I'm sure that'll make them stare less."

Magnus breaks into a smile, a genuine one, eyes crinkling at the corners and lighting up with fond amusement. Alec isn't sure how it's even physically possible, but he's certain his heart actually does a somersault, this time.

"Well, it's up to you," Magnus says, taking a step back and removing his hand from Alec's waist. "We could go out on the balcony, maybe find a diner down the street... Or we could go to Marrakesh." His expression momentarily lights up with soft excitement. "I'm always up for good lamb kebab."

Alec just blinks, startled by the suggestion―even more so when he realizes that Magnus is being serious.

"We can't just leave," Alec says, though he can't help but smile. Magnus glances around, raises his eyebrows challengingly, encouragingly.

"Can't we?" he says, turning back to Alec, raising his hand and rubbing his fingers together as though ready to snap up a Portal at a moment's notice. Alec is so very charmed.

"No, we can't," he says, laughter coloring his tone. Magnus grins, narrowing his eyes. It makes him look mischievous in a way completely unbecoming of a centuries-old, powerful warlock, in Alec's opinion. Mostly because it's just making Alec crush on him harder than ever. Which is just not okay.

"Hmm," Magnus says, taking another step back. He lowers his hand. "Very well, then. Remind me to take you there some other time."

Alec bravely ignores that swooping sensation in his stomach; he's getting used to it, to be honest.

"I'll keep it in mind," he says, and Magnus nods, satisfied. He gestures in the general direction away from the hall.

"Lead the way," he says, and so Alec does just that.

 


 

Alec ends up being the one having to find a more secluded spot, given the fact that he knows the Institute better than Magnus does. That said, with this many guests around, it's hard to find somewhere that's completely empty while still being relatively close to the party. Alec has to still be around, after all, needs to make an appearance.

Somehow, they end up in the greenhouse. It's an impressive place, Magnus must admit. He has seen it from the outside countless times, but he has never actually been allowed inside―for obvious reasons.

"This is quite the atmosphere," Magnus says as they slowly make their way through the lush vegetation, along the path. He eyes the abundance of plants and trees around them, the lights dim to complement the darkness outside the glass ceiling and windows, the faint sound of insects filling the silence. It's just the two of them here, from what Magnus can tell, and he must admit he rather enjoys it.

"Yeah," Alec agrees. He pauses. "All we need now is some Sixpence playing in the background."

Magnus turns to him, pulling back slightly in pleased surprise at the blatant reference. It's not a fake dating romcom, but it's close enough.

"You've seen She's All That?" he says, unable to withhold some flat disbelief―and not mentioning the fact that he clearly knows the movie rather well, himself. Alec laughs, clears his throat as he looks away.

"Don't get too excited," he says. "It's pretty much the only movie like that I know."

"Well, it's a classic." Magnus narrows his eyes. "Clary's doing, I'm guessing?"

"Jace's, actually," Alec says, and Magnus emits a surprised, intrigued noise. "Izzy wouldn't stop playing the song after, but Jace is the one who picked the movie. Just don't tell anyone I said that. Especially not him."

"My lips are sealed."

"In his defense, the circumstances at the time were difficult," Alec says seriously. "It was either that one or yet another Jaws-rewatch."

"I am not about to judge someone for expanding their horizons," Magnus says, and Alec throws him a glance. "And I can totally make that soundtrack happen, by the way."

He raises his hand, ready to bring forth some music, but Alec stops him with a look.

"I think we're good," he says. There's a small, amused smile on his face, but more than anything, he seems almost nervous about the idea. Magnus complies, lowers his hand.

"Fair enough," he says. "I suppose the existing ambience here will do."

It's only the slight, uncomfortable shift of Alec's shoulders that reminds Magnus that this isn't actually a date. He needs to stop flirting, he can't imagine it's making the situation any easier.

They keep walking in silence until they reach a small bridge that leads across an only slightly larger pond. It's odd, this complete, exotic park trapped inside this giant greenhouse, but Magnus finds it rather peaceful.

They come to a halt on the bridge, both of them leaning against the railing as they take in the serenity of this spot. There are turtles and koi fish in the pond, surrounded by greens and bright colors, and Magnus feels like he could just stand here with Alec for the rest of the night.

Then Alec exhales, not quite a sigh, and Magnus turns to him.

"What?" he asks.

"Just thinking," Alec says, looking straight ahead, "for the millionth time tonight, that this whole thing was such a dumb idea."

Magnus breathes a laugh.

"Well, it wasn't a great one," he admits. "But I'm actually having a good night. I'm rather enjoying our time together."

He turns to Alec, eyebrows raised and with a small smile, one which Alec mirrors.

"Me, too."

"Even if you don't know how to dance," Magnus says, and Alec makes a tired, slightly defensive noise.

"I know how to," he says. "I just don't like it."

"You're telling me you do know how to dance?" Magnus challenges, and Alec nods.

"Mhm," he confirms. "I mean, not in the fun way, not like... club dancing. But we do get some formal dance training, growing up. At least we get the basics down, for events like this."

"In between sparring sessions?" Magnus says, and Alec exhales a laugh.

"Yeah," he says. "Haven't done it in ages, though. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever really done it outside of awkwardly following the instructor's moves, as a kid. And I was never very good, I'm still not. Maybe that's why."

"Forgive me for saying, but that doesn't surprise me," Magnus says, and Alec's eyebrows rise slightly.

"Yeah?" he says.

"Don't get me wrong," Magnus says. "I've seen you fight, once or twice. You're definitely not stiff."

"But...?"

"But that's also your element," Magnus says, with a small smile. "Meanwhile, just the idea of dancing in there made you about as tense as the string of your bow."

Alec hums in consideration.

"Well, you're not wrong," he says. He eyes Magnus up and down briefly, before taking a step back. "I know how to twirl, though."

He says it with more easy humor than Magnus is used to hearing from him, and he moves his hand down to Magnus's. He takes it, holds it up above Magnus's head, and Magnus emits a disbelieving laugh, while Alec just gives him a prompting look.

"Are you serious?" Magnus says flatly.

"Dead serious," Alec says with a somber expression that's worryingly similar to his default one. Magnus narrows his eyes, glances up at their joined hands, before slowly turning on the spot. Alec goes along with the motion, slowly spinning Magnus around like a dancer would with his partner, and when their eyes meet again, Magnus suddenly feels full of a feeling both familiar and new. He feels intoxicated, in a way he knows has nothing to do with the sparse amount of alcohol in his system. He knows exactly what the real cause is, even if he won't admit it out loud.

"I'm blown away," he says in a deadpan tone, and Alec smiles crookedly, releasing Magnus's hand with a small bow of his head. Magnus chuckles. "As I've said, you're a fun drunk."

"I'm not drunk, though," Alec corrects, straightening where he stands. "Not really."

"Well, then I have nothing to blame for your sudden, comfortable charm," Magnus says, leaning against the railing. "I'll just have to conclude that you've been hiding  this suave side, all along."

Alec holds his gaze, seems unsure of how to respond to that. Then he licks his lips, rolls them over his teeth as he looks away.

"Pretty sure 'suave' isn't the right word," he says evenly, but Magnus can tell he's a little self-conscious.

"Agree to disagree," Magnus says. Alec throws him a glance, before looking away again and leaning against the railing, as well. He sighs, and Magnus watches him for a moment. "Can I ask you something?" he says, and continues when Alec doesn't reply. "Why me? I'm sure there are plenty of other handsome bachelors to choose from."

He gestures at the large church the greenhouse is connected to, and the party going on inside. Alec just quirks a small smile. He keeps his gaze directed straight ahead, thinking.

"Honestly?" he says after a few moments. "I knew you'd get it. That you'd understand." He hesitates, and Magnus just watches him silently, listening and reining in his stunned surprise at Alec's simple explanation. "Izzy suggested just asking some random guy, and it sounded like a good idea. You know, just for one night. But I thought about it, and I couldn't think of anyone I'd want close by like that, especially not a stranger, while also tricking my parents into thinking I even so much as knew the guy. And a complete stranger would have been my only option. 'Cause let's be real, I don't exactly know a lot of straight guys who'd risk their own reputation by even pretending to date a man. At least not guys I'm not basically related to. And I don't exactly know any gay guys, either. Or a lot of bi ones," he adds, throwing Magnus a glance. He sighs. "I don't know. I was trying to figure something out, then you were there, and..."

He shrugs, lets the sentence trail off. For a second, he seems concerned that he just said too much, and Magnus sighs, turning so that he's mirroring Alec's position and looking out at the small pond. Alec glances at him, while Magnus now looks straight ahead.

"Well," Magnus says. "That is a predicament. But for what it's worth, even though I was simply the most convenient choice―" he turns to Alec― "I'm honored you chose me."

Alec meets his eye, just watches him in silence for a long time. Magnus is half-surprised he doesn't look away; before tonight, even at the start of it, Alec would have somewhat awkwardly done so by now. Magnus doesn't dare think about what this change might mean.

"Well," Alec says. "I'm honored you accepted." He says it with some levity, perhaps in an attempt to ease the sudden tension that Magnus can feel slowly building between the two of them. He cocks his head. "I mean, not a lot of people can brag about dating the High Warlock of Brooklyn."

He raises his eyebrows pointedly, and Magnus's mouth curves into a slow smile.

"No, they cannot," he agrees.

 


 

Alec can count the times on one hand that he has had any substantial interactions with Magnus, before tonight. Each time has been due to business reasons―aside from that one evening when they just happened to be in the same place at the same time, and Alec was in a very rare state of revelry. But regardless of whether the topic of conversation is Alec's anxiety about secretly liking guys, or the best way to deal with someone vandalizing a sacred Seelie tree in Central Park, Magnus makes Alec feel centered. Where others have often doubted Alec's ability to lead the New York Institute, both those above and below his rank, Magnus never has. That respect alone has done more for Alec than Alec would like to admit.

Maybe, if things were different, Alec would even have had the courage to ask him out. He entertains the idea for a moment, but then remembers why he never would. This is Magnus Bane, out of Alec's league in more ways than one, and just the thought of him considering going out with someone like Alec is laughable. He never would, no way, not in any serious sense. Not when there are tons of other beautiful people in this city alone to choose from―most of which probably aren't shadowhunters, and probably don't have families that hate Magnus's guts.

Most of them probably wouldn't ask him to do something as ludicrous as fake dating them either, Alec thinks. God, why did he think this was a good idea? This has probably destroyed any sliver of a chance he may have had with Magnus, to begin with. Even if Magnus is apparently enjoying their time together, a confession which Alec makes sure to tuck away safely in his memory for future reminiscence.

"You know," Magnus says after a few moments of silence―silence which is surprisingly comfortable, like everything else about him, in Alec's opinion. "While I realize that you did have a reason for inviting me tonight, and while I realize that it was a reason not directly related to me, personally... I must admit, it's nice to―"

He cuts himself off, and Alec turns to him. He gives Magnus a few seconds to continue, before his impatience gets the best of him.

"To what?" Alec asks. Magnus takes a breath, one that sounds completely content, somehow.

"It's nice to just... be here," he says. "Not because someone wants something from me, but just―" He inclines his head, lets the sentence trail off.

Alec swallows, somewhat nervously.

"Well," he says, deciding to take the light-hearted, albeit honest route. "I did want something from you."

Magnus turns to him, his expression softly amused, clearly picking up on Alec's less-than-serious tone.

"And what's that?" he asks.

"Your company."

It takes a moment for Magnus to react, and Alec worries that he said something wrong, something too cheesy or too revealing. Then Magnus breaks into a smile, not having expected something like that.

"That's a good reason," he says, and Alec exhales in relief, his mouth tugging in a smile of its own.

He holds Magnus's gaze, the man's expression open and sincere, an expression Alec has only seen there a few times before. Each time, it has given him the courage he needed to do or say something he was afraid of, like coming out, or even thinking about coming out. As though someone like Magnus just genuinely rooting for him, believing in him, was the push he needed to move forward, to do something brave just for himself.

And just like all those times, it makes Alec feel brave, right now. It makes him want to say that Magnus wasn't just the most convenient choice, that he's secretly happy he didn't really have anyone else to choose from. That standing here, alone in this place, with a beautiful atmosphere and an equally beautiful man at his side, Alec definitely feels brave.

The kind of brave that makes his gaze drop to Magnus's lips, without Alec meaning for it to.

Alec hasn't actually kissed anyone before. He has thought about it, a million times or more, and it used to be thoughts of kissing a girl, any girl. It wasn't until Jace came into his life that he realized kissing a boy just seemed so much more appealing. And for years, Jace was the only person he wanted to kiss. Then that faded, and Alec gradually started noticing that other guys were also attractive, also interesting. Especially since he came out, the mere concept of actually being with a man, even just kissing one, has gone from a distant, shameful dream to something that might actually happen.

And now, standing here, in this moment, surrounded by living stillness and a new kind of safety, Alec can't think of anyone he'd rather kiss than Magnus.

The idea is exhilarating―even more so when he distantly realizes that Magnus might let him, if he tried.

The sudden sound of rushed footsteps approaching is what yanks Alec out of the moment. Magnus reacts much the same way, but Alec doesn't really have time to be annoyed about the interruption―what was he expecting to happen, anyway?

As he looks over at the large doorway, he sees none other than Jace hurrying through the greenhouse, making his way to the bridge. The moment he spots Alec, he halts.

"There you are," he says, just slightly out of breath. There's something urgent about his manner. "Sorry for killing the mood. We need you. Both of you, ideally."

Alec frowns, straightens, immediately alert.

"What is it?" he asks.

"Demons," Jace says. "We don't know how they got in, but there's a big one loose in the Institute, and it's like it's spawned more. People are panicking, those things are just coming out of nowhere."

"It must have hitched a ride with one of the guests," Magnus suggests seriously. "I hate those multiplying types."

"Well, whatever it is, it's already causing chaos," Jace says. "We need to stop it. Now."

 


 

Jace wasn't exaggerating. When they make their way back inside the Institute itself, they're met by mayhem, all the guests scattered throughout the halls, some wounded in the efforts of taking down the demonic intruders. It's not pretty.

With the help of Jace, Alec quickly gets ahold of his bow, and with Magnus and his magic, they do a decent job of dealing with this mess. They split up after a while, Jace backing up a group of shadowhunters that's cornered in another hallway, and Alec and Magnus keep moving, doing what they can as they go.

They haven't encountered the real threat so far, the demon that first got inside the Institute, but its spawned critters are anything but little. They look more like giant vermin, than anything, and their bite is clearly more potent than that of most demons like them. At least judging by the odd swelling Magnus observes in a few fallen shadowhunters they come across. He does what he can to help them, on top of the use of an iratze, and that may explain why he's taken by surprise when he and Alec are suddenly ambushed.

All he gets is a glimpse of the demon attacking, before he throws up a shield to cover himself and Alec. It's enough to protect from the direct assault, but not enough to keep them standing―before Magnus knows it, he has been knocked off his feet and launched across the hallway, slamming against a wall. It's only then he realizes that he has somehow ended up in another room, which only comes to his attention because the door slams shut under the sheer force of what sounds like something huge crashing against it outside.

The commotion dies down after a few seconds, as suddenly as it started, and Magnus hears the faint sound of the demon continuing away from the now-sealed room to wreak havoc somewhere else. He himself is on the floor, head pounding, and he just notices that Alec is with him as Alec immediately gets back up from where he landed.

Not wasting a second, Alec throws himself against the closed door and pushes against it to force it open, but it doesn't budge. He lets out an angry groan, while Magnus slowly sits up, blinking as he gets his bearings.

"You okay?" Alec asks. He sounds a little out of breath, as well as frustrated, but as always there's a hint of genuine concern.

"I'm okay," Magnus says, getting up from the floor. Alec's hand hovers above his arm, as though ready to offer support, but Magnus doesn't need it to stand up straight. "I'm assuming our exit is blocked?"

Alec sighs.

"Looks like," he says, turning back to the door. "Must be something blocking it, on the other side." He turns to Magnus, a little hesitantly, while gesturing at the door. "You think you could―?"

"Blast it all away?" Magnus suggests, and Alec cocks his head. "I'd love to. Just give me a minute."

"Oh, sure," Alec says, almost hurriedly. "Of course. Take your time."

Magnus doesn't reply, just gives Alec a look of soft amusement in response to his flustered state. Then he sighs, turns to the door. Judging by the damage the demons had already done when he, Jace, and Alec first joined the fray, Magnus wouldn't be surprised if there's a mountain of debris on the other side.

"Locked in a room," Magnus muses, trailing his fingers along the robust wood keeping them momentarily trapped. "Alone together. The tropes keep piling on."

"What?" Alec says, and Magnus turns to him.

"Some variation of this tends to happen in romantic comedies," he says, looking around the room and taking in the spartan decor typical of shadowhunters, apparently even in their bedrooms. "Especially when the pairing in question haven't admitted their feelings to each other, yet."

Alec heaves a sigh, but his expression is one of tired fondness, which is good enough for Magnus. At least he doesn't seem too opposed to Magnus's attempts at lightening the sense of mortal peril.

"Right," Alec says, while Magnus wanders over to the simple but comfortable-looking bed near the door. "How are you so read up on that stuff, anyway? Wouldn't have taken you for a movie buff."

"Blame Simon," Magnus says, sitting down on the bed's edge. It does indeed feel surprisingly comfortable, and he takes a moment to center himself. "Alas, having him intermittently stay at my place has resulted in a few not-so-voluntary movie nights. And he's a bigger romcom fan than he'd probably admit."

Alec nods slowly.

"Well, good to know we've got an expert here," he says dryly, and Magnus can't help but chuckle.

"Indeed," he says. "How else would we have known the risks of hiding out in a bedroom under our current circumstances?" Alec gives him a bewildered, flat look, and Magnus elaborates. "Fake dating, trapped in a room with one bed. Hours into the night, with nowhere else to sleep."

He pats the bed lightly for emphasis, and it takes Alec a second to catch on. It's obvious when he does, because he blinks, eyebrows rising slightly as he parts his lips as if to respond. He looks away.

"We're not staying here that long," he says stiffly, but Magnus is pleased to hear that he's a little flustered.

"What?" Magnus says innocently, leaning back where he sits, placing his hands against the bedspread behind him for support. "Never shared a bed with a dashingly handsome man before?"

It's obvious that Alec knows he's just teasing, but the young man still looks somewhat awkward when he glances back at Magnus. When no reply actually comes, Magnus has a moment of realization.

"Oh," he says, straightening. "I'm sorry, I―"

"No, it's―" Alec says, turning to him. "I just―"

He gestures vaguely, and Magnus holds up his hand.

"It's all right," he says, standing up. "I don't mean to pry. That's your business, not mine."

Alec nods, takes a breath. He seems a little uncomfortable, but when he speaks, he surprisingly doesn't change the subject.

"It's not that I haven't wanted to," he says, a little awkwardly. "I just... haven't gotten around to actually―" He gestures pointedly with his hands, and Magnus inclines his head.

"If it's any consolation," he says, "most people would probably say I've gotten around to it too much, and with too many."

He says it lightly, but Alec knows the truth of the statement as well as he does. Alec exhales through his nose in an almost-laugh, smiling.

"Yeah, well," he says after a moment. "I meant what I said, you know. About your reputation." He says the word with some dryness, and pauses. "I don't care how many people you've been with."

Magnus smiles softly, surprised by the flutter in his chest. It's ridiculous; he has never been even the slightest ounce self-conscious or ashamed about his past, sexual or romantic. But something about the way Alec says it is... sweet, for lack of a better word. Honest.

"Well," Magnus says, some lightness to his tone. "I don't care how many people you haven't been with."

Alec huffs a laugh.

"Thanks," he says. "Good to know."

Magnus mirrors the laugh. He's tempted to say something suggestive, something flirty, but he doesn't. There's a reason Alec asked him to do this, after all, and it's because it feels safe when it's with Magnus. Alec trusts him not to make this weird, to not overstep, and Magnus is going to respect that.

Not to mention the fact that regardless, Alec is a shadowhunter, and a Lightwood. Sure, he may be open to befriending someone like Magnus, working with him, even playing pretend with him just to prove a point to someone else. But actually dating him, or even something more shallow than that? Magnus finds that hard to believe, regardless of whatever moment they had in the greenhouse, before Jace interrupted. Magnus finds himself almost childishly frustrated, annoyed by how difficult it's proving to be, spending so much time with Alec in such close quarters. It's unsettling.

Magnus clears his throat, rubs his hands together.

"Right," he says, stepping in front of the door. "Let's get out of here."

 

Getting out of the room is the easy part. After fighting and healing people before ending up there, and then exerting himself further by getting out, Magnus is getting tired. He wasn't expecting to have to use his magic like this tonight, and he swears he can feel it being suppressed by the wards this place is surrounded with. He's not quite at full power, and it's frustrating.

But he holds his own, as does Alec, as well as everyone else. They manage to find Izzy and Clary, but then split up again when the girls keep going and Magnus and Alec decide to stay put in a particularly affected part of the Institute. Some shadowhunters have been severely wounded by the rampaging demons, and Magnus is doing what he can to keep them alive until they can get proper care. Meanwhile, Alec keeps watch, and Magnus can feel some proper exhaustion setting in.

"How is she?" Alec asks, referring to the unconscious shadowhunter lying on the floor, currently the focus of Magnus's healing magic.

"Hanging on," Magnus says, blinking hard, trying to concentrate. He rubs his fingers together, keeping the flow of magic steady over the woman's wounds. It's odd to see such warriors without their typical black and tactical attire―despite carrying seraph blades, almost every shadowhunter here is in some kind of formal wear, which makes them appear even more vulnerable, somehow.

"Well, we need to hurry," Alec says, nocking another arrow and keeping his bow at the ready, attention directed at the far end of the hallway they're in. "There should be reinforcements any second, but the sooner we can get everybody to safety, the better."

Magnus grits his teeth in something like frustration.

"I'm not a healer, Alec," he says, the exhaustion shining through, whether he wants it to or not. "There's only so much I can do."

"Well, there's only so much a healing rune can do," Alec counters, sounding about as tense as Magnus feels. Magnus hears the telltale screeching of a demon skittering towards them, but the creature quickly vanquished by one of Alec's arrows. When footsteps approach, Magnus draws a small breath of relief, knowing that those reinforcements have finally arrived.

He's slightly surprised, however, when Alec suddenly drops to one knee by his side.

"How can I help?" Alec sounds concerned, sincere, and Magnus looks up, takes a long, proper look at his face. Then he looks back at the woman, takes a deep breath.

"I could use a boost," Magnus says, holding out his hand, the other still hovering over the woman on the floor. He sounds as apprehensive as he feels, and he looks up at Alec when he doesn't reply. "I need your strength."

Alec pauses, holds Magnus's gaze. It's only another second of hesitation before he decides.

"Take what you need," he says, grasping Magnus's hand in his own and holding it tightly. Magnus is almost entirely sure that the warmth he feels at the touch is just from the energy he needs being channeled, and nothing else. It's just the magic doing its work, Alec exhaling beside him as he braces himself and lets Magnus draw new strength from his own.

That's all it is. Magnus is almost entirely sure.

 

It's after another while of healing and fighting off immediate threats that the wounded are finally stable. At this point, Magnus feels like he can barely stand, and he leans against the wall as the shadowhunters who came to help him and Alec pick up their comrades to take them to safety. One of them, a man Magnus vaguely recognizes as part of the New York Institute, gives Magnus a grateful nod which somehow takes Magnus by surprise. He's not used to seeing shadowhunters be genuinely grateful toward him. He admits that it feels curiously satisfying.

"You okay?" Alec asks, once the others have moved past them down the hall, Alec hanging back just enough to talk to Magnus somewhat privately.

"I'm fine," Magnus says, pushing away from the wall. He knows his tone isn't convincing, but he can't be bothered to fake it right now. His frustration over this whole situation is building, and he wishes it were just because of the demons. "Splendid. Over the moon."

Alec frowns a little, especially when Magnus just starts walking, following the rest of the group.

"You sure?" Alec says, falling in step with him. It's obvious that he's on edge, just like Magnus, whether it's from exhaustion, the same unnamed tension, or both.

"Well, this isn't exactly how I expected the night to go," Magnus says dryly.

"Yeah?" Alec says, the one word somehow even drier.

"This may be your regular pastime," Magnus says as they walk slowly, "but it's not how I usually spend a Friday night."

Alec lets out a harsh sigh.

"No one forced you to do this for me, you know," he says with some irritation, and Magnus senses just slightest hint of guilt. "I'm sorry it turned out like this, but why did you even agree to the rest if you didn't want to?"

"I did want to," Magnus almost snaps. "But did it ever occur to you that maybe I also actually like you?"

He says it without thinking, and Alec stops dead.

"What?" he says, the one word weak with confusion. Magnus takes a deep breath, stopping with him. Damn it.

"Your charms go a long way, Alec," he says with some sarcasm. "But they're still not quite enough on their own to persuade me into something as ridiculous as this scheme. Yes, I wanted to help you, but the idea of spending more time with you was also something I found selfishly appealing." He looks away, before adding under his breath, "Even if the circumstances are now less than ideal."

Alec seems stunned into silence for a few moments.

"Well, what does that mean?" he asks, almost defensively.

"It means," Magnus says, looking back at him, "that if I hadn't known better, I would have asked you out the first time we met. Or at the very least, that night at the bar."

Alec just stares, an odd look on his face, like he can't quite determine what Magnus is saying―or make sense of the abrupt subject change. Magnus can't explain it; the words are just tumbling out on their own. He never meant to say any of this out loud, and he blames the exhaustion for pushing his usual filter aside.

Alec doesn't look upset, but he doesn't look happy, either. It makes Magnus's heart sink.

"'Hadn't known better'?" Alec says, his tone even. "What are you ta―?"

"We both know you wouldn't exactly have been open to the idea, at the time," Magnus says. He doesn't mean to sound harsh, but somehow it comes out that way. "And yes, when you came out to me, however accidentally, it was a nice surprise. But then, taking into account your shiny reputation, and your detailed description of the crush you had on another guy―"

"Used to have," Alec cuts in.

"―my chances didn't seem that great," Magnus continues, "regardless of your preferences." He pauses, surprised by his own honesty. "So yes, I knew better. And I still do."

Alec just stares at him, and Magnus is annoyed to find that he feels more vulnerable than he has in a very long time. Emotionally, at least.

"You―" Alec starts, with some hesitation.

"I don't regret helping you out tonight," Magnus interrupts, his voice softer. "I happily do it. But this, being close like this, when I know it's not―" He swallows. "It's a little harder than I expected it to be. So maybe, once this is over, we should just... call it a day."

Break up, he feels like saying, but he doesn't. He knows this is fake, has never been under the illusion that it isn't―he's slightly embarrassed to admit that playing along with this act has been just as much for his own benefit, as Alec's. During the night, he has even gotten lost in it a few times, which is a risk he just cannot afford.

Alec swallows, keeps his expression calm and steady. Magnus can't tell what he's feeling, if anything at all besides confusion and discomfort at Magnus's inconvenient confession.

"Let's just get this over with," Magnus says, his tone more resigned than he means for it to be, as he makes his way past Alec and follows the others.

 


 

When the head demon―and its spawn―is finally brought down, it's not by Alec's doing, or Magnus's. Somewhere in another wing of the Institute, a visiting shadowhunter from Portugal, along with her team, eventually manages to lure the demon out and kill it. But Alec doesn't care about his own lack of involvement―as long as the demon is gone, he's happy.

Never mind the fact that he was too busy dealing with unexpected relationship drama to deal with it properly, himself. That's a different kind of frustration that he's not sure how to handle, just yet.

He's not sure where Magnus is―probably being interviewed, seeing as how him being a Downworlder raises suspicions of its own, regardless of how much he helped tonight. Alec himself has just finished making sure that everyone is accounted for after the attack. Surprisingly, no one was killed, and there is a definite sense of relief mingled in with the tension currently filling the air.

Maryse finds Alec before he can find her, after already making sure his siblings and Clary are okay. The look on his mother's face is one of sad tension, as well as relief as seeing her eldest son all right. She just stands in front of him for a few moments, their gazes locked.

"Alec, I―" she eventually starts, taking a deep breath. "I'm sorry. Not about my feelings concerning that warlock, though he did do us a great service tonight, which we are all grateful for." She pauses, and Alec can tell this is hard for her to say. At least she seems to really mean it. "I'm sorry I pushed you. Even though I may not agree with your choices, I will try to accept them, from here on out."

Alec doesn't immediately reply. His first instinct is surprise at that being his mother's priority right now, before he remembers that mortal peril can make one reconsider priorities, as it is. His second instinct is frustration, the need to tell Maryse for the hundredth time that it's not about choices, and that it's more complicated than that. But he also knows that this is his mother trying. And that's all he can ask for, at this stage.

Alec nods.

"Sure," he says. It's just one word, but Maryse clearly understands the meaning conveyed, and she exhales in tentative relief. After a long pause of somewhat awkward silence, she puts a hand on Alec's shoulder, with a small smile.

"You did well tonight," she says. Alec nods, and with that, his mother walks away, no doubt to deal with all the upset guests and important Clave-members still lingering around the Institute.

Alec finds Magnus waiting outside, pacing slowly along the grass, eyes directed downward as he restlessly rubs his fingers together. It's almost dawn, the sky overhead shifting from dark blue and black to shades of purple, and Alec would find it beautiful if he weren't so distracted. As it is, all he can really pay attention to is Magnus, and the way his expression shifts when he looks up and catches Alec's eye. It relaxes slightly, as though in relief at Alec still being unharmed, despite him and Magnus seeing each other just twenty minutes ago.

"Looks like we got rid of them all," Alec says when he comes to a halt in front of Magnus. "There's gonna be an internal investigation, seeing as how this isn't supposed to happen, but... Looks like everyone's okay."

Magnus nods.

"I'm glad," he says.

A few seconds of silence pass between them, as they stand there, surrounded by people, both of them somehow unsure of what to say. For the first time, Alec notes, the silence between them feels tense, uncomfortable, pressing. He has no idea how everything somehow changed in one night, but it did, and he's not quite sure what to do with any of it.

He's not quite sure what to do with the things Magnus told him, about what he said, that he wanted to spend more time with Alec, that he would have asked him out a long time ago if he hadn't known better. Hadn't known better, whatever that's supposed to mean. Alec knows better, it's why he hasn't made a move, himself. Magnus clearly does, too.

But he also said he liked him. Magnus likes him, and while that shouldn't be something groundbreaking or powerful in itself, Alec somehow feels like it is. It makes him feel like he's standing on the edge of a cliff, no matter how dramatic that may sound. He doesn't want to jump, but he knows that the fall down will be absolutely exhilarating. And who knows, it might even end well.

"Right," Magnus says, unknowingly interrupting Alec's inner turmoil. There's a small smile on his face, and there's almost something sad about it, though Alec can't be sure if he's imagining that or not. "I guess I'll see you around?"

Alec nods.

"Yeah," he says, his pulse picking up. "Definitely."

Magnus holds his gaze for another few moments, as though to say something else, or waiting for Alec to. But neither of them does, and Magnus heaves a breath, turns away.

"Well," he says. "I should be going, then." He whips up a Portal seemingly out of nowhere, and throws Alec another glance. "Goodbye, Alexander."

With that, he steps through, and Alec feels a strange pressure rise in his chest at the sight. He's not sure how or why, but the pressure is sudden and present and urgent enough to make him take a step forward and fall through the Portal, with a deep breath and without a second thought.

When the Portal closes behind him, Alec realizes he's no longer standing on the grass outside the Institute, but on the floor of an apartment that's very familiar. He looks up, only to be met by Magnus staring at him, looking just as confused and shocked as Alec feels.

"Wh―" Magnus starts, before just trailing off and letting his mouth hang open, his brow furrowed in a slight frown. It's a strange sight, and Alec wonders if this was a mistake, if he just did something horribly embarrassing as well as rash.

Then he notices that Magnus doesn't look angry, or upset, or even that bothered. He just looks confused, almost... hopeful.

It's all Alec needs to step forward, dip his head just slightly, and kiss him.

The moment he does it, Alec has a distant thought of yes, echoing through his mind and rippling through his skin. Magnus tenses up in obvious surprise, but it only lasts a split second, before he sighs against Alec's mouth and kisses him back, hands finding their way to Alec's waist. Alec mirrors it, tentatively pulling Magnus just a little closer as he closes his eyes.

The kiss is soft, but even Alec knows that he's being impatient and a little clumsy as he does it. He doesn't care. Magnus doesn't seem to even in the slightest, and when they pull apart, Alec's eyes are still closed, head spinning and full of surreal excitement.

Magnus exhales.

"You know," he says in a low voice, his breath warm against Alec's face. "This would be the equivalent of chasing after me at the airport."

Alec breathes a laugh, opening his eyes.

"Fair enough," he says. He sounds breathless, which somehow takes him by surprise but also perfectly matches how high he suddenly feels. "It's not public, though."

Magnus inclines his head in agreement.

"Still," he says. He glances at Alec's lips, then back up at his eyes. "By the way, you're making it very hard to not ask you out, at this point. For real, I mean."

Alec feels a flutter beneath his ribs.

"So ask me out," he says, feeling a bit bolder than usual. Magnus clearly notices, because he raises his eyebrows slightly in surprise, as he smiles.

"Well, I suppose I have to, now," he says with a long-suffering sigh, which turns into a chuckle when Alec gives him a flat look. His expression grows softer. "Would you like to go out for a drink, sometime?"

Alec nods, a slow smile shaping his lips.

"That sounds fun," he says, a thrilling, buzzing feeling filling up his chest. "I'm in."