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and my heart is set on you

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It’s weird, setting foot in his old high school again. Alec hasn’t been there since he graduated six years ago, but not much has changed since then, anyway. Lockers still line the walls and dog-eared notices still plaster the pin boards in the corridor. The main thing that strikes him is how much quieter it is without the swarms of his fellow teenagers around him, and he allows himself a moment to breathe and take everything in.

His phone buzzes in his pocket for the third time and he decides he should probably get his ass down to the auditorium before Izzy abandons texting him and comes to pull him along by the hand, but he guesses it’s not so weird for her. Izzy graduated high school a year after he did, and she kept in touch with more of their old friends than him. She’d also been back in the last year to do some inspiring presentations about pursuing a STEM degree and encouraging other girls to try it too, so she’d had plenty of opportunities to have a minor freak out if she’d wanted to.

Alec pushes open the door to the auditorium and lifts his hand in greeting at the people that turn his way. There’s more here than he realised there would be, and he’s infinitely grateful when he spots two of his siblings waving back at him.

Izzy pats the spare seat next to her and Alec slips into it.

“Hey,” he says, leaning around her to poke Max, before settling back against his seat and nudging Izzy.

“You okay?”

She nods. “Yeah,” she says.

He sweeps his gaze over her. “You look tired,” he decides. “Are you eating okay?”

“Quit fussing,” she laughs, rolling her eyes. “Honestly, Alec, I’m good. My finals are kicking my ass, that’s all.”

Alec hums, satisfied she’s telling the truth, and shakes his head. “I remember the pain,” he says honestly. “You’ll make it through.”

“I know,” says Izzy, resting her head on his shoulder.

“Max,” Alec says, gesturing around the room, “are all these people your teachers?”

Max shakes his head, grinning. “Just Mr and Mrs Garroway,” he tells him.

Alec shrugs, turning to look at his old Drama teacher, Luke Garroway, who’s sitting at the head of the circle of chairs on the stage next to Alec’s old Art teacher. “They got married?” he asks no one in particular.

Izzy knocks him with her elbow. “I told you that already,” she says. “And I can’t believe you don’t recognise anyone.”

“You didn’t,” Alec protests, ignoring the last comment, and Izzy sends him A Look. “Okay,” he relents, “if it was something you told me you found out from Fray, I may not have been listening.”

Izzy pouts, but he can tell she’s fighting a smile. “Well,” she says, pointing subtly at a man with long, blue-tipped hair sitting across the circle, “that’s Meliorn. We had a thing in Junior Year. Obviously you remember Clary, Simon Lewis and Maureen Brown, right? They were a grade below Jace and I.”

Alec half nods, glancing in the direction Izzy’s just gestured. A young redheaded woman - the ever-annoying Clary Fray - is sitting next to Mrs Garroway, and beside her is a boy with fluffy brown hair and tortoiseshell glasses he thinks is Simon. Next to him are two more girls, but he’s not sure which is Maureen.

On Luke’s other side, rounding out the circle next to Meliorn, are a young-looking man and a blonde woman who Alec recognises from the grade above him.

“Okay,” Luke says, clapping his hands together as a dark-haired man with a beard completes the circle, “I think that’s everyone. Thank you for coming.”

He looks around at them all.

“As you might have heard,” he says, gesturing to Max, “the school’s drama department has been suffering from cuts lately. It’s lost out in the school budget and now they’re threatening that when this school year comes to an end, the department won’t be welcoming any new students next year.” Luke lifts his chin. “But we’ve decided to do something about it,” he adds. “It was Max Lightwood’s idea to hold a production as a fundraiser, and I’ve invited you all here because I think, between us, we could put on something that would make the school change their minds. And if we don’t succeed, at least we go out fighting.”

Alec’s half expecting people to clap — everyone certainly looks energised — but they don’t, they just offer Luke determined nods and sit up a little straighter in their chairs.

“Good,” smiles Luke. “I knew I could count on you all.”

He gestures to the bearded man who joined them last. “For those who don’t know, this is Alaric Rodriguez, my right-hand man. Did you want to go over roles?”

Alaric nods. “Sure, Luke. Before we can hold auditions, we need to get the crew sorted. We’ve provisionally assigned some roles already — Luke’s directing, Jocelyn’s on wardrobe, I’m Assistant Director and Clary’s agreed to do make up. But we’re also asking for volunteers, so: anyone want to do…” he scrolls through his phone, scanning a list “…set design?”

Slowly they get through the roles. Simon takes set design, and the two girls next to him — Maureen Brown and Rebecca Lewis, Alec learns — take Musical Director and Finances respectively. Meliorn volunteers to do Choreography.

With a little cajoling from Luke and Izzy, Alec agrees to be Stage Manager, his old role when he used to do productions in high school, and Luke sends him a knowing smile.

The final roles — Lighting and Sound Supervisor and Production Manager — go to Raphael and Lydia, the two Alec recognised from the grade above. He smiles slightly at Lydia and tries to ignore the weight of Raphael’s gaze.

Luke clears his throat. “That’s great. Thank you, everyone.” He catches sight of Izzy. “Isabelle, did you want a role?” he asks.

Izzy smiles. “A starring one,” she says, and Alec can’t help laughing. “Yeah, I think I’m gonna audition.” She nods at Max. “Unless you’re getting high schoolers to fill all the roles?”

It’s Alaric who answers. “We’re hoping to rent out the auditorium here,” he says, “so it’ll have to be over summer vacation - I can’t see many of the kids wanting to. To be honest, we’re looking for whoever we can get.”

Izzy lifts an eyebrow. “Thanks,” she quips, to scattered laughter. “Which play are we doing?”

Luke looks at Max.

Maybe it’s just by virtue of being the baby of the family, but even since he was little, Max has commanded the spotlight. He’s been in school productions for as long as Alec can remember, and he has Max to thank for his in-depth knowledge of musicals. It doesn’t surprise Alec that Max is so keen to help Luke with his plan of saving the drama department.

“I thought we could do Grease,” Max suggests, glancing first at Luke, then Izzy. “Since it’s about leaving high school and this might be the last year the school puts on a play and stuff.”

The idea is met with agreement, and Alec can’t help smiling at Max when the conversation moves on, proud of his little brother.

“If anyone is still in contact with their old classmates, people who’d be willing to take a part, that’d be great — Izzy, Alec, Max, how about Jace?”

Alec and Izzy share a glance, but it’s Max who speaks up. “He’ll do it,” he says. “I can convince him.”

Luke nods and Alaric adds it to his list.

“Raphael, how about you?”

Raphael looks at Luke. “I still know some people,” he says, shrugging nonchalantly. “I can ask.”

“Good, okay,” Alaric says.

Alec clears his throat. “I studied English in college,” he explains, “and a lot of those people did drama on the side. I know they didn’t go here, but I could ask if they’re interested?”

Alaric and Luke exchange a look, then nod.

“The more the merrier,” Luke says. “Get your friends to come along.”

Alec nods, quickly pulling out his phone to tap in a reminder to contact Raj and Aline. A few more people offer to ask around — Simon mentions his friend Maia, and Raphael admits his friends might know people. By the end of the meeting, they’ve got a production schedule outlined, and have decided on a date to hold auditions. Luke and Alaric are going to contact people with more detailed role outlines over the next few days. Alec is aware it’s going to be a lot of work, but the grin on Max’s face is worth it.

“Brilliant,” Luke says, smiling at everyone. “Let’s save our drama department.”

In the end, it’s less than a week before Alec is back in the auditorium. He’s not letting the fact that he’s not technically supposed to be there stop him - it’s not like he’s not allowed to go to auditions, it’s just that he doesn’t really need to be there. But Jace and Izzy are up for roles, as well as his college friends Aline and Raj, so he wants to be there to support them.

He knows the theatre like the back of his hand from his time as stage manager all those years ago, and fortunately the auditorium hasn’t changed a bit. Alec sneaks in through a side door that still isn’t locked and vaguely wonders if someone should have done something about that in the intervening years since he left.

Alec finds a seat in the left stalls and slips into it, dumping his messenger bag in the footwell. He sends his friends and siblings a quick good luck text each and then settles into his chair.

The Pink Ladies auditions come first. Alec doesn’t recognise the girl with brown skin and bright white hair who steps up for the role of Marty, but he realises, when she hugs a girl in the wings who later introduces herself as Maia, that they must be Simon’s friends. Maia is auditioning for the part of Rizzo and does an achingly good rendition of There Are Worse Things I Could Do that seems to leave everyone impressed.

After her comes a woman who introduces herself as Dot, for the role of Jan, and she’s followed by Aline, who bursts onto the stage as a brilliantly bubbly Frenchy. Alec’s not surprised she’s amazing - he’s been to almost all of the college productions she’d starred in - and he sends her an emoji-laden text of congratulations.

Izzy comes last, singing a little of both Hopelessly Devoted To You and Summer Nights , and then all the girls come back to read through the sleepover scene. The judges - Luke, Alaric and Jocelyn - clap them all at the end, and Alec can hear the cheers of the guys waiting in the wings to audition for the T-birds.

Raj comes out first for the role of Sonny, followed by a guy Alec doesn’t recognise at all who auditions for Doody. After him - Elias, apparently - Jace bounds onto the stage, managing a perfect Kenickie impression. He’d probably like people to think that he’s somewhat like Kenickie in real life, but Alec knows Jace fastens his hair back with bobby pins, and he has enough disgustingly cute baby photos of Jace to completely ruin the image.

There’s a momentary delay between Jace leaving the stage and Luke announcing the role of Danny is up next, during which Alec checks his phone as he debates whether or not to leave. Luke had set up a group chat for the crew, so it’s not like Alec needs to stay now that all his friends have auditioned - he’ll find out as soon as the judges have decided.

But he’s here now, so he might as well, and he glances up at the stage as he puts his phone back in his pocket.

“Hey, I’m Magnus. I’m auditioning for the role of Danny.”

Holy Jesus Christ. That’s -

Alec blinks at the stage, where a tall guy in a pair of cobalt skinny jeans and black satin shirt is standing, surveying the audience.

It’s Magnus Bane.

And he’s looking right in Alec’s direction.

Alec stares back at him and then realises what he’s doing, sliding as low as he can in his seat. He knows deep down it’s futile, that Magnus has already seen him, but he can pretend he’s unseen and that gives him space to freak out in peace.

The last time he’d seen Magnus was on the beach at Far Rockaway. Magnus and his friends had graduated high school that summer, and even though Alec was a grade younger than them, he’d still been invited to the beach party. Of course he had - whatever Magnus and Alec were, even before they were A Thing That Wasn’t A Thing, they’d been friends.

Alec closes his eyes and can still picture flickering moments now: arriving at the beach in Magnus’ mom’s battered Jeep; sand squishing between their toes; Magnus pulling him into the water for a swim and Raphael and Catarina dunking them both. Ragnor, two years older than Alec and a year older than the other three, had sat by the sea reading for his college classes. Later on, as the afternoon bled into evening, Magnus had taken Alec by the hand and led him over to a secluded rocky area, flipping his friends off as they whistled.

He’d told Alec about how his mom used to bring him down the beach when he was little and they’d sit watching the sunset.

“In two months I’ll be in Cali,” Magnus said, resting his head on Alec’s shoulder. “Is that the world telling us we’re not meant to be together?”

My heart goes sighing after swallows flown ,” Alec murmured, “ on sometime summer's unreturning track . Rossetti, From Sunset to Star Rise.” He felt Magnus shift and smile against his skin. “Maybe it’s telling us that we’re not meant to be together yet .”

Magnus hummed. “Maybe we’ll bump into each other in a few years,” he said, with a smile that was only half-teasing.

Alec pressed a kiss to Magnus’ temple and let his lips linger there. “You’re gonna have the time of your life at college,” he said, and tightened his arms around Magnus.

After a while they’d given up on talking and Alec had asked Magnus to just kiss him.

The drive home was bittersweet, Alec watching Magnus at the wheel while Magnus’ friends snoozed - or at least pretended to - in the backseat. Alec was last to be dropped off and he’d swallowed around the lump in his throat, somehow knowing that this was goodbye.

But it wasn’t just goodbye to Magnus, his best friend. It was goodbye to a perfect summer filled with more love and laughter and freedom than Alec ever thought he’d be allowed to have. It was goodbye to sneaking glances in the hallways and hands brushing as they got their lunch in the canteen; it was goodbye to trading kisses lying in the grass in Magnus’ back yard and sleepovers in Magnus’ room where they’d explore each other. Alec was learning Magnus and learning how to love and learning how to be himself, and he wasn’t ready to give it up.

Quite suddenly, he had felt a pang of grief hit him.

Alec sucked in a breath. “Magnus, I -”

Magnus had held his finger up a whisper away from Alec’s lips, so close he could probably feel Alec’s breath. The warmth in Magnus’ brown eyes calmed Alec down, as if Magnus knew exactly what he was thinking and was telling him that they’d be alright. That Alec would be alright.

The thing between them was easy and good and right, and it would never be the same again. But they’d be okay.

Besides, Magnus was going to college . Even if Alec knew - and he did, bone-deep - that it was more than just a high school thing for both of them, Magnus would soon be be gone and that was that. There were a million and one better, brighter people than Alec that Magnus would meet at college, who could be given the gift of Magnus’ love to keep warm.

“I’ll see you soon, Alexander,” Magnus said, giving Alec the sweetest, saddest smile. Alec nodded and got out of the car, and in the time it took him to turn back and seize the chance for one final kiss goodbye, Magnus had already pulled away.

As far as Alec knows, Magnus has been living in California ever since he left for college. He’s not heard anything different, and he’s fairly sure Magnus and Izzy kept in touch, even if he and Alec lost contact. It had been too hard at first, and then they’d just...drifted.

The image of Raphael shrugging and saying he still knows some people flashes through Alec’s mind and he groans at himself, wondering how he could be so dense. It’s not like he hadn’t noticed the looks Raphael had been sending him, after all.

But Magnus? Here, in New York? Alec’s not prepared for the general situation, and he’s certainly not prepared for how good he looks. Holy crap, Alec had barely been able to function around him in high school, and now he’s here and he’s so attractive it almost aches.

Would Magnus even want to see Alec? It’s not like Magnus has made any effort to meet up, over the years - but, no, that isn’t fair, because Alec hasn’t either. Alec also isn’t 100% on the protocol for bumping into your high school sweetheart several years down the road, and as soon as that realisation comes, he almost laughs, because it’s just like Magnus had said to him.

When he’s managed to calm down enough to decide that he can totally ask Magnus to go for coffee and catch up, it’s not a big deal, whatever, he sits up a little straighter in his seat. He’s twenty-four years old, for god’s sake. He’s got this.

And then Magnus starts singing, and Alec prays to high heaven because there is no way that he’s got this. Absolutely none.

Later that evening, Alec’s sitting at his computer finishing up a video call with Lydia, Simon and - somewhat awkwardly - Raphael when the door buzzer for his apartment goes.

“I’ll get it,” calls Jace, so Alec ignores it and quickly reads through the production schedule to make sure everyone’s on target. They’re going to start blocking in the evenings the following week - part of the issue is finding a time when everyone could rehearse, because most of the cast had full time jobs. But they can work around it, and everyone is up for the challenge.

“Okay, great,” Alec says, when the others confirm the schedule and their next meeting time. “See you all Monday evening.”

He’s just hung up when a curtain of black hair tickles the side of his face and he turns to find his sister right beside him.

“You,” Izzy says accusingly, “did not tell me Magnus was back in New York.”

Alec closes his laptop with a roll of his eyes. “‘Cause I usually tell you things I don’t know, right? I thought you two kept in touch, anyway.”

Izzy frowns. “We do, but I thought you were still friends,” she says, moving away from Alec and settling on the couch.

Alec shrugs and shakes his head. “Yeah, maybe,” he says, and in response Izzy just raises an eyebrow. Jace laughs at Alec from across the room, coming to join their sister on the couch.

“Well,” she says, apparently deciding to brush past Alec’s inability to function as a human when Magnus is mentioned, “he drove me home when we finished the read through after auditions.”

Jace makes a put out noise. “He didn’t offer me a lift.”

Izzy smirks and Alec can’t help laughing at Jace’s offended expression. “Anyway, it was so nice to see him! He was so excited to be back in New York and to see everyone again, and he said we should all get together soon.” She pauses and arches an eyebrow at Alec. “I think that’s a great idea, don’t you?”

Alec shrugs again, very interested in playing with the cuff of his shirt.

Magnus has been on his mind ever since Alec got home from the auditions, and in that time he’s managed to convince himself that anything happening between them would be a Bad Idea. Too much time has passed and they’re probably too different now, and they still live on opposite sides of the country , for god’s sake.

“Bro,” Jace says, “you can talk to us about this stuff. You know that, right?”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Alec says, and then it’s all falling out in a rush. “Look, he’s in California and I’m in New York and we’re not together and we never will be and it’s never going to be like it was before so there’s no point in trying to make it like that, so if you two could stop messing with my personal life, I’d appreciate it!”

He exhales heavily and drops his head back against the couch cushions.

The amusement is Izzy’s tone is clear when she says, “Feel better?”

Alec groans. “No.” He lets a moment tick by. “Yes, maybe a little.” He pulls his head up from the couch and winces. “Sorry.”

“Not trying to point out the obvious,” Jace says, “but Magnus is not in California right now. And things don’t have to be the same as before to make them good, Alec. You can make something new.”

Alec looks at him, and he can hear the logic in Jace’s words.

“I was thinking about asking him for coffee,” he admits, not missing the knowing look his siblings share. “But I don’t know. He’s so - and I’m -” he shakes his head. “Would he even want to see me?”

“Dude, you two were crazy about each other,” says Jace. “And even without that, he was like, your third best friend after the two of us.”

A smirk tugs at Alec’s lips. He tilts his head and says, “third?” and Jace makes an offended noise again.

“I’m sure he’d love to see you, hermano ,” Izzy says. “What have you got to lose by asking?”

Alec thinks it over, nodding eventually. “Okay,” he says. “Do you have his number, Iz?”

It takes Alec a couple of days to settle his nerves and text Magnus. He stares at the new message screen for the millionth time, feeling like he’s sixteen again and working up the courage to give Magnus the poem he’d written him after their first kiss - Alec’s first kiss ever.

The same jittery bundle of nerves dances in his stomach, pulse skittering with anticipation.

In the event, the message goes unanswered, and with each passing minute he waits for a reply, Alec feels smaller and more naively stupid.

Logically, he knows Magnus is probably just busy - he’s not cruel or immature enough to not answer in the hope of hurting Alec. But it still stings.

Alec pushes it aside, not letting his emotions distract him, and heads to the auditorium on Monday evening anyway as planned. Magnus will be there, so maybe they’ll get a chance to talk, or something. When he arrives, he dumps his bag and jacket down by a chair and pulls out his empty prompt book, a new binder he’ll fill tonight as they go through the show, writing down all the cues and other notes for the smooth running of the production.

It’s nostalgic, being back, in both the place and his old job, and he suddenly feels like a teenager again, too little of a person in too much of a body he hadn’t yet grown into.

Alec waves at Luke across the room and is heading in his direction when he hears his name called.

“Alec.”

Alec freezes, turning to see Magnus standing a little way behind him in the aisle.

“Hey,” Magnus says, gracefully slipping out of his coat, and then he smiles and Alec has trouble remembering how to breathe.

A cocktail of feelings swirl in his chest, from he’s here to he’s talking to you what the hell are you doing say something!! to how does one person manage to look so perfect?

“Hey,” Alec manages, drinking Magnus in. His hair is spiked now, and he has a goatee that he never had in high school. He’s filled out a lot, too - he was never skinny, at least, not when Alec knew him, but now his arms look like they’re stuffed into his shirt and Alec is trying not to stare.

Magnus’ eyes are still the same warm brown, though, lined with black and a hint of glitter.

“How are you?” asks Magnus, stepping closer.

Alec nods a little jerkily, still processing the fact that Magnus is here in front of him. He wishes he could make his mouth work.

“Uh, yeah, good,” he says eventually. “How are you?”

Magnus nods. “Yeah, great,” he says. “It’s good to be back.”

There’s a beat of silence between them and then the awkwardness of it all is crashing over Alec. He’d said as much to Jace and Izzy, he knew it would be weird, and now he’s here experiencing it and his throat is suddenly tight and the fact that it all feels so wrong between him and Magnus makes him want to cry.

It was never like this before.

“Well, I should probably -” Alec gestures behind him lamely, forcing out the words.

“Right,” Magnus fills in easily, “you should go and see Luke.”

Alec nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah. It was - good to see you.”

Magnus just gives him a small smile, and Alec is achingly sad for a fleeting moment. He turns away to head over to Luke, and then he realises that, oh God, Magnus will find the text Alec had sent soon, if he hasn’t already.

“I, uh,” Alec begins, whirling back to Magnus, “I texted you. It’s - I mean, it’s not a big deal, you can just delete it or whatever, but I. I just thought I’d mention it so it wasn’t weird.”

Magnus’ brow furrows and he slides his phone out of a pocket in his jeans that Alec - rather unhelpfully - notices are very tight.

“Sorry, everything’s been hectic recently,” Magnus says. “I wasn’t ignoring you. Relocating across the country isn’t the world’s easiest - oh, you did!”

And then, for some reason Alec doesn’t understand, Magnus is beaming at his phone as he scans the message.

“I’d love to,” Magnus says, looking up from his phone to Alec, face alight. Then his smile falters slightly. “Unless - if you’ve changed your mind, I wouldn’t want to…”

“No,” Alec says hastily. “I - I still want to. If you do. It’s just - does this feel -?”

“Awkward?” Magnus supplies. Alec nods and closes his eyes, huffing a short laugh, and then he hears Magnus chuckling too. “I didn’t want to say,” he adds, teasing. “I guess it’s been a while.”

When Alec opens his eyes, there’s still the trace of a smile on Magnus’ face, and it’s as if acknowledging the tension makes it ease slightly.

“Too long,” Alec says softly, and Magnus hums, quiet and thoughtful.

“Well, we can make up for lost time,” Magnus says, moving closer. He places his coat down next to Alec’s and then gestures for the two of them to walk. “If you’re free after this, there’s a great new late night place I found near my mom’s.”

Alec nods, then cocks his head. “You’re living with your mom?” he asks.

“Temporarily,” Magnus explains. “I’ve got a new job here, but I haven’t sold my place in California yet and New York isn’t exactly the cheapest city in the world to live in.”

Alec nods. “So, you’re coming back to New York permanently?” he asks.

Magnus shrugs. “For the foreseeable future, anyway.” He pauses a few paces away from where the other cast and crew have gathered and stops Alec with a gentle hand on his arm. “Alec, can I just check - apart from Raphael, who here knows that we...about us?”

Alec glances around. “Uh, Izzy and Jace. Probably Clary and possibly Simon. And, honestly, I think Luke probably knows too.”

Magnus smiles and waves at their old teacher. “Yeah, not a lot gets past him,” he laughs. “Did you want to keep it quiet?”

“If that’s okay with you,” Alec says. “It’s - I’m out. I think everyone here knows I’m gay already, and if they don’t, I don’t mind them finding out. But I don’t want them all to know every detail of my life, if that makes sense?”

Magnus nods. “Of course,” he says. “I just wanted to make sure.”

“No, that’s - thank you,” Alec says sincerely. “Thank you.”

Magnus leaves him with a smile and heads over to greet some of his fellow cast members, giving Alec the chance to chat to Luke.

As always at this stage of a show, it’s a bit stop-start as they figure everything out, but they manage to make a considerable dent in blocking for the first act. By 11pm everyone is kind of fried, so they wrap it up for the day, and the low hum of tired chatter surrounds Alec as they all leave the auditorium.

Alec lingers out by the cars, waiting to get Magnus’ attention. He looks over and sees Magnus frowning at his phone, so he tells Jace he’ll catch up with him.

“Hey,” Alec says, walking over to Magnus, “you okay?”

Magnus seems a little distracted as he looks up. “Yeah,” he says, blinking a couple of times, then he stows his phone away and fully turns his attention to Alec. “Something’s come up, I’m really sorry. Can we take a raincheck on coffee?”

Alec tries to ignore the disappointment settling in his stomach and forces a smile. “Sure, no problem,” he says. “Let me know?”

“I’ll text you,” Magnus promises, and Alec nods. He gives Magnus a little wave that he instantly regrets as he heads for the car where Jace is waiting.

“All good?” Jace asks as Alec fastens his seatbelt.

“Yeah, the rehearsal went well,” Alec replies, even though both of them know that’s not what Jace meant. Jace doesn’t push it, though, and doesn’t mention Magnus again the entire drive home.

Once summer break starts, Max insists on coming with Alec to help construct and paint the sets. Which is great, because it’s an extra pair of hands and once Max and Simon bonded over comic books there was no stopping them, but it’s also not great because as soon as Max catches sight of Magnus he won’t let it drop.

“So,” he says, wielding a paintbrush, “he’s your ex boyfriend?”

Alec rolls his eyes and continues hammering some nails into the stair set he’s building. “Kind of,” he says.

“Well, what does that mean?” Max asks.

“We were kind of together for a bit, that’s all,” says Alec.

“Like, you dated?” Max turns his attention back to the car front he’s painting.

“No,” Alec says, rocking back on his heels and surveying the stairs. “At least, not in public.”

Max lets out a soft oh noise. “He was your secret boyfriend while you were in the closet?” he asks, and Alec supposes that’s a crude but fairly truthful representation of the situation.

“Yeah, basically,” Alec agrees. He glances over at Max and his work. “We all know that your artistic talents lie on the stage rather than behind it, but please try and paint inside the lines.”

“That’s just rude,” Max says, leaning over and splodging paint on Alec’s cheek.

“Real mature,” says Alec, already reaching out to find a ticklish spot to jab Max with the end of a spare paint brush. Max dodges out the way with the dexterity of someone who has multiple older siblings and hums thoughtfully.

“Do you want to get back together with him?” Max asks.

Alec stares down at the hammer he’s holding and thinks about Max’s question. Does he want to be with Magnus again? Because the Magnus he was with is probably different than who Magnus is now, and they still haven’t gone for coffee.

Magnus has been sending him Snapchats, though, and Alec is glad that usually no one is around to see how wide he smiles when he gets them.

Alec hasn’t spoken to Magnus properly in years , but there’s still that spark between them. He’ll catch Magnus laughing at Alec’s exasperated expressions when they’re blocking, or Magnus will snarkily take someone down a peg and Alec has to hide his smile in his prompt book.

And then there’s the fact that Magnus is so, so beautiful. He always was, but now he’s fully grown into his skin. He lights up a room and Alec’s pulse races just thinking about him.

So, yeah. He’d like a chance at something, at least.

“Yeah,” Alec says, glancing up at Max, who’s watching him carefully. “I do. But I don’t know whether he does.”

Max makes a face and nods behind Alec. “Ask him,” he mouths, and Alec narrows his eyes.

“Alexander,” Magnus says from behind Alec, and then a hand brushes his shoulder lightly.

“Magnus, hey!” Alec says, turning to look up at him and then -

Fucking hell, is he trying to murder Alec?

He’s wearing a sleeveless grey hoodie with nothing underneath, and Alec doesn’t know whether he’s imagining the beads of sweat he can see rolling down the grooves of Magnus’ abs. His pants are black with a red band at the top and, oh God, now Alec’s thinking thoughts -

“What, uh, what are - did you? Need something?” he garbles, blinking several times.

Magnus is watching him with a quirked eyebrow. “We just finished up with a choreo rehearsal,” he says. “I saw you here and wondered if you had half an hour for coffee?”

Alec is about to say, no, he doesn’t , because he’s not sure how to function when Magnus looks as good as he does, when Max speaks up.

“Yes, he does,” he says with a smirk, stepping over the car front and taking the hammer from Alec’s hand. “Go on, Alexander .”

Alec glowers at his brother and then stands up, brushing down his pants. “Where did you want to go?” he asks Magnus.

“It’s nothing special, but Alaric set up a coffee dispenser down the hallway,” Magnus suggests, and Alec nods.

They end up sitting on the front steps of the school. Alec didn’t realise how hot it had gotten, and takes his jacket off almost as soon as they get outside.

“How are rehearsals going?” Alec asks, turning to look at Magnus. He just catches Magnus tearing his eyes away from Alec’s arms and flushes with a pleasant heat.

“Yeah, good,” Magnus says, taking a sip of his coffee. “Izzy’s a great partner.”

Alec smiles fondly. “She’s been very excited to see you again,” he says.

Magnus nudges him with his elbow, his voice a teasing lilt when he asks, “and have you?”

Alec ducks his head and smiles into his coffee.

“She tells me you’re an editor,” Magnus says, and Alec doesn’t know whether he should be worried about what else Izzy has mentioned. He makes a note to ask her later.

“Yeah, for an LGBT-specialist publishing house,” Alec says, finding Magnus watching him with a soft smile.

“The M.B.A. plan went out the window, then?” he asks, lifting a brow.

Alec laughs. “I can’t believe you remember that,” he says. “Yeah, it did. My parents weren’t happy. They weren’t happy about the ‘finding a wife’ plan going out the window either, but…”

Magnus hums. “Yeah, I remember your parents,” he says, and it’s clear from his tone what he thinks about them.

“How’s your mom?” Alec asks.

“She’s doing okay,” Magnus says, nodding. “She asked after you, actually.”

Alec grins. “Yeah?”

Magnus nods again. “I still see my other high school friends all the time, but she hasn’t heard much about you, I guess. I think she thinks we’ll get back together or something,” Magnus says, chuckling softly to himself.

Alec smiles and wonders if maybe that would be a good segue into asking Magnus on a real date - a proper one, not just coffee on the front steps of their old school, when Magnus adds, “Crazy, right?”

Alec’s stomach plummets and he forces out a laugh of agreement. When he turns to the side, he finds Magnus fiddling nonchalantly with his snake earcuff.

“I’m sure you’ve already got a boyfriend, anyway,” Magnus says airily, fingers twiddling around the jewellery.

“No,” Alec says immediately, looking right at Magnus. “No boyfriend. Are you with anyone?”

“No,” Magnus says, and it looks like he’s hiding a smile. “I’ve been single for a while, actually. Maybe it’s a sign. Nothing keeping me in Cali any more.”

Alec bites down on the inside of his cheek. “So, are you, uh, looking for someone, then?”

Magnus’ brown eyes flit back and forth across Alec’s face. “Yeah, maybe. If I found the right person.”

Alec’s not always great at reading people, but this is Magnus , and the way his lips are gently curving upwards as he observes Alec feels like a hint.

“Magnus,” Alec says, twisting his cup in his hand, “would you like to go on a date with me?”

The way Magnus beams at him has Alec walking on air for the rest of the day.

Feeling like his life is already a trope-filled rom-com plot, Alec neglects to honk the horn when he pulls up outside Magnus’ mom’s house. He announces his arrival by texting Magnus instead, and a moment later, Magnus appears in the window of his childhood bedroom, waving at Alec and then making a two minutes gesture. Alec switches off the engine, double checks the piece of paper he’d stowed in the door pocket is still there, and tries not to overthink what could go wrong.

His stomach still feels all fluttery, which is kind of ridiculous, really, because he’s been on dates before. But somehow this feels like it could be something again.

The front door of the house opens and Alec sits up straighter, expecting it to be Magnus.

It’s his mom.

She waves at Alec, beckoning him over, and Alec feels like he can’t really decline.

“Hello, Alec,” she says as he approaches.

He sends her a smile, slightly bashful. “Hello, Mrs Bane,” he says. He hasn’t seen her in such a long time, and under her gaze he feels like a teenager again. Heaven knows he spent enough of his teenage years at her house.

She jerks her thumb back indoors.

“Magnus asked me to tell you he’s coming,” she says, “but you know what that boy is like. ‘Just finishing his hair’, he says.” She shakes her head fondly. “Oh, he’s so happy you’re doing this, Alec, you know, he can’t stop talking about it. I always knew the two of you were destined for each other.”

Alec’s heart stutters for a second at her words but he tries to play it cool - Magnus had basically told him that already, after all. It just seems a little more real coming from someone else outside of the two of them, like it’s not just Alec and heaps of wishful thinking, which makes him equal parts nervous and hopeful.

“Mama,” a voice says, with good-natured exasperation, and Magnus appears in the doorway behind his mother. “Please don’t scare Alec away.”

She just smiles at him, then leans up to kiss his cheek. “Have a good night, boys,” she says. “Alec, you take care of my son.”

Alec can’t help grinning as he meets Magnus’ eyes. “I will, Mrs Bane,” he promises, and she makes a satisfied noise.

Magnus waits until both he and Alec are seated in the car before he says anything, although he still has a fond smile on his face.

“Hello,” Magnus says, gazing at Alec. Magnus looks incredible tonight, dressed in a mottled bright blue shirt and a pair of tailored black pants with a tassel hanging off the belt.

Alec glances over at him and smiles, feeling his nerves settle now that Magnus is actually here.

“You look amazing,” he says honestly.

Magnus seems pleased by the assessment, tilting his head at Alec. “So do you.”

Alec feel his face go warm and clears his throat, starting up the car.

“So, where are you taking me?” Magnus asks, mild curiosity in his voice.

Alec hums. “You can choose something fancier next time, but a bacon burger from the East Village sounds good to me.”

Magnus lifts his eyebrows. “Next time?” he asks, and Alec just smiles in response, pulling out of the driveway.

They arrive at a little hole in the wall burger place, luckily finding parking only a short block away from the restaurant. It’s surrounded by loud bars and expensive eateries, and the exterior is plain and muted. It’d be easy to walk right by the place if you didn’t know it existed.

Alec rushes around the car to open the door for Magnus, who gives him a beautifully affectionate smile in response.

“What a gentleman,” Magnus muses, and Alec shrugs, pleased all the same.

Magnus insists on paying for their food, and once they’ve got it they slide into a booth. Their legs end up tangled under the table and though conversation is a little stilted at first, it doesn’t take them long to find a rhythm.

Alec listens, enraptured, as Magnus tells him about life in California - living with Catarina; meeting his college friends Elias and Dot, who he’d convinced to come and audition for the play; graduating with a first-class degree in Chemistry. He’s been headhunted by a lab in New York, he says, which is why he’s coming back. His life seems so vibrant and full. While there’s a bit of Alec that wishes he could have been a part of it, he’s also just happy that Magnus is happy.

After a while, Magnus asks about Alec, who fills him in on studying English, renting a place with Jace, and getting his job.

“Are you still writing?” Magnus asks, going in to swipe one of Alec’s fries.

Alec unsuccessfully swats him away. “Writing?” he asks.

Magnus nods as he munches on the fry. “You know, your poems.”

“Oh,” Alec says, blinking. He can feel his face heating up and tries to deflect with a shrug, playing with a stray piece of lettuce that had fallen out of his burger. “They were never really - they were just. Well. I dunno. I mainly just wrote them for you, I guess.”

Magnus doesn’t say anything for so long that Alec forces himself to look up despite his embarrassment, and when he does he sees Magnus gazing at him, looking touched.

He’s not expecting Magnus to reach across the table and entwine their fingers, but he definitely does not mind. As if sensing that the topic has made Alec self-conscious, Magnus asks him what the latest manuscript he’s been editing is about, and Alec latches onto the conversational offering gratefully.

The burger joint isn’t exactly the height of romance - in fact, it’s the kind of place he and Magnus used to come to when they were kids. But Alec’s beginning to realise that it doesn’t matter where they are, because being with Magnus is easy. It’s like when Alec picks up his favourite book and dives back in, or when he plays his favourite album on repeat.

It’s like coming home.

Somehow, Magnus convinces him that going to Far Rockaway beach again is a good idea, though when it comes to Magnus Alec never needs much convincing. It’s dusk by the time they arrive, and when Alec kills the engine it’s near silent. The summer crowds have long since gone home, and now the two of them are alone with just the waves crashing against the surf.

Alec shakes his head, letting out a soft chuckle.

“Really, Magnus?” he asks, and when he turns to the side, Magnus’ eyes are alight.

“For old time’s sake,” Magnus presses, unclipping his seat belt and getting out of the car. Alec watches, a strange mixture of emotions swirling in his chest, as Magnus crosses in front of the bumper and comes to stand by Alec’s door.

Magnus taps on the window with two knuckles and Alec winds it down. Magnus leans down and grins at Alec, who finds his breath catching at how close their faces are.

“Come on, Alexander,” Magnus says. Alec’s eyes flicker over Magnus’ face, from the gentle curve of his eyebrows to the sharp cut of his jaw. “For me?”

When has Alec ever been able to deny Magnus anything?

Alec relents with a roll of his eyes and a smile, and Magnus stands back to let him out of the car. They wander down the beach, hands brushing with almost every step but neither of them wanting to break the magic of the moment. There’s something of a thrill in the gentle touches, too. Alec finds himself smiling as he takes a seat next to Magnus on the sand. He runs his fingers through it, remembering how it had felt under his feet that last day of summer.

“It’s a long time since I’ve been here,” Alec admits.

Magnus is quiet for a moment, and when Alec turns to look at him, he doesn’t expect to see such a wistful expression on his face.

“Would you like to know a secret?” Magnus asks, though his eyes are far away. Alec nods. “I came down here quite a lot after we said goodbye, before I left for college. I used to sit on the rocks and watch the waves, and think about...well, you. Us. The future.” He laughs softly to himself. “I sometimes wonder how things might be different if I hadn’t lost you then. If we hadn’t lost each other.”

Alec swallows around the lump in his throat, finding he can’t look at the melancholia written over Magnus’ face. “I thought about it a lot, too,” he says, voice a little gravelly. His head is a swirl of memories, Magnus sitting beside him then and now. He feels older and yet still impossibly young, back to being on the precipice of knowing who he is and who he wants to be. “Senior year was so weird, you know. Without you.”

Magnus hums, watching him carefully, and suddenly Alec is immensely sad for all the time they missed out on together.

Alec clears his throat. “You have me now,” he says, turning towards Magnus. “I don’t care what happened in between.”

“I don’t care either,” Magnus says, eyes wide and hopeful. “Alec, you have me, too. If you want me.”

Alec smiles, gently cupping Magnus’ jaw with one hand. Magnus inches closer, placing a hand on Alec’s waist. His eyes search Magnus’ face.

“Of course I want you,” Alec whispers. He slowly leans in, giving Magnus the chance to pull away before brushing his lips over Magnus’ in the barest hint of a kiss. Magnus’ fingers curl in the material of Alec’s shirt at his waist and tug him closer as he tilts his head and kisses Alec more deeply.

It’s not the same as Alec remembers - he can feel the light scratch of Magnus’ goatee against his skin and Magnus is more solid under Alec’s hands than he was before - but it’s familiar and sweet and good. Alec vaguely wonders if swelling orchestral music is playing the background, because that’s what it feels like inside his head.

Magnus makes a soft noise against Alec’s lips and Alec’s heart skips in double time. His fingers weave into Magnus’ hair and he presses as close as he can, loving the warmth of having Magnus up against him.

Eventually they break apart, but Alec doesn’t want to pull away just yet. He rests his forehead against Magnus’, feeling the warmth of Magnus’ breath against his skin as he slowly opens his eyes. A hint of a smile curves Magnus’ lips and he’s looking at Alec like he can’t quite believe what just happened.

“I want to know,” Alec says, swallowing. “I don’t care what’s happened, but, uh. I would like to know about it.”

Magnus nods, his thumb rubbing small circles on Alec’s side. “We’ve still got a lot to catch up on,” he agrees, his warm brown eyes drinking Alec in. “I want to learn you all over again, Alexander.”

Alec can’t find any words but he nods, trying to tell Magnus that he’s ready, that he’s willing to make the effort, that he wants . He’s a little overwhelmed with how strongly he feels for Magnus and tries to pour it all into a kiss, one hand sliding through Magnus’ hair again and the other curling around his bicep.

Magnus responds eagerly, his warm hands slipping under the edge of Alec’s button down and resting against his skin, holding Alec steady, an anchor as Alec loses himself to his emotions.

Alec doesn’t keep track of how long they sit kissing under the stars. Eventually the chill in the air grows and they have to head to the car, but Alec really doesn’t mind when the two of them are laughing, giddy, as they walk back, fingers intertwined.

It’s just gone midnight when Alec pulls up alongside Magnus’ house to drop him home.

“Thank you for tonight,” says Magnus. He’s regarding Alec with a soft gaze, smiling slightly. “I’ll see you soon, Alexander,” he says, with a wry quirk of his eyebrow, and Alec wants to laugh as much as he wants to cry.

While Magnus gets out of the car, Alec dips his hand into his door pocket and pulls out the folded slip of paper.

“Magnus -”

Alec catches Magnus’ hand with his own and presses the paper into Magnus’ palm. Magnus blinks at him, pleasantly surprised, and then raises Alec’s hand to his lips and presses a kiss to his knuckles.

“Goodnight,” he says, and Alec can’t stop the lopsided smile that rises to his face.

“Night, Magnus,” he says, and as he watches Magnus head inside, he wonders if maybe this time they’ll get their happy ending after all.