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angel by the wings

Chapter Text


 "For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified,

and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved."

-   Romans 10:10


There are voices outside of his door.

Two of them, battling for dominance, each one getting louder and louder until the words are indistinguishable to the roar of loudscaryloud that echoes through the wood as if it were made of tissue paper, as if there was no door there whatsoever and the voices are hovering over his bed, claws raised and set to take him apart.

Magnus is six years old. He stuffs his face under a well-worn pillow and squeezes his eyes shut, terror coursing through him with the knowledge of what’s about to come. He pretends for a moment that hiding here will keep him safe, that the voices will fade and he’ll be able to fall back asleep, left to a dream world where no one needs to shout and the monsters are stuck behind a closed closet door. One that’s made of solid metal and has a bunch of locks. Maybe things will be different tomorrow morning, Mama won’t cry so much and Papa will talk in a nice, soft voice—

The door hits the wall with a thunderous bang. It rings in his ears like a gunshot. Magnus whimpers and burrows further into the mattress as the footsteps get closer, the voices even louder as the shadows dance around the edges of his bed…

And he prays. He’s not sure if anyone’s listening…but all the same, Magnus prays.

//

To say Magnus Bane is having a bad day would be the understatement of the century.

No, he’s having the worst day—from finding out he had to switch schools during what was supposed to be his senior year, to some idiot spilling coffee all over his Vivienne Westwood top as he boarded the D train this morning, he’s truly ready for this heinous day to be done and spoken for. He’d thought that it couldn’t get any worse as the hours went on, but apparently, his streak of terrible luck continues. Here he is at Pandemonium, dressed to the nines and standing at the front of the line. It had taken forever to get here after missing his train from Brooklyn but he’d made it before the club reached capacity, and now it was almost time to go in and drink away every bad thing this day did to him.

Magnus pulls out his wallet as the bass from the club bleeds out into the night air and into his bones, painted fingers skimming the edges of plastic cards in the near darkness for his fake ID…only to find that it’s mysteriously disappeared from its’ usual slot. A second, more thorough inspection reveals that it’s nowhere to be found, leaving him with nothing but a high school ID, a crumpled mess of twenties, and one massive problem.

Distantly, he wonders how much bad karma he’s racked up in the past few weeks to be punished like this.

But there’s no time to dwell on that thought as the girls in front of him move past the velvet ropes and into the cool blue light spilling from the half-open doorway. Luckily Magnus is excellent at thinking on his feet. With his wallet still in hand, he approaches the bouncer and flashes a smile, shifting his weight back onto the balls of his feet in an attempt to look more confident than he feels.

The bouncer takes one look at Magnus and pulls out a small metal flashlight, clicking it on with a stern expression.

“ID out, kid.”

Magnus goes through the motions, flipping through his wallet theatrically for a measured moment. His face pinches with despair as he looks up at the bouncer.

“This isn’t happening—ugh, the stupid guy at the bar must’ve kept my ID last night without me realizing. It isn’t where I put it last…god, this day cannot get any worse.”

The bouncer huffs loudly and half grimaces at Magnus, something between disbelief and annoyance.

“Right, okay—listen, kid—”

“I’m really, really sorry about this,” Magnus says, forking through the wallet again as his voice pitches lower. As quickly as possible he slips out a twenty, making sure the man is watching as he folds it into his palm. “Any chance you’ll feel sorry enough to let me in without it?”

Magnus watches the older man’s eyes roll in the darkness, and he bites back the smile that threatens to appear: I’m in. His hand reaches out to take the bill hidden in Magnus’s sleeve. The bouncer pockets it quickly and slips the flashlight back into his pocket, unclipping the velvet rope from the post and gesturing Magnus through the double doors without so much as a second glance.

It’s only once he steps through the doors at Pandemonium, enveloped in the steady thrum of too-loud bass and some DJ that he’s never heard of (who, quite frankly, isn’t very good) that he’s finally able to relax. He loves it, loves being a nameless face in the crowd with no obligation to do anything but dance and drink. It’s so easy for him to get swept up in it all, and for as long as Magnus can remember (in recent months, anyway), this club has been his safe place. It’s a place he craves and a loss of control that has become the closest thing to a constant that he has.

He takes a deep breath, carefully adjusting a strap on his shirt before stepping into the main room of the club, eyes already slipping closed as he settles into the music. Despite all of the people surrounding him it’s easy for Magnus to find a place on the dance floor, and as soon as he has a drink in his hand (and a few shots of vodka coursing through his system) he makes his way through the crowd, body moving before he’s even aware of it.

It’s been a long day, truthfully, and he just wants to forget.

//

The night comes and goes in a blur of drinks and confetti, tossed around by some girls at a bachelorette party who bought Magnus a round of shots after he scared away some creepy dude who kept making eyes at the bride’s sister. While he typically likes to keep himself away from the overaggressive hypermasculinity guys play up in places like this, Magnus has zero tolerance for assholes that get too handsy—and with his stature, it’s easy enough to scare them off. His height and the breadth of his shoulders make him one hell of a sight regardless of the makeup on his face or the polish on his nails. Thankfully it hadn’t taken too much ‘talking’ to make the guys back off tonight—and to show her gratitude, Mindy (who was getting married this weekend to a man named Carson) invited him to dance and join her and the other girls at the bar.

The girls had gone home a little while ago, but Magnus is still here—now, he’s pressed against a tall blond guy, his back to the man’s front as large hands brush against his exposed hipbones every time they move. He’d ditched his blazer a while back, burning up from the heat of so many bodies pressed so closely together, so he’s left in a strappy crop top and the tight pleather-coated pants he knows do wonders for his legs. He’s drunk and he knows it, despite not being able to put a number to the drink’s he’s had. But he doesn’t feel sick…in fact, he feels really nice, a steady warmth flowing through his veins that has him feeling lighter than air.

Magnus is distracted by the music—he’s so swept up in the song that he almost misses it…there’s a strange vibration coming from his back pocket. Curiously, he pokes at it through the material of his painted-on jeans. The buzzing continues and Magnus frowns, smacking his leg a bit harder.

The deep rumble of a voice in his ear is enough to jolt Magnus out of his momentary stupor, hot breath curling against his skin in a way that sends shivers up his spine.

“You gonna get that, Maxwell?”

“Actually, it’s Magnus,” he replies, spinning to get a better look at the man. He moves too fast and the room spins with him, the man’s hands moving out to steady Magnus when he sways on his feet.

Briefly, Magnus wonders if the guy—Jordan? Derek, maybe—wants to kiss him. He certainly wouldn’t complain if he did. He’s not bad looking, from what Magnus can discern, although his features keep sliding around on his face like he’s in some sort of funhouse. He blinks a few times, thinking it’s a trick of the light, but his vision blurs more each time his eyes open, making the guy in front of him look less human and more…sinister, somehow. Magnus frowns at the sight. Maybe he’s had more to drink than he thought.

His leg vibrates again, dragging him out of his assessment of Dave and back into reality—a reality where his leg won’t stop buzzing and he suddenly feels like he might throw up. The guy in front of him is talking but Magnus pays him no mind, shoving out of his grip and forcing himself into the swarm of bodies to his right. He stumbles his way through the crowd without so much as an apology until he spots what he’s looking for. There in the corner, a glowing green ‘Exit’ sign floats in midair, promising fresh air and a chance to investigate this strange problem with his leg.

Magnus makes his way to it and pushes it open without a second thought, stepping into the musty darkness of an alleyway.

It smells disgusting and he’s pretty sure that shadow by the dumpster is, in fact, a massive rat, rather than the small stray dog Magnus first thought it to be. But at least he has some room to breathe out here. Plus, if he throws up, no one will yell at him. It suddenly occurs to him that he has no idea what time it is, so he reaches in his pocket, thankful to find his phone still there (and in one piece.)

13 missed calls, 4 voicemails. Huh. Well, that explains the weird vibrations in his leg. A quick glance at the clock at the top of his lockscreen – 2:41 am, and he’s got a pretty good idea who his mystery caller was. His stomach sinks at the realization…he hadn’t meant to stay out quite so late.

Magnus groans, squeezing the phone in his fist as the screen lights up with an incoming call. He answers it without looking. There’s no real way to avoid the situation now.

“Ragnor, what a lovely surprise. Shouldn’t you be asleep at this foolish hour?”

There’s a string of expletives from the other end of the phone—he winces and holds it away from his ear.

“ASLEEP? Magnus Bane, for the love of god, if your arse isn’t on my doorstep in less than five minutes, I will—”

“It’s not like I left without saying anything. You knew where to find me.” Magnus says, eyes rolling. The action brings on a wave of nausea so intense that he staggers back, a hand clamping over his mouth to quiet the retching. His bare shoulder makes contact with a jagged brick edge, forcing Magnus to bite back a pained cry.  He’s pretty sure it worked since Ragnor is still yelling at him.

“…and to think, I decided to let you have a modicum of freedom—daft as I was, thinking this was all in the past. You must know that after this there will be stricter restrictions in place, and I will not be so easil—hey, are you even listening?”

Magnus becomes aware of things in stages: the world tilting on its’ axis, a weird sort of gurgling, and oh—apparently he had been the one to make that sound. Something doesn’t feel right about this.

“Ragnor,” Magnus manages, his face paling as he feels the ground coming out from under him. His eyes slip closed as he sinks to the dirty cobblestone, narrowly avoiding a puddle of murky water. “Don’tfeelsogood.”

A curse, low and mumbled, and the sound of keys. “You’ve got me worried—I’m coming to get you. Where…?”

It’s a valid question, one Magnus doesn’t have an answer for. He knows he has to come up with one though. Magnus forces his eyes open, blinking past the spots dancing at the edges of his vision for any clues. Fuck, his head hurts.

“A c-club. In the city, um, 23rd and Lafayette.”

“Hang tight, cupcake. I’m on the way.”

Magnus nods, grip white-knuckled on the phone as his eyes flutter shut. He can hear Ragnor talking, asking him to stay on the line, maybe—but he’s unable to come up with the proper words in time to respond. Instead he focuses on the low, gentle tone Ragnor is using; accent rolling effortlessly as he mumbles about clubs and drinking laws and stupidly charming teenage boys. He lets the words wash over him like the heavy thud of a bassline. Even though it’s August he’s freezing cold, and the stones he’s curled up on are sapping what’s left of his body heat straight into the ground. He pulls his knees closer to his chest and tries to breathe.

When did it get this cold outside?  Magnus really regrets taking off his jacket.

His sense of awareness is starting to slip, but with that comes relief from the steady throbbing in his head, so Magnus takes it willingly, shuddering as a wave of white and static crashes over him—it drowns out the rush of traffic, the thudding bass, and the sound of Ragnor’s frantic voice entirely, leaving him in a world with almost no sound at all.

He’s drowning. He’s floating. He’s utterly and inescapably alone.

The last thing Magnus registers before passing out is a brush of rough fabric against the bare skin of his arm. There’s something touching his neck, a sharp pressure that almost hurts, and he wants to open his eyes to see what’s going on—but his eyelids are leaden and sticky, a cool wetness gluing his lashes to his cheek. It all feels important, but he can’t quite remember why.

Magnus decides to ignore it, embracing the quiet instead.

//

The next time Magnus opens his eyes, he’s greeted by the same wash of white light and rushing static that swept over him as he drifted under. His head feels like it’s stuffed with cotton and he’s unable to turn his neck, laying stiffly on the pillows instead as he tries to figure out what’s happening. He blinks—once, twice, and bites back a whimper at the nausea coiled tightly in his stomach. His eyes shut against the blinding brightness, heart racing in time with his thoughts.

Magnus is dead. He’s not sure how it happened, but there’s no other explanation that makes sense right now. Sure, he’s had hangovers before, but this? This is no hangover. Had he been so drunk last night that he’d stumbled onto the tracks of the D train while trying to get back home? It certainly would explain the pain coursing through his body…and it would corroborate his running death-and-dying theory as well.

Briefly, he contemplates the thought of Heaven. Magnus has never considered himself to be very devout in any religion, but he’s also never shied away from the possibility of something more…and here he is, now, face to face with it. Sure, he’s not deluded enough to believe he’s meant to end up there—what, with all he’s done…but as he opens his eyes to another wave of painful white light, he’s left with the thought regardless.

Heaven? No, there’s no way. But this place doesn’t fit the bill for Hell, either.

Magnus has read some Dante, enough to know that what he’s looking at now is decidedly lacking in the ‘fire and brimstone’ category. There’s no iron archways, no demons; no masses of sinners or burning pillars to indicate eternal damnation. In addition, that white feels way too sterile. Not at all what Magnus envisioned Hell to be. Blues and blacks and grays, maybe, painting the walls like a giant bruise that never seems to heal—but not the white that’s currently making him squint up at the ceiling.

Ceiling. He forces himself to open his eyes and see, wincing at the resulting ache. He’s still unable to turn his head or look around, but he doesn’t need to anymore. Magnus knows exactly where he is.

Not Heaven, then. Magnus recognizes the room he’s in as his own. His hand reaches out to slide against the smooth satin sheets he’d forced Ragnor to buy before agreeing to move in (as though he had a choice, as if the sheets even mattered in the long-term.) The cool fabric feels nice against his overheated skin and he sighs, relishing in the feeling for a few moments. Magnus is alive. So much for that D train.

“Oh, Magnus,” a voice coos, pity clear and familiar.

“Cat,” he moans, reaching for her blindly. A hand finds his own and squeezes. Catarina’s thumb soothes over his skin in soft sweeping motions. “Catarina, I think I might be dying.”

The bed dips to his left as she pulls her hand from his, leaning over his body instead to press a gentle kiss to his forehead. She smells like calla lily and sage. It’s a comforting scent he’s long associated with warmth, and the frown she wears as she patches him up from whatever trouble he’s found himself in that day.

He can hear that frown in her voice now. It’s bad. Worse than normal, even—Magnus knows this without having to look; feels it in the aches and pains that have him immobile on the mattress. He’s sort of wishing the train thing had turned out to be the truth after all.

“You’re not dying, Magnus. You’ve just…well. How much do you remember?”

Magnus frowns, trying to think. He’d gone to Pandemonium, lost his ID and his jacket, and…gone home, afterwards? Had one too many mixed drinks? Truthfully, he’s not sure. It’s an answer that’ll earn him a loaded lecture, so Magnus opts for silence instead.

Carefully, Magnus tries to turn his head. When he’s able to move without the room melting around him, he tilts his cheek into the pillow, seeking out Catarina to his left.

The expression she’s sporting is—not what he was expecting. It’s caring and cool and so soft, as though Magnus were falling to pieces right in front of her eyes. It lacks all of the usual heat and scorn that typically comes complimentary with one of these little house-calls of hers. For some reason, his stomach swoops uncomfortably with the absence.

“Magnus, you were…when Ragnor found you, you were half awake in an alleyway. You didn’t even remember your own name. He called me as soon as he brought you home, and I came straight over.”

Cat pauses, then, her voice a bit more businesslike as she delves into the clinical portion of the retelling. Detached, almost—just like she would be if Magnus were sitting in her ER, waiting to be triaged. He relaxes a bit into the mattress at the shift in her tone. Now there’s the Cat he knows and loves.

“By the time I got here, you were already unconscious and vomiting. It was all Ragnor and I could do to keep you from choking. So I ran some bloodwork back at the hospital, and came across a few questions. Here’s to hoping you can clear those up for us?”

Something sparks in his gut at that, sharp and defensive. Magnus knows Cat means well. He can feel the worry in her gaze despite her best efforts to hide it. Even so, he can’t keep himself from tapping into that nervous energy.

“I’d love to help, doll,” Magnus croaks, wincing at the rasp in his voice. “But my memory’s a bit foggy. And as cute as your confidence in my medical knowledge is, I’m afraid my Gray’s Anatomy marathon has taken a bit of a backseat as of late—The Bachelor starts next week, so I’ve been re-watching last season’s Bachelorette. I’m sure you understand.”

He tries to sit for a moment, cursing the weakness in his arms. Cat helps him get more comfortable against the pillows before passing him a bottle of water, cap already off. Magnus downs half of it in one go.

“That’s a shame,” she tuts, taking the bottle from him and setting it carefully on the nightstand. “Because I’m a bit more…studied, in the realm of toxicology workups. I was hoping you could tell me who might’ve sold you the pills last night.”

Magnus curses, soft and low, mind already reeling as he tries to remember all the faces he’d gotten close enough to see. Between the shots and the cocktails, he can’t recall taking any sort of pill, but his memory is less than reliable right now, so there’s no point in pretending otherwise. As stubborn as Magnus can be…he knows when to fold. Cat is watching him with an unreadable expression.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about, my dear. While I can admit to a bit of a history with—off-the-books dosing, let’s say, even I know better than to mix partying with drinking.” He pauses, mostly sure he’s telling the truth. “I didn’t take any pills last night.”

Her voice is blunt, words cutting Magnus to the quick.

“You were drugged, then, Magnus. The tests don’t lie. I’m guessing someone slipped it into your drink.”

Holy shit.

Magnus knows what usually happens to people who get drugged at clubs. Why someone would want to roofie his drink in the first place. The question has his stomach sinking straight to the bottom of the floorboards, dread dragging tar-heavy down the back of his throat. As sick as it makes him, he knows that he has to ask it, has to know if someone—

“Catarina…”

She reaches out to take his hand from where he’s nearly ripped a hole in his sheets. His fingers unwind and wrap around hers, catching on the cool edge of a simple silver band.

He’d gotten it for her for her birthday last year. She’s worn it every day since.

“It’s okay, Magnus. Ragnor got to you before anyone else did.”

White hot relief crashes through his veins. He releases a breath he didn’t know he was holding, feeling a bit lightheaded with the news.

“Ever my hero,” he drawls, desperate to shake off the residual traces of panic.

Of course, Ragnor chooses that moment to walk into the room. He doesn’t knock—never does, just shoulders through the half-open door until he’s standing in front of Magnus’s bed with his arms crossed tightly in front of his chest.

There are dark circles under his eyes, and he looks like shit. Magnus tells him as much, hoping to lighten the mood.

Never one to be put down without a fight, Ragnor is quick to fire back.

“Yes, well, sweetheart, you’re looking quite stunning yourself this morning. That vomit on your top is doing wonders for your complexion.”

Magnus whips the shirt off with a noise of disgust. The quick movement sends him reeling back against the pile of pillows, momentarily dizzy, and he hears Cat mumbling curses at Ragnor, low and hissed.

God, Ragnor probably hates him by now. Magnus knows how reckless he’s been, particularly these past few weeks. He’s made Ragnor’s life nothing short of a living hell with all the lying, the sneaking out and drinking and dalliances with people who don’t give a damn about him only adding to the ever-present fire burning at their backs. It would make sense if Ragnor hated him. Magnus almost wishes it were that easy.

How hard Ragnor had fought to even bring him here in the first place. Eight months of court dates; of volleying with social workers and home inspections and ‘questionable kinship claims’ but finally, Ragnor had managed to convince the judge that at 25, he was financially and mentally prepared to become Magnus’s temporary guardian.

And now, two years later, here they are. Magnus appreciates Ragnor. Hell, he cares about Ragnor—although he’s ill-equipped to put it in words. As terrifying as it feels…Magnus can almost picture himself staying here.

Too bad it won’t last. It never does. His behavior will only serve to bolster any doubts his social worker already has about Magnus’s current placement. 

The knowledge isn’t enough of a reason for Magnus to change course, though. If anything, he almost wants to push it more. See how much it takes to break the dam completely, and then stand by while the flood comes rushing in.

The dam will always break, after all. It’s only a matter of timing.

//

“Oh come on, Magnus,” Ragnor says, “it really isn’t that bad.”

It’s not—and Ragnor is absolutely right. In theory, Magnus knows this.

As far as school uniforms go…this one isn’t terrible.

He glares at his reflection in the mirror, analyzing the black trousers and navy button down with an overly critical eye. While Magnus has been known to rock a shade of navy every now and then (his nautical phase a year ago was particularly notable) it’s not the most exciting color by any means. And the trousers could do with a bit more tailoring, to show off the lean length of his legs and the rest of his…assets, so to speak. This was an easy enough fix. He doubts the school would even notice if he swapped them for another pair in the same color.

The uniform could be a lot worse. There’s no plaid to be seen—that’s almost enough to have Magnus believing in God right then and there.

But the pants and shirt combo coupled with the navy blue school jumper he’s supposed to wear, and the skinny gray tie? He’s bored. He looks boring. This outfit is practically screaming for some sort of accent piece; a sparkly brooch adorned with Swarovski crystals or a sheer long-sleeved top to layer a tangle of necklaces with…

He groans in response to Ragnor, looking at his reflection in the mirror once again. Plain. He’ll be wearing the same thing as every other boy in that school, and isn’t that a wonderful thought? Magnus’s stomach turns over as unease works its’ way up his spine like the crawl of a thousand spiders.

It’s so easy these days to be forgotten, reduced to nothing more than a number in the system. A cog in the machine that’s constantly beating people like himself down. And Magnus wants to be remembered more than he wants most things these days.

The clothes, makeup, and louder-than-life personality ensure that he makes a memorable impression. Magnus also likes to dress up. It’s a winning combination, so he’s stuck with it ever since he learned how to contour and wing his eyeliner at the age of 13.

Part of him wants to explain this to Ragnor. Maybe if he makes him understand that losing this little piece of individuality makes Magnus feel like he’s being held underwater all over again; less and less himself with each passing second, Ragnor will call this new school and have him transferred back to Fort Hamilton. Sure, Magnus thought it was sort of a dump, but at least all of his friends will be there.

What Magnus says instead is, “Of course you don’t understand—navy is your signature color. Mine is red, Ragnor. There is no way to work red into this disaster!”

Ragnor shakes his head and smiles, reaching out to touch the gray silk of Magnus’s uniform tie. 

When Ragnor pulls his hand back, there’s a glint of gold that catches the light. Magnus’s heart pounds long before he’s able to look down.

“I knew you’d hate it, crumpet. So I picked you up a little gift to make it better.”

Another glance in the mirror—and there, pinned about a quarter of the way down his tie, sits a little gold pin. Magnus touches it as though it might shatter under his fingertips, careful and reverent with hands that tremble imperceptibly in the dim lighting of his walk-in closet.

It’s relatively simple, with three little heart charms that dangle from a dainty gold bar. The middle charm has the tiniest red crystal in the center, just enough to catch the light a bit and hold attention. Magnus loves it.

He looks up at Ragnor and damn it, he is not going to cry over a tie pin. He’s just not, okay?

If he notices the way Magnus’s eyes shine, Ragnor doesn’t mention it. Instead, he reaches out and grips his shoulder, squeezing gently as he studies the racks and racks of clothing lining the walls of Magnus’s closet, the shelves of shoes and bags and a rotating belt hanger he’d picked up in Chinatown for forty dollars last summer—anywhere but Magnus himself, essentially. He’s muttering about ‘the amount of money this all cost you, Magnus, could’ve paid your way through university three times over,’ but Magnus knows the words lack ire. This gift is demonstrative of that. Ragnor just gets it, gets Magnus, without having to be told.

He gives Magnus a minute to compose himself. Waits patiently for him to be ready.

And Magnus takes it, swallowing around the lump in his throat and the overwhelming feeling of being cared for in order to force the words out. They’re important, and he knows that—so he has to say them, even if they’re frightening and leaden on his tongue. Even if it means admitting that maybe, just maybe, he’s chosen to let Ragnor in. Given him the power to hurt him, to up and leave if he wants without a single explanation as to why he wasn’t enough to stick around for.

Waiting for the dam to break.

“Thank you,” he manages, proud of the steadiness in the words. “It’s perfect, Ragnor.”

Ragnor nods in response before turning and leaving him alone in the closet, off to do god knows what in his office for the rest of the day. Magnus sighs as he leaves, casting one last longing look at the clothes hanging carefully on the racks all around him, a sea of colors and materials that make him feel invincible. His clothes, his very own battle armor…none of which will be seeing the light of day for the next year, save for the rare dress-down days he’s heard about. Because he has to wear this stupid uniform to go to this stupid Catholic school.

He takes a deep breath, turning to face the mirror once again.

There, against his chest, sits a subtle flash of gold. Individuality. Magnus smiles at his own reflection, feeling more like himself than he has in days.

//

St. Joseph’s Institute of Academic Excellence was not what he had in mind for his senior year. And now that he’s standing in the hallway, schedule clutched tightly in one hand while the other fiddles with the strap of his Ferragamo messenger bag, Magnus is even more convinced that this is going to suck.

Okay, to be fair, it’s not ALL bad. The school is co-ed, at least, so there are boys and girls milling about, chatting loudly as they file into open doorways with stacks of textbooks in their hands. Magnus wouldn’t mind an all-boys school, can even see the advantages of such a thing…but variety is the spice of life, right? Having girls here doubles his chances of running into someone interesting. Unfortunately, the plaid that was (thankfully) absent from the boys’ uniforms is ever-present in the girls’. The swish of their skirts as they walk hurts his eyes a bit, and he feels sorry for them, having to wear such a thing day in and day out.

A group of guys nearly runs him over, too absorbed in the cellphone one of them is blaring music from. None of them bother to apologize. Magnus rolls his eyes at their blazer-clad backs. He promised Ragnor that he’d give it a chance, but damn it, that was before he left the safety of the car.

This place is as stuffy and oppressive as he thought it would be. It seems like everywhere he turns, there’s some sort of religious symbol plastered to the walls—a painting of Mary, a massive iron crucifix, a Bible verse hand-lettered on the brick wall of a hallway serving as a cheery mural…

Magnus has never felt more out of place in his life. It’s been a grand total of ten minutes since Ragnor dropped him off, but he’s already wishing for spontaneous combustion. Maybe a bolt of heavenly fire will strike him down as penance for his many ‘sins’. He’d go out flaming, a burst of bright light in the dull monotony of the earthy paneled hallway, uniformed students clambering over each other to get out of his way, and wouldn’t that be fitting? Surely God has a sense of humor.

He groans quietly, glancing down at the schedule. Magnus’s first class of the day is AP Chemistry in room 202. There’s a set of double doors labelled ‘Stairway’ at the end of the hall, so he figures that’s as good of a place as any to start.

//

Magnus’s classes are straightforward, with content that’s familiar enough to recognize while still presenting a challenge. At least he won’t have to sleep through his lectures.

Despite his affinity for activities that are decidedly less academic in nature, Magnus has never been one to slack off in school. He knows it’s important for him to get a good education—even if he doesn’t go to college (a point of contention between he and Ragnor at the moment), at the very least, he needs a high school diploma. He knows this, accepts this, and fully intends to do the best he can.

Occasionally he gets asked to introduce himself to the class—Magnus smiles and stands at the front of the room, head held high as he grins out at the sea of bored looking faces. Some of them glare at him, probably off-put by the carefully smudged kohl lining his eyes or the clear gloss on his lips. Magnus doesn’t care one bit—hell, he even enjoys it, standing up straighter to show them that he’s unaffected.

“Hello, I’m Magnus. I’m a senior, and I transferred from Fort Hamilton over the summer. My hobbies include dancing, fashion design, and marathoning RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’m sure we’ll all get along swimmingly.”

Confusion is the typical response. Sometimes, it’s a bit more interesting.

A few people whisper, eyes looking anywhere but the makeup on his face or the light dusting of glitter in his hair. He settles back in his seat as the teacher regains control of the room, and the rest of his morning passes in a comfortable silence. For the most part no one bothers to talk to him, but Magnus doesn’t mind it much. It gives him time to sort the classes out; see who he might have things in common with and who would rather see him answer for his ‘lifestyle.’ 

There’s a pretty redhead in his mixed level drawing class who invites him to sit with her at their art table the next day. Clary—she’s friendly, has good taste in perfume, and enjoys Say Yes to the Dress. Magnus likes the way she uses her hands when she talks.

Sadly, Clary is three years younger than him, so they only have one class together.

But Magnus doesn’t have long to mourn the loss of his new friend, because right after lunch, he has biology.

And from what he can see from his position by the door, his lab partner in biology is…exactly the type of interesting Ragnor warned him not to pursue.

He’s got his back turned, but Magnus can see that he’s wearing all black, which catches his eye immediately—since coming here this morning, his eyes have been assaulted by a sea of navy and plaid: sure, there’s variety in it, in that some are wearing blazers or jumpers or unbuttoned cardigans with the school crest emblazoned on the pocket…but really, it’s a lot of monotony that has Magnus bored to tears. Evidently, the dress code is heavily enforced at the Institute. But unless there’s a black version of their school jumper that Magnus has yet to see, this boy seems to be in direct violation of the carefully upheld Code of Conduct. And no one is giving him as much as a second glance for it.

Huh.

He has to admit, there’s something wonderfully utilitarian about the outfit. Sure, the boy could benefit from a statement piece, maybe a nice maroon pocket square or a bright royal blue tie to play off the warm tones in his skin…but the monochromatic thing isn’t half bad. Magnus sets his books on the table next to the boy, ready to open his mouth and tell him as much—

He stops. Now that he’s a bit closer, Magnus can see the boy’s face. And there’s something oddly familiar about him, a sense of deja-vu that catches him off guard. Magnus tilts his head, considering.

“Are you going to stare at me all day, then?” The boy snaps, bringing Magnus’s focus back to the present.

“Well,” Magnus says, smiling at the other boy. “It wouldn’t be a bad sight—”

“Class, please take your seats. Welcome to AP Biology. My name is Mr. Victor Aldertree, and I’ll be your interim instructor while Ms. Blackthorn is out on maternity leave. I’ll begin by taking roll.”

The class quiets instantly, papers shuffling around on desks and backpacks being unzipped the only sound. Magnus takes his seat, only half-listening to the teacher reading off the roster.

“Magnus? Magnus Bane?”

Magnus blinks, turning in his seat. While he’d been expecting the sound of his own name, the voice that says it manages to catch him off guard. It’s his seatmate that speaks, tone rising and catching on the last syllable like he’s not sure if it’s real. The boy looks…shocked, to say the least, all wide eyes and gaping mouth. Magnus frowns, confused.

“The one and only. Why, do I—”

“Raphael Santiago?” Mr. Aldertree asks.

And that is enough to shut him up. Magnus doesn’t hear Raphael’s response, but he must make some sort of affirmative gesture, because as quickly as he’d begun Mr. Aldertree is moving on, a marker squeaking against the white board as he covers it in tilted penmanship. Magnus’s jaw closes with an audible click, mind racing a million miles a minute in time with his pounding heart.

He should’ve known, should’ve put the pieces together as soon as he saw him. True, it’s been ten years since he last saw Raphael, but now that he has a name, Magnus can’t believe that he didn’t work it out sooner.

//

A three-bedroom apartment, fifteenth floor in Queens; too small for a family of five, much too small for a ‘family’ of seven. His own room with the blue striped curtains and the wood-framed bed, shared with three other boys, all around his age, his foster brothers. Jordan, Zach, and—

Raphael. No toys on the floor, no toys anywhere. The door didn’t lock, as much as Magnus wishes it did. At least there was still a door to be spoken of.

Raphael didn’t speak much, and when he did, most of it was in Spanish. He was quiet, and from what Magnus could tell, well-behaved. He ate all of his food, vegetables included, and took his dishes straight to the sink to wash them up, standing on the step-stool on his tiptoes rather than asking one of the bigger kids for help. When they weren’t being home-schooled, Raphael would stay in their room, staring at a wall or scribbling in a little black journal. Magnus had asked him about it once, but he hadn’t gotten an answer. Raphael was just like that, he figured. One of those kids that kept to themselves.

Magnus was the complete opposite. At seven, he was wild, rambunctious, and so, so angry. He was finally starting to understand that this would be his life. Shuttled off from place to place, Bane-comma-Magnus, #18962. Nothing was ever his to have, not really. So he lashed out. He screamed, yelled, and cried, not that it accomplished anything or made him feel any better. Truth be told, this foster home wasn’t the worst one he’s ever been in…he might even be able to see himself staying here, if that was a privilege someone like him had. The power to decide where he wanted to be, who he wanted to be with. To be more than a file and a case number.

Mr. Morgenstern was less violent with Magnus than most foster fathers he’d lived with. Sure, he got drunk a lot, and sometimes, he’d come up the stairs smelling like cheap beer and shove Jordan’s face in the pillow when he woke up crying from one of his nightmares. But for some reason he left Magnus alone—save for the one time he’d locked him in a dark closet for a few hours because Magnus had stolen 20 dollars from his foster mother’s purse.

Magnus was a handful to deal with, so it would’ve made sense if Mr. Morgenstern had been more liberal with his punishments. What didn’t make sense, however, was how he seemed to have it out for Raphael.

No matter what the boy did or didn’t do Mr. Morgenstern got angry. And unlike with Magnus, he had absolutely no problem throwing blows when it came to Raphael. He’d hit him, again and again, until he was more of a bruise than a seven-year-old kid, a canvas of blues and purples and greens that never seemed to heal. And Raphael just sat there and took it, head bowed with clasped hands that held steady in his lap; no tremors, no tears. He never fought back, never looked up, never even whimpered—that is, not while Mr. Morgenstern was around. Magnus didn’t understand it. He could never stay quiet like that, knew he couldn’t keep himself together the way Raphael did, stoic and cold and all-out wrong on a kid his age.

The second the door to their little blue bedroom slammed shut, Raphael broke. Watching it happen was like night and day. There was Raphael, bent in half and collapsed on the floor, crying and murmuring to himself in a language Magnus didn’t fully understand, while Magnus stood by and watched, almost paralyzed with horror at the scene.

At first Magnus didn’t intervene. After a while, though, the pieces of Raphael scattered on the floor of the bedroom became too much for him to see.

So he’d patch him up as well as he could. It became a thing for the two of them, Magnus and Raphael. Magnus used the little bit of money he’d managed to scrounge up without anyone noticing to buy a Batman first aid kit from the corner store, and once the door was shut, Magnus would step in and mop up the blood from a split lip with a tiny, shaking hand, pushing back Raphael’s hair with the other and covering his face in plasters. And Raphael?

He’d let Magnus do it. He’d sit up straighter and close his eyes, calm his breathing enough so that Magnus could work on him without too much trouble. He never said anything, didn’t offer up a ‘thank you’, at least not with words. But Magnus didn’t mind. He knew Raphael was grateful even if he didn’t say it. He could see it in the way the tension melted from his shoulders, the little half-smiles and grimaces and eye rolls Magnus was able to coax out of him. Once he was done he’d reach forward and kiss Raphael square on the nose, followed by a chirpy little, ‘All better!’ It was something he’d seen in a movie once so Magnus figured it must help a little. Raphael would scrunch up his face and pout, but truthfully, Magnus didn’t think he minded all that much.

They weren’t friends, weren’t quite family, but…they were something. In a world that was constantly shifting beneath them, it was enough for them to just be.

In the end, Magnus only got to live with Mr. Morgenstern for eight months. The call came late one night and before he had time to process it, what little clothing he owned was shoved into a trash bag, waiting next to him on the stoop for his case worker to show up, armed with pictures of the ‘lovely new family’ he’d be heading to next.

His goodbye with Raphael was rushed, Magnus’s lip wobbling with fear at the thought of leaving him behind. Alone in the house, with no one to look after him, no one who knew about the comics Raphael drew in that little black journal, stories about two superheroes saving the world together…

Raphael doesn’t cry. Of course he doesn’t. He just stares at Magnus stoically, mumbling a soft, ‘thank you’ before Magnus is being carted away, a firm hand on his shoulder guiding him into the back of a car. As the driver pulls away from the curb Magnus lets the tears fall, scrubbing furiously at his cheeks. His social worker doesn’t notice. She keeps prattling on about Mrs. Penhallow and how much he’ll love his new school—

“…and Magnus, there’s a yard! Real grass in New York, who’d’ve thought, huh? Guess that’s what you get with these rich types. Bet they’ve got a swing set, wouldn’t that be fun…”

A few families later, Magnus asks his social worker about Raphael, only to get the sort of vague non-answers adults segue to when they don’t want to discuss something. He’d expected as much, but it hurts all the same.

Magnus doesn’t see Raphael after that. 

//

“Holy shit,” Magnus manages, eyes wide and glassy. No, no no, it can’t be—

“Please turn to page 57 in your textbooks and complete exercises 13-27 with the person sitting next to you. The two of you will be lab partners for the rest of the school year, so feel free to spend any free time after the assignment getting to know one another.”

“Right,” Raphael says, staring at Magnus. He turns, and without another word, pulls out his book. Magnus is hyperaware of the sound his pen makes as it drags across the paper and the way Raphael doesn’t look at him again after that, too focused on whatever work they’ve been assigned for the day.

Magnus is frozen, eyes wide, unable to think or speak or do anything to calm the staccato pounding of his heart.

Raphael hates him. He hates Magnus, blames him for leaving him there alone with Morgenstern. Magnus understands his anger, but god, they were so younghe would’ve done anything to stay there, and he doesn’t think Raphael knows that. Even if it meant Morgenstern turned on him too. At least then Raphael wouldn’t be taking all the heat.

The decision wasn’t his to make, though. It never is. And now, Raphael hates him. He can’t even bring himself to look Magnus’s way.

The two of them stay like this, Raphael working (and steadfastly ignoring Magnus) and Magnus gaping, until they’re interrupted by the ding of the bell that signals the end of the block.

Raphael stands immediately, gathering his books and shoving them into a black canvas backpack. Mr. Aldertree is saying something over the clamor of chairs scraping against linoleum and bags being zipped, and truthfully, Magnus knows he should try to listen, but he can’t. He’s too distracted by the sight of Raphael’s back as he walks out of the classroom with a bowed head and an easy stagger.

His heart sinks as the other boy walks away, mind racing with all the things he should have said.

I hope things weren’t too bad for you after I left. I never wanted to leave you all alone in the first place.

We were so young and I wish I could’ve saved you from it all.

Please don’t blame me for abandoning you. I had no choice.

You were the closest thing to family that I’ve ever had.

I never stopped asking for you, but no one would give me any answers.

And instead? Magnus had opted for, ‘holy shit.’ And a whole lot of silence. That’s just wonderful. No wonder Raphael couldn’t stand the sight of him.

He groans to himself and starts to gather his things, too, but as he’s slamming his textbook shut a sheet of paper flutters from atop Raphael’s empty desk, landing on the floor to the right of Magnus’s feet. Curious, he picks it up, biting back a tiny smile at the sight of the elegant cursive.

It’s their classwork assignment for that day, neatly numbered and worked out on a sheet of loose-leaf. Biology isn’t Magnus’s strongest subject but from what he can discern all the solutions look correct. Raphael must’ve forgotten to turn it in to Mr. Aldertree in his hurry to get the hell away from Magnus. He sighs softly and moves to hand it in for him when something at the top of the page catches his eye.

Raphael Santiago, it reads, and there’s nothing unusual about Raphael writing his own name on his classwork, but just underneath of that there’s another name written: Magnus Bane. Magnus has to read it a second—and then a third time, before he’s able to recognize those words as his own name on the page.

Raphael had written both of their names on their classwork, despite Magnus’s continued silence and lack of participation. He’d thought about it—thought about Magnus—however briefly, and decided he deserved to get credit for an assignment he hadn’t even helped with. Fuck.

Magnus’s heart pounds for the millionth time that day, and if his hands shake as he gives the paper over to Aldertree, no one has to know. Suddenly, it means more than anything to him that he finds Raphael before the day is over and lets him know how much that small act of kindness meant. How long he’d searched for him, wondered where he was and if he’d been adopted by some nice family, one where his comics about two superheroes were rooted solely in fiction and not the tragic realities of two young boys.

They need to talk, that much is certain. As he moves into the hallway in search of his next class, Magnus vows to make it happen.

//

As it turns out, Raphael finds him first.

Magnus is leaving his last class of the day—gym—and it’s because of this class alone that he’s ready to chalk up this day as a loss, fingers combing uselessly through his now ruined hair as though it stands any chance of being salvaged. He whirls around at the sound of someone calling his name, eyes scanning the crowded hallway with an aggravated look on his face.

It’s bad enough that he’d forgotten his makeup bag on his vanity this morning. Now someone is going to have to see him like this? All sweaty and disheveled, and not in an attractive, ‘I just spent quality time with someone really hot’ sort of way? And who even bothered to learn his name in the first place? It’s only his first day here…he groans, not really in the mood to socialize.

All that anger vanishes, however, when he spots Raphael, who is looking right at him, straight-faced as he’s ever known him to be. Raphael, who is walking his way, head cocked to the side like he’s seeing him for the first time.

Magnus’s stomach twists, anxiety flooding his system as he stands up a little straighter. This time, he’s going to make sure to not leave anything unsaid. He opens his mouth as Raphael approaches, ready to unleash the torrent of apologies and questions—

“Magnus,” Raphael says, his voice steady and sure, “I am…very sorry, about earlier. For leaving the way I did.”

“Sorry?” Magnus echoes, because—what? What on earth would Raphael have to apologize for?

“Yes,” Raphael says. “It was not right of me. Initially I thought it might be you, but what are the odds of that after all this time? And then Aldertree said your name, and I knew. I was shocked, and I reacted poorly. For that I am sorry.”

For a moment, Magnus wants to echo the sentiment: “Well, I’m sorry for leaving the way I did too.” He quickly decides against it, not wanting to scare him off by acknowledging the elephant in the room so early in their conversation.

 “You don’t—you don’t need to apologize, Raphael, god, I wasn’t upset.” Magnus says, noting Raphael’s scowl at his casual blasphemy. “And I was shocked too. To put it mildly.”

He smiles, and Raphael doesn’t frown outright. It might just be wishful thinking, but Magnus swears he can see his lips twitching upwards. Some of the anxiety bubbling in his stomach ebbs away.

So far, so good.

“Raphael, I know it’s been—”

“Listen, Magnus, we—”

Magnus freezes. Raphael does the same, shoulders held ramrod straight, and after a few moments of awkward silence Magnus chuckles softly to dispel the tension.

It works. Raphael’s posture loosens up just a bit, tension melting from his back as he shifts his weight, fingers toying with the strap of his bag like he’s unsure what to do with his hands. Magnus knows the feeling; is still sort of caught in a state of disbelief himself…ten years of wondering, fearing the absolute worst, and now he’s got an answer. It’s a half-answer, solely built on the sight of Raphael standing in front of him, physically whole and without any visible bruising, but an answer nonetheless. And Magnus knows better than anyone that looks can be deceiving, that there’s a litany of scars that cannot be seen and a million terrible things that could’ve happened in the span of ten years, but for now? Raphael is here, and he’s real, and god, Magnus is so deliriously happy to see him again. He wants more than anything to reach out and pull him into a hug, to ground himself in the idea that this is real and he’s not dreaming Raphael up out of some desperation for a familiar face…but somehow, he knows it wouldn’t be appreciated. They’re practically strangers, after all.

Strangers with a history, sure, but strangers all the same. Instead, he looks at the now empty hallway, nodding his head at it as Raphael’s eyes track the movement.

“We should go for coffee. Do you like coffee?” Magnus asks, unwilling to let the other boy out of his sight for even a moment. Raphael snorts in response to that, eyes rolling, and Magnus chooses to take this in the affirmative.

“Are you free anytime soon? Say, right now? I know this great little café at 66th and York and we could sit down—”

“Yes,” Raphael responds, “I suppose we have some catching up to do, don’t we?”

Pleased, Magnus grins, his earlier worries about his floppy hair and smudged makeup entirely forgotten. He doesn’t fret when Raphael merely shrugs in response to his enthusiasm, moving down the hallway with the same easy stride from earlier. In fact, Magnus doesn’t think there’s a single thing that can bring him down right now. He’s…floating, caught in what has to be the strangest first day of school he’s ever had, but it’s not an unwelcome feeling. It’s a good sort of strange, the same type of unfamiliarity he gets in a new club or at a party where no one knows him and he knows no one.

He’ll have to get Ragnor a nice thank you gift. As much as Magnus loathes to admit it perhaps he had the right idea when it came to sending Magnus to this school. The uniforms are still horrendous, so he’s not entirely off the hook—but still. Finding Raphael again after ten years apart, after no one would tell him a thing about where he might be…Magnus is grateful for the opportunity.

Ragnor has no clue who Raphael is. Magnus has been too scared to mention him, unwilling to jinx it and unsure if his past even matters to Ragnor anyway. But he thinks that if he did know about Raphael…he’d be happy for Magnus to have a chance to reconnect.

Magnus is a million miles away, caught in a daydream. He’s content for the first time in a long time, and he’s seriously starting to wonder if anything could ever bring him back down to earth.

Until their shoulders brush, an accidental point of contact that Magnus would think nothing of, were it not for Raphael’s instant and unexpected reaction.

The other boy flinches, jumping back as though he’s been burned, eyes wide with surprise. Magnus goes still, mouth dropping open a bit at the sharp breath Raphael sucks in, chest heaving as he grips the strap of his bag like it’s a weapon he can use to defend himself from whatever version of reality he’s currently stuck in. His eyes are darting around, from Magnus to the wall, and back to Magnus, but he’s not saying anything, mouth opening and closing around words that never form.

Magnus doesn’t move. He barely breathes, unsure what went wrong or how to proceed—but Raphael manages to collect himself, shaking his head slightly and continuing his trek down the hallway like nothing was ever amiss.

He pauses after a few more steps when he realizes Magnus isn’t following him—and this time, Raphael does look back, one brow raised curiously. “Well, are you coming?”

“Yeah, sorry,” Magnus replies, catching up to him in three long strides. Raphael keeps walking, and for now, Magnus realizes he has no choice but to let it go.

//

“So, let me get this straight,” Raphael says, deadpan, “you agreed to go back to her house even after bearing witness to all of that?”

Magnus groans and buries his face in his folded arms, head hitting the table with a dull thunk. Camille wasn’t one of his finest moments…and he’s not proud to admit that the ‘moment’ lasted nearly eight months.

“I was drunk, but yes, I went home with her. We didn’t even have to sneak in. Her mother was passed out on the couch, so we just—” he whistles, sweeping his hand through the air in a vague gesture to avoid having to put it in words. Raphael responds by rolling his eyes, and Magnus barely stops himself from making a snarky Ragnor-like comment about hoping they get stuck that way. 

They’ve been talking for a few hours now and Magnus is happy to report that things are going well between them. At first, they’d danced around the subject, Magnus unusually mum about broaching a topic as heavy as their shared past and the pieces of their lives that happened after they were forced apart. But they’d eventually gotten the conversation going, and in the space of that, Magnus has learned…a lot, to put it simply. Like how Raphael doesn’t enjoy being touched without warning because it reminds him of a time where the touches weren’t always friendly (or, in some cases, overly ‘friendly’—Magnus had cringed at that part, barely able to listen without melting from the white-hot rage coursing through him.)

He also learns that, thankfully, he was right about one thing all these years: Raphael DID find a nice family, and eventually, he was adopted. He’s been living with the same people for 4 years now, and he’s happy with the way things worked out. Magnus is beyond happy for him. If anyone deserves to find a family and get the chance to stay, become something permanent…it’s Raphael.

Kind, gentle, goodhearted Raphael, who would crawl into Magnus’s bed after he’d had a nightmare and speak to him in Spanish, tiny hand stroking his hair even though it was sweaty and knotted. Even though Magnus didn’t understand a word, even if they’d both be punished if Mr. Morgenstern found them awake at this hour.

After that, their conversation started drifting into more lighthearted territory, stories about relationships and friends and the best and worst teachers at the Institute. They’ve got an easy banter going now; a sarcastic, edgy dynamic Magnus is more than comfortable with because of how natural it all feels to be sitting across from Raphael.

Raphael, who openly scowls at him and glares as Magnus shares his nightclub stories and the adventures he’s had in the past few years. Raphael, who is not afraid to judge him, calling Magnus out on his bullshit in a way that’s honestly sort of refreshing.

Although he has to admit…Camille has always been a bit of a sore subject.

“I was 15!” Magnus cries, nearly knocking over their empty coffee cups in his moment of passion. “I was 15, and she was a vision, Raphael, I swear to you—had you seen Camille Belcourt that night in Pandemonium, you wouldn’t be blaming me right now. Seriously. She looked stunning beyond measure.” He sighs wistfully for a moment, eyes distant as he lets himself indulge in a rare-but-pleasant memory of their time together before speaking again. “And she was more than that too, so clever and…alive? I was addicted to her, and to the way she made me feel like I could move mountains. At times, I truly thought she was the one for me. I guess I held onto the hope that one day, she’d wake up and feel that way about me, too. That Camille was capable of change. We could’ve been so good together if she’d just…” he pauses, toying with a torn up straw wrapper, “I don’t know—tried a little harder to love me.”

Raphael makes a face at that, a beautiful twist of disgust and annoyance. “I most certainly would be. From what you’ve said, I’ve known many people like her—and they are all the same. They will not change, Magnus, because they are not capable. No matter how hard you love them, that’s just who they are. A río revuelto, ganancia de pescadores. It’s instinct for them to seek out such instability. And that is likely what she saw in you.”

He’s right. Magnus knows he’s right—but that doesn’t make it any easier to acquiesce to. In fact, it might even be more annoying than Ragnor being right about something. He sighs dramatically before crossing one leg over the other.

“Yes, well. She’s no more than a memory, now.” At Raphael’s troubled look, he quickly amends. “No, no, nothing like that—I just haven’t seen her since our metaphorical last supper. And besides, it’s not like I’ll ever see her again. We run on completely different circuits thanks to my clever avoidance of all her favorite clubs.”

Raphael smirks at that, eyes alight as though he’s in on a joke Magnus isn’t privy to. He doesn’t have to wonder for long, though, because Raphael is speaking, his voice a low rumble that reminds Magnus of laughter.

“You’d be surprised at how small this city is. Almost 9 million people, and yet…just when you think you’ll never see someone again…”

“…there they are,” Magnus finishes, adopting the same grin. “I guess I’ll have to keep that in mind.”

//

By Magnus’s third day of school, he and Raphael have fallen into a routine; a series of easy, natural conversations that lead into one another, whispered between worksheets and labs in bio and spoken in too-loud voices as they walk down the halls together. Although biology is the only class they have in common due to Raphael being in all AP courses, they do share a lunch block—something that thrills Magnus, who refuses to eat at a table by himself. Raphael even managed to convince Magnus to attend their optional Wednesday mass with him. Ordinarily, Magnus wouldn’t bother, but it means more time with Raphael…so Magnus agrees to go.  

The alternative involves Magnus heading to class 30 minutes early. It’s not a difficult choice to make. Magnus only hopes mass isn’t as boring as he’s expecting it to be.  

//

“Looks like a sold-out affair,” Magnus comments, eyes scanning the full pews with something akin to surprise. Raphael’s head bows as they move through the doors, his hand dipping into a wide-brimmed goblet as they pass it by. “Should I do that as well?”

“You don’t have to,” Raphael says. He leads them to a pew close to the front—Magnus’s ass starts to hurt the second they sit down against the creaking wood back. “Everything is optional, Magnus. It is perfectly acceptable to sit and watch, as long as you’re not texting.”

“So, no adding that hot guy in your Spanish class on Facebook, then? Noted.”

Raphael’s expression turns deadly in the space of a second. It’s hard to be certain in the dim cathedral lighting, but Magnus swears he sees a blush tinting the tips of his ears.

His mouth opens, probably about to give Magnus a piece of his mind, when he’s interrupted by the loud trill of an organ from somewhere in the rafters. Silence falls over the room as a group of four make their way to the sanctuary, led by a boy no older than ten.

Mass starts soon after that. Magnus tries to keep up at first, despite not being religiously inclined—but he’s quick to tune out during the call-and-response portion of the sermon. 

//

The service itself is shorter than Magnus anticipated. It’s as boring as he thought it would be, though. Raphael wastes no time in picking up where their conversation left off, going on a tirade about the boy he most certainly does not have feelings for, Magnus.

 “—not to mention his constant chatter. Being a native speaker does have certain advantages, but respect is still a requirement, regardless of proficiency level, and Simon Lewis lacks—”

Magnus stops in his tracks, eyes locked on a far corner of the room.

//

| R.S |

Wait,” Magnus hisses. Raphael sours at the interruption but follows Magnus’s line of sight anyway, trying to figure out what’s going on.

“What is wrong wi—”

“Who,” Magnus starts, pointing accusingly across the room, “is that?

Raphael frowns, standing on his tiptoes as he squints and tries to see. His gaze lands on a tall boy with dark brown hair, arms folded defensively across his chest as he listens to the girl in front of him. Her hair matches his although it’s longer, sweeping down her back in a perfectly tamed cascade of curls. He thinks they might be arguing, he and the girl. She’s gesticulating wildly as the boy looks on, face coolly impassive despite the scene in front of him.

Raphael turns away from the scene and faces Magnus, smirk firmly in place. He always has been able to read Magnus like a book. Unfortunately for Magnus, today seems to be no exception. The only part Raphael hasn’t worked out yet is which of the Lightwood siblings managed to catch Magnus’s eye.

“You mean those two over there?” he drawls, feigning disinterest as he stares at a crucifix mounted on the wall above their heads. At Magnus’s frantic nod he continues, sounding bored. “Oh, they’re nobody worth knowing. Just the Lightwoods. Why do you ask?”

Why do I ask?” Magnus says, incredulous. “Have you SEEN that guy? Hello, arms I could fall into forever and not have a single complaint about the trajectory of my life. He’s gorgeous!”

Alec, then. Ugh. Leave it to Magnus to swoon over the bigger of two evils.

“Sure, whatever. But I meant it when I said they aren’t worth knowing.”

“And why, pray tell, is that?” Magnus pauses, eyes widening in horror. He holds up a hand, purple nail polish glittering in the soft morning sunlight. “Wait, don’t tell me. He’s straight, isn’t he? And cruelly homophobic? He and his girlfriend are co-heads of the school’s chastity club and they’ve been sporting the same promise rings since they were ten?”

Raphael laughs in spite of himself. Sometimes he wonders if Magnus exists permanently in a state of half-inebriation. The things he comes up with are beyond wild.

“No, what—okay, first of all, Isabelle is his sister. They are definitely not dating.”

“Isabelle,” Magnus says thoughtfully, tongue darting out to lick his lips. “And her brother’s name is?”

“Alec. But seriously, Magnus. Don’t bother with them. He’s every bit his mother’s son, far too good to talk to any of us heathens. She’s a bit less of a prude but she’s still a Lightwood—our Father, what in the world are you doing? MAGNUS.”

But Magnus is already gone. He’s walking across the cathedral with a bounce in his step, making his way over to Alec and Isabelle with a fierce look of determination sparking in his eyes.

Raphael’s own eyes roll at the sight and he sits down with a sigh, not wanting to see Magnus get shot down. He’d tried to warn him, so really, it has nothing to do with him anymore. Despite their budding friendship and all the history, the two of them are essentially strangers…Raphael shouldn’t care as much as he does.

But he does care, even if it makes no sense. And so, as Magnus stalks across the room, head held proudly with a confidence Raphael wishes he could bottle and sell, he bows his head, hands folding primly in his lap as his eyes slide closed. Raphael prays—for Magnus; for the Lightwoods to be kind, and for himself. At this rate, he’s going to need a lot more patience to get through this school year with Magnus (and his appetite for risk-taking) without succumbing to the stress that comes with it. God, grant him the serenity

When he opens his eyes again and looks back up, the three of them are laughing—the loudest of them all is Magnus, one hand resting on Alec’s forearm as Isabelle watches on fondly. It feels like a private moment, even though they’re surrounded by people, and Raphael looks away quickly, not wanting to intrude. As he stares down at the floor in front of him Raphael allows himself a small, quiet smile.

Magnus truly is something else. Only he could manage to charm the stuck-up Lightwoods in the space of a few seconds. He sends a quick thank you up to God for listening to his prayers before focusing on his morning offerings, and for once, Raphael is happy to have been so mistaken.

Maybe this year won’t be so difficult after all.

// 

| M.B |

“—realistically, Iz, it’s not a smart idea. How do you plan on explaining this to our mother? When she catches wind of it I know she’ll—”

“Excuse me,” Magnus says, slightly out of breath from his brisk trot over to them. The boy—Alec, his mind supplies helpfully—whirls to face him, frown already in place. “Sorry to interrupt, but I was hoping to chat with you for a second. Alec, right?” He pauses and tries to figure out where he’s going with this…he hadn’t had time to think of a plan. “Is that short for Alexander?”

“Um,” the boy replies, looking at his sister with wide hazel eyes. She offers him nothing, a brow raising delicately as her eyes flit between him and Magnus.

She’s pretty, Magnus thinks, with curves that most girls would kill for and strong features that match her brother’s. Although she’s shorter than Alec by a good few inches (Alec, who is somehow an inch or two taller than Magnus himself, and really, who had given him the right to be so tall?) she almost seems to take up more room, confidence evident in the way she squares her shoulders and faces Magnus directly, head tilted to one side. Her eyes are a shade darker than Alec’s greenish-brown and she’s studying Magnus with obvious interest, no doubt fixated on the glitter in his hair and the purple shadow smudged around his eyes. He stands up a bit straighter and preens under her watchful eye, flourishing under the attention.

But if Magnus thought the other boy was stunning from afar, it’s nothing compared to what he’s faced with now. He is exactly Magnus’s type, yanked straight from the fantasies he’s been having since he turned thirteen and saw the allure of men as well as women. His arms are still crossed over his chest and Magnus can see the definition there, the sleeves of his white uniform shirt stretched taut across biceps and broad shoulders in a way that has his mouth watering. The rest of his uniform is sinfully tight as well, almost as if Alec had hit a growth spurt during the summer and not bothered to get a new uniform to accommodate…not that Magnus is complaining. Nope. Certainly no problems on his end.

As Alec shifts on his feet and moves back a bit—wanting to put some space between himself and Magnus, probably, given how close they were standing—a flash of something catches his eye, shining dully in the fragmented sunlight.

Magnus’s eyes sweep up to Alec’s chest, stopping just at his collarbone. There, resting in a spot he really wants to bite at, sits a simple golden cross, hanging from a glittering chain fastened around his neck. It’s unadorned and no bigger than a quarter, but Magnus is absolutely fascinated by it; can’t seem to tear his eyes away from the small pendant as his mind races at the sight.

Despite knowing nothing about Alec save for his name, Magnus can’t help but feel that the simplicity of the necklace suits him, bringing out the warmth in his skin and the flecks of gold in his eyes. He likes it, enjoys the flash of it against Alec’s collarbone, nestled there so delicately that Magnus cannot picture him without it on.

Even so, there’s a sinking feeling in his stomach, a cloying sort of worry, all brought on by the implications of the cross hung so proudly on Alec’s neck. If he were the religious type (as Alec so clearly is) Magnus might’ve even started praying.

Prayers for Alec to be kind. For Raphael to have been wrong about him, for Alec to be good, and understanding, and cognizant. Cognizant of the fact that it’s 2017, and it’s perfectly valid for everyone to love whoever the hell they want, and express themselves however the hell they want.

Magnus would also pray for Alec to be gay (or bi, or pan, even demi) but he fears that might be asking too much from a God that probably doesn’t exist in the first place.

Someone coughs. The sudden sound pulls Magnus’s attention away from the way Alec’s long fingers are toying with a loose thread at his collar and back to the two people in front of him. He smiles and looks up at Alec with as much innocence as he can muster.

Alec is staring at him with an unreadable expression, his dark hair swept across his face messily. His cheeks are slightly flushed, like he’d just come from gym. Or maybe he’d caught Magnus checking him out? It’s not like he was being subtle, after all.

Wait a second. Does this mean Alec might actually be…interested?

And that…Magnus is very interested in that thought. He stands up a bit straighter, eyeing Alec carefully, searching for any sort of tell.

Alec’s blush deepens, but other than that, his expression gives nothing away. Still. Magnus has always been a risk-taker. And the way Alec is looking at him makes Magnus want to do something—any number of dangerous, foolish things; hope beating like the wings of a million butterflies just below his ribcage.

Consequences be damned, Magnus decides to jump. He lets his eyes sweep down the length of Alec again, open and intentional. Slowly, from the broad stretch of shoulder, all the way down to his immaculately shined dress shoes, and back up again, until warm brown settles on golden hazel. The dreamy sigh that follows is a bit dramatic, sure, but Magnus wants to be sure his message is received, loud and clear. Yeah. Magnus definitely loves what he sees.

And Alec smiles. It’s not a subtle, tiny turn of the lips, either—it’s broad and intentional, rosy lips and flushed cheeks and the tiniest hint of teeth. The butterflies in Magnus’s stomach explode. This day just keeps getting better.

“I’m Magnus Bane,” he says, offering his hand to the girl first. He gets the feeling that Alec is a traditional guy, and hopes the courtesy will be appreciated. She shakes it with a firm grip and a steady “Isabelle,” before letting go as Magnus turns to face Alec. He just stands there, staring at him with that huge smile on his face. Magnus offers his hand more clearly, and Alec continues to stare, unmoving in front of him.

Isabelle hums, a soft, polite sound. “Not to be rude, Magnus. Is there something you wanted?”

“Right, yeah,” Magnus says, still facing Alec. He drops the hand he hadn’t realized he was still holding out before smiling at Alec. Thankfully the words come without too much trouble.

“Actually, I was looking for Alexander. I was told you’re the man to talk to if I’m interested in getting involved on campus. You see, I just moved here…and as a senior, I was hoping to make a few memories before I graduate. I don’t really know anyone but I was assured that you are very connected with the student body.” He grins at Alec, whose earlier stunned silence has morphed into something more like confusion. His smile shifts too, into something more pinched. Subdued. Alec looks like he’s in pain, which would worry Magnus a bit if not for Isabelle’s knowing, easy smirk.

Isabelle snorts, stifling a laugh behind her hand as she mumbles something about Magnus’s apparent interest in ‘one student body in particular.’

Of course she’d caught him checking out her brother less than three minutes prior. Well, Magnus isn’t about to deny it, although he should probably think twice about shouting it in the halls the way he wants to—he hasn’t had enough time to feel out the school yet. He doesn’t know if it’s one of those types of places where he’ll end up with a black eye for saying the wrong thing or letting his eyes wander in the wrong direction.

Magnus is out, and he’s proud, and he’s unapologetic about who he is and who he’s attracted to, romantically or otherwise. But he also wants to stay at this school until he graduates—he promised Ragnor effort, after all. Which means he has to be careful…at least until he’s made some friends and figured out how conservative the Institute really is.

Not that Isabelle and her brother have given him the impression that he needs to worry. But still. Magnus remembers Raphael’s earlier warnings…and he winks at Isabelle in lieu of another flirty comment, fiddling with the cuff on his ear as he dares a glance at Alec.

The glare Alec shoots her is nothing short of impressive. Magnus offers her a bright smile and a coy wink in response.

“Oh, Alec is very well connected. He’s actually the senior class president. I’m sure he can help you make all kinds of interesting memories, Magnus.” Isabelle smirks, dragging her gaze between Alec and Magnus in a movement far too slow to be anything but deliberate.

Jackpot. This whole thing is going much better than Magnus anticipated. He smiles, grin slow and lazy. Alec looks like he’s a step away from passing out.

“Izzy,” Alec hisses, elbowing her sharply. She darts out of the way before his blow can make contact, winking at him as soon as she’s out of arm’s reach.

The other boy turns his attention to Magnus next, sporting a defensive expression.

“Look, Magnus. I’m not sure who told you that, but—” He sighs, looking tired. “Are you sure you’re not looking for Jace? Jace Lightwood?”

And Magnus…he’s not sure where to take this. Because Alec is attractive, incredibly so. And Magnus is currently about 80% certain that Alec is at least a little bit bi-curious…Isabelle’s insinuation aside, Alec has been not-so-subtly staring at Magnus’s chest for a solid minute now. Sure, that might be easier than staring a stranger in the eyes, but there’s a hint of something sharp in Alec’s expression; an edge that has Magnus standing up straighter, warmth pooling heavily in his stomach as he stands there and lets Alec look.

Yeah, he’s pretty sure Alec likes what he sees. The thought has him giddy, almost sick with enthusiasm.

But still. There’s a shyness to Alec that Magnus doesn’t want to push. First impressions are very important. And for whatever reason, Magnus is curious to see where this goes.

It’s because Alec is ridiculously attractive. He’s known him for all of five minutes—so it can’t be anything more than that.

“Alexander,” he murmurs, batting his lashes, “The description I was given by my dear classmate was ‘tall, dark, and breathtakingly gorgeous.’ I’m more than certain that person is you.” A pause—Alec’s face is getting redder by the second, so Magnus decides to intervene and offer him an out. He redirects with a little bit of humor. “I don’t know who Jason is, but unless he’s your identical twin brother…?”

“It’s Jace,” Alec corrects automatically, having decided that this was an easy enough place to start. He keeps talking. “No, he’s actually ad—I don’t really know if—um, no. I don’t. Have a twin.”

Magnus smiles, soft and easy. “I figured.”

“Do you—I mean, you wanted me to…do you need me to show you around, or something?” Alec flounders, hands twisting nervously in front of him. “I could draw you a map, or—or, I’m not really sure how to help, so…”

“Do you have your schedule, Magnus?” Isabelle offers helpfully. Magnus nods and pulls out the paper, not missing the appreciative look Alec shoots his sister’s way.

The three of them crowd together to look at Magnus’s schedule. He relishes in the press of Alec’s bicep against his own, warmth bleeding through the thin cotton of his dress shirt. God, Magnus hopes he’s not imagining it when Alec seems to lean into the contact, shifting against Magnus’s side so that they’re nearly pressed together from hip to shoulder.

“Oh,” Izzy says, pointing at the paper, “you have chem with Alec in the morning.”

“English too,” Alec offers.

Magnus balks, barely able to catch himself in time and school his expression into something more neutral—because how in the world had he not noticed Alexander before today? He must wear a mask during his classes, to ensure the student body can focus their attention on academics, instead of getting lost in his eyes. Or on his lips. Or on the way the light accents his cheekbones, subtle shadows dancing under his eyes as his lashes move against the light…yeah, he’s got to have one hell of a disguise. Otherwise Magnus would’ve totally seen him in that stupid chemistry class.

Magnus’s GPA will thank him, if this is the case. And if it isn’t?

Magnus will buy the damn mask himself, and give it to Alec as soon as humanly possible. It’s for the greater good.

“And gym with Jace,” Alec continues, oblivious to his inner turmoil.

Gym. Magnus despises gym. Yesterday had been a nightmare…while Magnus is not entirely against the idea of sweating, he can certainly think of more civilized ways to accomplish it (as well as a few decidedly less civilized ways—the very thought of that when standing next to Alexander has him fighting off a full-body shudder.) But high school gym class? It’s not Magnus’s cup of tea. In fact, he’d dare to say it isn’t anyone’s—save for the testosterone-driven, overly competitive group of boys in his class, that is. 

There are two guys in particular who seem to think they’ve jumped forward in time to the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang; arguing and fussing with each other over every call the teacher makes as the class muddles through a less-than-stellar game of floor hockey.

He groans out loud, drawing the attention of both Alec and Izzy.

“Tell me this,” he starts, “on a scale from one to ten. How competitive is Jake in gym class?”

Isabelle’s quiet little snort gives Magnus all the confirmation he needs—but Alec absolutely loses it, head falling back as he laughs, sudden and vibrant. Isabelle is as surprised by it as Magnus himself, turning to look at her brother with thinly-veiled shock.

It’s a full body kind of laugh, warm and all-encompassing, and god, Magnus can’t tear his gaze away from the sight. Alive, Magnus thinks, so wonderfully electric and alive. He laughs too, because it’s contagious—because there’s nothing that could stop him from getting swept up in the moment.

“My brother,” Isabelle says after a few moments, eyes shining, “is a twelve. Think Elton John versus Madonna, circa 2004.”

“Oh god,” Magnus wheezes, laughter thick and breathless in his throat, “he’s the blonde one, isn’t he?”

Alec, who has finally managed to calm down, loses himself to another bout of giggles. Isabelle joins in this time, eyes watering from the effort.

People around them in the cathedral are starting to stare. Magnus pays them no mind.

“I swear, he does have some redeeming qualities. Besides his face, I mean.” Isabelle manages, dabbing at her eyes carefully so her makeup doesn’t smear. “Jace is just very…goal-oriented, that’s all. I’ve been told it runs in our family.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” Alec says, eyes rolling as his expression shifts back into something serious. He turns to Magnus, arms crossing over his chest—the sight of the fabric straining against his forearms is enough to quiet Magnus’s laughter full-stop. “Don’t listen to my sister, we’re not all competitive. But Jace can be very…he didn’t say anything to you, did he? Or trample you or something? Because if he did, he didn’t mean it—”

“No worries, Alexander,” Magnus says, holding up a hand to stop him. “I can assure you that your brother has been nothing but cordial with me. In fact, he gave me exactly 15 seconds of warning before nearly taking out my eyes with a hockey puck.”

Alec’s eyes are wide as saucers, and Isabelle’s laughing again, but Magnus isn’t finished yet. He pitches his voice low for effect, leaning in closer to ensure they’ll hear him.

“And then,” Magnus says dramatically, “he argued with the teacher about the foul.”

Alec scrubs a hand over his face, looking sheepish.

“I’m sorry. About him. I’ll, um, talk to him about that today, tell him to take it easy.”

Magnus smiles at him, unable to stop himself from reaching out to touch Alec’s arm. His fingers splay immediately as he grabs on, reveling in the solid and real and sturdy of Alec. Such a simple touch, really, meant more to test the waters than anything else (after all, Alec had been a little…distracted, and hadn’t taken Magnus’s proffered handshake) but it’s grounding in a way Magnus wasn’t expecting a touch from a stranger to be. He tries not to think about it too much.  Nor does he think about the fact that Alec isn’t moving a muscle, frozen in place as people push all around them.

“Oh, that’s quite alright, darling. I can think of a few ways for you to make it up to me. On Jace’s behalf, of course.”

Alec is turning red again, looking anywhere but Magnus’s face.

“W-what—um. What did you have in mind?”

The bell rings and everything around them becomes a flurry of movement. Alec startles at the sound, glaring at Isabelle, who laughs at him before walking off with a shouted, “Bye, Magnus!”

“Start by walking me to class?” he offers, breaking their point of contact and offering his folded schedule to Alec. The taller boy nods, taking the paper and glancing at it quickly before shouldering his bag and offering Magnus a shy smile.

“The STEM wing is this way. Follow me?” Alec asks, as if he’s expecting Magnus to decline the invitation. Which…is a ridiculous thought, for a million different reasons, the most obvious of which being that Magnus initiated this little walk in the first place. But Magnus is no stranger to ridiculous thoughts—so he’s the last one who will call attention to it, teasing or otherwise.

“Lead the way, Alexander,” he says instead, following the broad stretch of Alec’s shoulders as they slip into the crowd.

 

Chapter Text

| A.L |

Alec Lightwood is no stranger to a good practical joke. Growing up with Jace and Isabelle for siblings made it impossible for him to live a quiet life. From dipping his archery gloves in maple syrup the day of a meet to lining the blades of his ceiling fan with glitter (a mess Alec is STILL trying to clean up, over four years later), he’s seen and lived through a lot in his time on this earth. But as annoying as the pranks may be…he wouldn’t trade it—wouldn’t trade them—for a single second of peace. Because Alec knows that it’s all done with love. He can hear it in the echo of Jace’s raucous laughter, and feel it as he chases him down the hallway, slipping against the hardwood floors in nothing but a ripped pair of pants and a plain black pair of dress socks.

Alec’s siblings mess with him because they love him. The same cannot be said, however, for his classmates at school.

It’s been going on for a few years now, and truth be told, Alec hasn’t so much as said a word to anyone who could potentially bring it to an end, especially not his siblings. It’s easier that way, he reasons, and besides, it’s nothing he can’t handle. A few nasty notes in his locker here and there; spit gum on the seat of his chair one day, and some whispering in the hallway if he walks past by himself. His tormentors have never gotten physical with him despite the near-constant promises of violence in his locker. Until that happens Alec is determined to keep this under wraps. The last thing he needs is Jace getting involved. Or Izzy. Nope, Alec is doing just fine.

Alec just isn’t popular and that’s all there is to it. He’s a Lightwood—and what’s worse, he’s the Lightwood, the one who will, someday, inherit the Institute in its’ entirety. It’s no secret that his parents, co-headmasters of the school, are grooming Alec to take the reins as soon as they see it fit to step down, and Alec himself is powerless to stop it from happening, regardless of what it is he wants for his own future. Both the teachers and his classmates are aware of this fact as well. And it changes things. It changes the way people see him.

In many ways Alec has had it easier than his classmates. If he has to put up with a few bullies here and there as penance for that inequality? Well, Alec will just have to deal with it.

When he walks into his chemistry classroom the next morning to find a black-haired boy sitting in his assigned seat and smirking in Alec’s general direction, confidence and challenge clear in the way he holds his shoulders, Alec sighs, taking a quick moment to gather his thoughts. He’ll have to ask him to move, as much as he’d rather avoid it—sitting in the wrong seat will draw more attention than confronting the situation would. He’s just about to say something within earshot of the boy and his friends when he’s interrupted.

“Mr. Lightwood, a word please?”

Mrs. Pangborn’s voice is stern but Alec thinks that’s mostly for show. Sure, she’s known for being a bit harsh, but he’s never had any problems with her, so perhaps he’s not the best person to judge. He squeezes the strap of his bag and hurries to her desk, more than a little confused.

“Ma’am?” he asks, head bowing respectfully. Mrs. Pangborn smiles and puts down the stack of worksheets in her hands.

“I’m a bit disappointed that you never mentioned your arrangement with our new student—I had to learn of it from him in passing. Had I known prior to the start of classes I would have adjusted the seating chart sooner, to make things easier for the two of you.”

Wait, what? Now Alec is genuinely lost. He frowns, standing up a bit straighter.

“My apologies, Mrs. Pangborn, but I’m not quite sure…”

“I spoke with Mr. Bane yesterday, just after 8th block. He informed me that you will be serving as a New Student Ambassador and that you’ve been tasked with helping him adjust to life at the Institute for the upcoming semester.”

There’s a note of pride in her voice, Alec notes, like she’s looking at him and seeing more, even though there’s nothing there—he’s just Alec, the same Alec he’s always been. The feeling is familiar enough to send a shiver of discomfort down his spine.

“I wasn’t surprised to hear you’d volunteered for such a role, but I must say, Alec, I admire your continued dedication to our community. Mr. Bane is lucky to have someone like you to help him out.”

Click. Alec pieces it together, mind reeling as he tries to figure out an appropriate response.

Mr. Bane—Magnus Bane. From yesterday. He very nearly blushes at the thought of the boy, remembering all the comments he’d made about Alec being…attractive, but thankfully, he’s able to dismiss the thought. Okay, so Magnus talked to Mrs. Pangborn, and—got her to move his seat? But why? And why did he lie about Alec being a—an ambassador, or something? Was he that desperate to sit next to Alec?

“Your new seat is at table three, Mr. Lightwood, right next to Mr. Bane. As requested. Feel free to sit down and get settled,” Mrs. Pangborn says, gesturing to an empty lab bench right in the front. Alec gapes at her, ready to confess that none of it is true—

The bell rings, signaling the start of class. Alec sighs inwardly. Will he ever get to speak uninterrupted?

Regardless, Alec goes, sitting in his new seat as instructed. Surely he’ll have time to work it out with Mrs. Pangborn after class…first, he plans on talking to Magnus, so he can get to the bottom of what’s going on here.

Magnus, who is conveniently, nowhere to be found, even though class is starting. Briefly Alec wonders if he’s lost somewhere. The Institute isn’t exactly a big campus, but it does take some getting used to. Not that there’s anything Alec can do now short of going out to look for him in the hallways.

Which would be utterly ridiculous—he forces the thought away quickly and takes out his notebook, writing down his warm-up with more pressure than necessary.

Somewhere around problem number five the door swings open, smacking loudly against the brick wall. Alec startles in his chair before turning to face the source of the interruption.

Magnus is there, grinning wildly, not at all embarrassed at being the source of attention. He’s wearing a solid black cardigan that is decidedly not in dress code, messenger bag slung carefully across his chest, and in his hand—oh, no.

Magnus is holding a coffee cup, painted fingers wrapped securely against the cardboard. He’s late, disruptive, and he brought coffee to lab. Alec cringes, eyes closing as he steels his nerves and waits for Mrs. Pangborn to banish Magnus straight to Hell.

Mrs. Pangborn doesn’t disappoint.

“Mr. Bane, how nice of you to join us. And you’re almost on time, too—only 13 minutes late. Perhaps you’re unaware, given that you’re new here, but lateness is frowned upon at the Institute.” She pauses, eyes zeroing in on Magnus’s hand. “In addition, you’re out of dress code—that’s two strikes against you, then. Shall we make your beverage number three? Or will you be disposing of it?”

Magnus smiles and shrugs casually, moving to take his seat.

“Apologies, Mrs. Pangborn. I underestimated the amount of time it would take to catch my train this morning. I can assure you, I will be perfectly punctual in the future.” He pauses, dropping his bag on the floor next to his chair before taking his seat. “And I’ll bring enough coffee to share next time. How do you take yours?”

A few people snicker. Alec’s heart drops to his shoes. He resists the urge to reach out and clap a hand over Magnus’s mouth.

“That’s enough,” she says, quieting them instantly. “Alright, Mr. Bane. I’ll be seeing you after school to discuss my coffee order—since you asked so politely. Among other things.” She turns to Alec, eyes narrowing. “In the meantime, perhaps Mr. Lightwood can teach you about the expectations here at the Institute. I think you’ll find that we have a higher standard here than you might be used to.”

“Yes Mrs. Pangborn,” Alec mumbles, eyes glued to his notebook.

He can feel Magnus’s eyes on him but he resists the urge to turn and look. Not while Mrs. Pangborn is still looking at them; not while Alec feels like he’s going to sink into the floorboards from secondhand embarrassment...

“Wonderful. Now, moving on…”

“Alexander,” Magnus says, voice low and pleased. “Good morning.”

Finally, Alec turns to face him. Magnus is looking at him, eyes shining. His hair is perfectly styled, swept artfully up and off his forehead, but it looks soft to the touch despite the amount of product keeping it in place. Alec sort of wants to run his fingers through it—which, honestly, is the most preposterous thought he’s had all morning.

He smiles in response, because Magnus is still looking at him in that sharp, intense way that does funny things to his stomach. And then Alec remembers the entrance Magnus made not even two minutes’ prior—an entrance that had landed him in after-school detention for talking back. The smile fades as quickly as it came on.

“What were you thinking?” he hisses, gripping his pen so hard he fears it might snap. “First the seat thing and now this? Really, Magnus?”

Magnus’s smile drops just slightly.

“I honestly didn’t mean to be late. I live in Brooklyn and the D train was behind this morning.”

“Sure, whatever. But you had time to stop at Starbucks?” Alec says, no shortage of sarcasm in his tone. “It’s lab, Magnus. You’re not supposed to have that in the first place.”

Magnus’s smile is back. It’s tinged at the edges with guilt as he studies the cup in question.

“Alright, Alexander. You have me there. But if we’re being honest, I had a good reason for stopping. Here,” he says, pushing the cup towards Alec. “That’s yours.”

Alec stares at the cup, making no move to reach for it. In the front of the room, Mrs. Pangborn is writing a series of page numbers on the board.

He looks back up at Magnus. “What? I mean…”

“Because I like you,” Magnus responds, like it’s the easiest, most obvious thing in the world. “And I was hoping you’d still be willing to show me around? You offered yesterday, after mass—consider this a token of my gratitude.”

Hesitantly, Alec glances up. Mrs. Pangborn is thoroughly distracted, eyes glued to the screen of her laptop as she settles down in her desk chair. He takes the cup from Magnus’s side of the desk—still hot, steam wafting from the closed lid—and inhales.

His eyes go wide at the rich aroma. Alec takes a sip to confirm, because honestly, there’s no way Magnus could’ve known that Alec hates coffee. They just met yesterday, they’re still strangers, so Alec’s nose is playing a trick on him. That’s the only explanation that makes sense.

And yet. Hot chocolate. With whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. It’s exactly what he’d order for himself. He takes another drink before looking at Magnus, a million questions running through his mind.

“How did you…?”

“Isabelle,” Magnus provides helpfully, watching him with a fond expression “We exchanged numbers yesterday. Your sister is an absolute delight.”

“Isabelle,” Alec echoes, and Magnus nods, leaning on one propped elbow. “Okay, so you talked to Isabelle. And she told you my Starbucks order?”

“Well, I asked, darling. But yes, she was more than happy to fill me in once I told her why I was interested in knowing.”

“Right,” Alec says. Then a realization hits him, and along with that comes the guilt. “So you got detention because of me?”

“Oh lord, Alexander, no. You’re not to blame for that.” Magnus is quick to reassure him, reaching out to squeeze his arm. “I would’ve been late regardless. I was late when I left my house this morning.” He looks down at the cardigan, straightening the fabric to lie more neatly across his shoulders. “In fact, I was in such a rush, I didn’t even realize I’d grabbed the wrong jacket until I was already at the station—and I wasn’t about to walk all the way back just to put on that awful blazer. No offense, darling. It looks downright sinful on you, but navy just isn’t my color.”

“Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain,” Alec responds. It’s easier to think about the blasphemy than the flames licking at his skin where Magnus is still touching his arm. Or the effortless compliments Magnus keeps throwing at Alec, which have him confused for a litany of other reasons.

“Right, so. If you wanted. I have a spare sweater in my locker—it’s clean and all, I can grab it for you after class. So you don’t get yelled at for not adhering to dress code. You can borrow it. If you want.”

“Thank you, Alexander,” Magnus says, smiling warmly. “That’s very considerate of you to offer. I think I’ll take you up on that.”

“Yeah, well. Wouldn’t want you getting another detention, that’s all.”

As much as he’s enjoying their conversation (and he truly is—Isabelle would have a field day with this), Alec forces his eyes up and away from Magnus—right onto Mrs. Pangborn in the front of the room.

Where his attention should be. On his teacher. Given that he’s in class, and all.

Thankfully, Magnus decides to pay attention to the teacher as well—Alec can feel the moment Magnus’s gaze lifts. After counting to three, he steals a glance at Magnus, who is jotting something down in his notebook, gaze flitting back and forth between the whiteboard and his desk.

Mrs. Pangborn is going through the basics of balancing chemical equations. It’s a refresher drill from last year’s content. Alec is thankful for that, because he’s not sure he’s going to remember anything else from this morning outside of Magnus’s weighty stare and the velvet warmth of the hot chocolate that’s rapidly cooling now in-between he and Magnus on their shared lab table. The very hot chocolate Magnus got detention for; the one he’d bothered to ask Isabelle about, all because…what, Alec offered to show him around in passing? Because he hadn’t been rude to him outright?

And then there’s the constant stream of compliments Magnus keeps throwing his way, like it’s the most casual thing in the world to call Alec those things. Gorgeous. Darling. Stunning. Words more suitable for Magnus himself, and yet, he’d said them to Alec of all people…to Jace, or Isabelle? That would be one thing. Alec is sure both of his siblings get plenty of attention from their classmates in that way. He’s heard more from Jace than he’s ever wanted to know about late nights spent in the arms of another.

But Alec isn’t exactly familiar with being on the receiving end. How do you even reply to that, anyway? If he didn’t know Jace better, Alec might think of asking him about it. Do you just stand there awkwardly? Say thank you? Compliment him back? He’s not sure what the protocol is here.

With girls it’s easier: apologize, let them down gently, apologize again. Alec will never be able to return their feelings. He can give them that small truth without revealing anything else. It’s safe. Lonely at times, but at least Alec knows what he’s doing.

Magnus Bane is a complete anomaly, because Alec has no idea what he’s supposed to do. It’s flirting, right? That’s what Magnus is doing?

It’s messing with Alec’s head because he can’t figure out why Magnus is doing all of this. There’s no way Alec will even stop to consider the easiest possibility: that Magnus is interested in him. In that way. No, that would be too heartbreaking, even for Alec.

Because that’s not something Alec is meant to have. He has his family, and archery, and someday, he’ll have the Institute.

And that’s enough, it is. It’s all he has. There’s no way Magnus is flirting in earnest. He’s messing around with Alec, that’s all. Trying to make friends in a new school. It’s a normal thing, and Alec is fine.

But what if—no.

Alec nearly sighs, forcing the thoughts out of his mind. He’ll figure out what Magnus’s deal is eventually…they’re lab partners, so Alec supposes they have plenty of time to get acquainted. For now, though?

He really ought to pay attention in class. Unless Alec wants to spend the afternoon with Magnus in detention

He’s quick to shake away the thought when it starts to sound like an appealing option.

//

“He’s cute, you know,” Isabelle says later that afternoon, swiping a handful of fries from Alec’s tray.

Alec does know, can tell by the wicked gleam in her eye as she stares at Alec from across the table. He knows—and Isabelle knows too. Or at least he thinks she does. Alec has always been awful at keeping secrets from her.

Admitting it out loud, though, is a different matter altogether. And they’re sitting in the middle of a restaurant. Too public. Too risky. Too close to the Institute, someone might hear.

“Who?” Alec asks. It’s a stupid question because they both know who Izzy is talking about. But to anyone passing by, it sounds like a normal response.

“Magnus,” Isabelle responds, watching Alec carefully. Alec schools his expression, making a noncommittal noise and taking a bite of his food to keep from having to speak again. He foolishly hopes his non-answer will suffice, and the questions won’t keep coming.

It’s Isabelle, though, so it doesn’t. She raises a brow at him when the silence stretches on too long. Alec hears the unspoken, ‘Yeah, and?’ as clearly as if she’d said it out loud.

“Um, yeah. Magnus is—he’s nice. He’s got—his hair is interesting, right?” Alec’s words tumble out in an unrehearsed rush. “Why? Are you thinking of asking him out?”

Jealousy swoops hot and low in his stomach at the thought, catching Alec off-guard. He nearly recoils from the intensity of it, falling back into another, more familiar emotion—guilt.

Isabelle is his sister. Magnus seems like a fun, genuine person, and Isabelle is his sister, and they’re both beautiful, they’re a natural match, and here Alec is, sick at the thought because—because he what, wants something he’ll never have? All because Magnus looked at him for 0.5 seconds? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

“Oh no,” Isabelle says, face falling as she grabs Alec’s hand across the table, “Alec, hey, no. I wasn’t—I was kidding, brother. I’m not planning on asking Magnus out.”

“Oh,” Alec breathes, relief coursing through him. “That’s…I mean. If you want to, Iz, you should go for it. Consider it, anyway. Magnus seems great.”

Isabelle’s response is swift. She winks at Alec and squeezes his hand pointedly.

“He does seem great. But I don’t want to date him. Besides, I don’t think I’m his type.”

Alec blushes and yanks his hand back, scowling at Isabelle. She laughs in response and stands up to clear their table, voice much lower when she speaks again.

“I’m just saying. That boy looks at you like you’re the only one in the room, Alec. Maybe there are things you ought to consider.”

“I can’t, Isabelle. It doesn’t matter. And it’s not like that with Magnus and I.”

It hurts, to say it. Makes it feel more real, somehow. Alec pushes past the sting and stands up, heading for the door.

“Alright, alright.” Isabelle’s hand is gentle on the small of Alec’s back, the gesture speaking a million words as she guides them down the street, changing the topic of conversation effortlessly.

It’s easy for Alec to hear the things she isn’t saying, though. He wishes he could take them to heart.

I love you, and I’m here for you.

I understand, and I wish things were different.

The last one, particularly dangerous:

Maybe you’re wrong about Magnus.

It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. The two of them go home, and that night, Alec lays in his bed, staring at the blank white ceiling and trying his hardest to put their conversation behind him.

When he falls asleep it’s to the sound of Magnus’s laugh in his memories, warm and bright in the space of the cathedral. He’ll deny it with his dying breath. There is absolutely nothing going on between he and Magnus.

//

“You’re kidding me, Magnus. Did he seriously say that to you?”

Magnus’s eyes roll. He pushes up on his elbows to get a better look at Alec from where he’s currently sprawled out on the library floor.

They’ve been meeting here every day for the past week as part of Alec’s ‘New Student Ambassador’ duties. At first, he’d tried to get out of it given that Magnus made the whole thing up anyway, but Magnus hadn’t taken ‘no’ for an answer. So, Alec showed up that afternoon at Magnus’s insistence…and every afternoon since then. Sometimes they do homework, but sometimes, they just sit and talk. Alec likes those days the best—the thing about Magnus? He’s incredibly funny. And sarcastic, and smart, and confident. It’s amazing how much Alec’s come to look forward to their easy afternoons together in such a short time.

It turns out that he and Alec have a lot in common. The bullying, however, is one thing Alec wishes they didn’t share.

“It’s not a big deal. Out of all the insults he could’ve chosen…my appearance is by far the easiest choice. ‘Different’ can be a hard pill to swallow. Tell me though, Alec, is a bit of creativity too much to ask for?”

“No, and neither is basic human decency. Or respect. They shouldn’t get to talk to you like that, Magnus. It’s not right.”

“Look at you. So ready to come to my defense.” Alec’s cheeks blaze bright red. “It’s alright though, darling. I barely hear them anymore. Call it a…refocus of my energies, if you will, but it’s gotten much easier to ignore what they’re saying. Some things still get to me.” Magnus smiles, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “‘Glitter girl’ is not one of them.”

“Okay,” Alec says, not totally reassured. Magnus looks calm enough, though, and it isn’t Alec’s place to push. Magnus can take care of himself. “But Magnus, you’ll…if things get too bad, you’ll come to me, right? Before it escalates?” At Magnus’s questioning look, Alec is quick to add, “As your New Student Ambassador it’s my job to make sure you’re adjusting well. To things. And the school.”

Nailed it, Alec. He closes his eyes against the wave of embarrassment. Honestly, why does he even bother? His awful speech seems to have made Magnus happy, though—this time when he smiles at Alec, it reaches his eyes. His relief is a palpable ache.

“Of course. And I’ll expect you to do the same, Alexander. I might be new here but I see the way some of our classmates look at you. You can come to me with anything, alright? Chances are good I’ll be…sympathetic.”

For a moment Alec’s stomach sinks as the word ‘sympathetic’ rolls around in his mind, but no, he’s being ridiculous, because there’s absolutely no way Magnus could know about him. No, Alec is careful. Cognizant. Never lets his eyes linger; never says anything to even hint at his biggest secret. No one knows except Izzy.

Maybe. Alec isn’t sure what his sister knows anymore.

“I’m fine, Magnus. I’m a Lightwood. They look at me and see my parents; the Institute. That’s all.”

“Doesn’t make it right. A wise man once told me, ‘They shouldn’t get to talk to you like that, Magnus.’ Ring any bells?”

“Mm. Sounds familiar.” Alec grins. “Seriously though. I’m okay. Thanks for looking out for me, I guess. For worrying. Shouldn’t that be my job as your New Student Ambassador?”

Magnus’s sly little half-smile has Alec’s heart skipping several beats. There’s something more to it that Alec can’t put a finger on. He likes it, though. He should probably be worried about how much he likes it.

“And it is. But it’s my job as your friend to worry about you in return.”

The word sends a wave of heat straight through Alec…friends. He and Magnus are friends. It’s a bit unfamiliar as Alec hasn’t felt this close to anyone outside of his siblings, but Alec likes the idea of being friends with Magnus. This, their friendship. It’s easier than breathing. How long has Alec been waiting to connect with someone like this?

The thunk of Magnus’s bag as it hits the wooden table startles Alec out of his thoughts and brings him back to their spot in the library. Magnus yawns and stretches, his dress shirt long since untucked and riding up a bit to show a warm swatch of skin and smooth muscle and hair…

Nope, nope, nope, not going there. Alec suddenly finds the wall clock to be the most interesting thing in the room.

“We should go. You have archery today, right?”

Alec actually reads the damn clock this time—nearly 4:00, and crap, he is going to be so late to practice.

It’s the second time this week. Coach Garroway is going to kill him.

“I’ll walk you over there,” Magnus says, passing Alec his English anthology. “I’m going that way anyway. Come on, darling. Wouldn’t want you to be late.”

It only occurs to Alec much later that evening that the train station Magnus uses is in the opposite direction. He tries not to think too much about what he wants that to mean.

//

| M.B |

“Magnus, wait!”

Magnus halts at the entrance of the locker room, spinning around to find the source of the noise. It’s the end of the day and despite having done little-to-no real participation in their combined gym class…Magnus is sweaty. And tired. And not well-versed in the matter of locker room small-talk.

Still, though. He’s not rude. Magnus turns, searching for the source of the noise—and there, shoving his way through the locker banks, is Jace Lightwood.

Or is it Herondale? Wayland? Whatever his last name is. Magnus squares his shoulders, not sure what to expect.

“Hey!” Jace says, “Do you have a minute? I was hoping we could talk.”

Magnus’s brows go straight up. And here he thought Jace was only interested in sports and Sports Illustrated.

“That depends. What can I do for you, Mr…?”

“Lightwood. My name is Jace. I’m Alec’s brother. Izzy’s too, but yeah.” He pauses, eyeing Magnus. “Look, Magnus. I’m sorry about gym class. The guys in there are pretty intense and it can be easy to get swept up in all that. Did I hurt you the other day?”

“Hurt me?” Magnus frowns. “I’m not sure I follow, Jace.”

Jace looks contrite. He’s shuffling from foot to foot, eyes flitting around the room as he hunches in on himself a bit.

“Before class on Monday Raj and I were fighting over—well, okay, I guess that part doesn’t matter. Anyway, he was still pissed when we started the game. He wasn’t passing to me even though we were on the same team and I was completely open.”

A memory comes back, ethereal in the cathedral lighting. Alexander, soft and sweet and obviously caught off guard…

I’ll talk to him,’ Alec had promised. Magnus doesn’t bother to bite back his smile. Looks like Alexander is a man of his word.

“Ah, now I remember! The hockey puck incident.” Jace looks like he wants to die of embarrassment. Magnus takes pity on him, offering up a playful grin. “It’s fine, Jace. I’d nearly forgotten. I suppose Alexander brought it up with you? My knight in shining armor.”

Jace’s lips twitch. He’s sporting an odd expression, and Magnus can’t figure out what it means. Did he say something wrong?

“Yeah, well. That’s Alec in a nutshell. My brother likes to look out for people.”

Jace holds open the locker room door, gesturing for Magnus to go first. Magnus thanks him—he’s still hung up on the sudden tension between them, so he’s not paying attention when he bumps into someone standing just outside the door.

“I’m sor—oh, hello.”

Isabelle’s hair hangs loosely around her shoulders, smile on her face as she steadies Magnus before taking a step back. Jace opens his arm for a half-hug. Isabelle is quick to accept. It’s sweet, but Magnus is starting to feel like this chance meeting is perhaps anything but an accident. That feeling only cements itself as Isabelle turns to face them, her face calm. She doesn’t look surprised at all to see Magnus there.

“Isabelle,” he greets, wariness slipping into his tone. “And Jace. How lovely. All we need now is Alexander to complete the cast.”

“And Max,” Jace supplies helpfully. Magnus frowns, confused.

“Our younger brother,” Isabelle explains, eyes rolling at Jace. “But we can talk about Max later. Right now I want to talk about you.”

“Me?” Magnus echoes. The air is rife with tension—as always, Magnus falls back on humor. “Alright. Should I have brought a resume?”

Jace shifts on his feet. He looks nervous. It does nothing for the unease building at the back of Magnus’s throat.

“It’s nothing like that, Magnus. It’s just…well. People like to talk here, okay? Not everyone cares about what’s true and what’s not.”

Ah, there it is. Now Magnus understands why he’s being ambushed by the Lightwoods. Defensiveness snaps at his heels; has him standing just a bit taller as he turns to face both more fully.

Isabelle must sense the shift in Magnus’s demeanor, because she’s quick to come to her brother’s aide.

“We do, though, and that’s why we—Jace and I—aren’t putting stock in what’s been going around. And neither is our brother. We want to know about you, Magnus. Straight from the source. I was hoping you’d be willing to talk to us for a while.”

“Yeah. And if you need us to shut people up, we can do that too.” Jace is grinning now, eyes alight with mischief. “Redirecting is our specialty. Had to do it myself a couple times, for Iz and I both.”

Magnus pauses, considering their approach. While he hadn’t exactly planned to start off this way, Magnus recognizes that it’s unavoidable to a degree, regardless of how mum he himself is about his exploits. A new school was the perfect opportunity to make a fresh start, work on making good impressions and falling in with the so-called ‘right crowd’, and that’s exactly what Magnus had intended to do—after the mess he’d made this summer, he owed Ragnor an honest attempt, at the very least. Lord knows he’s given him enough to deal with. Shit he wouldn’t even have to worry about had he not been saddled with the burden of a 17-year-old maelstrom like Magnus. And Ragnor had really stepped up—every time Magnus needed him, he was there, armed with bail money (thankfully he’d talked his way out of that one), a good cover story, and a ride back home. Magnus likes him a lot and respects him even more. But of course, his reputation had preceded him, and now that plan is looking more and more like an impossibility.

He supposes that’s just one of those inescapable realities—wherever Magnus Bane goes, trouble is bound to follow. For now, though, he has damage control to do.

Isabelle and Jace hearing about his partying? His relationships (and other encounters)? The questionable ‘friends’ he has in darker corners, in circles he's not so proud of? That’s bad enough.

But the thought of Alexander having to hear about that makes him slightly nauseous. The information needs come from Magnus himself, in due time. They’re finally starting to get somewhere, and it is so, so good.

“What exactly have you heard?” Magnus asks, making sure to keep his voice even. Unaffected. None of it matters—and even though it does, Magnus doesn’t want Isabelle and Jace to know that. “What has Alexander heard?”

“Nothing that would change my opinion of you,” Isabelle says, not unkindly. “As for my brother…well. He operates differently. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Magnus, but Alec isn’t exactly the Homecoming King type. He likes to keep to himself. I doubt he’s heard much at all, and if he did he wouldn’t believe a word of it.”

But what if it’s true? Sure, they tend to mess up the details, but that’s only natural. It’s not like they were there to see it in person.

“Alright.” Magnus sighs, hiking his bag up higher on his shoulder. “If we’re going to do this, might I suggest a more appropriate venue? Not that I don’t appreciate the irony of doing this outside of the gym.”

“We could go sit on the basketball court. There’s no practice today, so it’ll be empty.”

“Or,” Isabelle says, eyes alight as she looks at Magnus, “we could go to Taki’s.” At Magnus’s questioning look, she smiles, pulling out an ID he immediately recognizes as a fake. “They make good cosmos and Kaelie never looks at an ID for more than three seconds. They also have food if you’re hungry. It’s quiet, we can find a nice booth and talk there.”

Magnus sighs, mentally weighing his options. He’s tired, vaguely sweaty, and looking forward to a bath bomb in Ragnor’s oversized master ensuite. But on the other hand, this is Alec’s family…and their interest in Magnus feels genuine enough. It doesn’t feel like a shovel talk. In fact, Magnus appreciates their attempt to get to know him, especially with the rabidity of the high school rumor mill. How the Institute stacks up to his other schools remains to be seen, but here are Jace and Isabelle, looking to cut through the bullshit and get straight to the heart of the matter. It’s honest, and good, and hell, he could use a few friends like that in his life.

If he’s going for full disclosure, Magnus figures a martini or two isn’t the worst way to do it.

“You do know the way to my heart, dear Isabelle. Taki’s it is.”

As he follows them out the door and down to the sidewalk, Magnus only hopes he hasn’t shown his hand too soon.

//

“True or false: you once got so drunk, you got into a fight with a Ficus tree in the lobby of a Bank of America, and threw up on the security guard as he tried to escort you out.”

Magnus resists the urge to groan—that was the day after Camille broke up with him. Not that anyone knows about that, save for the handful of strangers there to witness him take that dreadful phone call. The desire to deny everything has a full-on shudder wracking the length of his torso. Unfortunately, this little exercise of theirs is pointless if Magnus doesn’t tell the truth.

He can give them a little bit of context, though. Maybe it’ll make him feel less pathetic about the whole ordeal.

“True. Not one of my finer moments, but it did happen. I’d just been cheated on by my girlfriend of nine months, though. And the way she broke the news was nothing short of cruel. One minor indiscretion in the face of a heartbreak like that...I’d say I did fairly well.”

Isabelle’s painted lips are twisted downwards. Magnus doesn’t think he’s going to like whatever she asks him next.

“My turn,” Isabelle says. “True or false. You dated Camille Belcourt.”

Jace gasps. Magnus does too—because what? Out of all the questions he could’ve been asked, he hadn’t thought to prepare for that.

“Aforementioned evil ex-girlfriend.” Magnus gapes. “Pause. How do you know Camille?”

Jace decides to answer, looking decidedly murderous.

“Maryse and Robert are friends with Diane Belcourt. Sometimes Camille comes with her to dinner. Haven’t seen her in a while, though. She had it out for Alec.”

“She has it out for everyone,” Magnus replies, mind still reeling. “Camille is a master of manipulation.” He tries to keep his voice neutral, friendly, as he delves into the second half of Jace’s explanation. Just friends, nothing more. Calm down, Magnus. “What did she do to Alexander?”

Isabelle sneers. Magnus’s heart sinks. Whatever it is, it must be bad.

“It was the way she spoke to him. It made him nervous. Like she knew some big secret and was seconds away from revealing it, right in the middle of dinner.”

In front of her parents, and Alec’s. Magnus’s throat is tight. He has a feeling he knows exactly what Camille managed to piece together. “And did she? Reveal anything?”

“Hell no. She never had the chance to. Every time she got close, Iz or I would come up with a distraction. One time I tripped and dumped my drink in Diane’s lap—you should’ve seen Robert’s face, Magnus. I’ve never seen him so pissed off in my life. It worked, though, and that’s all that matters. Eventually she got bored and left Alec alone.”

Magnus tilts his head back, downing the rest of his martini. It does little to still the furious shaking in his hands.

“As sorry as I am for your exposure to such a toxic person…Alexander is lucky to have the two of you—three, with little Max. It’s clear how much you love each other.”

“Yeah, we do,” Isabelle says, her smile soft and open. “Our brother spends all of his time looking after the three of us, and not enough time focusing on himself. The Institute, our parents, even Camille...Alec takes it all without a single complaint. He’s an amazing person. I’d do anything for him, Magnus. No questions asked.”

I think I would too, and I barely know him—and isn’t that a terrifying thought? Magnus opts to keep it to himself.

“Listen, Magnus.” Jace has a fry in his hand and he’s gesturing with it. It keeps Magnus from frowning at the serious tone his voice has taken. “Alec has been acting…different lately. Happier. I don’t know, he won’t talk to us about it. But I think it has something to do with you.”

“We’re friends. Lab partners. I’ve been helping him with an English paper lately.” His massive crush on Alec isn’t worth mentioning, given that it’s likely one-sided. He’s also not sure if Alec’s officially out yet, and it’s not his place to confirm any suspicions Jace and Isabelle may have.

“Uh huh. Sure. Whatever is going on between the two of you, you have the support of Izzy and I, however you need it. But be careful, especially at the Institute. Maryse and Robert have eyes everywhere. And Alec isn’t…they don’t know. About him. It’s complicated.”

Magnus bites his lip, forcing the defensive retort to die at the back of his throat. Out or not, Jace and Isabelle clearly know about Alec. He knows Jace means well. It’s not like he’s outright asking him to not speak with Alec at school.

But Magnus knows how it looks—how he looks—makeup, jewelry, the whole package. Being friends with someone like him while trying to stay in the closet? It’s a risk. Questions are bound to arise, as overbearing as Maryse and Robert are.

Maybe he should have a talk with Alec, so he can decide if a friendship with Magnus is worth the inevitable trouble. Magnus is sick to his stomach. He pushes what’s left of his sandwich as far away as possible.

“Jace, I would never do anything to put Alexander at risk. You should know that.”

Isabelle reaches out and takes Magnus’s hand in both of hers, twisting the rings on his fingers until they’re all straightened out. Her grip is firm in his.

“Hey, no, it’s okay. We know that. That’s not what Jace meant—we want to be here for you too, Magnus. It’s not just Alec we’re worried about.”

“I appreciate it, Isabelle, but I’m not convinced it’s necessary. I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time.”

“I know. Now you don’t have to,” Isabelle says, leaving no room for argument. The words are whiskey warm in Magnus’s stomach; conviction ringing strong in each syllable. “Like it or not, us Lightwoods are a package deal. If you want Mr. Tall Dark and Brooding, you get Jace and I too. Think of us as a bonus gift if you want. But I want to be your friend, Magnus. Please let me look after you?”

Magnus clears his throat, valiantly ignoring the stinging in his eyes.

“I would love nothing more than to be friends with you, Isabelle Lightwood.” She beams at him, pulling her hands back. “You too, Jace—but only because you know so much about me now. I’d have to kill you otherwise, right?”

Jace laughs, eyes shining as he reaches out to clap Magnus’s shoulder. It’s a classic locker-room move. Normally Magnus would roll his eyes, but there’s an undeniable charm to Jace Lightwood that pulls a grin to Magnus’s lips instead.

Isabelle puts their entire check on her debit card before Magnus has the chance to protest. As they go their separate ways, plans already in the works to get breakfast together next weekend, Magnus can’t help the little skip to his step; a lighter-than-air feeling that reminds him of Alec and warm, sunny afternoons in the library. Damn these Lightwoods. Despite having Maryse and Robert for parents, they’re all so kind. Selfless. Magnus has yet to meet the youngest Lightwood, but he’s willing to bet Max is just like his siblings.

It’s been a while since he’s had friends like this. Things were different back at Fort Hamilton. Sure, Magnus had friends—but they didn’t sit around a diner five-top and laugh together, not unless one or all of them were wasted. Things at the Institute are different. Alec, Raphael, Isabelle, Jace. Magnus likes it.

He only hopes Alexander will continue to show him how different things can be.

//

| A.L |

It should be illegal to wake someone before 10 on a Saturday morning. There should be several laws about it—in fact, Alec is currently weighing the pros and cons of going to law school after graduation simply to write such legislation into existence. Given that he is awake and alert enough to contemplate this possibility at 6:48am, on this very Saturday, Alec figures there’s a demonstrated need. He moans tiredly and sinks his head into his hands, eyes closing of their own accord.

“No sleeping at the table, Alec!”

Alec bolts upright, nearly falling out of his chair. Isabelle has Maryse’s disappointed tone down to a science. Normally he finds it hysterical. Now, though, it is considerably less entertaining, even more so as Isabelle chuckles, obviously pleased with her little joke.

“Seriously, Iz? I’m tired. I had a meet last night you know. I don’t even know why I agreed to this—whatever it is we’re doing—in the first place.”

“We’re going to breakfast. You agreed because you’re the best brother ever.” Isabelle hums, wrapping both arms around his shoulders. Alec moans and attempts to push her away, but she holds strong, grin buried in the back of his neck.

“Breakfast,” Alec says, sarcasm heavy, “of course. It all makes sense now. What else would I be doing at 7am on a Saturday?”

“Stop being so grumpy,” Isabelle scolds, swatting his shoulder. She glances at her watch, frowning slightly. “Trust me, you’ll be thanking me later. Jace, come on! We’re going to be late! Alec, shoes on, please, we’re leaving now.”

He’ll be thanking her later…sure. Alec bites back a muffled curse, nearly rolling his eyes in response. Nothing good has ever come from that line of Isabelle’s, but as usual, Alec follows her and an equally sleepy Jace down the street, mind wandering as they cut through the familiar streets that lead them downtown. He’s tired, his shoulders are sore, and all he wants right now is to curl up under his blankets and relax until his alarm goes off—there’s an assignment for his Theology class he should probably get a head start on this afternoon, not to mention preparations for the Clave meeting later this evening…Saturday mornings are the only time Alec is obligation-free, and he was looking forward to this one.

Until Isabelle forced him out of bed, into a pair of jeans that are two sizes too tight, and out on some quest for ‘the best pancakes ever, Alec, seriously,’ to a restaurant Alec couldn’t care less about.

“Here,” Isabelle says, holding open the door, and ushering them inside. “Jace, is he here yet?”

“Is who here?” Alec asks, confused. “Are we meeting a friend of yours or something?”

“Yours and mine,” Isabelle mumbles, eyes scanning the tables. She makes a triumphant noise, waving her hand. “And there he is. Hey, there you are! Hope we didn’t keep you waiting long. I couldn’t get these two out of bed.”

Alec follows her line of sight to a booth tucked off in the corner, and nearly does a double-take at who stands up to greet them as they approach.

“I just got here, my dear. No worries at all—good morning, Jace. Alexander,” Magnus says, smiling at them all and inviting them to sit.

Isabelle plops down on the opposite bench, tugging Jace in next to her. There’s no place for Alec to sit that isn’t directly next to Magnus, which is fine. Really. They sit next to each other every day in Chemistry. There’s no reason for Alec to have a problem with it now.

Except for the fact that the jeans Izzy insisted on for Alec are tight to the point of indecency, and he’s overly aware that this is the first time Magnus has ever seen him outside of the Institute.

Magnus is wearing this black turtleneck-looking thing that has Alec’s stomach doing nervous little flips for whatever silly reason, and long, tightly laced black boots that make his legs look a mile long. Alec sits, leaving about a foot of space between them on the narrow bench. He’s sure he’s imagining things when Magnus’s gaze seems to linger on him a few seconds longer than the others, but the creeping self-consciousness makes him shiver all the same.

Alec has never seen Magnus without his uniform on before. He looks good, like, really good. And here Alec is in clothes that don’t even fit him correctly.

Stupid Izzy and the stupid outfit she insisted he wear this morning. Alec is never eating breakfast food again after this.

Chapter Text

| A.L |

Despite Alec’s earlier unease, their breakfast outing ends up being a lot of fun. Magnus is hysterical, and he’s got an endless pool of stories to choose from, each one more involved than the last.  It’s enough to have Izzy and Jace spellbound in a matter of minutes, with Alec gone from the second he opened his mouth. Alec likes Magnus’s stories. His voice is so nice to listen to, melodic and warm, and the way he uses his hands only adds to the experience.

So far, there’s not a single thing about Magnus Bane that Alec doesn’t like.

“Alec, Magnus,” Izzy sighs, looking mournfully at the table, “As lovely as this entire morning has been, I’m afraid I have to go. Mom just texted me to ask where I am. We were supposed to go dress shopping this afternoon for the Shepherdson Charity event next weekend.”

Magnus’s brows go up. “Charity event? Sounds thrilling.”  

Izzy only groans in response, head falling into the fold of her arms on the tabletop. Jace makes a sympathetic noise as he gathers both their jackets, a hand moving to his sister’s back.

“Anything but. It’s the annual Father-Daughter dance. Alec and I get a free pass on this one, but damn does it suck. Izzy said the food wasn’t even good last year and that’s usually what makes these things tolerable.” Alec moves to stand as well but stops at the minute shake of Jace’s head. “Nah, Alec. I got it. I’ll walk her there. I’m going to see Kaelie in a bit anyway, I’ll just hop on the 4 train at 86th.”

“You’re sure?”

Jace nods, eyes alight with the barest hint of mischief, and oh, Alec knows exactly what he’s doing. Isabelle is in on it too if her eager nod is any indication.

“Bonne chance, mon amie.” Magnus kisses the back of Isabelle’s hand, making her blush. “Oh! Before you two run off, I have a question for you. And you, Alexander.”

Magnus is smiling, clearly excited about whatever it is. Alec smiles at him because it’s impossible not to.

“A friend of mine is having a small get-together next Friday, for Halloween. I’d love to have all of you there with me as my guests. You’ll need costumes, of course, but I can help with that if needed. I’m magical with a sewing machine.”

Alec’s face pinches. A party? No way is Maryse signing off on that request. Plus, Alec’s never been big on parties.

“Magnus, as much as we’d love to—”

“—we’re in,” Jace says, ignoring Alec’s wounded noise. “Oh stop it, Alec. I’ll take care of Maryse.”

“Jace—”

Isabelle claps her hands together, bouncing on the balls of her feet. Not her too…

“Friday, Magnus?” He nods. Isabelle’s grin spreads. “Perfect. We’ll tell Mom we’re at the Youth Group Galaxy Bowl. It’s not like she’ll bother to check, and it runs pretty late. Plenty of time to have a bit of fun and then go home by curfew.”

Alec sighs. It’s a solid plan—the cover is believable, and the timing is good. That doesn’t mean he’s thrilled at the prospect of lying. “Isabelle…”

“I have to go, Alec. Jace and I are already late. Magnus, again, lovely to see you. I’ll text you later to discuss the details.”

“Fine,” Alec calls after her, “but I’m not wearing a costume!” Neither of Alec’s siblings bothers to turn around and acknowledge that, which means it’s as good as null. He fights the urge to get up and chase after them.

“And then there were two,” Magnus purrs, manicured fingers drumming along the tabletop. “What do you say we get out of here, huh? Unless you’re busy this afternoon.”

“I’m not,” Alec says. If the words come out too quickly; too eager, he doesn’t dwell on the possibility. “What did you have in mind?”

“Do you trust me?”

“Yes.” Magnus’s face lights up. “Should I, though? I don’t like the sound of that phrase.”

Magnus’s answering smile is mischievous in ways that contradict any reassurance he might come up with. His hand comes to rest on Alec’s forearm, though, and he knows in that moment that he’ll go with Magnus anyway.

Even if it ends up being a terrible idea.

“I trust you too if that makes a difference. Must be something in the air.”

“Yeah,” Alec mutters, “Guess that’s one way to put it.”

//

| M.B |

“You brought me to the Zoo?” Alec looks thoroughly unimpressed. He’s so adorably ruffled like this, lips cast down in a little pout, that Magnus can’t help but laugh. It’s exactly the reaction he was hoping for when he thought to bring Alec here at 1 PM on a Saturday.

“No, Alexander. I brought you to Times Square. As a native New Yorker, I figured you’d recognize it.”

Someone dressed in an Olaf costume pushes past Alec on the curb. His eye roll is immediate—and that’s enough to have Magnus’s laughter turn into full-blown cackling.

“It’s crowded. And hot. What are we supposed to do here?”

“What everyone else is doing. Take pictures from a thousand different angles. Climb the TKTS booth and have a heart-to-heart. If you’re feeling particularly bold, we could try and go to the Hershey store. Do you think they still have samples left?”

Because he’s watching, Magnus sees it—Alec’s lips twitch upwards, fighting the curl of a smile. His own is immediate and warm. “Come on, Alexander. Let’s play tourist for a day. People travel from all over the world to see the stuff that’s in our backyard… so let’s see what all the fuss is about. Give it a chance. You might be surprised at what you find.”

Alec cracks—finally, his smile all teeth and rosy lips and—oh hell, dimples. Magnus curses both Maryse and Robert because honestly, Alec is sort of unreal.

“Alright, Magnus. I’ll play your game. But I’m not going to the Disney Store…trust me, there’s nothing to be found in there.”

“Deal,” Magnus agrees. “First order of business, then! Come take a picture with me.” He flags down a passerby before Alec can complain, hooking an arm through his and yanking him into the frame.

“One, two, three, smile!”

Magnus does, from ear to ear. It’s the easiest thing he’s ever been asked to do.

//

Alec Lightwood has one of the worst schedules Magnus has ever seen. Between Archery, Student Council, weekly Clave meetings, and his schoolwork he wonders if Alec even has time to sleep. They try to make the most of the time they do have, though—starting with Magnus’s borderline religious attendance of the Institute’s optional Wednesday mass. It might not give them time to talk, but Alec’s thigh pressed against his on the pew has merit of its own.

They text a lot, too, even when they can’t see each other. It’s easier for Magnus to tell him things that way—so he opens up a bit, about Camille, about the drinking. Alec is so sweetly concerned about him that it sends Magnus straight into a panic he doesn’t fully understand, and before he knows it, he’s three shots in at Eidolon with two pretty girls by his side.

Magnus leaves his phone at home that night. When he stumbles in just past 1:30, he flips it face-down on the nightstand before the notifications can pop up and remind him what he’s running from in the first place.

//

“I told you, Raphael. Stop worrying so much about everything.”

Raphael holds the door open for him, looking entirely unconvinced. Magnus busies himself with flipping the lights to keep from having to look him in the eye.

“Stop giving me a reason to worry,” he snaps, “and perhaps I won’t. But when you show up to school looking like death warmed over—”

“It was one night. I was back before 2, Mother.” Magnus rolls his eyes before turning to face Simon. “Steven, you’re welcome to come inside. You don’t have to stand out on my doorstep all night long.”

“Cool. Thanks, Magnus. And thanks for letting me tag along. This place is really nice… both floors belong to your uncle?”

Magnus laughs, setting his bag down on a bench by the stairs. Uncle Ragnor. If only he were here to hear that.

“Yes. Part of Ragnor’s illustrious inheritance. Feel free to make yourselves comfortable. Raphael, you know where the kitchen is if you want anything to drink.”

“Woah,” Simon says, eyes wide as he studies a shelf of DVDs with interest. “Your uncle must really like movies. Lots of westerns. He’s missing a couple of classics, though. Where’s Return of the Jedi?”

“That’s hardly what I’d consider a classic, Scott.” Magnus’s snort segues into full-blown laughter at the affronted look Simon’s giving him.

“Have you ever actually seen Star Wars? You know what, forget the homework. We need to fix this right now, for BOTH of your sakes—"

A loud groan sounds through the room, their bickering effectively silenced.

“Really, Magnus?”

Magnus wheels, ready to give whoever is keeping him from lecturing Sherwin on the finer points in life—namely, films that don’t take place in space—a piece of his mind. The sight of his Swarovski-covered gold iPhone case in Raphael’s hands has the words dying on the tip of his tongue.

“What? That’s my phone, by the way. In case you didn’t know.”

Raphael blinks at him, looking thoroughly unimpressed. As though Magnus should know which ostentatious thing on his phone has offended Raphael this time.

“Alexander ‘The Brightest Light’-wood? You’re shameless. And disgusting.” He adds, turning his attention back to Magnus’s phone. “I just ate lunch, too.  Had I known I’d come face to face with the tasteless evidence of your pining, perhaps I would’ve waited to eat.”

Magnus sighs, eyes rolling. Leave it to Raphael to bring up his dislike for Alec at every given opportunity. He moves to snatch the phone back but Raphael is quicker, pulling it away from Magnus and holding it high, eyes shining with the challenge.

Magnus sighs again. He is so not stooping this low with Raphael.

“Here’s a thought:  Maybe your lunch would settle better in your stomach if you’d stop stealing other peoples’ phones.”

“Or,” Raphael says, deadpan as he hands Magnus the phone back, “you could stop being so ridiculous and tell Lightwood how you truly feel. Saves me from having to hear about the shade of his eyes for the millionth time. Maybe then I could eat my lunch in peace.”

“Oh, like you’re much better?” If looks could kill, Raphael’s look would burn him in a nanosecond. Magnus is very aware of Simon standing just across the room. “Try being a little more sympathetic. It’s not that simple and I thought you would understand that.”

Raphael’s glare gentles a fraction.

“But it could be, Magnus. For you, it could be. And that’s why I find it so frustrating. I keep telling you, your friendship with Alec will not be ruine—"

“You guys,” Simon interrupts, holding up a glossy comic book with wide, excited eyes. “Look what I just found—volume one, The Amazing Spiderman! First series and everything. Magnus, you have the coolest uncle EVER. Where did he even find this?”

“You can have it. It’s mine.” At Simon’s deer-in-the-headlights look, Magnus amends. “Ragnor gave it to me when I first moved in, before he knew what I liked. His attempt to bond. Didn’t take him long to figure out I prefer Ferragamo to first editions…it was a sweet gesture, though. You keep it. It’s just collecting dust otherwise.”

Simon’s squeal is high and sudden. He launches himself at Magnus, who barely keeps them both upright. Thank god for Catarina and their weekly kickboxing classes. Raphael is giving them one of his trademark unimpressed looks, but Magnus sees his irritation for what it really is. It’s the twitch in his jaw that gives Raphael away. Magnus likes to think he knows him well by now.

“Careful, darling.” He sets Simon down on the ground, smirk bright and trained on Raphael. “Green is not a good color on you.”

This manages to catch Raphael off-guard. He splutters, red-faced and indignant, but Simon misinterprets the joke just like Magnus knew he would.

“Hey, Raph, no need to be jealous. It’s cool! You can borrow it anytime you want.”

“See? Problem solved, Raph.

“I hate both of you,” Raphael says, petulant. “And I don’t want to borrow your comic book, Simon.” At Simon’s crestfallen look, Raphael adds, “Oh, alright. Just for a weekend.”

Magnus is mature, so he absolutely does not laugh at how quickly Raphael backpedals at the slightest hint of pushback from Simon. What he does do is wink, overly drawn out, while Simon has his back to them.

Raphael gives him the finger in response. Magnus wishes he could take a picture. He commits the moment to memory instead, vowing to call on it on a day far less pleasant than this one.

//

The first chance Magnus and Alec get to hang out is Wednesday afternoon. They only have an hour and a half; stolen time between the end of the school day and the start of Alec’s time at the range, but Magnus is excited regardless. The classes he and Alec don’t share drag on endlessly. The sound of the bell at 2:35 might just be the best sound Magnus has heard all day.

Alec is already at their usual table in the library when Magnus walks in, with his back turned to the door. Magnus has to stop himself from skipping on the way over.

“Well aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.”

“It’s funny you should say that,” Alec says, voice full of mirth as he turns.  A gasp falls out of Magnus’s mouth before he can think about stopping it. His blood rushes between his ears, anger white-hot and all-consuming.

“Alexan—who did this to you? Look at me, please,” Magnus says, reaching out to tilt his chin up. Alec lets him, dropping his gaze as Magnus examines the scuff of a bruise on Alec’s cheekbone. “What happened? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Magnus. It’s a long story.” There’s a ghost of a smile on Alec’s lips. He looks tired, and his voice is tight. Forced. “How are you? How was gym today?”

“Gym?” Magnus’s voice raises several octaves. “Oh, no. We need to talk about this.”

“No. We don’t. Please, Magnus. There’s nothing to talk about.”

“You promised you’d tell me, Alexander. And right now you’re hurting, I can see it…so talk to me, let me help you. Please. When things get crazy, don’t push me away.”

Alec is frowning, but he’s not breaking eye contact—he’s deep in thought about something, eyes alight with an unvoiced conflict. Some of that unease slips away as he closes his eyes. When he opens them again they’re full of resolve, greens and golds swirling together as Magnus swallows down his anticipation.

“My mother suspended a handful of juniors last week. Think they were caught smoking or something. Anyway, today was their first day back…I guess they’re still pretty mad about it.”

“Did they hit you?” Alec nods, shrugging his shoulders. It does nothing for the fire in Magnus’s stomach. “What are their names?”

“I don’t know. I don’t really care. There’s nothing to be done about it now.”

“Nothing to be done? I can think of a few things. I’m sure Jace and Isabelle will agree wholeheartedly.”

“Magnus,” Alec says, low and pointed, “don’t.” It’s a warning, loud and clear. Magnus forces the air in through his nose to calm himself down. “It’s okay. It’s not worth getting in trouble over. Not a one-time thing like this.”

Magnus knows…fuck, he knows. His chest is threatening to split in two from how badly he wants to take the pain away from Alec. Going after these guys won’t solve anything but he’s pinned under a swell of helplessness. Here Alec is, raw and open and hurting in front of him, and Magnus can’t do a damned thing to stop it.

You’re more than worth it, darling. Anything that happens after is irrelevant.

“As opposed to what? Are there…others? Non-isolated incidents?” Alec’s expression hardens, and Magnus knows that there are. “Alexander. This is serious!”

“They know,” Alec says, right on the edge of desperate. “They must have figured it out, okay? They know about me being—”

“Gay?” Magnus offers, voice steady and inaudible to anyone but them. Alec’s eyes still dart around nervously.

“Yeah. I can’t have them telling people, can’t have that going around. If my parents find out I could lose everything—”

“We’ll figure this out,” Magnus soothes, but Alec is angry now, nearly yelling in their quiet library corner. People are starting to stare.

“This is so stupid. It’s so—ugh, why does it matter to them? It shouldn’t matter to anyone. Why do they even care at all? It’s not like I—not them. I would NEVER—"

Magnus knows exactly what Alec is referring to. It’s clear in the way he’s wringing his hands, fingers bone-white in his own grip. He reaches out and grabs one of Alec’s to keep him from doing any damage. Alec blinks down at their joined hands, brow furrowing in a way Magnus would find adorable under any other circumstance.

“I know. Believe me, Alexander. I have stood where you’re standing and fought the same wars. This brings back a lot of memories. Anger, fear, lots of lashing out. I wasn’t as diplomatic as you are.”

At that, Alec deflates, anger rushing out of him audibly. His fingers grasp weakly at Magnus’s. “Magnus…”

Magnus grabs both his bag and Alec’s, slinging them over his shoulder. “Come on, darling. Take a walk with me, mm? I think I need a bit of fresh air.”

“Magnus, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up anything bad. I know you’re only trying to help.”

Now that he’s starting to calm down, Alec looks exhausted. He sways on his feet slightly, and Magnus reinitiates contact between them, hand splaying warm against Alec’s bicep to steady him.


“You have nothing to apologize for, Alexander. I’m not upset with you at all. In fact, as furious as I am that this happened to you I am so thankful you chose to trust me with it. To talk to me, and let me in.”

“I trust you,” Alec says, like it’s the simplest thing in the world. Magnus hopes he’s not imagining things when Alec seems to lean into the hand on his arm. “And you helped me. I’ve never talked to someone who…gets it, before. It’s nice.”

Magnus’s smile is wide and genuine. He bumps Alec’s shoulder with his own before letting his hand fall, leading them out of the library.

“Sympathetic, remember?” Alec grins in response. It almost reaches his eyes. “Now, darling. We have one unpleasant thing to deal with, and then I swear to god, we can get out of here. There’s a bowl of ice cream and a hot chocolate with your name on them. But first, you need to talk with Coach Garroway.”

“Language, Magnus. Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain.” Alec pauses, considering his options. “Alright. What should I tell him? I don’t like to lie, Magnus. I’m not very good at it.”

“Tell him you’re not feeling well—that’s hardly a lie.”

“Yeah, okay.” When Alec turns to face Magnus, he looks…uncertain. Vulnerable. He has to fight the urge to reach out and touch; soothe away the worries and kiss away the pain. “You’ll wait for me here?”

And oh, there goes the rest of Magnus’s heart. It’s amazing he’s still standing at this point.

“There’s no place else I’d rather be,” Magnus says, giving Alec a bit of vulnerability in return. “You go in there and take care of things, and when you come back out, I’ll be right here waiting for you. Alright?”

Alec’s grin is lopsided. He already seems like he’s settling back into himself.

“Thanks. I’ll—I’ll be right back, then.”

//

Ever since Magnus started hanging out with Alec in the afternoons, he’s never made the mistake of forgetting his makeup bag at home again. It’s always the last thing he grabs on his way out the door.

Of course, he never thought he’d have to use it quite like this.

“Alexander, I need you to hold still. Your skin is lighter than mine so I have to blend this carefully—stop wiggling!”

“It tickles,” Alec moans, arms wrapping around his middle as he shifts on the metal chair. “I’m trying, I swear, but it’s hard.”

Magnus nearly groans at the sounds Alec’s making, brush clattering to the tiled floor of the locker room.

“You have no idea,” he mutters, cupping Alec’s uninjured cheek to keep him in place.

Eventually, he manages to cover the bruise. Alec doesn’t want to tell Izzy, so Magnus sends him home with a tube of concealer in his winter shade and a list of YouTube tutorials on blending. The undertones aren’t quite a match for Alec’s skin but it masks the greenish tint, so it’s as good as they’re going to get until Magnus can make it to Sephora for a more suitable product.

Magnus walks Alec home that night. After dropping him off, he has every intention of going home himself. What he doesn’t anticipate, however, is the panic clamping vice-tight around his windpipe the second Alec’s door shuts behind him.

Guilt. Fear. Magnus knows—he knows, okay? He wasn’t lying earlier when he told Alec he’d gone through this nightmare himself. What if someone sees him talking to Alec—fuck, he’s flirted with Alec in the middle of the Institute without stopping to consider the consequences of the wrong person overhearing. How selfish he’s been. What if he’s the reason Alec got hurt in the first place? What if he’s the reason those assholes felt the need to escalate?

This entire time, Alec has needed a friend. A best friend. And here Magnus is with a massive fucking crush.

Useless, stupid. How careless he’s been. Magnus’s feet are moving of their own accord, taking him to the subway station and over to Eden before he realizes how bad of an idea it is. This club is one of Camille’s favorites. He hasn’t been here since their breakup for that very reason.

Magnus flashes the bouncer a fake ID and a smile, slipping inside the angry violet door without a second thought.

To hell with Camille. It’s been a long day, and fuck, Magnus just needs to forget.

//

“It’s alright, Isabelle. At least you’re still the prettiest Lightwood, hm?”

“Now Magnus,” Jace says, walking into the room and dropping his keys on the table with a cocky smirk, “you should know by now that lying is not polite. In fact, it’s a sin.”

Magnus turns to face him, grin in place.

“You’re absolutely right, Jace.” He flashes Isabelle an apologetic smile, and she beams at him, almost as though she knows what’s coming. “Tall, dark, and handsome—no one can hold a candle to Alexander, can they?”

Jace makes a sound of outrage, nearly drowned out by Isabelle’s raucous laughter. “Speaking of, where is that dashing brother of yours? Earlier he said archery ends at 5:30. Shouldn’t he be back by now?”

Isabelle and Jace turn to look at each other, having a silent conversation. Magnus feels himself standing a little straighter as tension settles in the room.

“Damn it,” Isabelle says, “I was hoping he’d told you, at least. You two are… well. It seems my darling brother decided to keep this one to himself.”

Magnus shrugs, frowning. He and Alec hadn’t really talked much since yesterday. It’s been bothering Magnus all afternoon. “You’re going to have to fill me in. What is Alec not telling me?”

Isabelle accepts this answer from him easily enough, but for some reason, Jace doesn’t look convinced.

“You’re right. He should be back by now. But our mother had other plans for him this evening.”

Magnus frowns. He might not have known Alec for very long, but he figures himself a pretty good judge of character—and from the stiffness of Jace’s shoulders and the way Isabelle spat the words like they were poisonous, Magnus can tell that this isn’t some sort of excuse made to get Alec out of coming with them.

But he can’t seem to wrap his head around it. What could Maryse possibly have Alec occupied with at 6:30 PM on a Friday?

“Other plans? Like—like ‘scrubbing the floor of the cathedral with a toothbrush’ other, or?”

“Something like that.” Jace is watching him for some reason, and it has Magnus on edge.  “She’s got him in confessional. According to Max, our mother called Father Starkweather out just for the occasion.”

Magnus blinks. That makes…zero sense. ‘Alec’ and ‘confessional’ are not two words that go together.

“Alec? In confessional?” A pause. “What on earth did he do?”

“Well,” Isabelle says, clearly annoyed, “apparently, our sweet brother has been keeping things from us—did you know he snuck out on Wednesday night? I almost didn’t believe it, but they got him on the surveillance cams…he was out until just before sunrise. I have no clue where he could’ve gone, and he’s as talkative as ever, but I’m willing to bet he’ll tell Father Starkweather whatever he doesn’t trust us enough to know.”

He can hear the hurt in her voice; can read it in her posture and the way her eyes dart between Magnus, Jace, and the floor. Magnus swallows, forcing himself to remain outwardly composed, because yeah, he might have some insider info on that one.

Wednesday night. That would’ve been the night he ran into Camille and—and handled it in the worst possible way, to be frank. He’s mature enough to admit when he’s messed up and anything to do with Camille is undoubtedly a terrible idea.

Still. He’d agreed to do shots with her, and then to drinks, and then a dance…

And then, in true Camille fashion, she’d left him on the dance floor, alone and stupid. Alone and hoping.

So he’d had a few more shots, because hey, Camille’s tab was still open, and the bartender didn’t seem to realize that they weren’t actually together. Not anymore.  He had to take another shot to drown out that particular thought.

And then he’d gone home and somehow made it to his room. The details are a bit fuzzy, but he remembers texting Raphael, asking him to come over—or so he thought—and then passing out on the bed, tangled up in his Stella McCartney blouse while waiting for the knock to come downstairs so he could let Raphael in through the back door, just like they always did.

The knock on the door that echoed through the apartment startled him awake. Seeing Alec standing on the front steps, red-cheeked and panting slightly like he’d been running, nearly startled him into sobriety.

Things are fuzzy again here, but he remembers Raphael messing with his phone a few days’ prior—that fucker probably changed Alec’s contact information to mess with him. And Magnus had drunkenly texted Alexander by mistake, begging for him to come over and cuddle him because he was too sad to be alone.

Wonderful, really. Nothing screams ‘platonic’ quite like demanding a 3 AM house call.

This didn’t change the fact that Alec had actually shown up, in the middle of the night. And that Magnus was very, very drunk.

He remembers that Alec just stood there, staring at Magnus’s clothes all askew and the makeup around his eyes, no doubt smeared into something as ugly and unrecognizable as Magnus felt in that moment.

And Magnus had—

Had done some truly embarrassing things. The memories were starting to come back to him now, much to his horror.

//

| A.L. |

Alec is well into his third personal narrative of the evening when his phone rings, a soft, three-bell trill signaling a text message rather than a call.

A quick look at the clock—2:44 AM—has his head spinning slightly with worry. He hadn’t heard Izzy go out through the window, so there’s no way it could be her, and as far as Alec knows Jace is still being held under lock and key over the phone incident from Mass.

Magnus. 3 new messages.

Alec clicks them without a second thought.  His personal narratives are forgotten.

 

            [Magnus Bane, 2:39 AM]: Rspdrl u ass. Wske up. SOS. I sa. w Satan.

            [Magnus Bane, 2:43 AM]: Cameille was at the ckub. I Did someythid baddddd.

            [Magnus Bane, 2:43 AM]: Need u. PLleaze. Im so sad rnight now. Come ober. SOS.

He looks at the clock again, his frown growing in time with the worried knot in his throat. 2:46AM. His parents are sound asleep by now, and to Alec’s knowledge, all the surveillance cameras are trained on Jace’s door at the other end of the hall.

The speed with which Alec decides to go see Magnus frightens him. While it’s perfectly normal for Isabelle or Jace to be doing such a thing, this is decidedly not in Alec’s wheelhouse. And yet, here he is, pulling a well-worn black sweater over his gray t-shirt and slipping soundlessly into the hallway, his phone silenced in the pocket of his track pants. He manages to make it down the stairs and out the back window without setting off any alarms. Izzy’s typical route doesn’t fail him. As unfamiliar as all of this, Alec can admit that there’s a certain thrill to it all. Perhaps he’s now gained a better understanding of his siblings’ desire for adventure. Besides, he’d do much more than this for Magnus.

Magnus. Dread pools thickly in his stomach, and he walks a bit faster, opting to hail the first cab he sees instead of taking the subway.

Given he and Camille’s lengthy history, ‘something bad’ could encompass a lot—but anything that has Magnus requesting a house call at this hour on a school night must be serious. Alec has a few ideas, some of which have jealousy pounding through his veins, heavy and potent like whatever alcohol Magnus had been drinking earlier that night.

He wonders if Camille bought him a drink; if they’d gone to the club together or been reunited by chance. Fate, even. Alec wonders if they danced. If Magnus’s hands had gripped Camille’s hips while she wound long, thin arms back around his neck… He wonders if Magnus still tastes like alcohol. If it’s sharp and bitter, or fruity.  He wonders what it would be like to chase the taste in his mouth. If he’d get drunk from that alone—

“Come on, kid. I got places to be.”

Alec blushes and ignores the hot waves of jealousy and shame burning down his spine, handing the driver a fistful of bills as he heads towards Magnus’s building. The driver peels away from the curb before Alec’s even got the door shut so there must have been more than enough to cover the cost. There’s an emergency door propped open halfway down the trash alley.  Alec slips into it, taking the stairs two at a time in his effort to get to Magnus more quickly.

Alec pulls his phone out of his pocket. 3:22 AM. Right. Probably not appropriate to walk right in, then.

While he’s not 100% sure of the protocol here, he’s not stupid enough to ring the buzzer. Calling might wake Ragnor up too, and if Magnus is expecting him… Maybe he’s waiting by the door?

He takes a deep breath and knocks softly, holding his breath and taking a step back.

Stumbling. The thud of feet against a plush carpet, dull but reassuring. The slap of something heavy landing against the wood. A string of mumbled curses that could only belong to one person; Alec’s forgotten how to breathe suddenly, overwhelmed with the jealousy and the heat and a sick sort of worry for Magnus’s wellbeing.

The door swings open, Magnus nearly topples over from the momentum. Alec’s arm shoots out to steady him but Magnus manages to regain his balance.

“Oh,” Magnus says, far too loudly given the current hour. “You’re not Raphael.”

“Um,” Alec replies, eyes narrowing as he shakes his head. “I—no. Should I be?”

Even from his spot on the landing, Alec can smell the alcohol. It’s sickly sweet and almost floral. Magnus is leaning heavily against the doorframe, staring at him with a puzzled, unfocused expression.

He’s wearing a floral silk shirt and painted-on gray pants. Alec’s seen it before and recognizes this as one of Magnus’s many ‘night out’ outfits. Except now, the shirt is unbuttoned, hanging loosely from his shoulders as a tangle of silver chains shine against his bare chest in the dim hallway lighting. His hair is an absolute mess, like someone has been raking their fingers through it, and his makeup is smeared beyond recognition, glassy, unfocused eyes rimmed in a mess of smoky black and glitter. His feet are bare and the paint on his nails is chipped and uneven.

It’s by far the most unkempt look Magnus has ever shown him. Alec finds it unbearably hot, cursing the way his track pants feel just a bit too tight.

“Course not,” Magnus slurs, sweeping his arm back in a gesture that nearly costs him his balance again. “Are you coming in, Alexander? Or do you—ow, fuck—prefer to stand there and look stunning instead?”

In lieu of an answer, Alec bows his head and steps inside, making sure the door shuts quietly behind him. Suddenly, Magnus pitches forward. Alec darts to catch him, sliding an arm around his waist as Magnus moans pitifully into his shoulder.

“—sospinnyalexander, please, can’t even see the floor—”

“Shh,” Alec hisses, clapping a hand over Magnus’s mouth as he maneuvers them both up the stairs. For some reason, this possesses Magnus to lick a stripe up Alec’s palm—he can’t hold back a choked, startled moan any more than he can keep his eyes from rolling to the back of his head.

“Magnus, please—just—”

“Issthatone,” he slurs, kicking his foot in the direction of a closed door. Alec pushes it open, praying to God and all the angels that drunken Magnus knows which room is his own.

The sight of Magnus’s unmistakable red silk sheets has him breathing a sigh of relief. Alec moves them over to the bed and sits Magnus down right in the middle, moving over to the large vanity as soon as he’s certain Magnus is stable on the bed. There are a million bottles and other products covering the surface but he’s searching for something specific, eyes scanning quickly as Magnus sings nonsensically in the background.

It doesn’t take him long to find what he’s looking for. Once he has it he’s back at Magnus’s side, sitting next to him on the bed and resigning himself to the fact that this next task will require even closer proximity.

Which is fine because Alec is completely in control of his feelings. Yep. He’s totally okay with this.

Alec sucks in a deep breath, closing his eyes for a second to collect himself. When he opens them they land immediately on Magnus’s own, staring right at him with an unreadable expression.

“What are you doing?”

Magnus sounds incredibly young all of a sudden. Along with the lost look on his face and the way he’s twisting his rings around long fingers like he just can’t bear to be still… It’s too much. Alec’s chest hurts, and he has to close his eyes against the burn of tears and all the sweet words he wants to say to make things better.

He settles for action, waving the bottle in his hand and twisting open the top after Magnus sees it.

“You don’t want to sleep with your makeup on, do you? Izzy says it’s bad for your skin.” Alec removes a cotton pad from the jar, setting it aside and sidling up to Magnus. “Close your eyes, Magnus.”

He does as he’s told, eyelashes fanning against his cheeks. Alec bites back another groan and shifts his weight, reaching up to steady Magnus’s cheek with his free hand as he carefully swipes the cotton over the mess of makeup on his eyelid. As he works, Alec makes sure not to press too hard, moving from one eye to the other before clearing the foundation and glitter from Magnus’s cheeks.

Magnus is statuesque on the bed. His eyes are closed long after Alec is finished cleaning them. His hands are folded tightly on his lap and he’s not saying anything… Alec’s worry from earlier comes back full-force. Silence hangs between them like an iron curtain. Alec can’t stand it for more than a few seconds.

“Okay,” Alec whispers, touching the high sweep of Magnus’s cheekbone again because—well, he doesn’t want to spook him with the sudden words, alright? It’s a perfectly good reason, logical, even, so Alec allows himself a few seconds to sink into it, letting the moment wash over him and settle the restlessness in his limbs. “All done with that part.”

Magnus’s eyes open, devoid of any makeup. Alec realizes that he’s never seen Magnus without eyeliner before.

He’s breathtaking, and fuck, how is Alec supposed to bite the words back when Magnus is the most beautiful person he’s ever seen? Best friend or not. To hell with the consequences. Alec’s mouth opens slightly, ready to tell him anything—to say the first thing that comes to his mind—

But Magnus beats him to it, staring right into Alec’s eyes.

“You,” he says, words a choked little warble, “are very good at that. Isabelle…?”

Alec’s mouth shuts with an audible click, his earlier thoughts—what would’ve been the worst sort of word-vomit, thankfully interrupted. Instead, he nods in response to Magnus’s question.

“She taught me when I was 15,” Alec explains. “Even had to do it for Jace once when he came home wearing lipstick and glitter… He was very, very drunk. I might’ve taken a picture or two first.”

Magnus’s laughter is loud and sudden. Alec surges forward, clapping a hand against his mouth again.

If Magnus licks his palm a second time, Alec is going to combust as the tatters of his remaining self-control go to ash around him. As it stands, he can barely remember why telling Magnus that he’s the most breathtaking person Alec’s ever met is a bad idea; had been about to voice this very sentiment just moments ago. Here in the quiet of the night with just the two of them in Magnus’s bedroom, eighteen floors above the roar of the city with the windows thrown wide open… Alec feels everything he’s not supposed to feel, any number of dangerous wants and wishes that are easier to ignore in the daylight. It’s hard not to feel invincible like this. Like Magnus might actually feel the same way, like kissing him the way he so desperately wants to won’t ruin their friendship…

Alec sends a quick prayer up to God that his patience won’t be tested this way. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Magnus stays perfectly still. His eyes follow Alec’s movement, and Alec can feel him smile where his palm is pressed against Magnus’s lips. 

“Shh—Magnus, hey, hey. I’ll show you the picture later if you quiet down, alright? As long as you don’t tell Jace about it.” Magnus nods his assent at this, eyes shining with sincerity. Alec lets him go, scooting back on the bed to put some space between them. “So what’s—right, we should get you to bed, then. Where do you keep your pajamas?”

“Such a—a good caretaker. Of course… of course, you are. You’re so—Alexander.” Magnus laughs, hiccupping as he stands. “Don’t you worry your pretty little mind, darling. I think I can handle this whole pajama thing.”

Magnus grabs a gossamer robe from a drawer and disappears into the bathroom, leaving the door wide open as the shirt he wore to the club slides off his shoulders and pools on the floor. Alec turns his head, suddenly finding the mess of textbooks and coffee cups scattered on Magnus’s desk to be the most interesting thing in the room. In the world. He refuses to think about anything else, even for a second.

Especially not Magnus in the bathroom, or the clink of his necklaces and rings hitting the counter, his pants joining the shirt on the floor as he steps into a new pair… nope. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t even exist. Alec is totally fine.

“Ugh,” Magnus groans, flopping face first onto the bed as he returns. “Aleeeeeeec. The room is spinning again. Make it stop?”

“How do I do that?” Alec says, still unable to look at Magnus. His hand twists in the cool sheets, voice soft and gentle for Magnus’s sake. “Do you want a Tylenol? Some water? Will that help?”

For a few long moments, Magnus is silent. Alec is starting to wonder if he fell asleep when there’s a soft mumble coming from Magnus’s general direction. Alec almost misses it entirely.

“Magnus, look at me, I can’t hear you with your face in the pillow. Come on. What can I do to help?”

“Hold me,” Magnus whispers, turning to face him with an unreadable expression. “Hold me still and make it stop.”

Time stands still. Alec stares at Magnus, who meets his gaze with so much emotion.  Everything is overwhelming and hot and intense. They’re feelings Alec doesn’t have words for, but they cut him all the same. His heart stutters uselessly in his chest as they look at each other, neither of them saying anything more.

Honesty. It’s raw and strained in the lilt of Magnus’s words. Alec is unable to respond to the request. He knows he needs to respond, has to say something… Jace would laugh it off and use humor to deflect the situation. Magnus himself would probably do the same. Isabelle would insist on having some deep, intimate conversation about it. Alec can see two options.

One, he gives in. It would be the easiest thing in the world to reach out and haul Magnus closer, to hold him and pass the night in whispered confessions and sweet words, all mumbled into the silk of Magnus’s hair with a courage Alec isn’t sure he possesses.

He can do all of this, for Magnus, and in the morning… Alec figures they’ll pretend it never happened at all. It’s the only way to save their friendship. Sure, the lying and pretending will break Alec’s heart into a million jagged pieces, but for Magnus, he’d do much more than that.

Two, he says no. Magnus is drunk. He’s Alec’s best friend in the entire world, and what he’s asking for? It’s dangerous for them both. Magnus doesn’t feel the same way Alec does, of that much he’s sure. But they still have a friendship. What if he can feel the pounding of Alec’s heart when their bodies are pressed so close? What if Alec does something to give himself away? Given how smart Magnus is, surely it won’t take long to figure out. Shoot, maybe he already knows.

There are two choices, two different paths Alec could take. He’s queasy with indecision, but with Magnus listing more and more to the side with each second, Alec knows his time to waffle is up.

He nods before he’s fully aware of it, eyes dropping from the heat of Magnus’s gaze to the cool sheets as he scoots back on the bed and reclines against the mountain of throw pillows, toeing off his shoes as he goes. Magnus follows suit and settles down on Alec’s right side.

They’re not touching. They’re not touching and there’s at least a foot of space between them. Alec clicks off the bedside lamp, casting the room in shadows and moonlight.

Why aren’t they touching? Did Magnus change his mind? What if Alec’s nervousness already gave him away?

Alec’s stomach twists as doubt creeps inside. Magnus is still watching him from his own side of the bed. As afraid as he is, and as much as it’ll hurt in the morning… Alec wants this. In the safety of Magnus’s bed at 3 AM, he can admit to as much. Alec wants Magnus—no, needs him—so much closer than he is.

Alec wants it for himself because if Magnus is in his arms, there’s no force on earth that could keep Alec from protecting him. He wants it for Magnus, who sounded so broken when making the request. For the sake of their friendship. For every moment Alec has spent wishing and wondering and aching for more.

For the slight (impossible) chance that Alec can get this out of his system in one go and not feel like drowning in the depth of his feelings for his best friend.

“Magnus, I’m here. Just tell me how to help you and I’ll do it.”

Magnus shivers, eyes closing for a second. When he opens them again, they’re impossibly soft, full of an emotion Alec is terrified to put a name to.

“I know,” Magnus murmurs, reaching for Alec’s hand as he moves to lay comfortably against his side. “Right now, I just—please, Alec.”

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.

Alec’s heart is splintering into pieces as he pulls Magnus to his chest, arms winding tightly around him as he tries to remember how to breathe—in, out, in—there we go, just like that. He tries to disguise the way his hands are trembling by combing one hand through Magnus’s hair, working out the tangles and the hairspray with careful fingers.

“Mmm,” Magnus moans. It’s a happy, quiet sound. He’s clinging to Alec’s shirt like he’ll float away without the connection, his entire body molded perfectly to Alec’s side. Alec wants to die. Thinks he might, from the way his heart is racing, breath catching in his lungs despite his best efforts to just relax.

“You’re an angel, you know that? An actual fluffy angel. With wings,” Magnus adds, eyes closing. “You flew here so fast. And now my heart is whole again. How did you do it?” A beat, and then, “Why did you do it? Why did you come?”

Alec closes his eyes, focusing on the feeling of Magnus’s hair, thick and soft against his fingers. If he lets his mind drift, maybe he can pretend this is real—that this, them, is something he can have. He repays Magnus’s honesty from earlier because it seems like the right thing to do. One, two, three…

“Because,” he says, “you said you needed me. So. Here I am.”

“I don’t deserve you, Alexander,” Magnus whispers, on the edge of broken, “I don’t deserve any of this.”

“You know what? No, Magnus, you’re right. You don’t deserve it. You don’t deserve to be hurting like this when you’re so…” Alec says, angry and hushed in the air between them.

“Easy? Manipulative? Emotionally unstable?”

Alec’s arm tightens around Magnus’s waist, pulling him impossibly closer.

“Kind,” Alec finishes. Beautiful. Amazing. Perfect. “Kind, and forgiving, and good in the face of a thousand reasons not to be. So no, Magnus, you don’t deserve to be going through this pain. Or anything else you’ve gone through. But you’re worthy of having someone who helps you through it. Who cares about you. And I…”

It’s too much, he’s gone too far. He’s too close to the actual truth of the matter.  The moment is so heavy that Alec fears the fragile night between them cannot handle the weight. Alec closes his eyes to ward off the thought, cheeks blazing, hoping that Magnus isn’t paying attention to the furious rhythm of his heartbeat.

I care about you. Way more than I should.

“You came all the way here. At 3 AM on a school night.” Magnus says, humming like this is a questionable concept rather than a statement of fact. Alec makes a noise of acknowledgment and rubs a hand across Magnus’s back, because yeah, he did that. This seems to jar something loose in Magnus’s mind, though, because in the space of a second he’s pushing up on Alec’s chest, shifting so they’re face to face. “Holy shit—Alexander. Wait. Did you sneak out?!”

Alec groans in response. Shoot. In his haze of Magnus and the anonymity afforded to them by the hour…he’d nearly forgotten that the sun is going to rise. And when it does, his parents will be expecting to see him at breakfast, like they do every morning.

Except for this time, Alec is in Brooklyn, 30 minutes away from his family’s condo. Where he’s supposed to be asleep in his room. Because they have school today.

Alec shimmies down on the bed, squirming under Magnus’s weight as he manages to free the phone from his pocket. 

“I don’t want to think about that,” Alec replies, setting an alarm for 5:30. Magnus makes another small humming sound and closes his eyes, breathing deeply as he settles back against Alec’s chest.

That’ll give him enough time to take the train back to the city and sneak through the front window into Izzy’s room. From there, he can say that he needed to borrow her cell phone charger. It’s not the world’s best plan, but given that this is his first time doing this, Alec figures it’s not bad. He drops the phone on Magnus’s mattress by his head and tries to get comfortable, one of Magnus’s thighs slinging over his hip.

Neither of them talks. If it were anyone else, Alec would find the silence stifling and awkward, but with Magnus, surrounded by the smell of his cologne and his detergent in the cool tangle of silk and sheets and warmth and so much skin, it feels better than anything Alec has ever felt before. Right. Natural. His head is spinning with how much he’s enjoying this moment. If Jace were here, he’d be joking about Alec somehow managing to get drunk by proxy. His stupidly low tolerance would lend itself well to that.

But it’s easy, whatever this is. Alec wants to fall into it and stay here forever. If he weren’t so determined to remain fully alert so he can commit each second to memory, Alec is sure he could fall to sleep in the space of a few breaths.

Magnus’s breathing is slow and even against Alec’s exposed collarbone. Alec’s nearly certain he’s asleep, his fingers tangling in Magnus’s hair again—just because he can. Because he might never have the chance to run his fingers through it once the morning comes.

Magnus breaks their careful silence, pressing his face against Alec’s neck.

“I kissed her,” he says. “I ran into Camille at Eden tonight, and I ended up making out with her in the middle of the fucking dance floor. I was drunk, and it was stupid. She’s stunning, Camille, but unfortunately repeated instances of public humiliation and heartbreak just don’t do it for me. Shame, that, given how well-versed she is.”

His speech is still a bit slurred, after-effects of the alcohol fading from his system, but Alec can hear the pain in his words. The vulnerability; cracks in the armor of a man who claims detachment as his best defense, who wears his heart on his sleeve to prevent others from looking too closely at it.

Alec knows, in theory, that Camille broke Magnus’s heart—more than once. But he’s starting to think he was wrong to assume that Magnus gave it freely. In fact, Alec is beginning to realize that perhaps this is bigger than any choice Magnus could’ve made. More than the love he and Camille had (and subsequently lost.) Loneliness, desire, and a heart that’s full to burst… maybe Magnus didn’t have much of a choice at all. Not when things with Camille are so easy.

The devil you know will never deceive you. A fronte praecipitium, a tergo lupi.

Alec’s nails scratch against his scalp in what he hopes is a soothing manner. Magnus presses impossibly closer, his fingers ghosting up Alec’s ribs in a drag that makes him shiver.

“Things were going well, and one thing led to another, as they’re known to do with Camille and I. We almost…well, I’m sure you can guess. One of her friends came looking for her, so we stopped, but we were supposed to meet back up and head to her place. I should’ve… god, I should have seen that for the lie it was. I didn’t. And then Camille disappeared. Poof! Went to grab her bag and never came back.”

Magnus pauses, his voice whisper-quiet when he speaks again. “I waited there for 20 minutes before I realized. And then I went and made friends with the bartender.” He laughs, the sound bitter and forced. “As it turns out, in her hurry to abandon me, my dear Camille forgot to close out her tab. So I had a few more drinks.”

Alec ignores the wave of jealousy it rushes in his ears. As much as he likes to think he’s starting to figure Magnus out, he has to ask. Has to know, if only to quiet the restless, irrational thoughts.

“Why did you do it? Kiss her, and the rest. She didn’t—Magnus, she didn’t force you or anything, did she?”

Apparently, it’s Magnus’s turn to reassure Alec. He nuzzles his face against the skin of Alec’s neck, pressing a feather light kiss there as Alec shivers again and whines, helpless to hold it back.

“No, no, darling. It was nothing like that. We just…well. In the moment, it was what I wanted. Let’s chalk that one up as a moment of weakness, mm?”

Alec’s eyes fall shut. Currently, he’s struggling to remember how sentences work.

“And did you. Um, how did it feel? With Camille, I mean.” Then, when the jealousy becomes enough to make Alec feel sick, he forces out the rest, as irrational and stupid as he knows it to be. “You’re not considering—getting back with her, are you? Were you?”

“No, Alexander. Camille and I are ancient history.” Magnus replies, toying with the cross pendant hanging from Alec’s neck. “I guess I’m just a little lonely, that’s all. All I wanted was to dance and get drunk, but there she was. A literal snake in the garden. Perhaps next time I should bring Jace along.” At Alec’s confused grunt, Magnus continues, grin clear in his voice. “He might be nice to look at, but darling, there isn’t enough alcohol in the world to drown out the amount of Axe that boy wears. He’s guaranteed to scare off every prospect on the island, and my heart will be safe. I’m not sure how Biscuit tolerates it. If it were me I’d pass out from the fumes alone.”

Alec smiles at that, a rush of fondness overtaking him as his free arm twines around Magnus’s middle. He buries his grin in Magnus’s hair, aiming for subtlety as he takes a deep breath.

“Well, Magnus, not everyone can afford Gucci, or whatever it is you use.” As incredible as it smells. Alec breathes in again, steady, through his nose—he holds it until it starts to burn in his lungs.

“Well, Alexander,” Magnus starts, mocking but clearly amused, “your brother most certainly can. And as cute as it is that you can name at least one designer, I don’t wear Gucci cologne.”

“Oh yeah? What’s it called, then?” Alec asks, struggling to keep his voice even, to not sound too interested in Magnus’s answer. It’s not like he’s planning on going home and buying a whole bottle just so he can drown himself in Magnus whenever he wants because that would be a new level of pathetic, not to mention creepy. Nope, Alec won’t do that.

Magnus goes quiet again, one hand pressed flat just above Alec’s heart. Thankfully it’s beating at a much more reasonable pace.

“It’s called Straight to Heaven,” he eventually says, the words sleepy and slow against Alec’s chest. “Do you like it?”

Alec snorts, eyes rolling—because of course it is. The irony is certainly not lost on him

“Goodnight, Magnus,” he says instead of replying. Magnus snuffles in response, falling asleep fully in a matter of seconds. It’s just Alec and his racing thoughts after that with his best friend sound asleep in the circle of his arms. Alec turns his head carefully to squint at his phone, not wanting to disturb Magnus.

4:05 AM. His eyelids feel heavy, the weight of the evening slamming into him all at once. With it comes a wave of exhaustion. Magnus is so warm against him, solid and real and comforting. As much as Alec wants to stay awake to fully experience every moment he has with Magnus in his arms, the urge to sleep is getting too strong to ignore. Alec sighs softly, double-checking the alarm he set earlier before deciding to get some rest. It’s for the best, anyway—they both have school in the morning, and afterward, Alec has archery. If he were to fall asleep right now, he’ll have just over an hour before he has to wake up and head home.

Eighteen stories below them, cars rumble down the streets of Brooklyn, not bound by the hands on the clock or held captive in the still sort of sanctity afforded to them by the night. Alec closes his eyes, and before he’s fully aware of it, he’s floating away, straight up and into the clouds. It feels a lot like falling, and he knows in some ways, that’s exactly what it is… But Alec is powerless to stop it, so he lets it happen. Alec falls.

Straight to heaven. Sleep comes easily after that.

//

| M.B |

Oh, yes. Magnus remembers. Not as well as he’d like to. But to commit each of Alec’s lovely details to memory would take a lifetime. Unfortunately, that’s the only thing Magnus doesn’t have. One day, Alec will settle down. Maybe, if they’re still close, he’ll ask Magnus to be his best man. Magnus will have to watch him marry someone else, live his days with someone else, smile and laugh and fall in love with someone else…

Alec isn’t his, and he isn’t Alec’s. But last night? It was easy to pretend that the opposite was true.

They’d made it upstairs, eventually, after Magnus had nearly gotten sick all over Ragnor’s Persian rug. Alec had helped him up the steps, half-carrying him as they stumbled into the banister and made their way down the hall.

And then Alec had helped him take off his makeup, his hands trembling slightly as he wiped away every smudge and sparkle. Magnus can remember being tucked into bed by those same hands, silk sheets smoothed down by long fingers that Magnus really wanted to comb through his hair.

Somehow, that quiet desire had led to Alec doing just that, fingers scratching dully against his scalp in a way that should’ve been criminal as he worked out the hairspray and tangles. They’d talked, Alec resting on top of the blankets and propped up against the headboard as Magnus had settled sleepily against his side. He can’t remember what was said, but he does remember that he’d never felt so… taken care of in his entire life. Not even with Cat. Not even with Ragnor.

It did things to his heart that he’d never voice; messed with his head and made him wonder why he’d sworn off Alec in the first place; why, when Alec was here with him, all gentle hands and soft reassurances as the shadows from the moonlight made his eyelashes look like ink spilled artfully down his cheeks. Why, when Alec had come running in the middle of the night—fuck, had probably snuck out of his parents’ house just because Magnus was a mess who couldn’t seem to stop playing with fire despite the fresh burns that throbbed with each shot tossed back, stung with each playful quip from blood-red lips. Empty flirtation just a way to pass the time. That’s all Magnus would ever be to Camille, as much as he liked to delude himself into thinking otherwise. A few fun nights and dashed hopes were all she’d ever give him; all he was worth to her.

But Magnus had fallen for it for the millionth time. Played right into her hand, and ended up scattered in a million pieces.

And Alec had come running like something out of a rom-com, tucking him into bed and taking care of him as though it were his job. As though it wasn’t 3 AM on a school night; as though this entire situation wasn’t 100% ridiculous and not at all something Alec should have to deal with as Magnus’s best friend.

The next thing he knew, it was 6:45 AM and he was alone again in his bed, alarm blaring loudly in the still of the morning. He felt much better than he had any right to. In the haze of the early morning, with the room spinning all around him, Magnus was flooded with memories of Alec.  His dark hair, hazel eyes, the melodious rumble of his voice as he held Magnus in bed.

Which had the room spinning again, for an entirely different reason. Fuck.

Magnus might’ve thought he’d dreamt it all up had Alec’s jacket not been draped across Magnus’s vanity chair, stark black against the silver-colored cushions. The aspirin and glass of water sitting on his nightstand were other indications of his presence.

He’d groaned and buried his face in the pillows (which smelled like Alec’s stupid Calvin Klein cologne, god damn it). He stayed there until Ragnor came in, brandishing a bagel and cheerily telling him to get up, lest he be late for school. He’d gotten up eventually, and when he slipped into his seat in Chemistry that morning, Alec had given him a tired smile and a little shrug, knocking their shoulders together.

They hadn’t talked about it beyond that, so Magnus had assumed he didn’t want to make a big fuss out of it all. Magnus agreed, relief thick and heady—mostly because the three languages he currently knew seemed inadequate for the amount of apologizing he’d have to do in order to make up for last night’s mess.

He should’ve known things were never that simple.

//

“Magnus? You’re not upset with him, are you? Because none of this was his fault, even if he didn’t tell us about whatever trouble he’s in—”

“Of course not, dear. Who knew Alexander had such a rebellious side?” Magnus says, reaching down to squeeze Isabelle’s hand. Her fingers curl around his own and he smiles, swinging their hands in a little arc. “I do, however, think we should get going. Wouldn’t want your parents to get home and realize we’re not really at the youth group bowling league, would we?”

Jace hums his agreement, already by the door with his shoes on. Isabelle sighs but grabs her purse, letting Magnus pull her along as they head out the door and down the stairs.

“Look at the bright side,” Jace says, eyes alight with the thrill of anticipation, “if we get caught, at least Father Starkweather will be waiting there for us since our mother already called him up for Alec. No wait to seek penance—there’s hope for me yet.”

“Jace, as much as I see the…potential, in joining Alexander in the confessional booth,” Magnus says, ignoring Jace’s gagging sounds and winking at a giggling Isabelle, “I’m afraid that particular fantasy will have to wait. I’ve got other plans for this evening, and no intentions of letting Maryse ruin them for me any more than she already has.”

“Where are we going, anyway?” Jace asks, sidling up to Magnus so they’re walking in stride. “No fake IDs means you’ve bribed the bouncer or blown him. I’ve got 50 bucks on the latter—ouch, Iz! I didn’t mean it in a bad way!”

“Jace, shut up.” She turns to Magnus, smiling sweetly. “Lead the way, oh connected one. Whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll be spectacular.”

“That it will be, my dear Isabelle,” Magnus says, grinning as they turn a corner. He sighs, careful not to let too much disappointment bleed into his tone. “It’s just a shame Alexander won’t be here to see it.”

//

“…that’s the Bank of America Tower.”

Jace’s neck is craned almost painfully, eyes glued to the spire on top of the building. Magnus gasps, a quiet, shocked little sound, as he raises a hand to his heart.

“My god, Jace, I think you’re right! And my shirt looks wonderful with these shoes.”

His eyes snap back to Magnus, obviously confused. “What?”

“My sincerest apologies. I thought we were stating the obvious.”

“Fuck you,” Jace says, “but please don’t tell me we’re breaking in or something? Because I know I said earlier that I’d be down for anything, but I wasn’t aware that felonies were on the table, and as much as I love a good felony—”

“Or something,” Magnus interrupts, holding up a hand to quiet him and heading for the automatic doors at the front of the building. They open for him and he walks in without hesitating. Isabelle laughs, quick on his heels as she follows him in. Jace mumbles curses and runs to catch up.

There’s a guard stationed at a large marble desk, his eyes glued to the screen of his iPhone as he watches some YouTube video with a bored expression. He looks up at the intrusion, brow furrowed as one hand trails down to his waist before spotting Magnus. Immediately, the frown is gone, a happy, loose grin taking over his features. His posture relaxes as he slumps back in the chair.

“Oh, it’s just you. Thought I was gonna have trouble for a second there.”

“Mark,” Magnus says, smiling at the man. “I’m assuming Meliorn left my invite? These two are with me for the night. I’ll keep them out of trouble.”

“Yep, it’s all taken care of,” Mark shrugs, already turning his attention back to the phone screen. “Use the third elevator. Meliorn’s all set up on the fiftieth floor. I assume you know the way.”

“Of course,” Magnus says. He gestures for Isabelle and Jace to follow him, punching a button on the elevator before rocking back on the heels of his boots. Isabelle whistles, a low, appreciative pitch.

“Damn, Magnus. That was cool. Guessing he’s a friend of yours?”

“Something like that.” Magnus grins, stepping into the elevator as it arrives. Jace leans over him and hits the button for their floor as the elevator starts to move.

Briefly, Magnus contemplates telling them the truth: he and Mark were foster brothers, back when Magnus was 13. He’d barely lived with them for a month. Mark’s dad had a bit of a gambling addiction and Magnus had gotten out of there as soon as he could.  He’d messaged Mark on Facebook a few years ago and the two reconnected over coffee and a shared hatred of Mark’s dad. Mark introduced him to Meliorn (and the parties he likes to throw in his Dad’s high-rise office,) and the rest is history.

Perhaps if it were just him and Alec in the elevator, the truth would’ve come out. As it stands, there’s no real point in letting the Lightwoods in attendance know.

The elevator chirps pleasantly as the doors whir open. Jace is the first one to step out, eyes widening when the dull thud of a bassline hits his ears.

“I wanted something a bit more—intimate, for our little excursion. A friend of mine named Meliorn is having a Halloween get-together to celebrate his med-school acceptance, so—” He smiles at them, waving his hand to gesture at an open doorway at the end of the hall, laughter and chatter coming from within.

“Unbelievable. What are we waiting for?”

Isabelle squeals, grabbing Jace’s hand and clipping down the hallway at an impressive pace, given the six-inch heels she’s wearing. Magnus laughs at the black cat tail bobbing behind her and follows them in, smiling when a few people greet him by name.

The room isn’t very crowded—30, maybe 40 people tops, standing in loose semi-circles chatting and holding drinks. All of the desks have been cleared to the side of the room and covered in rich purple velvet, with speakers and strobe lights resting on top. There’s a wall made entirely of glass, huge curtains pulled aside as Times Square shines brightly fifty floors below them. In the corner, a makeshift bar is set up, staffed by a pretty girl wearing an Alice in Wonderland costume. Isabelle and Jace make a beeline for her station while Magnus hangs back, arms hanging loosely at his sides.

As much as he’d love a drink right now, he also recognizes that a repeat of Wednesday night would not be good for anyone involved. Besides, he wants to make sure that Isabelle and Jace are having a good time.

He hears it before he sees it—Jace’s laugh, loud and booming, carrying over the music as he doubles over, in hysterics over whatever Isabelle just said. Magnus smiles and snaps a quick picture on his iPhone, not bothering to adjust the lighting or struggle for a perfect angle.

Maybe he’ll show it to Alec later. If not before, he knows he’ll see him Monday morning in Chem. He’d be happy to know his siblings were able to enjoy themselves, even if he couldn’t be there with them.

He slips the phone back into his pocket before heading for the makeshift dance floor, music settling under his skin like an itch. It’s currently empty, partygoers choosing to stand and chat rather than twist together to whatever top 40s playlist Meliorn is using, but that doesn’t bother Magnus… He views it as more of an opportunity. He loves to be the one to set things in motion, after all, and he knows people will follow his lead.

He’s not wrong. After a few songs, people start to join him, and before he knows it, he’s lost to the crowd once more.

//

Magnus is five songs into breaking a real sweat on the dance floor when his phone rings. He pulls it out of his pocket, grinning uncontrollably at the familiar photo that greets him.

“He lives,” Magnus says, ducking out of the office in search of a quiet corner. “Tell me, Alexander. On a scale of one to Mrs. Pangborn on a Monday morning… how unpleasant was it?”

“A twelve. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so mad in my life.” Alec sighs on the other end. “I didn’t end up telling Father Starkweather where I went. Just told him I snuck out, and asked for forgiveness for being deceitful.”

Always protecting him, even now. Oh, Alexander.

“How’s the party? Sorry I couldn’t be there. Hopefully, you’re having a good time together.”

“It’s nice,” Magnus says, toying with the edge of his Devil horn headband. “Would be better with you here, though. I’ve had to stand by and watch Jace attempt his mating ritual three times now. I thought he and Clary were back together?”

Alec makes a sympathetic sound. “No, not yet. Jace is being stubborn. Both Izzy and I have tried to talk some sense into him, but you can imagine how well that went.”

“About as well as his attempts this evening.” Magnus laughs. “Maryse gave you your phone back?”

“Yeah. I convinced her I needed it for Clave meetings. She wasn’t thrilled, but Dad managed to bring her around. You know… I’m starting to get tired of all this, Magnus. I feel like she holds me to such a high standard that nothing I do is ever good enough for her.”

The exhaustion rings clear in Alec’s voice, even over the phone. Magnus’s heart sinks.

“Alexander…”

“If Jace snuck out, he’d get grounded for a few days. If Isabelle did it, maybe a week. So why am I on house arrest for the next three weeks? Why did I get dragged to the confessional at 7:00 PM on a Friday?” The words are resigned, but there’s an undercurrent of anger in Alec’s voice. “All my life I’ve worked hard to be the son they wanted. They wanted me to lead the Clave meetings—I did it. Run for class president, even though I didn’t want to? Done. My grades are good and I’ve kept up with archery, I pray every day… I’ve done everything they asked, Magnus. Everything. And for what? It’s like they don’t care about me at all.”

“Then don’t,” Magnus breathes, “don’t do it anymore. Maybe it’s time you start living for yourself.”

For a moment, neither of them says anything else. Magnus can hear Alec’s steady breathing on the other end of the call. He waits. Waits for Alec to figure it out, to think about what he said.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this… but I think you’re right. How do I… I can’t just—”

“Hey, Alexander. It’s alright. You have plenty of time to figure this out. And I’ll be there to help you, whenever you need me. I’ll always be there to support you no matter what you decide.”

“Yeah, I know.” Even though Magnus can’t see him, he swears he hears a smile in Alec’s voice. “Thanks, Magnus. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

“You can repay me by sending me a picture of you in your Halloween costume. Since I won’t get to see it in person.”

This time, Alec’s groan is a lot more lighthearted. It makes Magnus laugh. He’s happy to have turned the mood.

“No way. It’s awful. Embarrassing. I look like an idiot.”

“Impossible,” Magnus responds. “I guess I could always ask Isabelle to send me the one she took earlier…”

“Okay, fine, you win. I’ll do it. But it’s for you, okay? Don’t—don’t show anyone.”

“You have my word, Alexander. Scout’s honor.”

Alec chuckles. “You were never a scout, Magnus. Not even close.”

//

They hang up, and the message comes in about five minutes later. Magnus nearly drops the phone in his haste to open it.

Alec’s bedroom is dark, but it’s as orderly as ever in the background of the photo he sends Magnus. He probably didn’t feel like turning on the lights. He’s quick to redirect his attention to the center of the photo though, the reason he begged Alec for a picture in the first place.

Magnus has to bite his lip hard to keep from cooing at the sight that greets him—because fuck, Alexander looks more adorable than anyone ever should. He’s wearing a plain white V-neck, his ever-present cross necklace resting in the divot of his collarbone, the edges of the pendant dipping down into the exposed skin to graze a dusting of chest hair…

The shirt matches Alec’s white skinny jeans, which are definitely not something he owned before. There’s a golden halo on his head suspended above his hair by a hidden headband, and he’s biting his lip like he’s nervous to be taking the picture in the first place. And then there are the wings.

Fluffy, feathery angel wings, strapped on and over the stretch of his broad shoulders.

Magnus is going to sue him. Definitely. He’s going to law school, getting his degree, and filing a civil suit. Hell, forget the law degree—Magnus has every mind to march over to Alec’s house right now. He wants to drag him back to the confessional booth and make him confess all over again because evidently, the previous attempt at penance didn’t do him any good. Alexander has a multitude of new sins to confess to. Starting with how sinful he looks with those goddamned wings on.

Magnus groans, slumping against the wall for support. He has to text Alec back, lest he thinks Magnus is laughing at him and preparing to email-blast the photo to everyone he knows. At the moment, though, he’s struggling to remember how words work.

[8:39 PM] – Askflkjsdsjefkefkelsajdk

[8:39 PM] – I’m furious at your mother. How dare she deny me the ability to see that in person???? Unbelievable.

[8:39 PM] – Alexander, you are going to kill me. That costume is perfect for you. Wow.

[8:40 PM] – From now on Isabelle is picking all my costumes. I mean it. You look great.

“Hey, stranger. There you are! What are you doing out here by yourself?”

Isabelle’s heels click against the floor as she comes over to him, peeking at his phone screen. He’s got a game of Two Dots pulled up before she makes it halfway down the hall.

“Needed some fresh air. Having a good time?”

“The best.” She rests her head on his shoulder, sighing contentedly. “I hope Alec is okay. Maybe we should get going. I can walk in wearing my costume and let Mom yell at me for the short skirt. That should take the heat off for a little while.”

“How devious. You Lightwoods really know how to steal the show, don’t you?”

Isabelle’s answering grin is megawatt.

“Oh, believe me, Magnus. You have no idea.”

 

Chapter Text

Magnus is halfway through a particularly involved French translation when the door to his bedroom opens without so much as a warning tap. His eyes land on the mug in Ragnor’s hands first.

It’s pink and glossy, with ‘If the crown fits…’ written in swirling gold font. Most of the rhinestones are missing from repeated washes but the crown by the handle is still there. Fragrant steam wafts from the top.

Ragnor made him tea. It’s a dead giveaway for what Magnus is sure will be an unpleasant conversation.

“My sweet cabbage,” Magnus says. “Here I thought your harbinger days were over. Did Laura call you at work?” Maybe the other shoe has finally dropped, and Magnus’s social worker will be at their door by nightfall. He gives a passing thought to the last place he saw his suitcase.

“No, Magnus, nothing like that. I see you’re still waiting for the world to end with bated breath.”

“Always,” Magnus says cheerily. He takes the mug of tea as Ragnor pushes it across the desk. “What is it, then? I know you’re here to talk about something. Might as well get on with it. Worry will age you another ten years in the span of a few hours.”

Ragnor glances at the papers spread in front of Magnus. He tilts his head to read the problems before lifting his gaze to catch Magnus’s eye.

“I’m going to Manchester,” he says, tone carefully neutral. “I have to attend a conference there. It’s in November.”

“Okay,” Magnus says, slowly. “Do you have a permission slip for me to sign or something? I’m failing to see how this warrants a tea-time talk, Ragnor.”

Ragnor rolls his eyes, snatching Magnus’s favorite purple pen to twirl in his fingers. He takes it straight from Magnus’s hand—there’s an ugly, jagged line on his French homework now. Magnus fights to keep his annoyance in check.

“You’ve been doing so well lately, crumpet. I’ve seen the changes in you. You sleep more. Drink less. Even your infallible pessimism is flagging as of late.”

“That’s the optimist in you seeing what you want to see. Or you’ve been going to bed earlier and haven’t seen me sneak in through the fire escape. What’s wrong, old chap? Is all of that scowling making you sleepy?”

Ragnor stills, studying Magnus with a careful eye. Critical, seeing straight through him. It’s a heavy gaze that has Magnus squirming with the desire to evade. To act. To—

Magnus smiles and dives for the pen, nearly upending their mugs of tea in the process. Ragnor leans back in his chair with a satisfied smile. He managed to pull away at just the right moment.

And he’s still twirling Magnus’s damn pen. Damn it, Ragnor.

“Ah, none of that. Distraction won’t get you out of this, Magnus. But if the pen means that much to you, here. You can have it back.”

Magnus takes the pen, grinning at Ragnor in response. It might not have been his preferred path to victory but the pen is in his hand all the same. He’s also having a lot of fun with Ragnor right now.  He loves this banter between them. It’s easy. Much easier than accepting Ragnor’s weighty compliments about how Magnus has changed in recent months.

“Well my dear, I’d love to know what exactly it is I’ll want to get out of, but you have yet to inform me. What was it you said earlier about distractions being ineffective?”

“You know how I love when you hold me accountable. Right to the point, then. I want you to come with me to Manchester, Magnus. The conference coincides with your November break so there’s no conflict with your attendance at the Institute. Americans and their constant holidays. Always something to celebrate, yeah?”

There it is. Magnus frowns, caught off guard by the request.

“What? No. I want to stay here.” At Ragnor’s withering look Magnus escalates, voice pitching a bit higher. “Ragnor, don’t be ridiculous. I have coursework. Exams.” A very attractive best friend and a wealth of days to spend with him. “I think I can manage here for five or six days. Why would you want me to come?”

“Because you’ve been doing well, Magnus. Incredibly so. I don’t want to run the risk of you losing your progress.”

“You think I’ll spiral once you’re gone. Once you’re not here to save me.”

“Crumpet—"

“No,” Magnus says, head shaking. “Ragnor, I’ve been trying. For you, yes, but also for myself. I understand your concern, but I’m going to be fine here by myself.”

There’s a furrow in Ragnor’s brow that Magnus can’t stop staring at. He reaches out and smooths it away with his thumb. It makes Ragnor smile—just a fraction; a minute uptick of his lips where they once turned down, but Magnus sees his victory all the same.

Suddenly, he knows what he has to say in order to make Ragnor give in. In for a penny, Bane.

“I met someone. A friend. We’ve been spending lots of time together lately and it’s… helped. You’d love him, Ragnor. He’s just as grumpy as you are and a good influence to boot.”

Ragnor’s brows arch. He’s sitting up a bit straighter in his chair, interest clear. Checkmate, dear Ragnor.

“Is that right? What’s his name?”

Time for the kill. Magnus tries not to smile too much, but it’s hard when all he can think about are hazel eyes and angel wings.

“Alexander Lightwood.” This means little to Ragnor, but the next part will. “He’s Maryse and Robert’s oldest son.”

“Someone special?”

Ah, and there’s the unforeseen consequence. Ragnor is playing a winning hand this evening.

“He could be,” Magnus admits, whisper-soft in the air between them. He can hear the shift in Ragnor’s posture. His elbows knock against Magnus’s desk.

“Hmm. Alright. Well,” Ragnor smirks, and shit, Magnus knows that look. “I’d hate to take you from such a good friend. I’ll allow you to stay here alone on two conditions.”

Magnus groans internally, preparing for the one he’s come to expect. He’ll want to meet Alexander for sure. He only hopes Ragnor won’t want to meet his parents as well.

“Introduce me to him, in your own time. As long as it’s before I leave.” Magnus nods. He can do that for sure. “As for the second condition…I want you to promise me you won’t be alone on Thanksgiving.”

There he goes, catching Magnus off guard again. The sentimentality is textbook Ragnor, but it has Magnus feeling uncomfortably breathless all the same. It’s been two years and he’s still not used to having someone who looks after him; he’s never had anyone who cares for him the way Ragnor does.

“I thought you hated pointless American holidays,” Magnus says, rolling his eyes to distract from the pull of emotion in his throat. “Now you want me immersed in fanfare?”

“I don’t want you to be alone,” Ragnor responds. His voice is kind, and the words settle over Magnus like the tea he came in carrying. “Spend the day however you like—fanfare or none, that’s up to you. But spend it with your Alexander. Or Catarina, if she’s not at work.”

“Alright, alright. I’ll throw a Thanksgiving party.” At Ragnor’s pointed look, Magnus amends, “A boring one, with tea, books and at least one attendee besides myself and the Chairman. Absolutely zero fun to be had. Now wipe that smirk off your face. I can see the crow’s feet starting to take shape.”

The chair creaks in protest as Ragnor stands, pressing a kiss to Magnus’s hair as he gathers the now empty pink mug. Magnus smiles and combs his fingers through his hair to fix the part Ragnor flattened.

“Sounds good, crumpet. Sorry to interrupt your homework. Faites moi savoir si vous avez besoin d'aide.”

“Show off,” Magnus responds, ignoring Ragnor’s chuckle as the door closes quietly behind him.

The jagged purple mark is still cutting across the page. Yeah, he’s going to need to fix that. Magnus sighs and grabs another sheet of paper, smiling at the sight of Ragnor’s grey tea mug still perched on the corner of his desk.

As jarring as the affection is sometimes, Magnus knows how deeply Ragnor cares for him. It’s evident in the way he yells at Magnus when he’s frustrated with him, the way he fusses over him, in the living room lamp left on until Magnus is home and in bed. It’s familial love.  As terrifying and magnanimous as the feeling is to someone who’s never had it, Magnus can recognize it for what it is.

A Bible verse floats to the foreground of his thoughts; further proof of Alec’s influence than any lack of binge-drinking ever could. It’s about love, and it’s one of Alec’s favorites—1 Corinthians 13. ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast…

As old as Magnus likes to pretend Ragnor is, it seems the New Testament predates him by quite a few centuries because it’s apparent the author of that verse has never known a love quite like he and Ragnor’s.

Damn Ragnor and his tea talks. They always have had a way of making him think.

//

| A.L |

Jab, cross, left hook. Jab, uppercutthrow the right and fake it, straight to a left hook. Keep them guessing and don’t hesitate. Jab, roll back, cross

“Alexander.” Twin footfalls clap against the shiny wooden floors. Alec grabs the sandbag with his wrapped hands to steady it, sucking in lungfuls of air as he turns to greet his parents. Jace’s workout playlist drones on in the background.

“Mom, Dad.” Maryse wrinkles her nose at the stale smell of sweat, but Robert doesn’t flinch. “What’s up?”

“A word, please. After you’ve freshened up. Meet us in the study in ten minutes?”

“Of course, Mom,” Alec responds, already moving to scoop up his belongings. Maryse nods and leaves the gym without so much as a second glance, but Robert is lingering in the doorway, teetering on the edge of words unspoken.

“Looking good, son. Tighten up your evasion technique and you might even be competitive.”

The towel Alec is scrubbing his face with feels too rough against his heated skin.  He doesn’t mind the slight stinging, especially if it means a quiet moment to himself where he doesn’t have to always be more for his parents. It’s exhausting to constantly reach for that level of perfection but that’s the way his family works.

“Will do.” Alec wishes there was an evasion technique he could use to escape the conversation he’s about to have. But as Robert so helpfully pointed out, evasion has never been Alec’s strongest suit.

//

It’s not as bad as it could’ve been, but it’s still pretty bad.

“Term grades are due soon. I checked the Parent Portal last night—imagine my surprise to find your English grade down an entire letter. Is there anything you’d like to tell us, Alexander?”

Uh oh. Alec prays, quickly and silently. This whole ‘talk’ is a minefield and Alec needs all the guidance he can get.

“It’s a high B, correct? An 87%? There are still two weeks, I can easily bring that back up to an A.” When it’s clear that Maryse is expecting him to go on, Alec adds, “There was a quiz I struggled with. The material was challenging. I didn’t do as well as I would’ve liked and it brought down my overall grade.”

“If you’re not performing appropriately on your evaluations, the error is in your preparation. Don’t blame the material for your own lack of oversight. You should know that failure like this is unacceptable.”

Alec’s cheeks burn with shame. He hangs his head, eyes glued to his own socked feet on the floor. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Mother.”

“Your apologies mean little, Alexander unless they’re followed up by the appropriate course of action. I want this behavior corrected immediately. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mother.”

Just as Alec’s about to take a deep breath, through with the worst of his inquisition, Robert’s voice joins the chorus.

“This isn’t like you, Alec. First, you sneak out in the middle of the night, and now your grades are slipping? What is going on with you?”

“Nothing,” Alec says a bit too quickly, “I’m fine. I’m sorry. I’ve been distracted lately but it won’t happen again, I promise.”

Maryse’s lip curls as she scans Alec’s body with her eyes. It’s predatory, overly harsh. Alec forces himself not to flinch…she’s looking for a tell and he won’t give her one. Alec really is an awful liar.

“Is it that boy you’ve been hanging out with?”

Magnus, Magnus. “No! There’s not…there’s no one I’m close with at school. He’s just a classmate trying to tutor me in English.” The lie makes him sick, but the thought of Magnus on his mother’s radar makes Alec sicker. He can pray for forgiveness later. Right now he needs to shift the focus. “We’re in the same class, we have group assignments.”

“Hm,” Maryse says, leaning back in her office chair. “Alright then. Well, be sure to tell your tutor that he’s not doing a very good job. Perhaps you should find another.”

“I’ll talk to Sister Magdalena about extra credit. My grade will be fixed by the end of the week.”

“Good,” Maryse says, already focused on the monitor to her right. “You’re dismissed, Alexander.”

 Finally, it’s over. Alec walks out of the study as quickly as he can without raising suspicion before heading straight to his bedroom and locking the door. He didn’t get to finish his workout earlier, but Alec feels exhausted, drained from the conversation and the moment of fear for Magnus’s wellbeing.

Magnus…his mother has noticed he’s been spending time with someone. Did she see them together in the library after school? Did Coach Garroway tell on him for skipping practice last Wednesday? He doesn’t seem like the type to do that, he’s always been kind to Alec no matter how he performs at the range…but Maryse had found out somehow, hadn’t she? Alec’s not sure of the bigger evil: her seeing them together and coming to her own conclusions? Or hearing the preconceived thoughts of another’s observation?

Regardless of the circumstances, Alec vows to be more careful at the Institute. If Magnus lands himself in hot water with Maryse he could lose his scholarship. Maryse could bar Magnus from any extracurricular activities. She could force him into remedial courses and damn his chances of having a competitive college application. As Headmaster of the Institute, she could expel him entirely. Alec has seen the havoc his mother can wreak up close. He’s been living it for 17 years now. No, she’s not getting anywhere close to Magnus. Alec will be careful from here on out.

He’ll have to keep his distance, at least until he can manage to pull his grade back up. It’ll be difficult but it’s to protect Magnus, so Alec will do what he has to do. Evade, fake out, jab, cross…

After all, he’s not about to lose the only person who accepts him just as he is in this moment. No conditions, no concessions, no ‘work on your uppercut and you’ll be competitive.’ Just Alec. Sure, it’s an expectation like any other. But it’s not a suffocating one. It makes Alec want to be better for himself.

Magnus thinks he’s brave. Magnus thinks he’s smart. Magnus thinks he’s funny.

He’ll do what he has to in order to live up to that. For Magnus, there’s no sky Alec won’t reach for.

//

| M.B |

Alexander is avoiding him.

Magnus isn’t sure when it started, or what he did to cause it, but it’s the only explanation that makes sense. He won’t answer Magnus’s texts or return any of Magnus’s calls. They still see each other in class, and Alec still talks to him, but there’s an underlying current of tension behind every smile they share.

Alec’s laugh has gotten quieter. The casual touches have vanished. His eyes are always moving, flitting around from corner to corner like he’s expecting something to jump out and scare him. He goes to tutoring sessions at lunch instead of coming to the cafeteria. Hell, Alec isn’t even coming to Mass on Wednesdays.

Magnus and Alec don’t spend time in the library anymore. Now, Alec goes straight to the range.

As easy as it would be for Magnus to make this personal, he knows Alexander—he would never do this without good cause. That thought only fuels the fire of worry in Magnus’s mind. What if the bullying is worse now than before?

He wants to get to the bottom of this, but Magnus knows better than to jump to conclusions. Luckily, his plan B appears, leaning against his locker as if she were the one seeking him out.

“Isabelle,” Magnus says, “you’re looking lovely today. I was just about to text you.”

Isabelle smiles, tucking her arm through the crook of his own. “Hey, Magnus. I haven’t seen you much lately. Are you free right now by chance? We could catch up, get our nails done.”

“For you? Always. Lead the way, Ms. Lightwood.”

//

Isabelle brings him to Bryant Park. They sit down together, coffees in hand. Magnus wants to wait, ask her how she’s been, maybe catch up a little. The worry in him has other plans.

“Have you noticed anything…off about Alexander lately?” There. Magnus is mostly sure it sounds casual enough to not raise suspicion. He’s still not sure how much Isabelle knows about the bullying at school and Magnus doesn’t want to lose Alec’s trust by telling her.

Isabelle sighs, palms scrubbing at the pleats in her skirt.

“No, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on. My brother is an expert at bottling things up. Or at least, he used to be.” She grins, giving Magnus a pointed look. “And then he met you.”

“That’s the issue, though. I feel like I’ve barely seen Alexander as of late. I’m not sure he’d come to me with this if something were truly the matter. I just…want to be sure I haven’t done something to upset him.”

“I’ll try to talk to him, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about, Magnus. He might be a sweetheart on the outside but my brother lacks a filter. He’ll tell you if you piss him off, and if he’s serious, he might even curse when he does it.”

Magnus giggles, because that is something he’d love to witness. It’s tough for him to picture Alec ‘Don’t-Use-the-Lord’s-Name-in-Vain’ Lightwood saying anything even slightly improper.

“Don’t tempt me, Isabelle. Alec cursing? That sounds delightful.”

Isabelle grins, rolling her eyes. Definitely a Lightwood trait. “It’s hard not to laugh when he does it. Alec always looks so adorably flustered. I doubt he’ll ever curse in front of you though, Magnus. My brother absolutely adores you and I don’t think there’s a thing on earth you could do to change that fact.”

Magnus smiles, standing and offering Isabelle a conspiratorial wink. The worry from earlier is still churning in his stomach, but Isabelle doesn’t seem concerned. Magnus vows to let it go for now. He’ll keep an eye on Alec at school—maybe he’s just busy with his schoolwork lately.

In the meantime, though, he and Isabelle have important matters to attend to.

“The feeling is absolutely mutual. On that note, you and I should get going. Tell me, Isabelle.” Magnus wiggles his ring-covered fingers, staring at his hand thoughtfully. “How do you feel about a deep navy color? I want something sparkly but our uniform calls for a decidedly less exciting palette. Should I stick with a neutral color so my nails don’t clash?”

“Magnus, glitter is a neutral color. How about navy with a glitter top coat? I’m getting bright red. It’s a little early for anything festive but you can’t go wrong with a classic, right?”

“You’re absolutely right, Isabelle. On all counts. I’m so glad I came to you for advice.”

Isabelle’s smirk is sharp and knowing. They walk down the street together, Isabelle’s hand on Magnus’s shoulder.

“You should tell my brother that,” she responds, “and maybe then we’ll get somewhere.”

//

| A.L |

“Alexander!”

Alec sighs, hand squeezing the strap of his bag. He closes his eyes for a moment and tries to compose himself. He won’t be doing himself any favors if he looks at Magnus like he misses him beyond measure.

He does. It’s been difficult for Alec to keep his distance—especially when Magnus is doing everything he can to bridge the gap between them.

“Hey, stranger. Long time no see.” Magnus’s smile is warm, head tilted to the side. “Going somewhere?”

“Always,” Alec manages, proud when his voice doesn’t crack. He gets a good look at Magnus—it’s been so long since Alec has let his gaze linger that it’s impossible not to get his fill now.

Magnus looks…incredible. He’s wearing gold eyeshadow today, eyeliner winged to a deadly-sharp edge. All his usual jewelry is present but there’s a new chain hanging from the shell of his ear, connected at two points by metal studs.

“I…um. Like your earring.” Stop talking, Alec. “It’s different. Good different. Looks nice on you, Magnus.”

Magnus’s hand flies to the shell of his ear, tugging lightly at the chain. His nails are freshly painted in a deep navy with silver sparkles shimmering under the light. Didn’t Isabelle just paint her nails too?

Alec is probably losing his mind at this point, but he swears he sees the hint of a blush coloring the edges of Magnus’s cheekbones.

“Thank you, Alexander. You look lovely. Like always.” Magnus’s eyes slip down the length of his body like water. Alec’s knees quake in response. “I saw the notice about the burst pipe this morning. Too bad for Coach Garroway. I hope he doesn’t have too much of a mess to clean up. Does this mean your afternoon target practice is canceled?”

Alec’s heart clenches painfully at the hopeful glint in Magnus’s eyes. How the heck is he supposed to say no to him now? Especially given how much Alec misses him; how frustrating it’s been to not text back or go on adventures with him every weekend.

He wishes they could go back to a few weekends ago, to Times Square and silly selfies. Things were so simple at first.

“Yeah,” Alec says, hating what he’s about to say. “Probably a good thing, because I have lots of homework. Sister Magdalena’s outlines are due next week for the term paper—”

Magnus frowns, shifting his shoulders in a way that shields Alec from being seen. “And we’ll go over them in small groups, just like we always do. She won’t look at them herself until the week before Thanksgiving. Are you feeling okay, Alexander? You’re acting…strange.”

“I’m fine, just stressed. End of the term is always hectic.” Alec’s drags his hand roughly through his already-wrecked hair.

Unfortunately for Alec, Magnus doesn’t seem satisfied with that answer. His eyes darken with a flash of worry, mouth opening for an inevitable protest—no. Alec can’t handle that. If Magnus pushes too hard, Alec won’t be strong enough to stay away from him anymore. He’ll cave and tell him everything he’s been hiding this past week.

The desire is certainly there…he knows Magnus would try to help; would do anything he could to make Alec happy again. They’re best friends, and Magnus knows something is wrong with Alec. There’s no way he’ll let this go if Alec tells him what Maryse had to say.

And that’s exactly what Alec is afraid of. It’s why he’s kept his distance in the first place.

“Really, Magnus. Don’t worry so much about me.”

“Impossible,” Magnus murmurs, adjusting the edge of Alec’s sleeve with careful fingers. “You should know better than to ask that of me, Alexander. Not when you’re so…well. Never mind.”

Magnus’s touch on Alec’s sleeve sends a molten warmth straight through to Alec’s core. It’s been so long since Magnus touched him. If the circumstances were different, Alec might laugh at how something as simple as this; casual and light and decidedly platonic, is enough to ebb at the tension coiled tightly in Alec’s shoulders.

The sigh comes out unbidden. It’s wistful and soft, and Alec regrets it the second it happens.

Magnus’s eyes widen at the sound.  He reaches for Alec—slowly and cautiously.  It’s as if Alec is a caged animal, hissing with bared teeth at Magnus. Alec is frozen, unable to pull back. Magnus’s hand wraps around his wrist fully, palm pressed tightly to the thud of his pulse…

Abort, abort, abort. This is such a bad idea, they’re in the Institute, what if someone sees

“Right,” Magnus breathes, “you’re coming home with me, then. I’m kidnapping you. You don’t have to talk but I’m making you something to eat, and I want you to sit and relax. Have a nap if you want one. My bed is very comfortable.”

“You cook?”

“Ragnor taught me last summer. We watched a lot of Food Network. Some of our attempts were…more successful than others, but eventually we were able to master the basics.”

Alec’s thoughts are racing in time with his pulse. Magnus’s house is a bad idea. Last time he’d gone there Alec had nearly confessed his feelings in a fit of overwhelming invincibility. It’s too dangerous to go there when the stakes are this high. There’s something about seeing Magnus in his own space that strips Alec down to the bone.

“No. I can’t.” Magnus’s demeanor shifts immediately, and Alec’s heart takes a nosedive. “Come to my house instead. We can study, and you can use the kitchen if you really want to. I told you though, Magnus. You’re worrying about me for nothing.”

 Magnus’s nose wrinkles, delicate creases forming at the corner of his eyes.

“Darling, as tempting as that sounds, I don’t know how your parents would feel about me taking over your kitchen without so much as a warning.”

“My parents aren’t home. Mom is in Boston until tomorrow night, and Dad is out with friends from Notre Dame. He always gets in late.”

“Jace? Isabelle?”

“Jace has piano until 4:30. Isabelle will be there.”

“Alright.” Magnus’s arm falls back to his side. Alec fights the urge to snatch it back. “Meet me at your locker after school and we’ll go. Sound good?”

They shouldn’t be doing this. Alec was supposed to stay away, and now Magnus is coming over?

The bell rings before Alec has time to dwell on the thousand ways this could go wrong. As much as he hates himself for it, there’s anticipation creeping feather light up the curve of his back. Oh, Alec is looking forward to this. It’s been so long since he and Magnus have spent any time together. Now they’ll have a whole afternoon.

Alec goes to Theology with a spring in his step and a prayer on his lips. Hopefully, Brother Zachariah won’t notice if his thoughts are already back home with Magnus.

//

If Alec could’ve anticipated how nervous he feels having Magnus in his house, he might’ve thought harder about this entire plan. He didn’t though, and now they’re here, taking off their shoes in the foyer as Magnus looks around at the plain white walls and the sleek leather furniture.

“It’s very…modern. Clean. I’m a bit surprised. I had Maryse Lightwood pegged as a true traditionalist; grand entryway with a spiral staircase. Painted portraits and the like.”

Alec snorts, head shaking. “No, not quite. My mother would say that splendor is a state of mind.” Magnus doesn’t comment on how impersonal it all feels, and for that, Alec is grateful. “The kitchen is this way. It’s a little small, but it works for us. Jace and I are the only people who ever use it.”

“Are you hungry?”

Magnus’s fingers drag along the wooden doors of cabinets, intent clear as he tilts his head in silent question. Alec nods and settles down on a high-backed barstool.

“Not really.” Magnus’s worried stare could burn a hole straight through Alec. “But I could eat.”

“Mm. Anything in particular? Allergies? Likes? Dislikes?”

Penicillin. You. Not being good enough for Mom and Dad. “Nope. I’ll eat anything. Unless Izzy makes it.”

“Alec!” Isabelle screeches, hands slapping down on the counter. “Are you serious right now? I thought you liked my cooking!”

Magnus beams, putting down a carton of eggs and what looks like a canister of brown rice.

“Speak of the devil and she shall appear. Don’t mind your brother, sweetheart, he’s grumpy and in need of a nap. Want to help me wash the vegetables?” Alec blinks—now that Magnus mentioned it, his bone-deep weariness has made itself known. “Alexander, you should go take a rest. Isabelle and I will wake you when it’s time to eat.”

“Are you sure? I don’t want to ditch you, and really, I’m fine—”

There are hands on his shoulder, pushing Alec up and out of the chair. They’re gentle and steadying even though he’s being manhandled out of the kitchen. Magnus. This time Alec keeps his breathy little exhale to himself.

“Yes, Alexander. Rest. Isabelle and I are more than happy to keep each other company here.”

//

Magnus makes fried rice. Despite how good it smells, Alec is apprehensive—his sister is standing dangerously close to the stove, Jace’s ‘Stud Muffin’ apron tied neatly around her neck. Magnus winks as he hands Alec a plate. Safe to eat, then. Alec’s smile is automatic.

Of course, the sight of Magnus in Alec’s own apron, a plain grey number with thin horizontal stripes, would’ve had him smiling anyway. Coupled with Magnus cooking for him?

It’s delicious. Magnus is beaming from ear to ear, watching him eat with an unbearably fond look…and damn it, Alec wants it to mean so much more than it does. But it doesn’t. It’s stupid. He’s clutching at his necklace unconsciously, the bite of the cross in his palm the only thing keeping him from a full-blown anxiety attack right in front of Magnus and Isabelle.

Originally, Alec thought bringing Magnus here would be the safest course of action. Had he known seeing Magnus in his kitchen would make him fall even harder than he had that night in Magnus’s bedroom…

He would’ve gone to the range and begged Coach Garroway to let him practice. All the flooding in the world wouldn’t keep him away—at least it’s better than the sinking ship he’s on right now.

//

“Woah,” Magnus says, manicured finger pointing up at Alec’s ceiling. “I feel like I’m at the bank. Are your parents that big on home security?”

Alec sighs, looking up at the camera with thinly-veiled resentment. “Something like that. They claim it’s because of the neighborhood. I don’t know.”

“…you live in Tribeca,” Magnus deadpans, arms crossed over his chest. “Alexander, that might just be the most ridiculous excuse I’ve heard—and I once told Ragnor I couldn’t go to a law school dinner because I’m allergic to corduroy.”

“Yeah. Try telling them that. They don’t turn on until 8:30 PM though, so you’re not on CCTV if that’s what you’re worried about. Here, my room. Sorry if it’s a mess.”

It’s a small room, white walls and gray carpet with simple, sparse furniture. Alec put away the basket of clean clothes earlier that morning and thankfully, he’d made the bed before heading to the kitchen.

The bed Magnus is currently climbing into, legs tucked neatly underneath him. The sight of him against Alec’s plain black sheets is…absolutely not helping the problem at hand. He busies himself with pulling out his notebooks—The Metamorphosis is certainly enough to reroute Alec’s thoughts, although he’s not sure this path is any less stressful.

Stupid book. Stupid English class. Three points shy of the A his parents want, and Alec has to muddle through Kafka, of all things. Life really isn’t fair.

“Alexander?”

Alec blinks, owlish and slow. “Yes?”

“Oh, nothing. I was starting to think I was a character in a Ray Bradbury novel.” At Alec’s blank look, Magnus continues. “You’re looking at that book like you want to burn it. It was a joke. Sorry.”

He knows he’s whining, but at the moment, Alec doesn’t have the energy to care. “I don’t like it. The plot makes no sense and all Sister Magdalena can talk about is symbolism…well, where’s the symbolism in a giant grasshopper man laying down and dying because his family doesn’t sacrifice everything for him?” Alec scoffs, the spine of the novel thumping hard in his hands as he paces the floor. “What were they supposed to do, Magnus? Burn their house down and live in a leaf home? I just don’t get it.”

Magnus is watching him with a haunted expression, mouth dropped open in a soft-looking o.

“What were they—Alexander, darling…”

“I mean,” Alec continues, too fired up to quit, “it’s not like what they were dealing with was normal, right? If I woke up tomorrow morning and I was a giant cricket, I’m sure my parents would do the same thing—I mean, goodness, that’s no way to live a life. I wouldn’t blame them if they crushed me under their feet. They’d be doing me a favor…so tell me, why do we have to write a ten-page paper demonizing these people when it’s really as simple as—”

Magnus’s gasp is enough to shut Alec up, his jaw closing with an audible click. He tears his heated gaze away from the stupid Kafka book in search of Magnus on the bed, and—no, Alec’s heart stops beating at the sight that greets him.

He’s got one hand over his mouth, eyes wide and glassy and fixed on Alec with a sightless sort of horror. Like he’s looking straight at Alec and not seeing him there.

“Magnus? What’s—”

“Your parents,” he whispers, sharp and deadly in the quiet of Alec’s room, “are the worst sort of people. I cannot believe—you have no idea how badly I want to punch something right now.”

What the hell? Alec’s mind is reeling. What? His parents? Where had that even come from? He frowns, not liking where this conversation is going. “What is that supposed to mean? What do my parents have to do with anything?”

“Kafka’s entire novel is about family. I use that word loosely because the people Gregor surrounded himself with were anything but. As much as he did for them? As hard as he worked to settle a debt he himself had nothing to do with? All of that, and they still couldn’t love him the way he deserved. It’s heartbreaking. And your parents, Alexander, could’ve written the damned book themselves. They’re living it. It makes me so fucking angry to think of how little they value you—”

“Hey, hang on. Are you saying I’m Bugman? Because if so, it’s a lot more complicated than you’re making it sound.”

“Is it?” Magnus hisses, his face red. “Because I don’t think it is, Alexander. And I hate that they did that to you.”

Alec tosses the book aside, confusion shifting seamlessly into anger. “Did what to me, Magnus? I just told you, I’m not Bugman! My parents might be—strict, sure—but they’re not throwing apples at my back. They’ve never so much as laid a finger on me.”

“Maybe not physically, but believe me, Alexander, there are much worse ways to hurt a person. I know that from experience.” Magnus’s eyes are wet. It’s almost enough to make Alec stop, but the fire in his belly won’t let him. “The cameras in your hallway? All this extracurricular shit they’re forcing you to take on? You said it yourself less than three weeks ago. You feel like you’re not living for yourself.”

Confusion and anger and an incorrigible sadness are tangling taut in Alec’s ribcage, Magnus’s words slicing into him and leaving him feeling…wrong. Hollow. Alec hates this feeling.

In a way, he’s right. Maybe Alec isn’t Bugman, but do his parents appreciate him? No. Not in the ways that he wishes they would. But that doesn’t mean they’re not his family…because they are. And right now, Magnus is tearing them to shreds at Alec’s feet. It’s right there in the book of Matthew: ‘For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ A little extreme for Alec’s tastes but the message is not lost on him.

The tension in Alec’s chest snaps, icy and rigid. He’s heard enough of this.

“You don’t any clue what I feel. So back off,” he snips, leveling Magnus with the force of all the fire curling up his spine. “You just don’t get it, do you? It’s right there in the Bible, Magnus. Exodus 20:12—honor your mother and father.”

“You know what else is in the Bible? 1st Timothy, paragraph 5, line 8: ‘Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.’ What do you make of that?”

Alec splutters, caught off guard for a moment before he’s able to regain his sense of direction. “I—what, okay—listen. My parents might not be perfect but they’re still my family...and you can’t choose your family, Magnus. I thought out of everyone, you would be able to understand that.”

“Really, Alec? You can’t?” Magnus sneers. “Because the last time I checked, the only family I’ve ever had is the one I chose. So maybe you’re the one who doesn’t understand. Let me spell it out for you: you CAN choose your family, but your family has to choose you, too. Every single day. Even if you’re a hard choice. Even if it’s the hardest thing ever to wake up and—to wake up and love you that morning.”

Shit. It’s like the time he and Jace did the Ice Bucket Challenge video—in an instant, Alec’s anger disappears. His heart is thudding dully in his chest. Nothing he wants to say will come out right, but it’s Magnus, so he has to try.

“That’s different,” Alec says, head shaking. “Your family is—”

“—broken? Dead? A figment of my deluded orphan imagination, apparently?”

No, Magnus, of course not!” No. How is this going so wrong? “Listen, t-that’s not—”

“The only difference between my family and yours is that mine choose me. Even though I constantly break their hearts. Nothing I do seems to scare them off—and believe me, I’ve been trying.” Magnus says evenly. “Raphael, Ragnor, Cat, and—” The words come out hurt and fragile sounding. “Maybe I was wrong about you.”

Alec steps back, shocked by the force of Magnus’s words. The air around him suddenly feels a thousand degrees colder, stinging his throat as he sucks in desperate, heaving breaths.

Ice water in his lungs, ice water all around them. Alec is at the range and he’s drowning in it.

Alec’s not sure when this conversation started to splinter, but he feels like he’s lost all control of the situation. It’s all he can do to keep breathing—in, out, back in again, and hold it there—fix it fixitfixit—

“M-Magnus, I’m so—I didn’t mean to…”

Magnus rolls his eyes, words spitting off his tongue like poison.

“Oh, don’t worry Alec. I know exactly what you meant.”

Before Alec fully realizes what’s happening, Magnus has his bag in his hand, jacket dangling loosely from his shoulders. The image of Magnus turning to leave him has a new wave of panic cresting in Alec’s ribcage and he jolts forward, moving before he can convince himself not to. His fingers wind around Magnus’s wrist to hold him in place.

Magnus, however, has other ideas. He rips his wrist from Alec’s grip, shaking out his arm as if he’s chasing away the remnants of Alec’s touch. When he wheels around to face Alec, some of the fight leaves his face, anger ebbing away to reveal his exhaustion. Magnus’s voice might’ve lost its edge but the words cut Alec to the quick all the same.

“Is there something else you’d like to say, Alec? I thought this conversation was finished.”

The words fall from Alec’s lips faster than he can properly say them, bleeding together in a way that’s so far beyond desperate he’s sure Magnus will see right through them.

He says them anyway. It’s all he can do.

“I’m sorry—” Alec blurts out, “I didn’t mean for it to come out that way. I didn’t—I don’t understand it. It’s different and I didn’t get that, but now I see. Stay. Let’s talk about something else, let’s just... The project, we still have to—”

“Actually, I need to be going. It’s best if I leave before the cameras come on.” Magnus looks at his watch, hitching his bag up higher. “We’ll get together later to discuss the project. I’m too tired to work on it today. Besides, don’t you have to get back to avoiding me again?”

“I—no, I don’t want…please. We could watch a movie instead. Order a pizza with pineapple, even though I hate it.”

Magnus sighs. When he speaks, he doesn’t turn around.

“Goodbye, Alec. I’ll see you tomorrow morning at school.”

He doesn’t slam the door—no, that would be far too obvious. Instead, he closes it quietly, knob twisting as it clicks back into place. The sound rings like a gunshot through Alec’s room all the same, and he’s suddenly aware of how empty it is, how muted and impersonal his walls are; how Magnus’s jacket tossed over the edge of his desk chair lit up the space with a bright burst of color, a little touch of home in the same four walls Alec’s known his entire life.

He shivers and closes his eyes, hating the empty feeling creeping over him. He hates this house, hates the stark white walls that hurt his eyes every time he looks at them. Alec hates how alone he feels, and he hates that there’s nothing here that feels familiar anymore.

Mostly, he hates that he’s stuck here. As much as he wants to escape, especially right now, Alec knows he has nowhere else to go.

So he lays on his bed and stares at the ceiling, wondering when his home became a living, breathing person—and what to do if that ‘home’ is lost to him for good.

//

| M.B |

In a turn of events that manages to shock Magnus, he goes straight home after fighting with Alec. No drinking, no partying, no shots or pills or booze to wash the memories away. No, this is a memory he deserves to be stuck with. Magnus quietly shuts the door to his bedroom, turning the lock to ensure he’s left alone.

Magnus can admit when he’s gone a bit too far. In hindsight, bringing up Alec’s parents when they’re the most likely culprits for Alec’s recent bout of strange behavior was probably not the best idea.

But he had. And then things took a turn, transforming and twisting into something ugly before Magnus’s very own eyes. Like watching his own personal Metamorphosis—he and Alec lost sight of each other, raining blow after blow until neither of them could stand. Fuck, by the time he left, Magnus couldn’t remember why they’d started fighting in the first place. Was it really because Alec missed the point of an English assignment? Well, fuck you too, Kafka.

He sighs and squeezes a throw pillow over his face, screaming until his throat is hoarse. Old therapy trick. Damn it, Magnus. What the fuck is wrong with you?

The truth of the matter is this: it would be far too easy to blame Sister Magdalena (stupid prompt), or Kafka (stupid book), or even Alec (stupidly lovable boy) for the shit storm of guilt Magnus is feeling right now. That wouldn’t be fair, though. Deep down, Magnus knows he’s the only one to blame. Alec might’ve said some terrible things…but without Magnus’s inability to separate truth from fiction, they never would’ve fought in the first place.

Magnus closes his eyes, ignoring Ragnor’s soft knocks when he comes home around 8:00 PM. When he drifts off to sleep that night he dreams of bugs on walls; of climbing and reaching and dying alone.

It’s the worst sleep he’s had in weeks.

//

When Magnus gets to the Chemistry classroom, Alec is already sitting at their table. He’s bent over the table, head pillowed on his arms as his breath comes out in steady little huffs.

He’s asleep. There are dark circles under his eyes to match Magnus’s own; indicating a night spent doing anything but sleeping. Magnus’s heart breaks a little at the sight.

He slides into his chair without pulling it back, bag falling softly on the floor to keep from disturbing Alec. A look at the clock reveals five minutes until class is set to start, and Mrs. Pangborn is nothing if not punctual. She’s not in the room at the moment but Magnus knows it’s best if Alec wakes up before she gets here.

The last time someone took a nap in her class, Mrs. Pangborn kept the poor girl in detention for a week. Alec has enough to deal with as it is. Angry or not, Magnus is certainly not about to let him get detention. 

As he’s debating on the best way to wake Alec without startling him, Alec’s eyes open, hazel snapping immediately to chocolate brown. The smile that blooms is warm and unguarded. Alec sits up, cheeks red and marked from the press of his sleeve—and with little to no warning of the devastation he’s about to wreak on Magnus’s shattered heart, he rests his head against Magnus’s shoulder, settling in with a sleepy huff as he makes himself more comfortable there.

Magnus doesn’t move, doesn’t breathe, as he waits for Alec to realize; for the sleepy spell he’s under to crack under the weight of the chasm between them. To wake up. To break the rest of Magnus’s stupid heart without realizing he has it in the first place.

The door opens as Mrs. Pangborn walks in, hinges creaking loudly in the quiet of the classroom.

Fuck. Alec jolts up like he’s been shot. The pain in Magnus’s chest triples as he watches Alec come back to himself, his smile slipping instantly as his eyes flit between Magnus’s shoulder and the table in front of them.

The irrational and sleep-deprived part of Magnus’s brain causes him to wonder if Alec had the same dreams of loneliness the previous night. Thankfully, the rational part tells him to shut the hell up.

“Good morning, boys and girls.” Mrs. Pangborn sets her bag down on the office chair, greeting the class with her trademark stern expression. “I hope you’re all prepared for the quiz this morning. Please take out a pencil and a sheet of paper. Put your books away too, closed and out of sight.”

The rest of the class passes by in a blur of formulas and thermodynamics, but Magnus finds it hard to focus on anything but the scratch of Alec’s pen against his paper, lip tucked between his teeth as he diligently takes notes. Towards the end of class, Mrs. Pangborn gives them a paired assignment, but Alec asks to use the restroom immediately afterward. Magnus isn’t stupid—he sees it for what it is. Alec is avoiding him. He doesn’t want to talk about what happened last night.

His heart may be broken, but damn it, Magnus Bane is not going to cry in front of all these people. Waiting for the dam to break…is that what this is, then? They fight, drift apart—and then nothing?

By the time the bell rings Alec is still missing. Magnus quietly closes Alec’s textbook, tucking it into his bag before turning and leaving.

//

“Magnus, wait.”

Magnus pauses, hand hovering just above the door to the stairwell. He has Art next. Art means Clary. He likes Clary—she’s too wrapped up in her own Lightwood drama to harp much on Magnus’s.

“I…about this morning. I don’t—I’m kind of useless when I’m tired. I don’t know what came over me.” Alec’s laugh is a sick, nervous sound. “I know things are kind of weird between us, but—"

It’s not easy for Magnus to turn, but when he does, the sight of Alec’s kicked-puppy face is enough to break the floodgates.

“I’m sorry, Alexander. For last night, for everything—Magnus doesn’t elaborate, the sting of this morning’s hurt too vibrant to ignore. It’s much easier to joke. He does that instead. “Who would’ve thought! The Legendary Alexander Lightwood: archer extraordinaire and famed Student Council President…can’t start his morning without a good cuddle.”

Alec smiles. It’s hesitant, but there nonetheless. “We all have our flaws I suppose.”

Oh, isn’t that the truth. Magnus returns the smile. It’s what Alec is expecting.

“Some worse than others. Clary is waiting for me in Art. I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah,” Alec says, slightly-off pitch. Magnus can feel the burn of his gaze until he physically rounds the corner. “Sure, Magnus. I’ll see you later.”

//

“Magnus,” Jace says, door slamming against the wall of the empty classroom as he shoulders through it. Magnus is startled by the echoing thud but Jace ignores it entirely, walking over to Magnus at a brisk pace. “You and I need to talk.”

“Let me guess,” Magnus says, holding up a finger to quiet Jace and claim the floor. “This is about to be one of those ‘You hurt my brother, now it’s time to face the music’ conversations? Because that’s rather unnecessary, Jace, I can assure you. I have no intentions of ever doing anything to hurt Alexander purposefully—that aside, these little chats are usually reserved for couples. Which Alexander and I are decidedly not. We’re best friends. In my mind, anyway. Perhaps at this moment he might not even think of us as that.”

“What? No, Magnus,” Jace says, clearly startled. He settles down on a desk, shoulders tense. “It’s not—no. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know, Jace,” Magnus replies. “No one ever ‘means it like that’, your lovely brother included. But the conversation still happens.” He sighs and paces the floor, unable to keep the hurt from coloring his tone. “To be honest, I was hoping you and I were past that point. I thought, after Halloween…”

“We are,” Jace says emphatically, jumping to his feet. “Magnus, we are—I trust you, okay? I like you. Respect you. This isn’t about you, alright?” He stops, eyes closing for a second as he gathers his thoughts. Magnus can’t help but notice, chest tightening just a bit, that Alec does the very same thing. “It is about you but it’s about both of you. Together.”

It’s enough of a struggle for Magnus to bite back a groan at that, so he doesn’t bother disguising the eye roll that comes after. God, he knows. Knows he and Alec are like fire and gasoline, and frankly, he doesn’t need Jace to tell him how bad of an idea it is. Them, together.

He knows it, he truly does. But the words sting all the same.

“And what is that supposed to mean, exactly? Alec and I are not together, Jace. That’s the point.” And the problem. Not that Alec would echo that sentiment.

Jace crosses his arms, looking him dead in the eye as he speaks.

“It means that I’m worried about you, you idiot. You think I haven’t noticed how tired you are in Gym every day? You fall asleep on the bench, Magnus, and it’s loud in there. But you sleep right through it anyway, even when Raj is screaming and Coach is blowing his whistle, that’s… Not to mention, you’ve been missing some of your usual…bling lately.”

Jace sweeps his hand down the length of Magnus’s current outfit in a vague gesture—Magnus isn’t quite sure whether to be offended or impressed that Jace even noticed. He lands somewhere in the middle, brows raising pointedly as he stares at Jace.

“I’m wearing a uniform, Jace,” Magnus starts, voice hesitant but not completely lacking in his signature brand of Jace-driven sarcasm. “Not sure if you’ve noticed, but you’re wearing the same thing. We all are—it’s called a dress code, and your parents are pretty strict about upholding it.”

“I know that but, like, the makeup, and the hair, and the nails, you’re just… You’re not yourself, okay? Not like you usually are. You’re off your game, Magnus. And Alec is too, in more ways than one. Ever since the two of you started your…thing, he’s been happier. Iz and I have noticed. He acts like a human being now, and we’ve been so happy to see him doing things for himself for once. I guess he’s more Alec-y, I don’t know. I’m bad with words. But that’s all because of you, Magnus. You helped him. And in the past few days, he’s gone right back to the way he was before you two met, maybe even worse. Hell, he didn’t even say anything when I glued his arrows to the bottom of his quiver last week. I used Super Glue. The good stuff. Did it just to get a rise out of him, make him stop acting so robotic. Nada. Not so much as a ‘you’re testing my patience Jace,’ outta him.”

Jace sighs, dragging a hand through his hair. When his eyes meet Magnus’s, they’re warm and full of concern.

“Look. I don’t know what happened between the two of you, but we’re friends, right? You and me? We might not be as close as you and my brother are but even I can tell when something’s wrong. And if you’ve got someone else you’d rather talk to about this, then great. But you need to talk to someone because it’s getting to you too, this thing with Alec. I can see it even if you don’t want me to. And I know it’s not easy to talk to someone, dude. I feel like you and I are sort of similar in that way, so believe me, I get not wanting to open up and talk about real shit like that. It’s scary. But it’s important. It’s like…okay, so it’s like showing a scar to someone and telling the truth instead of covering it up with a cool story involving some made up shit.”

Jace grins sardonically, holding up his forearm. A thin, pale scar runs the length of it, from the crook of his wrist to his elbow.

“See. I could tell you I fell off my bike, or I could tell you that when I was six, my Dad made my life so miserable that I thought the alternative sounded nicer. I could tell you both of those things, but only one of them is the truth. I don’t know why it’s so much easier to say that I tripped and fell like a total ass. Maybe that’s why Alec’s been acting so weird lately. It’s easier for him to close back up like a clam than to admit he’s having problems. To you, especially, Magnus. No offense, but you scare the shit out of him.”

Holy shit. He had no idea. Sure, Alec has mentioned Jace being adopted, but this? This is an entirely different set of circumstances than what he was expecting.

“Being vulnerable is really tough, even for people like you and I. We’ve got a lot in common, Magnus. We’re strong as fuck because we’ve been through a lot of shit. But we still have those cracks, and it’s not the easiest thing to talk about. It reminds me of some art thing Clary told me about the other day. Think it’s called kitsune? Kirumi—wait, shit, it’s kintsugi! Yeah. Basically, in Japan when a piece of pottery breaks, they don’t throw it away. Instead they fix it with some sort of gold-glue stuff, and they piece it all back together and it becomes this brand-new thing at the end, even cooler than it was before. Scars and all. Anyway, dude, I think people are a lot like that, if you find the right one—and my brother found that in you, Magnus. All you need to do is fix whatever’s wrong with Alec and be honest with each other. You’re never going to be able to take that pain away, and neither will he, but maybe you can be something new together. Something shiny and gold and really, really cool.”

Magnus’s jaw is hanging open. He closes it with an audible click as he continues to gape at a solemn-looking Jace, mind racing as his eyes burn with unshed tears. There are a million things he’d love to say; questions and whys and whats and holy shit, Jace, where did that even come from fighting for dominance in the realm of his thoughts. Now, though, his mouth and brain seem to be having somewhat of a disconnect—it’s as though Jace robbed him of his eloquence when he came into the room, using it for himself instead and rendering Magnus utterly useless.

“Like I said. If I’m overstepping, and there’s someone else you’d rather talk to about this, just let me know, and I’ll back off. But I wanted to tell you I’m here for you too, Magnus. Alec might be my brother but I think you’re really good for him. So if you aren’t ready to talk to Alec yet, just…I’m here, alright? If you need me. And in the meantime, I’ll say a prayer for you both. I have a feeling the two of you are going to need a little extra oomph to make magic happen. Let’s see if the Big Guy wants a piece of that.”

“Okay,” Magnus croaks, voice thick with emotion. “Alright, yeah, Jace, I…thank you. For that. I’ll, um. Keep that in mind, when I’m ready to share.” He pauses, taking in a deep, shaky breath through his nose. “Oh, and Jace?”

Jace looks up—there’s a shyness to him now, a soft sort of deference that looks foreign in the scrunch of his shoulders. He’s fiddling with the button on his uniform blazer and god, he’s the picture of dissonance; both wise beyond his years and unbearably young. Magnus is still reeling, unable to fully make sense of what he’s seeing.

“I think you’re good for each other too, you know. You and Biscuit—Clary, I mean. I’m…I hope it all works out. I’m not much for prayer, but if I was, you’d be on my list too.”

It doesn’t feel like enough. It pales in comparison to the raw honesty Jace just gave Magnus…but he’s proud that the words come out at all past the lump in his throat, and Jace doesn’t seem to mind it either way. He just grins and nods in response before getting up and knocking Magnus’s shoulder in that silly, hyper-masculine gesture he sees all the time from other boys their age before exiting the room much more quietly than he’d entered, leaving Magnus alone with his thoughts and the stinging in his eyes that won’t seem to go away no matter how often he blinks.

As surprised as he is to admit it, Jace’s words are settling into his bones, giving him a bit of the stability he’s been missing in the past few days. The thing is, it makes sense. Maybe this new level of vulnerability is what’s missing from their friendship; maybe it’s the common ground they’ve been so desperately searching for, hidden to them simply because they’ve both been too scared to open themselves up to it. It’s a new perspective, one he hadn’t considered. Honestly? Prior to this little chat, Magnus would’ve told you he and Alexander were being perfectly vulnerable to each other.

But he’s starting to realize, thanks to Jace, that perhaps this isn’t the truth of the matter.

Magnus hasn’t given much thought to how little he’s told Alec about who he was. No. Who he is. His past and the truth about Ragnor and Raphael. He’s talked to Alec about the parties and the reckless beauty he saw in Camille and Alec’s seen him at less-than-ideal moments. Hell, he’s held Magnus together when he was too drunk to do that himself; kept the pieces from exploding like shrapnel by holding him tight to his chest and mumbling sweet reassurances in Magnus’s ear. Yeah... Alec is no stranger to Magnus on a bad day.

But is that the same type of vulnerability? Has Magnus been as open and honest with Alec as he should’ve been all along if he hasn’t even told him the truth about Raphael? And what about the fact that lately, this little crush of Magnus’s colors every single interaction the two of them have? That he can’t stop thinking about Alec’s hands; about reaching out mid-sentence and grabbing them to see if they’re as sturdy as they look, to kiss the backs of them and thread his fingers through Alec’s own to find some solid ground amidst the tidal wave of feelings…

Is Magnus truly being honest if he’s lying to his best friend every single day about how he feels?

He stands, breathing in deeply to calm himself as he picks up his bag from the floor. There’s a sheet of paper poking out of the front pocket, dog-eared and worn. Magnus’s hands move automatically, ready to tuck it out of sight so he can go home and sleep away this weariness, but something makes him stop, and instead of zipping his bag back up, his hands pull the paper out, smoothing down the wrinkles in its surface as he brings it closer to his face to examine it.

The paper is plain, torn out of a notebook, edges jagged and uneven. There’s something scrawled in the middle of the page—Magnus silently curses the kick of his heartbeat as he instantly recognizes Alec’s handwriting, the lovely loops and flourishes still perfectly intact, despite the obvious rush he’d been in to get the words down.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up.

Magnus recognizes it as scripture and it’s vaguely familiar to him—this must be one of Alec’s favorite verses, hidden away in Magnus’s bag from the time they’d been going over that Theology project together. They’d barely known each other then, and Magnus had been fascinated by Alec’s penmanship, taken by the way he wrote each word with such care and deference, he’d ‘accidentally’ grabbed a few papers by mistake when they were packing up to go home.

But all that is lost now as he reads it again, paying close attention to what’s actually written. Magnus gasps, feeling like he’s been hit square in the chest. The words float in front of his eyes until they’re all he can think about; all he feels, a constant loop of scripture and mending pieces with molten gold and Alexander, Alexander, Alexander rolling together until he has to sit down, dizzy with the intensity of it all.

Magnus doesn’t believe in God. Coincidences are real. They happen, sometimes without rhyme or reason, and that’s just the way the world works.

But there has to be a reason this paper nearly fell out of his bag. This verse, Alec’s handwriting, the timing and Jace’s surprisingly solid advice…

There’s too much here to be inconsequential. He folds the paper carefully, slipping it into the pocket of his dress pants instead. With one last breath to calm his nerves, he leaves the classroom, the door shutting quietly behind him. For everything, there is a season. To give, to take, to speak

He decides.

This is Magnus’s season—a season of being braver, of living louder, of embracing the beauty in all his cracks and shortcomings. As soon as he and Alec have a moment to themselves…he’s going to tell him everything.

Chapter Text

For as long as Magnus can remember, November 18th has brought him nothing but heartache. He doesn’t like to mention it. To think about it. And as much as he adores a great party, Magnus Bane is certainly not about to celebrate that day. He’s never really come up with an eloquent way to share his thoughts on the subject; a retelling that will save him from an assault of pitying looks and sympathetic sounds. Thus, it’s easier not to mention the subject of his birthday at all.

So far, the people he’s held close to his heart have been understanding of this fact. Cat listened to him while he tried to explain without giving away too much, and hugged him afterward with a promise to never mention it again. Ragnor doesn’t attempt to sing, or bake him a cake. There are no balloons in sight. No presents. No fanfare. It’s exactly what Magnus wanted from the day…until this year. Now, Magnus thinks he’s ready to try something different.

For some reason, this go-around-the-sun has Magnus reimagining the truths he once thought of as unshakeable. What if his birthday doesn’t have to be depressing? Sure, he’s booed and hissed at his therapist before at the mere mention of ‘repurposing the day.’ However, now that he’s come up with the idea on his own, he’s starting to see the merit in it. Hmm…

Maybe it’s Alexander. What a thought that is. As if coming in and smiling at Magnus like something out of a rom-com wasn’t bad enough, Alec had to add insult to injury by making him feel things.

Fuck, Magnus’s therapist would be rolling around on the floor. He’s half tempted to give her a call, just for her reaction.

As it stands, he has an idea. Only time will tell if it’s a good one, but if the loose fluttering in Magnus’s gut is any indication, he thinks this will be the best birthday he’s had in a long, long time.

//

“Alexander. Do you have a moment?”

Alec freezes, caught in the junction of pew and aisleway. For a split second Magnus worries he won’t acknowledge him at all. If he wanted, Alec could absolutely keep walking. Blame it on the noise level in the room; say he never heard Magnus at all, go straight to class. It would be easy. Magnus wouldn’t blame Alec if that’s what he wanted to do.

Alec turns. His expression is guarded, but Magnus swears he sees the trappings of hope echoed in the press of his lips.

“Magnus,” he says, drawing out the syllables and fuck, Magnus could cry from how sweet it sounds. “Hey. How are you doing?”

“Hey yourself.” Magnus can’t fight the smile. “Fine, I suppose.” A bit of a misnomer, but Alec wasn’t asking for the truth. That’s why Magnus wants to give it to him. “I miss you.”

Alec’s mouth opens around an exhale. Ragged, sharp, and painfully hopeful—any doubts Magnus had about sharing that last bit fall to dust around them.

“I miss you too,” Alec responds, words more of a whisper than anything. “It’s been…weird. Not talking to you at all.”

“Believe me when I say I know the feeling. Since our fight, I’ve been eating lunch with Simon and Raphael. God, Alec. If I have to listen to one more theory about Rey being the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi, I am going to lose my mind. Or, what’s worse—I might actually start to care.”

He moans dramatically, pitching his face in what he hopes is convincing despair. Alec smirks, bringing his fist to his mouth to disguise a chuckle.

“Language, Magnus. You’re standing in the house of God. That does sound awful, though. I was never allowed to watch ‘those movies’ growing up.” Alec punctuates his air-quotes with a well-timed eye roll. “I don’t think I’d like them much. If your reaction is anything to go by.”

The casual reprimand is enough to make Magnus’s heart skip a beat. God, he’s missed this.

“Sorry, darling. What would I ever do without you by my side?”

Alec’s face falls. Shit, Magnus, way too close to home. He winces, teeth biting into the edge of his lip. Looks like it’s damage control time. Magnus opens his mouth, and —

“Oh shit—uh oh. Um. I mean…oops?”

Spectacular. Out of all the moments of vocal prowess Magnus has demonstrated…this one won’t be making the list. With witnesses, too. Looks like he’ll have to kill them all.

“Oops?” Alec is stern, eyes darkening—for all of three seconds. The giggles that come after are enough to soothe the burn of regret from Magnus’s throat. “D-did you just—at Mass, of all places. Oh, Magnus. What am I going to do with you?”

Everything. Anything you want. “Go out with me on Saturday,” he says. “We can talk, catch up. There are a few things I’ve been meaning to share with you. Important things.”

Alec’s mouth drops a bit, back straightening as he leans into Magnus’s space.

“What kind of things, Magnus?”

His tone is…odd. Magnus can’t quite place it. Alec’s guarded expression isn’t giving anything away, but all the same, Magnus knows he has Alec’s attention. Magnus supposes that’s all he needs to make this work the way he wants it to.

“Oh, this and that.” His façade of nonchalance isn’t very convincing, so Magnus decides to drop it. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Alec. It’s not exactly—easy, for me to talk about certain parts of my past. But after last week…I think it’s something I have do to. Something I’m ready for. If you’re interested.”

“I am,” Alec breathes, shifting a few inches closer, “Magnus, of course I am. I meant it when I said I’d always be there for you. What happened with us wouldn’t—it doesn’t change the way I feel.”

What? Alec’s eyes are wide and serious, barely any hazel left in them at all—the way he feels? It’s all Magnus can do to keep from bringing a hand up to temper the pounding of his heart.

No, there’s no way. No way that could mean what Magnus wants it to mean.

“What did you have in mind for Saturday?” Alec says, low and close. “Want to come over? I’m still grounded from sneaking out, but I could tell anyone who asks we’re studying. My mom thinks you’re my tutor anyway. We can talk in my room with the door shut.”

Magnus nearly laughs, because no, he can’t think of a more terrifying thought than that. Being surrounded by the physical embodiment of Maryse’s matriarchal oppression while he pours his heart out to her son less than a wall away? Magnus is going to have to pass.

Still, though. Alec being kept under lock-and-key has the potential to be an issue.

“How grounded are you, exactly? I’m more than willing to post your bail.”

“Hmm…I’m not sure.” Alec’s nose scrunches. “Women’s Bible Study meets on Saturday nights so it’s not like my mom will be home. We can go out if you want.”

Magnus needs open air, on neutral ground. Clear escape routes for Alec if he realizes Magnus (and his feelings) are no longer something he’s interested in.

“Are you sure? We can wait a week, I don’t mind at all.”

Alec nods, rolling his eyes at Magnus’s concern. The little rebel. The Alec from three months ago would be running to repent at the thought alone.

“Okay then. Central Park, 5:30 PM. Wear something nice. I know a cute little French restaurant just around the corner. We can get dinner there afterward.” If you still want to talk to me. “What do you think, Alexander?”

“I think,” Alec says, “I’ll be seeing you on Saturday. On one condition.”

God. Magnus mentally slaps himself when he starts to wonder if Alec is flirting with him.

“Yeah? And what is that?”

Alec’s smile is soft and unexpected, sweeping away the earlier unease in the space of a blink.

“Let me buy you dinner?”

What? Magnus chokes out loud. It’s entirely unattractive and he regrets it the second it happens. He hadn’t even come close to mentioning his birthday, so there’s no way Alec knows the truth about Saturday. Magnus is more than a bit confused.

“Why?”

“I don’t know.” Alec’s shrug is painfully honest. Magnus hates the uncertainty creeping into Alec’s expression. “I want to. Is that weird? Sorry, crap, that’s probably weird—”

“No. Not weird. Just surprising.” Alec still looks a little green, and Magnus can’t handle that. “In that case, thank you, darling, for that generous offer. Let’s change plans and go to Nobu instead. I’ve always wanted to try it out.”

Alec laughs. The sound is delightful. The first block dismissal bell droning over him, however, is much less pleasant.

“If that’s what you want, I’ll make the reservations. Jace likes Nobu. I’ve never been there either.”

“No, darling. I’ll take care of all the planning. All you have to do is show up looking like your stunning self.”

Magnus smiles at him, hope filling his chest at the easy, carefree Alec in front of him. There’s a real chance this could all work out. That telling Alec everything about himself, including the weight of his deepening feelings, might actually end with them together.

It’s a dangerous thought, but like many others Magnus has entertained in the past few days, he’s not willing to dismiss it entirely. No, he thinks as he watches Alec’s back disappear into the crowd, this is Magnus’s season. God or no God, he’ll be damned if he’s not going to make the most of it.

//

| A.L |

“Well hello,” Robert says, startling Alec in his attempt to choose a tie. They make eye contact in the mirror before Alec turns to face him. “You clean up well, big guy. Going somewhere tonight?”

“Of course not, I’m grounded. Just wanted to see if it still fit, that’s all.”

Robert smiles, hands raised in front of him as he steps into the room.

“Relax. Your mother isn’t here right now. You can tell me the truth, Alec. I won’t be upset with you.”

Oh, Alec thinks with no shortage of bitterness, I wouldn’t be too sure about that.

“I…okay.” If he has to lie about who he’ll be with, Alec should at least try to keep the destination somewhat rooted in reality. Too many lies and he’s bound to get snared in them. “A friend and I are going to...to see a show!”

Robert’s brows raise, voice suspended in disbelief. “On Broadway?” Alec nods enthusiastically. Too late to change the story now. “Alec, your mother and I took you to see The Lion King when you were 10. Do you remember? All it took was one glance at those hyenas on stage, and you were begging to leave, you were so scared. I took you outside and bought you a pretzel to calm you down. Your mother and sister stayed to watch the rest. You’ve hated Broadway ever since.”

Crap. This is not good. Alec doesn’t remember much about The Lion King but he does remember the part that came after—the hour and a half he spent riding on his father’s shoulders as they walked the city streets together. It was nice. Heck, now that Alec is reminiscing, that afternoon was the last time he and Robert did anything like that.

Sure, they’ve made lots of memories as a family, but just the two of them? Not since that day seven years ago.

That was also the last time Alec ever attended a Broadway show. While he’s hopeful that hyena exposure won’t send him into a dizzying panic this time around the track, he also hasn’t been back since to test the theory. Robert knows that as well as Alec does.

“Well, I like it now.” Therevery convincing. Now Alec has to come up with a show Robert will approve of. Something tells him Kinky Boots won’t make the cut. “We’re going to see Anastasia.”

Robert smirks. For a moment, Alec thinks it’s a good sign. And then Robert opens his mouth.

“Glad to hear you’ve had a…change of heart. Maturity suits you. You mentioned meeting up with a friend?” Oh, hell. “What’s her name?”

“No, Dad. Not like that. At all. Really, it’s just a friend from archery. A male friend.”

“Oh.” Robert frowns. “Well in that case, I think I should remind you that you’re grounded, Alec. Are you sure this is the choice you want to make?”

Now it’s Alec’s turn to backpedal. He tries to keep the panic from his voice.

“Wha—didn’t you just say you wouldn’t be mad with me?”

“And I’m not. I’m simply suggesting you reconsider your evening plans. You and this friend from archery can make plans later, after your punishment runs its course.”

Everything in Alec sinks. He feels like he’s about to cry. Magnus. It looks like Alec will have to cancel their plans again. “Yes, Father. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“That’s alright, Alec. We all make mistakes.” Robert tilts his head in consideration. “Hey, I know what will make you feel better. Since you’re all dressed up with nowhere to go, why don’t you come with me? I’m headed to the Men of Purpose meeting down at St. Joseph’s.”

Nowhere to go? Alec begs to differ. But it’s too late for that. His father’s words register in Alec’s brain after a short pause. He can’t believe he hadn’t noticed before—his father is dressed in a suit of his own, sharp and neatly pressed. Damn it. Men of Purpose is a bullet he’s been successfully dodging for years now under the guise of his other extracurricular involvements.

“Dad…”

“When I walked in here and saw you in that suit, Alec, it nearly brought a tear to my eye. It feels like just yesterday I was walking you out of the theater with snot running down your face. Now look at you—I close my eyes for half a second, and my little boy is a grown man.” Robert takes a deep breath, trying to steady himself. “There’s no trace of that little boy left in you, Alec. I am so proud of who you’re becoming. I know your mother can be a little overbearing, but it’s only because she sees what I see and she’s having a harder time saying goodbye to the six-pound baby she used to hold.”

“I’m not a baby anymore, Dad. I’m 17 years old.”

“I know that, Alec. And I don’t plan on treating you like one. That’s why I want you to come with me tonight. These meetings are all about making the most of our walk with God, leading us closer to Him, so we can share the blessing of His word with the rest of the world. You have so much wisdom to share in a space like that. You’re more than ready, son.”

Briefly, Alec lets himself seek comfort in the words. It’s not often that his parents give him praise, and Alec is only human. It feels nice, hearing his Dad tell him he’s proud. It’s too bad he’d rescind that in a second if he knew who Alec was supposed to go out with tonight.

Interpreting Alec’s silence as hesitation, Robert comes closer, hand clapping roughly at Alec’s shoulder to rouse him.

“Come on. Grab your shoes. I’ll tell you what…after we come home I’ll convince your mother to let you off the hook early. Starting tomorrow, you’re a free man—our little secret, yeah?” Robert winks, all camaraderie, but Alec isn’t in the mood for it. “I’ll give you a few minutes to finish getting ready. Meet me downstairs in five.”

Robert turns and leaves before Alec can think of a good enough excuse. He sighs, taking one guilty look at his phone charging on the nightstand…

Time to text Magnus, then. Alec can only pray this won’t cost him the little bit of progress he and Magnus have managed to make.

//

| M.B |

On his birthday, Magnus is two hours early in getting to Central Park. He’d debated on how pathetic it was to come here this early, desperate not to jinx their night before it’s even begun…but in the end, he’d decided that foregoing his traditional habit of being fashionably late was better than pacing his room for two hours. At least now that Magnus is here it’s too late to second-guess his outfit or the hint of gloss on his lips.

It’s a little ridiculous how badly he wants this night to end in a kiss. Or twenty. Magnus isn’t picky.

So now he’s here, two hours before they’re supposed to meet, with nothing to do but watch all the people go by. Usually Magnus is a lot more confident before dates—although, to be fair, his dates don’t usually involve conversations about his childhood. Not that this is a date.

Nope. He and Alec are only here to talk. And go to Nobu on Maryse Lightwood’s dime. And maybe, if he’s lucky, share a kiss at the subway station…

Magnus’s phone buzzes loudly in his pocket. It’s probably Alexander. They’ve been texting on-and-off all day, planning Alec’s escape from the fortress he calls home. His grin is huge as he manages to get his phone out, fumbling with his fingerless gloves to pull the message up...only for his heart to sink at the text sitting in his inbox.

Oh, it’s from Alec alright. And it’s a message telling Magnus he can’t make it tonight because he got caught sneaking out, and shit, he is so sorry, Magnus…

Magnus’s heart splinters, the ache ricocheting like shrapnel in the too-tight space between muscle and bone. He feels stupid for expecting a different outcome—hell, he and Alec haven’t even fixed things from their last fight—and yet Magnus had wanted so badly for this to mean more. Tonight was supposed to be their chance to talk about everything that’s been going on lately.

Vulnerability. Magnus is tired of hiding in the shadows of his own trepidation. What better day to come clean about the demons at his back than his 18th birthday?

From start to finish, he’d already figured out how to best share the broken pieces of himself with Alec. Magnus’s parents were first on the agenda. Then he’d talk about Morgenstern, meeting Raphael, and moving around from place to place with nothing but a few outfits and a lot of misplaced anger.

Magnus wanted to talk about his 13th birthday, and the fifth of vodka he’d managed to steal from his foster sister’s dresser drawer. It was curiosity that made him try it—and the taste was enough to have him gagging into her laundry hamper. The burn tore down Magnus’s throat like nothing else had. Why the hell did anyone do this if it only gave a physical face to the pain?

Of course, Camille came shortly after, just in time to teach Magnus all about the many faces pain can wear—and how to greet those demons by name with a smirk and a fuck you. From the sweet nothings whispered into Magnus’s ear to the way she wove the strings of him around blood-red nails, there was no end to the world the two of them lived in. At the time he felt empowered by it. Camille gave him the out he’d been looking for; taught him how to breathe through the hurt by embracing the burn of a shot.

Then they broke up. The pain was still there, but Camille wasn’t, and now it was worse than before. Fortunately for Magnus, the coping mechanisms she taught him still seemed to do the trick. He’d been relying on them ever since.

Thanks to Magnus’s lovely little text message snafu in October, Alec already knows about Camille and her hand in crafting some of Magnus’s destructive tendencies. But that’s where it stops—and that’s the problem Magnus was hoping to remedy tonight.

By telling Alec the truth about his past, he’d been hoping to open the door to a future of full disclosure. Vulnerability, honesty; brutal, broken, molten-gold healing. If Alec was even interested in that after seeing how many pieces Magnus is currently shattered into.  

But in Magnus’s dream world, Alec would still want him. Even though he’s a mess. He’d want him because Alexander is good, and far more patient than any person Magnus has ever met before. Maybe after Magnus finished telling him Alec would’ve smiled, lopsided and sweet, and pulled Magnus close to his chest.

Magnus wonders…would Alec tremble as he holds Magnus together? Would he want to kiss Magnus as badly as Magnus would want to kiss him? Would he even notice the stupid fucking lipgloss Magnus agonized over?

God, there were so many things Magnus wanted out of this evening. He thought Alec wanted something similar. He’d seemed really into the idea back when Magnus invited him in the cathedral. Alec’s enthusiasm only served to plant the seeds of hope in Magnus’s mind…this year was going to be different. More. Magnus was going to do more than hope—he was going to take part in making it happen for himself. For he and Alec.

Just another stupid fool to hope, then. He honestly should’ve known better than to think this birthday would be any different than the last.

Magnus stands, dusting off his sleeves as he scans the park with a more listless fascination. Despite the slight bite of the November air there are plenty of people out and about—walking dogs, riding bikes, snuggled up together in oversized coats.

And there, right at the corner of 110th and Madison, Magnus spots the one thing he needs more than anything right now. He’s jogging over to the gridded windows of the bodega with little concern for anything else. It’s not a large store but it’s plenty big enough for what he’s looking for. Sure enough, he finds several bottles of vodka lined up, each of varying sizes and proofs, and oh, he does love a selection. His fingers curl around the neck of one as he moves to the counter to pay.

No one asks him for ID, but they do ask him if he needs a receipt. Magnus snorts and shakes his head before heading back to the same bench he left not five minutes ago. Going home isn’t an option given how excited Ragnor and Catarina were when he told them of his evening plans.

Time to people-watch for a few hours. Here’s to hoping he can make this night more interesting.

//

Just as he’s making a home for himself at rock bottom Magnus’s phone lights up again. The photo he’d forced Alec to take with him—complete with Snapchat flower crowns—flashes on Magnus’s screen.

Magnus answers without a second thought.

“Alec,” he slurs, tongue feeling numb in his mouth, “shhh, turn your phone off. You’re in church.”

“Church? No, I’m—it’s 11:30, Magnus. That was over hours ago.”

Alec’s voice is tinny and far away on the other line, and Magnus can barely hear over the sound of his own harsh breathing as he tries not to break down over the phone. Alec is far away. Too far. God, he misses Alec.

“You miss me?” Alec says, obviously confused. “I’m not far, Magnus. I’m right here. Do you…are you home right now?”

Oh, lovely, he’d been speaking out loud. Magnus moans, burying his head in his hands.

“Nope. I’m out and about. Seeing the city. Really is nicer at night, don’t you think?”

He can hear the frown in Alec’s voice. Why is Alec so upset? Magnus is the one all alone on his birthday.

“Magnus, it’s freezing out. And you sound like you’ve been drinking. Talk to me. What’s wrong? Is this about tonight? I’m so sorry. I still want to talk to you—tomorrow, we could—"

“Everything is fine, Alec.” Magnus snaps, suddenly annoyed. Distantly, he registers the salty tang of tears but he licks his lips, choosing to ignore them for now. “It’s nothing I’d want to bother you with anyway, you’ve got a very busy schedule. Wouldn’t want to interrupt your—special family time.”

“Family—what? No, Magnus. No, no, no. You couldn’t bother me if you tried.” Alec pauses, and fuck, Magnus can hear the way his words hang onto each other; frantic and edged in his disbelief. “You’re pushing me away again. Please don’t do that. I can come see you right now if you miss me…I’m already on my way. Tell me where you are?”

“I said I’m FINE, Jesus Christ! Just let it go, Alec!” He’s screaming now, throat raw from the liquor and the tears and people are staring, but Magnus doesn’t give a shit, can’t seem to focus on anything but the burning ache in his chest and the need to protect whatever shreds of his dignity remain intact. “Just—just let me be alone, please. That’s all I want, Alec. I don’t give a shit about my birthday anyway so let me spend what’s left of it without your pity.”

“Birthday?”

It’s barely a whisper, but it’s such a broken thing, pain and disbelief and guilt so thick in Alec’s voice that it shuts Magnus up immediately, anger giving way to a wave of nausea.

Fuck. When will Magnus learn to keep his goddamned mouth shut? He slams the bottle in his fist against the rocks, reveling in the shattering sound it makes on impact. Magnus pays no mind to the liquid sloshing up onto his sleeve or the sting of the glass as it cuts into his palm. What a fucking mess this all is.

There’s nothing but silence for a few seconds. In that time, Magnus realizes that he’s seconds away from doing something truly stupid, something like pleading for Alec to come and be with him. He doesn’t care about Nobu, or the fact that they were supposed to talk. No, Magnus just needs Alec.

Who knows…holding Alec’s hand on this stupid hill and kissing him might be enough to take away the crushing ache in his chest. Magnus doesn’t know what he wants; what he needs, but it’s getting harder to breathe and there are white spots dotting the edges of his vision and it’s quite possible that he’s about to throw up—

Alec is mid-sentence, his voice a broken, gentle mewl, but Magnus doesn’t trust himself right now. He stabs sharply at the screen, managing to end the call with a choked little sob.

There, much better. Now Magnus can figure out what to do next.

Slowly, a few things start to occur to him, in no particular order: his hand is bleeding, he’s not cold, and he’s very drunk. Shouldn’t he be cold, though? All these people have hats, scarves, coats. Magnus only has a thin jacket. Shit, he’s probably not going to be able to get home like this. Not without help.

It takes him a few moments to remember how to open his contacts app. From there, it takes a bit longer to find the one he’s looking for. He clicks it and drags the phone up to his ear, arm leaden and numb as he waits.

Raphael is clearly in no mood for pleasantries. “Magnus, what in God’s holy name—”

The sobs claw their way out of his throat unabated. The line goes deathly silent.

And then.

“Dios, Magnus. Just—don’t go anywhere, alright. I’m already on the way.” 

//

| A.L |

The next morning, Alec shows up at St. Joseph’s Cathedral bright and early like he does every Sunday; like he has every Sunday for as long as he can remember. While it’s not unusual for Magnus to occasionally miss a service on Sunday, there’s an empty space too big for one person on the left-hand side, three pews from the pulpit. It takes Alec’s tired brain a few minutes to realize who normally sits there with Magnus.

Magnus skipping out on church? Not alarming. But Raphael Santiago hasn’t missed a service since his confirmation date four years ago.

Next to their empty spot sits an older couple talking quietly to each other. Alec thinks they’re Raphael’s parents—maybe he could talk to them? Ask if Raphael is feeling okay? Is that too suspicious of a question to ask?

The warning bells are sounding now and unfortunately for Alec, so are the bells that signal the start of their service. He sighs and settles back in his seat. Too late to do anything now.

//

On the Monday before Thanksgiving break, Magnus doesn’t show up for Chemistry. Or English. Alec’s heart sinks to the bottom of his shoes more with each passing minute. He drags a hand through his wrecked hair and pulls, breath coming out in a ragged exhale as he glares at the hallway as though it’s personally responsible for the day he’s having. If only the blame belonged to anyone but Alec himself.

At the end of the hallway, Raphael Santiago is shoving a notebook into his locker. Alec’s long legs are moving before he’s even aware of it, mumbling apologies to anyone he bumps into in his haste.

“Hey! Raphael, listen, I’m—”

Raphael turns to face him, looking every bit as exhausted as Alec feels.

Fuck off, Lightwood. Don’t you think you’ve done enough?”

Alec winces, because yeah, he probably deserves that. He swallows past the guilt in his throat and forces the words out.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know, I just—where is he? Is he alright? Why isn’t he answering his phone?”

Raphael slams his locker closed. Alec jumps out of the way as Raphael shoulders his bag roughly, the edge of it smacking dully against Alec’s chest.

“Do you know anything at all, cabrón? Because you sure do ask a lot of questions.”

“Look, Raphael. I messed up. Big time.” Raphael gives him a sharp look. “That’s an understatement. I get it. That’s why I’m trying to—”

“If you truly ‘got it,’ then you’d know better than to waste my time with this conversation. So, tell me, Alec. What do you ‘get’? The chance to be here right now, crying at my feet while Magnus is at home in bed?” Alec’s mouth drops, but Raphael isn’t finished. “Unlike you, I haven’t left his side. I stayed up all night and listened to him cry for two days straight. Because you canceled on him again. Is that what you needed to hear?”

Alec freezes, heart thudding uselessly in his chest. Two days…?

“Raphael…”

“I think,” Raphael says, in a low and menacing monotone, “you should probably go to class now, Alec.”

He hears the threat in the words, loud and clear. And realistically, Alec understands that Magnus might want some space to deal with whatever he’s feeling at the moment. It’s a perfectly normal thing and Alec knows he should back down. That’s what a good friend would do. That’s what a best friend would do.

It’s a shame that the logical, reasonable part of Alec is long gone, buried under an onslaught of panic and guilt and the choked, broken warble of Magnus’s voice on the phone last night. It’s all he could think about for the past two days: just another birthday. Let me spend it without your pity.

He can’t. He won’t. He turns to tell Raphael as much, steely determination settling into the lines of his face—

But Raphael is already gone, ducking into a classroom and shutting the door behind him with more force than necessary. All the fight leaves him in a single exhale, and Alec slumps back against the lockers, eyes closing against the hot sting of tears. Raphael is the only one besides Isabelle who knows how to get ahold of Magnus without relying on phones, and he’s clearly not interested in helping Alec fix things. Meaning he might not get the chance to…at least not until Magnus decides to come back to school.

It’s stupid. Alec feels stupid. But he can’t just let it go. He can’t bear the weight of not knowing what happened to Magnus on Saturday, and damn it, he’ll stop at nothing to fix this if that’s what it takes. Magnus might turn him away at the door, tell him to leave him alone…and Alec will. He’ll go. He’ll do whatever Magnus tells him to do. But first he has to get to Magnus.

Alec needs to come up with another plan. It’s as simple—and as complicated—as that.

That afternoon, Alec eats lunch alone in the cathedral, unable to face the sight of their very empty lunch table in the middle of the cafeteria. Sure, he could sit with Izzy and her friends again, but it wouldn’t be the same. It might even make the creeping edge of anxiety worse.

So instead he tucks himself away in one of Magnus’s favorite armchairs, hidden between the sports history and old newspaper sections.  The chair is upholstered purple velvet and decorated with a line of golden nail heads, running the length of the structured arms. It’s effortless to picture Magnus draped across it on a sunny afternoon, textbook tucked in his lap as he reads or works. The tips of Alec’s fingers drag mindlessly across the material as he settles back into it.  

And in the quiet stillness of the library during lunch, Alec closes his eyes and thinks.

//

It’s almost the end of the day when the idea comes to him, and before he realizes it, the pieces of the plan start to come together. It’s a solid idea in theory, and Alec knows it’ll work. It’ll get him to Magnus and he’ll have the chance to apologize.

The problem is the plan itself. It’s very…not him.

Lying, breaking into a locked office, accessing confidential student information without permission…these aren’t things Alec is comfortable doing. It’s not something he’s done before. Briefly, he considers asking Isabelle or Jace for their help. Alec is certain that either of them would be willing and capable of pulling it off without a hitch. Lord knows they’ve done worse.

But this is already too complicated. Too much of a mess. Alec won’t involve his siblings because he’s the one who broke things in the first place; the one who made Magnus cry for two days straight and the reason he’s not in Gym with Jace right now, complaining about Coach Garroway’s sport of the month.

Because Alec ditched Magnus on his birthday. Not that Alec knew that. Sure, he knew that Magnus wanted to talk about something important, but the nature of the day hadn’t been mentioned at all. Why? It’s his birthday. Alec would’ve—if he had known, maybe he could’ve—

Yeah, he’d gotten caught, but now that it’s over Alec finds himself wishing he could go back and redo it. Tell his father that yes, this choice is absolutely the right one, and by the way, does he know that the ‘archery friend’ he’s meeting up with is actually the guy Alec’s sort of gone over? Magnus doesn’t take archery at all. He’d probably be good at it. Damn it. Alec can’t fight his whole-body shiver any more than he can choke down the guilt.

When did things change between them, and why does Alec feel so deeply? He’s been tied up in Magnus for weeks, but it seems like it’s too much now, overwhelming and sweet, but he never wants it to stop. Why is it that Magnus has become such a permanent thing?

Alec shakes his head, teeth sinking into his bottom lip. More than anything (short of talking to Magnus, that is) Alec wants to sit down with Isabelle. She’d understand it, would be able to help him through…whatever this is. Plan be damned, he knows Isabelle would get him. But he can’t.

Not when Alec may or may not be falling in love with the best friend he’s ever had. Not when there’s so much at stake. Not when he’s on the cusp of losing Magnus entirely over a silly Men of Purpose meeting. No, this is something Alec needs to do alone.

Alec shoves down the creeping sense of wrongness as the plan starts to knit together more fully. These sins are relatively normal—people come to seek penance for lying every single day. They’re a part of life, really, and it’s not like he’s never committed them before. Lying, breaking and entering, peeking at confidential files—easy. It’ll get him to Magnus, and then they can talk. Fix things. Go back to being best friends so that Alec can hold onto the bubbling warmth in his chest whenever he hears Magnus’s name.

For now, he just has to make it through the last 30 minutes of Theology. He sits up straighter in his seat, taking a deep breath, holding it until his lungs burn and the edges of his vision begin to quiver—

He exhales. The clock ticks silently in the corner and Alec waits.

//

The school secretary, Dolores, smiles warmly at him as he pushes into the front office.

“Alec Lightwood! Well aren’t you a sight for these old eyes?”

“Hi Mrs. Lindfell,” Alec says, ducking his head bashfully.

“For the last time, honey. Call me Dolores.” She pauses, studying him over the rim of her glasses. “What brings you here? Isabelle isn’t in trouble again, is she?”

“No ma’am. Izzy is doing fine.” He pauses, then, trying to make peace with what he’s about to do. “I’m here on an errand for my mother. We’re in the process of planning a networking mixer for transfer students, to help them better connect with the community and find new ways to give back, and she sent me to fetch some information from the student files to better gauge the attendance rate.” Alec smiles, shrugging one shoulder. “For the caterers—they need to know the numbers before giving us a quote.”

The lie comes out smoothly. Alec feels a bit disgusted with himself for the ease with which he slips into this alternate version of himself. Dolores only smiles in return, reaching out to squeeze his shoulder.

It works. She believes him. Of course she does, Alec thinks, eyes nearly rolling as she leads him to an unmarked door at the end of a hallway, unlocking it before waving him inside.

“What a lovely thought, Alec. Not that I’d expect anything less from you. You’ve always had a servant’s heart. It runs in the Lightwood family.”

“Well,” Alec mumbles, eyes cast on the dated linoleum floor as Dolores flips a switch, flooding the room in light.

The lies keep coming, as effortless as breathing. “Truthfully, ma’am, it was Jace’s idea.” Lie. “He’s always been big on community outreach.” Another lie—at least Jace would get a kick out of this one. Had he been here, Jace would’ve blown their cover for sure. 

“I can only imagine, my dear. Now,” she says, moving to step out of the room, “Here we are, then. All the information you need should be in the cabinet to the left. Do let me know if you have trouble finding anything, Alec. And turn the light off when you’re finished.”

“Of course, ma’am. Thank you for all your help.” Alec replies, eyes already locked on the drawer labeled ‘Transfers A-N’. Dolores says something before leaving but Alec doesn’t catch it, completely focused on the task at hand.

His hands shake as he steps forward and pulls it open. They’re just as unsteady as he drags his fingers over the labeled tabs, eyes scanning restlessly before landing on the name that fills his stomach with an overwhelming warmth.

 BANE, MAGNUS – Grade 12, Adm. 06/18/2017

Alec takes the folder out of the drawer. It’s thick and heavy in his hands, transcripts and disciplinary records and endless files and forms that Alec cannot name threatening to spill out onto the floor.

He sets it on the table, opening it with a deep breath. He’s seen his own (sparse) file, and the front page is the same.

A photo of Magnus smiles back at him in a way that’s almost teasing. It’s the same photo from his school ID, which Alec has seen before in passing. He ignores the way his heart skips a beat at the sight of the familiar smirk, eyes scanning the text in search of an address.

Grade, Student ID Number, Date of Birth—Alec cringes, guilt wretched and leaden—Admittance Date, andthere. He jots down the numbers quickly on the back of a receipt he finds in his blazer pocket, folding it carefully and slipping it back in before closing the file with a heavy thwack.

That file contains every disciplinary action ever taken against Magnus. Prior to their scheduled ‘talk’, Magnus had joked about the number of New York-area schools he’s attended being in the low hundreds. Alec had been so quick to dismiss it as typical Magnus exaggeration, but one look at that textbook of a file is enough to have him thinking otherwise.

The thought of opening it up to check makes Alec feel physically ill. Snooping around for the address is bad enough, but peeking at Magnus’s file coupled with the idea that Magnus might’ve told Alec himself had they met on Saturday as planned? It makes him feel even worse.

Alec shoves the file back in the drawer almost violently. The door closes behind him with a soft click as he heads back down to the main office to say goodbye to Dolores.

If he can make it to the subway station in the next fifteen minutes, he’ll be in Brooklyn before dinnertime.

//

Alec is two blocks from the subway station when he stops in his tracks, the strap of his backpack clutched tightly in his hand.

There’s a small market set up just to his right, brightly colored tents sandwiched in the alley space between a towering office building and a neon-painted bodega with the steel grills locked down. It’s not exactly unusual—people set up little markets all the time, peddling everything from salsa and jams to hand-stitched bags. But his feet are carrying him over to the tables with an intent he’s not fully cognizant of, eyes scanning the vendors listlessly until he spots a glint of something three tents in that has him moving to get a closer look.

The woman greets him with a chirpy voice as he approaches her stall, her grey hair pulled back into a frizzy ponytail that seems on the verge of falling apart entirely, tendrils already escaping to hang loosely down her back. Alec looks into the cases, heart pounding as his fingers curl around his wallet aimlessly, searching for whatever caught his eye in the first place. He sees it after a few seconds, his hands moving on their own accord to pick it up.

It’s a ring, silver and delicate, with a thin hammered band and a tiny cross affixed to the center. The cross itself is inlaid with some sort of stone that glimmers in the sunlight as Alec holds it, and it’s just large enough to draw attention without looking comical on the tiny band.

The constant echo of Magnus, Magnus, Magnus in his mind gets louder. Alec looks up and meets the eyes of the vendor, ready to ask for a price and a gift box.

“It’s pretty,” the woman says, eyes shining with an edge of something sharp, “real silver. She’ll love it. For you, handsome, seventy-five.”

Alec nods and hands her the money. His mind is racing as the woman disappears behind a stack of boxes. When she returns she’s carrying a paper gift bag, lavender ribbon curling down the side.

“Thank you,” Alec manages, back-pedaling out of the alley before he can think too deeply about the ring and what it means. How he’d bought it for Magnus without a second thought, how lovely it’ll look against the warm tan of his skin…

The ring he bought. For his best friend. Because apparently, that’s something Alec does now.

For his birthday, Alec reasons. It’s perfectly acceptable to buy your best friend a birthday gift. Especially when you’ve messed everything up and owe him a thousand times more than some ring and an apology. Especially when said best friend deserves all the good there is in the world; so much more than he’s been given. A million rings and gifts and little-whispered nothings will never be enough but damn it, Alec wants to give it all to Magnus anyway. That, and so much more.

The small paper bag protests Alec’s anxious grip with a soft crinkling sound. He immediately releases the tension, forcing himself to relax before he ruins the silly thing. This has nothing to do with Alec’s wildly inappropriate feelings for his best friend. It’s just a ring, okay? Just a birthday gift. An ‘I’m sorry’ gift.

It doesn’t have to mean anything more…and it won’t. Magnus isn’t going to see it that way, so neither will Alec. He doesn’t think of it beyond that.

//

| M.B |

“Magnus, my sweet cabbage, could you get the door for me? It’s probably another parcel.”

Magnus sighs, pulling his earbuds out and letting them dangle on his shoulder. He sets his laptop down on the couch and gets up, glancing at his reflection in the mirror as he goes.

His makeup is pristine, although he hadn’t been able to completely mask the redness of his eyes or the dark circles from his night spent heaving in the bathroom with Raphael by his side. He’s wearing more foundation than he usually does and he hadn’t bothered to fix his hair this morning, opting to let it curl loosely over his forehead instead, but Magnus doubts the UPS guy will even look at him, let alone judge him for his appearance.

He yanks the door open without preamble, only to find—

“Alexander,” Magnus says. “You’re not who I was expecting.”

Alec cracks a smile at that, looking a little less startled as he shifts his weight on Magnus’s doorstep.

“You know, you said the same thing last time I came here. I’m starting to think you’re always hoping for someone else, only to get stuck with me all the time.”

Stuck with Alexander? Magnus can think of far worse ways to spend a day. He doesn’t manage to keep the sadness out of his voice entirely, but it’s a valiant effort nonetheless.

“Believe me, Alexander, there’s not a single person on this earth I’d rather be stuck with. Especially not the UPS guy. I like a man in uniform as much as the next person, but good lord…whoever chose that color should be out of a job.”

Alec’s lips twitch—whether he wants to comment or is fighting the beginnings of a smile, Magnus isn’t sure. It would be hard to ignore the way he’s trembling, though. Magnus doubts it’s because of the cold.

Decision made, he steps aside, beckoning Alec in with a sweep of his arm.

“Come on in, then. Unless you’d rather stay out here and pretend to have a huge package for me? I’m always in the market for a nice roleplay, darling.”

Alec’s face turns a violent shade of red. Magnus closes the door behind him, turning around to give him a moment to collect himself in peace. It also gives Magnus time to aim for ‘artfully tousled’ hair instead of the floppy state it’s hanging in currently.  

Ragnor is singing softly to himself in the living room. Minding his own business; keeping his distance. Magnus is more and more thankful for him as the days go by.

Alec, however, looks seconds away from melting through the floorboards. Magnus hums over Ragnor in an attempt to calm him.

“I—can we talk? Alone?” Alec asks, voice low and urgent. “You weren’t in school today, and I…have a few things I’d like to say. If you’re willing to listen to me. Or I can go, if that’s what you want. I wouldn’t blame you if that were the case.”

“I invited you in, didn’t I?”

Alec sighs, looking defeated. “Yes. You did. I’m not sure why, but I’ll thank God all the same.”

“Well what was I supposed to do, Alexander?” Magnus sighs, hating the snap of irritation in his tone. “Slam the door in your face and send you back to the city after you came all this way just to see me? I might be brusque at times but I’m not a tactless asshole.” 

“I—you could’ve. Wouldn’t have blamed you for it, Magnus. I know you’re not…you’re so far from being, um. That word.” 

Magnus turns, eyes gentling at the way Alec is curling in on himself. As hard as he tries to keep his voice flat, the words come out in a soft-sort of whisper; tongue curling around them like an apology. God, he’s really not fooling anyone here, is he?

“My door will always be open for you, Alexander. I will always let you in.” Magnus pauses, a thought occurring to him. “Although I am curious as to how you stumbled upon it…who gave you my address?”

Alec’s response is immediate. Defensive. He’s practically yelling, even though Magnus is barely a foot away from him in the quiet hallway.

“I’ve been here before. It’s not like—I remembered how to get here, okay? Your apartment building is tall. Easy to spot.”

“Tall?” Magnus snorts, waving Alec in to sit on the bed with him. “Very descriptive, Alexander. You’ve narrowed down the list of buildings in Brooklyn from a thousand to—say, nine-hundred and ninety-nine.”

Alec stands frozen in the doorway, looking every bit the deer in the headlights. Guilty, Magnus thinks. What he can’t figure out is why. He decides to push a bit, just to see how Alec responds.

“Raphael told me he stole your phone and deleted my address after the first time I sent it to you. I tried to let him know that there’s room for more than one man in my heart, but you know how children can be sometimes. He’s protective.”

“Raphael is older than us, Magnus.”

Magnus gives him a pointed look—yes, thank you, Alexander, for explaining the joke—and Alec is blushing again, rubbing his arm nervously and still standing in the doorway of Magnus’s bedroom.

“And believe me, I know he’s protective. But it’s only because he cares about you. I do too. I mean, we all do. There’s…um, a bit of a story behind the address. But I don’t want to talk about that right now. I have more important things to talk about. If that’s okay?”

“I’m listening. Say what you need to say.”

Alec’s relief is palpable. Magnus’s heart pounds a bit harder as he starts to speak, because this? It’s rehearsed. Deliberate. Clearly Alec has been doing a bit of reflection in their time apart.

“I’m not great at apologies, but Magnus, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything. What you said during our last…fight, about me avoiding you? You were right—I was. Not on Saturday. But before that, yes. My parents have been stressing me out lately, they’re mad about my English grade, and on top of that I’ve been missing Clave meetings and it’s all so much. It’s me against the entire world and I’m not handling it well at the moment.”

Magnus freezes, taken aback by the level of disclosure. Sure, he’d expected an apology; maybe an excuse or two about Maryse and Robert threatening Alec with a tracking chip, but not this…abrupt honesty. He closes his mouth and breathes sharply through his nose, nodding for Alec to continue.

Alec looks wretched. His fingers dig harshly at the side of his neck, pushing past the ever-present necklace he’s wearing in favor of soft, supple skin.

“I had no clue it was your birthday, which makes me an even bigger jerk, right? I should’ve known that. But Magnus, you should know, I would—I would never have missed that knowingly. I should’ve been there for you Saturday and I wasn’t. I hate myself a little bit for that, but I won’t make the same mistake twice. If you even want me around anymore, I promise you, I’ll make more of an effort. I’ll talk to you, I won’t avoid you anymore, I’ll—I’m sorry, Magnus. I’m sorry, and I’m scared. Ever since our fights…I can’t think straight.”

“Alexander,” Magnus starts, voice gentle, “I forgive you, darling. You had no idea what day it was because I didn’t tell you. Or anyone else for that matter. I’m not exactly the biggest fan of celebrating my birthday, so believe me when I say it didn’t differ much from last year’s version of events. What I chose to do was not your fault. I’m so sorry if I led to you believe otherwise, though my actions or my absence.”

Alec shakes his head, vehement.

“But if I’d been there, if we went to Nobu instead…”

“Then I would have gone home afterward and done the same thing. My decisions are just that—mine.” Magnus’s voice drops, low and soothing. “They’re not smart decisions, Alexander, but it’s something I’ve been working on. Saturday was just a hiccup in that progress.”

“Magnus—"

“What’s more, I don’t want you to feel obligated. You are by no means required to do a thing for me, Alexander, birthday or not. I was foolish to make you think otherwise.”

Alec is shaking his head, a determined look set in the cast of his frown as he bursts into motion.

“Not obligated? I—Magnus,” Alec hisses, crossing the room in three long strides.

Magnus is a bit startled by the sudden movement, but before he can fully process it, Alec is sinking to his knees in front of him, dropping down into a kneel with a grace that comes from years of practice. The reasonable part of Magnus knows this is the same posture he uses when kneeling at the altar, but the louder voice is saying something decidedly less pure, heat singing in his veins at the sight of Alec kneeling in front of him, hands fumbling with something Magnus can’t see.

Damn every single desperate thought in Magnus’s mind right now, this is exactly why he’s going straight to Hell. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Once Magnus manages to pull himself together, he’s back to the sight before him. Alec’s eyes are wide and earnest. Hopeful.

“Alexander, what—”

Alec pulls out a tiny paper bag from behind his back, offering it to Magnus with a flourish. It’s pretty, Magnus thinks, small and delicate-looking with a curling ribbon that makes Alec’s hands look even bigger.

“I know it doesn’t make up for all of the things I’ve done, but I’m hoping this can be the start. Happy Birthday, Magnus.”

Whatever Magnus was expecting from this conversation, a present was definitely not in the forecast. Fuck, he can’t remember the last person to buy him one…

Magnus is operating on autopilot as he carefully takes the bag from Alec, pulling out a layer of tissue paper with hands that only tremble slightly.

Inside sits a purple velvet box. It’s heavy and nice-looking. Magnus knows simply from looking at it what it’s meant to hold, and his heart is racing at the very sight of it, confusion and panic and a directionless sort of desire spiraling uselessly in his ribcage. He takes it out and tosses the bag over his shoulder as an afterthought, making a questioning noise in the back of his throat as his eyes meet Alec’s, cheeks burning.

“If you’re proposing, Alexander,” Magnus says, humor unrelenting even as his heart thunders dangerously in his throat, “then my answer is yes—but isn’t this a bit sudden? You should at least take me to dinner first.”

“Just open it,” Alec says quickly. He’s nervous too, then. Magnus does, lifting the lid and peering down at his lap.

Magnus is expecting the ring nestled carefully in soft gray velvet—but what he doesn’t expect is the sideways cross, carefully inlaid with a blue glittering gemstone. He takes it out, holding it up to the light to see. Unlike the other rings Magnus owns this one is small and almost delicate-looking. It reminds Magnus of the pendant Alec himself wears, and that thought is too much for his heart to take.

While it’s not something he’d choose for himself, Magnus is absolutely in love with the ring. He meets Alec’s eyes again, ready to sing his praises from here to the heavens for such an incredibly thoughtful gift.

But Alec, as Magnus has come to know, tends to babble when he’s nervous. He’s off like a shot as soon as their eyes lock, grabbing at the cross around his neck like he’d rather just tear it off.

“I know I should’ve called before just showing up like this when I’m not invited or wanted, but I—I just—you’re so important to me, okay? More important than most people, which is kind of terrifying. I never meant to hurt you, Magnus. And I know you said I don’t have to do anything for you, but that’s ridiculous, and it’s your birthday, so duh, of course I do. You deserve more than some silly ring and a handful of lame excuses.”

“Alexa—”

Alec shoots him a withering look, momentarily losing whatever steam he’s running on.

“Shh. Just. Let me? Just for a minute.”

Magnus nods, pinned by the weight of intent in Alec’s gaze. The ring box is trembling in his hands.

“So yeah, Magnus, I am obligated. But it’s not an obligation, and I’m not going to stop unless you really want me to, because I want to do stuff for you. Also, I know you’re not religious, and—okay, sorry, this is really embarrassing.”

Magnus ducks his head, spinning the ring on the tip of his finger. He’s overwhelmed in the best way, cheeks blazing as he blinks back the haze of tears and waits for Alec to continue.

“U-um, so. The cross. I got it because I thought—if you’re ever feeling like that, and I’m not around, maybe you could…think of me? Let it comfort you? I know you’re not into prayer and that’s fine, but I wanted you to have something to anchor yourself regardless. It doesn’t have to mean you believe in God. All I want is for you to believe in yourself.”

Alec smiles at the box in Magnus’s lap; at the sight of the ring on the tip of his finger.

“This ring is my promise to support you in that, however I can. Near or far. From here on out…I will always be here for you, Magnus. Happy birthday.”

“You,” Magnus starts, furiously attempting to blink back the tears, “are very good at apologies. The best, in fact. I—fuck. Jesus Christ, Alec. How do I even—”

“Language, Magnus.” Alec’s smile starts to give, just a bit. “Are you alright? I never meant to make you upset.”

Magnus laughs, because honestly? It’s so ridiculous. Out of all the things to apologize for. Alec’s well of surprises clearly runs deep today.

“’Upset’ is not the right word. More like…flabbergasted. Your apology, the incredible ring, all of it was stunning.” You, most of all. “Just when I think I have you figured out…you never cease to amaze me, Alec.”

He offers the ring to a much happier Alec, who takes it, and wiggles his fingers in invitation.

“Here, why don’t you do the honors? I’m still saying yes, by the way—our November wedding is in the works, so clear your calendar now. We’ve got a lot of work to do, darling.”

Alec’s face turns an alarming shade of red as he takes Magnus’s hand in his own, sliding the ring onto Magnus’s left ring finger—and oh, Magnus hadn’t meant for him to put it there. Magnus’s breath hitches at the feeling of it, even though he was the one who suggested it in the first place.

For a second, neither of them breathes, scared to disrupt the moment they’ve blindly stumbled into without realizing it. The air around them is tight, tension high…and then the ring spins, top-side down, cross pressed against Magnus’s palm.

Just a size too big, then. Alec huffs, visibly upset.

And Magnus laughs—teary-eyed, doubled-over, and barely able to breathe. Before too long Alec is laughing too, still holding Magnus’s hand in his as he sits on the floor in Magnus’s messy bedroom, resting his cheek on the bed next to Magnus’s thigh.

Realistically, Magnus knows he and Alec still have much to discuss if they want to fix things between them. There are conversations to be had and bridges to be rebuilt, but for now?

He’s content with this, laughing his ass off, holding Alec’s hand in the quiet of his bedroom. It’s not perfect, but this is the lightest he’s felt in days, and Magnus is fine with putting the issue to rest for now if it means just being with Alec, the best friend he’s missed so dearly these past few weeks.

And in spite of all that’s happened to bring them to this point…Magnus can’t help but think this is the best birthday he’s had in a very long time.

//

When Ragnor opens the door to Magnus’s bedroom, he doesn’t knock. He never does. It takes a herculean effort for Magnus to tear his eyes away from Alec. He manages. Barely.

“Hello, Dolly. To what do we owe the pleasure?”

Ragnor grins—it’s his shit-eating grin, the one Magnus knows better than to trust.

“Oh, just checking in. Do you lot need anything? Some snacks? A condom? Let me know. Oh, god love yo—”

Magnus squeaks, hurling a pillow at the door with all the strength he can muster. He is going to KILL Ragnor.

Alec, to his credit, doesn’t seem mortally offended. He’s blushing, sure, but confusion seems to be taking priority.

That’s alright. Magnus is more than embarrassed enough for them both.

“What did he say about God?”

“Nothing, Alec. Just pretend Ragnor doesn’t exist, alright? I do it, works like a charm.”

“If you say so. Anyway, Izzy and I were just waiting for the train to come…”

//

| Three days later – Thanksgiving Day |

Magnus doesn’t like hospitals.

He knows that no one really does, and it’s not like walking into one is enough to send him running for the hills. But he hates waiting; hates having to sit in the stupid paper-covered exam tables while he’s poked and prodded and questioned for hours. Where did you get the scotch, Magnus? Who were you with that night? Like he’d ever consider answering those questions seriously.

Mostly, Magnus hates how each time he lands himself in the ER, his social worker ends up getting a phone call. Ragnor holes himself up in his office for a few days afterward without fail. Throwing himself into his work. Avoiding Magnus. It’s the quickest way to make him feel like crap.

Today though, Magnus isn’t bothered by the smell of antiseptic as it burns his nose. There’s a bounce in his step as he walks up to the ER information desk and smiles at the tired-looking nurse working the station.

“Hello,” he says, “sorry to bother you. I’m looking for Catarina Loss?”

The nurse at the counter furrows his brow, pulling something up on his screen.

“Cat’s about to go on her break. Anything I can help with?”

“She and I are family,” Magnus explains, hoisting up the loaded picnic basket to show the man. “I was hoping we could have Thanksgiving dinner together. Within the constraints of her break, of course. Where might I find her?”

For a minute, he’s worried the man might not let him see Cat at all. Magnus eyes the double doors separating the waiting room from the rest of the ER—without a visitor badge, there’s no way he’s getting through there. He thought it would be easier than this. Maybe he should’ve let Cat know first.

“I’ll go get her,” the nurse says, offering Magnus a slow smile. “It was sweet of you to do that. She wasn’t planning on taking her break tonight at all, you know? This’ll be a nice surprise for her.”

Magnus relaxes, tension draining instantly as the man disappears behind a second set of doors. When he comes back Cat is leading the way, confusion evident as her eyes fall on Magnus leaning against the information desk.

“Magnus,” she says, not at all subtle as she gives him a once-over. Checking for injuries. Well, he is standing in the middle of her Emergency Room. “Is everything alright?”

“No need to worry, my dearest. Nothing is the matter. I just wanted to spend the holiday with you, that’s all.”

Catarina’s entire expression softens. She spots Magnus’s picnic basket, surprise tugging her lips into a smile.

“You made Thanksgiving dinner for me? Magnus, you didn’t have to do that. Ragnor only told me you were going to call and check-in.”

“I made it for us, my dear. Ragnor didn’t mention it because I didn’t tell him. And I’m glad I did, even if I didn’t have to. Ricardo mentioned you weren’t planning on taking a break tonight.”

“Did he? How interesting. I’ll have to thank him later.” She shrugs, rolling her shoulders back to work out a kink. “Come on, there’s a breakroom you and I can go to. I’m sorry, Magnus. We might have an hour, if I’m lucky…”

Magnus beams, tucking into her outstretched arm as they walk down a hallway, side by side. Catarina tugs at her badge to open the doors. The room she brings them to is small and cozy with a round breakfast table in the center.

“I’m thankful for whatever we have, Cat, be it an hour or fifteen minutes. No, you sit. Let me set things up.”

//

“You know,” Cat says, finishing up the last bite of pie, “Ragnor and I assumed you’d be spending Thanksgiving with Alec this year. You two have gotten pretty close as of late.”

Magnus snorts in spite of the serious hush that’s fallen over them.

“Dinner with Headmaster Lightwood? I think I’ll pass. Alec is cute, but I like my life more.”

Catarina gives him her trademark ‘stop playing dumb’ look. Magnus sighs and raises his hands in surrender.

“Alright, alright. There might be more to it than that.”

“Have they given you any trouble, Magnus? And when I say ‘trouble,’ I mean the unwarranted kind.”

“Should I be offended?” Magnus asks, mostly kidding. “No, it’s not like that. For me, anyway. But things are…difficult, for Alexander.” He pauses, thoughts going straight to Alec in his tiny kitchen. Are they getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner? Did Alec wake up early this morning to put a turkey in the oven? “His parents aren’t exactly the most open-minded when it comes to the things they believe."

“Do they know about him?”

“No. And I don’t think he’s planning on coming out anytime soon. Not that I blame him for that.” Catarina nods, accepting that easily enough. “Pause. How did you know about him? You know we’re not together, right? Alexander and I are just friends.”

“One look at you at the mention of his name told me everything I needed to know, Magnus. Together or not.” Catarina’s smile is gentle. Magnus feels it like a hug as she tilts her head at him. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you this way. You look...healthier. Like you’re finding it easier to breathe.”

And oh, isn’t that a thought? Magnus is struck by the truth in that statement. Easier to breathe…it has been, hasn’t it? Alec must have that effect on people. Until he smiles; the wide, carefree one Magnus has come to think of as his favorite. When he does that it’s like there’s no air in the room at all.

“High praise coming from you, Nurse Loss.” Magnus coughs, not sure how to handle the praise. “Healthier, huh? Is that your way of saying I’ve gained a few pounds?”

“No, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing if you had. Maybe then you’d win when we spar on Sundays,” she says with a laugh.  

Magnus laughs, louder than he should given the setting. Cat just smiles at him and crosses her arms over her lap.

“See, this is exactly what I mean. You’re happier, Magnus. It’s wonderful to see.”

“Yeah,” he murmurs, fingers dragging along the rim of his glass. “Yeah, Catarina. I am. Alexander is…” Lovely. Brave. Everything. “Genuine. He has a million reasons to be angry with the world, and he chooses to love it instead.”

Catarina’s hand covers his on top of the table. When Magnus raises his eyes to meet hers there’s no judgment in them; nothing waiting for him short of unwavering warmth and acceptance.

“You want more,” she says, no doubt in the words. Magnus nods. No point in denying what she already knows. “Have you talked to Alec about this?”

“No,” Magnus replies, voice lost. “I haven’t. I came close, once. On the night of my birthday.”

Her face twists—she manages to school it into something neutral, but Magnus sees it all the same. Catarina and Ragnor were both there that night when Raphael brought him back home. He might not remember it, but when he woke up the next morning to Raphael in his bed and Ragnor and Cat sleeping by his bedside, he knew it wasn’t a good sign.

Magnus’s birthday wasn’t a fun night for anyone involved.

“Hey, it’s alright. I’m fine now.” Magnus glances down at the tiny cross on his right hand. “The timing just hasn’t been right since. It’s okay, Catarina. I don’t think Alec feels the way I do.”

“I think you’re wrong.”

Magnus’s head snaps up to look at her. No-nonsense Cat is back.

“Oh? And what makes you think that?”

“That’s a beautiful ring you’re wearing.” Magnus’s mind is reeling at that seemingly random compliment—but Catarina almost looks bored. It’s a calculated look. “You must like it a lot since I’ve never seen you take it off. Not even at the gym.”

Oh—Alec’s ring. Now that Catarina mentions it…well, perhaps Magnus is being a bit more obvious than he thought.

“That doesn’t mean Alexander is secretly in love with me, dearest. It was a gift. For my birthday.”

There’s a strange look on her face as she listens; there in one blink, gone in the next.

“Yes, I’m aware. What a thoughtful present.” Catarina shrugs, stethoscope wrapped back around her neck. “Your Alec has good taste. Be sure to tell him I said that after the two of you talk things out. Whenever you’re ready, Magnus. I know this isn’t something to rush into.”

“Catarina…” Magnus sighs. “How can you be so sure Alexander is even interested in me?”

“When you spend as much time working with people as I have, Magnus, you learn to listen closely to the words they’re not saying. Their lies, their fears. The way they love.” At Magnus’s wide-eyed look, Catarina amends, “I know it’s too soon for that word. All I meant was that the things people keep closest to their hearts are the secrets they’d most like to share. Life might be complicated for you and Alec at the moment, and perhaps that’s enough of a reason to keep you from seeking more. But if working here has taught me anything, it’s that regret is the most devastating secret a person can keep.”

Her eyes are impossibly sad. Magnus blinks, and Catarina ages ten years right in front of him.

“Magnus, I love you, and so does Ragnor—even if he won’t admit to it. You deserve every kindness this world has to offer, and from what you’ve told me about Alexander…it sounds like he has plenty to give.” There’s a clock on the wall above their heads. Catarina looks at it and sighs, chair scraping dully against the tile as she stands. “There’s our hour. Are you going to be okay going home?”

Magnus sniffles, hand scrubbing against his cheeks. It comes back wet. “Yes, my dear. Happy Thanksgiving. Don’t you worry about me. I can—oh, just give me a minute—"

“Hey, come here.” Magnus does, leaning down to hide his face in Cat’s purple scrubs. He’s ten years old again, meeting Cat for the first time on one of Ragnor’s monthly allotted visitation days at his foster homes. “I am so thankful for you, my gentle boy. For your ferocity, and determination. Thank you for a wonderful dinner.”

Magnus pulls back, letting Catarina dab at his face with a tissue as the smile blooms, bright and unrestrained. Always taking care of him, even now.

“And I’m thankful for you, Catarina. Ragnor too, that old grump. For always being here, no matter what. I know I’m not the easiest person to love at times. I’m still learning how to be good at it. Giving, and receiving.”

“On the contrary, Magnus.” Catarina’s smile is soft. Her eyes are sad, but there’s something else there too, a shine Magnus can’t identify. Secretive, almost. “Loving you is one of the easiest things I’ve ever been asked to do.”

//

| A.L |

“Alexander, please lead us in saying grace.”

Since waking up at 6:45 AM to begin preparing dinner for today with Jace, Alec’s stomach has been in knots. Finally, today is the day. The day he’ll say the words he’s been dying to say since he turned 13. Twice he’s felt like throwing up and as supportive as his siblings have been, Alec is terrified. This could very well shape the course of his entire life.

But this? A conversation with God? This is enough to ground him. Prayer is exactly what he needs right now. Alec smiles at his mother before nodding. He takes her hand to his left, and Isabelle’s to his right.

“Heavenly Father,” Alec starts, “as we gather here today in celebration, I want to thank you for bringing us here to share in your glory as a family. Thanksgiving is a time for togetherness. Being here and delighting in the love you have for us, day in and day out, is an immeasurable blessing. Thank you, Father, for allowing me to share this day with my family, and for all the days to come.”

Isabelle squeezes his hand hard. It’s a message, one Alec receives loud and clear: we love you. No matter what, we love you. Tears burn in Alec’s eyes but he keeps them closed, focused on continuing his prayer.

“God, as we prepare to celebrate this incredible meal, we ask that you continue to nourish us in the upcoming season. Let it feed our bodies and refresh our hearts. Let this time celebrating you guide us into a season of love, of acceptance—” Here Alec’s voice warbles, but another pointed squeeze from Isabelle gives him the strength to continue, “—and of strength, Father, as we strive to live in your image and fulfill your word to the fullest. Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

“Amen,” his family echoes. Isabelle gives Alec’s hand one last squeeze—right, time to open his eyes.

“That was lovely, Alec.” Robert is holding Maryse’s hand over the table, and they’re beaming with pride. A morbid part of Alec wonders if this is the last time they’ll look at him this way. “Thank you for sharing that with us. And for preparing this wonderful meal. You too, Jace. It all smells delicious.”

“Hey!” Max chimes in, never one to be forgotten. “I made the sweet potato pie! All by myself, too. Wait till you try it—it’s way better than Jace’s boring apple pie.”

Maryse turns her head to him, eyes narrowing instantly.

“That’s enough, Max. I’m sure you worked very hard but we do not bring down others to build ourselves up. Do we need to review the book of Proverbs with you? ‘Pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall’…”

Jace flashes him a grin, lightly nudging an ankle against Max’s under the table.

“It’s okay, Maryse. He’s just being a kid. Max, since my pie is so boring…I guess you won’t be wanting a piece, huh? With vanilla ice cream right on top?”

Max’s eyes are wide, uncertain now. “I never said that!”

“Oh, but you did. I’d hate for you to eat something boring. No worries, Izzy and Alec and I will make sure it’s all gone.”

“No!” Max cries, wheeling to face Alec. “Alec, tell Jace I didn’t say that.

Alec smiles, forcing as much warmth as he can into the gesture to quell Max’s wobbling lip. Jace kicks him under the table but Alec doesn’t retaliate.

“Jace is only kidding, Max. You can have whichever pie you want.” At Max’s triumphant look, Alec is quick to add, “But just remember, you only get one piece today. And you need to eat something green before dessert.”

“Well if that’s how it has to be.”

Maxwell,” Maryse chides. “That is absolutely the way it ‘has to be,’ young man. You’d do well to mind your tone.”

Max sighs dramatically and blows his hair out of his face. Alec’s heart jumps at the sight—Max really is a little Magnus. The two of them would get along like a house on fire. If everything goes well today, maybe Alec can invite Magnus over for dinner; introduce him to Max and watch everyone else try to keep up with their antics…

Magnus. Magnus. Right. Today is the day.

“Mom, Dad,” Alec swallows, sitting up a bit straighter in his chair. “I have something I’d like to talk to you about.”

Jace’s eyes lift from his plate, seeking Alec’s and holding his gaze for a moment. Alec tries to draw as much strength as he can from it but it’s not enough, he’s teetering on a precipice and suddenly the air feels too thin. He closes his eyes, picturing Magnus’s face as he’d laid in Alec’s arms and played with the cross on his necklace…

His fingers find that very cross, holding on tight. Please, God. Please, please, please. Alec opens his eyes to find Maryse smiling at him.

“Of course, Alexander. But before you begin, your father and I also have something to share. It’s good news for everyone but I believe it will impact you the most.”

Isabelle’s eyes are on him in an instant, suspicious and wide. Jace’s knuckles are bone white on the table’s edge. What the heck is going on?

“Ma’am,” Alec says, scared to lose this newfound nerve. “I—”

“Do you remember the Branwells? James used to oversee the children’s sessions at St. Joseph’s, and his wife, Rachel, led the choir.” Maryse’s eyes slide to Alec, “Their daughter is your age, Alec. You don’t remember Lydia?”

“No, I don’t. Maybe if I saw them I’d be able to recall. But Mother—”

“Hush, Alexander. Let me finish, this is important.” Alec’s head hangs immediately, shame coloring his cheeks as he tries not to speak out of turn. “In any case, the Branwells are moving back to the area this weekend, and it’s our responsibility to make them feel welcome. Alec, Lydia’s first day at the Institute is next Wednesday. Wouldn’t it be nice if you showed her around before then?”

No, no no nonono, this isn’t happening

“Don’t worry, Alec.” Robert winks at him, grin sharp and just for Alec. He passes him something over the table—it’s all Alec can do to remember how to lift his arm and take it. “This will help. Take her to Thalassa…their menu is outstanding. Wait until you try the spanakopita.”

Alec opens his hand to a few crisply folded hundreds, mouth falling open as his stomach threatens to explode and no. God, please, please…

“Mom, Dad,” Isabelle tries, just shy of pleading, “I think you should listen to what Alec has to say first. Alec, why don’t you—”

“By all means, Alec. If you have somewhere else in mind, feel free. That money is yours to use as you wish.”

Alec’s voice is strangled when he goes to speak, but at least he’s talking and not throwing up. “Dad, that’s…thank you for, um. The gesture. But I can’t accept this. And I can’t take Lydia out to dinner. Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

Maryse is on him in an instant, painted lips turning down as she studies him.

“And why not, Alexander? That money is a gift from your father and I, so there’s no need to worry about accepting it. As for Lydia, that’s not up for negotiation. You know what the Bible says about the importance of being hospitable.”

He’s floundering now, desperate and raw. “I have—the Clave this weekend, Saturday, and—”

“Isabelle, you can step in and lead the Clave meeting. I’m sure Alec can provide you with his notes. Jace, that means you’ll have to take Max to his Confirmation class.”

“Maryse,” Jace says, eyes flitting back and forth between Alec and Maryse, “Wait. Lydia, she’s the blonde one, right? We used to take Ballroom together, I remember her now. Let me take her out. Wouldn’t want Alec here stepping all over her feet, right Alec?”

Maryse’s sharp expression softens almost imperceptibly. She looks over at Jace with a fond warmth in her eye. “No, Jace. While that might have been fine when you were children, Lydia is nearly 18 now. She’s a senior, and as such, it’s much more appropriate for Alec to accompany her. Besides. She asked for him specifically.”

Jace’s mouth falls open, clearly shocked. Isabelle’s expression is similar—it’s a shame that Alec feels too numb to share the sentiment.

“Regardless of whether you remember her…Alexander, you’ve certainly made an impression on her. Let’s make sure this weekend that it continues to be a favorable one.”

Abruptly, Isabelle’s chair screeches against the hardwood floor. She’s standing and asking to be excused before Alec has time to blink. Isabelle doesn’t wait for permission before she leaves.

Maryse sighs, watching her go. Robert and Max are chatting amicably about something Max learned in Latin.

“Me, too. I’m full. Compliments to the chefs.” Jace is quick to follow—but not before giving Alec a very pointed look.

“Mother, may I—”

“Go, Alexander. I suppose it’s just as well. But I expect you to prepare for this weekend. None of this nonsense about the money, do you understand?”

“Thank you,” Alec whispers, unable to make eye contact as he stands and nearly bolts out of the dining room.

He has to get out of here, Alec has to leave, needs to make it to his room before the tears blurring the edges of his vision become too much for him to hold back—

He starts to make his way to his room only to slam into Jace’s chest in the threshold of their kitchen, his arms immediately twining around Alec like vines.

“W-what, what…”

“Shh, Alec. It’s okay, brother. I’ve got you. Come on, let’s go upstairs, Izzy is already waiting.”

Jace’s smile is all teeth as he leads him with an arm wrapped tightly around Alec’s shoulders.

Alec wants to protest. Wants to go to his room and cry; lay in bed and close his eyes and maybe tomorrow when he wakes up, it won’t hurt as much. But there’s a look in Jace’s eye that means he won’t be backing down from this, and it’s one Alec is very familiar with.

Max was wearing it earlier as he argued with their mother over the importance of dessert. Jace tried as well when he fought for the chance to be the one to take Lydia out. Isabelle wore it when she begged their mother to let her volunteer at the hospital…yeah, there’s no way Alec is winning this one. If he wasn’t a breath from shattering at their feet the thought would probably make him smile.

As it stands, though, Jace’s arm around his body is the only thing keeping Alec’s broken pieces together. There’s nothing left to do but pray.

Please, Father. Hear my prayer. I’m lost, I’m falling, help me find the path. Please, Father. ‘When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.’ Give me a sign that this is what I’m supposed to do…

//

Jace brings them to Izzy’s room where Izzy is waiting for them. As Jace walks him in she jumps up, arms wrapping around Alec’s middle as she buries her face in the stiff fabric of his dress shirt. Jace doesn’t let go either, though, so the three of them end up huddled in the doorway like penguins.

“You’re so brave, Alec,” Isabelle murmurs. I want you to know how proud of you I am.”

“I didn’t even manage to tell them properly,” Alec argues. He feels Isabelle’s head shake more than he sees it.

“That doesn’t matter. You tried. They just wouldn’t listen…it’s okay, Alec. Next time, we’ll make them hear you.”

“But…”

“No, you know what? Fuck them,” Jace says, pulling away to sit on the bed. “I love Maryse and Robert, but right now they’re being huge assholes. So it’s okay. We don’t need them. Izzy, did you grab everything?”

“Yeah. Come here, Alec.” Alec goes, numbness fading into confusion. “Jace, grab the whipped cream, it’s on the dresser.”

Whipped cream? Alec blinks, pouting slightly. Last time he’d heard the words ‘Jace’ and ‘whipped cream’ in the same sentence Alec had woken up to a quiver full of the stuff and a meet in less than an hour. He’d managed to hose down his gear and made it to his meet with three minutes to spare…but damn, that was a mess. Alec ended up coming in 3rd that day.

Needless to say he’s become somewhat of a skeptic.

“No way,” he says, managing to grab the can before Jace crosses the room. “Not again. I’ll hold onto this.” At Jace’s borderline comical groan, Alec grins—small and tight-lipped, but still there. “Sorry, Jace. Not after last time. Why do we even have this?”

Isabelle holds up a square-shaped box. Pumpkin pie. For some reason the sight only adds to Alec’s confusion.

“Because, brother. It’s Thanksgiving, and there’s no such thing as a pie-less Thanksgiving! That’s why I went out and picked one up for us without our parents knowing. Now we don’t have to share.”

“Don’t worry, Alec,” Jace smirks, “Izzy might have been the one to bring it, but I can promise you it’s freshly purchased. No humans will be harmed in the consumption of this pie.”

Isabelle screeches—and that’s all the warning Alec needs to duck, a pillow sailing through the air where his head was mere seconds ago. Jace laughs and dodges, and Alec is helpless to it, joining in at the sheer outrage on his sister’s face.

“First Magnus, and now you? Does anyone like my cooking?”

Magnus. Alec had nearly forgotten. “Magnus said you were a big help with the rice, Iz.”

“Right.” Isabelle’s eyes roll. “So that’s why you were scared to eat it at first, huh?”

Alec smiles, shrugging nonchalantly. “At least it worked out well. It really was delicious.” Probably because Magnus made it. Alec chooses to keep that thought to himself.

“Tell Jace that! Jace, did you—HEY! What do you think you’re doing?”

Jace is sitting cross-legged on Izzy’s bed, fork halfway raised to his lips. He doesn’t look guilty in the slightest.

“If you want to stand there and argue all night, that’s fine. But don’t come crying to me if the pie is gone by the time you’re through.”

“You have to at least cut it first, for the love of God. Honestly, that’s barbaric—”

“Still tastes the same to me.” Jace grins and stabs at the middle of the pie again, managing to spear a chunk of filling. “Mmm…”

Isabelle screams, tackling Jace in mid-air while Alec watches them wrestle over the pie dish. The warmth that floods his system at the picture they make…it’s unreal. Ridiculous. Alec shakes his head, smile soft and stunned as Jace argues over the correct ratio of whipped cream to pie.

It turns out Magnus was right when it comes to family—it’s something you can choose. And here, surrounded by his siblings who constantly fight for him; pick up his pieces, choose him even though it’s not always the easiest path to take…

The warmth in Alec’s stomach is transformative in nature as it sweeps from head to toe, easing at the knots of hurt lodged tightly in his chest until his breathing is rote and steady.

From here on out, Alec vows to choose them, too. To protect his little family with everything he has. Isabelle, Jace, Max, Magnus…and himself.

Alec smiles, tucking in next to Isabelle on the bed as she passes him a fork. He takes a moment to thank God for answering his prayers, and surrounding him with love and acceptance on this day of celebration.

Sure, it might not be the Thanksgiving he’d envisioned, but in this moment, there isn’t a single choice that Alec can bring himself to regret.  

Chapter Text

| A.L |

On the morning of Alec and Lydia’s scheduled dinner date, Alec wakes up to a thin layer of snow coating the edge of his windowsill.

It’s not a substantial amount—maybe an inch or two—and there’s nothing unusual about a storm in late November, but Alec delights in the sight nonetheless. He’s always loved the snow, even if snow in Manhattan means ankle-deep grey slush and overly crowded subway trains. There’s just something magical about it. Something that makes it easier to pretend he’s not himself; floating down from the sky on a distant, glittering cloud instead of sitting in his room and waiting for a date he wants nothing to do with.  

Will Lydia Branwell be kind? Alec doesn’t remember her at all. Does Alec even want her to be kind, or will that make this situation worse than it is right now?

Alec’s shoulders pop as he stands and stretches. If he drops a line in his morning prayers wishing for enough snow to cancel tonight’s arrangement, well, that’s between Alec and God himself.

//

The early afternoon brings a rolling swell of storm clouds, dark and heavy enough to blot out the sun. Snow falls soon after in fluffy, dense flakes that make Alec grin like a kid on Christmas morning. Jace’s complaints are an automatic response to any sort of precipitation but it’s easy for Alec to tune him out—especially when Maryse walks in with a steaming coffee mug and an unhappy scowl.

“Alexander, the Branwells just called. Apparently, their time in Los Angeles has left them apprehensive at the mere mention of snow. You and Lydia will have to go out some other time.”

Jace snorts, eyes rolling.

“What a shame.” At Maryse’s glare, Jace raises his hands in surrender. “Sorry. Just—it’s funny, right? Three years in California and they’re afraid of winter.”

Maryse sits down next to Alec, her hand coming to rest carefully on his knee. “Jealousy does not become you, Jace. This…fixation with Lydia needs to be addressed. Ask Father Starkweather to help you pray for guidance on Monday.”

Jace’s lips twist, something between a grimace and a smirk. “Yes ma’am. I’m sorry.”

“Good. Thank you for being reasonable.” Maryse turns her attention back to Alec, squeezing his knee in what Alec figures is a reassuring manner. “Alexander, I’m canceling the Clave meeting tonight. I wouldn’t want parents to think I don’t value the safety of their children. All for a little snow.” She rolls her eyes, settling back against the cushions. “It’s ridiculous. The storm is supposed to clear up in an hour. I don’t understand the sense of urgency.”

Alec sees an opportunity and latches onto Maryse’s words with a newly-born sense of enthusiasm.

“Since there’s no Clave meeting…is it alright if I go out tonight?”

Both Jace and Maryse turn to look at Alec, who smiles in what he hopes is an innocent manner.

“You said it yourself, it’s not that bad out. You know I’ve always liked the snow.”

“Hmm.” Maryse is watching Alec carefully, expression neutral. “What did you have in mind? And who will you be going out with?”

“Me,” Jace interjects, “and Isabelle, if she wants to come with. We’re going to Columbus Circle. Alec is in desperate need of a shirt that’s not black and we all know he can’t be trusted to buy one alone.”

For a minute Alec thinks Jace has blown it for him—but then he sees his mother smile. He’d be annoyed if it hadn’t worked so quickly. “Alright. I don’t see why not. Do you need money?”

“No, I can use my debit card.” Alec smiles, covering his mother’s hand with his own and squeezing. “Thanks, Mom. We’ll get dinner while we’re there.”

Maryse reaches out, cupping Alec’s cheek. “Be careful out there. If the weather does get worse, take a cab home. I don’t care about the cost. Understood?”

“Of course, Maryse. We’ll be careful,” Jace says, smiling at Alec as they leave the living room together and head upstairs to get ready.

The second they’re out of earshot Alec grabs Jace’s arm, pulling him aside.

“Jace, what was that? Do you really want to go shopping with me?”

Jace laughs and shakes his head, shooting Alec a playful wink. “Watching you try to lie gives me hives, Alec. Consider me covering for you a favor for us both. You’re welcome, by the way.”

“You’re not coming with me?”

“No, dude. Only as far as the subway station. Clary and I are going to the movies tonight.” He sighs, eyes glued to the screen of his phone. “Why don’t you text Magnus? I thought that was the plan anyway.”

Alec blushes, ignoring the way his ears burn at Jace’s suggestive look. The possibility of seeing Magnus tonight isn’t helping him calm down, either. “It was, but I haven’t asked him yet.”

“He’ll say yes. Magnus loves spending time with you, Alec. You two can meet up somewhere. We need to leave now, though. I want to get going before the snow picks up in case Maryse changes her mind.” Jace bangs on Isabelle’s door with little regard to how loud he’s being. “Iz! Get dressed, we’re going out!”

The door to Isabelle’s room opens quickly—almost as if she were leaning against it. She’s tugging on a pair of boots but is otherwise dressed and ready.

“Please get me out of here. Alec, is Magnus coming? I need help buying your Christmas gift.”

“And here I thought I’d be the one hanging out with him,” Alec mumbles. Magnus’s reply comes in seconds later, a series of exclamation points and winking faces that have Alec fighting a smile.

“Be careful, Alec. Jealousy doesn’t become you.” Jace dodges the wild swing of Alec’s arm with a practiced ease. “Now seriously, let’s go. Clary is already waiting for me and I don’t want to make her wait.”

//

| M.B |

Magnus is staring at the ceiling and steadfastly ignoring the packet of Trig homework sitting on his bed when Alec’s text comes through. Magnus doesn’t even have to think about it—he pushes the book shut with a dull thud and heads into his walk-in closet with a bounce in his step.

He’s dressed and ready in 30 minutes. It’s a new record for Magnus, but he doesn’t have time to dwell on it if he wants to make it to the mall on time.

//

Service on the D train cuts off three stops before the one Magnus needs due to some issue with the track. He sighs and resigns himself to walk the remaining half-mile. Thankfully, it’s not that cold out. He stuffs his hands in the pocket of his pea coat and takes the stairs two at a time to get to the surface more quickly.

The sight of the frozen rain coming down in steady sheets, however, is almost enough to send him straight back down to the station. Apparently, the storm had picked up while he was underground.

“Well that’s unpleasant,” Magnus murmurs to no one in particular. He’s already eyeing up several prominent awnings in a half-assed plan to not get soaked, but it’s futile and Magnus knows it. He should’ve brought Ragnor’s stupid golf umbrella, as ugly and tacky as that thing is.

He shivers preemptively before holding his breath, and with one last longing look at the relative cover of the subway station, Magnus slips onto the street and into the raging storm.

//

Magnus is drenched by the time he makes it to Columbus Circle. He slips out of his waterlogged coat in the hopes of looking somewhat presentable, but the sweater he’s wearing underneath is damp too, clinging in all the wrong places.

Fuck. There is no way in hell he’s meeting Alec looking like this. Magnus’s eyes dart around wildly, in search of the nearest bathroom. It might be too late for his hair but Magnus is in a mall, for god’s sake. He can easily go and buy himself a new outfit once he’s had a chance to properly assess the damage.  

Thankfully, Magnus doesn’t have to look far. He’s halfway down the hall when Alec’s voice rises above the Christmas music playing throughout the mall.

“Magnus! Over here!”

Double fuck. Magnus wants to cry—there’s no way his luck can get any worse at this point. He wants to run away, but sadly, that’s not an option now that he’s been spotted. Magnus sighs, turning to face Alec as he jogs over to where Magnus is dripping water onto the tile floor.

Alec looks better than he has any right to in a pair of dark denim skinny jeans and a plain black wool sweater. The thick-knit cardigan he’s wearing has the Institute’s patch sewn onto the pocket. He’s smiling until he gets close enough to properly see Magnus in all his soaking wet glory.

“Magnus, what happened?” Alec is on him in a second, fingers curling around Magnus’s bicep as he takes a step closer. “Why didn’t you call? I would’ve come with an umbrella if I’d known—”

“Nonsense, Alexander. No sense in both of us getting caught in the storm. There was a service interruption on the D train and I didn’t feel like waiting for a bus.”

Alec moans. It’s a frustrated noise but it sends a spike of heat through Magnus all the same.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You should’ve called, Magnus. What am I supposed to do if you get sick because of this?” Alec shrugs his cardigan off almost violently, holding it out for Magnus to slip into. “Here, put this on. You’re shivering.”

Magnus’s smile is warm and painfully fond. “Such a gentleman, Alexander. But you’re getting all worked up for no reason. I can’t catch a cold by getting rained on, darling. You sound like Ragnor with his myths.”

“I know that. But you can get hypothermia. Hypothermia is a real thing,” Alec murmurs, inching closer to Magnus in response, and as loathe as he is to admit it, they probably shouldn’t be having a moment like this in public.

That’s what it is, right? A moment? Magnus’s heart rate is spiking at the thought alone. He needs to move away. Magnus needs to take a step back but he’s scooting closer instead, the toes of his shoes bumping Alec’s as he reaches up to adjust the cardigan on his shoulder.

They can’t be doing this, not here. It’s too bad Magnus is frozen, tantalized by the slow sweep of Alec’s tongue across his bottom lip and the way he seems to be staring straight at Magnus’s mouth. What the actual fuck

“Magnus! Thank God you’re here. I need your help buying a present for Mr. Tall Dark and Grumpy over here.”

Magnus nearly jumps out of his skin. Isabelle flashes him a knowing look before reaching down to tangle their fingers together. Alec frowns, looking similarly startled before Isabelle’s words have a chance to sink in.

“Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain, Isabelle,” Alec growls, eyes not leaving Magnus’s. “Also, I’m not grumpy. I’m worried.”

Isabelle rolls her eyes, tugging Magnus away. “Yeah. You’re always worried about something. Come on, Magnus, let’s go before he rushes you off to a doctor. We’ll be back later Alec!”

Their departure is a bit abrupt and Alec is still standing in the middle of the pathway with a dazed little droop to his eyelids, but Magnus doesn’t have time to stop and think about it for long as Isabelle drags him into Diesel by the hand she’s still holding.

“Perfect! Now, you probably already know this, but Alec is a medium in shirts. I was thinking a nice burgundy for him, or maybe forest green to compliment his eyes…”

//

“I have a confession to make.”

Isabelle pauses her thorough scrutiny of the two sweaters in her hands to meet Magnus’s eye. They’re not near a mirror, and Magnus can’t see himself, but based on the shift in Isabelle’s demeanor, Magnus’s nerves must be more apparent than he thought.

Realistically? Magnus knows Isabelle will probably be fine with his crush on Alexander. But still. This is his sister. Magnus knows how close they are; how much her opinion matters to Alec.

And while Isabelle might find Magnus to be a pleasant shopping partner, he knows he’s a lot to handle, alright? Emotional baggage aside—the attention he attracts is not always of the positive sort. Magnus wouldn’t fault her for wanting to see her brother with someone a little less complicated.

“Fire away,” she says, head tilting. “Hey. I’m sure it’s not that bad, Magnus. You look like you’re about to pass out.”

Oh, Isabelle. Magnus sighs, reaching up to twist his ear cuff back into place.

“I like your brother. Romantically.” There. Not the most eloquent, but now that he’s started, Magnus finds the rest coming more naturally. “Alexander is…unlike anyone I’ve ever known, Isabelle. He’s an incredible person. And he loves so fiercely; gives himself so fully to everything he does.  There’s nothing he can’t do if he puts his mind to it. He’s wonderfully brave. Strong. I cannot believe how lucky I am to have gotten the chance to know him.”

Isabelle’s eyes are wide, hand pressed carefully over her mouth. She must be able to sense that Magnus isn’t finished yet because she lets the silence hang over them to give Magnus a moment to figure out what he wants to say.

“In these past few months I’ve been…working on a few things. Issues. You know the stories, Isabelle. I’m trying to get better but old habits die hard.” Magnus’s exhale is soft and broken sounding. “I want to be the person Alexander sees when he looks at me. And I know I’m not good for him the way he is for me—but I can’t fight this anymore. Believe me when I say I tried. I tried so, so hard.”

“Magnus—”

Magnus is toying with the sleeve of Alec’s cardigan. It probably smells like him. Eternity by Calvin Klein, laundry detergent, a hint of vanilla Magnus suspects is from his body wash…

As tempted as he is to test the theory, Isabelle is standing right in front of him. He’s given her enough reasons to judge him in the past few minutes. No need to add ‘weirdo’ to that list.

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to say anything. I’m certain Alexander doesn’t feel the same way, and I’d never do anything to jeopardize our friendship. He’s my best friend in the world. That will always come first.” Magnus smiles, reaching out for Isabelle’s hand. She offers it wordlessly. “I wanted to tell you because you deserve to know. I will always look out for him, Isabelle. Thank you for listening to me.”

“Magnus,” Isabelle says, head shaking. “Magnus Bane. You really don’t know? You can’t see it?”

Isabelle chuckles, squeezing Magnus’s hand in both of hers. She’s guiding them out of the store and onto a bench without a second thought. Magnus looks around warily, half expecting Alec to pop out of the potted plant arrangement to his left at the mention of his name, but Isabelle barrels on unperturbed with all the tenacity he’s come to expect from the Lightwoods.

“See what?”

“How good you are for Alec. The way he lights up around you.” Isabelle drags a hand through her hair. “He’s changed so much since September, Magnus. And it’s all because of you.”

“Yes,” Magnus says, flat and self-deprecating. As unlike him as this is, the thoughts are slamming into him, one after the other. He’s powerless to do anything but give them a voice. “Do you remember when Alec snuck out back in October? The week before Halloween?” Isabelle nods, smile slipping. “I lied to you when I said I didn’t know anything. Alec was with me that night.”

“Duh.” Isabelle sticks her tongue out at him.

“I lied, and—wait. You knew?”

“Alec didn’t end up telling Father Starkweather any of the sordid details—you can’t imagine how mad my mother was to hear that—but yes, Jace and I figured it out eventually. I fail to see how that’s relevant to this conversation.”

“Because I’m a bad influence!” Magnus is close to yelling. Isabelle doesn’t seem fazed in the slightest. “He’s lying, Isabelle. Sinning. Sneaking around. Don’t you want more for him than someone he has to sneak around with? He deserves more. Better.”

“I want my brother to be happy—and he is, Magnus. Alec hasn’t stopped smiling since the day you two met. Hell, Jace says he caught him singing in the shower last week. Stop me when any of this meets your criteria of ‘bad influence.’”

“Isabelle—"

Isabelle holds a hand up to silence him. Magnus quiets instantly.

“Moving right along, what Alec deserves is not for you or me to decide, Magnus. The only one who can make that call is Alec himself. Listen. It might not be my place to tell you how my brother feels, but there’s nothing stopping me from giving a bit of friendly advice…as your friend, and not as Alec’s sister. Ready for it? Go, right now, and find Alec. He’s probably in the food court moping around. Run. Don’t walk—and tell him everything you just told me.”

Magnus blinks. What? That sounds like a terrible idea.

“Just like that?”

“Yes, Magnus,” Isabelle says, infinitely patient. “Just like that. Go. Right now. I’m not sure why we’re still having this conversation.”

“Isabelle, I can’t. Not today. If I’m going to confess, I want it to be perfect. I don’t believe in doing things like this in halves. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Columbus Circle food court is not exactly the height of romance.”

Isabelle sighs and stands up. She pulls Magnus to his feet as well.

“Alright, Magnus. Just promise me you’ll think about it? Both you and my brother deserve the chance to be happy.”

“You have my word, sweetheart. Although I think I’ll wait until after the holidays.” Magnus glances around at the Christmas decorations with thinly-veiled contempt. “I hate it. Whoever decided to call this the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ needs to come to New York City. Let’s see how they feel about it in a weeks’ time.”

“Andy Williams.” Alec sits on the bench next to Magnus with a noisy huff. Magnus is so startled he ends up almost falling right off. “The guy who performed that song—Most Wonderful Time Of The Year? He’s been dead for a few years but he was rich, so. Chances are good he’s been here before. You hate Christmas?”

Alec looks borderline offended by this information. Isabelle is grinning, in on a joke Magnus isn’t. Magnus smiles anyway. Grumpy Alec is one of his favorites.

“I’m not the biggest fan, darling. Ragnor calls me a Scrooge. I take it you enjoy the holidays?”

“Yeah,” Alec says, face stretching wide with the force of his smile. “I love it. Always have. There’s the obvious religious connection, but…I like the commercial parts too. Santa and his reindeer. Christmas music. The way Christmas softens peoples’ edges; makes them a little bit nicer to each other for a month. It’s the only time of year where you can bump into someone downtown and they might actually apologize for it.”

Magnus’s laugh comes out in a series of ugly sounding snorts. What a particularly Alexander thing to say. “That’s true. I guess I have a lot to learn about Christmas, huh?”

Alec’s expression shifts, the excitement from earlier mellowing into a more hopeful hue. Alec is staring again. It feels a little like their moment from before, prior to Isabelle’s interruption.

Magnus’s heart kicks around in his chest. He’s caught between Isabelle’s conversation and the gentle blush dusting Alec’s cheekbones.

“Yeah,” he responds, this smile a lot slower. “Yeah, Magnus. I can’t wait to teach you.”

//

| Monday – Two Days Later |

“You’re late,” Alec says, not bothering to look up from the worksheet-covered library tabletop. “Don’t tell me something happened in Gym again. Jace or Raj?”

Magnus hums. If his entire forearm presses against Alec’s shoulder when he leans down to see what Alec is working on…well, he’s only human.

Alec is still hyper-focused on his Physics homework. He hasn’t looked up once since Magnus got to the library. Magnus sighs dramatically. That just won’t do.

He hooks his chin on Alec’s shoulder, arms twining loosely around his neck. Still no response.

“Raj. Maia stole the ball from him today during a practice game and he tripped over his own feet trying to get it back. It was incredible, Alec. You should’ve seen the look on his face when Coach Garroway refused to call a foul.”

Alec smiles, typing a few numbers into his calculator. “It wasn’t actually a foul, was it?’

“Nope. Maia’s fast, and Raj is arrogant. Not a winning combination if you ask me.”

“Huh. Sounds like it.”

And now he’s barely listening. Magnus smirks. Time to have a bit of fun.

“Oh, by the way. I’m thinking of coloring my hair. Blonde, with neon green highlights. Green is the new black, don’t you think?”

“Sounds great, Magnus.” Alec frowns, pen tapping against his lower lip as he thinks, and oh, what a wonderful place for Magnus’s eye to wander. He tracks the motion hungrily, glaring at the back of Alec’s stupidly handsome head when it starts to affect him in ways inappropriate for their current setting.

Right. Magnus needs to get Alec’s attention back. Immediately. Otherwise this is going to escalate to an unacceptable level.

There’s a strip of skin along the back of Alec’s neck that Magnus thinks would be sensitive, just above the neatly-pressed collar of his shirt. He wants to lean down and drop a line of kisses there; revel in the way Alec would shiver against him as Magnus’s breath ghosts over his neck…but no, that might be taking things a bit too far for their current situation.

Still, though. It’s too tantalizing of an opportunity to pass up entirely. Magnus settles for dragging the tips of his fingers along the bottom of Alec’s hairline in a slow, sensual caress.

Barely-there pressure, less than five seconds in duration. Brief enough to be read as accidental but not enough to deny Magnus the pleasure of the sensation.

Alec’s entire body trembles at the touch—jackpot, Magnus—but he’s still copying problems from his stupid textbook. Magnus nearly groans at the loss of contact as Alec’s body folds over the table so he can reach his formula sheet.

Damn it. Magnus is running out of options. If speaking utter nonsense and teasing Alec aren’t enough, he has no other choice but to carry on with Plan C.

The problem with Plan C is that it’s probably the worst idea Magnus has ever had, minus the whole ‘dating Camille for almost a year’ fiasco. It’s stupid and Magnus knows it—just like he knows he’s going to do it anyway.

However narrow the margins are, there’s a chance Alec’s reaction will be positive. Or negative. Magnus isn’t sure which he’s banking on outside of Catarina’s Thanksgiving inkling being correct.

Please be right, Catarina. Magnus takes a deep breath, reaching up to toy with the leaf earring dangling from his cartilage.

“I want to go ice skating on Friday night. Do you think Raj would go with me if I asked?”

Alec’s pencil clatters to the surface of the table, rolling to the edge and right on to the floor. His eyes snap to Magnus’s so quickly it makes him dizzy—finally, he has Alec’s attention. Magnus’s lips are already starting to curl into a winning grin.

And then his brain registers the heat in Alec’s gaze, honeyed and intense in a way that has Magnus’s blood rushing down, down, down. All thoughts of gloating disappear in the space of a blink.

He’d been aiming for confused. Startled. Magnus had expected an eye roll.  Maybe a little chuckle; and for Alec to point out that no, Magnus, you’re not likely to survive an athletic evening with Raj if the daily near-accidents in gym class are any indication of what’s to come.

But Alec is burning in front of him. His jaw is twitching and he’s visibly annoyed, which is not even close to what Magnus was expecting from him. That, plus the general intensity rolling off him in visceral waves. Well…

If Magnus were less sane or sober than he is right now, he might start to think Alec is jealous.

Alec doesn’t bother to pick up the pencil. His hands are eerily still where they’re resting on the tabletop. “Come again?”

“You know.” Magnus shrugs, trying not to wither under the weight of Alec’s gaze. “Ice skating. Frozen body of water, shoes with a blade at the bottom? Blink twice if you’re still with me.”

“You’re going with Raj?”

The words are flat, unimpressed. In so many ways, this is trademark Alec. Grumpy to the point of ridicule. Magnus often wonders just how much of it is Alec knowing how irresistible he is when he’s brooding.

Not this time, though—because one look at the edge to Alec’s frown tells Magnus how seriously he’s taking this. If none of this is put-on, that leaves one alternative.

Magnus’s hope is a tender bruise at the base of his spine. There’s absolutely no fucking way.

“Oh, so you are listening to me. That’s good to know. When you didn’t react to the green hair, I started to give it some serious thought.”

“Be serious, Magnus. Do you— do you like Raj? Like-like him?”

Despite the nausea pooling dark and tight in Magnus’s stomach, he snorts, eyes rolling. Alec’s serious expression is too much for Magnus to take. He’s seconds from doing something so foolish, it makes his hope from earlier this afternoon look like child’s play.

“Let’s not be dramatic, darling. ‘Like-like’ is a very strong word.” Alec scowls in response, slamming his textbook shut. Magnus fights the urge to reach out and soothe him. “All I said was I wanted to go ice skating.”

“Then go with me instead,” Alec says, like it’s the most obvious solution in the world. Like he’s not suggesting that he and Magnus go on an actual fucking date. “We can—there’s no need for Raj to come along. Unless you were serious about wanting to go out with him.”

“No. I just wanted to get your attention.” Magnus shakes his head, disbelief making the movement stiff and uncoordinated. “I much prefer your company, Alexander. I’d rather go with you than anyone else.”

Oh shit. Magnus nearly curses—he hadn’t meant to say that last part out loud.

At least it seems to calm Alec down. The tension in his shoulders dissolves as Alec’s face breaks into a slow, sweeping smile. Magnus has no fucking clue what on earth to make of that, but Alec is talking again before he has enough time to panic properly.

“Well you certainly got my attention. I guess that’s a yes, then?”

As if he’d ever say anything else. “Yes, darling. Come on, we can figure out the details later. You’re going to be late for archery again.”

//

The first week of December passes in a blur of rushed afternoon library sessions and way too much Theology homework. It’s exhausting, each day dragging more heavily than the last, but finally, the end-of-day bell sounds on Friday.

Magnus skips out of the locker room with a happy bounce to his step. He and Alec are going on their date tonight.

Their date isn’t really a date. Raphael will be there too—a technicality at best. Regardless, Magnus feels like singing. He cannot wait for tonight.

//

| Bryant Park, Friday Night |

“What am I doing here?” Raphael asks for the millionth time since he and Magnus arrived at the Bryant Park ice rink. “Seriously, Magnus. Stop rolling your eyes at me and answer the question. Out of all the ridiculous things you’ve asked of me lately, crashing your date with Lightwood is close to the top of the list."

Magnus’s frustrated huff is visible in the cold air. “How many times do I have to tell you? This is not a date, Raph.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Why?” Magnus smirks, all too happy to exploit Raphael’s newly-discovered weakness. “Ooh, let me guess: only Simon gets to call you that?”

Raphael’s expression is nothing short of murderous. Magnus becomes situationally aware of the blades strapped to the bottom of the skates they’re both wearing.

“Stop trying to change the subject. We’re talking about you right now, Magnus. You and your Alexander—"

“Alec,” Magnus corrects automatically, examining the paint on his nails. “Speaking of, he’ll be here any minute now. And you still haven’t taught me how to skate properly.”

Out on the ice, a little girl no older than seven leaps into the air, careening into a series of pin tight spins before landing perfectly on one foot. Magnus is struck with the urge to applaud.

“I’ll look stupid if I fall in front of the guy I’m trying to impress. Is that really what you want for me?”

“Yes,” Raphael says, deadpan. “I pray every morning for your long-overdue dose of humility, Magnus.”

“We’re supposed to be family! Family means no one gets left behind—”

Raphael sighs, mashing his lips together. Magnus crosses his arms and waits.

The words are bitten-off and exasperated, but they bring a smile to Magnus’s lips all the same.

“—or forgotten. You and your Disney. Honestly, Magnus, how does Alec put up with you for hours on end? Ah, speaking of.”

“Hey! Sorry I’m late.”

Magnus spins, grinning wildly as a red-cheeked Alexander walks up to them. He’s carrying a cup-holder with three steaming to-go cups. Ah, Alexander. Without being told, he’s discovered the one way to win Raphael over.

“Raphael. Hey, glad you could make it. I wasn’t sure what you liked, so I got two hot chocolates and a black coffee—take whichever one you like, if any.” Alec looks painfully shy all of a sudden, staring at the houndstooth scarf wound tightly around Magnus’s neck. “I—uh, that’s a nice scarf. Looks warm. Hi, Magnus.”

“Hi yourself. Want to wear it?”

Alec shakes his head, eyeing the skate rental shop in the distance. “No, I don’t want you getting cold. Besides, it looks better on you. You keep it, okay?”

Raphael mutters to himself as he walks over to the ice, draining the last dregs of the cup in his hand. He tosses it and steps into the rink, gliding with his hands stuffed deep in his pockets.

“That’s his way of saying ‘thank you for the coffee, Alexander, I am eternally grateful.’ And now he’s just being a show-off. I don’t know why I invited him.” It’s a lie. He burns the truth of it off his tongue by taking a long, scalding sip of his hot chocolate.

Magnus invited Raphael for a very specific reason: if Alec didn’t intend for this to be a date, Magnus will be the last person to force one onto him.

And, if by some miracle or God’s will, Alec did want this to be a date…Raphael will make himself scarce. Hell, it seems he’s already on board with that plan.

“I don’t mind. I’m happy he’s here. I like the idea of spending time with your friends, Magnus.”

And I like the idea of them spending time with you. Magnus takes a quick sip of his drink to keep himself from voicing that sentiment. He’s already planning a way to introduce Alec to Catarina.

“You’re sweet, darling. Be careful, though, or I might start to get jealous.”

Alec raises a brow, tugging at the laces of his skates one more time before rising to his feet.

Magnus’s sigh is drawn-out and dramatic. “Raphael might be grumpy, but he’s much better at skating than I am. You might decide you like him better after all is said and done this evening.”

“I won’t.” The sincerity of Alec’s voice is sobering. Magnus’s head whips around to look at him; at the arm extended in Magnus’s direction. “Come on. I’ll help you.”

Magnus stares at Alec’s proffered hand like it’s going to reach out and bite him. Each breath he takes is a struggle—it’s because of the scarf wound tightly around his neck, alright? Magnus is perfectly fine.

“I’m not about to bring you down with me, Alexander. You’ll wind up being the one to get hurt.”

And oh, Magnus loses what little breath he’s managed to cling to after saying that. It’s the truth, isn’t it? Even if he hadn’t meant to say it like this…now that the words are out there, he finds he doesn’t want to take them back.

Alec won’t pick up on it. He won’t. The way his eyes are darkening in response; hazel burning brightly with a determination Magnus wants to drown himself in, is little more than a coincidence.

“Good thing we’re not going to fall, then.” Alec grabs Magnus’s hand without waiting for him to take it. Magnus smiles and squeezes their point of contact. “Trust me, Magnus. I’ve been skating since I was six. We’re going to be okay.”

Will they? Does that hold true outside of the rink?

“Okay.” I trust you. It’s terrifying, but it’s the truth. “But you have to promise not to laugh.”

Alec’s smile is blinding as he carefully guides Magnus out onto the ice, palms pressed together. His other arm steadies Magnus’s elbow, supporting him as he wobbles.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he murmurs, pushing them into motion on the smooth surface.

//

Alec was wrong—he and Magnus end up falling over. A lot. Magnus’s ass is going to be one giant bruise in the morning. He tells Raphael as much. Raphael tells him to ‘put some ice on it.’

Even Alec laughs when Raphael ‘accidentally’ trips over Magnus’s mid-rink snow angel after that little one-liner.

Despite being terrible at the activity itself, Magnus loves everything about their not-a-date night at the rink. Alec moves with incredible restraint, pushing himself forward on long legs that Magnus wants to trip over again and again. And Alec is sweet, too. He’s patient with Magnus as he tries to teach him how to properly move his feet, gently guiding him with a steady hand or a nudged ankle. They’ve been in constant physical contact since their blades touched the ice.

Magnus loves it. God, does he love it. Choosing an activity he was bound to be bad at is proving to be one of Magnus’s better choices.

 It’s over all too quickly but the texts keep coming long after Alec says goodbye at the subway station. When he falls asleep at 3 that morning, Magnus does so with his phone pressed to his chest and a broad smile on his lips.

He dreams of skating with Alec in the Olympics. They win the gold medal, and Magnus proposes on the podium with a ring made of ice.

It’s ridiculous, and cheesy, but when he wakes up to a good morning text from Alec, Magnus barely manages to keep himself from sharing it with him.

//

Mid-December at St. Joseph’s Institute of Academic Excellence is proving to be the most academically strenuous semester of Magnus’s entire high school career.

Between exams, projects, senior portfolios, and Father Starkweather’s winded services focused on ‘The Reason for the Season’, Magnus is at his wit’s end. Sure, he’ll maintain his 4.0 GPA. He’s been studying hard, so his finals aren’t something he’s worried about. But Magnus is tired.

He’s tired, he’s over it, and he misses Alexander, who is even busier than Magnus himself.

Without their afternoons in the library, there are three things Magnus has come to count on: Chemistry, English, and lunch. All the classes he shares with Alec. No matter how busy they are, Magnus reasons that they’ll still get at least an hour of face-to-face talking in, Monday through Friday.

And then Alexander starts skipping lunch in favor of student council meetings. Magnus doesn’t blame him, but he does worry.

On the fifth day in a row of an Alec-less lunch table, Magnus sets out to find him, dropping his tray with a soft little clatter. Simon asks him where he’s going. Magnus waves him off with a shrug and a flirty wink.

He can feel Raphael’s jealous glare as he turns out of the cafeteria. That, coupled with the image of he and Simon’s locked pinkies under the cover of the tabletop is enough to make him giggle soundlessly.

Oh, Raphael. Their whispered argument in Magnus’s living room comes back to him with the hazy reverence of a daydream.

It’s not that simple, Magnus. But for you it could be.”

If Magnus has learned anything about Raphael, it’s that he’s rarely wrong about the things that matter. Apparently, he and Simon are proving to be a bit of an exception.

He waltzes out of the cafeteria with a new sort of bounce in his step. This victory feels a lot sweeter than the others…now all he has to do is find Alec, and everything will fall into place.

//

Magnus finds Alec in the cathedral.

His head is bowed, hair hanging over his forehead and shielding his eyes from view as he leans over his lap. Alec’s lips are moving in time with whatever prayer he’s reciting. The door creaks loudly as Magnus pushes it open—he winces as Alec immediately snaps back to the present in search of the sound.

“Sorry for the interruption,” Magnus murmurs, head bowing slightly as he approaches. “You weren’t at lunch and I thought—well, I guess I just wanted to know where you were.”

If Alec is annoyed at Magnus’s arrival, he doesn’t let on. He smiles and pats the spot next to him, not bothering to scoot away as Magnus sidles up to him on the bench.

“Don’t worry about it. How did you know where to find me?”

“Call it a hunch?” Alec’s raised brow tells Magnus he’s not convinced. “Oh come on, Alexander. I’m your best friend. You don’t think I know where you run when all you need is a minute to catch your breath?”

Alec’s smile spreads. Something about it has Magnus scooting to the edge of the pew.

“I’m sorry. You’re right.” Alec’s eyes are locked on the book of hymns in front of them. “I should’ve known you would understand it.”

Magnus shakes his head. “I don’t understand it. Not really. But I’d like to.”

Alec sits up a bit straighter at that, warm hazel of his eyes washing over Magnus in a way that makes him dizzy. “What do you mean, Magnus?”

“I get you, Alec. I knew where to find you because I know how much this place means to you. The cathedral. You grew up here. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? That’s the part I don’t understand—I cannot do you the discredit of pretending to, darling. As much as I wish I did.”

“Ask me, then. Anything you want to know. I’ll tell you, Magnus. I don’t mind talking about it.”

Magnus twists the cross ring on his finger, weighing the idea in his mind. The chance to talk to Alec about God…he can see the appeal of it. There’s a nameless tether in his chest that’s screaming at him to get closer, get closer. Knowing this part of Alec and seeing him in this environment…Magnus would be lying if he claimed not to want that.

Lying in the literal house of God is a bit much, even for Magnus. He decides to accept—but first, there’s something he needs to say.

“Alright. If you’re sure. Please don’t take offense to this,” Magnus says, watching Alec closely for any sign of discomfort. “I apologize in advance if my questions are poorly worded. Please know it’s never my intention to hurt you. Or doubt you, or belittle your faith in any way.”

“I know.” Alec smiles, shakes his head. “It’s okay, Magnus. I know you’re just curious. Fire away.”

“Curiosity is only the beginning of it, darling. I need to confess that I’m doing this because of you.” Alec’s brows raise—Magnus wastes no time supplying an explanation. “I’m not going to spontaneously convert, or anything like that. I do like the thought of getting to know this side of you, though. There are days when I wish I could see the world like you do, Alexander. And I think your faith plays a large role in that. Why don’t we start by discussing the boundaries of your beliefs?”

“Can you elaborate on the word ‘boundaries’?”

“Sure.” Magnus pauses, trying to come up with a better way to ask. “How does it feel, Alec? I know you believe in God. But I’m curious to know how you’re so...certain about it.”

Alec’s demeanor shifts from serious to playful in the span of a second. He’s grinning, head tilted as he considers Magnus in a way that nearly has him leaning over and kissing Alec senseless.

“Well, darling—” Magnus’s eyes widen at Alec’s casual use of the word, “—belief is only the beginning of it. That’s the easy part: anyone can believe in God, and plenty of people do. Faith is harder to achieve.”

Magnus’s fingers seek the shell of his ear automatically, tugging at the smooth metal of his ear cuff.

“I wasn’t aware there was a difference.”

Alec’s eyes close. He’s back to being reflective, then, although there’s still the edge of a playful smirk curving his lips upwards.

“Not a lot of people are. In fact, there are people who call themselves Christians who don’t know the difference. I think there’s why there’s so much hate in the world, you know? Belief versus faith. In my opinion that’s what it all comes down to.”

“Alright,” Magnus says, drawl slow and lazy in the still cathedral air. “Enlighten me then. What’s the difference between the two?”

“Let’s start with belief. When you believe in something, you think it’s the truth, beyond a shadow of a doubt. It’s conviction. Beliefs aren’t always unshakeable, but they are definitive. I mean that in the sense that you can share them with someone else. They tend to be systematic. Are you with me so far?”

Magnus hums his agreement, unable to keep himself from shifting a hair closer to Alec on the pew.

“Okay. So that’s belief. But faith, that runs deeper than conviction. It’s the purposeful manifestation of belief into action, and that’s what Christianity is all about. Walking the talk, right? For me personally there are certain things I feel driven to do. Covenants I live by—be forgiving, show people kindness, that sort of thing. It’s fueled by this desire to further myself on the path that’s taking shape at my feet. To walk it with no fear about what I’m leaving behind, because I know that what’s ahead is so much better than anything I can dare to dream on my own.”

Magnus is absolutely spellbound by the man in front of him—Alec is a livewire sparking in a million different directions; completely illuminated by the depth of his conviction.

“And how does that differ from self-guided morality?”

Alec pauses, considering the question.

“I think it’s in the expression. Faith is a little like swimming.” Absurdly, Magnus wants to put out that he never learned how to swim. The symbolism in it scares him, though, so he opts to keep that thought to himself. “Growing up in the church means I was taught certain ways to express my faith—receiving communion, giving back to the community, being a loving son—things like that. But there are a million other ways that faith plays out in our daily lives. Other ways to swim beside the breaststroke. The problem with the church at large is how quick the congregation is to dismiss those things as lesser.”

“I’m guessing your parents are included in that.” It’s a risky comment, but Magnus feels safe enough with Alec to share it.

“Yes.” Alec’s smile is wistful. Without thinking, Magnus takes his hand. Alec squeezes gratefully before continuing. “My parents can be very judgmental. You’ve read the Bible, Magnus. I know you have. You quote scripture at me all the time.”

Magnus smirks. His wink is overly dramatic but it makes Alec laugh. Mission accomplished.

“Cover to cover. Need to keep my Theology grade afloat somehow, Alexander. Apparently, Brother Zachariah is immune to my charm. I figured the Good Book was the next best solution.”

“Yes. It’s the solution I wish people like my parents would remember to turn to before making hurtful comments about people who express their faith differently. Who love differently. I…”

“Alexander.”

Alec meets Magnus’s gaze, lifting his own from their joined hands on the bench. “Yeah?”

“Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. You’ll never know how grateful I am to have met you. The way you love is beautiful, and consuming, and breathtaking. I see it when you look at Isabelle. When you look at Jace. When you talk about your parents. If anyone in the world tries to tear you down for that, well... Perhaps they’re in need of a love like that themselves.”

For a moment, Alec doesn’t respond at all—his face is frozen, mouth hanging open in a gentle series of exhales. Magnus doesn’t feel intimidated by the silence at all. No, this one is comfortable.

Magnus takes a deep breath and focuses on the feeling of their fingers tangled together. He waits for Alec to gather his thoughts.

When Alec speaks, there’s a roughness to his voice that sounds a lot like tears.

“You know, Magnus. For someone who claims to not be religiously inclined, you understand the concept of faith better than most Christians I know.”

Magnus hums for lack of an actual answer. He doesn’t fully agree with Alec on that point: Magnus doesn’t understand, not really. But he sees the gentle beauty in it all the same. Alec’s faith is a bright flame of conviction cast in shimmering hazel, unblinking and immobile as they stare at each other.

This belief in more, in something bigger than oneself…that’s what everyone is searching for, isn’t it? An answer to each of life’s questions. If Magnus understands anything, it’s that, for he’s been burdened by the weight of these questions more than most.

Why did his mother have to die? Was he not enough to save his father, who followed her down that dark path so soon after? Would he ever be enough for anyone? And why did no one want him after the loss of his parents? Surely he wasn’t that unlovable, certainly there was at least one redeeming quality he possessed, some sort of light in him, even if he himself couldn’t see it. There had to be a reason he survived and they didn’t. But if there wasn’t…would anyone ever want him the way he so desperately craved? Would he ever know the feeling of love—the sting, the heat, the all-encompassing sense of rightness brought on by knowing someone wanted him? Did he even deserve to feel that way, or to have someone feel that for him? His previous guardians didn’t seem to think so—Eres and Amirah, Valentine, Elodie and Jan—and if they all shared the same opinion, then who was he to tell them they were wrong? Wrong about him? Maybe they weren’t. Maybe he deserved it: every punch, slap, kick, and harsh truth, burned into his skin like a brand he’d never be able to rid himself of. His own Mark of Cain, etched upon his skin after the blood of his mother soaked through the earth. Someone like him would never be capable of love. But why, then, was he so damned hungry for it? After what he’d done, God, why was he the one who lived? Why why why—

“Magnus.”

It’s Alec’s voice, of course, that brings him back into himself. He’s surprised by the tenderness in it, a gentle, near-reverent rasp he hasn’t heard from the younger boy before; especially not on his behalf. It’s bizarre and Magnus wants to know what the cause of it is, what could possibly make Alec say his name like that; with such care and what sounds a lot like devotion. While the pitch and intonation is certainly a part of Alec’s repertoire, Magnus has never been on the receiving end…but he has heard it, and god, he must be going crazy.

Because his name falling from Alec’s lips sounds similar to the way Alec might say ‘Jesus Christ’; a whispered, awed utterance so full of love and rapt attention, hands folded carefully as he kneels on a prayer bench. Except this time, it wasn’t the Lord’s name leaving Alec’s mouth, it was ‘Magnus’. His own name, simple as that. Except it’s not simple. Not in the slightest.

Magnus starts, mouth open to ask Alec what exactly he meant by that—

Fingertips, the barest of touches, brush against his cheek. Alec is frowning, the earlier blaze in his eyes has given way to concern. It burns Magnus all the same, washing over him and rooting his feet to the ground.

Alec is talking, lips curling around words as Magnus traces every movement, but he can’t make out whatever Alec is saying. Without any conscious effort he leans into Alec’s touch, his stinging eyes slipping closed when he cannot bear to keep them open for another second.

They’re in the cathedral. In public, in the middle of the Institute, during school hours. Holding hands where no one can see them is one thing. But this…this is more. It’s a risk.

Magnus half expects Alec to pull his hand back, to break their point of contact as quickly as he’d initiated it, but Alec doesn’t. Instead, his fingertips fan out, cupping Magnus’s face with a more solid pressure.

Magnus sighs, eyes still closed, and focuses on the warmth bleeding into his skin; on the overwhelming sense of quiet that rushes through his veins, calming him in ways he didn’t even know he needed. The simple touch grounds him and he sinks into the feeling, relishing in the sense of safety and being cared for, held so tenderly, like he’s someone worth holding onto. Magnus allows himself to feel it for just a moment and pretend.

But reality is never far behind. Magnus lets the moment break with the rubber-band snap of the things he can’t bring himself to say.

Alec is still talking…the words start to make sense again as Magnus focuses on them.

“…crying, if I said something to upset you, I’m sorry, I didn’t—Magnus, please, I’m freaking out here, so just say something—”

“It’s fine, Alexander,” Magnus says, proud of himself when the words don’t waver at all. He leans out of Alec’s touch and brings his own hands to the stinging warmth on his cheeks. They come back wet. He groans inwardly at the thought of the tears and straightens his shoulders, sniffling noisily.

While Magnus is certainly not one to condemn outward expressions of any emotion, there’s something in him that shies away from letting his tears fall freely in front of Alec. Be it survival or a fervent desperation to keep some semblance of control, it’s just not something he likes to do. He’s perfectly fine expressing his other emotions; wears his heart on his sleeve with a polished sort of pride. But crying is not something he plans on doing today.

Talking about Alec’s faith made Magnus feel exposed and raw in ways he hasn’t known in years. Out of all he and Alec have shared with each other and all the bridges they have yet to cross…this is the one that feels like too much.

Maybe it’s the day, or maybe it’s the guilt he feels over how badly he wants Alec’s lips on his right now. Either way, for the first time in a few weeks, Magnus needs a moment of his own to catch his breath. He gets himself together in the space of a few seconds, flashing Alec a smile that feels right at home on his lips.

It’s effortless, really, to pull his walls back up. Magnus Bane is back in business.

“I just remembered something…unseemly, that’s all. A life as exciting as mine is not without its matinee performances, Alexander. And my, were they poorly rehearsed.”

He can see the questions on Alec’s lips, loaded on the tip of his tongue like bullets Magnus will have to dodge. Truth be told, Magnus doesn’t particularly feel like walking down memory lane with Alec right now—so he shuts down the curiosity before it can fully materialize.

“In fact, just now, I was thinking of my middle school yearbook photos. What a travesty they were, and to think, they’re immortalized—kept forever in the hands of those who dared to spend $22.50 on the Hereby Junior High Headlines.”

Magnus pouts, full lips pursed, looking more like a caricature of himself with the level of theatrics he’s putting to work. “I begged the principal to halt production, insisted on a picture retake in a perfectly sensible red bowtie and black dress shirt combo, but apparently it was too late. Alas, there was nothing to be done. I wore a purple and orange striped Lacoste polo—LACOSTE, Alexander. God, it was horrendous—”

“Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain,” Alec interjects automatically, but it’s lacking any of its usual heat.

Magnus smiles, shaking his head. “Wouldn’t dream of it, darling. But trust me on this one. As hard as it is to imagine from my current triumph, middle school Magnus was very hit-or-miss when it came to his fashion choices. You know I love to push the envelope, but some of those outfits were not even in the post office. It’s a chapter better left unread.”

Alec frowns, and for a second, Magnus thinks he’ll call him out on his half-truth. He prays to a god he certainly doesn’t believe in that he’ll let it go. By some miracle, Alec seems to acquiesce. He mumbles something about, “Vanity, Magnus, it’s one of the deadly sins,” but as he shakes his head and turns to leave the cathedral at the drone of the lunch dismissal bell, Magnus knows he’s off the hook. For now, anyway.

For a second he entertains the idea of divine intervention. He thinks back to earlier. Alec, talking about his faith with a steady conviction and a fire that lit his hazel eyes with the flickering dance of flames. He’d seemed so sure, then, that the answer he had was the right one, guided as he was by his truths and his scripture. But beyond that, Alec had seemed…ethereal, in that moment. Taller, somehow, with broad, strong shoulders and a light that seemed to emanate from him, pure white and blinding in the dusty air of the classroom. It hurt Magnus to look at him, but he couldn’t bear to look away, not when he was so breathtaking in that moment. Illuminated by faith and so, so warm, especially when he’d touched Magnus’s cheek with a caress so light that he could’ve imagined it; made it up in the haze of Alexander and bright light and a desire so thick it felt like lead in his stomach. His heart was pounding now, just remembering it, the way Alec had spoken so openly of his faith and then poured his heart out to Magnus, reaching for him like a lighthouse in a storm, a beacon of righteousness and safety and home.

In that moment, two things occur to him simultaneously. The realizations are swift, like a punch to the gut—the first being that it all makes sense to him.

Alec’s faith. How he can dedicate himself to the unknown and unproven, live his life by the Good Book and follow the narrative without stopping to question the validity of it all. It’s clear in every word Alec says that this is a truth he’s built himself around; that it’s as essential and effortless for him to believe it as it is for Magnus to breathe. His faith is woven into his DNA with threads of golden light that tangle with sinews and nerve endings, indivisible from the blood vessels and organs that make Alec human. It’s a part of him. A massive part. And as much as Magnus’s own beliefs differ, he can finally see Alec’s truth for what it is: an incorrigible truth.

His faith makes him beautiful, impossibly so. It lights him up in ways Magnus cannot begin to describe, and fills Magnus’s chest with its residual warmth.

This, of course, leads him to his second realization of the day. It’s just as earth-shattering as the first, but for a much different reason. Especially something like this, when he’s put up so many walls; kept the people he’s close to at arm’s length to ensure that everyone’s best interests are being looked after, including (and primarily) his own. Closed himself off to feeling too much, to getting swept up in a shimmering trope like romance. But it’s here, and it’s too late to stop the feeling in its tracks. It slams into him with the weight and severity of a speeding truck, and for the second time today, he’s left reeling in the face of an unshakable truth. Because it is true, and he’s burning in the flames. As surely as Alec knows his faith to be a reality, Magnus knows that this is a fact—plain and simple. It can’t be masked any more than it can be disregarded, and it’s woven into the very muscles and bones that threaten to betray him now as his knees quake where he stands, immobile as a statue in the middle of a classroom.

Magnus Bane is hopelessly, irrevocably in love with Alexander Lightwood.  And he has no idea how to cope with that thought.

“For fuck’s sake,” he mutters weakly, clutching at his chest like some sort of damsel in those silent movies Ragnor always watches. The thing is, it’s terrifying—the scope of it all and how quickly it happened. He’s always known that when he falls, he falls hard and fast—but to fall for his best friend? His completely unavailable, closeted and scared best friend, who is counting on him to be a strong and supportive figure? For the past few months Alec has been the most stable part of his life and for the first time in a long time, he’s felt like maybe, it’s okay to want to stay here. Here, with his little makeshift family. With Ragnor and Raphael, with Izzy and Clary and—

Alexander. Who he is in love with.

It’s an all-time low, Magnus reasons. Love truly is a con. Silently, he curses his traitorous heart for leading him here yet again. After Camille, he figures he would’ve known better than to let this happen. 

And yet, here he is—there’s no question about his feelings; no mistaking the tightness in his chest and the mantra of Alec’s name looping continuously in his mind, no matter where he is or what he’s doing.

If there is a God, he’s certainly doing an excellent job of making Magnus the butt of all his jokes.

//

Jace Lightwood reaches a breaking point on the third day of Finals Week. He waltzes into the locker room with a stir-crazy smirk—Magnus knows the second he opens his mouth that it’s going to be bad news.

“I’m having a party on Christmas Eve,” he announces, loudly and to anyone who will listen. “At my house. My parents are going to some conference, so no one will be home for a week. Booze, music, whatever. Come find me if you want the address.”

A few people approach him with what looks a lot like interest…and that’s how Magnus knows this is actually a thing that’s going to happen.

Jace corners him after class. “You’re coming, right? On Christmas Eve?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Magnus drones, eyes rolling.

Despite the sarcasm Jace slaps his shoulder and accepts Magnus’s answer as the affirmative he was looking for. There’s a sinking feeling in Magnus’s stomach about this whole idea.

He chooses to ignore it. It’s probably just stress from his Bio exam—and besides, Jace wouldn’t listen to him anyway.

//

| A.L |

“I think you should talk to Magnus and tell him about your feelings.”

Alec chokes on his breakfast, spoon falling into his cereal bowl with a noisy click. “What feelings? I don’t—I have no idea what you’re talking about, Iz. Magnus and I are friends. Best friends.”

Isabelle sighs, hand coming to rub soothing circles on Alec’s back as he coughs. “Yes. And you’re in love with him. I think that’s information he’d be interested in knowing, don’t you?”

Suddenly, Alec can’t get the words out fast enough. His voice cracks despite how quickly he’s speaking.

“I’m not—you can’t just—please don’t tell him, Izzy. Don’t tell anyone. Please. I can’t…he doesn’t feel the same way and it’s going to break me, so please, promise me you won’t tell him.”

“Hey. Breathe.” Alec does, forcing the air in through his nose. “It’s alright, Alec. I’m sorry for upsetting you. I’d never even think of telling Magnus any of this so please don’t worry about that. I promise you, brother. I couldn’t do that to you.”

“Okay.” Alec picks up his spoon, the cereal tasting sour on his tongue. “Sorry for freaking out. I never meant for this to happen.”

Isabelle’s arms wrap around his neck. She kisses the top of his head. Alec remembers a time when Maryse used to do the very same thing. “If we had full control over the people we fall in love with, Alec, I think a lot of people would choose very differently. But that’s all out of our hands. Can I say one more thing and then we’ll agree to table the conversation until you’re ready to talk more?”

Alec sighs, settling back into Izzy’s embrace more comfortably. “You’re going to say it anyway, aren’t you? Might as well say it with my blessing.”

“Yup!” Isabelle’s voice is suspiciously cheery. “Here’s the thing about Magnus…I think you might be wrong about him. More specifically, his ability to return your feelings. Let’s say he does. What do you do then?”

“Hypothetically speaking?” Alec feels Isabelle’s nod more than he sees it. “I’d…um. Oh, gosh. You…really want to know? It won’t…” Gross you out? Bother you? Send you running to Father Starkweather? “…make you uncomfortable?”

“Of course not.” Isabelle smiles. She doesn’t delve into that, even though he’s given her an opportunity to. Alec thanks God for his sister more and more each day. “I asked because I want to know, Alec. Your happiness makes me happy too.”

“Okay.” Alec takes a deep breath and steadfastly ignores the heat rushing to his cheeks. “Alright. I guess I’d kiss him. I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. What it would be like. Magnus—he wears this lip gloss sometimes. I think he does it just to torment me.”

Isabelle laughs so loudly it startles Jace, who walks into the dining room and heads straight to the coffee maker.

“Whatever it is,” he grumbles, not in any mood to joke this early in the morning, “I don’t want to know.”

“Good thing I wasn’t planning on telling you, then.” Isabelle sticks her tongue out before crossing the room to help him with the machine. She turns her back to wink at Alec, who smiles in response and slips into his thoughts for a bit while they bicker.

Maybe Isabelle is right.  Should Alec tell Magnus how he feels? The casual touches between them have been increasing in frequency as of late. It seems like whenever they’re together there’s a part of Alec pressed against Magnus. A leg. A hand. A thigh. He shivers and banishes a thought that’s decidedly less suitable for the current setting to the depths of his mind.

Not to mention their ice-skating, which…was that a date? Alec doesn’t know. It’s been keeping him up at night trying to figure it out.

He might not be ready to tell Magnus today, but it would be silly to dismiss the thought entirely.

Alec sighs softly, head dipping in prayer. He asks God for guidance; for the ability to discern which path is the right one to take.

Alec also asks God for Magnus’s heart, but he knows that’s probably hoping for a bit too much.

//

Maryse and Robert leave for Rhode Island on the first day of Winter break. They warn Jace and Isabelle not to act poorly in their absence, but they don’t ask the same of Alec.

Alec is thankful for the opportunity to avoid a lie. He knows about Jace’s Christmas party plans. What’s worse…he’s planning on participating. To an extent.

You see, Alec Lightwood has a plan. It’s a bit of a mess, and it’s without a doubt the most nerve-wracking thing he’s ever decided to do. But if anyone has proven themselves to be worth a little bit of fear…it’s Magnus Bane.

That’s why Alec is going to tell him. Isabelle was right. He’s in love with Magnus—head-over-heels in love—and Magnus deserves to know about it. So, Alec has a plan, and it’s extravagant.

It’s cheesy. It’s romantic (he hopes.) All nice things that Magnus deserves in spades.

And it’s all going to happen on Christmas Eve at the house party Jace decided to throw.

//

On the night of the Lightwood Christmas party Alec stands in his bedroom alone, trying to tune out the pounding thud of the music downstairs so he can focus on what it is he needs to accomplish.

There are three tiny plastic cups sitting on his desk, filled to the brim with a deceptively innocent looking clear liquid. Next to that is a normal-sized plastic cup. Alec is pretty sure it contains Hawaiian punch. At the very least, it doesn’t smell as terrible as the other three do.

Admittedly, Alec doesn’t know much about alcohol or tolerance, but he’s seen Jace drink a lot more than this and be fine afterwards, so Alec figures it’s a good place to start. There’s also something poetic about having one cup for each stage of Alec’s grand reveal. He bets Magnus would appreciate it too.

Step one, get tipsy. Two, find Magnus. Three, bring him to the mistletoe pinned above Alec’s door. And step four involves kissing him. A lot, if Alec is lucky.

Alec sighs and steels his nerves, thankful he had the forethought to do this in the safety of his bedroom. If he throws up no one will be around to judge him for it. He closes his eyes, praying silently before lifting the first little cup to his lips and wincing at the sickly-sweet smell.

How am I supposed to do this again? He’d read a few articles; done some research to make sure this part of the plan goes as smoothly as possible. Right—head back, mouth open, drink the whole thing at once.

Alec tosses back the shot, eyes squeezing closed at the terrible taste. The burn hits him a few seconds later, making him cough as he fumbles for the edge of the table.

Why the hell does Magnus enjoy this? Tequila is probably the most disgusting thing Alec has ever tasted. There’s no time to waste, though—he reaches for the second shot glass, pleased to find it goes down a little easier than the first. Once the third is gone too, Alec grabs for the red cup, taking a tentative sip. Well, Alec reasons, it can’t be any worse than the little ones.

To Alec’s utter surprise, the ‘Jungle Jace Juice’ is palatable—good, even. It doesn’t take much time at all before he’s finished that one, stumbling back to admire his handiwork from afar.

Four empty glasses sit on the edge of Alec’s desk—three little, one big. There’s a boozy warmth burning low in his stomach. It makes Alec’s stack of textbooks look funny. He laughs out loud, pleased with how well his plan is going so far. Is he drunk? Alec doesn’t think so. Then again, the article told him it might take a while for everything to kick in.

Right then. Step one: get tipsy—complete. Alec smirks and fumbles for the knob on his door with a renewed sense of confidence. This is totally going to work! No wonder they call it liquid courage.

It’s time for Step Two in his four-part masterplan to woo Magnus. Now all Alec has to do is find him.

//

Twenty minutes later, Alec feels invincible. Everything around him is bright even though Jace turned off all the lights in the living room save the strobe light borrowed from Kaelie Whitewillow. It’s bouncing around the dance floor now, happy and pink, and Alec wants to chase it, hold it with his hands and put it in his pocket so he can always keep it with him whenever he’s feeling sad. Alec wonders if Kaelie would notice if the strobe light went missing after the party. He’d really like to have it for his room.

It reminds him of Magnus. Would Magnus like the pretty pink light? Alec can’t remember if Magnus likes pink or not—right now his hair is painted with a streak of blue, cool and bright as it swirls into the black of the rest of Magnus’s hair. Has it ever been pink? Magnus’s hair would look so nice with pink in it. Magnus looks so nice all the time. Alec really likes Magnus. If only he were here right now, maybe he would dance with Alec. Magnus is probably a way better dancer than the person behind him right now.

He giggles at the thought, and then realizes he’s forgetting something important. There was something he had to do tonight. Something important. Did it have to do with Magnus? Probably. All of Alec’s thoughts are about Magnus recently. Come on, Alec. Think, think, think.

Alec’s nose scrunches as he tries to remember. When it starts to give him a headache he sighs, leaving the dance floor in search of that red stuff from earlier. Another cup will help him remember the plan he’s supposed to be sticking to this evening.

//  

| M.B |

When Magnus walks up to the Lightwoods’ brownstone in Tribeca, the first thing he realizes is just how loud the music is. It’s not Christmas music, which in Magnus’s mind is a plus, but if Jace isn’t careful, they’re going to attract the wrong kind of attention. Wouldn’t Maryse love that? Magnus pictures the police showing up when everyone in that house is likely under the age and under the influence. He sighs. When exactly did he become the responsible one?

Magnus pushes through the door without bothering to knock. Thankfully, it’s not as crowded as he was expecting. There aren’t more than thirty people scattered in the living room and kitchen, dancing or drinking in groups. Isabelle is standing over by the window with Clary and another girl Magnus doesn’t recognize—and he thinks he sees Jace playing beer pong in the dining room.

Alexander is nowhere to be seen, but that doesn’t surprise Magnus one bit. He smiles at the realization that Alec is probably hiding in his room with his headphones on, ignoring the party around him with that stubborn Lightwood determination that Magnus has come to love.

He starts to make his way over to the stairs in search of Alexander when he’s suddenly blinking against the darkness, a pair of hands covering Magnus’s eyes.

Magnus will deny the sound that comes out of his mouth for the rest of his days on this earth.

“Guess who,” a familiar voice says, breath hot against his ear.

“Jesus Christ, Alexander. Where did you even come from?” Magnus tries to turn, fingers tangling around each of Alec’s wrists to pull his hands away, but Alec holds fast, pulling Magnus back against his chest instead.

He’s warm, solid, and vaguely sweaty. Magnus is mostly successful in disguising his groan as a cough.

“You should read the book of Genesis. Talks all about that, Magnus. But the—the short of it is that God made me. And you! Isn’t that cool?”

“Yes, God, very cool. Alexander, what—"

Magnus forces Alec’s hands away from his face. It’s not easy for him to turn in the tight circle of Alec’s arms but he manages.

Alec giggles, eyes wide and unfocused. He’s swaying on his feet as he holds Magnus close—for balance, probably, although he’s bouncing back and forth in a strange approximation of dancing. 

It doesn’t take long for Magnus to determine that Alexander Lightwood is drunk. No, Magnus thinks, he’s beyond that. He’s absolutely wasted. Shitfaced. Trashed. He’s—

Alec is grinning at him like it’s already Christmas morning, and Magnus is everything he wanted. It stops his heart for a second. He’s never seen Alec like this. Carefree, exuberant, alive.

It’s really fucking with Magnus’s ability to focus on the task at hand. What the fuck is going on?

“Oh, darling. What happened to you?” Magnus’s hand comes up to cup Alec’s cheek. Alec leans into it and closes his eyes. “How much did you drink, Alexander? Let’s get you up to your room.”

For some reason, Alec finds that question to be hysterical. Thankfully he follows Magnus up the stairs without too much trouble.

“You’re so—pretty, Magnus. You’re beautiful. Have I ever told you that before? So cool with your hair like that, I like it. Oh! I have to tell you about my plan!”

“Tell me later,” Magnus says, arm wrapping more tightly around Alec’s waist. “Right now we’re going to your room. You need to get in bed before you pass out on me.” He casts a worried glance up at the surveillance camera trained on Alec’s bedroom door as the two of them pass under it. Surely Jace had enough common sense to disable them for the evening. Right?

Alec gasps, heels digging into the carpet at the threshold.

“Bed! You’re—Magnus, are you gonna come to bed with me? Woah. Does this mean my plan worked?”

Magnus moans in lieu of a proper response, pulling on Alec’s arm a bit harder so he can close the door behind them. The last thing they need is someone seeing them up here and getting the wrong idea.

Or the right idea. Magnus would be a fool to dismiss the possibility of anything anymore.

Alec’s drunken affection is messing with Magnus’s head in the worst sort of way because it makes absolutely no sense in any context. He never anticipated how much of a mindfuck this evening would turn out to be. And to think, earlier today Magnus thought the worst thing he’d have to endure this evening would be Alec’s love of Christmas music.

Alec tangles his fingers in Magnus’s, twirling him suddenly until they’re standing face-to-face in the middle of Alec’s bedroom. There’s music playing from the speaker of Alec’s iPhone. When the hell had that happened?

“Dance with me first? And then we can cuddle in bed. I can’t believe my plan worked, Magnus. I must be a genius. Is that why you like me?”

Everything in Magnus gentles at the awestruck cast of Alec’s tone. He takes a moment to consider how much of this Alec will recall in the morning.

Having decided that the answer is slim to nothing, Magnus takes a leap of faith.

“I like you for many reasons, Alexander,” Magnus says, tucking a lock of hair behind Alec’s ear with the hand Alec isn’t holding. “Your intelligence is only a fraction of it. And while I have no idea what this ‘plan’ of yours entails, I’m sure it worked a treat.”

“Worked a treat? You sound—sound like a BBC show, Magnus. Wait!” Alec holds up a single finger, eyes alight with his apparent discovery. “I know. You’re drunk too! Yes! Magnus and Alexander, drunk together and pretty—”

Magnus’s laugh is loud enough to drown out the party downstairs.

“Ah, Alexander…as much as I’m starting to wish for the opposite, I am very much sober. Sorry about the phrasing. Living with Ragnor has its’ ups and downs. You’re right about one thing, though. We are very pretty.”

“We are. Especially you, Magnus. Always so pretty. Can we dance now?”

“Mm. I’d love to, but I’m starting to feel sleepy. Could I get a raincheck on that dancing?”

Alec smiles. Magnus frowns as the color seems to drain from his face. “Yeah, of course. Sleepy Magnus, time to sleep—oh, hang on. I think I need to—”

Alec leans over—Magnus grabs him immediately to keep him somewhat upright—and promptly empties the contents of his stomach down the front of Magnus’s sweater.

Magnus sighs, smoothing Alec’s sweat-sticky hair back from his forehead as he gags. “Oh darling…shh, there we go. It’s okay. Don’t fight it.”

“M-Magnus, I don’t feel good…”

“I know. Come on. You’ll feel better all snuggled up in bed.”

Alec pales at that, eyes wild and nervous as they dart to Magnus.

“I—your shirt. Please don’t be mad at me, I’m sorry, I’ll clean it.”

“Shh. I’m not mad. Just worried, Alexander. This isn’t like you at all. Did something happen before the party?”

“Nothing happened. Part of my plan, that’s all. Might’ve gone a bit overboard but I only had a few tiny drinks, Magnus. They were sooooo tiny. Baby drinks.”

“Mm. I hear you. I hope you know we’ll be discussing this later, Alexander. Don’t think you’re off the hook.”

Magnus sits Alec down on the edge of his bed, peeling off his own ruined shirt and throwing it in the direction of Alec’s laundry basket before grabbing something from Alec’s closet at random. Magnus puts it on quickly. If he ignores the burn of Alec’s watchful eye from across the room, he thinks he can manage to get through this evening without falling victim to spontaneous combustion.

“Alright. Let’s get those shoes off and find you something softer to sleep in. Where do you keep your pajamas?”

Alec’s voice is deep; raw. It sends a rush of heat straight through to Magnus’s core.

“Second drawer to the left.” Alec grunts—Magnus hears the telltale thump of shoes hitting the floor. “I sleep shirtless. By the way.”

Wonderful. Magnus groans, eyes fluttering shut as he desperately tries to dismiss that visual. “Fascinating. Here’s a pair of sweatpants.”

“You’re wearing my school sweater,” Alec comments. “That’s—aw, Magnus, that’s so unfair.”

“And why is that, Mr. ‘I Sleep Shirtless’? Not like you were planning on wearing it. You know I’ll give it back.” Lie. Magnus is totally planning on stealing it, but that’s not something Alec needs to know.

Alec flops back against the pillows, yawning loudly.

“’s unfair because you look adorable in it and I can’t reach you from here.”

“Is that right?” Magnus can’t quite keep the flirtation at bay. This confident version of Alec is completely disarming every rational thought in his mind. “Well that won’t do. Maybe I should come over there.”

“Duh.”

Magnus sighs and crosses the room in three easy strides. Alec’s eyes are closed, lashes fluttering against his cheeks as he squirms around in the blankets, trying to get comfortable. Magnus reaches out, fingers dragging through Alec’s soft hair to settle him. “Shh. I’m right here. Get some sleep.”

“So good,” Alec moans, words sleepy and slurred, “so happy my plan worked, Magnus. Don’t go home tonight, yeah?”

Magnus snorts, unable to resist the dopey grin stretching his lips. “Yeah, sure. And where am I going to sleep?”

“Riiiight…here.” Alec pats his chest. It’s clumsy, uncoordinated.

Exactly what Magnus needs to remind him of just how drunk Alexander is, and how badly he needs to get the hell out of Dodge. Immediately.

“Goodnight, Alexander.”

Alec’s answer is incoherent. Less than thirty seconds later he’s sound asleep, snoring into the pillow with his face pressed into Magnus’s hand.

Magnus sighs. He closes his own eyes, allowing himself to sink into the moment. In the background, Michael Bublé is crooning on about a white Christmas. If he ignores the way Alec’s room still smells like vomit, telltale cups lining the edge of Alec’s desk, Magnus can almost pretend this is a nice night. That they’re together; that he can press his cheek to the place Alec patted and let the rhythm of his heartbeat lull Magnus to sleep.

He’ll wake up on Christmas morning with the love of his life by his side. It’s like one of Alec’s cheesiest Christmas songs come to life. Something out of a dream.

And then Magnus opens his eyes.

Right. Time to clean up the mess on Alec’s carpet and convince Jace to shut this circus down before the cops show up.

Magnus stands, his heart breaking as he tucks the blankets more securely around Alec’s bare shoulders. He feels like a total creep, looming over his best friend’s bed while said best friend unerringly sleeps on. Fuck. Magnus is so tired of holding back tonight.

So, in the spirit of the season, he allows himself one small moment of weakness. Magnus leans down, his entire body trembling as his lips graze the heated skin of Alec’s forehead poking out from under his blanket.

“Merry Christmas, Alexander. Have sweet dreams of sugarplums for me, yeah?”

//

It’s only as Magnus is leaving, shutting the door to Alec’s bedroom with a quiet click, that he sees it.

There, pinned carefully above the doorframe, hangs a delicate sprig of mistletoe. Magnus’s smile softens at the sight of it. He wonders which of Alec’s meddling siblings decided to tack it up there.

Perhaps in another universe; another lifetime, Alec and Magnus would’ve spotted it earlier and stopped. Made use of it. Kissed each other and indulged in the one Christmas ritual Magnus doesn’t hate on principle.

Loved each other. Been together.

In another lifetime, sure. But not in this one. Magnus forces back the bile rising in his own throat and slips down the staircase, determined to forget he saw it there at all.

//

Jace isn’t where Magnus last remembers seeing him, but he hasn’t traveled far—he and Clary are sandwiched close together on the dance floor, her head thrown back to rest on his shoulder.

Magnus grinds his teeth together, irritation coiling in the tense set of his jaw. He’s able to get to Jace easily enough.

“Hey. You need to come with me.”

“Magnus!” Jace’s smile is all teeth. He reeks of alcohol. “You made it! I didn’t think you were going to show.”

“Yes, I’m here, that’s wonderful. Come on. Party is over.”

“What? No way. It’s barely— 3 AM? Oh fuck.”

Magnus smirks as Clary slinks off to start shutting things down. The horror dawning slowly on Jace’s face is incredibly satisfying.

“My thoughts exactly. Come on. You and I need to have a little chat about what happened to Alexander.”

“My brother? Shit, Magnus. He’s the last one you need to worry about—he hasn’t left his room all evening. Alec is allergic to fun, remember?”

His earlier annoyance shifts seamlessly into anger. Something isn’t adding up here.

“Oh, is that what you think? Let me tell you something, Jace—I will always worry about Alexander. He is my number one priority. Do you understand that? For me, there’s no one else but him.”

Jace’s face goes slack. “You sound like you’re in love with him or something, dude.”

“I am.”

“Oh.” Jace’s eyes are wide with surprise, but it’s gone in less than a second. “Well in that case, I’m sorry. For saying that. That’s really cool, Magnus. Think I’m a little bit drunk.”

Magnus’s laugh is dry and humorless as he walks over to the high-top counter, toying with the ladle in the obnoxious punch bowl. “Obviously. One too many servings of this garbage, I assume?”

“Jungle Jace Juice,” Jace offers. He hands Magnus a red cup.

Magnus brings the cup to his face, sniffing delicately at the neon-red liquid—the alcohol content is enough to put down a small horse, he figures. Shit. No wonder everyone here is already trashed.

“Jace, what the fuck is in this?”

Jace smirks, shrugging in a way that nearly costs him his balance. “Little bit of everything. Why? Haven’t had any complaints so far.”

Of course not, Magnus thinks bitterly, because that would require a level of coherency not present in this house.

“Consider this your first. This is enough to strip the paint off a car.”

“Hah! Coming from—from you, that’s a compliment. Try it, Magnus. One cup and you’ll believe in God, guaranteed.”

“No, Jace, I don’t think I need to. Alexander has had enough for the both of us.”

At the mention of his brother, Jace chuckles, arms crossing over his chest.

“Alec? No way. He doesn’t drink.” Jace sobers slightly under Magnus’s unamused look, confidence visibly flagging. “Where is he? Why aren’t you with him right now? Wait. Isn’t that his sweater?”

“It’s funny you should say that.” Magnus is struggling to keep his temper in check. “Because I would’ve agreed with you prior to this evening. When I got here he was dancing in the entryway. I barely managed to get him upstairs before he threw up all over my shirt. And my shoes. He’s sleeping it off as we speak.” Jace is clearly shocked, but Magnus isn’t finished yet. “And, as we’ve already established this evening, it is my job to worry about him. You can probably see where I’m going with this, Jace. If not, let me be frank: what happened to Alec that led him to experiment with your beloved Jungle Juice on the eve of his favorite day of the year?”

“I…don’t know.” Magnus sighs—the breathy wobble in Jace’s voice is enough to tell him that it’s the truth. “Magnus, I swear to God. Our parents haven’t called. There’s nothing new with Lydia. He was in a good mood all morning. I don’t know why he went and got plastered. Maybe he’s possessed?”

Magnus breathes in slowly, hand coming out to rest on Jace’s shoulder.

“And maybe you’re more drunk than I thought. Why don’t you go to bed? The lovely Biscuit and I can handle things from here.”

Jace, to his credit, has the decency to look hesitant. “Magnus, are you sure? This is my mess, I can help—”

Clary appears, chin resting on Magnus’s shoulder. “We’ve got it covered, Jace. Go to bed. I’ll be up as soon as everyone leaves, okay?”

“Yeah.” Jace’s eyes never leave Magnus’s even though his girlfriend is standing right next to him. There’s an unspoken gravity lingering between the two of them Magnus is willing to bet is due to his earlier admission. “Yeah, alright. See you in a bit.”

//

Magnus ends up sleeping in Isabelle’s room while she offers to take her parents’ unused master bedroom. Jace’s bed is big enough for both he and Clary. Alec’s bed is a decent size too. Hell, if Alec’s begging is anything to go by, Magnus thinks he’d even be welcome there.

But he’s not comfortable sleeping next to Alec. There’s no way he’d be able to stop himself from seeking out that warmth in the middle of the night. Sure, cuddling in bed is a line they’ve already crossed…but that was before, and god, he doesn’t have enough of a heart left to break at this point in the evening.

Before Magnus loved him. Before everything changed for one of them, in a way that could cost Magnus the best friend he’s ever had.

Magnus snuggles into Isabelle’s mountain of pillows instead, tugging the sheets up over his face as his mind starts to wander.

Seeing Alec drunk tonight set something in motion for Magnus. It’s a big change, he thinks, one he’s already started working on…but this? This is enough to cement it. It’s motivation. Magnus tries to memorize the feeling, hold it in the space between lungs and ribs and heart until it burns so badly he has to exhale.

And in the quiet of the evening in Isabelle Lightwood’s bedroom, Magnus makes an early New Year’s Resolution. In the upcoming year, he’s going to drink less. Much less. He’ll find something else to lose himself in. Something healthier. More Alec-approved. He’s going to get better and things are going to change.

And if that very thing happens to be Alec himself? Well…Magnus might just start to believe in the miracle of Christmas after all.

Chapter Text

“You know,” Magnus says, delighting in the shocked squeak Alec makes as he wheels around, “typically the hangover breakfast is made by the person who stayed sober the night before. I’m shocked to see you out of bed right now with how terrible you must be feeling.”

Alec sighs, rubbing at his forehead with the hand not holding a spatula. “It’s nothing I don’t deserve. Besides, breakfast is the least I can do after the mess I made of things last night.”

Magnus blinks, looking around the room with an exaggerated pout. “Mess? What mess? And here I thought Biscuit and I did a thorough job in our post-party cleanup.”

“I noticed,” Alec says, deadpan. “Yet another problem you dealt with because of me. It should’ve been Jace—heck, Magnus, it should have been me. Or Isabelle. Pretty much anyone but you and Clary.”

“No one forced us, Alexander. We did it because we wanted to. Your brother even offered to help. I respectfully declined, of course, when he started looking woozy. It was more of a precaution than any desire to spare him the effort.”

“And you stayed? After cleaning my entire house?” Alec sounds amazed. Angry, maybe. Magnus knows Alec better than to think that anger is anything but internal.

“You asked me to stay. I stayed.” Magnus shakes his head, moving to stand behind Alec with slow, deliberate steps. “Here, why don’t I take over? I think you need to sit down. You’re starting to look a little pale.”

Alec turns back to the stove, humiliation clear in the way he’s nearly curled over the pan. Magnus has to pry the spatula from his hands when Alec refuses to let go.

“Alexander…you know you don’t owe me anything, right? Consider us even from that time you took care of me.”

“That was different. You never projectile-vomited all over me, Magnus.”

“No, I didn’t. But I did text you at 3 AM on a school night and beg you to sneak out of your house. Which, by the way, resulted in you being grounded for almost three weeks.” Magnus figures the rest of it—their fights, Alec being dragged to confessional, his birthday—is better left unsaid. “One ruined shirt isn’t the end of the world, darling. It wasn’t even one of my favorites.”

Now that he’s no longer responsible for flipping the pancakes, Alec’s hands are free to tangle in his own hair, tugging harshly as he squeezes his eyes shut. Magnus makes an unhappy sound at the back of his throat.

Sure, Magnus had expected a bit of embarrassment from Alec. It seems like such a long time ago that their situations were reversed…but Magnus remembers the feeling all the same.

What’s throwing him off, however, is how torn up about this mess Alec seems to be. He twists the knob to turn off the burner before flipping their breakfast onto a plate and setting it aside on the countertop.

Magnus’s hands only tremble a bit as they slide up the slope of Alec’s bare back, coming to rest on his shoulders. He tugs gently until Alec starts to move under his grip, frog-walking backward and spinning them so Alec can sit down on the barstool.

“I can practically feel you tormenting yourself over this, Alexander. There’s no need for it. You’re entitled to a bad day every now and then regardless of what others might have to say about it.”

Alec is watching him with what looks like trepidation. “What did I say to you last night? Did I…tell you anything important?”

“No, darling. Nothing like that. But I understand how uncomfortable it is to have holes in your memory. Why don’t you start by telling me everything you remember, and I’ll fill in the blanks for you as you go?”

“I remember drinking in my room alone. I was determined and Izzy would’ve tried to talk me out of it.” Magnus nods, making a mental note to revisit that later. “And then I remember going downstairs and somehow, I ended up on the dance floor. I hate dancing. I’m no good at it.”

Magnus’s smile crinkles the corners of his eyes as he reaches out and nudges Alec’s shoulder.

“Somehow I doubt that. I’m sure you were a marvel, Alexander.”

Heat rushes to Alec’s cheeks as his eyes roll, snorting softly. “Yeah, no. Ask Jace later. Knowing him he has a video of it.”

Ah, Jace. Magnus is pretty sure this next bit of news will cheer Alec up.

“He doesn’t.” Like clockwork, Alec sits up a bit straighter. “In fact, Jace didn’t even notice you’d joined the party. He was too absorbed in a scintillating round of beer pong to worry about the rest of the world.” Magnus smirks. “All that fuss, only to lose. Miserably. What else do you remember?”

“Looking for you,” Alec answers, gaze focused on the refrigerator like it contains all the world’s secrets. “I don’t remember actually finding you, though. Did I? Or did you find me?”

Magnus clicks the band of one of his rings against the countertop. Alec’s attention is back on him immediately, searching for the source of the sound.

“Both. We met up in the entryway. You covered my eyes and made me guess who you were.”

Alec groans, head sinking into his hands, and it’s too much. Magnus can’t resist the urge to touch. The sight of Alec in any sort of distress has always been Magnus’s greatest undoing. He reaches out and ruffles his hair, lips quirking up at the happy sound Alec makes.

“You were very interested in sharing the story of creation with me, Alexander. But at least you were cooperative in my efforts to get you upstairs. I’ve been told whiskey makes me belligerent, so I’m thankful you err more on the side of exuberance.”

“And once we were upstairs…did I say anything?”

Magnus’s heart sinks as Alec’s words from last night come to mind. You’re so pretty, Magnus. Beautiful. So, so pretty.

“You did, but it was mostly nonsense. However,” Magnus starts, one finger raising as he smirks at Alec, “you did use the word ‘cool’ about three times in the span of a minute.”

Alec’s head comes up from the fold of his arms. He’s grinning.

“Let me get this straight: when I’m drunk, I turn into my brother?”

Despite the weight of Magnus’ heart in his chest, the chuckle he lets out is genuine.

“Not the comparison I would make, but I suppose I’m a bit biased.” Alec makes a questioning noise, and Magnus winks, relishing in the color it brings to Alec’s cheeks. “Far too high praise for Jace in my opinion.”

“Yeah, well. He’s—um. Anyway, you brought me upstairs? And then what?”

“You wanted to dance more. Insisted on it, actually. It took a bit of convincing, but I finally got you to agree to lay down. You got sick, I cleaned us both up, and into bed you went. Didn’t take long for you to fall asleep after that.”

“Huh. Okay. That’s…not so bad, right? Annoying, maybe. But not as bad as I was expecting.”

“See?” Magnus reaches for the plate of pancakes, pushing it between them and handing Alec a fork. “Let’s eat. They’ll get cold otherwise.”

“First, I throw up on you, and now I’m eating your apology pancakes?” Alec sighs. The sight of him eating, at last, relaxes the knot of worry sitting heavily in Magnus’s stomach. 

“I told you, darling. You have nothing to apologize for. Thus the pancakes are kind of a moot point. Not that I don’t appreciate them.” Magnus blinks, a thought suddenly occurring to him. “Oh! Now that I think of it…there was one subject you kept harping on. Tell me, darling. What was this grand plan of yours?”

Alec chokes on the food in his mouth as the fork falls noisily to the kitchen floor—Magnus’s eyes widen in alarm. He’s out of his seat and by Alec’s side in a flash, rubbing his back in soothing circles, but Alec shrugs him off and curls in on his stomach protectively as he wheezes.

It’s a good two minutes before he’s able to get his breathing under control. Magnus’s worry is an acrid taste in the back of his mouth.

“Sorry. I’m fine, I’m okay. What did I…I told you about a plan last night?”

“Not exactly,” Magnus says, slowly. Warily. “You never went into detail, Alexander. But you mentioned having one, more than once. Whatever it was you were convinced it had worked.”

If Magnus thought Alec looked miserable before, it’s nothing compared to now. His hands tremble, head shaking as Magnus tries his best to reassure him.

“Alexander—”

“It was nothing,” he responds, too quickly. “Forget about it. Please. It was stupid. I was being dumb, and drunk. It didn’t mean anything.”

If it was truly nothing Alec wouldn’t appear to be three seconds from booking the first flight to Peru. He probably wouldn’t have mentioned it a thousand times last night, either. Magnus had to learn the hard way that alcohol tends to make people honest long before it makes them nonsensical.

Magnus drops it. There’s no other choice in the face of Alec’s non-verbal pleas.

“Alright.” Alec’s entire body sags in response—relief, Magnus thinks. “I guess that about covers it, then. Once you fell asleep I went to find that brother of yours. We had a lovely little conversation. Clary got everyone out, helped me clean things up, and then I went to sleep in Izzy’s room.”

“You could have slept with me, you know. From the way you make it sound I probably wouldn’t have noticed.”

Magnus chuckles, momentarily reconsidering his decision to leave out the finer points of he and Alec’s conversations last night. Alec’s continuous request for cuddles had nearly sent him into an early grave.

He thinks if Alec were to find out about that in his current state, the grave might need to be deep enough for two.

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Magnus pitches his voice low and flirty. “I’m offended, darling. Are you suggesting I’m anything less than an amazing cuddler?”

Alec blushes, eyes rolling. “I never said that.”

The barstool Magnus is sitting in screeches as he stands, approaching Alec with slow, even steps.

“It was implied. I suppose I’ll just have to prove you wrong. To save face and restore my name, of course. Can’t have you running around and ruining my reputation with your lies.”

“Yeah?” Alec’s voice is low, eyes hooded. It reads a hell of a lot like reciprocation…Magnus’s blood sings in his veins as he comes to a stop in front of Alec. “Guess you’ll have to do it, then.”

“Maybe I will,” he murmurs, palm sliding flat against the counter until the tips of their fingers are touching; featherlight and searing as Alec watches every move—

Until Jace walks into the kitchen and heads straight for the fridge, oblivious to the fact that he’s not alone.

Alec rips his hand away like he’s been burned, eyes wide and surprised. It stings like rejection, and isn’t that a stupid thought? Rejection implies interest, Magnus. And as blunt as Magnus knows Alexander to be, if there were interest, surely he would’ve come out and said it by now.

Meaning this—their moment—was little more than wishful thinking. A trick of the light, trappings of the moment. There’s no way to blame Alexander for this when it’s all in Magnus’s mind.

Jace, though? That’s a bit easier. The idea comes to Magnus in a second, and he’s reacting on it in the next.

Magnus coughs, just once, loudly enough to make his presence known. Jace startles, hitting the top of his head on the fridge with a painful-sounding thump.

Fuck. You scared the shit out of me, dude!” Jace winces, rubbing at a crushed patch of blonde hair. “I thought you went home last night. Merry Christmas, by the way.”

“Merry Christmas,” Magnus says. “I slept over.” At Jace’s wide-eyed look between Magnus and Alec, Magnus amends, “In Isabelle’s room. She took over the master so I wouldn’t have to catch a late train.”

“Cool. Your Uncle doesn’t mind you crashing here?”

“No, but I should probably be heading back now anyway. Catarina is coming over this afternoon and I’d love to take a shower first.”

Alec stands, a little too quickly. He reaches out to adjust the collar of Magnus’s borrowed sweater. “I’ll walk you to the station.”

“No need for that, darling. I know you’re still not feeling well. Walking me to the door will be more than enough.”

Alec’s entire face pinches in disappointment. It’s doing things to Magnus’s head; making him reanalyze that moment in the kitchen.

Dangerous, whispered thoughts—a spark, interest. Damn it, Magnus really needs to go home.

“But…”

He’d be hard-pressed to admit it out loud, but Jace’s interruption is appreciated this time.

“Actually, we need to get going too. Dinner with the Branwells at 4:30 tonight, remember? Jesus’s birthday party. Don’t want to miss out on cake and presents.”

“Stop it,” Alec responds, but it’s flat. “Alright, Magnus. If you’re sure you don’t mind.”

Magnus winks, pulling out from under Alec’s grip in the pretense of slipping into his loafers. They’re still damp from having been cleaned.

“Not at all, Alexander. I’m more than capable of making it myself. Your chivalry is as appreciated as it is unnecessary.”

When Alec smiles, it’s enough to make Magnus freeze, blood rushing in his ears as he temporarily forgets why he’d ever want to leave in the first place.

“I know. Everyone says I worry too much, but I, um. Can’t seem to stop. Sorry, Magnus. Can I ask you to text me when you make it home, or is that too much?”

Magnus will deny the way his voice cracks for the rest of his life. “I’d be happy to, my darling. It’s—sweet. Not too much. I’ll talk to you later?”

“I…yeah. Later.”

Alec’s gaze is hot on Magnus’s back as he walks in the direction of the station. It’s a scorching warmth; burning through his coat and Alec’s borrowed sweater until Magnus is close to sweating—it follows him through the thickening crowds, through the sway of Christmas Day travelers and trash cans perched on curbs, filled to the brim with wrapping paper and plastic.

It’s a near impossibility for Magnus to turn onto Broadway but thankfully, his feet are on autopilot, even as his thoughts wander back to the house with Alexander, Jace, and Isabelle, getting ready for a dinner neither Alec nor Jace seemed happy about. To his own apartment, with Ragnor and Catarina, probably arguing or watching one of Ragnor’s westerns. To the people all around him in the Canal St. Station, waiting on the N or the R train to who knows where.

Christmas is silly, Magnus thinks, but this might be the first year he hasn’t truly despised it. It’s only when he reaches in the pocket of his coat for his house keys that he feels it and remembers.

Alexander’s Christmas present. With the excitement of last night Magnus had forgotten about it entirely.

In lieu of the text Alec asked for, Magnus takes a picture of the wrapped present on the cool silk of his sheets. Alec replies with a similar picture, his own gift resting on Alec’s desk where the cups used to be.

Magnus’s eyes crinkle at the sight, heart filling with a joy he doesn’t have words for. He’s starting to think he had the wrong attitude about Christmas…then again, it’s never quite felt like this before.

//

| A.L |

Dinner with the Branwells is uneventful. As the evening passes in a blur of small talk and passed side dishes, Alec is surprised to find he’s actually enjoying himself.

There’s something about the way James Branwell looks at his wife Rachel that has Alec’s heart doing somersaults in his chest. He almost feels like he’s interrupting something private by watching them…at the same time, Alec can’t bring himself to look away.

James absolutely adores her, that much is obvious. It wavers slightly as his attention shifts to Lydia at Alec’s left, but there’s still no shortage of love there. The jealousy tangles with tendrils of guilt in Alec’s mind. It’s stupid. He feels like a total jerk for thinking it in the first place.

The thoughts come anyway. Do Alec’s parents look at him the same way? Does Robert look at Maryse that way? Alec tries to remember Thanksgiving (before everything fell apart with his failed coming-out, that is) but there isn’t a moment that stands out in his mind.

He’d be willing to bet it’s different. The fact that Robert and Maryse chose to go to Rhode Island with Max on Christmas Day instead of spending it Alec, Isabelle, and Jace is proof.

Jace comes into the room—Alec’s eyes nearly fall out of his head at the sight of the flames—but then he realizes…it’s Christmas Day. Jesus’s birthday cake. At least that explains the fire.

Candles. Isabelle claps excitedly, while the Branwells watch with matching confused smiles.

Alec groans, rolling his eyes as Jace makes a show of putting the cake down on the table. Aren’t they a little too old to be singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jesus? Sure, it was fun when they were kids, but he figures any excuse to eat cake would be fun.

At 17, it’s enough to give Alec the beginnings of a headache. He sighs and mouths along to the words anyway. Lydia sings in earnest. She has a nice voice.

They eat the cake, smiling and laughing as Jace and Isabelle tell stories from past Jesus birthday parties. There’s a hole in Alec’s side where the rest of his family should be, but sitting here with the Branwells makes it easier to ignore.

Family. Isabelle, Jace, Max. Magnus. The family he chooses. Day in, day out.

Alec will continue to choose them, no matter how many times Jace makes him sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.

//

After dinner, James and Rachel tell the four of them to leave the dishes where they are. Jace insists on helping, and after a minute or two of arguing back and forth, James Branwell caves and allows him to help.

Lydia takes Alec and Isabelle to the study instead—that’s where they are now. Isabelle is napping on the couch while Alec and Lydia chat aimlessly.

“Earth to Alec.” Lydia’s hand waves in front of his face—Alec blinks as his eyes refocus. “Hey, there you are. Am I really that boring to talk to?”

“I—what? No, I’m sorry. I’m just—”

“—kidding,” Lydia says, offering Alec a reassuring smile. “It’s alright. I know it’s been a long day for the three of you. What, after last night…you must be exhausted.”

Alec’s eyes widen, just a fraction. “Last night? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“A few girls in my German class were talking about a party just before break. Jace’s name came up once or twice. Don’t worry, Alec. I’m not going to say anything to anyone.”

“I…um, appreciate it. Thanks. It’s more Jace’s thing than mine, but still.”

Lydia smiles and tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. “I figured. I wouldn’t judge you if it was something you enjoyed, though. I wouldn’t know from experience but I imagine it’s nice to let go of your worries every once in a while.”

There’s something off about the quirk of Lydia’s lips; a stiffness in her shoulders that Alec would recognize anywhere. He’s intimately acquainted with that type of weight.

“Yeah, it is.” Alec tilts his head, offering Lydia a sympathetic smile. “It can be scary too. Feels like you’re losing control. Like it’s not something you should need. I’m…still trying to figure it out, but I think I’m starting to get somewhere.”

There’s nothing but silence for a moment as Lydia absorbs that, nails tapping against the leather armrest.

“Well,” she says, something sharp in her eyes that draws Alec closer, “you certainly have a good teacher.”

Magnus—oh hell. Alec’s heart kicks into overdrive. He might like Lydia; trust her, even, but there’s no way that trust extends to Magnus-knowledge territory. Not when the Branwells are so close to his own parents.

Not when Magnus means so much to him. Alec loves him, heart and soul, and will do anything he has to in order to keep him safe. His parents can’t know about Magnus. And that means Lydia can’t either.

“I’m not sure what you mean, Lydia."

Lydia gives him a look he’s all-too-familiar with. It’s a ‘cut the crap, Alec’ look. He sees it on Izzy at least once a day. “You’re good friends with Magnus Bane, right? I see you two together all the time. He’s…different, isn’t he? Something else.”

Alec prickles. ‘Different’ can mean a lot of things. “I am too. And Jace, Isabelle. You. We’re all different in our own way.”

“Of course, Alec. Forgive me. I meant it as a compliment but perhaps I’ve missed the mark. Magnus is nice, right? I’d like to meet him sometime.”

“Sure,” Alec says, unable to mask his hesitation. “He’s—Magnus is great. A great guy. He’s very…um. Friendly.” And beautiful, and outspoken, and elegant, and smart. Alec could go on for years and still not be finished. “We’re close. Friends! Very close friends. I’ll introduce you.”

Yikes. If Lydia wasn’t suspicious before, Alec’s verbal gymnastics are surely enough to change her mind. He cringes and tries to smile with his teeth. Well…it has to be better than his attempt at talking.

“I see. Well, I’m glad you have a friend like that. I look forward to meeting him.” Lydia glances up at the mantle, various family photos lined up in matching silver frames. “Can I ask you something unrelated, Alec? It’s a bit personal.”

“Sure.” Alec swallows around the lump in his throat, prepared for the absolute worst. “What’s up, Lydia?”

“Have you ever wondered if it’s all just one big lie?”

Out of all the things Lydia could’ve said, that is not something Alec was prepared to hear. Lydia’s expression is fragmented; mere glimpses of her present in the moment between them.

She must be afraid of his answer, then. It’s certainly a very big question.

“Yes.” Lydia’s eyes snap to Alec’s, alert and serious. “I still do, sometimes. Doubt is a normal thing. It makes faith possible in the first place.”

“Is it? Because everyone around me seems so sure. My parents. The church. You.” Lydia rolls her eyes, toying with a loose thread on the arm of her chair. “All my parents can talk about since we moved back is how deeply spiritual you are, Alec. You’re practically a saint in their eyes.”

Alec can’t reign in his bitter chuckle. “I’m not. I promise. If it makes you feel any better, my mother thinks you’re the answer to her prayers.”

“In what way? Maryse barely knows me…”

“Right,” Alec says, uncertainty bleeding into his tone. He’s not sure how much he wants to share with Lydia yet. “She likes you anyway. You’re Catholic, from a good family, your grades are perfect…that’s enough. I’m pretty sure she’s planning our wedding as we speak.”

Lydia blushes, fingers dragging across the end of her braid. “Ah. Well...I guess I could do a lot worse, huh?”

Worse than someone who could never love you? Doubtful. Alec’s smile fades instantly.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Alec mumbles, looking over at Isabelle curled up on the couch. She’s snoring, cheek mashed against a throw pillow in a way that looks anything but comfortable.

“There’s someone else, isn’t there.” It’s not a question. “I’m guessing your mother doesn’t approve.”

Alec’s answer is little more than a whisper. “That’s an understatement.”

“Have you tried talking to her about it?”

He shakes his head, seeking out comfort in the form of his sister’s even breathing. He withdraws for a moment when the sting of Lydia’s words cuts too close to where he’s hurting most.

To think, just last night Alec was deluded enough to think he and Magnus might seriously have a shot at this. That his ‘plan’ would be enough to work against his parents; the universe, the odds stacked sky-high against them. Straight up to Heaven…no, he and Magnus would never work out.

As much as Alec wants them to. As much as he loves him.

 

The feeling of Lydia’s hand on his is enough to make him jump. She’s just as quick to pull her hand back. When did she even walk over to him? Alec blinks, disoriented.

“Sorry,” she says, eyes wide and apologetic. “I didn’t mean to startle you, Alec. It’s just…you went somewhere else. I called your name a few times.”

“No—it’s okay. Sorry. For zoning out.”

“You don’t have to apologize.” Lydia takes a deep breath—Alec mirrors it, aiming for conspicuity. “Can I…Alec, can I ask you another question? If it’s too much, you don’t have to answer.”

This time, Alec knows exactly what’s coming. He bites his lip and ignores the urge to throw up.

Lydia speaks slowly, tone even and neutral. “Are you gay? Or bi? Or something else?”

“Yes.” Alec takes a shaky breath. Once he’s gathered enough courage, he lifts his head to look Lydia in the eyes. It takes a few seconds to realize that’s not a valid answer to the question. “The first one—gay.” There, much better. “Is that a problem?”

“Of course not. It makes me sad that you even have to ask.” She leans against the arm of the chair Alec’s sitting in. “But you did ask, which tells me you were expecting the opposite. Do your parents know?”

“No,” Alec says, unable to mask the bitterness. Memories of his attempt at coming out play in a sad, pitiful loop in Alec’s mind. “But they’ve shared their thoughts on the matter more than once. I know it wouldn’t go over well. My parents are very idealistic.”

“Do you know why my family and I moved back to New York?”

Alec pauses, confused by the quick topic change.

“Dad said it was because your mom got a job offer out in Queens.”

Lydia laughs—there’s no humor in it whatsoever. “That’s because she applied to no less than thirty schools in the span of a month. She was bound to get an offer eventually. My mom is a good teacher. She’s just—” Lydia pauses, turning to face Alec more fully, “—idealistic.”

Alec’s smile is gentle. He hopes it reassures her. “I can relate.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s why I’m telling you this.” There’s a thin gold bracelet on her left wrist. She’s tugging at it, lost to the memory she’s sharing with Alec. “John was one of the most selfless people I’ve ever known. Even when things got bad at the end he never blamed me for any of it. He should have. But he didn’t. And I loved him so much, Alec. More than I thought I could ever love anyone.”

“Did he not love you back?”

“He did. But he had a bit of a history. Old stuff, all in the past. His stepdad was in a gang and John got dragged into it before he knew what it all meant.” Alec makes a soft sound, caught between surprise and sympathy. “Eventually I decided to introduce him to my parents. It was difficult to keep things under wraps when he was such an important part of my life, you know? John and I talked about it and made plans to tell them over dinner. But we never got the chance.”

On his 16th birthday, Alec’s father bought him an embroidered handkerchief. At first, Alec felt ridiculous carrying it around in his pocket, but Robert insisted, so Alec agreed. He’s thankful for it now—Lydia’s teary eyes light up at the sight of it as he offers it to her. There’s a wobbly smile on her lips.

“You’re unreal, you know that? An actual handkerchief. Just when I think I’ve seen it all. Thank you, Alec.” She dabs at the tears on her cheek. “Dad caught us together the night before our dinner plans. It was…not good. He wasn’t supposed to be home for another three hours and he walked in at the worst possible moment.”

“Caught you? Like…you two were being, um, intimate?”

“Yep.” Alec hides his face in his hands to muffle his sympathetic moan. “My room was on the first floor, so John was able to go through the window before my Dad could grab him. But he must’ve been a mess when he left. They found John’s car wrapped around a tree the next morning. Said he had to be going at least 90 to warp the metal like that.”

There’s no disguising Alec’s gasp. “No. Lydia, no. That’s…”

Lydia folds the handkerchief and slips it into the pocket of her skirt. “Killed on impact. If I hadn’t been so grief-stricken and angry at the time, I might’ve thanked God for that.”

“I’m so sorry, Lydia. I cannot begin to imagine the pain you must be going through.”

Lydia’s answering smile is kind in ways Alec isn’t sure he’d be capable of in the face of such significant loss. If anything happened to Magnus—no. Alec’s hands are shaking in his lap, nails digging into the flesh of his palm.

“You’re sweet, Alec. I like you. Maybe if things were different…we would’ve made a decent match.”

It throws him for a minute. When the words come to him, Alec is surprised at how much he means it. “Yeah, Lydia. I like you too.”

Lydia’s answering smile is sad. She reaches for Alec’s hand—he offers it, palm up, with zero hesitation.

“As different as our situations may be, I’m starting to think that God brought us together for a reason. Ever since the accident I’ve been praying constantly, begging Him to take my pain away. But maybe…maybe this is a pain that’s meant to be felt.” Alec squeezes her hand to encourage her. “So instead, God gave me someone who understands—your pain is different, Alec, I know that. But you struggle with the weight of it just as I do. It’s too heavy a burden to shoulder alone.” When Lydia’s eyes meet his, they’re shining with the beginnings of hope. “Would you mind it terribly if I came to you again with this? When it gets to be too much, I’d love to have someone to talk to.”

Alec warms instantly to the idea, smiling at Lydia as his thumb traces circles on the back of her hand. “I’d like that, Lydia. Maybe someday I’ll be ready to talk too. I just—right now, I can’t—”

“Hey, it’s alright. I understand.” She pulls back, winking at Alec as she stands. “I’m in your corner, Alec. Whenever you’re ready for support I will offer it without reservation.”

//

Jace barges in shortly after with an armful of presents and a childlike grin, waking Izzy in the process. They go to open presents after that. Lydia smiles when she sees the woven rainbow friendship bracelet from Alec, wrapped carefully in plain white tissue paper.

When he first bought it, the bracelet was little more than Isabelle’s attempt at innuendo—rainbow for Alec, friendship for the sake of the Branwells (to keep them from getting ideas; to let them know exactly how he and Lydia’s relationship will progress.)

After he and Lydia’s conversation tonight, though, it’s taken on an additional meaning. Rachel coos as Alec deftly knots it around Lydia’s wrist, right above the gold bracelet Alec had seen earlier.

Friendship…yeah. Despite his earlier reservations, maybe a friendship with Lydia Branwell is just what Alec needs to get through the heartbreak on his horizon.

//

“Hey, Alec?”

Alec pauses, abandoning his attempt to pull his shoes on without untying the laces in favor of facing Lydia more fully. She’s leaning in the doorway with a smile on her face. “Hey. Did we forget something?”

“No, nothing like that. Are you going to the party at the Institute this Sunday? New Year’s Eve. I think your sister had a hand in planning it.”

Ah. Now that Lydia mentions it, Alec vaguely remembers hearing about a party during a Student Council meeting. “I wasn’t planning on it. I didn’t go to last year’s, so…”

“Come with me this year. As a friend,” she adds, winking at him. “Maybe you can bring your other friend along too. If you tell your parents you’re going with me I doubt they’ll ask many questions.”

Alec smiles, head shaking. “Unfortunately, my parents are chaperoning. Thanks for offering, though.”

Lydia doesn’t back down. “In that case, why don’t you ask Magnus? I meant it when I told you I’d love to meet him, Alec.”

His heart stutters uselessly in his chest, irony coming down on his shoulders and adding to the ever-present weight. Of course Lydia would think they’re different people—it’s exactly what Alec wants her to think.

It’s the only way to keep his parents from finding out about Magnus. The only way to truly keep him safe.

“I—that’s—haha. I…um. I guess I could text him later tonight and see if he’s interested?”

“Yes, please do. You have my number now. Let me know what he says!”

Isabelle’s hand comes to rest on Alec’s shoulder, squeezing gently. “Ready to go home, big brother?”

“Yeah,” Alec says, stepping on the backs of his shoes instead of bending down to fix them. “Alright, Izzy. Let’s go home.”

//

Magnus agrees to go to the New Year’s Party with little-to-no convincing on Alec’s part and a series of heart emojis that make Alec’s stomach flutter. Church-sponsored or not, it’s still a party. He promises to get with Isabelle later that week to ensure he and Alec’s outfits coordinate appropriately.

Alec had been planning on wearing his nice suit—but no, apparently, this is a themed party.

He probably should have known that. The Student Council President is responsible for signing off on event budgets months in advance of the actual culmination of them. A party in December would’ve gone through Alec’s committee in late October…

And October was when he first realized he had feelings for Magnus. Sneaking out, getting grounded…yeah. Now that he has a timeline it’s easy for Alec to see what distracted him to the point of memory lapses during Student Council.

That explains why he’s blindsided by the finer details of this party. Alec sighs and hangs up their call that night with a silent prayer for Isabelle and Magnus’s joint clothing choices for Alec to err on the conservative side of Magnus’s tastes.

As much as he loves the way Magnus looks in those sheer silk shirts, abs on glorious display with a tangle of necklaces acting as a roadmap for Alec’s hungry eyes…there’s no way in hell Alec can pull that off.

Also, his mother might just drag him off to confessional again. Or douse him in holy water. Call him crazy, but Alec’s not a fan of either option.

//

Maryse and Robert come home from Rhode Island the day after Christmas. Alec tells them he’s planning on going to the Institute’s party.

Both of his parents light up, sporting matching smiles.

“Glad to hear that, Alec. Your mother and I will both be there. I love that you’ve taken an interest in it—this year’s theme is going to be a lot of fun.”

Alec smiles, nods, and slips off to his room at the first opportunity. He conveniently forgets to mention Lydia. Or Magnus.

//

| New Year’s Eve |

“I look ridiculous,” Alec whines, pouting at his reflection in his sister’s floor-length mirror. “Izzy, no. I can’t—I can’t wear this. Can’t I just wear my normal suit jacket?”

Isabelle pauses, tube of lipstick in her hand. “Are you kidding me? Alec, you look hot. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the jacket you have on!”

Alec tugs at the coattails to adjust them. They fall to the backs of his knees the second he lets go.

“I feel…” Clumsy. Inelegant. Like Magnus would look so much better in this. “…stuffy. It’s too formal. Plus, I can barely breathe.”

“Then unbutton the jacket, brother. And relax. You’re overthinking this, like always.”

“I do not overthink things!” Isabelle glares at him from the mirror attached to her vanity. “Do I?”

“Yes, you do.”

Alec sighs, studying his reflection again. “You really think Magnus will like it?”

Isabelle smiles. “Oh, Alec. If only you could see yourself the way we all see you. Magnus is going to love it, no ifs, ands, or buts.” She stands, capping the lipstick. “Now let’s go! Unless you’d like to stand here and overthink things some more?”

“No,” Alec grumbles, accepting her outstretched arm and hooking it through his. “No, you’re right. Let’s just get this over with.”

//

The first thing Alec realizes after walking into the Institute’s cafeteria on the night of the New Year’s Eve party is how much of a fire hazard these decorations probably are. Streamers are everywhere—curling in elegant spirals from the ceiling, taped to the walls, curtaining off the entrance in something that reminds Alec of a car wash…

He shares his thoughts with Izzy. Izzy punches his shoulder so hard, the beads on her flapper dress swing with the motion of it. He decides to keep his opinions on the theme to himself for the rest of the evening.

The second thing Alec realizes is that Magnus isn’t here yet.

Lydia is, though—Alec can see the bright red feather on her head from across the room. He smiles and heads that way without a second thought.

What he fails to notice, however, is the photo booth to Lydia’s left. Before Alec can even manage to say hello, she’s dragging him in by the elbow and shoving some sort of hat on his head. It crushes his hair. Alec pouts. So much for the 45 minutes he spent fussing with it right before they left.

They take the pictures—Alec can feel his parents’ curious gaze from across the room.

So Alec does what he’s supposed to do: he smiles, poses, and lets them make their own assumptions.

//

Magnus shows up seconds before Alec dispatches his assembled search party. Their eyes lock across the room. Flames lick down the curl of Alec’s back as he stares, openly, to hell with anyone else who might see. Alec doesn’t care. No, he can’t care. Not when he can barely remember how breathing works.

Alec has seen Magnus in a lot of different clothing. From the starchy Institute uniforms to the silks and satins of his pajamas and house robes. It’s not like seeing Magnus all dressed up is something new.

No, it’s not new. But for all of the Gucci in Magnus’s closet, Alec has never seen him quite like this.

His blazer is made of the same stringy looking material as Izzy’s dress, although it glimmers under the bounce of the spotlights. Sequins, his mind supplies helpfully. The entire blazer is covered in shiny gold sequins. It’s clasped by a single hook at the base of Magnus’s throat, hanging open down the length of his abdomen. Alec can just make out the silky shine of the skintight black dress shirt underneath. There’s something else there, too. Metallic. Probably a long necklace, grazing the dip of his bellybutton.

Magnus’s pants are always painted on, but tonight’s pair features a row of gold sequins running down the side of each leg. His eyes drag up the length, grinding to a halt in the face of Magnus’s details—the shine of the sequins, how tight that blazer is around the swell of his biceps, the glitter smudged smoky and alluring under each of Magnus’s eyes…

Slowly, like he’s privy to each of Alec’s inappropriate thoughts, Magnus smiles at him. It’s tantalizing, and sexy, and fuck, Alec needs to be over there approximately ten minutes ago.

He feels like they’re the only two people in the room. In the world. Despite Alec’s current and sudden mental vacation to Dumb-Dumb Town, his feet haven’t forgotten what to do.

Get to Magnus. Quickly. Kiss him once you’re there? Yes. Yes. Kiss Magnus—

“Alexander.”

Maryse’s voice carries over the music, stopping Alec in her tracks. Magnus must see her too, because he’s no longer looking at Alec. Their magnetic connection from earlier dies with a sad little fizzle.

Alec turns to face his mother, frustrated in more ways than one. “Yes, Mother?”

She nods at the car-wash looking entrance to the cafeteria, right where Magnus is standing. Alec momentarily panics before he realizes she’s gesturing at the hallway, and not the gorgeous man standing in front of it. “A word, please? Somewhere more private. We can talk in my office.”

“Of course, Mother.”

He follows her out—Magnus doesn’t move from his spot by the entryway as Alec and Maryse approach. Anxiety is roaring in Alec’s mind and he’s desperate for a way to quiet it—Magnus must sense this, too. His shoulder clips against Alec’s as they brush past.

“Oh, sorry,” he murmurs, eyes shining with the knowledge that he’s anything but. “I didn’t mean to bump you.”

Alec’s voice is a hurried mumble as he distances himself from his mother. “That’s alright. Good seeing you.”

“Yes,” Magnus says, scanning the length of Alec’s body with what feels dangerously like intent. “Good seeing you indeed.”

//

The door to Maryse’s office closes with a loud-sounding click. Maybe it’s because of the lack of music, but suddenly, the quiet is suffocating.

“Sorry to distract you from your party, Alexander.” Maryse doesn’t sound sorry at all—Alec would sooner die than point that out, though. “But I’m afraid you and I have important matters to discuss. Starting with the nature of this letter.”

There’s a plain white envelope in Maryse’s extended hand. Alec blinks at it. His name is on the front, but it’s not something he’s seen before.

It’s also torn open at the end.  

“You opened it,” he says dumbly. “As of right now, you know more about it than I do. Can I read it? Or will you tell me what it says?”

Maryse’s glare has Alec regretting his word choice even more. “Careful, Alexander. Remember who you’re talking to. It came in the mail yesterday and I was caught off guard by the sender, so yes, I opened it. Imagine my surprise to discover the contents.”

Alec is hopelessly confused. He frowns, chewing on his wobbling lip to steady it.

“Mother…”

“When were you planning on telling me you applied to UCLA?”

The heat from earlier bleeds out of Alec in one massive rush, leaving him feeling cold and unstable. He’s finding it hard to breathe again. Alec’s mouth opens, ready to plead his case—

“You got in,” Maryse says, flat. “Congratulations would be in order if this was a realistic option for you, Alexander. Seeing as how it isn’t, I suppose we can skip past that part. Let’s cut right to the chase: as soon as you’re of age, you will be taking over my role as Headmaster of this Institute. Do I make myself clear?”

Accepted? What? Alec’s heart is racing, palms tingling as the word washes over him. He hadn’t told his mother about UCLA because he didn’t think he’d get in. Truth be told, Alec chose to apply on a whim after hearing all of his classmates going on and on about college applications.

Sure, he has a 4.0 GPA, but so do thousands of other applicants. They’re involved in just as many extracurriculars as Alec, if not more. What sets him apart? What makes him any more deserving than any of those people? He’s taken less AP courses, struggled with English throughout his academic career, gone to church and school and archery meets on a rinse-wash-repeat cycle…

As far as applicants goes, Alec is boring. His essays are probably boring too. But UCLA is offering him a spot anyway.

He kind of wants to take it. To fight for it. Alec stands up a bit straighter, meeting Maryse’s gaze head-on.

“Mom, I’ve been thinking a lot lately…senior year is all about mapping out my future, right? Figuring out what I want to do with my life? Anyways, the more I think about it…I don’t want to run the Institute. I’m not cut out for it.”

“Nonsense.” Her voice is venom-sharp, furious in the empty echo of her office. “You’ve been preparing for this since you were six years old. Don’t you remember coming to work with me that day? You sat at this desk and said, ‘Mama, when this office is mine, I’m gonna paint the words to 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 right on that big wall.’ There’s no one better suited to lead this Institute than you, Alexander. Everyone here knows that. Why can’t you see it?”

Alec’s hand drags across the smooth mahogany desktop as he paces the length of it. “What if I don’t want to? What if I changed my mind? UCLA is a great school, Mother. It has all sorts of programs. Business, law, pre-med—”

“I’m very aware of how great the school is, Alexander. But I need to remind you that your place is here. Forget about California. It’s not going to happen.”

“Mom—”

“Enough, Alexander. Your family needs you. This Institute needs you. Without a Lightwood at the helm, it would’ve crumbled into obscurity long ago. And now you’re trying to shirk your responsibilities? Your God-given duties? How could you? I will not stand for it. I will not allow you to throw your life away for a fantasy.”

A Lightwood at the helm? The idea comes to Alec—he’s off and running with it as soon as it hits him.

“Jace is a Lightwood,” Alec yells, arms gesturing wildly, “just give him the Institute! Unlike me, he actually wants it.”

“Not in the way that matters, he’s not.” Maryse leans against a wall, refusing to meet Alec’s eyes as though that’ll soften the blow.

The words hit Alec like a slap to the face anyway. He staggers backward, a soft, disbelieving sound spilling from his lips.

Because it’s always been Jace, hasn’t it? Jace, the golden boy. Jace the athlete, Jace the bold, Jace who excelled in viola and piano and every trial his parents had put them through as children; passing every test with flying colors and murmured praises that stung Alec’s skin like a thousand tiny knives because they were never for him. No matter what, no matter how hard he tried. It’s true that Alec has always been more diplomatic, easier around the edges, maybe, with an immovable respect for authority—but for so many years, Alec’s been sure that Jace was Maryse’s favorite. Even though he’s broken the rules more times than Alec can count; snuck out and cheated on exams and skipped class and gotten sent to confessional so often he might as well keep a spare toothbrush there…Maryse is softer when she looks at him.

And now she’s saying he’s not a Lightwood?

“In the ways that matter?” He murmurs, hurt and confusion clear in his voice. “And what ‘ways’ would that be, Mother?”

“Alexander,” Maryse coos, stepping forward to cup Alec’s cheek. He ducks out of her reach and ignores the flash of hurt in her eyes, standing up straighter as his shock and pain give way to anger. “My son, there is so much you’ve yet to learn about the way the world works. The way the Diocese sees things—”

“I want to hear you say it, Mother.” Alec forces his voice to stay quiet, tight. “In what way is my brother not a Lightwood?”

Of course, Alec knows what her response will be. He raises one brow anyway, eyes locked on Maryse’s. Challenging, waiting.

It doesn’t take long for Maryse to fold, shoulders squared like she’s priming for a fight.

“Blood,” Maryse spits, eyes cold. “He’s not a Lightwood by blood. I don’t expect you to understand it, Alexander, but that’s just how it is. In the world we live in, blood is honor. Blood is—” 

“Family?” Alec’s eyes roll. “You cannot be serious. Jace IS family, as much as Isabelle, as much as Max. He’s my brother—your son—

“Isabelle is another matter entirely,” Maryse says. “And yes, you’re correct—Jace is my son, and I love him dearly—but it’s irrelevant to the matter at hand. The legacy of this Institute is to be upheld by the oldest son—you, Alexander, and your family, your future wife and children. This is not up for negotiation.” She pauses, eyes ablaze as she abruptly switches gears. “I noticed you’ve been spending a lot of time with one of our new students as of late. What was his name again?”

Alec’s teeth sink into his lip, biting harshly. The sting grounds him for a moment; helps him focus on his thoughts and how to best put them to words.

Maryse knows Magnus’s name, Alec is sure of it. The fact that she’s asking means that there’s more to the question than what’s being said. Something fierce and protective flares in his stomach.

“Magnus. But I’m not sure what he has to do with this discussion.”

Her nose wrinkles, as if the mere sound of his name disgusts her. Alec’s fists clench uselessly at his sides.

“Yes. Magnus. Now I remember,” Maryse says. “And perhaps you’re right, but I think it’s high time he became a part of this conversation, don’t you? What, given his history…I’m simply concerned, Alec. Perhaps he’s not the best influence.” She pauses, calculating. “Did he put you up to this nonsense?”

“What? No. That’s ridiculous. He’s a straight-A student, mother,” Alec says, voice strained, “and he’s on track to graduate with distinctions. I’m not sure what kind of ‘influence’ you think he is, but—”

“What I think,” Maryse sneers, “is that this boy has been filling your head with lies. Can’t you see what’s happening? He’s sending you down a dark path, Alexander. And I will not allow it to continue any longer.”

Alec’s heart is thunderous in his chest, his stomach somewhere by his feet. Nononono he’d been so careful—kept it locked away, hadn’t told Lydia or even Jace about the fact that he’s in love—

There’s no way Maryse knows about his feelings for Magnus...hell, she doesn’t even know about him being gay. Take a deep breath, Alec. The silence hangs heavily between them.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, mother,” Alec whispers, shoulders trembling imperceptibly. “Magnus is a friend, that’s all. Should I not attempt to make friends?”

Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God,” Maryse quotes, a heaviness settling into the lines around her mouth. She sits down in her desk chair and breathes out a sigh before gesturing at the office door. “We’ll continue this discussion later. Go back to the party, Alexander. I need a moment to think.”

Alec wastes no time—he’s out the door and down the hall, what’s left of his bleeding heart left in shards on the floor of his mother’s office.

There’s one thought; a constant, slapping steadily in the click of his dress shoes against the tiled floor. Magnus, Magnus, Magnus. Alec has never needed him more than he has in this very moment.

He needs to find Magnus, needs to see him; lose himself in the edge of a smile and the heat between their bodies. Magnus will help Alec breathe again. Magnus will make Alec’s heart stop hurting. He’ll help him, he’ll know just what to say, Alec needs him, has to find him before he falls to pieces—

Alec paces the decorated cafeteria three times before he realizes Magnus isn’t among the partygoers. Jace is with Clary, Isabelle and Lydia are talking to someone Alec doesn’t recognize, but Magnus is nowhere to be found.

Nausea climbs up Alec’s throat, viscous and hot. He staggers out of the room with a hand clamped tightly to his mouth. He has to find Magnus…Alec heads for the teacher’s lounge on the second floor, knowing the vending machines there are Magnus’s favorite in the entire Institute.

He’ll find him because he has to. Alec will search all night if that’s what it takes.

//

The cathedral is a last-ditch effort. If all else fails…it’s a big, empty room. Alec can cry here as loudly as he wants without the fear of being discovered.

His heart nearly stops at the sight of Magnus’s shoes dangling over the edge of a pew. Fuck. If he weren’t about to pass out, Alec might consider dropping to his knees and thanking God for giving him exactly what he’s needed since he left Maryse’s office over twenty minutes ago.

//

| M.B |

“Thank God. Magnus. I t-thought…you weren’t at the party, and I thought you’d gone home or something.”

Magnus opens his eyes, letting himself bask in the sound of Alec’s voice. Or, at least, he would—if not for the broken-sounding hitch of Alec’s breathing in the quiet space of the cathedral.

He pulls himself up to a sitting position so quickly, stars dance at the edge of his vision.

“Alexander,” he murmurs, subtly checking him for any sort of injury. “No, darling. I would never leave like that. I got bored of Brother Zachariah and his ruler on the dance floor, that’s all. If I had to listen to him say, ‘Leave some room for the Holy Spirit’ one more time I would’ve lost my mind.” He pats the bench next to him in an invitation. “Come sit with me. You sound upset. Is everything alright?”

“Yes.” Alec sits, hiding his face immediately behind both of his hands. “No. I don’t—no, Magnus. I’m…not okay.”

Magnus’s worry deepens. He’s never seen Alec look so small before. “Shh, darling. It’s going to be alright. I’m right here with you, yeah? Whatever is wrong, I promise you, I won’t let you handle this alone. We’ll figure out a way to fix it together.” Alec doesn’t respond, breathing still ragged and torn—Magnus’s palm fits against the curve of his back unconsciously. “Hey, look at me. Come here. Please? Look at me, Alexander.”

Alec does. Magnus nearly gasps at the blotchiness of his cheeks; the cast of tears and how green his eyes look when illuminated by them. He forces himself to smile anyway, if only for Alec’s benefit. “There we are. Now I want you to breathe with me. Feel how my chest is rising? Copy that.”

“Magnus, I didn’t—I thought…what are you doing in here? I checked everywhere. Teacher’s lounge, library, even Mrs. Oakcliff’s empty room.”

This time, Magnus’s smile is easier. Genuine, if not a bit sad. Wistful. He knows he’s going to tell Alec the truth before he’s finished asking the question.

Even if it hurts him; cuts him straight to the nerve and leaves him frayed and vulnerable. If there’s a chance his answer will bring Alec the smallest modicum of comfort…well, Magnus isn’t about to pass up that opportunity.

“You were gone a while, and that party playlist is a disgrace. I came here to find a moment of peace.”

Alec’s expression is unreadable. At least he’s not hiding again. “Why here, Magnus?”

“Because being here reminds me of you. I wasn’t sure how long you were going to be…and I missed you, as silly as it sounds.”

Alec’s mouth drops open, only to close a few seconds later. He’s staring at Magnus with an intensity strong enough to bowl him right over. Magnus’s pulse races in time with the tick of Alec’s fingers drumming mindlessly against the wooden pew.

He has to ask about it before his heart breaks in a way that’s impossible to fix. Has to—Magnus has to know what the hell Alec is doing, looking at him like that.

Like he loves him. It’s too much. Magnus is going to throw up if he doesn’t get to the bottom of this. His mouth opens, ready to ask any of the thousand questions on the tip of his tongue—

“A letter came for me in the mail,” Alec blurts out, “and my mother opened it before I did. It was a college acceptance letter. I…um. Hadn’t mentioned my applications to her yet.”

Magnus pauses, smiling in spite of how confused he is. “Congratulations, darling. That’s wonderful news. Where to?”

“UCLA,” Alec answers. “She got…really mad, Magnus. I’ve never seen her so angry in my life.”

“What?” Alec might as well be speaking German. “You said you got accepted, right?”

Alec nods.

“Okay. None of this makes sense, then. That’s a good thing, yes? What on earth was she angry about?”

“It’s not a good thing when she wants me to take over the Institute.”

“What?” Magnus echoes, mind spinning. “The Institute? You’re not even 18, Alec. That’s not legal.”

“That’s the long-term plan. But the short-term doesn’t involve UCLA. I’m supposed to go to Fordham, dual major in Religious Studies and Education; follow it up with a Masters in Administration. By the time I’m through with that, she’ll be ready to retire. I’ll step in as Headmaster after I graduate.”

Magnus blinks, torn in two by the resigned kick in Alec’s posture. His eyes are glued to the Bible in the seatback shelf like it’s the only thing keeping him grounded.

Rage fills the empty space in his ribcage with a roaring, thunderous fire. Now there’s something Magnus can use.

“She made a plan? Well, la-di-dah for Maryse. A plan. Good for her, she can choke on it.”

“Magnus…”

As broken as Alec sounds, Magnus can’t bring himself to stop. He’s pissed. Beyond pissed. The words claw out of his throat like poison.

“Shit, Alec, it’s not like you signed a contract.” Alec stiffens. Magnus coughs and nearly chokes on his own spit. “Alexander. No. You didn’t—she didn’t, she couldn’t—please don’t tell me…”

“No contract,” Alec whispers, oblivious to the way Magnus sags in relief. “But it might as well be. It’s not like I have any choice but to do what she says.”

“But you do. You always have a choice, darling. In addition to that, you have a support system unlike any other. There are hundreds of people who would go to bat for you without a second thought, Alexander. Myself included. No matter what you choose, we will be there for you every step of the way.”

Finally, Alec raises his head. “I can’t afford it. She’ll cut me off, Magnus. I don’t have any money of my own and she’s not going to pay for UCLA if it doesn’t align with her vision for my future.”

“But it’s your future, Alexander! Not hers! You’re so smart, I’m sure you could find a scholarship at UCLA, or any other school of your choosing. Several scholarships, in fact. If I oversaw that sort of program I’d throw money at you like it was going out of style.”

“It’s not just about the money, though. She’ll…Magnus,” Alec croaks, hands coming up to tug at his hair. “She’ll keep me from my family. From Max, Izzy, and Jace. I can’t…lose that. It’s not worth it.” Magnus’s own eyes sting at the way he’s curling in on himself again. “I probably wouldn’t get enough scholarship money anyway. Dorms are so expensive, plus the meal plan...I got in by the grace of God and the skin of my teeth. Let’s not push my luck.”

“Oh, darling…what I wouldn’t give to help you understand just how incredible you truly are.”

Alec’s head shoots up, hands falling limply to his sides. “…Magnus?”

“I wish you could see yourself the way I see you. Do you want to know what I see?”

“W-what?”

Magnus sighs, closing his eyes for a moment to make peace with what he’s about to do. It’s hopeless, isn’t it? As hard as he’s fought to avoid this very conversation…Magnus has been doomed from the start. Sitting here in the cathedral with an Alec so broken he can barely keep the tears at bay, Magnus can’t believe he told himself this moment would never come.

Truthfully, Magnus has been Alec’s since the minute he laid eyes on him. It’s about time Alec knows it.

“I see an amazing brother, whose love for his family is unparalleled and unconditional. You’d do anything for them, Alexander, even if there are people who would just as quickly turn around and bite the hand you fed them with. But you…you love them anyway. Would die for them. Wouldn’t you? God, they’re so lucky to have you. If only I’d had that growing up. It’s everything I’ve always dreamt of, darling.”

Alec’s cheeks are bright red, blush burning straight back to color the tips of his ears. Magnus isn’t finished yet.

“I also see an incredible individual. Your spirit is brighter than anyone I’ve ever met, and I’m thankful for every day I get to spend in that light. You’re compassionate, brave, and so damned strong. Not to mention how dedicated you are to your values…you’ll blow up the very ground you stand on to make something right. There’s never a day that goes by where I doubt your sincerity, Alexander. You live your life to the absolute fullest and it inspires me in a way I cannot put into words.”

“You’re a straight-A student involved in three different after-school clubs. That alone is a testament to how intelligent you are, but since I have you here and listening, it bears repeating: you are one of the smartest people I know, darling. I’ve learned so much from you in such a short time. I can’t wait to continue learning from you until the day you’ve had enough of me. To hear you say you might not get enough scholarship money…god, Alexander. It kills me. Don’t you realize how incredible you are? Any college would be thrilled to have you. Apply to a million and I’d bet my entire collection of Prada that you’ll receive a million acceptance letters in return.”

“I could go on all night with this. I know I have a flair for the dramatic, but I am one-hundred percent serious when I say that. I’ll cut it short for now, though, and leave you with this: when I first learned I was transferring to the Institute, I dreaded the thought. Cursed Ragnor’s name from here to Hell and back. I even contemplated fleeing the country. I didn’t think there was a place here for someone like me. I’m still not sure there is. At least not within the Institute itself. But you, my darling Alexander…if there’s a place for me at all, I’m positive it’s right by your side. You became my home when I had myself convinced I was better off without one. How you managed to do that, I’m not sure. But you did. And each morning when I wake up, I like the person I’m becoming more and more.”

“To make a long story short,” Magnus whispers, voice fierce, “I might not believe in your heaven, Alexander. But I sure as hell believe in you. If your mother cannot see you for the incredible person you are…well, I guess she can go fuck herself.”

For a moment, Alec doesn’t say anything at all. He just sits there and stares at him with those owlish eyes, shoulder brushing Magnus’s with each steady inhale as they sit together in the pews. And even though there’s plenty of room around them—the cathedral is massive and very, very empty—Magnus feels as though the walls are about to cave in on him. There’s no room for his thoughts here; no space for the pounding of his heart or the tidal wave of emotion that’s currently threatening to sweep him out of the room and away from himself, away from all of the things he cannot put into words and every flutter in his chest that remains unacknowledged.

He processes what happens next in flashes, unable to focus on any one thing: the lights in the back rows go out, the old wooden bench creaks loudly under their combined weight, and something in his peripheral field of vision shifts, moving towards him so quickly that he can’t even see what it is.

Alec’s lips slam against his, hand curling into Magnus’s jacket to yank him forward. Magnus gasps, because—what?

But he’s always been quick to catch on, and so he’s proud of himself when he does, latching on to Alec as desperately as Alec is clinging to him as their lips start to move together. Now that he’s allowed to touch, finally, he doesn’t want to waste a single second. His hands find the edges of the other boy’s hair and slip up into it without a second thought. Magnus tugs harder than he probably should but Alec only moans in response.

He swallows the noise eagerly and uses his other hand to paw at Alec’s thigh, dragging it up onto the bench and closer to his own, needing to feel Alec all around him in a thousand different ways. Alec complies and scoots impossibly closer, shrugging out of his jacket and pushing their chests together as his long arms twine around Magnus’s neck. Magnus opens his mouth at the newfound closeness, gasping, and Alec takes advantage, tongue soothing over a bitten lip as it slides against Magnus’s.

Holy shit.

And okay, maybe Magnus can understand the idea of Heaven a little better now—it’s one hundred percent real, and fuck, this is it. Kissing Alec in a dusty pew, in a room he’s come to associate with Alec himself, it’s better than any high he’s ever felt; more potent than the dull thrum of bass and anonymity in a club or the warm crawl of a half-empty bottle of scotch. It’s overwhelming in the best sort of way, and for the first time since his conversation with Alec about faith, something in him calms. It’s a quiet rush, not unlike Alec himself, and he can feel it in every nerve, hushing all of his insecurities and wants and fears with the warm pressure of Alec’s hand wrapping around the back of his neck.

If kissing Camille was like fireworks, kissing Alec is like coming home. It’s an unfamiliar feeling for Magnus, but he falls into it headlong, giving everything he has over to the kiss. To Alec, to their moment, and to the quiet, dusty air of the cathedral.

That feeling starts to slip as Alec breaks the kiss, reality taking hold as they trade harsh breaths back and forth, but it settles right back over him as Alec breathes hotly against his cheek and drags his lips down to Magnus’s neck, latching on immediately and nipping at a soft spot of skin under his jaw. Magnus is helpless to it, would let Alec do anything he wanted to him, so he drops his head back and moans loudly, hand twisting in Alec’s shirt like it’s the only thing keeping him grounded.

“Alexander, please…”

The echo of it is loud in the quiet room, punctuated by their staccato breathing. Magnus worries briefly that’ll it’ll break whatever spell Alec is under and scare him off, but it seems to be having the opposite effect as Alec whimpers in response. He bites harder at Magnus’s jaw before moving a bit lower to do the same, and god, Magnus can feel the bruises blooming under the rush of lips and tongue and teeth. His back arches up into Alec, seeking more, always more—and Alec gives, leg swinging over his until he’s straddling him on the pew, hips grinding down in a jerky, uncontrolled burst.

This time, it’s Alec’s moan bouncing across the walls, a breathy, high-pitched keen that has Magnus’s eyes flying open, head lifting up because he HAS to see—

Alec freezes, heat rolling off of him in waves. His eyes are blown wide, greens and browns obliterated by an inky blackness as he breathes heavily from his position on Magnus’s lap. His hands are still resting on Magnus’s chest but they’ve gone still now, fingers tangled loosely in the dangling threads on his blazer, and fuck—his tongue darts out to run over a bitten bottom lip, like he’s chasing the taste of everything they just did.

Magnus is losing his mind. Holy fuck. His hands fly to Alec’s sides to steady him—or to hold him there, Magnus isn’t sure, as he moves out of Magnus’s lap and back onto the hard length of the pew. Alec looks visibly shaken, each breath pulling harder than the last. If Magnus weren’t in a similar state he might make a comment about being able to sympathize.

As it stands, coherency is not in the cards. Not now, not ever, holy fuck.

Because Alec just kissed him—really, really kissed him. In the cathedral, of all places. As often as Magnus has dreamt about this moment in the past few months, nothing measures up to the reality of it.

To the reality of kissing Alec. His best friend who he’s very much in love with.

There’s barely any hazel left in Alec’s eyes at all. “I’m—Magnus, I—”

“Please don’t apologize,” Magnus says, stumbling over the words in his hurry to get them out, “unless what just happened is something you regret. Is it, Alexander? Because if my little tangent earlier wasn’t enough to clue you in, I’m sort of crazy about you.”

Alec’s voice is rough, and fuck, Magnus is lucky he’s sitting down. “Regret? What? No. Magnus, not even a little bit. I thought...you wanted that as badly as I did? Really?”

“More,” Magnus groans—he’s not sure if it’s a request or an answer to Alec’s question. Either way he’s leaning in before he can manage to stop himself, lips crashing against Alec’s in a wave of desire he’s too dizzy to fight.

Alec’s hands wrap around the back of Magnus’s neck and tug him impossibly closer. It’s enough to draw a moan from Magnus as his hands move up to frame Alec’s face in order to get the perfect angle.

It could have been minutes or hours later when they finally pull back, foreheads pressed together like they can’t bear to be apart. Magnus pants in the space between him, breath mingling with Alec’s as they both come down.

“That,” Alec says, low and husky, “was everything I hoped it’d be and more. Fuck.” He groans, head falling back against the pew with a dull thunk. “I can’t believe I actually did it.”

Magnus’s gasp sounds louder than it is the dusty air around them. Alec doesn’t notice.

No, he continues rambling, as honest and open and beautiful as ever, lips curling delicately around the words. If Magnus was currently capable of coherent thought he’d probably slow Alec down and ask him to repeat whatever it is he’s just said because there’s absolutely no way Magnus is hearing what he thinks he’s hearing.

Unfortunately, he’s hung up on a single utterance— ‘fuck’, just a word thrown in the middle of a sentence with little-to-no-thought at all. It’s a word Magnus uses a thousand times a day. As versatile as a ‘huh’ or ‘yeah’—but coming from Alexander? It’s downright sinful.

God is real. There’s no other explanation. Magnus is dead, God is real, and this is what Heaven looks like.

He reaches out to tangle their fingers together, tugging one of Alec’s hands into his lap.

“I’ve been dreaming of doing that for months now. Sometimes I couldn’t even focus because I wanted it so much, wanted you so bad. And then you started saying all those things about me. I couldn’t fight it anymore, Magnus. I’m not very good with words but you are everything to me and more. It’s terrifying. It’s like…there was this path for me to follow, right? My mother, the Institute, all of it. I never dreamt of questioning it. But then you came along and swept all of that away. I want things, Magnus. Want you.” Alec laughs, fingers twisting around a button on his jacket. “Want to know something? All I could think about after I got out of my mother’s office was coming to find you.”

“Alexander,” Magnus says, eyes closing against an onslaught of emotion.

“I still can’t believe we kissed. Magnus, you cannot imagine…I mean, have you seen yourself? Of course you have. You know what you look like.”

Magnus is still reeling, but he feels like he should respond. He opens his mouth, and—

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that, Alexander. My imagination is very active.” And you’ve been the sole subject of every daydream for the past three months. “Fuck. I think you broke me.”

The smile slips from Alec’s face, his teasing expression slipping into something more bashful. It’s a more familiar look; closer to whatever Magnus was expecting from him in the immediate aftermath.

“Oh. Wait, was it not as good for you? Because that was incredible on my end, like, stupidly good, but I haven’t ever—I mean, not even with a girl, I wanted it to count, so—you’re sort of my first.” Alec’s hands are a flurry of nervous energy. “I was awful wasn’t I? Oh my God, Izzy was right, I should’ve read those stupid articles she sent me.”

“Izzy sent you articles?” Magnus asks, voice pitched high. He can’t fight the smile any more than he can stop himself from reaching out to stroke Alec’s cheek, the skin hot under his touch. “You’re so…Alexander.”

“Born and raised,” Alec jokes, still looking mildly terrified, “but seriously, Magnus. Was I terrible? I’ll work on it. I will. There are tons of YouTube videos for that sort of thing. I’m sure I can figure it out. If you want to, that is.”

He waves his hand between the two of them, eyes drifting to his lap. Uncertain. Magnus cannot handle him thinking that way, not even for a second.

There are a million things running through Magnus’s mind. He knows how important this is to Alec, can see the self-doubt inching into his consciousness like a second skin he wears too well. As such, he knows he should say the right thing, more than whatever stuttering babble he’s managed to string together since their lips met. Maybe he bled his well of eloquence dry earlier. Still, though, Magnus is going to try.

Alec deserves that much from him. Sweet, gentle Alexander, who kisses like an angel and moves like sin. What could Magnus possibly say to reassure him? He breathes out deeply, trying to clear his mind.

What he wants to say is you could ruin me, and I’d beg you to do it.

What he shouldn’t say is I’ve been slowly falling in love with you for weeks now and I think you’ve made a believer out of me.

He lands somewhere in the middle.

“Darling, I have never felt more alive. Trust me when I say you have nothing to worry about—but if you really want to, I’d love nothing more than to practice with you. Again and again. Until you’re feeling confident.” Magnus grins, dragging a thumb across his own lip. Slowly, just to chase the feeling. Alec is watching him with dark eyes, lips parting around a breathy, hiccupping inhale.

“Also, given that I’ve been flirting with you for months now and I poured my heart out less than an hour ago, it’s safe to say this is something I wanted. I would be more than okay with it happening again, if you were so inclined. I am, by the way—inclined. Very, very inclined.”

Alec pauses, taking that in.

“So, um. About the flirting, then. Was that…”

“Serious? Absolutely.” At Alec’s doubtful look he frowns, scooting over on the pew so their knees are pressed together. “Look, I know my reputation precedes me, in many cases. But I need you to know this, Alexander. I’m not…that’s not who I am. Not now, not with you. Things are different here, easier for me. And there’s so much you don’t know, that I…well. All in due time. But I want you to know that I’m not that person in the stories.”

Alec shakes his head, trapping Magnus under a heavy, serious gaze. He looks like he’s about to head into battle, and it’s making him a bit nervous, so he steels himself for whatever unpleasant thing Alec is about to say.

“It’s not about the rumors. I don’t care about that. You’re my best friend, Magnus. I don’t care what the world has to say about you because I know you for who you truly are.”

Magnus can’t help it—he darts forward and presses a kiss against Alec’s cheek, lightning-quick. Alec blushes in response.

“Then what is it, Alec? You’re worried. I can see it.”

Alec sighs, staring at the book of hymns again. When he speaks, his voice is soft.

“It’s my mother. And my father, to some degree. They’re the reason I’ve been trying so hard to fight this feeling, Magnus.” Magnus can see the panic in Alec’s face; in the twist of his frown and the droop of his eyelids. “I wanted to keep you away from that because I knew it was the only way to keep you safe. What if they find out? What if my mother tries to drive us apart?”

Magnus’s heart sinks at the way Alec sinks into the pew. Into himself. He’s a little more broken than he was a few seconds ago, and it kills Magnus more than he’d like to admit.

“We won’t let her. For now, we’ll lay low. Keep quiet about this, us, until we’ve had time to settle and figure out what our next step should be. Furthermore, you don’t need to protect me, Alexander. Especially not at the cost of your own happiness. I can take care of myself, don’t you think?”

“Yes. Of course. I know that, Magnus. I just…”

“I know,” Magnus says, smile warm as he looks over at Alec. “I know, darling. It’s in your nature. From now on, though, we’ll handle this together. Talk to me, yeah? I’ll talk to you in return…I think you and I make a pretty good team.”

At last, a smile creeps onto Alec’s face. “Yeah. I think so too. So does that mean we’re…”

“Dating? Boyfriends? If you’re asking, my answer is yes.”

“Great.” Alec’s hand wraps more firmly around Magnus’s, squeezing gently. “That’s—yeah. I’m asking.”

“There we go, then. Boyfriends it is. What would you like to do now, darling?” Magnus looks down at the watch on his wrist, heart flipping happily at the sight of their joined hands. “It’s 11:49 PM. Eleven minutes left of 2017. We can spend them any way you’d like.”

Alec’s face is serious for a second as he considers. Magnus holds his breath and waits.

And then—

“I think,” Alec says, “I’d like to pray for a moment. We can still hold hands. And then after that…maybe we can, um. Practice? You know, work on my form a little bit.”

“Mm,” Magnus responds, smiling softly at Alec. “What a way to ring in the new year. I’ll be right here when you’re ready, Alexander. I promise I won’t let go.”

It’s silent in the cathedral, save for the quiet echoes of their breathing rattling against empty pews. Magnus’s eyes slide closed, laser-focused on their point of contact, steady and solid between them. Neither of them let go, even as Alec bows his head to pray—it’s a comfortable sort of quiet; heavy and effortless that they settle into without feeling the need to fill it with words or promises or reassurances that this will work, that they’ll be okay even if it doesn’t.

This might not be the Heaven of Alexander’s world, Magnus thinks, but it’s got to be close.

Chapter Text

When Alec walks into school on January 3rd, the first thing he sees is Magnus leaning against his locker bank. Magnus waiting for Alec is nothing unusual—in fact, it happens every day Magnus manages to make it to the Institute on time.

But Alec has never greeted Magnus as his boyfriend before. The thought alone is enough to make his heart pound. Seeing Magnus standing there, eyes glued to the screen of his phone as he laughs at something—it’s everything and too much at the same time. Alec swallows, ducking behind a pillar in the entryway like a total creep in order to collect himself.

Magnus is his boyfriend. Alec has a boyfriend now. A boyfriend who manages to look like that while doing something completely ordinary. Heavens above…there are a million and one ways Alec can screw this up, aren’t there?

He’s painfully aware of the other students all around them. Alec isn’t sure how to approach Magnus, now that everything is different between them. ‘Hello’ feels too informal. A kiss on the cheek would be far too much for their current setting. Maybe he should go for something flirtier—Alec tries to think of what Izzy would do in this situation.

‘Don’t overthink things, Alec.’ He does, doesn’t he? Alec sighs, peeking out from behind the pillar at the sweep of Magnus’s legs as he rests against the locker bank. He’s anxious about making this perfect, but the sight of Magnus will always be a comfort for him. Alec can look as much as he wants, so he does—Magnus is too caught up in the phone he’s holding to have noticed Alec’s lurking presence.

As stunning as Magnus looked in the outfit he wore to the Institute’s party, this version of Magnus—all easy grace and long legs in his school-issued uniform, might just be Alec’s favorite. He’d never thought of their uniforms as being anything but a necessity.

On Magnus, the tight black pants (which Alec is starting to think are not in fact, uniform-issued) and dark navy blazer are almost sinful. But there’s more to it, too.  

Magnus in his uniform is familiar. It’s comfortable. It’s home. Right, then. Alec abandons his hiding place, heading toward the lockers at a slow jog.

“Magnus,” Alec says, unable to keep the breathlessness from his voice. “Hi. You’re…you look nice today.” Is it weird if Alec tells him he’s missed him? It’s only been two days since they’ve met in person—and they’ve been texting non-stop, so yes—definitely weird, Alec. “I’m happy break is over.”

Magnus looks up, smile softening as he looks at Alec.

“Compliments to your parents, then. They chose my outfit this morning. Coincidentally it’s the same as yours—that means you look nice too.” Alec grins, any lingering tension dissolving instantly at the sight of Magnus’s tongue poking out at him. “As strange as it feels to say, I’m glad to be back too. I’ve missed you, darling. Two days have never felt like such an eternity.”

Heat rushes to Alec’s cheeks. He inches closer to Magnus unconsciously, back straightening as he tugs at the strap of his bag. “I missed you too,” he murmurs, gaze dropping to Magnus’s lips.

Magnus tracks the movement with his eyes. His own darken in response.

“Now that’s just unfair, Alexander. Looking at me like that when I can’t do anything about it?”

“Sorry,” Alec says, forcing himself to look up. The heat in Magnus’s eyes is enough to have Alec’s toes curling tightly in the confines of his dress shoes—he tugs the edge of his pullover down instinctively as the tips of his ears burn a violent red.

“I’m not.” Magnus knocks their shoulders together. It’s gentle, more for the contact than anything else. “And you don’t have to be either. Oh, darling…what I wouldn’t give for ten minutes alone with you right now.”

“I can give you better than that.” Magnus’s brows shoot straight up. Oops. Alec hadn’t planned on saying that out loud.

“Is that right?”

Well, too late to backpedal now. “Yeah. We can—lunch, um. Ms. Oakcliff’s room. I used to eat in there last year, when I didn’t want—” Alec pauses, realizing how pathetic the rest of that sentence makes him sound. When he didn’t want to sit with Izzy’s friends and pretend they were his too? No, that’s not something he needs to be saying right now. “It’ll be empty. No one will care if we’re in there.”

“Alexander.” Alec looks up—the grin on Magnus’s face is equal parts breathtaking and devious. “Are you seriously suggesting we slip off in the middle of the day to make out in an empty classroom?”

Alec can’t help the whine that slips out any more than he can keep the rush of heat from staining down to his collar. “Yes. I want—that. Exactly that. Do you?”

Magnus’s fingers sear against Alec’s skin as he adjusts the collar of Alec’s dress shirt. His expression is guarded enough to keep from attracting any unwanted attention but Alec knows Magnus better than that. Well enough to see the hungry spark in his eye; the slow, seductive flutter of his lashes against the tops of his cheeks.

“You can go ahead and assume that I will always want that with you, darling. Every second of every day. My god, Alexander.” Magnus’s groan is just for the two of them. “I’m going to die, right here in the middle of the Institute, and it’s going to be your fault.”

“Please don’t,” Alec says, voice pitched low. He’s pretty sure this counts as flirting. Right? “I’d have to get a new lab partner, and that’s a mess I’d rather avoid. No one else in Chem likes me as much as you do. Or at all.”

The heat in Magnus’s expression fades immediately, replaced with a melancholy Alec wants to kiss away.

“That’s not true, darling—well, except for the part about me liking you more. But the rest…what makes you say that?”

“I can just tell.” Alec grabs his Chemistry textbook from the stack piled neatly in his locker. “But that’s okay, Magnus. I don’t need them to like me. I have you, and Iz, and Jace. That’s more than enough for me.”

Alec turns, ready to offer Magnus a comforting smile, but the cool, calculated anger on Magnus’s face is enough to have the words dying on the tip of his tongue. It’s a feeling Alec himself is all too familiar with. He’d spent way too many afternoons at the range freshman year trying to put that anger to use until he realized that getting angry won’t do anything to change the hand he’s been dealt. After that, it was easier to ignore. To accept.

Magnus, however, doesn’t seem keen on ignoring a thing. Alec thinks back to the stories of Magnus’s own experience with high school bullies. With context Magnus’s fight-or-flight response makes a lot more sense to Alec.

“Very well. It’s your decision to make. But the second it becomes more than passive disinterest, Alexander, you need to address it in whatever manner feels most comfortable for you. I can help with that if need be. The thought of them hurting you again horrifies me to no end.”

“I know.” The morning bell rings—Alec sighs, wanting nothing more than to reach out and grab Magnus’s hand. “It’s okay, Magnus. I’m fine. And so are you. Nothing is going to happen to us.”

“Alright.” Magnus smiles, closing Alec’s locker for him. “Let’s get going, then. It’ll be hard to meet up for our lunchtime rendezvous if Mrs. Pangborn gives me lunch detention for being late.”

“I’d be late too, Magnus. We’d both get detention.”

“Ah,” Magnus replies, holding open the door for Alec to pass through. “Twenty dollars and an afternoon spent doing free throws with Jace says your Lightwood charm would get you out of it.”

“I’m gonna tell Jace you said that.”

Magnus smirks, heat stirring deep in Alec’s stomach. “You won’t have the chance. It’s not like you’ll see him at lunch this afternoon.”

Mrs. Pangborn shoulders the door open, struggling with a large white box. Alec jumps up to help her, but she shakes her head and sets it down on a table in the back of the room. “No need, Mr. Lightwood, though your concern is appreciated. Class, come grab a pair of goggles and a packet from the box. This morning we’ll be observing a series of chemical reactions. Your job as scientists is as follows…”

//

| M.B |

Magnus has five classes before lunch. Of those five, only two are shared with Alec. It’s a blessing in disguise on a day like today, when all Magnus can think about is an empty classroom and the hot drag of Alec’s mouth against his.

The last class Magnus has before lunch is AP French IV. One more hour. Just one more class— Magnus’s favorite, at that—before Alec’s promise of solitude from this morning is theirs to make use of.  One empty classroom, his very lovely boyfriend, and twenty-seven minutes of beautiful, limitless possibility.

Despite the burning anticipation that’s been threatening to swallow him whole all morning, Magnus is having a wonderful day.

Even seeing Mr. Aldertree standing at the front of his French classroom with the bright green substitute teacher folder in his hand isn’t enough to dampen Magnus’s mood. Briefly, Magnus wonders if the Institute employs any other substitute teachers. Having to deal with Mr. Aldertree twice in one day is…less than ideal. Mr. Aldertree lapses into flowing, effortless French mere seconds after the chime of the late bell.

What the hell? Magnus’s disbelief is short-lived but intense. Well, at least Magnus’s temporary Biology teacher subbing for Monsieur Pontmercy makes more sense now.

It’s easy to tune out Mr. Aldertree’s voice after that. Magnus sighs, settling into his daydream with the same anxious ease he’s been indulging in all morning. Alec, pushing him against the heavy wooden door, hitching one of Magnus’s legs up against his waist. Grabbing at his blazer, fitting his hands into the back pockets of Alec’s stupidly tight dress pants…

So Magnus has been a bit…distracted, this morning. Thankfully his teachers have yet to take notice.

“Magnus?”

Until now. Magnus blinks away the remnants of a particularly tantalizing daydream. “I’m here.”

“Clearly not.” A few people snicker. Mr. Aldertree silences them with a wide-sweeping glare. “An answer to the question would be appreciated, Monsieur Bane.”

It takes Magnus’s brain a second to catch up—Mr. Aldertree is expectant, arms crossed against his chest as he raises a brow at Magnus. Damn it. “Apologies, Mr. Aldertree. Can you repeat the question?”

“As was stated in the beginning of our time together, today you shall address me as Monsieur Aldertree. And no, Magnus, I’m afraid I can’t do that. What I will do, however, is deduct five points from your participation grade today.”

Magnus manages to reign in his shocked exhale. Participation in Monsieur Pontmercy’s class is only five points to begin with. “That’s a zero.”

“At least your math teachers are getting your attention. The same cannot be said for me.”

From his assigned seat two tables over, Jace Lightwood mumbles under his breath. Or, Magnus assumes, that’s what Jace was aiming for—what he ends up with is a cross between normal speaking volume and an overly-entitled soccer mom demanding to see the manager.

Holy shit, Jace. How he managed to make his way into an AP French IV class halfway through his junior year is lost on Magnus—especially when he seems to be completely lacking in the common-sense department. Or maybe it’s self-preservation. Either way, Magnus half-asses his way through a silent prayer, begging a potentially-fantastical man in the sky for Aldertree to ignore the much less appealing Lightwood in the interest of this whole thing blowing over quickly.

Mr. Aldertree turns to face Jace’s side of the room, hands clenching uselessly at his sides. Damn it. Magnus feels like a fool for hoping.

“Monsieur Lightwood. Something you’d like to share with the class?”

“No, not really.” Jace pauses, drawing lazy loops on the table’s surface with the eraser of his pencil. “All I said was that I didn’t understand the question the first time you asked, either. Don’t think it’s fair for you to take away Magnus’s participation points when you speak so quickly none of us can understand you. Mettre son grain de sel. Monsieur,” Jace adds, almost as an afterthought.

Magnus’s heart drops, mouth falling open as the hesitant rumble of laughter returns. What the fuck. Option B, then: no self-preservation skills. Maybe there’s a little bit of Option A in there too. However you figure it, Magnus’s dreams of seeing this whole mess resolved in the space of a minute go up in a cloud of smoke.

Not even the Lightwood name will be enough to save Jace from this shit storm. All Magnus can do is hunker down and hope Aldertree forgets about him in the face of Jace’s blatant criticism.

“Is that right?”

Jace shrugs, still not meeting Aldertree’s heavy gaze with his own. Aldertree turns to face the rest of the room. Magnus is just now noticing Monsieur Pontmercy’s heavy black grade book held tightly in his hands.

“Well, if that’s how you feel, Jace. And you, Magnus.” Apparently, silence is not golden. “Class, since we’re all so…enamored by this sort of behavior, I’ll go ahead and subtract those participation points from the rest of your grades as well. Your teacher has assured me that any decision I make will be upheld when he returns on Thursday. Be sure to thank your ‘friends’ after class for their contribution to your weekly total.”

The entire room groans. Magnus rolls his eyes as the heat of their glares hit him and Jace from all sides.

“Let this serve as a lesson to you all—and especially the two of you, gentlemen—in the classes I teach, your grade is entirely up to you. It is of no consequence to me whether or not you take advantage of the opportunity to succeed. Choose your friends carefully, and surround yourself with like-minded, driven people. Otherwise, you might find yourself falling victim to avoidable foolishness. Have I made myself clear?”

Magnus swears he sees a smirk on Aldertree’s lips. In his vast exploration of New York City’s varying school districts, Magnus has come face to face with bullies of all sorts. He knows them; can spot their behavior a mile away. Aldertree fits the bill as easily as any student does. Magnus wonders if his teacher has gotten worse or better since his own high school days.

“Yes, Monsieur,” the class recites. Magnus doesn’t bother to join in, too annoyed at where this day has taken him.

To add insult to injury, time seems to move even slower after that. Finally, though, the dismissal bell rings.

Magnus is up and out of his seat in less than three seconds. He thinks he hears Jace calling for him to wait but Magnus doesn’t stop, ducking around a corner and slipping up into the stairwell unseen.

//

“I have had the worst day,” Magnus announces to what looks like an empty classroom, “I swear, Alexander. You would not believe who ended up teaching my French class this morning—oh, hello, you’re closer than I thought.”

“Hi,” Alec says, backing Magnus up against the door. It closes behind them as they fall into it, the click of the lock almost soothing against the rattle of Alec’s harsh breaths.

Magnus doesn’t bother to hold back his moan as Alec leans forward, pressing them together from chest to thigh. “You’re sure we can do this here? In the Institute? Maryse loves her cameras—"

“None in this room,” Alec promises, leaning in to swallow each of Magnus’s broken sounds with a soft, closed-mouth kiss. “I’m positive. We use this room for Clave meetings. I have a key.”

The slick press of Alec’s lips against his is enough to have Magnus believing in something. God, maybe, or the possibility of a miracle—Magnus isn’t picky. He writes mental thank you notes to everyone he can think of in order to cover his bases.

And then Alec moans into the kiss, tongue flitting across the seam of Magnus’s closed lips. Magnus forgets how to think altogether after that.

“We have—” another kiss; Alec’s voice deeper than Magnus has ever heard it, “—twenty-seven minutes to forget about your bad day. Or we could talk about it?”

“No talking.” Magnus’s palms drag up the curve of Alec’s neck. Thankfully, Alec seems on board with that plan. Gone are the sweet, closed-mouth kisses they shared before—now, there’s nothing but heat and intensity; sharp edges and the press of Alec’s chest against Magnus’s, molten-hot at every point of contact between them.

While Magnus’s hands are content to feel the erratic jump of Alec’s pulse, pressed tightly against the column of his neck, Alec’s hands are far more restless. They tremble as they dance across Magnus’s body. Magnus presses into the touch, aiming to reassure. What’s wrong, Alexander? Is he nervous? Anxious? Overly excited?

Or perhaps it’s doubt. Well, that just won’t do. Magnus would love to tell Alec with words just how more than okay he is with what’s happening. The only problem is his brain, which flew the coop about ten minutes ago and rendered him speechless.

Alec’s hands drift lower, touch growing bolder in time with his kiss. The curl of Alec’s fingers against his abs is enough to have Magnus forgetting all about where they are; about the million reasons why maneuvering them to the front of the room and throwing himself on the table in offering is a bad idea. It’s impossible not to picture it. That, coupled with the sharp tug of Alec’s teeth on Magnus’s lower lip, makes it seem like a very nice plan indeed.

So what if his judgment is a little less than stable at the moment? If the heat leeching from Alec’s body into Magnus’s is anything to go on, Alec is as affected by this as Magnus is. And Magnus…

Magnus has been hard since the minute Alec shoved him against the door. Now, though, it’s edging on painful. Alec’s hand is gripping the fabric of Magnus’s dress shirt so tightly he fears it’ll tear—not that Magnus gives a shit about the stupid shirt. He’d just as quickly tear the damned thing off himself.

From the way Alec is tugging, it seems like he might actually enjoy that idea. It’s repetitive, borderline insistent. Magnus forces his eyes open, arching into the touch with a moan.

“God, that’s so—"

“Good?” Alec asks quietly, every bit as breathless as Magnus. He’s fidgeting with one of the plastic buttons on Magnus’s white dress shirt. “Can I—Magnus, is it okay if I just—”

“Yes,” Magnus hisses, untucking the shirt for Alec and making quick work of the buttons. Alec’s inhale is ragged as Magnus’s shirt falls open, hanging loosely from his shoulders. “Touch wherever you want. I’m all yours.”

“Wherever I want,” Alec echoes, eyes wide as they slide down the length of Magnus’s bare torso. “That,” he says, “is a lot to offer.”

Despite the lust shrouding Magnus in a haze of woozy desire, he manages to raise a brow. The lilt in Alec’s voice tells Magnus there’s more to Alec’s words than what he’s saying out loud. Composing his thoughts into a coherent sentence is a challenge, but Magnus manages, for Alec’s sake.

“Is it?”

Alec shrugs in lieu of an actual response and runs a finger along the cut of Magnus’s hipbone. Magnus shivers, hips flexing forward in an almost imperceptible movement.

“I’m offering anyway. I’m serious, Alexander.” Alec’s eyes close for a long moment before he opens them again. Magnus grabs Alec’s hands, bringing one up to his chest to press it flat against the steady pounding of his heart. “I meant what I told you on New Year’s Eve. I want this—want you. In every way there is to want someone.”

“Me too, Magnus.” The ache in Alec’s voice rings loud and clear. “I’ve…I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything as badly as I want you. All of you.”

“And you have me, darling. For now, though, maybe we should slow things down, mm? We don’t have nearly as much time as I’d like, and I want this to be right. Almost as much as I want to see you shirtless again.”

“Again?” Alec squeaks, cheeks blazing. “When did you see me shirtless?”

“Christmas Eve. Remember? After you got sick I had to find you something clean to sleep in. You were very adamant about sleeping half naked, Alexander. It almost gave me a heart attack.” Magnus sighs and moves a hand to his forehead in a move copied straight from Ragnor’s silent films. He doesn’t miss the smirk it pulls to Alec’s lips. “Don’t you remember waking up without one?”

Alec rolls his eyes. “Obviously. But I…shit, that’s so embarrassing.”

Magnus is moving before Alec has time to react. Their teeth clink together as their lips meet in a series of hurried, frantic kisses.

“I—whoa, Magnus. W-what’s…”

“You,” Magnus says, forehead pressed tight against Alec’s. “And the cursing. Fuck. Are you trying to kill me?”

Alec’s reprimand is breathless. Automatic. “Language. Please.”

“But you just said—”

“And you liked it?” Alec interrupts, surprise written all over his face. His lips curl upwards in the beginning of a smirk. “Did you…does it, um…”

“Yeah. Yes. All of the above. Check for yourself if you don’t believe me.”

Alec moans, eyes closing as he exhales. “Fuck, Magnus. That’s so—"

If Alec’s body is a book, Magnus will never tire of becoming fluent in the many ways to read him. He could spend hours studying the curve of his shoulders, the bow of back as he presses against Magnus, the warmth of his thigh as it slips between Magnus’s without conscious thought.

They’re barely a breath apart, Magnus and Alec. It’s why Magnus feels Alec’s tongue darting out to wet his own bottom lip more than he sees it…god, it’s too much. Magnus forces his eyes shut and takes a deep breath.

The monotonous drone of the dismissal bell crackles softly through the speaker mounted to the ceiling.

“Alexander,” Magnus breathes, eyes opening only to find Alec’s still closed—either in anticipation or because he’s still trying to catch his breath, Magnus can’t be sure. “That was the bell, darling.”

“Was it?” Alec’s breath is hot against Magnus’s ear as he nuzzles his cheek. “Cool.”

Magnus snorts and laces his fingers behind Alec’s neck. “Cool? That’s all you have to say about that? We’re going to be late, Alexander. For class. In the school your mother and father run.”

“I don’t give a fuck if we’re late.”

Magnus shivers violently and mumbles a curse of his own as his blood rushes south again. “Unfair. Now you’re just doing that on purpose.”

Alec hums, not opening his eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Magnus sees it for the invitation it is—Alec is begging to be kissed. It’s getting harder for Magnus to remember why he shouldn’t just lean in and give them both what they so obviously want.

Whatever confidence Alec is running on today, it’s doing things to Magnus’s head. Making it harder to breathe, especially when Alec smiles with his eyes closed, lashes fluttering dark and heavy on his cheeks.

“Bullshit,” Magnus says, “go straight to confessional. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 dollars.”

Then, because Magnus can’t help himself (and because he never could deny Alec a damn thing, as much as he’s tried) Magnus leans in and kisses him again, both hands sliding up to frame Alec’s face for the perfect angle. It’s a closed-mouth affair, just a brush of a kiss meant to take the edge off the hunger and slow things back down, but Alec apparently doesn’t get the memo, lips parting around a ragged shocked-sounding gasp seconds before he’s pressing forward against Magnus’s hands and kissing Magnus like he’s drowning. Like Magnus is the only thing keeping him afloat.

The late bell rings. Magnus and Alec jump apart—Alec looks as startled as Magnus feels.

“Alexander…” Understanding dawns on Magnus. He smiles so wide his cheeks start to ache. “Oh, darling. You liked that, didn’t you? When I held your face like that?”

“I like everything you do to me,” Alec mumbles, tossing his bag on his shoulder. “But that was—really nice. In particular.”

Magnus beams. “I’ll remember that. And for the record, darling? Hearing you curse has the same effect on me.”

//

“So,” Raphael says, tipping a plastic dish of Borax into the open mouth of a test tube, “you and Lightwood, huh?”

Magnus chokes—the water he’s not supposed to be drinking in the first place, given that they’re in lab, splatters all over the table in an inelegant mess. Mr. Aldertree looks up from the exams he’s grading.

“Are you alright, Mr. Bane? Do you need to step out for a drink of water?”

“I don’t think that will help,” Raphael answers for Magnus, a smirk on his face. Well, it’s clear to Magnus that he has no friends here. “Thank you though, Mr. Aldertree.”

Mr. Aldertree shrugs and goes back to his grading. Magnus’s coughing eventually tapers off to a series of weak rumbles—Raphael knocks their shoulders together in an attempt to soothe him.

Magnus’s voice is raspy. “How do you know about that?”

Raphael looks up from their lab, squinting at Magnus through the bulky plastic safety goggles. “About what?”

“You are far too smart to play that card, Raphael. What you just said about Alec and I…how did you know?”

“Ah.” Raphael picks up a pen, jotting something down in the margins of Magnus’s spiral notebook. “That. Tell me, Magnus. Was it supposed to be a secret?”

“Yes!” Magnus cries, only remembering to keep his voice low when Abigail Graymark glares at him from across the room. “Yes. We’re not telling anyone. That’s why I need to know exactly how you figured it out. Please, Raphael. This is very important to me. Alexander is very important to me.”

Raphael sighs and puts his pen down. He pivots on the stool, giving Magnus his full attention. “I know, Magnus. You’ve been obsessing over Lightwood for so long. I know you well, and I’ve seen the changes in you as of late. You’re happier. You smile more. I have been praying for you to discover that happiness since the day we first met.”

Suddenly, Magnus’s eyes are burning. He’ll blame the chemicals if anyone asks. “Raphael…”

“Also, I saw Lightwood this morning. While you were waiting by the lockers?” Magnus nods, signaling Raphael to continue. “Dios. The look on his face, Magnus. If I didn’t know before that would have been enough to confirm.”

Magnus sighs, stuck between the butterflies high in his chest (Alec’s name fluttering on every beat of their wings; a tangle of love and hope and Alexander that Magnus would happily lose himself to) and the worry in his heart. “Are you disappointed?”

It’s enough to make Raphael pause. Magnus knows for a fact that Raphael and Alexander have never gotten along. If only the two of them realized how similar they are, even down to their penchant for reflection; in their faith and devotion and the weight they assign to their words.

Magnus loves them both tremendously, albeit in different ways. Values their opinions. Wanting Raphael to like his boyfriend is nothing out of the ordinary.

So Magnus twists his ear cuff and waits for Raphael’s answer without attempting to fill in the blanks for himself. It’s not an easy feat, but Magnus manages.

“No,” he finally says, shaking his head. “No, Magnus. Disappointed is the wrong word. I’m concerned. Uneasy. Do you understand how dangerous this could be for the both of you? Alec’s mother is the headmaster of this school. The power she holds is just as tumultuous as the way she chooses to wield it.”

“Abuse it,” Magnus corrects, reaching for Raphael’s discarded pen in order to toy with it. “Robert is headmaster too.”

Raphael snorts, momentarily turning back to the spread of test tubes in front of them.

“Right. Stop trying to deflect—you wanted me to talk about your Alec? That’s what we’re going to do.”

Magnus’s stomach still feels like it’s tied in knots, but he’s unable to stop the smile on his face at the visual that inspires. His Alec. Memories of their afternoon in the Clave room fill Magnus with an easy warmth, ebbing away at the nausea coiled tightly in his gut.  

“Sorry.” Magnus gestures at the table between them, smiling at Raphael. “As you were.”

Raphael’s eyes narrow. “I’m worried about this. You and Lightwood. He’s…in a precarious situation, Magnus. What if word gets out?” At Magnus’s look of alarm, Raphael raises his hands. “No. Do not even think that. I would never, Magnus. Please tell me that is not what you were thinking?”

“Of course not.” Magnus forces the cross ring to spin on his finger, the pendant pressing hard against the skin of his palm. “I know you wouldn’t, Raphael. You’re my family.”

“And you’re mine,” Raphael replies, low and serious. “That is why I worry. Watching you build yourself back up after Camille was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever witnessed.” The mention of Camille when they’re talking about Alec is enough to have Magnus on edge—Raphael holds up a finger, asking for a few moments more. Magnus’s mouth closes. “But Lightwood is not Camille. Perhaps that’s what frightens me most. Anyone can see he cares deeply for you, Magnus, and you…well. You love with every bone in your body. Love like that can be blinding at times.”

Magnus clinks Raphael’s pen against the side of a beaker. If not for the worry spooling thickly in his throat, Magnus might be tempted to crack a joke about loving with particular bones more often than others. “I know it can be. I’m also aware of my tendency to...overdo it, let’s say. But this time, with Alexander…I think it might be different?”

“What makes you say that?”

“It was easy to lose myself in Camille. She was a wildfire. Hot, tenacious, outgoing…”

“She ruined everything she touched,” Raphael adds with no shortage of animosity.

Magnus hums, examining his nails. “Yes. That too. It’s what I loved about her, minus the ruining part—that spark we had could’ve burned the world to the ground. I cherished every blazing moment at the center of Camille’s inferno, Raphael. From the nights we shared together to the way we used to dance. When I was with her, I wasn’t Magnus. I wasn’t anyone at all. At the time that was what I thought I needed. She was what I thought I needed.”

“What do you think you need now?”

“Myself,” Magnus answers, noting how Raphael’s entire expression softens. “That’s where Alexander comes in—when I close my eyes and picture the person I am when he’s around, there’s no one else I’d rather be. Every day spent by his side leads me closer to the pieces of myself I lost along the way. What’s most remarkable about Alexander is that I can give him the same opportunity to discover himself in return. To hell with all the risks. It’ll all be worth it if it means finding happiness with him.”

From the front of the room, Mr. Aldertree asks the class to start cleaning up. Raphael starts to sort their lab materials without breaking eye contact.

“Alright.” Again, Raphael pauses—this time, when he looks back up at Magnus, his eyes are suspiciously wet. “If that is how you feel, I will stop at nothing to support you. But Magnus…it is not going to be easy.”

That’s an understatement. Magnus smiles, thinking sardonically of Maryse Lightwood and her home surveillance system. Sneaking in to see Alec is neigh impossible. And with all of Alec’s extracurricular activities, Magnus knows they won’t see much of each other outside the Institute walls.

Archery, Student Council, running the Clave meetings on Saturday nights…

The Clave meetings. Isn’t that an interesting thought? Magnus files it away for later, determined to give Raphael and this conversation all the attention it deserves.

“I don’t want easy. I just want Alexander.”

“Very well.” Raphael stands just in time for the dismissal bell. Magnus looks down at their cleared-off lab table, blinking away the confusion. Wait, when did Raphael find time to put their stuff away without Magnus noticing? “A bit of advice for your boyfriend, Magnus. Tell him to tone down his heart eyes in public. It’s obnoxious. If I noticed, others will too.”

Magnus giggles, fondness threatening to overtake him completely. “Heart eyes, you say? Mm. I’ll pass the message on. Thanks for listening, Raphael.”

Raphael’s face has settled back into its neutral expression; caught between perpetually annoyed and mildly amused. ‘“Ohana,”’ he says in reply. “I suppose I’ll have to add Alec to my prayer list now. Dios. What’s next, free dress Fridays?”

“You’re a madman. And a genius. Here, walk with me to class. Let’s clean up your pitch a bit before we set up a meeting with the Senior Class President.” Magnus smirks, pleased when Raphael doesn’t shrug off the arm he casts over his shoulders. “I hear he’s really hot…”

//

“So,” Magnus starts, trying to keep his tone even, “I’ve been thinking, darling.”

Alec’s head lifts off the armrest of the library chair he’s lounging in. His worn copy of Othello falls in his lap. “I’m not sure I like the sound of that. Thinking about what?”

“I want to join the Clave.”

That’s enough for Alec to bolt upright. The look on his face is so worried it nearly has Magnus wanting to take the words back. “What? Why would you do that?”

“To spend more time with you, obviously.” Magnus takes the novel from his hands, fingers tapping along the spine. “What’s the harm in it? Aren’t you the one running those meetings?”

“I am, but my father is the Clave’s Faculty Advisor. He gets a copy of our minutes every week, as well as the attendance sheets.”

“So? He doesn’t know me from Adam. As far as Robert Lightwood is concerned I’m just another student looking for redemption at the start of the new semester. Or I’m interested in the catering. Either way, I’m not his problem.”

Alec’s frown lessens as he considers what Magnus is saying. “I guess not. I just don’t want you on his radar, Magnus. But if you’re serious about joining the Clave we’ll have to be very careful about how we interact with each other during meetings. I wish…I wish things could be different.” Alec’s voice cracks—the sound of it sends a stab of pain straight down Magnus’s spine. “I wish I could tell everyone how much you mean to me. I’m just stuck.”

More than anything, Magnus wants to reach out and still the anxious tapping of Alec’s fingers on the tabletop. They’re in public, though, so he’ll have to settle for a wink and a warm smile.

“It’s okay, darling. You’re not stuck,” Magnus says. “And we’re not hiding anything. Think of it more as us taking time for ourselves without the weight of the world’s expectations following us at every turn. There’s nothing about being with you that upsets me, Alexander. I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. Are you happy?”

“I am!” Alec’s reply is instant. “Of course I’m happy. I know it’s barely been any time at all, Magnus—”

“Two weeks and a day,” Magnus chirps, delighting in the fond quirk of Alec’s lips.

“—right. Two weeks and a day. But I’ve really…I like this. Us. I like you. More than I’ve ever liked anyone.”

And I love you, Magnus thinks, heat blooming low in his chest at the warmth in Alec’s gaze.

“How wonderfully coincidental. I happen to like you too.”

“Does this mean you’re serious about joining the Clave? You’re really going to sit through a weekly Bible discussion every week for me?”

“For you, Alexander,” Magnus says, “I would do much more. But yes, I’m serious. If you’ll have me.”

Alec nods, his smile bright and happy. Excited. Magnus feels himself fall a little harder at the sight. “You never needed my permission, Magnus. I can’t believe you actually want to—okay. If this is going to be believable, we have a bit of catching up to do. The current program is called ‘Walking in the Son,’ and it’s about following Jesus’s example in the face of temptation. Here, hang on, I’ll send you last weeks’ minutes.”

//

| A.L |

At 5:30 PM sharp, Magnus Bane waltzes into Ms. Oakcliff’s empty classroom, the heavy metal of his Gucci keychain clattering against the frame of the door as he brushes past it. A few people look up at the sound, eyes widening when they land on the source.

“Hey, Magnus!” Izzy’s hand shoots up in the air. She pushes her purse away to clear the spot next to her, cellphone long-forgotten on top of her desk. “What are you doing here? Come sit with me.”

“Call it curiosity,” Magnus replies vaguely, smiling at Isabelle and leaning into her offered hug. “Hi, Alexander. Funny seeing you here.”

Alec swallows and steels his nerves. “Hey, Magnus. I think you stole my line.”

Isabelle’s eyes flit between the two of them. Alec doesn’t miss the moment of hesitation. “Alec runs these meetings. Didn’t he tell you?”

“I suppose I forgot. Can’t say I’m surprised, though.” Magnus pauses, keys clinking in his hand as he scans the length of Isabelle’s outfit. “Is that a Chloé dress? You make it look stunning, my dear.”

Isabelle’s answering smile is megawatt and only for Magnus. Alec is thankful for Magnus’s redirect as Isabelle and Magnus go into more detail about the dress.

Once everything is set up on his computer screen, Alec takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders, facing the room full of people with the confidence of someone who does this all the time. Right. You do this every Saturday, Alec. No reason to be nervous now simply because Magnus is here.

Alec mumbles a quick prayer; an I can do all things through God who strengthens me in order to get his mind in the right place. It’s a bit easier to breathe after that. He smiles, stands up straighter, and coughs once to get everyone’s attention.

It’s easy to lose himself to the routine of it after that.

//

Sunday afternoons post-mass are typically when Alec tries to keep up with his mountain of homework. Every so often an Archery meet will force Alec into a late-night homework frenzy, but today is not one of those days. He settles against his headboard with his textbooks and his laptop, ready to make a dent in the stack of due dates scribbled in his day planner.

The loud crack of Alec’s bedroom door against the plaster of his wall has Alec startling in his bed as loose pages of his Theology reading scatter all around him.

It takes a few seconds for Alec to make sense of anything with the thrum of adrenaline crashing through his veins. “Isabelle? What the heck—”

“Why didn’t you tell me about Magnus?”

If Isabelle didn’t sound so devastated, Alec might consider lying about it. The thought of anyone knowing at this stage terrifies him—even his own sister.

“Izzy…”

“Everyone knew but me,” she continues, slippers scratching against the fibers of Alec’s carpet. “And I want you to tell me why that is, Alec. I thought we told each other things. I thought you trusted me.

What the hell? Isabelle isn’t making sense—Alec is hearing things. The alternative is impossible because he and Magnus hadn’t told anyone.

No one is supposed to know…except Isabelle does. And apparently, she’s not the only one.

“Of course I trust you,” Alec says. “It’s not like that at all. What…what do you mean by everyone?”

“Jace. Magnus, obviously. Hell, even Raphael Santiago knew before me. Your own sister, Alec!”

“What?” Alec jumps to his feet, ignoring the mess of worksheets on the floor. “How? No, no, this can’t be happening. I can’t—shut the door, Isabelle, please, for the love of God.”

Isabelle does, her earlier fury tapering off at Alec’s obvious panic. “So it’s true,” she says, eyes widening. “You and Magnus are together? When did this happen?”

In for a penny, in for a pound. There’s really no point in denying what Isabelle already knows.

“New Year’s Eve,” Alec admits, fingers raking through his hair. “We’re not—we weren’t going to tell anyone. No one is supposed to know. If Mom and Dad find out—”

“Woah, Alec. Breathe. Sit down for a second, alright? Mom and Dad aren’t going to find out.”

Alec shakes his head. “You can’t guarantee that. They will. They always do. Mom and Dad will ruin everything, Izzy. I can’t let them go after Magnus.”

“And they won’t,” Isabelle says, approaching Alec with the type of hesitation usually reserved for caged animals. “You’re scaring me, Alec. Come on, take a deep breath. In and out—there we go, that’s good. No one is angry with you. No one is going to find out.”

“You are. You’re mad at me. I didn’t tell Jace, I swear. I don’t know how he found out.” Alec pauses, struggling to get his breathing under control. “How did you find out?”

Isabelle rolls her eyes, gingerly situating herself next to Alec on the edge of the bed.

“First of all, I’m not angry, Alec. I’m sorry for reacting the way I did. I’m just…surprised, that’s all. To answer your second question, I found out at the Clave meeting.” Alec blinks away his confusion. He and Magnus had barely spoken last night.

“Magnus Bane willingly signing over his Saturday nights in favor of talking about Jesus for 2 hours? Kind of a giveaway if you know him.”

Ah. That makes sense. The desperation claws its way up Alec’s throat regardless. “Friends do that. Magnus wanted to join a club, I invited him. It’s friendly.”

“Sure, if your definition of ‘friendly’ includes him checking out your ass every time you turned around.”

Alec chokes, heat flooding his face. “Isabelle,” he hisses.

Isabelle smiles and leans against his shoulder. “You’re a fox, big brother. I’ve been trying to tell you that for months. Almost as long as I’ve been pestering you to ask out Magnus…and you finally did it! I am beyond proud of you. Now spill.”

The remaining dregs of panic ease away at the sheer joy in Isabelle’s grin. “I wanted to tell him on Christmas. I had this plan and everything.”

“You did?” Alec nods, already dreading Isabelle’s next question. “And you ended up getting tanked instead?”

Alec winces. Not his brightest moment. “Well, that was…um, a part of it, actually. Might’ve taken the drinking thing a bit too far but yeah.”

“Let me get this straight,” Isabelle says, disbelief evident in the drag of her consonants. “You planned on asking Magnus out. Decided, ‘Hey, you know what? Let me just do a couple shots to take the edge off,’ and drank yourself silly.” Alec nods along, wincing at the mention of his alcohol consumption. “Then you proceeded to go through with this plan of yours?”

“No,” Alec says. “It was stupid. Praise be to God for sparing me the embarrassment of actually going through with the rest of that plan.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t that bad, Alec. The alcohol, maybe, but the rest was probably nauseatingly cute. Anyways. Fast forward to New Year’s Eve.”

Memories of that night come back to Alec in flashes—his mother, the party, finding Magnus in the cathedral…

“Right. Um, the party. Mom wanted to talk to me in her office. We ended up fighting.” Isabelle’s hand slides into Alec’s, squeezing sympathetically. “I was upset, and I wanted to talk to Magnus, because…well, if I’m being honest, I just needed to be around him for a little while. He calms me down.”

“Of course he does,” Isabelle says, voice soft. “He’s your best friend, Alec. It’s normal. You don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

“I know that. But I want to. Magnus was—um, he was upset when I told him what happened. He went on this rant about how I deserved better, how unfair Mom was being about the whole thing. No one has ever stood up for me like that before. Besides you and Jace, I mean.”

Isabelle’s breathy sigh pulls a smile back to Alec’s face. “You deserve that, Alec. Magnus adores you, and would go to war for you any day of the week. He looks at you like you’re his entire world.”

“I think he might be my entire world,” Alec whispers, eyes closing. “And that terrifies me, Izzy. What if something happens?”

When Isabelle pulls Alec’s weight down into the circle of her arms, Alec goes willingly. He rests his head on his sister’s shoulder and lets her stroke his back.

“Lots of things are going to happen, Alec. And some of them are going to be scary. But most of them won’t be—falling in love with someone is a gift from God. Follow your heart and trust in both Him and in what you and Magnus share. Pray for guidance when you need it. But don’t close yourself off to the possibility of all the good a love like this can bring you.”

Alec inhales steadily, letting his sister’s gentle reassurances wash over him like water. “You’re right,” he breathes, sitting up straight. “You’re absolutely right.”

“Was it Magnus who brought up the subject of more? Or was it you? How did you say it?”

“Well,” Alec starts, fingers twitching with the phantom longing to tangle themselves in Magnus’s lapels, “I guess I did. Sort of.”

One of Isabelle’s eyebrows raises. “Sort of? Elaborate.”

“I didn’t really put it in words. I kissed him.”

“You did what?” Isabelle’s squeal is loud. Alec decides it’s better to cover his ears than it is to attempt to quiet his sister. “Okay, no, we’re talking about this. Tell me everything! You seriously just hauled him in—” Isabelle’s hand shoots out in the air, fingers wiggling dramatically, “—and planted one on him?”

Alec shrugs in lieu of a verbal confirmation. That’s a pretty accurate description of what went down, yeah. The sight of his sister spinning around the room in dizzying circles is enough to make Alec giggle.

“Sit down, Isabelle. You’re going to make yourself sick.”

“This is the best day of my life,” Isabelle announces, love-struck. “To hell with everyone else. You and Magnus are the definition of romance.”

“Now you’re just being dramatic.” Alec rolls his eyes, letting Izzy pull him into a standing position when she grabs both of his hands and tugs. “What are we doing, exactly?”

“Dancing! Celebrating! I have been waiting for you two to get it together for months, brother. No way in hell are you raining on my parade.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Do you remember our conversation during Finals week? I tried to convince you to talk to Magnus, tell him how you felt. You didn’t believe me when I told you Magnus had a crush on you.”

“Sure,” Alec agrees, eyes narrowing as he tries to work it out. “What am I missing?”

“Alright. Now, do you remember going shopping with Magnus the weekend of Black Friday?”

Alec nods. “Great,” Isabelle says, studying Alec’s carpet with a worrying intensity. “Magnus and I had a little chat while we shopped for your Christmas gift. This and that. Clothes, you know. Normal stuff. But we also talked about you.”

“What about me?”

“Magnus told me he had feelings for you.” Alec’s eyes widen—because what? How had he missed that entirely? “I’ll spare you the details in the interest of keeping Magnus’s trust. Just know that when I suggested you tell him the truth I did so with the knowledge that your feelings would be returned.”

“You knew since Thanksgiving that Magnus—? Okay.” Alec takes another calming breath, breaking the situation down into manageable facts. Izzy and Magnus are close friends. They talked about Alec. Then there was the ice skating. That confuses Alec to this day. Was it a date? What was Raphael doing there? Alec shakes his head. That’s a mess for another day. “So, all this time…you’ve known about Magnus and I liking each other? Is that right?”

“Exactly. I’m so proud of you. Magnus too. I never lost faith in your combined ability to figure it out, brother. But I did do a lot of praying.”

Alec sighs, pulling his sister in for a hug. “Thank you. For everything, Iz. Even when I’m too stubborn to properly appreciate you for it, you’ve always known me better than I know myself.”

“At least you can admit it,” Isabelle responds, eyes rolling. “Jace? He’s hopeless.”

Jace. The mention of their brother is enough to have Alec’s feet shuffling nervously. “How did Jace find out about Magnus and I? Also…am I mixing things up, or did you say Raphael knew too?”

“No, he does. Although I’m not sure how.” At Alec’s alarmed pout, Isabelle amends, “it’s okay, Alec. As far as I know it’s just the two of them—three, now that I’m in the loop. We’ll talk to Magnus tomorrow and figure out a way to keep this under wraps. I promise you, I won’t let anyone ruin your shot at happiness.”

“I hope you’re right,” Alec breathes, eyes closing as he tries to calm down. An image of Magnus leaning against his locker comes to him. Alec latches on to the image until the leaden weight in his ribcage dissolves.

That night, Alec dreams of holding Magnus’s hand in the hallway of the Institute. When he wakes up he asks God for guidance on how to interpret it. By the time Alec sits down in Chemistry that morning his dream is all but forgotten, lost to the story Magnus is telling about Ragnor and the smoke detectors in their apartment.

//

“Jace?”

Jace freezes, a carton of milk halfway to his mouth. The second he realizes it’s Alec that tension fades away.

“Dude, you scared me. Thought you were Mom sneaking up on me again.”

Alec smiles. “No, Jace. But she has a point. The cups are right there. Is it really that hard to use one?”

The refrigerator door closes with a soft click. Jace shrugs, sitting on a barstool.

“Nah. Guess not. I’m just too lazy to wash it afterwards.” Alec rolls his eyes. “Anyway, what are you doing up so early? It’s six AM, dude. Not exactly your prime time.”

If Alec was waiting for an opportunity, here it is. He takes a deep breath and holds it until his lungs burn. “I wanted to talk to you about something. It’s…um. Sort of personal.”

“Okay,” Jace says, words slow and dragging. “What is it?”

“It’s about Magnus. And I. The two of us—together.”

Recognition sparks in Jace’s eyes. It takes a considerable amount of effort for Alec to keep his expression neutral. As silly as it is…he was hoping Isabelle had been mistaken about everyone knowing. It would certainly make this easier to address.

“You’re talking about you two being boyfriends, right? Is that it?”

“Yes,” Alec says, trying to force himself to be patient. “How did you find out, Jace? We were—Magnus and I were hoping to keep it a secret for now. I need to know what I did wrong.”

Jace’s frown is immediate. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I did, if you found out about us.”

“No, Alec.” Jace’s voice is firm. “Chill out and listen for a second. That’s what I’m trying to tell you—it wasn’t you at all. I found out by watching Magnus.”

Magnus? Alec frowns, trying to find a context in which Jace’s words make sense.

“You—what are you talking about, Jace? When did this even happen?”

“Gym class,” Jace says, shrugging. “Magnus is in my class, remember? He tends to sit on the sidelines unless Coach forces him to play. You know Coach—he doesn’t give a shit as long as everyone has their gym uniform on.”

“Language, Jace. Okay. Keep talking.”

Jace’s eye roll is automatic. “I will, if you stop nagging about what I’m saying. Anyways, dude. So, typically Magnus doesn’t participate. Something about organized sports and toxic masculinity. That all changed the day we came back from break.”

Both of Alec’s brows go straight up. He’s seen Magnus—hell, Alec has seen him shirtless, even—so realistically, the idea of Magnus and physical activity is not an outlandish one. There’s no way Magnus’s body can look like that if he never works out.

But the thought of Magnus playing floor hockey with Jace? Fighting over a soccer ball with Raj? That’s just too much for Alec to believe.

“You’re saying he actually participates now?”

“Yeah,” Jace grins. “It’s wild, Alec. And at first, I wondered why. It took a few days for everything to click.”

“What conclusion did you come to?” Part of Alec is scared to ask. He asks anyway. “What does this have to do with Magnus and I together?”

“The reason Magnus started participating was so he could bond with me.”

Alec laughs. Loudly. Too loudly, given that it’s 6 AM and his parents are still asleep just down the hall. “That’s ridiculous, Jace. And egotistical.”

If Jace is bothered by Alec’s bluntness, he opts not to show it. “I thought so too until I asked Magnus myself. He told me he wanted us to have something in common.” Jace shrugs, ignoring the disbelief clear on Alec’s face. “He wanted us to be better friends. That’s all it took for me to figure out that it had to do with you…like hell Magnus would put up with more of Raj’s bullshit just to bond with me.”

That, Alec thinks, is interesting. On one hand, the thought of Magnus willingly subjecting himself to what he calls, ‘the deepest circle of high-school Hell’ is…very sweet. But on the other hand…

It’s risky. Magnus underestimated Jace. In terms of mistakes, it’s one Alec himself has made in the past. Except this time, Magnus underestimating Jace led to Jace finding out about them.

Alec dismisses the thought. Stop overreacting, Alec. Stop overthinking everything.

“You can’t…you can’t tell anyone, Jace. This thing between Magnus and I…it’s very new.”

“Thing?” Jace grins. “It’s a relationship, Alec. You can say it out loud, you know. It won’t bite you.” At Alec’s withering look, Jace drops the subject. “Alright, alright. You know I can keep this a secret. We’re family, dude. I’ll do anything you want if it makes you happy.”

There’s a stinging in Alec’s eyes. He blinks it away, head tilting. “Thank you. That means a lot. To know you, um, approve.”

“Damn right I do. Magnus is great. You’re great. Together, that’s like…greatness squared.”

Thankfully, Alec’s chuckle is quieter this time. He brings his hand to his lips to muffle the rest of the sound. “Are you hungry? I can make us breakfast. Since we’re both awake and all.”

Jace’s eyes light up at the mention of food.

“Now we’re talking. Hey, do we still have bacon left after Izzy’s casserole thing from last week? I’d kill for the French toast you made that one time. You can’t tell Max, though. He’d be so pissed if he found out we didn’t save him any.”

Alec smiles at his brother and opens the fridge. “Consider it our little secret,” he says, gathering the ingredients he needs.

//

True to their word, Isabelle and Jace do everything they can to keep the nature of Alec and Magnus’s relationship a secret from the rest of the world. At first, Alec finds it frustratingly counterintuitive—with Isabelle being a constant presence, he and Magnus have even less alone time now than they did before they were dating. Slowly, though, he comes to appreciate the efforts of his siblings. There hasn’t been so much as a whisper about him and Magnus. At the end of the day, that’s what Alec cares about most.

Well, that, and the time he and Magnus manage to rob from their fast-paced school schedules.

On an otherwise average afternoon at the end of January, Coach Garroway stops Alec’s practice session halfway through with a steady hand on the curve of his bow.

“Alec, let’s call it a day. You look exhausted. Go home and take a nap before dinner tonight.”

Alec lowers the notched arrow, letting it dangle loosely at his side.

“Are you sure that’s alright? All States are next weekend—”

“Your release is 3.5 seconds slower than your average today because the tips of your fingers are catching on the string. That’s not a deficit in skill, Alec, it’s a symptom of overexertion. I’m sure. Please go get some rest and we’ll finish preparing for All States when you’re feeling up to it, yeah?”

His sigh is tired, muscles aching as he shoulders his bow. “Okay, Coach. Thanks.”

Coach Garroway nods, squeezing Alec’s arm as he tugs at the strap on his bracer to loosen it. His phone is in his hand the second he slips into the small locker room reserved for the range.

It doesn’t take long for Magnus’s reply to come in. It never does. Magnus invites him over to watch a movie with the promise of popcorn and snuggles.

There have been stronger men than Alec who have been broken by less-tempting offers. He types his reply to Magnus quickly, smile stretching his face all the way to the subway station.

//

It takes all the energy Alec has left to climb the narrow stairs leading to Magnus’s bedroom, muscles aching with each step he takes. That’s why he wastes no time flopping face-first onto the unmade bed as soon as he’s there, shoes still on his feet, although he’s careful to keep them off the edge of the bed.

He barely registers Magnus’s quiet little chuckle, or the sound of him closing the door behind them.

“Well, Alexander,” Magnus starts, “Here I thought you liked me for me. I see now you’re only using me for my bed. My sheets are heavenly, it’s understandable. But my heart breaks regardless.”

Fatigue has reduced Alec to a block of lead. Everything is fuzzy around the edges of his vision, so lifting his head to deliver a coherent response is not in the forecast. He forces out the words though, and he’s proud when they all seem to make sense.

“It is a nice bed. Memory foam, Magnus. Kind of hard to beat.”

Magnus sticks his tongue out in response. It’s a cute gesture made even more endearing in the way Magnus winks at him afterward, pulling away a moment later in search of some bottle on his vanity. He’s been in a playful mood today, Alec’s noticed.

He hates the fact that he’s too tired to indulge Magnus’s mood, but there’s nothing to be done for it outside of taking a nap. Exhaustion hangs heavy in his limbs, and his eyelids are drooping more by the second.

But still. As tired as he is, Alec can’t seem to turn off his thoughts. Being in this bed again, surrounded by the scent of Magnus’s cologne and the cool silk sheets…the memories come to Alec unbidden. He’s probably relieved that night a hundred times now, if not a thousand.

All he could do was cling to those memories because he thought that’s all he would ever have.

Slippery silk sheets, toeing off his shoes and trying not to trip over the mess of Magnus’s clothes on the floor. The stench of alcohol, heady and sweet all around them. Quieting Magnus on a night so still it felt artificial, a silence so loaded and yet so full of what ifs that Alec wondered if it was made just for them. Magnus was drunk—Alec was being a good friend. That’s all. Butterfly kisses, hot and breathy against his neck, Magnus begging to be held in a sad voice; Alec helpless to do anything but comply as he tried to keep him from imploding or exploding or slipping through his fingers with the slightest whisper of the wind…

They’d fallen asleep that way, pressed together from head to toe. Alec had never slept so soundly in his life.

And as close as he is to falling asleep right now, Alec can’t help but notice how big Magnus’s bed is. Big and empty with just him in it…the sheets are cool, and he’s chilly in the t-shirt he wears for archery practice. Alec wants Magnus; wants the snuggles Magnus teased him with on the phone.

Realistically, Alec knows he can have that if he asks. They’re together now. Boyfriends. Surely Magnus wouldn’t mind giving Alec a quick cuddle until he falls asleep—after all, Magnus jumps at the chance to get close any other time they’re together. Unfortunately, Alec’s sluggish brain can’t come up with the right words to ask him.

Come cuddle with me? No, that sounds weird. I can’t fall asleep without you here next to me—no, Alec, even worse.

Something Izzy said earlier comes to him, then. Play it cool…literal has always been Alec’s forte. He takes a deep breath to steel his nerves, sending a quick prayer up and out that he manages to pull this off.

“I’m cold.”

“Come again?” Magnus asks, turning to look at him.

Alec presses on, determined. “I’m cold,” he says, a little louder.

“Well,” Magnus says, one brow raising. “You’re welcome to use my blankets. I was only teasing about the bed—you know I don’t mind if you have a nap, darling. What’s mine is yours.”

Crap. This is not going as well as Alec had hoped.

“Yeah, I know,” Alec says, trying to pitch his voice lower. Flirty, he thinks. It comes out sounding more like he’s got a sore throat. “But the blankets are cold, too.”

He regrets the words the second they leave him, of course, because they’re quite possibly the dumbest words anyone has ever dared to say. Being swallowed up by the ground would be far too kind a fate for someone like Alec in this moment.

He’s too busy stewing in his own mortification to notice Magnus coming closer, so he’s caught off guard at the gentle brush of Magnus’s hand against his forehead—he nearly jumps out of his skin at the contact, as soft and sweet as it is.

Magnus’s frown grows. Great. His boyfriend is frowning at him now. Alec is wonderful at this whole flirting thing.

“You feel warm to me,” Magnus murmurs, fingers combing up into Alec’s hair. “Are you feeling alright, Alexander? Maybe you’re running a bit of a fever. I have Tylenol downstairs if your head is hurting.”

“No,” Alec says, too quickly. “No, stay—I feel fine. I am fine. I just…”

He sighs. He can’t meet Magnus’s questioning gaze, not when this should be so easy, not when he can’t even manage to flirt correctly with his boyfriend.

“Can you just…um. Come here.”

“I’m right here, love.” Magnus replies, obviously confused. There’s worry in his voice. “Alexander, are you sure you’re feeling alright?”

Alec huffs in response, fingers reaching up to lock around Magnus’s wrist like a bracelet. He tugs—just enough to get his point across, since words are obviously not the way to go on a day like today.

“No, I mean—here. With me, just for a few minutes, if you don’t mind—I mean, I know you’ve got homework and stuff, but it’s been a long day, and I was hoping—um.”

And it’s not the truth, not even half of it. But it’s all Alec is sure of at the moment, all he can manage to say amidst the thoughts rumbling thunder-heavy through his chest.

I want you so much closer? No, no, that’s too much.

There are a million bad things in my life right now, and you might be one of the only good things, so come a little closer and we can pretend there’s nothing else but you and I and this bed and this room—no.

I want to sink into your bones and settle there until there’s no more ache, no more tiredness; until the only thing I can hear is the sound of your breathing—definitely not, Alec. Holy cow.

Thankfully, Magnus doesn’t need Alec to say anything else. His face lights up with understanding, and before Alec can embarrass himself any further Magnus is sidling up next to him on the mattress, toeing off his shoes and curling his legs up and under the sheets. He scoots next to Alec without waiting for an invitation, ducking under his arm with Alec’s chest as his pillow, eyes slipping closed on a quiet exhale. Alec’s arm wraps around him automatically, bringing him that much closer. Magnus moans happily in response, and there—that’s exactly what he’s been aiming for this entire afternoon; exactly what he needs to just breathe without the weight of the world looming over his head.

He’s still exhausted, yes, and his arms are still sore from an hour of accuracy drills at the range, but right now, none of that matters.

“Liar,” Magnus mumbles suddenly, voice distorted from the way he’s nuzzling into Alec’s chest.

Not that Alec is complaining. He is a bit confused though—he has no idea what Magnus is talking about.

“What’s that?”

“You’re a liar, Alexander. Lying is a sin, you know. I should call Father Starkweather and ask for a second house call.”

Alec snorts, burying the sound in Magnus’s hair.

“When exactly did I lie?”

Magnus lifts his head, fixing Alec with a wicked smirk.

“When you said you were cold, darling. I’ve investigated the matter myself—” He drags a hand up Alec’s bare arm, fingertips tracing from Alec’s pulse point all the way up to the sleeve of his t-shirt. Alec shivers in response. “—and found the opposite to be true. Which brings me to my next question. Why did you say you were cold? You’re usually so matter-of-fact, Alexander. What happened to make you so uncomfortable today?”

Alec sighs, eyes closing. He was expecting this question, but he still feels embarrassed about the way he behaved. Honestly, he should know better than to listen to Izzy.

“It’s nothing you did, Magnus. Don’t worry about it. I was just being weird and dumb, that’s all.”

“Nonsense,” Magnus says. “You’re not dumb, or weird. Not even a little bit.” He snuggles closer to Alec, settling back down against Alec’s chest. In this position, Alec can feel Magnus’s breathing, hot and rhythmic against the skin of his collarbone. He sinks into the feeling and tightens his hold on Magnus’s side, thinking of an appropriate response.

“You know I won’t force you into anything, Alexander, including a conversation you’re not comfortable having. I just want you to know you can talk to me about anything and everything. No matter what happens between us, we’re still us, and I would never judge you for your thoughts or feelings.”

“I know,” Alec says, unable to stop himself from pressing a kiss to Magnus’s forehead. Magnus hums happily in response. “And I trust you. I do. It’s just…I was talking to Izzy, earlier, about us. She gave me some advice on flirting, something about guys liking ‘an air of mystery’ or whatever…well, you saw how that went.”

It sounds even dumber out loud than it did in Alec’s head. He laughs nervously, aiming to dispel the tension.

“Hope that’s not a deal breaker or anything. I’m the least mysterious person on this planet.”

Alec can feel it against his chest when Magnus smiles, can hear it in the easy rumble of his voice as he speaks.

“It’s definitely not a deal breaker, Alexander. In fact, your direct perspective is one of my favorite things about you.”

“Yeah?” Alec breathes, the creeping sense of doubt slowly ebbing away.

“Yeah,” Magnus echoes, “it is. I always know what you’re feeling, no guessing involved—because you trust me enough to tell me outright. That’s not a common trait, darling. And I love your sister, you know that. Isabelle is a dear friend of mine. I’m sure her intentions were nothing but pure. However, in this instance…she might’ve been a little off-base.”

“Mm,” Alec agrees, yawning as his eyes slip closed. Surely Magnus won’t mind if he rests for a minute, right? Just a minute, and then they can keep talking…

“Goodnight, Alexander. Sweet dreams.”

Alec feels the words more than he hears them, a soft, gentle rumble that washes over him in waves. He pouts, eyes still closed, ready to tell Magnus he’s not falling asleep on him, thank you very much, but he can’t seem to bring the words from his brain to his mouth, so he gives in, sinking into the warmth of Magnus against his side instead. He’ll tell him later, if he remembers.

He falls asleep quickly after that, any thoughts of stress or archery or Lightwood family legacies long gone.

//

| M.B |

Although Magnus has fallen asleep with Alec Lightwood once before, he’s never been the first one to wake. No, that was always Alec. Magnus just assumed his boyfriend is one of those terrifying ‘morning people’ he hears about in movies and on TV; programmed to wake up at 6 AM Monday through Sunday with a smile and a plan for the day.

On the evening of Alec’s surprise visit it’s Magnus who drags himself from sleep first, rubbing his eyes groggily as he blinks in the dim glow of the evening sunset. There’s a persistent buzzing coming from Magnus’s bed. Magnus sits up to investigate with an unhappy pout on his face.

He locates it after a few seconds of searching—Alec’s phone screen is flashing, half buried under a pillow right next to Magnus’s head. He silences the alarm as quickly as possible, blinking away the last traces of sleep from his eyes. Alec, oblivious to the noise, sleeps on without a care in the world. Magnus hates to wake him when he looked so exhausted less than three hours ago…

6:45 pm. If Alec isn’t home by 7:30, Maryse and Robert will start asking questions, questions he and Alec still don’t have a good answer for. He sighs, guilt churning heavily in his stomach as he attempts to extract himself fully from Alec’s vine-like grip.

Magnus fails miserably. Alec whines and hauls Magnus in closer, tossing a leg over both of Magnus’s as he snuggles closer in his sleep.

Magnus curses under his breath at the traitorous butterflies dancing flurries in his ribcage.

Magnus is going to die. His heart is going to stop, right here in this bed, and Alexander’s adorable little snores are going to be the last thing he hears.

Honestly, it wouldn’t be a bad way to go. As it stands, though, Alec is going to be seriously late.

“Alexander,” Magnus coos, reaching out to stroke Alec’s cheek. “Alexander, darling, rise and shine.”

Alec’s eyes open, blown hazel meeting warm brown. He’s beautiful in the dusk of the evening, eyelashes casting inky shadows on his cheeks as he blinks away the last traces of their nap.

Magnus beams at him, enchanted by the way Alec’s lips turn up at the corner; by the way he’s looking at Magnus like this is all some hazy dream. He’s caught off guard by the sharp pang of longing that comes with it, though, so Magnus leans in for a kiss—because he can now, because that’s something he and Alec do.

But whatever that sense of urgency is, Alec must be feeling it too, because he kisses back like he’ll come undone if he doesn’t, like he’s drowning and Magnus is the only one who can pull him ashore. Eventually, Alec withdraws, pressing their foreheads together as he catches his breath in quick little gasps.

“I don’t want to leave,” he says, voice low and husky and heartbreakingly honest in a way that has Magnus falling to pieces right there in his arms.

“I don’t want you to leave either, Alexander,” Magnus admits, voice barely a whisper. “If I could keep you here forever, I would in a heartbeat.” Then, because the look on Alec’s face has tears burning in the back of his eyes, he forces a smile, leaning in to peck Alec’s nose. “But Maryse would call the police on me in a millisecond—and as ostentatious as I’m known to be, darling, even I couldn’t pull off a prison jumpsuit.”

Alec finally cracks a smile at that. Magnus’s smile shifts into something more genuine in response. He sits back up, legs swinging over the edge of the bed.

“Well,” Alec says, “at least you wouldn’t have to worry about the project for Mrs. Penhallow’s class. You know, the one we were supposed to be working on this afternoon? We need to get started on that. February will be here before we know it, and we still don’t have an outline or preliminary findings to present. She’s strict about due dates, Magnus. Jace had her last year.”

“And we will,” Magnus reassures, reaching out to smooth down an errant strand of hair by Alec’s forehead. “Don’t let the stress get to you, alright? We’ll take care of the project, and we’ll ace it. In fact, what are you doing on Thursday? No archery that day, if I recall correctly, and Student Council meetings don’t start until 5. We could get together—in the library this time, so we’re not…tempted by more interesting pursuits.”

Alec’s answering grin is accompanied by a flush of heat in his cheeks, the tips of his ears turning bright pink.

“Yeah, that sounds good.” He looks at the clock, smile giving way to a wistful frown. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

“Alright,” Magnus replies, crossing the room in three easy strides. “Hey, Alexander?”

“Yes?”

Magnus smirks, lashes fluttering as he leans against Alec’s chest. His lips graze Alec’s cheekbone in a gentle kiss before he pulls back, hand sliding down Alec’s arm and stopping at his elbow.

“Text me when you get home, alright? Let me know you made it back safely.”

“I—yes,” Alec says, nearly falling back against the doorframe. “I’ll do that. I’ll—I’ll text you later, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Magnus nods. “Talk to you then.”

 //

Alec places fourth in All States the next weekend. It’s not the score he was aiming for, but it’s good enough to send him to Nationals. He decides to cut himself some slack for once and let himself enjoy the success for what it is.

Finding out Magnus snuck in to watch his meet only serves to better Alec’s mood.

“Holy shit,” Alec says, all his eloquence leaving him the second he spots the broad line of Magnus’s shoulders next to Jace’s messy blond hair.

Magnus turns, beaming at Alec—and god, Alec’s seriously going to collapse—Magnus has an actual bouquet of flowers in his left hand. “Alexander! Jace, turn around, there he is. I was starting to think you’d gotten kidnapped by the competition and held for ransom. For the record, I’d pay your way out any day.”

Alec giggles and takes Magnus’s proffered flowers, cheeks burning at the overly sweet gesture. “That’s ridiculous, Magnus. Why on earth would anyone want to kidnap me?”

Magnus’s sigh is long and put-on. “Because you’re hot and insanely talented. And that’s just the beginning of it. Want me to elaborate?”

Jace makes a bunch of kissy noses. Alec rolls his eyes and reaches out to punch him. “Jace, where is Dad? Did he leave already?”

“Nah. He’s out in the stands with Iz, talking to Coach Garroway. I heard them talking about adding Thursdays into your training regime.”

Magnus and Alec groan simultaneously. Thursdays are Alec’s only day off.

“Is it because I placed fourth?  

Jace shakes his head. “It’s because of Verlac, I bet.”

Alec sighs, adding that to the list of things he dislikes about his main competitor. “Naturally.”

“Who is that?” Magnus asks, turning to face Jace. “Was he the blond with the bad haircut?”

“The one and only. I hear his parents force him to train four hours every day. Doesn’t leave much time for proper hair care, Magnus.”

“That’s no excuse,” Magnus says, fingers grazing the edge of Alec’s bracer. “Your brother trains hard too, and look how amazing his hair is.”

Alec blushes, pulling his arm behind his back as the tips of his ears burn.

“Yeah, well,” he adds mournfully. “If you like it that much, take a picture. That might be all you have to remember me by if my father gets his way.”

Magnus shushes him with a finger pressed to Alec’s lips, cool metal pressed against overheated skin. A far more delirious part of Alec’s mind wants to reach out and drag his tongue across Magnus’s ring; trace the curve of it where it sits against his finger and see if it’s different than the taste of his skin.

Jace is here, though, so there’s no way in hell Alec is doing any of that.

“That,” Magnus says, “is far too ominous to think about. The picture, though, is much more pleasant. Was that a serious offer?”

“You want to take a picture of me?” Magnus nods, hand grazing Alec’s cheek as it drifts back to Magnus’s side. “Why?”

“Because you’re gorgeous,” Magnus says. “And no matter how often we’re together, I’ll always miss you the second we say goodbye. Having a picture isn’t the same as having you with me, but it’s better than not seeing that beautiful face of yours at all.”

The swell of fondness in Alec’s chest is threatening to rob him of his balance. He rakes a hand through his hair in the hopes of making it less chaotic. “I—okay, yeah, that makes sense. Me too, by the way. The goodbye thing? That’s how I feel too.”

Magnus beams, phone in hand. “Does that mean I can take a picture of you, Alexander? For science, of course. And for my lock screen.”

Alec blushes. “Only if I can take one of you. I can’t make it my lock screen, but…I’ll keep it in my camera roll. When I miss you, it’ll be nice to have something to look at.”

“Deal. I want another picture of us together, too. Let’s take that one first.” Alec is about to ask about the word ‘another’ when Magnus snaps his fingers and spins away from him. “Jace! Will you do us the honor? When Alexander is winning gold medals at the Olympics in ten years, I want to look back at this moment and remember how proud I was to watch him place today.”

“I will if you’ll take one of Alec and I afterwards. My reason isn’t as sappy as yours, though. I want the right to say I told you so.”

Alec groans, ignoring the rush of heat burning its way down his neck. “When did this become a photoshoot?”

“When you woke up looking like that,” Magnus says, pulling Alec in by the arm and arranging their limbs into some sort of pose. “Alright, darling. Ready? On the count of three, smile.”

Alec takes a deep breath and settles into the warm line of Magnus by his side, breathing in deeply. Most days, the depth of Alec’s feelings for Magnus tends to overwhelm him.

Right now, though, if only for a moment; a snapshot of a second stolen between one blink and the next…this is theirs, and now it’s a memory that Alec can keep. A photo of the two of them. Proof that they exist. Alec isn’t overwhelmed, or lost, or frightened.

No, Alec is in love.

One, two, three. Jace takes the picture.

And Alec smiles.

Chapter Text

For the past three years, Magnus Bane’s date for Valentine’s Day has been the same: a bottle of red wine—no glass, a box of full-price chocolates, and a cellphone facedown and turned off so he’s not tempted to peek at Facebook.

But this year is going to be different. This year, Magnus thinks, he has Alexander to think of.

Magnus’s smile is massive as the Greyhound website loads. After confirming with Alec that they’d be able to spend the evening together, Magnus had started to plan. The process of planning this date has had a number of hiccups but Magnus is thrilled at what he came up with.  

After all, it’s Alec’s first Valentine’s Day with a boyfriend. Magnus would never settle for giving him less than an Oscar-worthy evening.

He buys their tickets to Jersey City with the money he made from selling one of his unworn Armani belts. Next, Magnus makes reservations at one of Catarina’s favorite restaurants. He closes his eyes, sighing happily at the thought of taking Alec there.

Five blissful hours of uninterrupted time in a city where no one knows them. Holding Alec’s hand over the table, laughing at his jokes; falling into his arms and kissing him in the parking lot until they’re both too dizzy to make it back to Port Authority…

Maybe, just maybe, if things go the way he wants them to, Magnus will tell Alec he loves him. Is in love with him—truly, madly, deeply. It’s all he can think about every time they’re together. Telling Alec…yeah. If Magnus doesn’t do it soon, the words are going to slip out without him meaning for them to.

Magnus loves Alec, more than he’s ever loved anyone. He wants to give him the most romantic evening he’s ever had—and this plan is as romantic as it gets. It might be a bit dramatic, but hey, Magnus has been called worse.

It’s going to be an incredible night…and it’s only a week away.

Magnus closes his laptop and breathes through the buzz of happy static in his ribcage. When he falls asleep that night, it’s to the sound of Alec’s smooth voice on the other end of the phone and the thought of his plan on his mind.

//

On the morning of Valentine’s Day, Magnus wakes up to find the city blanketed in a wet layer of snow. He snatches the phone off the nightstand, not caring when the charger rips out of the bottom—and breathes a sigh of relief.

Only an inch and a half, with no more inclement weather expected. Not enough to ruin their plans this evening.

Magnus smiles to himself at the thought of spending tonight with Alec, falling against the pillows piled high in his bed. He’ll be meeting Alec at the station in less than four hours. Right. Time to get ready, then.

| A.L |

“Going somewhere, Alec?”

Alec startles at the bottom of the stairs, hand curling tightly around the bannister to keep himself from falling. Crap. “Hey, Dad. You scared me.” Robert’s smile is apologetic—there’s a steaming mug of tea in his hands. “I am, actually. Out with friends. Didn’t Mom tell you?”

“She didn’t,” Robert says, eyeing Alec’s neatly pressed suit with thinly-veiled curiosity. “She’s okay with your plans, then?”

It hadn’t been easy for Alec to convince his mother that going out on a school night was a good idea, but he’d done it. “Yeah. It’s nothing serious, Dad. Just a little dinner to celebrate Singles Awareness Day.”

“Singles Awareness Day—I like that. Alright. If your mother is okay with it, I won’t stand in your way.” Robert peeks out of a front-facing window, nose wrinkling at the sight. “Be careful out there, Alec. Call me if you need help getting home in this mess, okay?”

“Yeah,” Alec says, leaning into the one-armed hug his father offers. “I will, Dad. Thanks.”

//

| M.B |

It doesn’t take long for Magnus to find Alec at Port Authority, even though they’re surrounded by people. He’s standing by an escalator with his back turned to Magnus—Magnus recognizes the sweet curl of Alec’s hair against the back of his neck, longer now than Magnus has ever seen it—in mere seconds.

He thinks he could find Alec anywhere. At the very least, Magnus knows he’d try.

“Alexander!” It’s loud, exuberant. Maybe a bit too affectionate, given that they haven’t left Manhattan yet. Still, Magnus can’t help himself.

Alec perks up at the sound of his name, eyes landing on Magnus’s immediately. Magnus grins and waves, well on his way over to Alec.

And then he sees the flowers tucked in Alec’s arms, breath leaving him in a steady whoosh. Red roses, wrapped up in paper…there are more blooms than Magnus can count. His mouth drops open, floor quaking as he takes in the sight of Alec walking the final few steps needed to bring them together.

“Hey, you.” Alec’s smile is huge. He follows Magnus’s line of sight down, eyes glinting as he gages Magnus’s stunned silence. “Oh! Right! Here, these are for you.”

Magnus is proud when he’s able to speak. “They’re beautiful,” he says, choking on the knot of tears in his throat. “And plentiful. Spectacular. I don’t—I’m really at a loss for words, here.”

Alec shrugs and looks down at the flowers like it’s no big deal; like the gesture isn’t going ruin romantic movies for Magnus for the rest of his life.

“Yeah, well, I’m new to this. I asked the florist how many I should get. At first he told me people usually buy a dozen.”

Magnus’s answering laugh is watery. “Advice you clearly ignored.”

“You’re not just anybody, Magnus,” Alec says, voice serious.

“I—oh.” If breathing was difficult for Magnus before, it’s downright impossible now.

“So I bought three dozen. Plus one.”

“T-that’s…”

“Too much? No, it isn’t.” Alec shakes his head, transferring the paper-wrapped bouquet to Magnus with steady hands. “Did you know each type of flower means something different? The florist was telling me it’s almost like a secret language…I had no idea. Red roses mean—well, I guess that’s kind of obvious. But there’s this whole science to it, Magnus. Down to the number of flowers in the bouquet.”

“And the plus one?” Alec blinks, confused. “Three dozen plus one—that makes 37. That is…a very specific number.”

The tint in Alec’s cheeks deepens to match the rose petals. His confidence melts away. “I—ah. That. We should, um. Our bus. I still don’t know where we’re going, or when it leaves, but—”

Magnus looks down at the watch on his wrist, smiling at the roses obscuring most of his view. He makes a mental note to look up flower meanings on Google later.

“Of course, darling. We should get going. Gate 322 is the one we’re leaving from.”

Alec nods, turning to scan the departure board with no shortage of curiosity.

“Alec, wait.”

Magnus grabs his arm, gently tugging until Alec turns to face him—and then he leans forward, pressing the gentlest kiss to Alec’s lips. It’s impossible not to linger; to lean into Alec’s touch just a little more, especially as Alec recovers and starts to reciprocate, mouth moving against Magnus’s in a gentle push-and-pull that robs him of his senses.

It’s not overly physical, and Magnus doesn’t want it to be. No, this is meant to be something more.

I love you, I love you, I love you. If it’s too soon to put it in words, then Magnus will tell Alec in every other language he knows.

“Thank you,” Magnus whispers, forehead pressed tight against Alec’s as they lean out of the kiss. “Thank you, Alexander. I cannot tell you how much gestures like this mean to me. No one has ever—I’ve been in relationships before, plenty of them. None of them have come close to caring for me the way you do.”

“I’ll buy you flowers every day if it makes you that happy.”

Magnus giggles, shaking his head and taking a slight step back. “It’s not just about the flowers. Don’t you see? It’s you, Alexander. It’s in the way you look at me. No one knows me like you do. In the past, no one has wanted to take the time.” Magnus’s teeth sink into his lip as he considers. “Mm, or maybe they did—but they didn’t like what they found. I know that’s true for Imasu, at least.”

“Then they’re stupid,” Alec says, hand coming to rest on Magnus’s bicep. “They missed out. You’re amazing. How can anyone not want to know you?”

Alec’s eyes are wide and vulnerable, one hand coming up to cup Magnus’s cheek. The familiar burn of tears has Magnus’s own eyes closing. “You don’t—no matter what people have said in the past…you deserve all of this, Magnus. If I could go back in time and tell you myself, I would. But I can’t. So what I’ll do instead is focus on what we have now; on making every day feel as good as this one. Okay?”

“I—okay. Yes. God, Alexander.” Magnus sniffles. “I know you’re new to relationships, but let me tell you…you’re marvelous at them, darling. It’s incredible. Your heart is incredible. I feel so lucky to be the one you share it with.”

The way Alec’s face lights up has Magnus torn between kissing him senseless and dropping to his knees in utter worship. “Really? You think so?”

“I know so.” Another look at his watch—4:15PM—tells Magnus they ought to get going. “Now, darling, it’s best if we get going. You and I have a bus to catch and we’re already…oh, twenty minutes late.”

Alec’s expression shifts seamlessly from joy to sheer panic. “What? Are you serious?”

“Run!” Magnus yells, unable to hold back a delighted yelp at the rush of adrenaline it brings. “Come on, Alexander. No time to waste!”

//

They make their bus to Jersey City with three minutes to spare.

By the time they climb onboard the bus, all the seats together are taken. Magnus isn’t bothered. Their trip to Jersey should take no more than thirty minutes. Alec, however, seems much more affected, pouting adorably as he scans the sea of tired faces before him for a vacant seat.

Someone pokes Magnus’s arms. He turns, coming face-to-face with a woman no younger than ninety.

“Hello, honey. Those flowers are beautiful. Are you boys going on a date tonight?”

A quick look at Alec—he’s blushing, but otherwise relaxed—has a smile stretching onto Magnus’s cheeks.

“Yes ma’am,” he says, looking at Alec with all the love he can muster. “Our first Valentine’s Day together.”

“Ah,” she says, sighing wistfully as she stands. “I remember those days well. To be young and in love…what a gift it is. Why don’t you two sit together?”

Alec’s eyes widen as the woman gathers her purse. “Ma’am, oh—you really don’t have to—”

“But I want to.” She reaches out, pinching Alec’s cheek before turning back to Magnus. “Cute and polite. Looks like you found a winner. Don’t let him go, okay?”

Magnus plucks a single rose from his bouquet, checking it quickly for thorns before offering it to the woman.

“I won’t, ma’am,” Magnus promises, not missing the shocked gasp Alec gives as she nudges him into the now-vacant seat. “Believe me, that’s the last thing I’ll ever want to do.”

//

Magnus is so wrapped up in the sweet rush of Alexander that he doesn’t notice it at first. It takes the unhappy rumble of the man sitting to Magnus’s left to alert him to the problem at hand. Alec must sense the change in Magnus’s demeanor—he stops talking abruptly, smile starting to give.

“Wait, are we stopping?” Alec sniffs at the air, nose wrinkling adorably. “Magnus, do you smell that?”

“Burning rubber,” Magnus says, craning his neck for a better view of the driver. “It’s probably nothing. Just a flat.”

The bus pulls over to the side of the road. A few people groan in anticipation. Magnus watches the driver leave, hears the click of the hood as it pops; a thick curl of smoke wafts up past the windshield.

Magnus can’t hold back a worried groan. Alec’s fingers twine through his in the space between their thighs.

“That doesn’t look like a flat,” Alec mutters, eyes closing as his head bows. “Give me a minute. I want to—”

Magnus recognizes the movement of Alec’s lips as they curl around the words of his prayer. Without conscious thought, Magnus bows his own head, his eyes closing to the rest of the world.

He tries to grasp for that open-door feeling Alec described before when Magnus asked about prayer but all Magnus comes across is silence. A closed door. Triple-locked with no answer.

So Magnus sits in silence instead, hoping God will interpret his squeezing of Alec’s hand as a solid ‘me too.’

//

It ends up being an issue with one of the fan belts. Magnus doesn’t know much about cars, and neither does Alec—but whatever it means, their bus isn’t moving anytime soon from its’ spot on the side of the highway. The driver calls for a replacement, and announces it’ll be there in approximately three hours.

The din of general passenger discontent soars into absolute chaos. People start to yell, advancing on the bus driver with malice in their eyes.

A baby starts to wail from the back of the bus. Magnus is tempted to join in. If only that were appropriate. He buries his face in Alec’s shoulder instead, mourning the loss of the night he had planned. Magnus is starting to think this night cannot get any worse.

And then the realization strikes Magnus with all the gentleness of a speeding train, tearing a wounded sound from his chest.

“Hey,” Alec whispers, face pressed in Magnus’s hair. “What’s wrong? Are you upset about the bus thing?”

“Of course I am. Should’ve taken the PATH,” Magnus mutters to himself, “Fuck, I knew it. Or the Ferry. These goddamned buses never work the way they should.”

“Language, Magnus.” There’s no heat in it, only worry. “Isn’t it always you who tells me not to be so hard on myself? Pot, meet kettle. You had no way of knowing this would happen.”

“I know, Alexander, but this is serious!”

Alec frowns, leaning back in his seat. “I know. Or, well, I suppose I don’t, because it was supposed to be a surprise.” He hesitates, just a fraction. “Are we…is there something you’re not telling me? I thought we were going to dinner.”

“We were,” Magnus says, head shaking. “That’s not it.”

“Then what is it, Magnus?”

Magnus looks up, meeting Alec dead in the eye. “Your curfew, Alexander.” The wretched feeling in his ribcage explodes at the slowly dawning horror on Alec’s face. “Even if that replacement bus takes us straight back to Manhattan—which it won’t, by the way—we’re not going to make your fucking curfew.”

“Oh,” Alec says, barely audible. “Oh shit.”

Oh shit indeed, Magnus thinks. He closes his eyes and prays—Magnus might not feel it the same way Alec does, but like hell if that’s going to stop him from trying.

//

Apparently, Magnus was wrong about the bus. It does end up taking them back to Port Authority. Unfortunately, the bus driver was also wrong. Three hours on the side of the highway turned into five. It’s nearing 11PM by the time they make it back.

Alec’s curfew was an hour ago. His phone has been ringing non-stop since then. Watching Alec’s face turn a sick shade of green after ignoring the fifth and sixth call makes Magnus reach over and snatch the device from his hand, stabbing at the home button violently to turn the damned thing off.

The space between them has been eerily quiet ever since. Magnus doesn’t know what to say to ease the fear from the lines of Alec’s face; is scared to open his mouth, lest he unravel the endless spool of apologies and I love yous trapped in the space between bone and muscle.

Magnus knows the words won’t change a damned thing, as desperate as he is to fucking do something—anything, Magnus. God, he hates feeling helpless. Especially when it’s his fault they’re in trouble like this in the first place.

So he does the only thing he can—squeezes Alec’s hand for the duration of the ride, kisses him fiercely at Port Authority with whispered promises Magnus isn’t sure he can keep, and watches Alec take off at a dead-run in the direction of his house.

It takes him a good five minutes of staring at the space Alec occupied before Magnus manages to trudge down the stairs in search of a train to Brooklyn.

//

Ragnor whistles loudly at the roses tucked safely in Magnus’s arms the second the door closes behind him.

“Well,” Ragnor says, smile huge, “I can see your night went quite well.”

“It didn’t, actually.” Magnus says, hating the bitterness in his tone. Ragnor’s smile drops instantly. “Greyhound can kiss my ass. Alec is probably getting screamed at—it’ll be a miracle if Maryse lets him go to class at this rate. I don’t really want to talk about it. Goodnight, Ragnor.”

Ragnor calls for him, something unintelligible about a vase for the flowers, but Magnus doesn’t have time to listen—the nausea rolling hot and heady in his stomach is seconds away from its manifestation, and Magnus would strongly prefer to be in his bathroom when that happens. He makes sure to leave the roses at the base of the stairs, though. Magnus doesn’t want them to die prematurely.

Later that night he tries to call Alec. The phone rings a few times before going to voicemail. Maybe the cameras are on? Yeah, that has to be it. The cameras are on, Alec is under lock and key—it makes sense that he’d be unable to speak freely.

But maybe he’ll be able to respond to a test. If he still has his phone. Magnus presses send and waits, eyes not leaving the screen of his phone.

His heart seizes in his throat as the message switches to ‘Read’ and nothing happens. No reply. Ten minutes go by—Magnus’s messages become less ‘composed worry’ and more frantic gibberish—still nothing.

The clatter of his phone as it hits the opposite wall is sickly satisfying, if only for a second. Then the dread sinks back in.

Magnus can’t shake the feeling that something is horribly wrong. He’s thankful tomorrow is Monday. At the very least, he’ll see Alec in Chemistry.

All Magnus needs to do is wait until then.

//

| M.L |

Maryse Lightwood is no stranger to deceit.

It’s in the eyes of her husband as he kisses her cheek and closes the front door behind him, reeking of perfume and cigarette smoke.

It’s the bounce in Jace’s step as he comes back late from “Book Club” with the reassurance that the discussion was simply too enthralling to pull away from.

It’s Isabelle, promising not to fail another Physics test; Max, smile sweet and innocent as she questions him via Skype about an incriminating email from his Housemother at boarding school.

Most disturbingly of all…Maryse sees it in the way Alec smiles, telling her there’s nothing wrong; that he’s truly and honestly happy. Feels it when those smiles fail to reach his eyes. It’s something Maryse first noticed when Alec turned thirteen and it’s been getting worse ever since. She’s starting to think there’s no way she’ll ever reach him, no matter how often she begs God to show her the way.

Too much structure, and Alec will crumple. Too little pressure and he’ll think she doesn’t care.

The line between is a knife-thin edge—Maryse has been dancing on it for so long, she’s scared to look down at her feet—but she’ll stop at nothing to make Alec happy. Her first-born, her baby boy. Her giggling, hazel-eyed dreamer.

Isabelle and Max cried often as babies. Maryse would rock them; soothe them, press kisses against their tiny foreheads and spend hours whispering sweet nothings into their ears. At times, it seemed like their cries would never stop.

But Alec was different. Even in the earliest stages of infancy…Alec barely cried. It worried Maryse senseless at first, as things tend to do with all first-time mothers. Was there something wrong? If there was, would Alec be able to tell her? What if she never knew at all and couldn’t do anything to help him?

The doctors reassured her that everything was fine. Alec was a perfectly healthy, happy baby boy. They ended up being right, of course: as long as Maryse was within his sight, nothing could sour Alec’s sweet smile. But Maryse worried nonetheless. Because Alec was different. Is different, in ways she fears she isn’t capable of understanding.

He’s more sensitive; more reflective. Loves harder, gives himself more fully to the things he pursues. And then there’s his relationship with God. Alec has more faith than even Maryse herself. It simultaneously touches her and shatters her heart.

The world they live in isn’t built for people like her son. It’s a ruthless, nasty, hate-filled place: a world in which an evil man can beat his biological son bloody and end up with a two-year sentence, despite Maryse’s tears on the witness stand as she listed off the various cuts and bruises on Jace’s tiny body.

A world in which she has to cradle a seven-year-old like an infant in order to get him to stop screaming, horribly shaken by a nightmare he can no longer distinguish from reality. 

A world in which people like Alec have to hide away the best parts of themselves in order to survive.

Yes, Maryse thinks bitterly, she’s familiar with deceit. What she’s not sure of is when Alec stopped hiding things from the world, and started hiding them from her instead.

She knows she’s been strict on Alec as of late, but Maryse can’t think of another way to keep him afloat; not unless she figures out what he’s hiding from her. Her mind’s eye paints Alec’s demons with a thousand snarling faces: drugs, alcohol, late-stage rebellion…

Where have you gone, my sweet boy? Father, please, I’m begging you…let me help my baby. Let me help my son. Allow me to understand him, Father, and I will stop at nothing to be the best mother I can be. All I need is your guidance, Lord. Please, please. Help him find happiness again.

//

On the night of Valentine’s Day, Alec comes home over an hour after curfew. No phone call, no messages. Maryse’s heart pounds furiously in her chest as she paces by the front door.

Is this the night she’ll be meeting Alec’s demons face-to-face? Who will show up at her door? The police? Will the hospital call her?

The door creaks loudly as it opens, gun-shot loud in the dead quiet of their foyer. Alec is on the other side of it, looking no worse for wear save for the weary drag of his footsteps.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you, thank you.

“Alexander,” Maryse says, just as Alec attempts to slink up the staircase unseen, “don’t you dare.” Alec freezes, every bit a deer in the headlights. “Come here. Right this second.”

Alec does, his head hung low. “I’m sorry, Mother. I know it’s late—”

Late?” Alec winces—Maryse makes a conscious effort to lower her voice. “I have been calling you for hours, Alexander. Your curfew was over an hour ago.”

“I know, Mama. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to miss curfew.”

Mama. Maryse can’t remember the last time Alec called her that. Warning bells blare loudly in her mind.

“Why didn’t you call back? Don’t tell me your phone was dead, because I know that’s a lie, Alexander. It would’ve gone straight to voicemail.” What are you hiding from me? “I want you to tell me the truth about where you were tonight. Spare me that ridiculous story you came up with earlier.”

Alec sighs and mumbles something, shoulders slouching as he curls an arm around his middle. Maryse has to lean in to hear him.

“Can you repeat that?”

“I had a date tonight, okay?” Alec’s face is haunted, eyes wide and suspiciously wet. “I didn’t want to tell you because—because—”

“Because what, Alexander?”

“Because you wouldn’t approve,” Alec whispers. “Don’t worry, though. It didn’t go well.”

Maryse’s world tilts sharply on its axis, her curiosity firmly peaked. A date? This is the first time she’s heard Alec express romantic interest in anyone. “What happened?”

“It just—I messed it all up. It’s over. I’m sorry I was late. I’m sorry I lied to you. I’ll go to Father Starkweather first thing in the morning to seek penance.” A beat, and then, “May I please be excused? I’m very tired and I have school tomorrow.”

“Alexander,” Maryse says, heart stuttering in her chest at the defeated dip of her son’s frown. One look at Alec, completely shut down in front of her and he’s lost to Maryse again, at least in the space of this conversation. “Alright. But before you go, I’ll need your cellphone. You’re grounded for the next two weeks, because you broke curfew. No phone, no TV, no going out with friends.” Maryse chooses to omit the ‘for lying’ from Alec’s list of wrongs, his shocking confession still ringing in her ears. “Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Mother,” Alec says, handing her the phone. “Is there anything else?”

“Please don’t forget to visit Father Starkweather first thing tomorrow morning.”

Alec nods and disappears up the steps.

Maryse’s heart throbs once more in her chest before she’s off in search of her own room, crawling into an empty bed with Alec’s phone face down on her nightstand.

//

She’s almost asleep when the sound of something buzzing echoes through the otherwise quiet of Maryse’s bedroom.

Maryse opens her eyes. The noise stops—she settles down into her pillow, thinking she imagined it all—and starts again. It takes her sleep-deprived brain a few seconds to realize it’s coming from Alec’s cellphone, on the nightstand where she left it.

She picks it up without thinking, the glowing red numbers of her alarm clock pulling a frown to Maryse’s lips. 12:23 AM.  Who in their right mind is attempting to contact Alec at this hour?

The phone buzzes again while it’s in her hand. Maryse doesn’t mean to look when the screen comes to life in her hand. Her eyes apparently have another agenda.

 3 missed calls – Magnus Bane, 11:19 PM]

[Magnus Bane, 11:21 PM]: Alexander, I’m worried. If you can, let me know you’re safe.

[Magnus Bane, 11:45 PM]: You made it home by now, yeah?

[Magnus Bane, 12:13 AM]: Did Maryse take your phone away?

[Magnus Bane, 12:22 AM]: Goodnight, darling. I’m sorry this night wasn’t everything you dreamt it would be, and for my role in that. I’ll make it up to you somehow…I promise.

[Magnus Bane, 12:23 AM]: Sweet dreams <3

Maryse sits up in bed like she’s been shot, eyes widening as she grips the phone tightly in her hand. She blinks—once, twice—and reads the screen of Alec’s phone again, because surely she’s seeing things. The letters haven’t magically rearranged themselves. The name ‘Magnus Bane’ is still there on Alec’s lockscreen, glaring at her as she struggles to free her legs from the tangle of sheets around her.

Magnus Bane. Maryse knows of him; knows he was with Morgenstern just before the incident with Jace was brought to light. Maryse also knows that Magnus hadn’t been battered like the other children in his care. Her lawyer advised her not to question it. Maryse didn’t need to.

It wasn’t difficult to figure out that Morgenstern had a business relationship with Magnus’s late biological father. What proved to be trickier was substantiating a claim like that. Had she been successful, Maryse is certain she could’ve gotten a much longer sentence for Morgenstern than the measly two years he’d been given.

She hadn’t been. The evidence she managed to scrounge up wasn’t enough.

Of course, Maryse also knows the Magnus Bane of today. She recognized his name the second that admissions file landed on her desk, textbook-thick and flagged for additional review. One peek inside that folder was enough to tell her why. Magnus Bane had a disciplinary record that stretched from here to Yonkers and back. Possession of marijuana, fighting, underage drinking, public intoxication…it took her two days to read his file in its entirety.

She’d granted him admission anyway; even gave him a scholarship. She had convinced herself it was a sign from God. Maybe this is a chance for him to start over. Escape the trappings of the life set up by his father. It’s a path he’d already started to go down, if his file is anything to go by. Maryse prayed, long and hard, and eventually, she decided to take a leap of faith.

And then Magnus took an interest in her oldest son. The pieces come together in Maryse’s mind.

The dip in Alec’s English grade, early October. Click. Alec sneaking out of the house at 2 AM and coming back just before sunrise less than two weeks later. Click. His refusal to entertain Lydia Branwell, even when Maryse had practically begged. Click. The letter from UCLA, Alec’s disinterest in archery, Luke’s report that Alec has seemed distracted at practice lately. Click, click, click.

The date he confessed to tonight; the one that hadn’t ‘ended well.’ The way Magnus referred to him as ‘Alexander’ and ‘darling’. Click.

Maryse drops Alec’s phone. It hits the carpet of her bedroom with a dull-sounding thud.

So this is what Alexander has been hiding from her. Maryse’s stomach rolls. Earlier, Alec told her he lied because he knew she wouldn’t approve.

Oh, how right he was. This…is a lot to wrap her mind around. Maryse attempts to process in stages, unable to breathe against the wrap of white-hot fury curling around her windpipe

Alec is…what, gay? Fine. Not ideal, but fine. Maryse thinks she can handle the thought of that, in time. What she cannot accept, however, is Magnus Bane. Not when every instinct Maryse has is screaming at her to listen.

Magnus has a criminal history. He’s violent. A bad influence. Exactly what Maryse wanted to protect Alec from all those years ago. Admitting him to the Institute was one thing but there is absolutely no way in hell Maryse Lightwood is letting Asmodeus’s son anywhere near Alexander.

She takes a deep breath, picks up Alec’s phone, and powers it down to stop the incessant buzzing. After that’s done, she drops it in the drawer of her nightstand.

Maryse falls to her knees on the carpet, head bowing automatically as her rose-painted nails wrap around the golden cross pendant she wears around her neck. It’s all she can do to keep from crying, but Maryse manages, reaching out to God with every broken piece of her heart.

For forgiveness, for understanding, for peace.

When her prayer is through, Maryse stands, feeling slightly more grounded. She knows what she has to do now.

Yes, Maryse Lightwood is no stranger to deceit. She knows its many faces better than most people.

And tomorrow morning, once she arrives to work, Maryse will borrow one of those faces for herself, if only to keep a promise she made long ago to a hazel-eyed dreamer with a permanent smile. She’s wracked with guilt at the thought, but it’s what needs to be done.

For Alexander. For her baby boy. Maryse is finally going to get his smile back, and this time? It’ll be for good.

//                                                                           

| M.B |

Magnus gets to Chemistry ten minutes early the next morning with a to-go cup of hot chocolate—whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon, Alec’s favorite. He knows better than to wait by Alec’s locker when he’s likely been grounded into the next century. Still, though, he hopes it’ll bring a smile to Alec’s face. He’d woken up extra early to ensure that Alec has time to drink it before the start of lab. The last thing he wants is to cause more trouble.

Magnus hopes Alec got more sleep than he did last night. One look at the circles under his eyes as he slinks to his seat with less than two minutes to spare tells Magnus he didn’t.

“Alexander,” he whispers, shoving the cup under his desk. “Thank god, I was worried sick. Are you alright? What happened?”

Alec sighs, eyes closing. “It’s a long story. Yes and no. I’m probably grounded for the rest of my life but that’s nothing we didn’t expect.” He tilts his head and blinks his eyes open, frowning at the worry in Magnus’s voice. “I didn’t mean to scare you, Magnus. I had to go to confessional, that’s all.”

“Don’t worry about me,” Magnus says, shaking his head vehemently. “I’m just sorry you had to go through that, darling. Scale of one to ten, how mad was your mother?”

“Twenty.” Alec’s face pinches as he squints at the whiteboard. “Shit. Please tell me you did the homework last night?”

Magnus smiles, reaching into his bag. He pulls out the worksheet and hands it to Alec with a flourish.

“Erase my name and write your own.” Alec’s eyes widen dramatically—Magnus holds up a finger to quiet him. “No, listen. You don’t have time to copy it and it’s worth ten points. My grade in Chem is higher than yours, Alec. I can take the hit.”

 “Magnus, no—

The last thing Magnus wants to do is force Alec into anything he’s not comfortable with, but one look at the clock—less than a minute until the start of class—has him willing to play dirty.

“This could drop your grade from an A to a B, darling. That’s the last thing you need right now. Please? For me?”

“Fine,” Alec says, eraser scrubbing across the page. “Okay, Magnus. I’ll do it. Happy?”

“Yes,” Magnus says, voice bright. “Thank you, darling.”

Alec has to mumble under his breath as Mrs. Pangborn walks past their table, but Magnus hears him all the same.

“You won’t be thanking me when your grade drops, Magnus.”

//

Outside of Chemistry and English, Magnus doesn’t see Alexander at all—there’s a gap at their lunch table that even Simon’s chatter can’t seem to bridge; a void too big for anyone to fill.

There are no more afternoons with Alec in the library. The librarian hasn’t told him to ‘adjust his volume’ once this past week—Magnus still goes every single day. Why would she, if Alec isn’t there to make Magnus laugh?

At Alec’s careful urging, Magnus stopped coming to Clave meetings. He also stopped going to Wednesday morning mass. That, coupled with Alec’s lack of a cellphone, leaves them very little time for conversation.

Apparently, Maryse is taking this month’s punishment much more seriously than the last, because Magnus has barely spoken with Alec, much less seen him or spent any time with him.

And this time? It’s all Magnus’s fault. Everything, this entire mess. If Magnus hadn’t tried to drag them all the way to fucking Jersey City for a bit of anonymity, none of this would’ve happened and they’d still be having fun; dancing through Alec’s list of firsts with twin smiles and frantic heartbeats. First kiss in the rain, first slow dance, first movie, first time getting off together—

He should’ve just taken Alec to Nobu or something. Imasu was right all those months ago—Magnus really is the worst kind of stupid.

The ache starts to become unbearable around two weeks in. There’s a hole in Magnus’s heart, shaped like the curve of Alec’s smile.

Fuck, he misses his boyfriend. To hell with Maryse and her stupid ass punishment.

Magnus kicks his French textbook to the ground. It lands in a pile of fallen rose petals, dropped from the huge bouquet centered on Magnus’s desk. He lets out a wistful sigh and scrubs a hand across his eyes, images of Alec’s arms around him playing against the back of his eyelids.

He should probably be using this time to study for his upcoming French exam.

Magnus closes his eyes and dreams of Alec instead.

//

On Friday morning, Lydia Branwell slips quietly into Magnus’s Chemistry classroom. He doesn’t hear her come in, too wrapped up in the lab report he and Alec are working on to pay her any mind.

Nor does he notice the pink slip she hands to Magnus’s teacher, or the way her eyes land on Magnus apologetically as she leaves the room.

It would be hard not to notice Mrs. Pangborn addressing him directly, though.

“Mr. Bane? A word, please—bring your things with you.”

A momentary hush falls over the room as Magnus rises from his seat, shoving his textbook into his bag with more force than necessary. He’s being sent down to the office, then. Magnus hasn’t done anything recently to warrant this sort of invite, but unease stirs in his stomach all the same. The eyes of his classmates burn holes through Magnus’s back as he goes. Magnus does his best to tune out their whispering. It works for a few seconds.

“Ma’am?” he asks, head bowed. It’s rhetorical but at least it fills the silence.

Mrs. Pangborn hands him the pink hall pass without offering words in return. She does, however, cover Magnus’s hand with her own for a few seconds as he moves to take it.

If it were anyone else, the gesture would not be appreciated. But there’s no pity in Mrs. Pangborn’s expression when Magnus’s eyes meet hers. Only a deep sort of sympathy, as if she understands what he’s about to walk into. Given that Magnus himself is in the dark here, it’s highly unlikely that Mrs. Pangborn knows the nature of this meeting. Still, though. Magnus smiles in response before turning away.

With his front to them, most of Magnus’s classmates quickly avert their eyes, silence quickly giving way to the typical group work chatter.  He resists the urge to roll his own eyes. Cowards. Instead, Magnus holds his head high, a smirk on his face even as his confidence wavers with each step closer to the door.

He’s been doing so well at the Institute. What could’ve gone wrong? Mind racing, his eyes flit around the room, searching for the most minute of comforts—

Alec’s eyes meet his, honey-hazel against warm brown. He’s worried, Magnus can tell. Magnus shrugs and offers him the sweetest smile he has in the hopes of easing Alec’s discomfort.

As much as he’d like to, Magnus can’t linger to see if it works because he has a meeting to attend. In Maryse Lightwood’s office.

Magnus is struck by the thought of Brother Zachariah’s Bible Verse of the Week. It’s from the book of James, and it’s one Alec would like: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

That’s all this is, then. Magnus’s faith is being tested.

He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and grasps at his inner joy—the greens of Alec’s irises; the sound of his giggle, the scratch of his pencil against their lab report.

The tickle of his heartbeat under Magnus’s palm. Is there really a trial Magnus wouldn’t face if it meant having that?

There isn’t, and Magnus knows it. There’s a grin on Magnus’s face as he pushes open the heavy door.

Bring on the fire and brimstone, he thinks, letting the door fall closed behind him.

//

Magnus might have been prepared for a less-than-pleasant experience, but the sight of his social worker standing in Maryse’s office is decidedly more than he was anticipating.

It’s bad, then. There’s no reason Laura Scott would be here if it weren’t something serious. She’s not sitting down even though someone has clearly brought a chair from the lobby of the Main Office for her to make use of. It’s much smaller than the two armchairs in front of it, one of which is occupied by Ragnor.

Ragnor stands as Magnus enters, smile tight.

“Well,” Magnus says, laughing nervously as his eyes bounce from face to face, “If I’d known this was a party, I would’ve worn a different outfit. Don’t you hate it when we all show up wearing the same dress?”

Maryse doesn’t laugh. There’s one empty chair in the room—she gestures at it with a lazy roll of her wrist. “Have a seat, Mr. Bane. Feel free to make yourself comfortable.”

Oh. So this is going to be one of those talks. Magnus sighs and settles down on the edge of the chair, feeling foolish for expecting anything else. Maryse smiles, the leather of her chair squeaking as she leans back. If Magnus were inclined, he’s certain now would be a good time to pray.

For what he isn’t sure. Forgiveness? Mercy? It’s hard to know for certain when Magnus has no earthly idea why he’s been summoned to Headmaster Lightwood’s office.

“Magnus,” Maryse starts, hands clasped together in her lap, “I’d like to have a conversation with you. But before we begin…I have a favor to ask.”

A favor? Magnus frowns. What the hell is Maryse playing at? “Alright,” he agrees, unease radiating from every cell in his body. “What can I do for you, Headmaster Lightwood?”

“I want you to agree to be completely honest with me.”

Magnus’s previous confusion rises to an unprecedented level. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Instead of answering his question, Maryse sighs, head tilting slightly as she studies Magnus’s expression with a knowing look on her face. The gesture is all too familiar—god, Magnus is starting to feel nauseous. Something is seriously wrong here.

“You know, Mr. Bane,” Maryse says, “Academic integrity is something we take very seriously here at St. Joseph’s. In fact, it’s one of our cornerstone philosophies. Printed in every edition of the Student Handbook since August 1989. In case you’re unfamiliar, that’s when we first opened our doors: to both the Holy Spirit and our students and faculty.”

“I’m aware.” Magnus dares a glance at Ragnor, desperate for some sort of definitive answer—his hands are white-knuckled on the arms of his chair. “In the spirit of honesty, Headmaster Lightwood…I’m not sure what I’m doing here.”

For a moment, Maryse’s expression is carefully neutral. Her rose-painted lips are pressed into a thin line but that’s nothing outside of the ordinary. Magnus holds his breath and fidgets in his chair.

And then Maryse grins. That can only mean one thing—Magnus is fucked.

His stomach drops down to the glossy hardwood as she produces two scantrons from one of the drawers in her desk, laying them neatly on the table’s surface. Magnus immediately recognizes his own handwriting on the test to his left. 

“You’re here because I want an explanation for this.” Maryse’s voice is sharp enough to cut straight through to Magnus’s core. “Go ahead, all of you—have a look. Tell me if you notice anything…unusual.”

Magnus curses the shake of his hands as he picks up both scantrons, reading them quickly—the carefully written AP French IV on the test in Magnus’s right hand tells him that he’s holding two copies of his most recent French exam. Magnus took this test two days prior. He hasn’t even gotten his grade back yet—the 98% written in red pen on the corner almost brings a smile to his face.

It would have, anyway, if Maryse Lightwood wasn’t smiling at him with the confidence of someone who’s already won.

“Go on, Mr. Fell. Ms. Scott, you’re welcome to have a look as well.”

Ragnor takes the papers from Magnus’s hands without hesitation, looking them over quickly. “They’re the same,” he says, words clipped. “The exact same.”

“Correct!” Maryse reaches for the scantrons—Ragnor hands them over. “A keen observation, Mr. Fell. Two exams with identical answers, down to the incorrect ones. Numbers 27 and 63, in case you were wondering. Out of 22 students…only two answered both of those questions incorrectly. One of them was you, Magnus. Do you remember taking this exam?”

“Yes,” Magnus says, hating the tremor in his voice.

“Excellent. Did you study?”

The words stick in his throat. Magnus nods instead. It’s a lie—he hadn’t studied at all, but Magnus has a feeling the truth would only make things worse.

“Interesting,” Maryse responds. “That’s exactly what the other student said as well.” She pauses—a sick, twisted part of Magnus wants to laugh at the calculated boredom on Maryse’s face. "Can I assume we’re all capable of seeing the issue at hand?”

Realization is a swift kick to Magnus’s gut. Holy shit. Maryse is accusing him of cheating on this test.

“Perhaps not, Headmaster Lightwood.” Magnus startles at the sound of Laura’s voice. In the heat of the moment, he’d nearly forgotten his social worker was here. “Would you be able to elaborate? For the sake of transparency, of course. I’d like to make sure we’re all on the same page.”

“As Headmaster of this Institute, I don’t make a habit of jumping to conclusions, nor do I take such serious allegations lightly. Any time a student is suspected of plagiarism—” There it is, out in the open. Ragnor openly gasps. “—a thorough investigation is required. This process includes taking statements from any witnesses, speaking with the instructor, and, of course, confiscating all relevant instructional material for an in-depth analysis. You’re an educated individual, Ms. Scott.” Maryse’s hand sweeps over her desk, the white of the scantrons blinding against the rich wood. “Tell me, what conclusion would you draw if you were in my shoes?”

Magnus’s social worker takes a step forward, blood-red stiletto nails tapping against the back of Magnus’s chair. “I’m not sure,” she says, brow furrowing. “There could be a logical explanation for this.”

“Of course there is! There has to be! I didn’t cheat,” Magnus interjects, eyes wide. Plagiarism is enough to get him expelled…holy fuck, this is so bad. “Headmaster Lightwood, I’m telling you the truth. I didn’t cheat. I didn’t.”

And it is the truth. Magnus didn’t fucking cheat on his French test. He hadn’t needed to. French is Magnus’s strongest subject. Why the hell would he cheat on his test?

The click of Maryse’s tongue is nothing short of demeaning. Magnus feels about three feet tall. “Ah, Magnus. Earlier today we promised each other honesty. Perhaps you’ve forgotten that as well.”

Ragnor’s exhale is loud and sudden. Magnus can hear the irritation in his voice.

“This is ridiculous. Magnus has been fluent in French for three years now. I taught him myself. Why would he resort to cheating on his French exam if he has full command over the language?”

“An interesting question indeed, Mr. Fell. Perhaps you should ask your—” Maryse blinks, studying a folder in her lap. Magnus’s file. “—charge that question. Mr. Bane? Care to answer?”

Magnus opens his mouth, because yes, as a matter of fact, he would—only to freeze at the last second.

It’s pointless, isn’t it? No matter how hard Magnus fights this, Maryse is going to win. She’ll win because it’s a set-up. She’ll win because someone went to great lengths to make it look like Magnus cheated on his French exam. Maryse was right when she said the evidence was damning.

It is, and it’s stacked against Magnus.

Maryse is going to win this. And when she does? Magnus is going to have to face whatever consequence she deems fit.

His confusion and panic from earlier fades away, leaving him with an overwhelming feeling of numbness.

There’s no point. Magnus is going to be expelled. Ragnor is likely to lose custody as a result. No more Ragnor means no more Institute, no more Institute means no more Alec—

“Magnus?” Ragnor’s voice echoes strangely in Magnus’s ears. He sounds like he’s standing at the end of a tunnel. “Hey, crumpet. Look at me for a second?” Magnus does. The expression on Ragnor’s face—worried, pissed, a little bit doubtful—makes him want to turn right back around. “Tell me you didn’t do this, Magnus. Please. I need you to tell me the truth.”

“I didn’t,” Magnus says, robotic. His voice sounds flat, even to his own ears. “I told you that already. What, you don’t believe me?”

It doesn’t matter. Magnus chuckles to himself to soothe the momentary sting of betrayal, sliding back in his chair until his head is resting against the back. He closes his eyes, throws up his walls, and does the only thing he can think to do: Magnus accepts his fate. “Oh well. Guess I’m fucked, then.”

“Magnus!” That’s his social worker’s voice—Laura has never been a fan of Magnus’s way with words. “You’re not doing yourself any favors by acting inappropriately.”

“Well, gumdrop, telling the truth didn’t seem to do the trick either. I’m open to suggestions if you have any.”

Laura clears her throat. Magnus knows that sound. He finds a more comfortable position in his chair as he gears up for the inevitable lecture.

“Wait.” Ragnor’s voice this time. “Can I see the tests again?”

“Certainly.” Maryse answers Ragnor’s request with a rustle of papers. Magnus’s eyes are glued to the ceiling. “I assure you, Mr. Fell, it pained me to make this discovery.”

He barely manages to hold back his snort at that. Christ, Maryse is so full of shit. Ragnor hums under his breath, dragging his reading glasses up to his nose like the old man he is—

“Who was the other student?”

Magnus opens his eyes. That is a very valid question. He’s sitting up straight in his chair in a matter of seconds.

“I beg your pardon?”

Ragnor lays both scantrons out on the desk in one smooth motion. Magnus is suddenly reminded of the fact that Ragnor is an attorney—and a very skilled one at that. “Here,” he says, pointing at a box in the top left corner of one of the tests, “is Magnus’s name. It’s his exam, there’s no denying it. But this one—" his finger stabs at the same box on the other page, “—has been concealed.” He scratches at the surface of the paper with his nail. A few white flakes crumble away from the page. White-Out, Magnus thinks. “I’m interested to know what the purpose behind that was?”

Maryse sits up a bit straighter. “Student confidentiality, Mr. Fell. It’s simple. When I interviewed the other student, Magnus’s name was hidden as well.”

“And who was present for the other interview? When did it take place? Do you have a written transcript of the student’s statement?”

“Of course I do.” Magnus is watching Maryse closely. It’s the only reason he catches the way her lips turn downward. “The student’s parent was present. It took place yesterday afternoon. Mr. Fell, what is the meaning of this?”

There one second, gone the next—hope swells in Magnus’s chest anyway as he grips the leather armrests to haul himself closer to the desk.

“It’s my word against theirs? My statement against theirs? What if the other person is the one who cheated? How can you be so sure, Ma—Headmaster Lightwood?”

“I’m interested to know the answer to that as well,” Ragnor adds. “Given the nature of this investigation, and the severity of the consequences for my foster child, I’d say we’ve earned the right to know. If you’re unable to give us a name then perhaps you’ll be able to provide more demonstrative evidence of Magnus’s guilt?”

Maryse’s eyes narrow. That, more than anything else, tells Magnus this was the wrong path to take. She opens the drawer to her desk again and takes out a stack of papers, throwing them against the desk with a loud slap.

Monsieur Pontmercy’s exams consist of three parts: multiple choice, short answer, and verbal. Unlike most teachers, he encourages students to write on the test itself in order to demonstrate comprehension. Magnus always writes on his test packets. Most of the class does.

He’s staring at two packets now, both covered in handwriting. Magnus’s own writing is loopy and big, filling up every bit of blank space available to him. The other student’s is neater, more careful. Restrained.

There’s a name written on the top of the second packet.

“I’m certain, Mr. Fell, because the second student was my son,” Maryse says, words cutting Magnus straight to the quick. He folds himself over Maryse’s desk so quickly it would be comical under less grave circumstances.

Jace Lightwood. Grade 11. AP French IV, Exam 3, February 27, 2017.

Now that he has a name, Magnus is amazed he didn’t recognize the handwriting sooner. What the fuck? Magnus knows Jace, considers him a friend. And Jace? He’d never do something like this. Not to anyone, but especially not to Magnus. This whole mess is getting more and more confusing by the second.

“Your son?” Ragnor’s voice is low, incredulous. “Is that supposed to add credibility to this investigation? If anything, Headmaster Lightwood, it introduces the potential for bias. An interview and a scantron are not sufficient evidence—if all you have has been presented then I highly suggest you end this investigation immediately and eradicate any mention of it from Magnus’s record.”

Whatever Magnus is expecting Maryse to do, the laughter that erupts from her, enough to shake her shoulders, is not it.

“Mr. Fell, I raised three boys. My oldest is 17, and my youngest is 9. My duties to this Institute aside, do you honestly think for a second I’d take their words at face value? Are you seriously suggesting I failed to collect substantial evidence before making such heinous claims against the child in your care?”

Ragnor frowns, brows raising, as if to say, ‘Well, that’s what it looks like.’ Maryse pushes the packets closer to Magnus in invitation.

“If you open the packet to page five, you’ll come to the short answer portion of the exam. While it’s true that coincidences can occur when administering a multiple-choice exam, the same cannot be said for written responses.” Ragnor opens both packets to the page Maryse mentioned. Magnus’s whine is soft. Alarmed.

Their written responses are identical, down to the accents. The only difference between the two is their handwriting. Les accidents de voiture sont un problème de nos jours. Chaque jour, il y a beaucoup—

“Magnus,” Ragnor murmurs, eyes flitting back and forth between Jace’s test and his. “Magnus, this is…”

“I spoke with Magnus’s French teacher, Mr. Pontmercy. Unfortunately, he was ill on the date of the incident. Our in-house substitute, Mr. Aldertree, was responsible for administering the exams in Mr. Pontmercy’s absence. Mr. Aldertree confirmed that Magnus received two verbal warnings regarding eye contact with other students’ testing materials prior to the conclusion of the exam.”

“Bullshit,” Magnus shouts, ignoring the whispered pleas of his social worker and Ragnor. “Aldertree never said a damned thing to me during that exam and he knows it. This is a set-up. That lying piece of shit—”

“Magnus Bane.” The authoritative tone of Maryse’s voice shuts Magnus up immediately. “I have had enough of this ridiculous behavior. This investigation may be pending, but you will be made to answer for the disrespect demonstrated during this meeting. I’m suspending you from this Institute for one week, effective immediately. Do you understand?”

The fire in Magnus’s chest fizzles out in a millisecond. “Suspended?”

“Yes. Inappropriate language is not tolerated here, Mr. Bane. Neither is disrespect. Perhaps this will teach you a lesson.” Ragnor buries his face in his hands, moaning softly. Laura murmurs something to Ragnor that sounds a lot like ‘talk later’ and steps out of the office, cellphone pressed to her ear. “Do you have your things, Magnus? It’s time for you to go home.”

“My coat,” Magnus says, voice cracking. “It’s in my locker. First floor, bank H.”

Maryse picks up a cellphone, typing something quickly. “Alright. I’ve arranged a faculty escort for you, Mr. Bane. Coach Garroway is on his way to the front office as we speak. Feel free to have a seat in front of Secretary Lindfell’s desk while you wait for him.”

Magnus knows a dismissal when he hears one…he stands, grabbing his bag. Ragnor stands as well, until Maryse smiles at him. “Actually, Mr. Fell, I’ll be needing to speak with you a moment longer. There are forms to be signed regarding Magnus’s temporary dismissal.”

Ragnor’s gaze snaps to Magnus’s—Magnus manages a smile, shaking his head in an imperceptible motion. “I’ll be fine,” he offers, pleased when it comes out even. “Why don’t I just meet you at home? That way you don’t have to wait for me to come back, or vice versa.”

“Crumpet, wait a second.”

“Sorry, can’t, Coach Garroway is here. Hi Coach!”

Magnus forces a smile on his face, hitching his bag higher up on his shoulder as he leaves the Headmaster’s office with a swing of his hips. The bounce in his step is forced but it’s making him feel better. Coach Garroway stares him down with an unamused look.

“Magnus,” he says, “come on. Walk and talk. You and I need to have a chat.”

“Get in line,” Magnus mumbles in reply, letting Coach Garroway guide him out of the office with a hand on his shoulder.

//

| A.L |

Alec Lightwood’s plan to rescue Magnus started to form the second his eyes landed on that little pink slip.

See, Magnus might’ve been confused, but Alec knows this Institute inside and out. He grew up here. As much as he’s come to resent it since officially becoming a student, St. Joseph’s Institute of Academic Excellence is Alec’s home.

When Alec was nine, he and Izzy played a game called Computer Hackers in the downstairs computer lab. When Jace was 11 he broke his leg while the three of them played hide and seek.  When he was younger, Alec used to think his mom had the coolest job in the world.

He remembers sitting at Maryse’s desk and pretending to be Headmaster. She used to let him scribble out discipline referrals with markers borrowed from the Art department. Because of that, Alec knows where she keeps them—second drawer on the right. There’s always a stack waiting there should the need arise.

Alec knows this Institute better than most people. The pink slip Mrs. Pangborn handed to Magnus just now? It’s an office-issued hall pass. Pink is the automatic code for any disciplinary infraction. He might not know the specifics but Alec understands enough.

Everything inside of Alec wants to yell, to stand up, to grab Magnus and pull him close and warn him somehow that he’s in trouble…

Magnus’s smile is small and just for Alec. He leans down, grabs his bag, and shrugs. I have no idea what’s going on, but I’ll be fine. Alec feels like he’s going to choke—his unease only grows as Magnus disappears out the door of their Chemistry classroom and out of Alec’s line of sight.

Shit.

He closes his eyes, drops his head on his folded arms, and waits. Maybe it’s something minor. Alec’s sister always tells him not to worry so much. Alec knows it’s good advice so he decides to wait and see. He forces himself to stop thinking about it and focuses on his classwork instead.

//

It takes Alec fifteen minutes to finish the worksheet he and Magnus started together and hand it in with both of their names written on the top. Unfortunately, fifteen minutes was not enough time to soothe the worry twisting deep in Alec’s gut.

He looks at the clock, shoves his books in his bag, and decides.

“Mrs. Pangborn?” Alec’s teacher startles, looking up from her computer screen. Oops. “May I use the restroom?”

Mrs. Pangborn glances at the clock. There’s a frown on her face when her eyes meet Alec’s. “Alec, there are less than ten minutes of class left. Can’t it wait until dismissal?”

“Forgive me, ma’am,” Alec murmurs, head dipping. “But it’s an emergency. I’m afraid I’m not feeling very well.”

Alec can’t keep his cheeks from tinting—if Jace were here, the implications of Alec’s excuse would have him rolling on the floor with laughter. Sure, Mrs. Pangborn probably thinks he has diarrhea or something, but it’s the best plan Alec could come up with under the circumstances.

“Alright.” Mrs. Pangborn gestures at Alec. He hands her his agenda with the hall pass sheet face-up. “Be sure to stop by the office if you end up being late to next block, Alec. This pass is only valid for the next ten minutes.”

Alec nods and folds the agenda to his chest. “Thank you, Mrs. Pangborn.”

//

The first thing Alec does is use the bathroom, if only to appease the Catholic guilt dripping sweat into the collar of his dress shirt. It’s silly, Alec knows it, but the cool flow of the water as he washes his hands has him feeling a bit more level-headed.

There. His escape from the classroom hadn’t been a total farce. Now it’s time to figure out what’s going on with Magnus and Alec’s mother.

He hadn’t exactly been able to come up with a good reason to interrupt what he now knows is a disciplinary meeting in his short walk from the bathroom to the office but as Alec pushes the door open, he realizes he might not need one.

“Alec!” It’s Jace’s voice. Alec whirls, mouth dropping open at the sight that greets him. Jace has taken command of Mrs. Lindfell’s desk chair, wheeling around in lazy circles. He’s grinning at Alec—it’s almost enough to distract from the ice pack pressed tightly to the entire left side of Jace’s face.

“Jace? What’s—what happened to you?” He pauses—Jace looks totally unruffled by all the commotion. Alec’s moan is soft. “What did you do, Jace?”

An offended noise falls from Jace’s lips. “What? Me? So quick to blame when you don’t know the story.”

“Am I wrong?”

“Well,” Jace sighs, eyes rolling. “No. Not technically. But it’s the thought that counts, right?”

Despite his earlier worry—more encompassing now, to include his lovably clueless brother—Alec finds himself fighting the urge to laugh. “Where’s Mrs. Lindfell? Does Mom know you’re out here?”

“I have no idea and no, Mom doesn’t know I’m here. She’s in some sort of meeting right now. Apparently, it’s important.”

The words reel tension right back into Alec’s torso. “Do you know what it’s about?”

“No. But a woman came out earlier and yelled at someone on the phone. Sounded pretty pissed about it, too.” Jace’s expression shifts, picking up on Alec’s rigid posture. “Do you know what it’s about?”

“Magnus,” Alec croaks, offering no further explanation. Jace’s eyes darken as he turns to face the door of Maryse’s office.

Mrs. Lindfell chooses that moment to make an appearance, the rubber tip of her hot pink cane squeaking across the tile floor.

“Jace, Father Starkweather is ready for you. Head to the atrium and meet him there.” Jace stands—Alec accepts the offered ice pack, shivering at the wet drip of it in his hands. “Alec! Please tell me you weren’t involved in any of this.”

“I wasn’t, ma’am.” Alec summons his most charming smile, scrambling for the right thing to say. “Actually, I need to talk to my mother. It’s important. Is she available?”

“No, honey, I’m afraid not. Headmaster Lightwood is in a meeting. Is there anything I can help you with?”

Alec shakes his head. “It’s about—” Alec’s eyes fall on a large metal crucifix adorning the office wall, tugging at the pendant on his neck, “—well, it’s about me. Something personal. I really need to talk to my mom.” He pauses, hoping his fishing is at least semi-subtle. “Is it going to be a long meeting? I can wait here for her if I have to, I don’t mind.”

The shuffle of Mrs. Lindfell’s dragging steps as she approaches has Alec’s eyes dropping to the floor.

“She’s likely to take at least thirty more minutes. Disciplinary meetings tend to drag. Do you want me to get your father, Alec? He’s with a student but it’s nothing serious, I’m sure I could interrupt.”

“That’s okay. I’ll wait for my mom. Thank you, though.”

The office door opens. Both Alec and Mrs. Lindfell look up—Alec’s confusion triples at the sight of Coach Garroway, frustration etched in the lines of his face. “Coach? Is…everything alright?”

“Alec.” Coach Garroway’s gaze settles on Alec for a long, unsettling moment. “Mrs. Lindfell. Is he—”

Mrs. Lindfell nods. “He’ll be right out.” She turns to Alec, smile returning. “I’ll tell Headmaster Lightwood you stopped by, Alec. Why don’t you head to class for now? I’ll send a pass for you once she’s free.”

Growing up with Maryse as his mother means Alec is familiar with dismissals of any sort. He sighs and rocks back on his heels, offering Mrs. Lindfell a wistful smile.

“Alright. Thank you, Mrs. Lindfell.”

Coach Garroway is arguing with someone in the corner—whoever it is, they’re hidden behind a doorway out of Alec’s line of sight. Alec is equal parts anxious and curious. While Coach is known to be stern at times…Alec has never seen him angry before.

As much as Alec wants to, there’s no opportunity for him to ask before Mrs. Lindfell is physically ushering him out of the crowded Institute office. He sighs to himself and heads to class, the sight of his mother’s closed office door the only thing on his mind.

//

The next morning, Magnus doesn’t show up for Chemistry. Or English. Alec conveniently ‘forgets his lunch’ in his locker, leaving him with no choice but to buy food from the cafeteria…but Magnus isn’t at their lunch table, either.

Raphael Santiago is, however, and he’s glaring daggers at Alec’s back.

Alec’s heart sinks with worry. He mentally runs through his schedule as he walks back down the hallway, searching for the time to seek out Raphael and ask about it—Alec is too distracted to notice Lydia Branwell rounding the corner.

“Crap!” Alec hisses, tray clattering to the floor in a messy heap. “I’m so sorry—are you alright, Lydia? Did I get anything on your clothes?”

Lydia offers him a placating smile. “Breathe, Alec. I’m fine. It was an accident, there’s nothing to be sorry for.” Her smile falls. “I’m the one who should be apologizing.”

“What? Lydia, what are you talking about?”

“For what happened to Magnus. I tried to warn you, Alec. I wanted to warn you both. I just didn’t have the time—I swear, I didn’t even pay attention to the name on the pass until I walked into the room and saw both of you sitting there.”

Alec’s heart kicks into third gear at the mention of his boyfriend’s name. “Something happened to Magnus? Lydia, what on earth are you talking about?” He looks around frantically, half expecting Magnus to pop up with a smile and a wave. “Where is he? Is he alright?”

“He’s at home, or at least, I’d assume so,” Lydia says, slowly. “You haven’t heard?”

“No. I haven’t—no. Why isn’t he in school?”

“Because he’s suspended for a week.”

What the fuck? Alec’s heart sinks straight to the ketchup-splattered floor. “You’re kidding,” he murmurs, voice low. “Lydia, that’s not funny.”

“I’m not.” Lydia’s eyes are wide, pleading. “It’s serious, Alec. They’re saying he cheated on his AP French exam. Both his mom and his dad were in that meeting, and—”

“Pause.” Alec holds up a single finger, heart throbbing painfully at how very Magnus the gesture is. “Magnus’s mom was there? Lydia, Magnus doesn’t have a mom. He lives with his Uncle Ragnor.”

“English accent? Wearing a sweater vest?” Alec nods. Definitely Ragnor. “Alright, yeah, he was there. But there was a woman with him. Dark hair, high heels. Dressed professionally.”

“Was she African American?”

Lydia shakes her head. Alec strikes Catarina from his mental list. And what he’s left with is a lot of confusion. “Okay. That’s—we’ll get to that later, then. My mother was the one who called the meeting? And she suspended him?

“Yes. Again, Alec, I don’t know the details. I can try to find out during my volunteer hours in the office. But I can’t make any promises. Have you been able to speak with him?”

Alec shakes his head, tearing at his hair. “No. My mom took my phone away.”

“I’ll call the number in his file today, see if I can’t get Magnus on the phone. At the very least I’ll make sure he’s okay.”

“If you do manage to talk to him—um. Can you t-tell him that Alexander is trying to get to the bottom of this? Just like that. He’ll know what you mean. Please?”

“Of course, Alec. Anything else?”

Tell him I love him, tell him I won’t stop until this nightmare is over. “No, that’s all. Thank you, Lydia. You’ll let me know the second you hear from him?”

“You have my word,” Lydia promises, leaning down to clean up the mess on the floor by Alec’s feet. “No, go. I’ll take care of this. Use what’s left of lunch to calm yourself down.”

“But—”

Lydia smiles, tugging the sleeve of her sweater up. There, against her wrist, is Alec’s friendship bracelet. “No buts. That’s what friends are for. Now go.”

//

Magnus is absent for an entire week. Alec is still grounded, so he can’t sneak out to see him, and without his phone, there’s no way for them to contact each other at all.

Lydia slips him a note on Friday, written in her own handwriting: I’m fine, Alexander. Please don’t do any digging. Talk more later. -M

The week is, by far, the longest week of Alec Lightwood’s life. Seeing Magnus on Monday is all he can think about. Only three more days.

Just three more days, and then it’ll all be okay.

//

| M.B |

There isn’t enough concealer in the world to make Magnus’s eyes look any less like he’s just spent the whole night crying, so Magnus doesn’t even bother.

He has, of course. Spent the whole night crying.

Because today is the day Magnus plans on breaking up with the love of his life. His Alexander, his darling. His boy of 37 roses. The greatest romance he’ll ever have with the poet he never deserved in the first place.

This was not a decision he reached lightly, but as much as he hates it Magnus knows it’s what needs to be done. He spent the whole week agonizing over it; breaking his own heart again and again until the shards were too dull to cut him anymore. Magnus has had endless nightmares of Alec’s tear-stained face, the stunned slap of hurt in his eyes that’ll tattoo itself on the backs of Magnus’s eyelids the second it comes to fruition.

Magnus has thought, and cried, and screamed, and made himself sick. Now, as he walks through the doors of the Institute and looks at Alec’s empty locker bank…Magnus just feels numb.

The past week has been one of the worst of Magnus’s life—and that’s saying a lot, given his upbringing. What started with Maryse’s ridiculous allegations nearly ended up with Ragnor losing custody. If not for Catarina’s tear-filled testimony, the judge in his emergency Welfare hearing would’ve sent Magnus straight back into the system.

And then he’d heard from Isabelle—apparently in Magnus’s absence, the least-attractive Lightwood earned himself a piece of the disciplinary action pie by punching Raj Chaudhury in the face.

Good news: Jace’s suspension means Magnus no longer has to worry about the stupid ‘investigation.’ Bad news: Maryse can focus all of her attention on Alec.

According to both Isabelle, and, shockingly enough, Lydia Branwell, Alec has been starting an investigation of his own. Which, when Maryse is watching his every move, can only end badly for them both. This has carried on for far too long. There is no way in hell Magnus is going to stand by and watch Alec do this; get himself in more trouble for Magnus’s sake.

No, Magnus thinks, a sick-sort of determination fueling his steps forward, this time, he’s going to do something about it.

Sure, it’ll break what’s left of Magnus’s heart. He might be young, but he’s not oblivious to the depth of his feelings and the weight they carry. Alec is it for Magnus. The one he’ll love for the rest of his days. Magnus thinks, in time, maybe Alec could have fallen in love with him too.

That’s why it’s such a shame that time is the only thing they’ll never have.

Magnus swallows, pushing open the door to their Chemistry lab before he can talk himself out of it. Ten minutes before class is set to begin…that’s plenty of time for Magnus to break up with the love of his life.

“Alexander.” Alec jumps, turning so quickly Magnus fears he’ll fall. “Hello. Can we talk for a moment?”

Alec’s eyes scan the length of Magnus’s body like he’s desperate, drinking in the sight. Magnus hates the weak shiver it manages to pull from him. “Magnus, you’re—here. Praise be to God. Yes, let’s—come on, Ms. Oakcliff’s room.”

Magnus goes, head bowed as he follows the click of Alec’s dress shoes against the tiled floors.

God give me the strength, he thinks, knowing it’s a futile request.

//

Alec is on him the second Ms. Oakcliff’s door closes, hauling Magnus in and crowding him against the solid warmth of his chest without a moment of hesitation.

“Magnus, fuck, fuck. I’ve been so—you have no idea how scared I’ve been. How much I missed you. When I found out what happened to you I could hardly think straight—”

“Alec.” Magnus interrupts him, pushing at Alec’s shoulders with trembling hands. “Wait. Hang on. We need to talk first.”

“We are,” Alec says, confusion evident. Still, though, he lets Magnus move him, putting some space between their torsos with his arms twined around Magnus’s waist. “Shit, Magnus. Wait. Is that…are you crying?”

Fuck this, fuck everything. Magnus lets his tears fall without restraint. “We need to end this, Alec. I-it’s just—it’s not working, okay? There’s too much at stake for both of us.”

“…what?”

Magnus chokes on a sob. Alec blinks at him, his expression blank.

“I thought we could do it.” I thought I could do it—could be so selfish as to want you for myself. “But we can’t. All of this—” Magnus gestures at the Institute with a carelessly flung hand, “—is more than we can fight. It’s bigger than us, Alexander. At least for right now.”

Alec catches Magnus’s hand in both of his own, holding on tightly.

“No. We can—Magnus, we can do this. We can figure this out. Please, let’s talk about this. I don’t—I c-can’t—”

“But you can,” Magnus says, hand cupping Alec’s cheek. Alec in distress has always been Magnus’s biggest weakness. Even though his own heart is breaking…god, he’d take Alec’s pain in a second, if given the chance. “Between the two of us, darling, it’s always been you who could. You’ve brave, and strong. You’re going to get through this.”

A tear runs down Alec’s cheek. He shakes his head at Magnus, adamant. “No, you’re wrong. I’m not. I’m just me.”

“Beautifully so,” Magnus says, biting his lip to keep the sobs at bay. “But I could talk about that for hours. I’m not sure Mrs. Pangborn would like us skipping class.” Ironic, since that’s exactly what Magnus plans on doing. “In fact, we should probably head back down. We’re going to be late in less than three minutes.”

“M-Magnus, no. No. Please, listen for a second. Don’t…don’t do this.”

He pauses, putting even more distance between them…their joined hands; the last point of contact they have, breaks at the middle.

“I’m sorry, Alec. I wanted so much more for us than this. Three months with you was not enough.”

Alec clutches at the cross around his neck like a lifeline, chain pulled so tight Magnus fears it’ll cut into Alec’s skin.

“So let’s have more time. A lifetime if you want it. I’ll—I’ve never felt like this before, Magnus, so please…”

A lifetime wouldn’t be enough either. Magnus opts to keep that to himself, watching Alec’s face. Memorizing the shade of his eyes when they’re tear-filled and broken; the uneven blotches of red on his cheeks—not enough to reach his ears—the way his lips part around his sobs, raw and choked-off in the space of the room…

Magnus doesn’t want to forget the way Alec Lightwood looks in the throes of heartbreak, because forgetting is far too kind a fate for the one who broke his heart in the first place. No, Magnus deserves to be haunted. To be sleepless.

To be forever reminded of what happens to people like Alec when Magnus falls in love with them.

“Magnus, wait—”

“Goodbye, Alexander.” Magnus forces himself to take a step backwards, away from where Alec is frozen in front of him. He reaches behind himself for the cool metal of the door, finding the knob without too much trouble. His fingers wrap around the lever and twist.

The door gives under Magnus’s weight. Alec forgot to lock it.

“D-don’t say that! Magnus!”

Magnus closes the door with a soft click…and he says goodbye again, silently this time: to the future he could have had. To the love of his life, his Alexander. His best friend in the whole world.

Instead, Magnus says hello to the idea of having an ex-boyfriend.

And then he runs.

Chapter Text

“Magnus.”

Magnus groans, turning his face more fully into the pillow to escape the pressing sound. There’s an urgency in that voice, in the way it says his name. Magnus doesn’t like that.

He turns back to Alec, who is sitting in the middle of a meadow, surrounded by white peony blooms that float up into the air like clouds. The air around them is thick with the promise of rain, Magnus’s shirt clinging like a second skin, but none of that matters. All that matters is the two of them together. Happy. Smiling.

Magnus has missed Alec so much. He never thought he could have this again. Not after what he did. Not after breaking Alec’s heart and walking away.

But here they are. Alec smiles and holds out a hand, wordlessly beckoning Magnus closer.

“Magnus. Wake up.”

He squeezes his eyes shut. Magnus fights the restless pull. It’s going to dissolve their meadow. Take Alec away from him. Magnus is sure of it…and then he’ll be alone again. No, no. Anything but that.

A hand comes to rest on Magnus’s forehead, combing through the strands of his hair—and that’s it, that’s all it takes. Alec disappears in a vacuum. When Magnus turns to face him again there’s nothing but silky darkness.

Magnus forces his eyes open. Ragnor is hovering above him, looking equal parts pissed and worried in an ugly orange sweater.

“Good morning, Ragnor. You’ll have to tell me all about the inspiration behind…whatever it is you’re wearing at the moment. I hesitate to call it an ‘outfit’ for obvious reasons.”

“You skipped your classes today,” he says, accent clipped. “Want to tell me about that?”

“Did I?” Magnus sits up, wincing at the raw pull in his throat. “I had no idea. One minute I’m leaving the Institute, and the next—poof! Here I am in my very own bed.”

“Can you stop fucking about for one second and start taking this seriously? Because it is serious, Magnus. Or have you forgotten what we went through just last week with your welfare check?”

It’s the closest Ragnor has ever come to yelling at Magnus. Magnus winces, trying not to show how much it bothers him.

“I haven’t forgotten,” he says. “Of course I haven’t, Ragnor. And I am taking this seriously.”

“Like hell you are! If you were, you’d be in school right now! But no, here you are. Skipping class like a bloody delinquent. At this point, all it’ll take for me to lose you is a phone call.” Ragnor sighs, pulling at a loose thread on Magnus’s comforter. “Is that what you want, Magnus? Do you…are you truly that unhappy living here with me?”

There’s a hurt edge to Ragnor’s voice that robs Magnus of all coherency. For Ragnor to think of himself as anything less than Magnus’s angel is an absolute sin. “Ragnor, no—

“If you’ve another goal in mind, Magnus, you’re going about it the wrong way.”

“Please stop.” Magnus’s voice cracks, on the verge of tears. “Ragnor, I know. It was stupid. I’m sorry, I should have tried to stay.”

Magnus tracks the hurried movement of Ragnor’s hands; all restless energy and directionless anger. It sends a painful jolt of electricity straight down his spine, because Alec used to do the same thing.

“Is it honestly that hard to stay in school for an entire day, Magnus? It’s one bloody day. Do whatever you want while you’re there—sleep, doodle, I don’t care. Just go to class and stay there! Absorb the information via osmosis or something.”

“I broke up with Alec this morning.”

Ragnor’s face is slack with surprise—he blinks down at Magnus, uncomprehending. “Can you repeat that?”

“I dumped him,” Magnus says, voice flat even as the tears start to fall. “Pretty sure he hates me now. I didn’t exactly stick around to find out. But I’d hate me if I were Alec.”

“Wait. I thought you two were happy together. What changed?”

“The risks. The stakes.” The depth of my feelings for him—enough to surpass any selfish desire to remain by his side. “Maryse Lightwood is far more inventive than I originally anticipated. I imagine that…creativity, let’s call it, only worsens when her children are on the receiving end. In any case, I’m not about to let Alec take the brunt of that weight.”

Ragnor frowns, rubbing at his brow. “So you made the decision to end things? Did you consult Alec prior to this morning? Talk about any of this with him, perhaps?”

“I—no.” Magnus shifts, uncomfortable with the disappointed click of Ragnor’s tongue. “Oh, don’t give me that look. I did what I had to do, okay? Alec would have tried to talk me out of it.”

And, what’s worse, Magnus would’ve let him. He knows it as well as he knows that Alec’s absence in his life is a wound that will never quite heal.

A pain that’ll never stop…god, if only Alec knew how much Magnus loves him. If only he’d gotten the chance to tell him.

“As he should have,” Ragnor says. “And you’d be in the library with him right now instead of having this conversation with me.”

Anger burns its way into the clench of Magnus’s fingers, flames licking hot against the cool silk of the sheets.

“Watch it,” he snaps, relishing in the flush of blood it brings to Ragnor’s cheeks. “You’re speaking out of turn.”

“Then I suppose you and I have that in common.” Magnus’s mouth drops open at the casual shrug of Ragnor’s shoulders. What the fuck is wrong with him? Is he serious right now?

Oblivious to Magnus’s inner turmoil, Ragnor barrels on.

“Don’t you think Alec has a right to make his own decisions? Decide what’s best for himself? If you want to break up with him for the sake of your own happiness, then by all means. But this…it’s bigger than you, crumpet. Bigger than what you might think is best.”

Magnus’s stomach flips violently at the particular irony in Ragnor’s word choice. “You don’t get it, Ragnor. You don’t know the full story.”

Ragnor shakes his head. “I don’t need to know in order to see that you’re making a huge mistake.”

“So let me make that mistake. It’s my business.”

“I know it is,” Ragnor says, suddenly sounding tired. As often as he jokes about Ragnor being an old man, he’s never truly looked it before now. “And that’s why I’ve given you so much freedom. What do you think I’ve been doing for the past two summers? I look the other way when you sneak out. I pretend to be asleep when you stumble in drunk. I’ve fielded calls from police officers and school administrators alike on your behalf…and I’ve done it all with little interference, because this is your life. You haven’t the foggiest idea how difficult that was for me. How terrified I was that one night, you might end up getting yourself killed.”

The adrenaline coursing through Magnus’s veins only serves to worsen the nausea. “Ragnor—”

“No, it’s your turn to listen. I didn’t tell you that because I wanted an apology. Nor do I expect anything in return. Just know that this time things will be different.”

God, he’s almost afraid to ask. The determination on Ragnor’s face is telling enough. “Yeah? And why is that?”

“Because,” Ragnor says, “this is not something I can stand by and watch. Catarina and I will be here to support you every step of the way. We’ll help you fix this, crumpet. You don’t have to do it alone.”

“You’re delusional, Ragnor. You and Catarina both. Always trying to fix things that can’t be fucking fixed.

Ragnor reaches for Magnus’s hand, but Magnus can’t handle being touched right now. He feels like he’s burning up—Magnus kicks away the sheets tangled taut around the base of the bed.

“Magnus…you know you’re not the one who’s broken, right? There’s nothing about you that needs to be fixed. Cat and I know that already. What I meant was—”

“Can I be alone?” Magnus knows it’s rude to interrupt. He does it anyway. “Please, Ragnor. We’ll talk about this later. Right now I…”

Ragnor stands without a word, pressing a kiss to the center of Magnus’s forehead. “I’m right downstairs if you need me, crumpet. Give me a shout and I’ll come running. Pretend I’m your butler if it makes you happy.”

//

Magnus is supposed to be working on Theology homework. He has a project due next week on the book of Deuteronomy, three readings to plow through before tomorrow, and a worksheet Brother Zachariah tacked on for extra credit…it’ll take him hours to finish it all.

He knows that, and yet, Magnus isn’t working on any of his Theology homework. Instead, he’s filling out a college application.

For UCLA, of all places. Ragnor’s alma mater. Ragnor is the reason Magnus is bothering to apply in the first place. College isn’t something Magnus particularly wants for himself, not when there are so many other paths for him to explore, but Ragnor has been insistent since the day Magnus moved in…if Magnus is going to do this, he’s going to do it his way.

The application itself is part whim, part gift. It’ll thrill Ragnor endlessly the second he learns of it, and honestly? It’s the least Magnus can do after everything they’ve gone through as of late. Everything Ragnor has gone through, because of Magnus.

These past few days have been nothing short of a nightmare for them. Sure, Ragnor will be disappointed when UCLA turns Magnus down for his disciplinary record, but at least he can say he tried.

He types in the numbers of his bank card from memory, clicking ‘submit’ before he has time to second-guess himself. Magnus sort of regrets it when he starts to feel a bit vulnerable but he forces the feeling down and switches gears, picking up a Theology reading and tucking into the content.

It’s easy for Magnus to forget about UCLA after that. He even forgets to tell Ragnor he applied.

//

| A.L |

Goodbye.

It’s the only word that makes sense to Alec right now, and it’s ringing in his ears. Two syllables paired with the velvet drag of his name—Al-ex-an-der. Magnus’s voice, sweeter than any love song. If Alec had a thousand more years, he’s sure he’d never tire of it. Never get used to it; to the wild kick of his pulse whenever Magnus says his name like that. Whenever Magnus says anything, really.

Hell, Magnus could read him the damned phone book, and it would still put poets to shame.

It’s 7:32 AM—Alec should be in class right now, copying down his drill. He should be laughing with Magnus and pretending not to notice when Magnus steals pens out of Alec’s bag.

Goodbye, Alexander. Out of all of Magnus’s poems, this one is, by far, Alec’s least favorite. He forces himself to breathe through the pain as he tries to make sense of it. Goodbye. It’s bigger than us, it’s just not working.

‘Just not working’—perhaps that’s the one thing Alec is confused the most by. Since when? How long has Magnus felt like things weren’t ‘working’ between them? The thought of Magnus feeling anything short of heart-stopping glee is enough to bring tears to his eyes. Alec had tried so hard to be the best boyfriend he could be.

To be romantic. Fun. Supportive. Everything Magnus was to him. Sure, Valentine’s Day was a bit of a mess—but Alec truly thought he and Magnus were happy together. That he could make Magnus happy. If not for the bus breaking down, Alec would’ve told Magnus he loved him. Is in love with him, head over heels, completely and totally lost.

But with Magnus, he never really felt lost.

It felt more like coming home. Loving Magnus put a thousand stars in Alec’s sky, bright enough to burn day and night. It should’ve been scary, seeing stars in Manhattan but instead, it just felt right.

Alec processes things in stages: the heavy wooden door of Mrs. Oakcliff’s room, the tears in Magnus’s eyes, the ache of his absence after he left.

Goodbye, Alexander. And now Magnus is gone. Whatever love Alec had to give in return…it wasn’t enough to make Magnus stay. He wasn’t enough.

Alec pushes himself into a standing position, using the desk to steady himself. Next, he scrubs at his cheeks with the sleeve of his cardigan. There isn’t a mirror in the room but Alec doesn’t need one to know he looks like shit—not that anyone will care. Not anymore.

7:47 AM. Chemistry started over 20 minutes ago. Magnus is probably already there. He focuses on the movement on his feet instead of the pain threatening to drag him under. One step, two steps, down the stairs…good. All Alec has to do is make it through this day without losing hold of the person the Institute is expecting to see when they look at him.

Alec Lightwood. Maryse and Robert’s son. The Lightwood that doesn’t pick fights. The quiet one; the one who hides under-the-radar; the one with good grades; the future Headmaster of the Institute. Perhaps most importantly, straight.

Not heartbroken over Magnus Bane. Not the person who spent the past three months falling deeper in love with someone who will never love him back. Definitely not Alexander.

The last thing Alec wants to do is cause even more trouble for Magnus—so he has no choice but to pull himself together.

For his parents, for the teachers…and for Magnus. Alec walks down the hall toward Ms. Pangborn’s room, locking away the memories in time with the sound of his footfalls on the Institute’s tiled floor.

//

Magnus isn’t in Chemistry that morning. He’s not in English, either. If he and Magnus were like any other couple, Alec might think to be happy for the ability to avoid the subject of his heartbreak.

But it’s Magnus, so of course, the thought of feeling relief at his absence is as ridiculous as it is impossible. There’s not a day that goes by where Alec doesn’t want him under his skin. So no, he’s not happy Magnus isn’t here.

He’s miserable. Heartbroken. Empty.

The day drags on and Alec hurts.

//

“Alec? Hey, wait up!” It’s Lydia—Alec hears the slap of her flats as she rushes to catch up with him in the hallway. “I’ve been looking for you all morning!”

He tries to twist his lips into something resembling a smile, but the effort proves too much. “Hi, Lydia. What’s up?”

Lydia’s face falls at the sight of him. “Are you alright?”

Yes, Alec thinks. It’s what he has to say—it’s the answer Lydia is expecting to hear. Alec opens his mouth to answer, but a sob comes out instead.

It’s followed by another, and another. Lydia’s mouth falls open in shock as Alec folds in on himself and lets the tears fall. Damn it. He thought he’d be able to keep it together.

But he can’t, and now it’s too late. It’s too late for a lot of things.

Magnus is gone. Alec loves him, inescapably, and it doesn’t matter because Magnus broke up with him. What if he doesn’t even want to be Alec’s friend? What if they never speak again? Magnus’s last words to Alec will have been, ‘Goodbye, Alexander,’ and isn’t that heartbreaking? Alec can’t breathe. He can’t breathe, his heart fucking hurts, this pain doesn’t feel like it’ll ever stop—

There are hands on his arms, ushering him out of the hallway and into a locker bank. Squeezing his biceps, trying to bring him back into the moment. They’re too small. They’re not holding him tight enough. Not like Magnus does.

“…need you to stay with me, try to calm down. Just for a minute. Shit—hey!” Pinpricks of light dot the edges of Alec’s vision. For a moment he’s worried he’ll pass out. “Go get Isabelle Lightwood for me, she’s in the cafeteria. Tell her to hurry. Please,” Lydia adds, voice sounding strained.

“I-Izzy—”

Lydia leans Alec’s weight against the lockers, hands still on his arms. “She’s coming, Alec. Izzy will be here soon. Until then, I need you to breathe for me.”

Alec tries, but the dig of Lydia’s fingers against his biceps is making it even harder. He yanks away, elbow banging loudly against the metal of a locker door.

“Alec, Alec—”

“Let him go.” Izzy, Alec thinks. Lydia backs off immediately, stepping to the side as his sister’s familiar worried smile comes into view.

“Hey, big brother. Everything is going to be alright—you’re having a panic attack. Focus on the sound of my voice, okay? Focus on my voice, and breathe in on four. One, two, three, four…”

Alec chokes on another sob, eyes closing. “I—my chest, Iz. Help me. It hurts, it hurts so bad—"

“I know it hurts, Alec. But you’re going to be okay. As soon as you start breathing, the pain will ease up.” Alec cries loudly, chest heaving as he tries to listen. “That’s good! Just like that. Two, three, four—breathe in again.”

In…hold, okay, and out. Izzy’s voice; Alec isn’t alone—or at least, not as alone as he thought he was. In, two, three, four…

Alec loses track of both time and himself, too caught up in the cadence of his sister’s voice; in the space between the two of them, Lydia standing awkwardly to Alec’s left. It could’ve been minutes or hours later when Alec finally settles back into himself.

The pain is still there, but it’s manageable now that he’s breathing again.

Izzy’s shoulders slump with relief. “Thank god. Can I hug you now?” Alec nods. He has an armful of Isabelle less than a second later. “That one was rough, brother. Come on, you probably want to lie down for a while.”

“What? No. That’s—I’m not doing that.” Isabelle’s stern look is all-too-familiar. Alec decides to switch tactics. “I’m feeling fine now, Iz. Thanks to you.”

“Like hell you are. Don’t be stubborn, Alec. Nothing you say is going to keep me from taking you to the nurse. I’ll get Jace if I have to.”

The nurse? If there’s a quicker way to alert Alec’s mother to the fact that something is wrong, Alec isn’t familiar with it. He rolls his eyes at Isabelle and shifts against the dig of the locker grates in his lower back.

“You’re worrying too much. I told you, I’m fine now—"

“You should listen to her, Alec.” Lydia—in the rush of the moment, Alec had nearly forgotten she was here to witness all of that. He holds back a groan and turns to face her.

“Lydia, I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have had to deal with that.”

“Don’t apologize,” Lydia says, smile soft. “I’m just glad you’re alright. I didn’t know what to do.”

“You were fine.” A lie, albeit a slight one. Alec cannot stand being touched when he’s…like that. “Thank you for staying. And for not calling my parents.”

“Of course. I should probably go. Mrs. Lindfell is probably wondering where her personal assistant went.” Lydia grins, winking conspiratorially at Alec. “Text me later and let me know you’re okay? Or have Magnus do it, if that’s easier. I gave him my number when we spoke last week.”

Magnus. Fuck. A new wave of pain threatens to sweep Alec’s knees out from under him.

“Sure. I’ll…um, I can do it myself. I’ll text you later, okay? Bye, Lydia.”

The second Lydia rounds the corner, Isabelle is on him, eyes wide with alarm.

“Alec,” she says, “what just happened?”

It’s a rhetorical question. Alec knows she’s seconds away from figuring it all out on her own.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Lie. “The perfectly normal conversation between Lydia and I? We’re friends, Iz. You know that.”

“I thought you were going to pass out after she said Magnus’s name. And now…oh, god. You’re—what’s wrong?”

“Not here,” Alec pleads. “The cathedral. Father Starkweather is eating lunch, but we could—the confessional booth—”

“Got it.” Isabelle guides them in the direction of the cathedral, her arm around Alec’s shoulders is the only thing keeping him tethered. Even that’s not enough.

He’s desperate, broken, angry—so as they walk across campus at a breakneck pace Alec follows the only bit of advice that hasn’t failed him yet.

He prays.

“Our father,” Alec murmurs, “who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…”

//

The protesting squeak of the door hinge against the wooden frame is apparently all the time Alec is going to get. Isabelle is off like a shot the second she feels they can speak freely.

“Are you and Magnus fighting?”

Alec winces in response. Right to the point, then. “We broke up,” he says, deliberately not looking at his sister’s face. “It happened this morning. Right before Chem.”

What?” Isabelle’s bag hits the floor with a soft thud. “Alec, what the fuck?! Why? What happened?”

“Language. Please. We’re in the house of God.”

Isabelle sighs, lowering her voice. “I’m sorry. I just…Alec, no. Please. Tell me you’re overthinking things again; that this is just another fight. Did he…did either of you actually say the word ‘break-up?’ Or anything similar?”

“Yes.” We need to end this, Alec. Just not working out. “This isn’t me reading into things, Iz. I wish it were that, but it isn’t. We’re over.”

Her eyes narrow. “So it was Magnus who made the decision, then.”

“I never said that.”

“Didn’t you?” Alec glares. It must be lacking in sincerity, because Isabelle snorts at the sight. “Maybe not with words, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t say it. You’re a lot of things, Alec. Self-sacrificing? Sure. And stubborn at the worst of times. But you and Magnus…I know you well enough to believe you wouldn’t give that up.”

Tears spring to Alec’s eyes. “You have to let this go, Izzy. Promise me. Please.” At Isabelle’s questioning noise, Alec elaborates. “Leave Magnus alone. It’s…whatever his reason was, I’m s-sure it was good.”

“He didn’t tell you why? What an ass.”  

Alec sniffles loudly in the too-tight space of the confessional booth, thumb dragging along the edge of the partition.

“No,” he answers, voice soft and broken. “No, he didn’t—but he’s not…Magnus is not that word, Isabelle, so don’t call him that. All he said was that this was ‘bigger than us.’”

“Sorry. You’re right. I’m just pissed, Alec. None of this makes any sense.”  

“Do you think…what if Mom had something to do with this? The suspension—there’s no way Magnus cheated on that test. Why would she even say that?” Alec can feel himself slipping again, each breath more desperate than the last. “Unless…she found out about us and wanted to punish Magnus, or punish me. Oh god. Fuck, Izzy! This is so bad.”

“Alec, slow down.” Alec tries, forcing the crawl of panic back down his throat. “Are you saying that Mom knows about you and Magnus? How would she have found out about that?”

“I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the only theory that makes sense. He was right to leave. Magnus shouldn’t have to deal with this. He shouldn’t—"

An arm loops across Alec’s shoulders, tugging him in. Isabelle’s perfume is light and floral. Alec buries his face in her hair and fights the urge to break down.

“Hey. It’s okay, brother. We’re going to figure this out. Together, alright?”

Alec takes a few minutes to get his emotions under control before he speaks again. “And…Magnus?” Alec knows it’s not much to go off of given their conversation, but he’s hoping his sister will know what he means. What Alec is begging for; what he needs to hear.

Isabelle nods, hugging him closer. “Nothing will happen to him. I’ll make sure of it.”

Something in him settles at that. Alec releases a breath he hadn’t known he was holding.

“Thanks, Isabelle. I just…thank you.”

“Of course,” she responds, pressing a kiss to the side of Alec’s hairline. “Now, about that trip to the nurse…”

//

Two days later, Lydia asks Alec to dinner.

It’s as sudden as it is confusing—Alec is out to Lydia, unless she’s forgotten...?

Her response to his question only confuses Alec more.

“Do you trust me?” Alec nods, because it’s true. Also, he sort of owes Lydia after she helped pick up his pieces on the worst day of Alec’s life so far. “Great,” she says, “then say yes. Wear something nice. Oh, and Alec?”

Alec pauses, head tilted.

“Tell your parents,” Lydia says, eyes glinting with an edge he can’t place. It’s a strange request, but Alec agrees.

Besides, it’s not like he has anything left to lose.

//

“I’m taking Lydia out tonight. We’re going to dinner. Would it be okay if I used my credit card?”

Maryse Lightwood’s eyes widen, the mug of coffee in her hand clinking quietly against the counter as she sets it down.

“Lydia Branwell?”

“Yes,” Alec says, thrown by the hesitance in his mother’s voice. Given how adamantly she’d suggested the very same thing over Thanksgiving dinner, Alec was expecting a bit more…enthusiasm? Joy?

Anything but the blank cast of confusion she’s sporting now, really.

“Is that alright?” he adds, unable to handle the prolonged silence. “If you don’t want me using my card, I can dip into my savings—”

“No, Alexander. That’s quite alright.” Maryse shakes her head, picking up the discarded mug. “Use the card for whatever you’d like. Are you picking her up beforehand?”

“No, Mr. Branwell is dropping her off here in a few hours. We’ll take the subway.”

That’s enough to twist Maryse’s painted lips into a smile. “Is he? How thoughtful. I’ll make sure we’re here to welcome him properly. Where are you planning on taking her for dinner?”

Alec shrugs, fiddling with the zipper on his jacket. “Lydia has reservations somewhere. I don’t know. She wanted it to be a surprise for me, so I let her plan it.”

“Hmm. I see. Well, make sure to pick up the tab. And flowers, while you’re at it. If you’re in need of a suggestion …you can never go wrong with red roses.”

Wrong—you can, but only if the bus breaks down afterward. Alec forces a smile on his face, proud when the pain lancing through him doesn’t physically manifest. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you for letting me use the card.”

Maryse’s smile is small—it’s genuine, but her confusion from earlier is still there in the careful way she’s watching Alec’s face. “Always, Alexander. I love you. Have a fun time tonight.”

“Love you too, Mom.”

//

As if Alec’s interaction with his mother wasn’t strange enough, Izzy insists on helping him get ready for his date.

That wouldn’t be abnormal, if not for the fact that this isn’t a date. Since it’s not a date…Alec is willing to bet he doesn’t need the sweet-smelling foam his sister keeps trying to comb through his hair.

“Why does it matter, Iz? It’s not even—it’s just Lydia, alright?” Alec knows he’s whining, but he can’t help it. This dinner is turning out to be more exhausting than Alec thought. “It’s not like she cares what my hair looks like!”

Isabelle huffs and unscrews the jar, tossing the lid over her shoulder in a move so reminiscent of Magnus, it makes Alec’s heart hurt. Not a date. Not Magnus. Not a date. Two weeks since their breakup, and Alec is still seeing the ghost of Magnus everywhere.

“Well I care, brother. You’ve already gone through the effort of putting on such a nice outfit. Might as well fix your hair while we’re at it! Besides,” Isabelle says, fingers tangling through Alec’s shower damp waves. “It’s not like I have a plethora of opportunities to dress you up. Be quiet and let me have my fun.”

“Fine.” Alec pouts, eyes closing as she massages his scalp. “But I’m not letting you put mascara on me, Izzy.”

“And why not? Think makeup is for girls?”

“What? No. That’s not—”

“Magnus wears makeup.” Alec’s mouth drops at the casual way she brings Magnus up; as if the mention of him alone doesn’t still send Alec’s battered heart into overdrive. “Are you saying it doesn’t look nice on him?”

Alec frowns. “No, not at all. He looks—w-well, Magnus is—”

“Beautiful,” Isabelle finishes. “And so are you, Alec. Close your eyes, and open them slowly.”

 //

Alec ends up wearing mascara after all. When James Branwell shakes his hand, he stares at his face a beat longer than normal, but if he notices, he doesn’t comment. Lydia comes in behind him, wearing a pretty green dress the same deep shade of green as the dress shirt Alec has on.

“Wow,” Alec says, offering her a shy smile. “You look really nice, Lydia.”

Lydia beams at him, reaching out to lace their fingers together. Alec resolutely does not think of how much smaller her hand feels in his than the solid weight of the one he’s used to. The hand Alec is dying to hold.

He doesn’t think about it because it’s pointless. He and Magnus are broken up—Alec doesn’t even think they’re friends at this point. Magnus hasn’t spoken to him about anything not pertinent to classwork since the day they broke up.

“Thank you, Alec. Are you ready to go?”

The flowers—right. Alec reaches for the bundle, tucked out of sight on the bench of Jace’s piano.

“Here,” he says, offering them to Lydia. “For you.”

Lydia’s cheeks turn a pretty shade of pink as she brings the blooms up to her nose, hiding the curve of a smile.

“Chrysanthemums. They’re lovely, Alec. That was very sweet of you…how did you know not to get me roses?”

Alec smiles, shifting nervously at the feeling of James’s eyes on their backs in the moment before he turns to leave. “I didn’t. Just wanted something different, that’s all.” He shrugs, thankful when Lydia doesn’t question it anymore. “Ready to go?”

“Of course,” Lydia responds, arm looping through the crook of Alec’s. “Let’s go.”

//

Lydia brings them to Nobu—as soon as he realizes where they are, Alec is tempted to dig his heels in and insist they go somewhere else.

24,000 restaurants in all of Manhattan…and Lydia brings him here. The irony is not lost on Alec. He mutters a quiet ‘shit’ under his breath and grits his teeth, ignoring the squeeze of Lydia’s hand at his elbow.

The maître-d leads Alec and Lydia to a small table tucked behind the hulking curve of the bar. If nothing else, Alec is thankful for the illusion of privacy, even if it’s not something he’d need to make use of.

They talk and order appetizers. It’s easy, this thing with Lydia. Slowly, Alec starts to unwind. If not for the empty ache in his chest, he might even consider this fun. While he’s still not sure why Lydia wanted them to have dinner in the first place, Alec is grateful for the opportunity to breathe. To forget. Well, as close as someone can get to forgetting Magnus Bane, Alec thinks bitterly. Alec wonders what Lydia is getting out of all this.

He’s just about to ask when someone taps him on the shoulder. Alec turns, expecting a waiter. He gets one hell of a surprise instead.

“Isabelle?” Alec splutters, eyes widening comically. “Jace? What in the—why are you here?”

“To kidnap you,” Jace says, smirk stretching a dimple in the curve of his left cheek. “Get up and go. You’re leaving with Iz.”

“Like hell I am,” Alec says, looking between the two of them. “Not until you tell me what’s going on. Why would I—I can’t just leave, Jace. I’m here with Lydia.”

“Actually, Alec,” Lydia chimes in, “you can, and I’m hoping you will. Not that I wasn’t having a lovely time with you.”

Alec pivots so fast that the room spins with him. “You’re in on this?”

“Guilty as charged.”

It’s overwhelming; the weight of their eyes on him. Alec turns to Isabelle next. She’s been uncharacteristically silent since the moment Alec laid eyes on them.

“I’m not going anywhere until someone tells me what’s going on. Izzy, please.”

“Hey,” she says, reaching out to rub Alec’s arm. “It’s okay. This is a good thing, Alec. I know you’re probably nervous, and that’s fine. All you have to do is trust me. Can you do that?”

“I don’t…I trust you, of course I do. But Izzy—”

Isabelle’s hand wraps around Alec’s forearm, tugging hard. “Come on, Alec. Let’s go before we’re late. I’ll explain on the way, I promise.”

//

“What the hell are you doing?!”

Isabelle ignores the way Alec’s hands are slapping hers, focused on the task at hand—a task that, apparently, involves unbuttoning Alec’s shirt. And dragging a hand through his hair, effectively ruining whatever style she’d spent hours on earlier.

“Getting you ready,” Izzy says patiently.

Right. Getting Alec ready—because that makes perfect sense. All in the middle of the street, while they wait in line for—

Fuck no. This time, Alec does dig his heels in. “Hang on. No. Is that a nightclub?”

“No, Alec. It’s a daycare. Yes, it’s a nightclub. Welcome to Pandemonium,” Isabelle grins, gesturing at the velvet ropes and the spill of light with a practiced flourish.

“No. Hell no. What am I doing here? We’re not going in, Isabelle. Actually, we’re going home.” The line they’re standing in is moving quickly. If Alec doesn’t get them out of here in the next few seconds, it’ll be he and Isabelle’s turn to face the surly-looking bouncer checking IDs at the door. “Besides, it’s not like we can go in. We don’t have IDs. That guy won’t even—no, Iz.”

She’s fishing around in the pocket of her coat. Alec knows what she’s looking for before she’s able to find it.

“You didn’t. Iz, please—”

“Look, Alec. I don’t have much time to explain, so I’m going to give you the short version: Go to the bar, order a drink to ease your nerves, and finish it, even if it’s gross.” She pauses, considering something. “Ask for a Mai-Tai if you don’t know what to get. Or a Sex on the Beach.”

Heat rushes to his cheeks immediately. “W-what? I’m not—I can’t just ask for that!”

“After that,” Isabelle continues, unbothered by his outburst, “go find Magnus on the dance floor. Talk some sense into him. Or kiss him. Either or.”

Alec’s heart stops. God, it’s pathetic how quickly that changes things. “M-Magnus? He’s…he wants to see me?”

“Yes. All part of the plan. Speaking of, it’s showtime,” Isabelle mutters under her breath, gripping Alec’s elbow to force him along. “Try not to be weird, it’ll give you away. Just…don’t say anything unless he asks you a question.”

The bouncer gives them both a once-over. His eyes linger on the cut of Isabelle’s dress.

“IDs, both of you.”

Isabelle pushes a smooth piece of plastic into Alec’s palm under the guise of opening her purse. She offers her own card to the bouncer with what Alec thinks is a flirtatious wink. He barely looks at it before turning his attention to Alec. “And you?”

“R-right,” Alec stutters. It’s the thought of Magnus standing just beyond those double doors that has Alec holding out his hand, showing the man whatever ID Isabelle handed to him. “Here you go.”

Just like with Izzy, the bouncer barely looks at it before he gestures them in. Alec wonders if he thinks the two of them are together—the thought makes him sick to his stomach.

He doesn’t have time to dwell on it, though, because Isabelle is leading him through the doors and into the crowd without a moment of hesitation. All it takes is the kick of the reverb and reality is settles in, cold as an ice bucket all over Alec’s body.

Magnus, Magnus, Magnus. Alec can’t do this. “Izzy, I can’t…”

There’s a gentle shove to Alec’s shoulder—he stumbles forward, catching himself on the edge of a rail. Izzy’s voice carries her instructions over the roar of the crowd.

“Don’t throw away your shot, Alec. Now go—bar, drink, win back your man. In that order!”

 Alec turns, ready to tell her that it’s pretty damned difficult to win someone back when you’re not sure why they left you in the first place, Izzy, but Alec’s sister is long gone, leaving him alone with a lump in his throat and tension everywhere else.

Bar, drink. Step one. That doesn’t sound so bad right about now. Alec’s feet carry him in that direction automatically, mumbling apologies as his shoulder jostles people on the way.

//

Truth be told, Alec’s not sure what he orders. When the bartender hands him something blue with an umbrella, he feels too awkward to ask.

Alec drinks it in about five minutes, depositing the now empty glass on the bar’s edge as the alcohol works its way through his veins. Not so much as to inhibit, but enough to warm his limbs.

It’s nice, Alec thinks. Now that the panic is starting to fade, Alec can focus on the real reason his siblings kidnapped him and dragged him here against his will.

Magnus—he’s there, in the middle of the dance floor, dancing by himself with his arms held over his head, hips flexing in time with the beat. Alec’s mouth goes dry at the sight, his heart falling down to his dress shoes and landing on the sticky, drink-covered floor.

It’s been almost two weeks since they’ve touched—since he’s pulled Alec in, kissed him hard and fast in the stolen moments between bells ringing and lockers slamming, stolen his breath and his every thought with a single glance or a flirty wink, and now…

Now, Magnus is here, with his head thrown back and neck bared as he loses himself to the thrum of bass and synthesizer pounding through the club. Magnus. He looks absolutely sinful in painted on leather and a black silk shirt. Magnus.

Alec’s feet are moving before he’s even aware of it. Six long strides—the crowd parts like water around him, like he’s Moses in a metaphorical sea—and suddenly Magnus is right in front of him, eyes opening and locking onto Alec’s like they’re the only two people in the room. There’s heat there, longing, a fire Alec knows too well; flames dancing under his fingertips as he reaches for Magnus’s arm. He’s desperate for some sort of contact, anything, just a single touch to quell the burning—

But Magnus has other plans. His hands go straight to Alec’s hips and he yanks him forward, pulling their bodies flush together. Alec’s hands move automatically to Magnus’s chest to brace himself, becoming trapped there as Magnus pulls him in closer.

His fingers splay into the stretch of soft silk, warm and nearly translucent under the pulsing strobe lights of the club. It’s slightly damp with sweat, heat rolling off Magnus’s body in waves as Alec swallows past the lump in his throat. His hand glides across the fabric as he maps Magnus’s chest, hungry and wanting after so long apart and there—his fingers meet skin, smooth and hot where Magnus has his buttons undone. There’s a tangle of necklaces there, long chains and charms overlapping in a complicated arrangement, but Alec ignores them entirely, his fingers dragging up and down the strip of Magnus’s chest that he can reach. Up, over collarbones, glittery and sharp in the too-hot room, and down again, nearly brushing a nipple, pushing his shirt aside as Alec maps his way down to Magnus’s stomach, the glide soft and easy until it isn’t, interrupted by the smallest trail of coarse black hair… 

Magnus moans softly and tips his head forward, knocking it against Alec’s own as his eyes close in anticipation. If they’re not kissing in the next three seconds Alec is going to combust. Right here, in front of all these people.  

“Alexander.”

It’s no more than a whisper against Alec’s lips, but the words are as clear as if he’d shouted them.

“I’m right here,” he answers, fingers trembling against Magnus’s hips. He hopes it’s the answer Magnus is looking for…the words Magnus needs to hear in order to give him more.

Alec is lost—hopelessly, dizzyingly falling, headlong into whatever Magnus wants from him. He’ll do anything, give him anything. He’s Icarus, basking in the warmth of the sun. Alec closes his eyes, and waits.

Magnus doesn’t kiss him. Instead, he spins him around, so that his front is pressed tightly to Alec’s back, arms slipping around his waist and pressing against his stomach to guide Alec into his body. Alec goes willingly, pliant and loose in Magnus’s arms.

Anything, everything. Alec’s head tips back to rest on Magnus’s shoulder, exposing the lean line of his neck.

“Dance with me?” Magnus asks, tongue tracing the shell of Alec’s ear as his hips rock forward, grinding against Alec’s backside in a deliberate motion.

Alec can’t dance. He’s never been taught, and even if he had been, it would’ve been something decidedly different. He would’ve taken ballroom classes like Jace, or worship dancing like Isabelle. Hell—outside of the New Year’s party, Alec has never even been to a school dance before. There’s really no point in going, he reasons, if he can’t even move his feet without face-planting.

None of that matters now. All Alec can feel is Magnus; a constant, thrumming heat behind him. All he can focus on is the sweep of Magnus’s hands down his stomach, dancing across his abs and smoothing down his denim-covered thighs before settling somewhere just below Alec’s hips.

Alec doesn’t even have to think about it before he’s answering Magnus’s question with a steady push of his own hips—back and up, dragging against Magnus’s body in a slow sweep that sends heat rushing through his body. Was that right? Alec’s teeth sink into his lip as he does it again, steadier this time. More insistent.

And then Magnus moans in his ear, loud and hot, adjusting his grip on Alec’s hips to rock them in time with the beat—it’s enough to dispel any remaining doubt. Just like that, they’re dancing together, not an inch of space between them.

If Alec were capable of coherent thought, he’d probably make a joke to dispel any awkwardness he felt. “Leave some room for the Holy Spirit”—he can hear it in Father Starkweather’s voice as if he were standing right next to him, ruler in hand at the New Year’s Eve party, ready to break up any dancing that looked morally questionable. As it stands, though, he’s not capable of breathing, let alone thinking—so he twines his arms around the back of Magnus’s neck and moves, mouth opening and closing in a soundless gasp.

Together, they dance. All around them, the steady thrum of the club carries on.

//

Fifteen minutes.

It only takes fifteen minutes—three songs, Alec has been counting—for Alec to reach his breaking point. He’s been hard since his eyes first fell on Magnus, but now it’s edging on painful. Torturous. If he doesn’t do something about it soon, Alec is going to come in his pants, right in the middle of the dance floor.

“Magnus,” he whimpers, turning in the circle of Magnus’s arms to press their chests together. Their groins brush as they shift in time with the music. Alec mutters a curse under his breath and arches into that delicious contact. “Magnus, please—”

It’s not enough. Alec knows that. He moans in frustration, pressing into Magnus’s hand as it brushes dangerously close to where Alec needs it most. God, he needs to find the words. This has to end, one way or the other. All Alec needs to do is ask for it.

Except he doesn’t. He doesn’t, because this is Magnus—and Magnus has always understood Alec better than anyone else could. Better than himself, even.

“Let me take care of you, darling.” Magnus’s voice is hitched, broken. Just a little desperate. “I’ve got you, Alexander. Say the word and we can leave. We can—"

“Yes,” Alec says, cutting off Magnus mid-sentence when he’s heard enough. “Fuck. That’s—yes.”

Magnus’s mouth drops open, desire rolling off him in waves. “That, or other things—god, there’s so much we could do, if you let me. If that’s what you want.”

Alec nods, reaching down to tangle their fingers together. “Take me home, Magnus.”

/*/

Magnus takes him to a hotel room a block and a half from the club. It’s not what Alec was expecting, nor is it what he asked for, but one look at Magnus, gaze hot and locked on Alec’s mouth, and Alec realizes the room (and its proximity to the club) is nothing short of a blessing in disguise.

He doesn’t dwell on the fact that Magnus had the room before Alec showed up. No, Alec, shut up, it doesn’t matter.

“Nice room,” Alec hums, running his hand along the stark white linens. The bed is massive, situated in the middle of the room. “Bet it costs a fortune.”

“I didn’t pay for it myself,” Magnus says, low and throaty in the artificial quiet of the hotel room, “so I wouldn’t know, darling. I’m glad you like it, though.” Alec’s eyes meet his—he catches the flicker of hesitance; followed up by a split second of emotion Alec can’t discern. “Alexander, you know you’re free to leave at any point, right? Just because we’re here together doesn’t mean I’m expecting anything from you. I can go too, if that’s easier.”

Alec summons all the confidence he has. “And if I don’t want you to go? If I…want you to, um. Expect things of me?”

“Then I’ll stay. I’m all yours. Whatever you want, Alexander.”

Alec’s chest aches—that’s not true. Not anymore. He swallows past the lump in his throat and forces himself to focus on the moment.  

On Magnus, laid out on the sheets with his arms spread wide, palms up. On the stark black of his silk shirt against the bright white hotel sheets, unbuttoned down to his navel and half tucked into the tightest pair of leather pants Alec has ever seen…

They’re pressed so tightly in the front that Alec can make out the shape of him, hard and wanting against the gleaming teeth of his zipper. His mouth waters at the sight—Alec can’t hold back his moan any more than he can keep his twitching hands still.

All he knows for certain is that he wants to touch. Alec figures that’s as good of a place as any to start. He decides to begin with Magnus’s arms, but as he’s about to make contact, Alec realizes how much better this would be if Magnus wasn’t wearing his shirt.

Alec tugs at the material, hands betraying his nervousness. “Um, would you mind—"

Magnus sits up, whipping off the shirt in one fluid movement. Alec hears the clatter of something plastic against the floor—buttons, his mind supplies. The second Magnus’s chest is bare he’s sprawled out against the mattress, eyes falling shut against a breathy exhale.

So much skin. His hands move unconsciously, his palm fitting against the curve of Magnus’s shoulder and sliding down in a smooth drag.

God, Alec has spent many a restless night thinking about Magnus’s arms. The strain of the muscle in the shirts he wears…Alec’s fingers trace over cords of muscle; ring finger brushing the length of a vein down to Magnus’s elbow before moving back up again in a gentle drag.

Magnus hums appreciatively, but otherwise stays silent. Alec decides he doesn’t like that.

No, he thinks, caught up in the high of the moment and the sweet span of smooth skin in front of him, Alec is going to do something about that.

His exploration of Magnus’s chest starts at his collarbone, but instead of using his hands, Alec traces the cut of the bone with the tip of his tongue.

Magnus’s eyes fly open—this time, he moans, soft and sweet. “Fuck, Alec—”

“Shh,” Alec soothes, hands framing Magnus’s sides and sliding up to his ribcage. His tongue dips into the divot between Magnus’s collarbones. He scrapes his teeth against the skin there—Magnus’s eyes flutter shut again, head tipping back as he whines. “I’ve got you, Magnus. Am I doing okay so far?”

“That,” Magnus pants, fingers tangled in the material of Alec’s cotton dress shirt, “is not the word I would use. I like—ah, that—” he whimpers; Alec’s teeth closing gently around a nipple and giving a gentle tug, “—spectacular. Incredible. Don’t stop. Don’t—oh.

Alec moans and presses a series of hot, open-mouthed kisses against the skin of Magnus’s abs, his own eyes closing as he loses himself to the salty tang of it. To the taste of Magnus’s skin; the tickle of coarse hair getting thicker and thicker as he follows it down to the edge of Magnus’s waistband.

Fuck, there are so many things Alec wants to do now. A million options play out in front of him, each one more appealing than the last: he could peel those pants down Magnus’s legs and taste every inch of him until they’re both shaking; could trace the shape of him through the thick leather until Magnus is a begging, babbling mess…maybe Alec could flip him over and follow the curve of his spine with his tongue, too.

If he had an infinite stretch of time, Alec would do it all. As it stands, though, he has a difficult decision to make. Couple that with the fact that he’s so hard in his own jeans Alec thinks he could come from the brush of the denim alone. He reaches down, grinding the heel of his hand against his own erection. It doesn’t do much to relieve the throbbing pressure, but Alec moans into the contact all the same, loud and broken in the quiet of the hotel room.

It happens so quickly, Alec doesn’t process the movement until it’s over. One second he’s kneeling between Magnus’s parted legs, the next he’s flat on his back, Magnus’s mouth crashing against his as he hovers above Alec’s body, forearms bracketing Alec’s face. Alec can feel the jump of Magnus’s muscles as he supports his own weight, taut and shaking against Alec’s shoulders.

“Fuck, that’s so hot,” Alec groans.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, darling. I definitely agree with the sentiment though.”

Alec sighs, tilting his head to the side as Magnus trails kisses down the side of his neck and back up again. “Your arms,” he whispers, fingers coming up to tangle in the silk of Magnus’s hair. “All of you, really, but your arms are so…”

Magnus hums, soft and gentle. “Thank you, darling. Since we’re on the subject…your lashes are a miracle. Water to wine—sure, that’s great. But this,” he presses a kiss underneath each of Alec’s eyes, lighter than air, “is something I’d love to study.”

“That’s blasphemy,” Alec breathes, eyes opening to catch Magnus’s. His pupils are massive, nearly swallowing the brown Alec loves entirely. “Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain, Magnus.”

“Nothing will ever be in vain when it comes to you, my love.”

The words are serious; reverent. Alec swallows against the weight of the moment, his lust-addled brain too scrambled to come up with a proper response. Thankfully, Magnus is happy to fill the silence when it carries on a beat too long.

“I bet I could hold you up, Alexander. Pin you up against the wall and hold you there in my arms, with your legs wrapped around my waist. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? From there I could stroke you off, or reach down and finger you open—”

Alec’s whimper is sharp and sudden, his back arching to press their bodies together more fully.

“Come on, Magnus, please. You’re not gonna crush me, come on, I want—”

Magnus’s smile is huge. He settles his weight more fully against Alec, forcing the air out of his lungs in a steady woosh.

“Bossy,” Magnus teases, breath hot against the shell of his ear. He latches on just below, sucking gently at the sensitive patch of skin there. “Tell me, Alexander. Tell me what you want and I’ll do it.”

What does Alec want? It’s a loaded question, with an answer that is both simple and anything but—Alec wants everything. All of it. Magnus, mostly. His body, his mouth; his sweet words in Alec’s ear, whispered right alongside the dirty ones.

Alec wants to go to prom with Magnus. To kiss Magnus in Nobu and hold his hand over the table. Alec wants Magnus to argue with Max over comics; to sit next to Alec’s dad in a church pew, to whine at his mom for showing Magnus embarrassing baby pictures.

In a few years, Alec wants Magnus’s ring on his finger, with one of his own on Magnus’s. In a lifetime…Alec wants as many days with Magnus as he can get. Hand-in-hand, fireproof, to hell with anyone who tries to stop them.

There’s a lot that Alec wants…but at the moment, there’s very little he can actually have. He banishes the hurt to the deepest depths of his mind, letting himself get lost in the moment. Magnus’s hands are cupping Alec’s face like he’ll shatter if Magnus isn’t careful.

“W-what you just said. All of it. Pin me, hold me, take me—I just want to feel you, Magnus. Please. Please, that’s all I want.”

Magnus groans in response, eyes closing. Alec’s hips thrust up into the solid weight above him, seeking just enough friction to take the edge off.

“Just so we’re clear,” Magnus breathes, words pressed into the line of sloppy kisses he’s trailing down Alec’s torso, “you want to try penetration? Bottoming?”

“Yes,” Alec says, hoping his voice is steady. It’s a difficult feat when Magnus’s fingers are circling the button of Alec’s jeans, right against the hard line of his cock in his boxers. “I want you, Magnus. Want to feel you.” Only you. “Is that…u-uh, is that okay?”

“It means everything to me, Alexander. Everything. You’re so…fuck, yes, that’s more than okay. I want you too, more than I’ve ever wanted anyone.” He’s a little less than focused at the moment, all the beautiful, stinging details of Magnus’s touch on Alec’s body blurring into a white-hot singular pleasure but Alec swears he can hear the hitch of tears in Magnus’s voice. He forces his eyes open, pushing himself up on his elbows to get a better look at his face—

And nearly comes in his boxers at the sight that greets him: Magnus, mouthing at the head of Alec’s cock through the thin cotton, zipper parted just enough to make room for his mouth. How the fuck hadn’t he noticed that before? Alec’s lips part against a high-pitched whine as his arms collapse under his own weight.

“Oh my god,” Alec squeaks, tossing an arm over his eyes when the image becomes too overwhelming to watch. He whimpers in frustration when his thighs won’t part further, caught in the tangle of his jeans against his hips.

“May I?” Magnus asks, tugging at the waistband. Alec’s nod is embarrassingly quick. Magnus has the stupid pants off and on the floor in a matter of moments, Alec’s plain black boxers following shortly after.

Magnus’s eyes are on Alec’s cock the moment he has him bare, drinking in the sight with no shortage of heat in his gaze.

“Beautiful,” Magnus whispers, a hand coming up to stroke Alec’s thigh. “So fucking lovely, Alexander. You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.”

Alec’s eyes tear up, heart smashing against the confines of his ribcage. It’s too much; too close to the words he’s so desperate to hear. Redirect, Alec. Think, change the topic, make it stop.

“Yours too.” There. Effective, with the added bonus of seeing more of Magnus. “Please,” Alec adds at the last second, cheeks burning with anticipation.

“Well, since you asked so politely.”

The quirk of Magnus’s lips is half-smirk, half-smile. He flicks open the button of his pants, peeling them down slowly. Alec gasps when an alarming amount of skin is revealed all at once, Magnus’s cock slapping wetly against his abdomen once it’s free of the skintight leather.

“Can’t exactly wear underwear with these pants,” Magnus says in explanation, winking as he crawls toward Alec on the bed. “Now, where were we? I believe someone had a request—”

“Shouldn’t we, um…move? To the wall?”

“We will, darling,” Magnus promises, reaching for a few things tucked in the nightstand drawer. “But I want you to be comfortable. Starting on the bed will make it easier to adjust.”

Adjust to Magnus’s fingers, to the stretch of Magnus’s cock. Alec’s own cock jumps at the thought alone, hard and leaking against his stomach. “I—oh.

“I promise, darling, I’m going to take care of you. You’re going to feel so good. But if at any point you don’t like something we do together, I need you to tell me. Promise me, Alexander.”

The snick of the bottle cap as it opens catches Alec’s attention, pulling his lazy focus back to Magnus and the way he’s twisting his wrist. It occurs to him that Magnus probably wants an answer to that.

“I promise. But Magnus…”

Magnus pauses, two fingers held at an odd-sort of angle. He’s coating them in something shiny and wet—it catches the light in a way that has heat twisting low in Alec’s stomach, adding to the thrum of restless energy building under his skin.

If Magnus doesn’t have a hand on him soon, Alec is going to explode. If he weren’t so embarrassed he’d probably have gotten himself off by now.

“Yes, darling?”

Alec closes his eyes and readies himself for the pain that’s sure to come. Even though it hurts, Alec has to say it. “I want to take care of you, too. Tell me…please, tell me how to do that.” Because Alec doesn’t know how, not really, in any of the ways that matter. If he did…they never would have broken up in the first place.

Alexander.” This time, there’s no mistaking it. Alec opens his eyes to find tears tracking down Magnus’s cheeks, kiss-bruised lips parted around a choked little exhale.

Alec sits up so quickly there are stars dancing in his peripheral vision. “Magnus, hey—"

But Alec doesn’t get to finish that thought. Magnus surges forward, crashing into him with a kiss so hard, so devastating, that it robs Alec of both his breath and the words he was dangerously close to saying mere seconds ago.

You’re beautiful, Magnus, so beautiful. I love you. I love you more than anything, don’t cry.

Instead of speaking, Alec swallows each of Magnus’s broken little noises with the glide of his tongue against Magnus’s, his hand only shaking slightly as he finally manages to wrap his fingers around Magnus’s length without breaking their kiss.

The hot glide of him in Alec’s hand is enough to make him shiver, head dropping to Magnus’s shoulder so Alec can see what he’s doing.

“Feels so good, darling. Just like that. Nice and slow,” Magnus murmurs, hips bucking up to meet the tug of Alec’s fist. When the drag of it feels too rough, Alec twists his hand over the head, gathering the wetness there in his palm to ease the motion before bringing his hand down a little quicker.

Magnus’s hand shoots out like lightning, fingers circling Alec’s wrist and holding him still as his entire body strings taut like a bow. “Stop,” he says, voice trembling.

Alec’s worry is immediate. “Magnus, what’s wrong? Did I do something bad? Was it too tight?”

“No such thing,” Magnus grits out, eyes squeezed closed. “It’s the opposite, actually—I don’t want to come yet. S-so close, Alexander. I’m so—fuck. Just give me a moment and we’ll be right as rain.”

“I—oh.” Alec whispers, filled with a strange sense of pride. He did that. The thought of Magnus coming undone in Alec’s hand…Alec adds that to the mental list of things he most definitely wants in the future. He’s so giddy with the knowledge that it makes him giggle. “Sorry?”

“I’m not,” Magnus says, tension melting from his back as he settles Alec with a sharp look. It chases heat down the twist of Alec’s spine; sends what’s left of his blood rushing straight southward. “Just you wait…I’m about to show you how not sorry I am. Lie down. Hand me one of those pillows.”

“Bossy,” Alec echoes, tongue sticking out as he hands the pillow to Magnus, lifting his hips when Magnus taps on his hipbone. “W-what…ah, what are you going to do?”

“Would you like a description?”

Alec hears the question for what it is: do you want me to talk dirty? He thinks back to earlier, to the way his blood had run hot when Magnus mentioned pinning him against a wall…

“A narration, I think.” As hot as the talk is, filthy words sweetened by the smooth, dulcet rumble of Magnus’s voice, Alec strongly prefers the action itself—especially now, when he’s so hard it’s verging on painful.

“Anything for you. Alright. Since you asked so sweetly, here’s what I’m going to do.”

The feeling of Magnus’s fingers curling around Alec’s aching cock is enough to make him sob in relief, his fist coming up to his mouth to muffle the sound.

“Let’s start with this, mm? Just a little warm up—nothing fast, nothing hard. A few strokes to give you an idea of what it feels like. How good you made me feel a few minutes ago.”

Alec tosses his head back, trying to breathe under the onslaught of stimulation. Magnus’s hand working his length, the wet glide of his other hand as it slides back, sweeping slowly against his skin, until—

Fuck,” Alec hisses, nearly startling at the slick drag of a cold finger against his hole. There’s no pressure yet and it’s almost enough to make him cry. “Ah, that’s…”

“Want me to stop?”

“No!” Magnus’s brows shoot up at the urgency in Alec’s voice. “I…um. It’s embarrassing.”

“Alexander, my love, there is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. If we’re going to do this, we need to be able to communicate with each other.”

“I—right. Okay. U-um. I actually…the teasing? I’m ready. For more. So, if you are too, can we please…”

The tip of Magnus’s finger slides in, tearing a moan from Alec’s throat as he twists the length of it in in one continuous motion. “Like this?” Alec whimpers, frantic. “Have you ever done this to yourself, darling? Tried it at least?”

Too far gone to care, Alec simply nods. “I—fuck, ah—I tried it, once. Didn’t feel this good. M-more, please.”

Magnus hums and adds a second finger alongside the first, thrusting them slowly to let Alec adjust.

“That’s because it’s difficult to get the right angle when you use your own hand. Of course, it also has a lot to do with your state of mind. You have to be relaxed to enjoy it properly…and you are, my love. You’re doing so wonderfully.” Alec’s cock is leaking steadily now, making a mess of his stomach. “But,” Magnus says, voice pitching low for effect, “we haven’t quite gotten to the best part yet. Just a moment—”

Alec keens, back bowing as his whole body comes alive for one breathtaking moment. He sags against the mattress once it passes, gasping for breath at the persistent drag of Magnus’s fingers.

“Found it,” Magnus sings gleefully. “As I was saying, that experience is very hard to replicate without another person there to help. Amazing, isn’t it?”

“You…Magnus. Please. P-please, god, I need you so bad—”

The sting of Magnus’s fingers as they pull out has Alec wincing, trying not to chase the blunt press of them the second that pressure is gone. Magnus’s hand is sliding down his own length, condom wrapper tossed over his shoulder like an afterthought.

He’s hovering over Alec, eyes wide and imploring as they meet Alec’s own. “Alexander, you’re sure—”

Alec sighs, eyes closing at the thunderous clip of his heartbeat. So gentle, all the time. Just when Alec thought he couldn’t love Magnus more…

When he opens them again, Alec doesn’t bother to hide any of it. The pain, the fear, and most of all…a love so overwhelming it puts stars in Alec’s dusky city sky.

Vulnerability. Everything. I love you, I love you.

“It’s okay, Magnus.” Alec says, reaching out to cup Magnus’s cheek. “This is what I want. What I need.”

Magnus closes his eyes, leaning into the touch. They blink open, browns and golds and an inky blackness Alec has never seen before locking on hazel. One of Magnus’s hands slips down to ease himself into place, the head pressing heavy and thick against Alec’s rim.

“Ready?” Magnus asks. Alec nods, shivering in anticipation. “Okay. Breathe out, nice and steady. Try to relax as much as possible.”

Alec leans against the pillows. He grabs Magnus’s hand and tangles their fingers together without thinking. For a moment, nothing happens. And then—

Oh fuck,” Alec cries, trying desperately to relax like Magnus suggested. “Magnus, M-Magnus…”

“Alexander,” Magnus whispers, leaning over Alec’s body to kiss him as he slides in completely. “My beautiful, incredible darling. God, you’re so amazing. Look at you. Look how perfect you are. Are you alright? Is the pain too much?”

Alec’s mouth opens and closes wordlessly as he tries and fails to find the appropriate words. When it’s clear that’s not going to happen, Alec settles for shaking his head.

He hopes his kiss makes up for his current lack of brain cells. Alec pours everything he has into that kiss.

I love you, you’re everything, please never stop. Magnus’s whole body is fraught with the restraint of not moving, arms trembling as he wraps Alec up in them.

“W-we’re not gonna make it to the wall, darling. Sorry to—oh god, that’s perfect—t-to disappoint.”

Alec shivers and plants his feet flat on the mattress, using the newfound leverage to cant his hips upward. “Move, please, fast. I’m so close, Magnus. Please, feels like it’s been hours—”

Magnus’s teeth bite down on Alec’s collarbone in time with the sharp thrust of his hips. Alec’s moan is long and drawn out, cock scraping between their stomachs as he picks up speed.

“I promised—ah, promised to take care of you. I meant it, Alec. I will. N-no matter what. I’m here, I’ll always be here—oh god, fuck, Alec, I can’t, so close—”

It’s a warning, Alec knows it. His hand fumbles for Magnus’s again, needing an anchor to keep him from losing himself to the overwhelming pressure. He arches into Magnus’s body as his own pleasure starts to peak.

And then Alec snaps, coming sudden and white-hot between them, lips parted in a silent moan.

He thinks he feels Magnus follow soon after, body pressed tight against his own, but Alec isn’t sure where he stops and Magnus starts at this point, head stuffed with cotton as the whole world spins. There’s a distant ache as Magnus slides out, the cool glide of a washcloth against his overheated skin…

Magnus sidles up to Alec in the fluffy hotel linens, sprawling on top of him and weighing him into the mattress. It’s a soothing pressure, Alec thinks. He opens his mouth to tell Magnus as much, but the words are just out of reach.

“My Alexander,” Magnus murmurs, stretching to turn out the light. “Please stay. Please. Sweet dreams, darling.”

The pull of sleep is too much to fight. Alec bows out, Magnus’s sweet voice whispering his name a better lullaby than anything Alec’s heard before.

/*/

Alec Lightwood’s first realization upon waking up is that he’s not wearing a single article of clothing. In spite of that, Alec isn’t cold—quite the opposite, actually. He’s blanketed by a solid, weighty warmth, surrounded by the smell of sandalwood and jasmine.

There’s hair in his mouth, an ache in his lower back, and this is definitely not Alec’s bed. He forces his eyes open, blinking against the bright shock of sunlight.

The hotel. Going to the club, meeting Magnus, following him back…and losing his virginity.

Holy shit. Alec pinches the skin on his hand, convinced he’s trapped in some sort of fever dream.

“It was real,” Magnus says, groggily. His eyes are still closed—he snuggles further into Alec’s chest, sighing happily at the feeling. “You stayed.”

“Of course I did,” Alec says, pulling Magnus in closer to stave off the incoming heartbreak. “I wouldn’t leave, Magnus.” Not now, not ever. It was never me who left. “But I do…um. I should probably get home. I’m not sure how long my siblings can cover for me.”

Magnus’s eyes open. “Right. Duty calls.”

“Listen, Magnus—”

“Not now.” Magnus’s finger presses tight to Alec’s lips. Alec’s tongue flicks out to wrap around Magnus’s finger. “I—mm, darling. We’ll talk soon, I promise. But not today. I want this moment to…remain unchanged.”

Alec nods, swallowing past the lump in his throat as he makes quick work of his clothing. “Can I text you later?”

When Magnus smiles, Alec can’t help but notice the way it doesn’t reach his eyes. “I look forward to it,” he says in response. “Be safe getting home.”

“You too, Magnus.”

The door to Magnus’s hotel room is heavy. Alec takes the brunt of the weight on his shoulder, not wanting it to slam behind him as he leaves. It’s only when he hears the lock turn over that Alec lets the first tears fall, blurring his vision as he trudges in the direction of home.

//

“No. Sorry, Lydia. I can’t—I appreciate what you’re trying to do, really. But us pretending to date is not going to help.”

“It might,” Lydia says, head tilted. “Think about it this way, Alec: it’ll take the pressure off. Your parents will be happy, you and Magnus can spend time together without having to sneak around…”

Alec shakes his head. “We’ll be living a lie. Living in sin. It’s borrowed time.”

“And maybe borrowed time is exactly what the two of you need to figure this out.”

That…is an interesting thought. Alec’s immediate instinct is to shoot Lydia down—it’s not fair to him; not fair to Magnus. Magnus deserves someone who can hold his hand in the hallway. Someone who can take him to Nobu and buy him all the flowers in New York, someone who can love him openly.

What Lydia’s suggesting…it’s none of that. And yet…

“Listen, Alec. I know it’s not ideal. But this is temporary. Just until the dust settles.” She pauses, voice lowering. “Until you and Magnus are ready to come out on your own terms.”

“Magnus is already out,” Alec argues, knowing perfectly well that it’s not the argument Lydia is expecting. He wonders if Lydia can tell how close she is to convincing him. “It’s not…what if it isn’t that easy? You and I fake-dating. What if it doesn’t fix anything?”

Lydia’s smile is sad. She reaches out and touches Alec’s cheek. “It won’t be easy,” she says, “but it might be worth it. Just...talk to Magnus, see what he thinks. Let him know I offered. Okay? Can you do that for me?”

Alec takes a moment to envision the many ways in which this could end badly for him and Magnus. Then he thinks of last night.

Of the way Magnus’s hands held him like he was something special; like Alec was seconds from disappearing and it was all Magnus could do to keep him tethered there. To keep them together in spite of all the people trying to tear them apart. And yes, Magnus might deserve better—hell, Alec’s always known that.

But maybe Alec can be better. This thing with Lydia…it’ll give him time.

“Okay.”

“You’ll ask Magnus about it?” Alec nods. Lydia smiles, reaching out to squeeze Alec’s forearm. “Great. I’m happy you’re willing to give this a chance. You and Magnus deserve a shot at happiness, Alec. I’d do anything if it meant helping you get that.”

Alec’s answering smile must not be very convincing, because Lydia’s lips start to turn down. “Hey. Don’t be so worried. The worst Magnus can say is no.”

Lydia is wrong about that, Alec thinks. The worst thing Magnus can say is yes. He manages a nod before leaving the library, his message to Magnus already halfway written on the screen of his phone.

Alec holds his breath and presses ‘send.’ There’s nothing left to do but wait. 

//

Magnus agrees to Alec and Lydia’s fake dating plan. He’s not enthusiastic about it, but Alec manages to convince him.

It doesn’t feel like a victory, but Alec shoves that feeling aside—he has Magnus back, at least for the time being. Now all he needs to do is become the person Magnus deserves.

Alec refuses to consider the possibility that maybe he won’t be enough after all. With God, all things are possible—he just needs to pray for guidance. And forgiveness, for the massive lie he and Lydia are about to take part in.

Maybe patience for Magnus; that this mess won’t break him, so Alec will get the chance to show him how willing he is to learn. Alec sinks to his knees by the side of his bed that night, cross pendant pressed tight against his palm, and prays.

//

Alec and Lydia are three days into their fake dating plan when Isabelle corners him in his room, demanding to know what the heck is going on.

It takes him a few moments to decide that another lie is not the best course of action. So Alec tells her about the conversation he and Lydia had, conveniently leaving out the part where he agreed. It’s not a lie, alright? Just an omission of fact.

Isabelle barks out a laugh, coming to sit on the edge of Alec’s bed.

“No. No way, brother. Please tell me you laughed in her face.”

Alec’s silence must give him away, because Isabelle’s eyes are as big as saucers. “No, Alec. You didn’t—you told Lydia no, right?”

“Listen, Izzy,” Alec says, words slurring together in his effort to get them out, “I know it sounds bad—”

“That’s because it is bad, brother. What you and Lydia are suggesting is a disaster waiting to happen. How do you envision this working? You lie to Mom about going out with Lydia, just to meet up with Magnus. Is that right?”

Alec winces at the judgmental frown on his sister’s face. “Well, that’s the idea.”

“And what a stupid idea it is,” Izzy replies. “What are you going to tell people when they ask why you and Lydia never kiss? Never go on dates? People are going to ask questions, and the two of you aren’t going to have answers.”

“Nobody needs to know, Isabelle,” Alec snaps. He knows he’s being overly defensive, but he can’t seem to stop. “It’s none of their business what Lydia and I do or don’t do, in public or in private.”

Isabelle’s sigh has the anger leaving Alec in one steady rush. "I know it isn’t, but they’ll ask their questions anyway. And when you don’t answer them…I’m worried about you, Alec. Are you and Magnus sure this is what you want to do?”

“I’m sure I can’t lose him again,” Alec says, ignoring the broken sound Izzy makes. “After that night at Pandemonium, I just…I have to at least try, Izzy. And after what happened with Magnus and his suspension, I know that being careful isn’t enough. We need something to throw people off our tracks—a distraction. That’s where Lydia comes in.”

“I guess that makes sense. But Alec…you could get hurt again. This is—if Magnus decides it’s too much—"

Alec nods, ignoring the stab of pain in his heart. “Then it’s over, and I’ll call things off with Lydia myself. I know it’s a risk, Izzy. But it’ll keep Magnus out of Mom’s crosshairs…for now, that’s all I can ask for. I don’t care about what happens to me. I just want a chance to make this right.”

“Okay,” Isabelle says, slowly. “Alright, Alec. If this is what you and Magnus want to do, then I’ll support you. All I ask in return is that you promise to talk to me, good or bad. Alright? I need to know what’s going on so I can do my part to keep this quiet.”

When he hugs her, Alec manages to catch Izzy off guard. “Yes, Izzy. I promise—thank you. For…um, for being understanding.”

Isabelle only nods, wiping at the corners of her eyes with the edge of her shirtsleeve. For a second Alec considers asking about the tears but then he decides that the answer might scare him.

Alec stays silent instead.

//

Eight days.

Eight days of holding Lydia’s hand in the hallway, trying not to flinch at the eyes of his classmates burning curious holes in Alec’s back as they walk from class to class. Eight days of barely speaking to Magnus at school in order to kill any lingering suspicion. Eight days of loneliness, of missing Magnus, even when he’s sitting right next to Alec.

Eight days of ‘dates’ with Lydia that end up with Alec in Magnus’s bed, tangled up in the silk sheets with little else on his mind but Magnus’s lips on his throat; Magnus’s name in his mouth…

Ever since that night in the hotel room things have been different between them. Not that Alec is complaining. No, Alec thinks, goofy smile on his face as Magnus dabs concealer on a particularly incriminating mark on Alec’s neck, different isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, there’s nothing bad about what he and Magnus are doing.

Sure, they don’t talk as much as they used to, but Alec knows that’ll come with time. They need to heal, first—and this is how they’re going to do it. By being together. Holding each other. Kissing away the hurt with bruises that are anything but painful.

Eight days. It takes that long for Alec to stop waiting for everything to go wrong. On the morning of the ninth day, Alec gets dressed for school with a smile on his face.

Maybe Lydia was right about this being a risk worth taking.

//

That afternoon, Raphael Santiago stops Alec in the hallway on his way to class.

“Lightwood.” Alec turns, letting Raphael guide him into a more secluded alcove in the Institute’s hallway. “A word, please?”

“Sure, Raphael. What’s up?”

Raphael’s sigh is long and drawn out. “Listen, Alec. I am not a violent man. Long ago I made a promise, to both God and myself, that I would never give such darkness the chance to infiltrate my heart—and yet here you are, determined to make a dishonest man out of me with every tear Magnus wastes on your behalf. Do us both a favor and stay away from him. Otherwise, I might be forced to do something we will both regret.”

Alec squeezes his eyes shut, rubbing at his temple when it begins to throb. “Raphael, just let it go. You don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to Magnus and I.”

“If you truly believe that,” Raphael says, “then you’re even more stupid than I thought.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“Exactly what it sounds like. Stay the hell away from him, Alec. I will not ask again.”

“I tried! Don’t you know how hard I tried to just forget? But I can’t, Raphael. No matter how hard I try, I can’t stop thinking about him. These past few days have been…”

“A mistake,” Raphael offers, words hitting Alec’s chest like shrapnel. Does Magnus feel that way? “And you’re clearly not trying hard enough. Let this conversation serve as motivation, Lightwood.”

“Please,” Alec begs, “you don’t understand. I know you and Magnus are friends, but—"

“Friends? Did you seriously just say that?”

Raphael sneers, his disgusted look making Alec feel all of two inches tall.

“You cannot possibly be that stupid—el burro sabe mas que tu. Magnus isn’t my friend, cabrón. He and I are brothers.”

What? Alec can’t be hearing this right. Magnus doesn’t have any siblings. Adopted or otherwise. He would’ve mentioned it. Alec and Magnus talk about everything.

Or, at least, they used to. But still. This is something major—Magnus would have told him.

“Did Ragnor adopt you too?”

“What are you even talking about? No. Ragnor didn’t adopt anyone, including Magnus. We were foster brothers back when we were children. The man we lived with at the time was unspeakably cruel, and Magnus was the only one who genuinely cared for me. He saved my life. So don’t you dare use the word ‘friendship’ to describe Magnus and I’s relationship ever again. I will not be belittled by the likes of a Lightwood.”

“I—I’m sorry, I didn’t…”

This time it’s Raphael’s jaw that drops. He looks as shocked as Alec feels, and for a moment, the only sound that passes between them is the harsh cut of their breathing. There’s a storm of emotion brewing under the surface of Alec’s skin; words and feelings and pain he’d love to put a name to, have an outlet for.

 Why didn’t Magnus tell him? Didn’t they trust each other? Magnus knows Alec better than anyone, every lie and secret and whispered nighttime confession…and Alec didn’t know about a member of Magnus’s family. A brother. Foster care? Was Ragnor even his Uncle?

“Wait. You didn’t know?” Alec manages to shake his head. In a different situation he might’ve found the panic on Raphael’s face to be more alarming. As it stands, he just feels numb.

“I’m…forgive me, Alec. That was not my story to tell. I was operating under false assumptions, and now I…I have to find Magnus. I have to go.”

Alec’s mouth is open but the words never come, so he closes it instead and watches Raphael walk away. Off to Magnus, his mind supplies. If the world wasn’t shifting on its axis in such an awful way Alec might be inclined to do the same.

Apparently, he and Magnus have a lot to talk about. He’d been so vulnerable and open with Magnus these past few days, laid bare on the sheets while Magnus looked on like he was giving that same vulnerability in return.

Like he was seeing Alec, past muscle and sinew and bone. Weaving pieces of himself in the spaces between ribs and kissing constellations open-mouthed down the length of Alec’s torso…

All the while Magnus was holding onto this. A brother, a history; an explanation and a lifetime.

The bell rings. Alec is late for Biology. He goes to the bathroom instead, slumping down in a stall as he tries to pinpoint the exact moment Magnus slipped through his fingers.

//

| M.B |

He got accepted. He’s in. It doesn’t feel real when Magnus reads it on the computer screen; not until he prints out a copy of the acceptance letter and holds it, printer warm in his hands and alcohol-dizzy in his mind.

UCLA accepted him. They read Magnus’s application, looked at his profile, and decided they wanted him. He’d applied on a whim—this was something Magnus did to appease Ragnor. Never for a second did he dare to imagine they’d let him in.

And then they had. Now what? Ragnor—yes, he should tell Ragnor. But he’s at school right now. That will have to wait until tonight.

Alexander is here. Right down the hall. The bell rings, and yes, that’s where Magnus is going next. Alec’s last class of the day is Spanish, which means he’ll be in the A-wing. Magnus dips down a hallway with the letter held close to his chest.

“Magnus?”

Magnus turns around to find Alexander standing in the middle of the hallway. The rest of the students are pushing around Alec like he’s a rock in the middle of the ocean, but Alec doesn’t seem bothered by it. Magnus’s smile flickers out the second he spots the blotchy-red remnants of tears on Alec’s face.

“Alexander?” There are too many people between he and Alec. Magnus moves to him without a second thought and just manages to stop himself from pulling Alec close. “What’s wrong? Are you alright?”

“When were you planning on telling me about Raphael?” Alec says, strangled.

“Raphael? What about him?” Alec looks so broken, eyes wide and pleading, and the sense of foreboding is enough to have Magnus panicking. “Did he say something to you? Alexander, you’re scaring me—”

“He’s your brother. Foster care. I’d like the truth about that, please.”

Oh. Oh, fuck. Magnus doesn’t remember quite how breathing works.

“Alexander, I can explain. I was going to tell you. I wanted to.”

Alec is all movement in front of him. His dress shoes smack loudly against the ground as he paces. The bell for 8th block rings but neither of them pay it any attention.

“But what, Magnus? You didn’t trust me enough? I thought we were past this. You said we needed to be honest with each other. And after we—you know, I thought you might…never mind. It’s stupid. I was stupid.”

“No, no, Alexander. You’re not stupid, darling. You’re the smartest person I know. I trust you, I do. More than I’ve ever trusted anyone. I told you that and I meant every word of it.”

“Then why didn’t you tell me?”

Magnus doesn’t have a good answer for that. Why hadn’t he? Yes, he was afraid, but not of Alec’s reaction. He knows Alec better than to think he’d pity him for the demons clawing at his back.

“I don’t know,” Magnus says. It sounds hollow to his ears but he can’t think of anything else to say. The truth. He honestly doesn’t know.

“Right,” Alec says, eyes cast downward. “Yeah, okay, that’s great.” He turns to walk away. To class? Home?

Panic seizes Magnus’s throat. Alec is leaving him. No, this cannot be the end of things.

“Alec, I didn’t try to hide it! I did everything but tell you outright. You’ve met Ragnor. You know about my parents. All you had to do was ask and I would’ve told you anything you wanted to know!”

“I shouldn’t have to ask, Magnus! I shouldn’t have to beg you for pieces of your life when I’ve shown you parts of myself my own parents don’t even know about! And you couldn’t even tell me about your family? Your brother?” Alec shakes his head, smile bitter and fragmented. “I don’t know a thing about you, do I? I probably never will.”

“That’s not true.” Magnus is close to tears now. “Alec, you know me better than anyone. Please. Talk to me about this.”

Alec shakes his head again. His fingers reach up to the collar of his shirt, smoothing down his tie and grazing the edge of the cross around his neck.

“I’m going to class. And then I’m going home. Raphael was right. I’m all wrong for you. No matter how much I wish that wasn’t true…it is, and it’s time I stopped pretending that what I have to offer is enough.”

It’s a breakup line. Alec is breaking up with him. For good this time. Magnus Bane doesn’t beg, but then again, he’s never known hurt as deep as this.

“Please, Alexander. It is enough. I trust you. I trust you, I l—”

“We’ll be friends,” Alec says, resolute. His hands are clasped behind his back in a perfect parade rest. At ease, a hysterical part of Magnus wants to say. “It’ll take me time to…get myself together, but I could never cut you out of my life entirely. You mean far too much to me for that. If…if that’s something you want.”

“Friends,” Magnus echoes, nodding his head. It feels mechanical but at least he’s moving. “If that’s what you want. I will always be there for you, no matter the capacity. As long as you’ll have me.”

Alec nods, giving him a smile that looks every bit as broken as Magnus feels. Even though he’s walking away he keeps his front to Magnus until he reaches the corner. Magnus blinks away tears while Alec rounds it. He’s gone by the time Magnus opens his eyes.

Magnus wants to sob. Wants to scream at the sky for letting him think he could be good enough for Alexander Lightwood. How could he be? How could someone like Magnus ever hope for that sort of permanence?

The dam always breaks, and he was a fool to have forgotten that very important truth. Magnus’s hands curl in on themselves but the crinkling sound catches him off guard.

Oh, right. His UCLA letter. It was the reason he’d been seeking Alec in the first place.

Magnus heads to locker number fifty-four, pulling open the door with ease. Alec always grumbles at him for never utilizing the lock feature. “It’s called a locker for a reason, Magnus.” It’s almost empty save for the glittery green mirror and a strip of photo booth pictures taped carefully to the door with heart-printed washi tape. Two Love, Simon ticket stubs; the tiny bi-pride flag Cat got him, a single dried rose petal pressed carefully between two sheets of laminate—

Magnus slams the metal door shut. He slips out of the Institute door without looking back, the letter from UCLA left behind along with what’s left of his heart.

Chapter Text


 “And then her heart changed, or at least she understood it; and the winter passed, and the sun shone upon her.”

-   J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


| A.L |

When Alec walks into his Chemistry classroom on Monday morning, the first thing he notices is Magnus’s vacant seat at their lab table.

The sound of Mrs. Pangborn calling Magnus’s name while she takes attendance only worsens the tight pain in Alec’s chest. As selfish and ridiculous as he knows the thought is, Alec can’t help but long for Magnus; for the sound of his best friend’s laugh and the scratch of his pen against paper. Fuck, he really made a mess of things—did Magnus hate him so badly that he can’t even stand the sight of Alec anymore? That he’s willing to skip school just to avoid Alec?

Alec forces himself to pay attention to Mrs. Pangborn’s lecture, taking extra care with his notes just in case Magnus wants to see them. Alec even uses the colored pens he’d bought after watching Magnus take notes in the library. The memory is painful now, sharp and cutting as it steals the breath from Alec’s lungs, but he loses himself in it anyway. Just for a minute.

//

A rainy afternoon at the Institute, oblong droplets rolling down the floor-to-ceiling library windows in crooked, lazy trails. He and Magnus had been dating for just over a week—although their library sessions had always fallen short of being purely educational, the two of them typically managed to get some sort of schoolwork done before dissolving into fits of giggles or whispered conversations. Alec made sure of it; would grumble and whine and bat his lashes until Magnus finally agreed to open a textbook. Though Alec was always the instigator.

At least, that was the case before Magnus became Alec’s boyfriend. Now, it seems as if their roles have swapped. Magnus studies more than ever before…and Alec studies Magnus.

Today, Magnus is copying scripture from a dog-eared copy of the Bible. Revised Standard Version, worn black leather cover—Alec recognizes it as an Institute-issued copy, the very same book is tucked in the seatbacks of every pew in the cathedral. He knows Magnus owns a Bible. Alec has seen it on the desk in his room.

In fact, Alec thinks, that’s probably where it is right now. He smiles at the thought of it. At the meticulous way Magnus takes his notes, carefully capping an orange felt-tipped pen and digging through the pencil bag on the desk for another.

“Fuck,” Magnus says, earning himself a glare from the librarian.

Alec blinks, startled back into awareness at the stressed lilt in Magnus’s voice. “Huh?”

Pens and pencils clatter noisily against the table as Magnus dumps out the contents of the bag. A few roll to the floor, but Magnus doesn’t seem to notice. “I lost it. Damn it. That’s just great. How am I supposed to finish my notes now?”

“Lost what, Magnus?”

“My purple pen,” Magnus says sadly. “Name of the book is written in orange, chapter number in red, corresponding verse in purple. My whole note-taking system is ruined without that pen.” He closes the Bible with a soft whoosh, the pages of his notebook fluttering loosely on the table in front of them. “Oh well. No more notetaking for me.”

Alec frowns. “Where’s the last place you remember having it? Maybe we can retrace your steps.”

Magnus’s smile is a slow, easy sweep, stretching dimples into his cheeks. “You’re sweet, Alexander. But that won’t be necessary. I can think of far more…interesting pursuits than searching for a missing pen.”

“Oh?” Alec’s breath catches in his throat—he shoves the one textbook he managed to take out back into his bag without ceremony. “Like what?”

“I’ll show you,” Magnus promises, standing up. “Are you coming?”

 It’s all he can do to nod and follow Magnus out of the library without looking too enthusiastic or too ridiculous and earnest. Heavens above, Alec thinks he would follow Magnus to the ends of the earth if he asked.

That evening, Alec stops by a Duane Reade and buys the biggest pack of colored felt-tipped pens he can find—just in case, he reasons. If the pencil case he chooses to put them in is much more Magnus’s style than his own…well, there’s no one around to judge him.

//

Even though Alec is expecting it, the sight of Magnus’s empty chair in English that afternoon still stings. The restless spiral of worry takes him all the way to the office during lunch to see Lydia. She reassures him that Magnus hasn’t been suspended again.

As reasonable as it is that Magnus would want a day away to collect himself, it makes Alec feel guilty nonetheless. Magnus’s grades are excellent—better than Alec’s, in fact, in every subject save for Theology. And now he’s skipping school? Because of Alec?

It’s not fair. None of this is fair to Magnus. Forget his stupid perfect attendance record—tomorrow, Alec decides he’s going to take a sick day. He sends a text to Magnus that night, letting him know he won’t be in school the next day, but Magnus doesn’t even read it.

Alec sighs and tugs the duvet over his face, falling into a fitful bout of sleep.

//

“No.”

“Mom, I really don’t feel well—”

Maryse raises one brow, hands on her hips. “You’re lying,” she says, leaving no room for argument. “Honestly, Alexander. You must be forgetting that I raised Jace as well if you thought for a moment that I’m incapable of telling the difference.”

Alec falls back against the pillows with a tired huff. Sure, he might not be sick, but he hadn’t slept well last night. Or the night before. It’s starting to take a toll. “Please? Just one day?”

“You’ll ruin your perfect attendance.” The bed dips to Alec’s right as Maryse settles down next to him, hand coming to press against Alec’s forehead. “That’s three and a half years of hard work, and you’re about to throw it all away. That’s unlike you. Are you willing to tell me what’s really wrong? Is it…did something happen at school?” She pauses, looking uncertain—Alec is struck by how out-of-place that expression is on his mother’s face. “Is it Lydia?”

If Alec was waiting for a sign from God, Heavens above, this is it. The opportunity is as clear as day. Alec could tell her about Magnus. About himself. Could come out, end this whole mess, go to Magnus and beg for another chance…

“I’m fine,” he says instead, hating how broken it sounds. “It’s nothing. Sorry. Forget I ever said anything.”

He can’t. There’s no point. Even if he comes out, it won’t change a damned thing. Magnus is gone. They’ve over, for good this time.

“Alexander—”

“I should get dressed for school,” Alec says, quietly opening the doors of his closet. He grabs a few things at random, lingering in the doorway with his eyes to the ground. “Are Jace and Izzy still here?”

“They’re waiting downstairs,” Maryse murmurs, straightening the sheets on Alec’s bed. “You can join them, if you’d like, or you can stay home. I’ll support you no matter what you choose to do.”

There’s no sense in disappointing one more person, Alec thinks. “I’ll be ready in five minutes.” He thinks he hears his mother calling for him, asking him to wait a second.

Alec lets the bathroom door fall closed behind him, grip white-knuckled on the sink as he tries to pull himself together.

//

Magnus is absent for the next two days. Raphael comes up to Alec during lunch and asks if he’s heard from Magnus at all. The look on his face when Alec says no has Alec’s previous worry escalating to unprecedented levels.

Alec stops by Magnus’ apartment with the classwork he missed, but no one answers the door. The lights are off and the place is quiet. On his way out, the doorman tells him no one has been home for days.

He buries his face in his hands and thinks of the worst: Magnus moving across the city; across the world, as far from Alec as these streets can take him. No warning. No goodbye. He thinks of Camille, how Magnus transferred to a new school mid-year to escape the memory of her.

Never in a million years did Alec think he’d be the next Camille, but here he is in Brooklyn, standing outside of Magnus’s building like a total ass. What the hell was he thinking, coming here like this? It’s clear that Magnus doesn’t want to see him. If he was any kind of friend, he’d give Magnus the space he so clearly wants…but damn it, Alec needs to be sure that he’s okay. 

Alec leaves Magnus’s schoolwork with the doorman and heads back to the city, getting off two stops earlier than normal—before he knows it, he’s standing in the lobby of Amherst Memorial with a pink Visitor badge stuck to his shirt and directions to the ER.

Time to get to the bottom of this.

//

“Excuse me,” Alec says, aiming for carefully neutral. “I’m looking for someone who works here—her name is Catarina Loss, she’s a nurse.”

The woman behind the counter narrows her eyes at Alec. Her Garfield-printed scrubs announce that she ‘hates Mondays.’ A hysterical part of Alec’s brain is thankful that today is Wednesday.

“And you are…?”

“Alec Lightwood. I’m, um—” he looks around, desperate for inspiration. There’s an Odie pin clipped to her stethoscope. “—her dog walker!”

“Right,” the nurse says, eyeing him suspiciously. “Okay. Alec Lightwood, the dog walker. Let’s go with that. What can I do for you?”

Alec nearly chokes on the lie. He forces the words out through clenched teeth. “I need to talk to Ms. Loss. It’s very important.”

“More important than the lives she’s saving? Doubtful, Mr. Lightwood.”

Shame slams into Alec with the gentleness of a speeding truck. How could he have been so stupid? Briefly, Alec wonders if he’s about to faint. The room lurches violently. He grabs the edge of the desk to keep himself upright. “I’m s-sorry, that’s—no, of course not, I just thought...”

“Alec? Is that you?”

Thank you, Father. Thank you, thank you. Alec turns to face Catarina, so relieved he could cry.

“You know him, Cat?” the nurse asks, frowning. “He was asking to see you. Said he was your dog walker.”

Catarina’s mouth twitches imperceptibly, but she’s otherwise neutral. “Yes, I know him. Are you feeling alright, Alec? Your face—Lori, grab me a chair—”

The rattle of Alec’s inhale is anything but convincing. “I’m fine. I’m s-sorry. I didn’t mean—I can come back later—”

“Lori,” Catarina interrupts, “when is my next break scheduled?”

Lori types something, dragging the windows around on her screen. “Forty minutes from now.” She gives Alec a once-over, reaching for a clipboard to her left. “You have coverage. I’ll pull Wren from Peds. Go now.”

Catarina nods, hand coming to rest on Alec’s elbow. “Thank you, Lori. Alec, let’s walk and talk, alright?”

The second they round the corner, the words start falling from Alec’s lips.

“Catarina, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you at work. I just—I didn’t know where else to go. Who else to talk to. I know I have no right to be here; no right to ask a thing of you, but I just…I can’t handle not knowing, as selfish as it is. I’m scared.”

“None of that, now.” Catarina says, guiding Alec to a table and maneuvering him into a sitting position. “We’ll get to why you’re here in a second. Why don’t you start by telling me what you’d like to drink?”

“Drink?”

“Coffee? Tea? Hot chocolate? Anything with a sugar content will work.”

Alec blinks and takes in the space—they’re in the hospital’s cafeteria. Catarina is looking at him expectantly, although there’s no shortage of patience in her gaze.

“I—um. Hot chocolate?”

When Catarina smiles, it’s full of praise. “Good. Coming right up. Wait here, alright?”

All he can do is nod in response. She comes back a few moments later, handing Alec a steaming paper cup. Guilt churns heavily in his stomach as he takes it from her. As if barging in and interrupting Catarina’s work day wasn’t enough, now she’s buying Alec hot chocolate and letting him monopolize her break with his half-coherent babbling about Magnus; poorly worded questions with answers Alec doesn’t deserve to hear anyway.

It’s hot, but Alec takes a sip anyway, letting it burn as it rolls down his throat. Once he’s finished half of his drink, he feels a bit more grounded.

If he’s going to do this, Alec is going to be level-headed. Calm. Reasonable. He owes Catarina as much.

“Feeling better?” Alec nods, offering her a small smile. Cat matches it with a grin of her own. “Good. I’m guessing this is about Magnus?”

His stomach pitches at the mention of Magnus’s name. Alec takes a deep breath to ease the nausea. “Yes. I’m worried about him. He hasn’t been at school for the past three days and he won’t answer my texts—I just…I’m scared, that’s all.” He pauses, eyes closing when they start to burn. “All I need to know is that he’s okay, and I swear, I’ll leave him alone. I’ll drop it. I’ll give him all the space he wants.”

“Physically, he’s fine,” Catarina answers. “Magnus went on a business trip with Ragnor. They’re in Jakarta for the week.”

Alec’s relief is strong and heady. “Praise be to God. I w-was…I guess I thought the worst.”

Catarina snorts, bringing a hand to her mouth. “Yet another thing you and Magnus have in common. You two really are something else, aren’t you?”

Present tense. The realization hits Alec like a slap in the face. He thinks back to earlier, when he’d asked about Magnus’s wellbeing. Catarina had described Magnus as being ‘physically fine.’

This conversation is not going the way Alec anticipated.

“I can hear you thinking, Alec.” Catarina leans her hand on her cheek. “I have a proposition for you. Ready to hear me out?”

“I—what?”

She looks at the watch on her wrist, head tilting, before looking back up. “For the next thirty minutes, I am here for you and only you. If it makes talking easier for you, pretend I don’t know Magnus at all.” Alec makes a wounded sound. There’s no way he’s hearing this correctly. “You can tell me as much or as little as you’d like, Alec. But there’s nothing you can say that will upset me or make me think less of you.”

She’s serious. Alec can tell. “Catarina…”

“Please, call me Cat.”

“Cat,” Alec amends, hands trembling on the linoleum tabletop. “I—why? After what I did, I don’t deserve this.” Not from you, or Ragnor, or Raphael. Not from my mother or my father. “I broke Magnus’s heart.”

“And Magnus broke yours,” Catarina says, covering Alec’s hand with one of her own. “Look, I might not know any of the specifics, but I do know that things haven’t been easy for you. No matter what you do or don’t do; regardless of the mistakes you make you deserve someone in your corner. You deserve to be listened to, respected, and looked after.” She pauses, blinking quickly. “You deserve to be loved, Alec. I’ll say a prayer for anyone who’s led you to believe otherwise. I’ll be praying for you, too.”

The tears roll down his cheeks unchecked. Alec takes a breath, a torrent of hows and whys and what if you’re wrong about me battling for dominance in Alec’s mind as the weight of Catarina’s words settles over him. It sinks into his bones and starts to take shape. It’s a familiar feeling, one he’s been missing since the day he and Magnus first broke up in the Clave room.

It takes a few seconds for Alec’s brain to catch up, but when it does, everything clicks into place. He sees it now. Where Magnus gets it from.

His careful words and sweet reassurances; constant and crafted to suit the situation. The way he’s always taking care of others. Of Raphael, Izzy, Alec…

“I’m in love with him,” Alec says suddenly. It’s not an appropriate response to the beautiful speech Catarina graced him with, but in this moment, Alec needs her to know this one truth more than he needs most things. “I’ve been in love with him since the day we said hello. Even if Magnus and I never get a second chance, this feeling isn’t going to stop. I don’t want it to.”

Catarina only smiles, soft and secretive. “I know, Alec. It’s written all over your face. Have you told Magnus any of this?”

Alec shakes his head. “I didn’t get the chance.”

“Mm. You speak as though chances are a commodity given freely.”

It’s enough to make him pause. “I…they’re not?”

“No,” Catarina says, “most chances have to be taken. It’s what makes them so terrifying. If you sit around waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect day you’ll look back on your life in fifty years and wonder where it went. That’s if you’re lucky.”

“And if I’m not lucky?” Heartbreak. Pain. Loneliness. In his seventeen years of life, Alec has run the gamut. “How can having so much regret be a good thing?”

Catarina shifts in her chair, gesturing around the room with a lazy sweep of her wrist that screams Magnus. “If you’re not lucky,” she starts, “then you’ll die before you realize there were pieces missing all along. Not everyone is blessed with the gift of a long life, fruitless or otherwise.”

Oh. Alec’s shiver is violent—he feels foolish for not considering that before speaking.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…I guess I didn’t think about it like that.”

“There’s no need to apologize. Believe me when I say it’s a lesson I’m glad you have yet to learn. Now, as for you and Magnus…what the two of you share is special. God-given. Worth taking a chance or two, wouldn’t you agree?”

He does. It’s an unshakable testament of Alec’s love for Magnus; as true as the faith burning bonfire-strong in Alec’s stomach—no matter the risks, no matter the wait, Magnus Bane will always be worth it.

“Then that’s your answer. Go home and pray for guidance with an open heart. Just remember that God can’t take your pain away, Alec. Only you can do that. And if you’re not getting the answer you want, maybe it’s time to revisit the question.”

For the first time in days, Alec’s smile is genuine. The shift is minute but welcome.  

The prayer that falls from his lips is intrinsic. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

Catarina stands, pulling Alec into a hug. “Courage to change the things I can…”

“…and the wisdom to know the difference,” Alec finishes, leaning back in Cat’s arms. “Thank you. For listening, and pointing me in the right direction. Magnus is lucky to have you.”

She winks, swatting playfully at Alec’s shoulder. “You should tell him that.”

//

| M.B |

“For Heaven’s sake, Magnus! What can you possibly have left to paint?

Magnus puts down his brow pencil, meeting Ragnor’s gaze in the oversized bathroom mirror. “On my own face? Nothing. Those circles under your eyes are another matter entirely. Still feeling jetlagged, cabbage?”

Ragnor rolls his eyes and ushers Magnus out of the hotel bathroom. “Come on, out you get. Shoes on. Today we’re going to see the Taman Mini Indonesia Indah and the Jakarta History Museum, so we really need to leave about…oh, ten minutes ago.”

“You know,” Magnus says, tone purposefully light, “in the past four days, we’ve been to every tourist trap this great city has to offer. Couple that with the suspicious lack of corduroy in your wardrobe, and Ragnor, I’m starting to think this isn’t a business trip after all. If you wanted to whisk me away to sightsee you didn’t have to lie about it.”

The way Ragnor freezes behind Magnus has him spinning around, eyes wide. That was meant to be a joke. “Wait. You’re kidding—I was kidding. Are you seriously telling me there’s no business trip?”

Ragnor shrugs, shoving past a stationary Magnus to stand in the hallway. “Not in the traditional sense.”

His arms fold over his chest, frown deepening. Since when does Ragnor lie to him? “Explain.”

“I wanted to get you out of the city for a while, Magnus. With everything going on…I thought it best to present you with a little reprieve.”

Fair enough, Magnus thinks. Whisking him away at the first whiff of trouble is standard Ragnor operating procedure. But the numbers aren’t adding up. Why bring him all the way here?

“You wanted to get me out of the city? That’s all?” Ragnor’s nod is as enthusiastic as a bobblehead—if not for the heated discussion they’re currently locked in, Magnus would tease him about it. As it stands, he has no choice but to follow Ragnor into the elevator, pressing the lobby button with too much force. “Connecticut would’ve sufficed, Ragnor. Or anything continental. Halfway around the world is more than ‘out of the city.’”

“Always been a bit of an overachiever, I suppose,” Ragnor offers. “Safe to say we met the mark.”

“Paris would’ve met the mark. Frankfurt would’ve too. Or Tokyo, Prague, Budapest—you see where I’m going with this.” Ragnor looks like he’s ready to fight, but Magnus doesn’t give him the chance. “Hell, we could have gone to Manchester and visited your Great Aunt Bess; called it a vacation and got a decent cup of tea. Instead…you brought us here. To Indonesia. And I’m supposed to believe that’s anything but deliberate?”

“Can’t we talk about this later? After the museum? You’re going to love it, crumpet. Everything is scaled down.”

Magnus can hear the plea in Ragnor’s voice; read it in the tension pulling that hideous sunset-printed button-down taut across his shoulders. God, Magnus hates that shirt. He shields his eyes with a ring-covered hand and puts some distance between them.

Sure, he hates the thought of giving Ragnor a momentary out…but this conversation is starting to get a bit too heavy for his liking.

“Sorry, cabbage. You used your freebie for the day the second you decided to put on that monstrosity masquerading as a shirt.”

“Don’t be dramatic,” Ragnor mumbles, leaning down to adjust the honest-to-god fanny pack around his waist, and whoa, wait a minute, where did that even come from? He’s too busy being offended by the fanny pack for Ragnor’s response to register immediately. When it does, though…

Dramatic?” Magnus’s voice is shrill, carrying across the lobby in a way that makes Ragnor wince. “Me? No, never. I leave that to the man who dragged me ten thousand fucking miles away from home just because I got dumped—”

“You and I both know it’s not that simple, Magnus. If it were we’d be having this little chat over a nice cuppa. As it stands, this hotel only serves Lipton. Travel the world and America still comes back to haunt.” A pause—Ragnor leads them outside, heading over to a shuttle station. “The timing might’ve been unfortunately coincidental, crumpet. But I must confess: this trip is about more than you and he-who-shall-not-be-named.”

“You can say Alec’s name, you know,” Magnus interrupts, ignoring the pang of loneliness that follows as soon as the name leaves his mouth. “He’s not—Christ, Ragnor. Alec is not Voldemort! Can’t we just be normal about this?”

Ragnor purses his lips. “I’m not going to say his name, Magnus.”

“And why the hell not?

“Because you can’t bring yourself to say it.”

Magnus’s jaw drops. “Were you listening just now? Or are you really that senile? Here, just for you, I’ll give you a repeat: Alec. Alec. Alec—”

“Alexander.”

The sound of blood rushing between Magnus’s ears is almost enough to drown out the sound of Ragnor’s voice. “W-what?”

“That’s what you used to call him before. Alexander. Now it’s ‘Alec.’ Do you really expect me to believe that’s anything but deliberate?”

“I didn’t—that’s not fair, Ragnor.” Magnus is proud when the words come out steady. “Just tell me why we’re here. Please.”

A hand comes to rest on Magnus’s shoulder. Magnus follows the line of a forearm; the strap of the leather watch he’d bought him for Christmas three years ago.

“It’ll never be fair, Magnus.” Magnus sighs, eyes closing at the all-too-familiar presence by his side. “As for why we’re here…well, I suppose that’s not fair either. But I wanted you to have this chance regardless.”

“Chance at what?”

“To remember. To get closure. Perhaps a little bit of both.”

To remember…Magnus blinks, taking in his surroundings. Jakarta is massive and sprawling, with buildings as far as the eye can see. There’s nothing here that’s familiar at all save for the occasional word.

That doesn’t mean he’s unaware of what should be familiar. Of the fact that for the first five years of his life, Magnus called this city home.

He turns to face Ragnor, eyes narrowing. “You realize how incredibly intrusive this is, right? Bringing me here like this without asking me first.”

“I knew the risks,” Ragnor says. “Knew there was a chance you’d hate me afterward.”

Hate him? Magnus never could. “And you decided it was worth it?”

“There’s no cost I wouldn’t pay for your freedom, Magnus.”

“Well then.” Magnus takes a deep breath, squaring his shoulders as he turns to face the city. “I guess we have a city to see.”

//

Magnus lets Ragnor take him to every museum in the city; smiles and watches Ragnor freak out over books and artifacts. They pose for photos together and ask strangers to take them. As cringe-worthy as Ragnor’s never-ending collection of Hawaiian printed shirts is…Magnus’s smile is genuine in each photograph.

On the sixth day Ragnor takes him to the ruins of a little stone house. Magnus stands at the base of it and drags his fingers over the curved edges of rocks. For a few minutes, the only sound is the whistle of the wind as it kisses the jagged tips of the cliff bank.

“Do you feel anything?” Ragnor asks after a while.

Magnus sighs and shakes his head. “Not a single thing.”

“Are you disappointed?”

This time, it takes him a few seconds to answer.

“No,” he finally says, staring at what’s left of his childhood home. “No, I can’t say that I am.”

//

Magnus’s last day in Jakarta is spent at his mother’s gravesite. He drops down to the dirt by her headstone and gazes at the portrait mounted in the corner. If he closes his eyes, Magnus can hear the echoes of a laugh…or maybe he’s just projecting. Honestly, it’s hard to tell.

The sound of Ragnor’s groan as he flops down next to Magnus is enough to pull a chuckle from him. “Bloody hell, my knees.”

“As much as you hate my old man jokes, you sure do give me lots of material.” Magnus pauses, eyes glazing over as he stares at the photo. “Did you know her well? My mother?”

“Well enough to know she was kind. Your mother had a heart of gold, Magnus. And she loved you very much, in every way she knew how. She used to feed you figs from the garden, when you were young. Your father wanted to sell them all and turn a profit…but not your mother. She always saved the sweetest fruit for you.”

“What would she think of me? If she met me today.”

Ragnor pauses, head tilting as he considers. Honesty. It’s one of the things Magnus loves most about Ragnor.

“She would’ve admired your tenacity. You’ve never shied away from bold pursuits. That was something your mother struggled with for most of her life. I think the Magnus of today would’ve inspired a change in her…it’s a change I would’ve loved to have seen.”

The question Magnus is terrified to ask burns on the tip of his tongue: would it have been enough to save her?

He feels like he knows the answer…Magnus leans his head against Ragnor’s shoulder, eyes closing as the tears start to fall.

No, it wouldn’t have. Sometimes, there are demons much too large to fight.

//

Their flight home is uneventful. Twice, Magnus comes close to telling Ragnor about UCLA…but the moment never feels right.

He keeps it to himself instead, staring down at the clouds below.

//

| A.L |

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

Things Alec cannot change: he’s gay, he’s a Lightwood, and he’s in love with Magnus Bane. Alec smiles down at the dinner table and lets the thought of Magnus bring him comfort.

He knows what he has to do. Alec has known for some time now. Tonight, he’s ready to take the chance.

“Alexander, you’ve been awfully quiet tonight,” Maryse starts, drawing Alec’s attention back to the present. “Are you feeling alright? Is everything okay with Lydia?”

Courage to change the things I can.

“I’m fine, Mother.” A deep breath, and then, “I have something I need to say.”

Isabelle tenses by Alec’s side. Both Robert and Maryse sit up straighter in their chairs. Alec’s mother is looking at him strangely, head tilted as she studies him.

“Sure, Alec.” Robert’s voice—Alec flinches at how worried he sounds. “What is it? You look nervous. Did something happen?”

“No. Well—yeah, I guess. Sort of.” There’s a gentle pressure on Alec’s forearm. He blinks down at the table to see Jace’s hand resting there, the weight of it a welcome distraction from the thought of what he plans on saying next. “I got an acceptance letter from UCLA. Maybe Mom already told you.”

If Robert is surprised by the information, he doesn’t show it. “UCLA? That’s…interesting. I had no idea you were considering the West Coast, Alec.”

Alec shakes his head, unease blooming hot in his stomach. This is almost too easy. “I didn’t know what I wanted,” he admits, “but I liked the idea of keeping my options open. Now that I’ve had some time to think, I think it’s the best fit for me.”

“So you’re going to Los Angeles,” Maryse says, voice flat. “That’s the best fit for you—being as far away from your family as possible.” As far from me as possible. Alec can see the hurt in his mother’s eyes no matter how hard she tries to conceal it. “What about the Institute? Are you planning on leaving your future behind as well?”

Alec’s heart sinks. “Mom, it’s not about that. The Institute…I told you that wasn’t right for me.”

Robert smirks, reaching out to clap Alec on the shoulder in an attempt to lighten the mood. “You said the same about Lydia Branwell, son. Look how that turned out.”

Maryse stiffens by her husband’s side. There’s a fractured twist to her smile; an uneasy sharpness to her that sets Alec on edge. The way she’s looking at him…it’s as if she already knows the truth.

The truth…courage to change the things I can.

“Actually,” Alec says, hating the tremor in his voice, “I wanted to talk to you about that too. Um. Lydia and I…it’s not working out.”

This time, Robert’s face falls. “You’re breaking up with her?” Alec nods, not saying anything. “Why? What happened? You two were inseparable less than two weeks ago. I thought things were getting serious.”

“They’re not, and that’s why I have to do this, Dad. Lydia is an amazing person. She deserves better than someone like me. Someone who c-can…return her feelings.”

“It’s barely been any time at all, Alec. You’re not giving this a chance to develop. How do you know you’re incapable of feeling that way for her if you won’t even give the relationship time to flourish?”

Alec freezes, heart in his throat. Chances are meant to be taken…Alec wants to take it: for himself, for Lydia, his siblings and the lies they’ve told on Alec’s behalf. For Magnus, who deserves to be loved honestly and completely. Openly.

He wants this more than he’s ever wanted anything. Alec’s mouth opens, panic spiraling so quickly he’s scared he’ll lose it before the words come out.

“Go on, Alexander.” Alec’s head shoots up, gaze landing on Maryse immediately. She’s looking back at him with an expectant heat in her eyes…impossible. “Go ahead. We’re listening.”

“I don’t like girls. At all. Lydia is lovely, but I j-just—I can’t, Mama. No matter how hard I tried.” He’s tempted to tack an apology on at the end but Alec stops himself. You have nothing to apologize for.

Maryse nods, smile tight. It doesn’t reach her eyes, but at least she’s not screaming at him. “Yes, Alexander. I know you did.”

“Y-you’re not…surprised?”

“You’ve always been different, my sweet boy. Gentler than the rest of the world.” There’s a faraway quality to Maryse’s voice that makes Alec want to cry for some reason. “I can’t say I’m thrilled or that I understand this completely, but I suppose that’s my cross to bear.”

Coming from his mother, that’s as close to acceptance as Alec is going to get. Hope swells in his ribcage as he turns to face his father. This is going so much better than he thought it would. “Dad? You’ve been quiet. Please say something?”

Robert holds onto his silence for a moment more, staring at Alec like he’s a puzzle to be solved. His expression gives little away…the stoic, dragging silence, however, speaks volumes.

He breaks it with the screech of his chair across the floor as he stands. The napkin Robert tosses on the table is folded.

“You’re kidding,” Robert says, disbelief written in the lines of his face. “That’s—no, Alec, that’s not funny.”

The hope Alec dared to feel mere seconds ago collapses, leaving him aching and raw. “It’s not a joke, Dad. I w-wouldn’t—not about this. I know it might take some getting used to, but—”

“It has to be. That’s all it can be, Alec. You seriously—how do you expect me to get used to the idea of my oldest son spending an eternity in Hell? The thought of not being reunited with you in our Father’s house sickens me to my core.”

Alec’s world shrinks in on itself. The room spins violently around him as he stares at his father, fear taking hold at the rage in Robert’s eyes. “I…why w-wouldn’t we be reunited? I’m saved. I go to Mass, I take communion.”

“All moot if you insist on living a life of sin.” Robert sneers, towering over Alec. “You’ve read the Bible, Alec. I shouldn’t have to tell you what the Lord says about those who make certain choices.

Isabelle’s voice is shrill, loud enough to be heard over the white-hot rush of blood in Alec’s ears. “Are you serious? Do you even hear yourself right now? Alec, don’t listen to this bullshit.”

“Isabelle Sophia Lightwood

“No, she’s right,” Jace says, pulling a shocked Alec to his feet. “It’s bullshit. Come on, Alec. Let’s go upstairs—”

“No,” Alec asserts.

Jace and Isabelle both freeze, hands falling from Alec’s arms and coming to hang loosely by their sides. Maryse’s eyes are wide and tear-filled. She’s clutching her own napkin tightly, the light catching off the worn metal of her wedding ring.

And the wisdom to know the difference.

“No,” Alec says again, shaking his head. “I’m not running from this.” Not this time. When he turns to face his father it’s with a renewed sense of confidence. “This is my life, Father. It’s not a joke, not a mistake…and neither was the fact that I fell in love.”

He hears his mother gasp. It’s a choked, broken sound. “Alexander—”

“Let me finish,” he says. “I’ve read the Bible several times. The word ‘love’ appears approximately 538 times in the New Revised Standard Edition. Do you know how many times the Bible specifically condemns being gay? Not once.”

Robert’s laugh is borderline malicious. “Leviticus. 1 Corinthians. Two examples of many.”

“Only if you force your own perspective into the scripture,” Alec fires back. “And that is the true sin, Father. It is not our job as God’s children to manipulate the meaning of His word to suit our own agendas. All we’re meant to do is live by it.” If his voice starts to break, pleas ringing through on the underside of his words…well, Alec won’t ever admit to it. “Love is never wrong. How can it be, when God has given us so much of it?”

“You dare to call your dalliance with sin ‘love’ and accuse me of corrupting the Lord’s word? Unbelievable.” The dining chair his father was sitting in smacks against the floor with a loud crash. “I’m—I can’t listen to this any longer. I have to go. I have to pray.”

Maryse stands too. She reaches for her husband, napkin falling to the floor. “Robert, wait."

“No, Maryse.” He wrenches his arm out of her grip. Alec’s broken heart shatters even more at the pain etched into her face. “Enough. I’ll be back later.”

Robert goes, the door to the dining room rattling in its frame. For a moment, there’s nothing but silence—Izzy and Jace stand by Alec’s side, his mother’s arm left suspended in the empty space once occupied by Robert. It’s too much. Alec can’t breathe.

Now that his father is gone, Alec’s confidence is starting to flag. Exhaustion settles over him quickly. More than anything, Alec wants to be in bed right now.

In Magnus’s bed, preferably, tucked safely in his arms, but that’s not an option for Alec anymore. His own bed will have to suffice.

Alec follows the path his father took, letting the door close quietly behind him. He manages to make it to his bed before the tears start to fall, but once they do, it’s impossible to make them stop.

The wisdom to know the difference. Alec pulls out his phone and tells Lydia he wants to end things. Her reply is instant. Understanding.

Alec lets himself cry, losing himself to the sadness and the hurt until the pull of sleep is too strong to ignore. Amen, he whispers as he drifts to sleep.

It’s not enough to make the pain stop, but it’s all he has.

//

| M.B |

The first thing Magnus makes note of when he sees Alec Lightwood in the hallway of the Institute is how tired he looks.

He’s leaning against a locker bank, Izzy and Jace by his side. There’s another girl there too—Aline, Magnus thinks, and they’re all talking animatedly, Jace’s laughter carrying over to the pillar Magnus is hiding behind with very little trouble. Izzy smiles, rests a hand against Alec’s side and shifts to face the other girl more fully.

Alec laughs too, but it’s tinny. Hollow. Magnus has sought out that very laughter more times than he can count. He’s tasted it during their kisses, felt it shake Alec’s ribcage as Magnus tickled him; reveled in it during their afternoon library sessions for moments that spanned the length of a short eternity.

The sound of Alec’s laughter could stop wars. Save lives. Cure diseases. Whatever this is, it’s not genuine. That, paired with the haunted glaze of Alec’s eyes has Magnus wishing the ground could swallow him whole.

More than anything, he wants to rush over and scoop him up. Hug him, squeeze him, tickle him until that broken sound is wiped from Magnus’s memory forever. Until the real thing is echoing through the hallways, loud enough to drown Jace out entirely.

He can’t do any of that, though. Instead, Magnus sinks more of his weight against the cool stone of the pillar and prays to whoever might be listening for the strength to make it through this day.

//

“Magnus?”

Magnus’s stack of textbooks hits the table with a quiet thud. He turns to face Alec, offering him a small smile.

“Hello, darling. Long time no see.” I missed you every second I was away. “I trust you’ve been holding down the fort in my absence?”

“I—yeah. The lab reports were fine. Mrs. Pangborn told me you’ll only have to make up two of them. The rest will be excused.” Alec pauses, teeth coming out to worry his lower lip. “I missed you,” he admits, voice soft. “Nothing feels the same without you here.”

If Magnus’s heart wasn’t threatening to jump ship before, Alec’s whispered confession would do him in without a doubt. “Alexander,” he murmurs, barely remembering that hey, Magnus, it’s not appropriate to reach out and grab his hand, no matter how badly Magnus wants to. “I missed you too. More than I know how to say. I’m…sorry I didn’t warn you before disappearing like that. Would you believe me if I told you I had no idea where we were going until I got to the airport?”

Alec smiles at that, toying with the spiral binding of Magnus’s notebook. “Ragnor?”

“Ragnor,” Magnus confirms, voice grave. “He kidnapped me in the name of bonding. Seven straight days of torture. In hindsight, though, I’m thankful he did it. Don’t you breathe a word of that to anyone, understood?”

“Wouldn’t dream of it. I can tell you went somewhere nice, though. It looks like you got some sun.”

“How can you tell?”

The tips of Alec’s ears flush, strawberry-red against his unruly dark waves. “I—ah. Um.” When it becomes clear that Alec isn’t going to add to that, Magnus raises a brow, pouting comically.

If Alec isn’t going to answer on his own, well, Magnus will just have to switch tactics.

“Is my foundation too light? Oh god. I look cakey, don’t I? Cover for me. I’m going to the bathroom before anyone sees—”

“Freckles!” Alec shouts, eyes widening with alarm within seconds as the room quiets instantly. “I—oh, Heavens.”

Magnus’s smile is dopey and huge. God, anyone who looks at him can probably see how gone he is for Alec.

“Is that right?” Alec moans his assent and buries his face in the fold of his arms. “I hadn’t noticed, actually. I would’ve covered them up if I had.” Magnus sighs, dragging the tips of his fingers against the bridge of his nose. “I suppose I’ll have to invest in something with a higher SPF next time.”

Apparently, something Magnus said caught Alec’s interest. He perks up at his desk, ignoring the sound of Mrs. Pangborn’s morning greeting.

“Cover them? Why?”

Magnus sighs. “Because they ruin my complexion, darling. I spend a lot of time making sure my skin looks even.”

“But they’re so cute,” Alec murmurs, fingertips reaching out to brush against the bridge of Magnus’s nose. Magnus freezes, unable to hold back a breathy sigh.

Such a simple touch…a brush of fingers, the whisper of Alec’s skin against his own, and it’s as if they never parted. Magnus’s heart pounds steadily, eyes fluttering shut against Alec’s gentle ministrations no matter how hard Magnus fights to keep them open.

Come to think of it, that’s probably a good thing. If Magnus’s eyes were open, there’s no way Alec wouldn’t see right through him. And if he found out about the depth of Magnus’s feelings?

Magnus has a sinking feeling that it would scare Alec off more quickly than the secrets ever did.

It could have been minutes or hours later when Alec finally comes back into himself. His hand falls back to his side and dangles there limply, like he’s not sure what to do with it now.

Magnus opens his eyes, hoping against hope that Alec can’t interpret the expression he’s sporting right now.

“Sorry,” Alec whispers, gaze falling to the floor. “I wasn’t—my brain sort of shorted out there, and I couldn’t think.”

Oh, darling. “Don’t apologize.” Then, because the cut of that haunted stare is starting to edge its way back onto Alec’s face, Magnus blurts out, “Do you want to come over tonight?”

Alec blinks, clearly caught off guard. “To your apartment?”

Wonderful, Magnus. Invite the boy you’re in love with back to your apartment when there’s no way in hell he’ll ever love you back. But now that the words are out there, it’s too late to take them back.

“Yes.” At the front of the room, Mrs. Pangborn writes the date on the corner of the whiteboard. Recognition sparks in Magnus’s mind, as bright as fireworks. “I have to warn you though, darling. Both Jace and the lovely Isabelle will be in attendance.”

“They’re coming over to your place?”

“I was planning on inviting you as well, actually. A few weeks back I promised Sherwin he could borrow my living room for his movie marathon. Consider it a small get-together.” We won’t be alone. It’ll be okay. “Please tell me you’ll tag along? I think I heard him mention something about The Lord of the Rings. Those movies are several hours long, Alexander. Surely you wouldn’t subject me to such a severe sentence alone?”

“What about Jace? Izzy? Raphael?”

“Mm, let’s see.” Magnus ticks off the reasons with his fingers, rings gleaming wickedly. “Clary will be there, so we can assume Jace will be occupied. Izzy falls asleep during movies. Raphael is the reason for Stevo’s Marathon Season, so he’s no help either.”

Alec smirks, chair creaking as he leans back. Magnus decidedly does not look at the lean line of his legs underneath their lab table.

“Well, I guess I can’t leave you all alone…”

“Mr. Bane,” Mrs. Pangborn announces, redirecting Magnus’s focus in the space of a second. “Help us out. We’re currently naming gases with weak attractive forces between particles. Can you name one?”

“I…hm,” Magnus says, studying the board for any sort of clue. Damn it. Magnus had been so caught up with Alec, he hadn’t realized class had started. “Well, it would have to have a low boiling point, right?”

Mrs. Pangborn nods, the tip of her marker squeaking against the board as she writes. “That’s an important characteristic, yes. Dare I say…you’re getting warmer?”

The class dissolves into a series of tired giggles. Magnus slumps down in his chair and glares at the massive periodic table posted on the far-right wall.

“Helium,” Alec supplies, the class quieting instantly. Then, when Magnus’s competency kink is just about to kick into overdrive, Alec adds, “It was in one of last week’s readings. The Velasquez, I think. Magnus and I were going to go over it together in the library this afternoon.”

Were they? Holy fuck—that was the smoothest lie he’s ever seen Alec tell. What the hell happened while Magnus was in Indonesia?

“Helium is correct,” Mrs. Pangborn says. “Thank you both for your contributions. Now, moving on, particle interaction is an integral part of the structure of an atom. Can anyone tell me…”

“Have I ever told you-you're my favorite phone-a-friend?” Magnus loops an ankle around Alec’s, making sure to keep his voice low. “Because you are. If I’m ever on Jeopardy I want you on my team.”

“Thank me later,” Alec whispers, eyes glued to the front of the room.

He doesn’t bother to move his foot away, and Magnus doesn’t either. Magnus spends the rest of the class period going over the potential reasons for that in his mind.

//

The rest of Magnus’s day is, unfortunately, much duller than his morning with Alec was. During lunch, Simon and Raphael bicker back and forth over what snacks to bring to tonight’s party, and with Alec running a Student Council meeting, Magnus is left alone with his thoughts.

They’re all of Alec; of the way he’d touched Magnus’s nose and called his freckles cute. Of their ankles hooked under the lab table, hidden from view.

Sure, Magnus and Alec have had more meaningful contact in the past. More explicit contact. But this, after going so long without, means more than he knows how to say.

The thoughts continue to distract him well into his last class of the day.

“Magnus, look out!”

Magnus does—except instead of looking out, he looks up—only to be smacked in the face with a flying tennis racket. The momentum is enough to put Magnus on the ground. Stars ring the edges of his peripheral vision as he tries to regain his bearings, hand coming up to cup his wounded cheek.

“Oh shit!” Jace’s voice, Magnus realizes. “Magnus, shit, shit—”

“Ouch,” Magnus says, curling up on the cool tennis court. Hands on his shoulder, guiding him into a sitting position…they’re calling for the nurse and a wheelchair. He pries his eyes open. “I’m fine. It’s alright. No need to summon the cavalry.”

Jace frowns, his arm looping around Magnus’s back to support some of his weight. “You might have a concussion, dude. That’s like the opposite of fine.”

“If I had a concussion, I’d find you attractive like the rest of the world does,” Magnus teases, wincing when his smirk sends a flare of pain through his cheek. “That hasn’t happened yet, so I think we’re safe for now.”

Jace snorts—there’s still worry in the lines on his forehead, but he helps Magnus to his feet anyway and guides him to the bleachers. “I’m choosing not to take that personally, Magnus.”

“Pity that. I meant it to be.”

“Are you sure you’re gonna be okay? If you don’t want the nurse I could ask for my brother—”

No,” Magnus hisses, eyes wide. “No, that’s quite alright. You know how he worries.”

Thankfully, that’s enough to make Jace back off.

“I do,” he says, eyes rolling. “Fine. Be a stubborn ass if you want. But if anything happens to you, Alec is gonna kill me. So please, if you start to feel worse, let someone know?”

“I will, Jace. Relax.” Magnus sighs, letting the cool metal soothe the stinging ache in his jaw.

Magnus thinks of his makeup collection, bottles and tubes of concealers with varying levels of coverage lining the shelves of his bathroom. He wonders which of them will best cover the wicked bruise blooming on his left cheek. He’ll have to apply an extra coat of finishing spray to keep it from looking too unnatural.

If he decides to leave the freckles visible right at the bridge of his nose…well, that’s between Magnus and the potential man upstairs.

“Keep my secret,” he mumbles half-heartedly at the sky. He’s not sure whether to be disappointed or relieved when there’s nothing but silence in reply.

//

Alec is the first person to show up at Magnus’s apartment that evening. Of course he is.

“Well,” Magnus says, proud when the words come out even, “if it isn’t my favorite Lightwood.”

Alec’s response is breathy, almost shy-sounding. He’s leaning against Magnus’s doorframe, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “Hi, Magnus.”

“Come on in. Make yourself comfortable.” Alec smiles, head ducking as the door to Magnus’s apartment closes behind him. “You’re the first one here, darling.”

It was supposed to be an innocent comment, but for some reason, Alec’s cheeks flush. “Yeah, well. Archery ended early so I figured…is it weird? Sorry. I should’ve texted first. Made sure it was okay—”

The urge to reach out and touch is almost overwhelming, but after this morning, Magnus isn’t sure what would be appropriate or wanted. He shoves his hands in his pockets instead, ignoring the way his stomach lurches.

“Nonsense. My door will always be open for you and you know that.”

Alec’s voice is soft, just for Magnus. “I know. I’m so…hang on a second.” His hand grapples at the wall, pushing past winter coats and forgotten scarves heaped on mounted hooks. “Isn’t there a light in here—aha!”

The pop of the bulb coming to life is sharp in Magnus’s eyes. He closes his eyes against the ache, head pounding. “Alec, what on earth?”

Alec frowns and crowds Magnus back against the wall. His thumb comes up to brush Magnus’s cheek, featherlight. “Sorry, I just…thought I saw—oh. Oh my gosh. Wait. Is that—”

“It was an accident,” Magnus says, eyes still closed. He’s so tired all of a sudden. “Gym. Can you turn off the light? My head hurts a touch.”

“Are you alright? What did the nurse say? Come on, you should be resting. Here, lie on the couch.”

Oh hell. Here we go. “I didn’t go to the nurse.” Alec’s mouth drops open. Magnus barrels on, desperate to stop what he knows will be a winded lecture.

“Listen, Alec. It’s been a long day. If I’d gone to the nurse they would’ve called Ragnor, and the last thing that man needs on the first day after our holiday is a fucking reason to stress. I know head injuries are serious, and I’m not attempting to make light of this. But the only thing I want right now is to be cuddled under a warm blanket. I sincerely doubt the nurse is willing to do that, so no, I didn’t go.”

“Cuddles?” Alec whispers, eyes wide. “You—will that make it hurt less?”

Magnus’s heart sinks down to the floor. Fuck. Did he seriously say that?

God isn’t real. If he was, there was no way in hell he’d let Magnus live after saying something that stupid.

“It’ll keep me from thinking about it, at the very least.”

The steely determination on Alec’s face is troubling—Magnus is seconds away from asking about it when there’s a knock on the door.

“I’ll get it,” Alec offers. “You…sit down on the couch. Rest. I’ll grab a blanket from your room.”

“Alexander—”

The smile on Alec’s face is enough to hush Magnus’s worries. “It’s okay. I’ve got it. Save me a spot next to you, yeah?”

It takes every ounce of willpower Magnus has to keep from throwing himself at Alec and kissing him senseless—to hell with the door, the party, the stupid movies—Magnus nods instead and plops himself down on the couch.

//

Jace, Izzy, and Simon follow Alec into the living room, staking claims on their movie-watching spots with bared claws and hissed threats. Alec settles into the spot next to Magnus like he was made to fit there, leaving just enough distance between them to not raise suspicion.

Raphael and Clary show up shortly after, and Simon dims the lights, chattering excitedly as the opening credits roll.

“But Rapha, honestly, wait until you see the CGI. I know you’re more of a Potter man but seriously, this is the stuff of dreams—"

“Keep talking, mi cielito, and I’ll miss the whole thing.”

As Raphael and Simon start to argue, it occurs to Magnus that no one bothered to fight Alec over his spot. The thought makes his palms sweat. God, is it really that obvious? That spot was meant for Alec. Together or not, there’s no one Magnus would rather have by his side.

“Hey,” Alec whispers, scooting a bit closer to not interrupt the movie. Speak of the devil, Magnus thinks. “How’s your head?”

Magnus pauses, analyzing the question for what’s being left unspoken: do you still want to cuddle? He takes a moment to consider his answer. There’s a lot at stake here, and Magnus needs to go over the facts in order to make an informed decision.

He and Alec are just friends. Magnus is in love with him. His head is throbbing, he has zero interest in the movie, and Alec is watching him with the sweetest little smile.

Waiting for Magnus’s answer. Was there ever really a decision to be made?

“It hurts,” Magnus replies, fingers dragging over the velvet material of the blanket. “I hate this couch. I’m not comfortable at all.”

Alec’s legs swing up onto the couch as he lays himself flat, head pillowed on the armrest. His legs part slightly, arms falling open by his sides.

“Come here, Magnus.”

Magnus goes. The second he’s situated against the broad span of Alec’s chest, a pair of warm arms circle around him, fixing the blanket so that it’s covering them both. His eyes flit across the room—Izzy’s on her phone, Jace and Clary are making out in a corner, Simon and Raphael are snuggled up in an oversized armchair…

No one is paying them any attention. The last bit of tension melts away as one of Alec’s hands comes up to comb through his hair.

“I missed you,” Alec whispers, his voice a rumble in Magnus’s ear. “That entire week you were gone…I couldn’t stand it, Magnus. Not talking to you drove me crazy.”

“You have no idea how difficult it was to keep my distance. Even so, you never left my mind.” Emotion spools thickly in Magnus’s throat. He swallows around a lump of it, trying to shake the tremor from his voice. “What are we doing, Alexander?”

Alec’s arm tightens around Magnus’s middle. “Talking. Learning each other. I think…maybe that’s where we went wrong before, Magnus. M-maybe we, um. We rushed into things?”

Magnus snorts. Prior to that fateful New Year’s, he’d been silently pining for four months. It’s hard to imagine a pace slower than theirs.

But then he thinks of how quickly he and Alec progressed once they took on the title of ‘boyfriends.’ Making out in empty classrooms on day two, turning up late to class…yeah.

“I think you’re right,” Magnus says, nuzzling Alec’s chest for good measure. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, it’s easy to see. I’m sorry, Alexander. Please know I never meant for that to happen.”

“Neither did I.” Alec pauses, chest rising and falling in a steady pattern. “If there’s anything these past few weeks have taught me, it’s that I don’t think I can live without you.”

From his position on Alec’s chest, Magnus can feel the frenetic uptick of Alec’s heartbeat; blood warming Magnus’s skin as his entire being lights up. He’s been dreaming of those words for weeks now. How lost he’s been without his Alexander…his best friend in the entire world.

How joyous it is to be found. To be made whole.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I can’t—the entire time I was in Jakarta, I kept thinking about how badly I wanted you by my side.” Magnus sighs, wistful. In the background, Legolas is talking about needing to move on. ‘We must not linger.’ “I always thought that going back would stir up memories. We were young when I moved here, but I’ve always been curious. Once I found out where Ragnor was taking us, a part of me was terrified.”

Alec hums quietly, pressing a kiss to Magnus’s hair. “Terrified of not remembering?”

“No,” Magnus says, “the opposite. The memories you don’t have can’t come back and haunt you. I have more than enough ghosts to keep me company, Alexander. The thought of inviting more to the table was unappealing, to say the least.”

“And how was it? Your trip?”

Magnus smiles. “I didn’t remember anything, but it wasn’t from lack of trying. I visited my mama’s gravesite. Looked at her picture on that stone. Ragnor even took me to the house I used to live in—dead ends all around. Literally and figuratively.”

“So what did you do?” Alec asks, shivering at the word ‘dead end’ and pulling Magnus that much closer.

“Made new memories instead. Ragnor has this stupid obsession with argyle and printed shirts. It ruined all our photos together, but we took a bunch anyway.” Magnus pauses, voice dipping low. “I want to go back one day with you. Jakarta is a beautiful city. I saw you everywhere, Alexander. I think you’d really like it. Have you ever left the country?”

“I’d—Magnus. You have no idea how badly I want to kiss you right now.”

“Slow, darling.” Magnus tangles his fingers in Alec’s archery t-shirt, fighting the urge to drag his lips over the material. “Tell me about your experience with traveling.”

Alec’s whine is soft. “I know. I won’t. I—um. I’ve been to Canada, once. Jace used to play ice hockey, and he had a tournament. Other than that, nothing. But…I’m going to Los Angeles in June. I want to see UCLA’s campus before the semester starts.”

Magnus nearly bolts upright. It’s only the pulsing pain of his head throbbing that keeps him from falling off the couch in an ungraceful heap. “What? You’re—does that mean you’re going for sure?”

When he smiles, it’s full of pride. Hesitant, but there. “Yeah,” Alec says, “I told my parents last week and accepted the admittance officially. I also came out to them.”

Darling. That’s incredible. You really…fuck, I am so proud of you. Did they take it well? Are you alright? I’m so sorry I wasn’t here for you.”

“Relax, Magnus. Deep breaths. Yes, I’m okay. I won’t lie and tell you they were thrilled…but at least they didn’t kick me out or strip me of my inheritance, so I’m choosing to count that as a win.”

The force of Magnus’s hope crests inside him, knocking against ribs as it steals the air from his lungs. Tar-thick and molten warm…Magnus thinks of his own college admittance offer, crumpled at the bottom of his locker.

To UCLA, Ragnor’s alma mater. The same school Alec is, apparently, headed to in the fall.

“Want to know something?”

“I want to know everything about you, Magnus,” Alec responds, words gravelly. “Tell me.”

“I applied to UCLA too. Back in January.” The muscles underneath Magnus’s cheek shift as Alec struggles into a sitting position, helping Magnus do the same. “I’d forgotten you applied there too—it’s Ragnor’s alma mater. I mostly applied to make him happy.”

Alec’s impatience is palpable. “And? Did you hear back from them?”

“I did,” Magnus smiles. “They offered me a spot. I haven’t—oof!”

The crash of Alec’s arms around him rattles Magnus’s head. He hisses in pain—Alec backs off immediately, eyes full of regret.

“Sorry, Magnus. That’s…I knew they’d take you. Any school would be lucky to have you. Did you apply anywhere else?”

“No. I still have to talk to Ragnor about it, see what he has to say. I almost brought it up on the flight home but he distracted me by asking me something in Indonesian. Slippery little bugger, he is. The moment was gone after that.”

A strange look settles on Alec’s face. Magnus can’t quite decipher it. “Wait, you speak Indonesian?”

“It’s the one thing I remembered. My vocabulary leaves a lot to be desired, but I suppose it’s the effort that matters most.”

Alec’s eyes are full of wonder. It sends a spark of heat straight down Magnus’s spine. “That’s so cool. Can you—okay, sorry, I know this is lame. But could you say something? Anything you want.”

Magnus’s smile is soft at the possibility in that. There are a million things he wants to say to Alec, each more inadequate than the last. “Anything?”

“Yeah, please.”

Take it slow. Friends for now. ‘I can’t live without you.’ Lost and found…Magnus takes a deep breath, eyes closing as his breath echoes hot against the shell of Alec’s ear.

There’s only one thing he wants to say.

“Aku cinta kamu,” he whispers, letting the words drip velvet-slow off his tongue. I love you. I love you.

When Alec leans against the armrest of the couch, that strange look from earlier is back. The one Magnus couldn’t decipher…there’s a glassiness to his eyes that wasn’t there before. “Magnus,” he breathes, hands shaking in his lap, “what does that mean?”

“It means this,” Magnus says, closing the distance between their lips.

Chapter Text

Yorkshire Gold, left to steep for three and a half minutes—no more, no less. Add a splash of milk and one sugar cube. The clink of the spoon against the side of Ragnor’s favorite mug as Magnus stirs is familiar enough to soothe away the ghost of anticipation, even though the conversation he’s about to (willingly) walk into is one that will require him to be more vulnerable than he has been in a while.

Sure, he’d cried on Ragnor’s shoulder at his mother’s graveside, but that was a bit of an anomaly. What Magnus wants to talk about today is much more ubiquitous in their day-to-day lives.

Magnus fishes the teabag out and tosses it. He gathers both mugs in one hand and twists the knob to Ragnor’s office door without bothering to knock.

Ragnor looks up from the thick stack of papers in his hands, glasses perched so low Magnus fears they’ll fall from Ragnor’s face at the slightest movement. “Hello, crumpet. What a lovely surprise this is.”

“Am I interrupting?”

“Nonsense,” Ragnor says, patting the chair next to his in invitation. “I’ll always make time for you, Magnus. Especially when there’s tea involved.”

Magnus smiles and passes over the mug before sitting. “My insurance policy, in case you slammed the door in my face. Careful, it’s hot.”

“And water is wet—of course it’s hot, sweetheart. It’s tea.” Magnus’s intentions must show in the twist of his smirk, because Ragnor is speaking before Magnus has the chance to. “No. No, Magnus. Don’t you dare.”

“Iced tea—”

“—is a crime against humanity, case closed.”

“I’m not sure that’s how the law works, Ragnor.”

Ragnor winks and gestures up at the framed degree on the wall. “You’d be surprised. That aside, something tells me you’re not here to discuss the finer points of tea. Am I right to think that?”

“Yes.” Magnus takes a deep breath, holding the air in his lungs until it starts to go stale. “I wanted to talk to you about graduation, actually. And college.”

The thick file Ragnor was poring over when Magnus walked in hits the desk with a heavy slap. Ragnor ends up setting the mug right on top of it. Empty hands—that’s always been Ragnor’s biggest anxious tell.

“College?” Magnus nods, swallowing past the lump in his throat. “I wasn’t aware you were interested in that.”

“I’m interested enough to fill out an application. Only to one school, though. I’ve already heard back.”

The tapping of Ragnor’s fingers against the rich oak of his office desk does little to belie his anticipation. “And?”

“I got in.”

Ragnor’s smile is instantaneous. “Magnus. That’s incredible…congratulations! Wait until Catarina finds out. Are you planning on attending?”

“I think so? Obviously, the money will be an issue, but they gave me a scholarship. That should help.”

“Sweetheart, there are two things in this world that will always come up short: money and time. It’s not your job to worry about it, though. Leave all that mess to me. Where will you be going?”

Magnus’s eyes float up to the framed law degree, hanging proudly over Ragnor’s massive desk. He’s not sure how Ragnor will react once he finds out Magnus is going to his alma mater. Joy? An ‘I-told-you-so?’ There’s only one way to find out.

“UCLA,” Magnus answers, not missing the way Ragnor’s breath catches. “A little birdy told me it was a nice school. I didn’t see the harm in applying at the time…never in a million years did I expect to see an acceptance letter. And yet that’s exactly what happened.”

For a moment, Ragnor doesn’t say anything at all, his earlier exuberance transformed into something a lot softer around the edges. There’s a suspicious gleam in his eyes when he looks up to meet Magnus’s worried gaze.

Three plus years of living with Ragnor and Magnus has yet to see him cry. This might be the closest he’s come. The thought alone is enough to make Magnus’s own eyes burn with unshed tears.

And then Ragnor decides he’s ready to speak.

“I know I don’t tell you often enough, Magnus. But you’ve made me so proud. In the past year I’ve witnessed you grow into yourself in ways I could’ve never predicted, and every morning I thank anyone who might be listening for the chance to be a part of that journey. I know these past few weeks have been anything but easy for you. And yet…you held your chin up and tackled your issues with a grace unparalleled.”

“Such a sap,” Magnus teases, rolling his eyes to keep the tears at bay.

To his credit, Ragnor doesn’t give into Magnus’s obvious attempt at deflection. “I mean it. From the bottom of my heart, crumpet. I will always be your biggest cheerleader. Through London storms and LA sunshine. Here, there, anywhere.”

The words are achingly familiar. Magnus sniffles loudly and scrubs at his nose. “Stealing Catarina’s expressions now, are we? A sap and a thief—I’m calling the police.”

“Actually,” Ragnor says, “the ‘here, there, anywhere’ bit is mine. It’s a Fell Original. Don’t you remember, Magnus? Long before I won my custody battle, I used to whisper that in your ear after a long day in court, right before I handed you the fiver.” Magnus does remember. He shifts in the chair, subconsciously seeking the bone-deep sense of safety brought about by being close to Ragnor. “I know UCLA is far. But it’s not going to stop me or Catarina from being there to support you. We’ll always be snapping at your heels, understood?”

“You’ll come visit me in the dorms?” Magnus’s voice is small. Needy. He spends a second hating himself for his moment of weakness before realizing that it’s something he’s allowed to feel. “I have a feeling Alec and I are going to need some help moving in.”

“Rest assured, crumpet. I’ll visit so frequently you’ll be begging me to leave. Now…what’s this about Alec and the dorms?”

Damn it. Magnus hadn’t meant to say that out loud. Now that he has, there’s no going back.

“Coincidentally,” he starts, “Alec is going to UCLA as well. He and I haven’t been speaking much lately, but the subject of dorms has come up once or twice. You know how I feel about having a roommate, Ragnor. But if it were someone I know, someone I’m close to…it makes sense, alright? Just because we’re not dating doesn’t mean we can’t live together. Alec and I—it’s a solid partnership.”

Ragnor snorts. “Solid partnership? That’s…hot.”

Magnus throws the pen in his hands right at Ragnor’s face—his clumsy attempt at dodging is satisfying to watch.

“Sorry, sweetheart. Had to take the mickey out of you, if only for a moment.” Ragnor drains the last of his tea, mug clinking quietly against the wood of his desk. “About Alec—you two haven’t made up yet?”

It’s impossible for Magnus to mask the hurt in his voice, so he doesn’t bother to try.

“I don’t know if we will this time, Ragnor. I think it might be over for good.”

“Is that what you want?”

What?” Magnus hisses, eyes widening. “Of course not. I’m in love with him—if it wasn’t a ridiculous notion, I’d get down on one knee tomorrow. It’s…Alexander is it for me, Ragnor. There’s no one else I want.”

“Alright,” Ragnor says, elbows propping on his knees as he shifts his weight forward. “If that’s how you feel, then make it a reality.”

Magnus’s eye roll comes without thought. “Oh, cheers, I’ll get right on that. Bloody good advice you give.”

“I mean it, Magnus. The only thing standing in the way of you and Alec being together is your fear of letting him in again. Present appropriate evidence in support of the contrary and I’ll happily drop it. Excuses don’t count.”

Magnus has an abundance of reasons why being in a relationship with Alec is a bad idea. He wiggles a ring-clad hand, ready to count them off as he goes.

“Alright, that’s how this is going to go? Fine. I’ll play. Alec’s parents, for starters—they’ll never accept me.”

Ragnor raises a brow, unimpressed. “That’s never stopped you before.”

Well, he’s not wrong. Magnus ticks down his second finger. “Neither of us know what we want to do with our lives—”

“And you think the rest of us do? Sounds like you’re due for a patented Catarina Loss Lecture on Life. No one has it figured out, Magnus. But having someone to stumble through the days with…it makes a difference.”

His chest tightens at the memories drifting into focus:  he and Alec unwinding together after a long day of finals, Alec coming to Magnus after his fight with Maryse on New Year’s…the sense of belonging he feels simply basking in Alec’s presence.

The way they can share space in comfortable, companionable silence; no need for words between them to reassure the other of their unwavering affection.

“We’re meant to be taking things slow,” Magnus says, aware of how weak it sounds. “Alec specifically requested that—his parents might’ve been the catalyst when it came to our separation but both he and I know of the underlying issues tainting the bond we shared. Rushing into things was what broke us, Ragnor. And it was all my fault for falling so quickly. I’m scared I’ll break us again.”

A hand tugs at Magnus’s forearm. He allows Ragnor to pull him to his feet, the momentum carrying him into the waiting set of arms.

“Being in a relationship and taking things slow are not mutually exclusive concepts. As long as both you and Alec are on the same page—and, here’s the kicker—as long as you constantly communicate with one anotherthen the rest will sort itself out.” Ragnor sighs, dropping a kiss into Magnus’s hair. “In addition, the way you love is not an issue, Magnus. You didn’t break a damned thing. What happened between you and Alec was necessary to facilitate growth. I know it’s hard to see the forest for the trees when you’re standing in the thick of it, crumpet, but one day you’ll look back and realize how lucky you were to have conquered such mountains in your youth.”

It’s a tantalizing concept, the one Ragnor is presenting him with. “You really think Alexander and I can work things out?”

“I do,” Ragnor says, ignoring Magnus’s half-hearted protests and ruffling his hair. “And I think you believe it too. All you need to do is hold fast in that hope. Let it guide you like faith guides others. You won’t be led astray.”

“You always did give the best advice,” Magnus admits, sighing softly as he pulls out of their embrace. “It pains me to admit it, but when you’re right, there’s little else to be done. Had I known this would be one of those conversations I would’ve mentally prepared myself prior to admitting defeat like this.”

Ragnor’s smile is sharp, edged with the bite of understanding. “That’s tosh and you know it.”

“And how can you be so sure of that?”

“Because,” Ragnor says, sporting his trademark courtroom smile, “you brought me a mug of tea.”

Magnus starts, mouth dropping a bit. “Insurance policy, I told you—”

“What you told me was rubbish. You’re far too smart to play the fool, Magnus. This conversation is one you walked into knowingly and willingly.” His voice drops an octave or two, sounding oddly choked. “How happy I am that you did.”

Vulnerability. Clearly it’s a struggle for Ragnor at times, too.

“Yeah, well,” Magnus answers, desperate to shake the heavy mood lingering between them, “you’re annoyingly good at everything. Giving advice is no exception.”

When Ragnor answers, it’s with no shortage of mirth.

“You flatter me, sweetheart. I can think of at least one thing I’m rubbish at.”

“What’s that?”

The smirk on Ragnor’s face is all the warning Magnus gets. “Cricket.”

There’s no mistaking Magnus’s groan for anything other than genuine. “Are you serious? Cricket? That’s the best you can come up with?”

“You said it yourself—I excel in most things.” Ragnor shrugs, picking up the heavy file from his desk. “Speaking of excelling, duty calls. Unless you wanted to continue our lovely chat?”

“No,” Magnus smiles, head shaking as he stands to leave. “Thank you, Ragnor. I think I have everything I need.”

//

Sleep comes much more easily to Magnus after his conversation with Ragnor. His dreams that night are of Alexander. They’re sitting in the campus dining hall, having an animated argument about the different cereal offerings.

He wakes up the next morning with a smile on his face—it holds strong through his morning course-load, carrying him into the cafeteria with an extra spring in his step.

//

“Alexander, darling, you’re looking awfully cheerful this afternoon.” Magnus teases, looping an arm around Alec’s slumped shoulder and leaning down to press against him in a half-hug. “Care for a tasteful Christian side-hug to cheer you up?”

Alec only groans in response, the sound muffled by his stupidly toned arms. He does, however, lean into the contact, a slight, barely-there movement that has Magnus’s traitorous heart fluttering in his chest.

Honestly, Magnus is doomed. He sighs softly and allows himself a second more to bask in the warmth bleeding through Alec’s thin uniform shirt before pulling away to take the seat beside him at their lunch table.

“That bad, huh? Look at me, darling. Tell me what’s wrong. Maybe I can help.”

From his spot next to him, Alec mumbles and shifts, turning his head on his folded arms just enough to look up at Magnus with tired, sleep-worn eyes. The dark shadows under them catch Magnus’s attention immediately and he frowns, tongue clicking softly at the sight.

“Sorry, Alexander. I didn’t quite catch that.”

“I said,” Alec repeats, “that my father has started asking about prom. About a prom date. Specifically, my prom date. And, uh, who that is.”

“Ah,” Magnus replies, offering Alec a soft, understanding smile. “Prom, huh? I suppose that is coming up—it’s only 10 days, 5 hours, and—” he glances down at his watch for a moment, “—22 minutes away. Not that I’m counting,” he adds, shooting Alec a wink.

Alec finally smiles at that, sitting up fully in his chair.

“Let me guess: he wants you to take a date of the opposite gender.” Alec nods, pout returning. “No need to fret, darling. Perhaps there’s some way I can assist.”

“How?”

“We’ll set up interviews,” Magnus says, with a wicked grin. “If you have to spend the most monumental night of our high school career in the arms of a person you’re incapable of being attracted to, the least we can do is find someone who can make you laugh.”

Alec’s face pinches, eyes narrowing at Magnus. “What? Interviews? No way. That’s—”

“A genius idea? I know. Unless you already have someone in mind?”

“I do,” Alec says, red-cheeked and indignant. “No interviews. That’s—I’m not doing that, Magnus.”

“Fine, fine. Who is it?”

Alec’s response is an inaudible murmur, lost to the noise of the cafeteria.

“Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Who is it you plan on taking to prom?” Magnus is watching him closely. Even if he wasn’t, the nervous tick of Alec’s fingers across the linoleum would be enough to have him backpedaling. “You know what? That’s alright. It’s none of my business. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable, Alexander. I know this isn’t easy for you and I’m making it worse by joking around.”

If possible, Alec looks even more stricken. “Magnus, no, it’s not that. Of course it’s your business. You and I are—well, we’re us, right? And I’m not uncomfortable talking about it. Actually…um. It’s just—you.”

“Me?” Magnus echoes, thoroughly confused. Alec nods emphatically, cheeks flaming.

“Yeah.” It’s not much to go off of, and after a minute of dragging silence, Magnus realizes Alec doesn’t plan on elaborating.

It’s been a while since he’s seen Alec so flustered; even longer since Magnus was on the receiving end of it. At some point in the middle of their woefully short relationship, Alec had fallen into himself and his new role in the most beautiful way. From the roses on Valentine’s Day to the effortless way Alec put his thoughts into words…Magnus fell in love with his boyfriend’s heightened sense of confidence, one stupidly romantic gesture at a time.

This Alec, though, is beautiful in his own right. The tips of his ears are a bright red—Magnus wants to run his lips over them, see if they’re as warm to the touch as they look.

“Okay,” Magnus says, slowly. “What about me, darling?”

Alec sighs and closes his eyes. When he opens them, they’re full of the type of resolve that makes Magnus’s stomach flip for reasons he cannot explain.

“You’re the person I have in mind. Like, all the time. No matter what the question is…you’re always going to be the right answer.” Magnus’s jaw drops—because no, Alexander, you can’t just say things like that. “No interviews, Magnus. There’s no one else I want to go with.”

The insinuation is strikingly clear. Had Ragnor been right after all? Still, though, Magnus needs to be sure. His heart won’t settle for anything less.

“Alexander,” he whispers, bringing a hand to his chest to temper the furious pounding, “what does that mean?”

“I want you to go to prom. With me. Please,” he adds, voice cracking.

As if Alec Lightwood would ever have to beg Magnus for a damned thing. If Magnus wasn’t embarrassingly close to tears, he’d probably be laughing right now.

His mouth opens wordlessly a few times as he stares at Alec, mind racing in time with his heartbeat as he tries to formulate a response.

Alec wants to go to prom—with Magnus. Okay. That much makes sense.

Would they be going as friends? That must be what Alec meant, because the two of them have had this conversation a million times over both with and without words, until Magnus had committed every single piece of it to memory.

He and Alec are taking things slow. Starting as friends and working back up. Making sure their foundation is solid, because they deserve that…don’t they? They deserve the best chance this world can offer them to love and be in love together.

Alec is still discovering himself, and in a lot of ways, Magnus is too. ‘Just friends’. The absence of Alec’s sweet touches aches fiercely, but Magnus can learn to live with that ache if that’s what Alec needs from him.

Sure, they’d kissed a few times since then, and yeah, Magnus sort of told Alec he loved him. That’s neither here nor there because it changes nothing.

‘Just friends.’

It’ll be enough for Magnus. Even though Magnus is in love with him—because Magnus is in love with him. It has to be enough and it will be. Magnus is fine with just friends. Really.

Magnus’s eyes focus back on Alec’s face. It doesn’t take more than a second for the horror in Alec’s expression to hit him. Alec must be afraid Magnus will say no to going to prom with him.  The weight of his mistake presses down on Magnus’s lungs in time with the words spilling rapid-fire from Alec’s lips—he’s talking before Magnus has the chance to stop his massively incorrect train of thought.

“It’s probably stupid, right? I mean, you’re going with someone already—I can’t believe I didn’t think of that, so stupid, Alec—of course you are, you’re Magnus Bane. And here I am—”

“Yes,” Magnus breathes, fingers itching to reach out and reassure. “Fuck, I mean—no, Alexander. You’re not stupid. Not at all. Yes. A thousand times yes.”

Alec’s lips part in shock. “Yes, you’ll go with me?”

The doubt in Alec’s eyes cuts deeper than his absence; stings in a way even his kisses cannot soothe. It’s reminiscent of their relationship’s earliest days; rife with Alec’s flagging sense of self-worth. After they’d officially gotten together, Magnus swore to himself that he’d never give Alec a reason to doubt himself (or Magnus’s feelings for him) ever again.

And yet, here they are. Fix it, he thinks. How the hell do I fix it?

“I’d love to,” he says in response, voice earnest and straining. “You’re my right answer, too. I told you that on the night of Simon’s party. Don’t you remember?” I told you I loved you. Don’t you remember?

“You did?” Alec’s brow furrows adorably. “I don’t…wait. Was that what you said in Indonesian?”

Ah, he doesn’t know. The realization is both jarring and oddly relieving. “You didn’t Google it? I was certain you would.”

This time, Alec looks sheepish. “I tried to. Spelling is a struggle for me in English, Magnus. By the time I got home that night I couldn’t even remember how to pronounce it, much less type it out.” His smile hitches up at the corner, veering into much more hesitant territory. “Say it again for me? I’ll write it down this time.”

Magnus’s own smile is massive. “Oh no. I’ll tell you when you’re older, darling.”

“I’m older now than I was a second ago.” Magnus wants to groan at the blatant flirtation. He wonders if Alec even knows he’s doing it

“And in a minute, you’ll be older yet.” He clicks his ring against the surface of their lunch table and tries to come up with a response that’s both playful and distant. Friendly. “I’ll tell you on your birthday. How does that sound?”

Thank a possibly fictional God Magnus is sitting, because the grin on Alec’s face would have knocked him right on his ass. “Prom night? Sounds perfect. Think I can wait…what was it again? 10 days, 5 hours, and a handful of minutes?”

Magnus blinks. That doesn’t make any sense. Unless…

“Your birthday is on the same night as prom?”

“Unfortunately. I tried to use that as an excuse to get out of going, but Dad wouldn’t go for it.”

Interesting. Calendar pages flip in Magnus’s mind—the Institute’s prom is on April 21st. That means he has a little less than two weeks to find the perfect birthday gift for Alec. It’s not ideal, but he’s done more with less in the past.

“I never thought I’d say this,” Magnus says, unable to keep his own flirtatious tone at bay, “but I’m thankful he told you no.” At Alec’s questioning head-tilt, Magnus adds, “If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be going to prom with you, now would I?”

“Oh,” Alec says, heat flooding his cheeks as the words sink in. He smiles at Magnus; a small, hopeful thing. “I’m glad you’re happy, Magnus. I’m happy too.”

“I’m thrilled, darling.” Magnus says, smiling back and ignoring the persistent ‘justfriendsjustfriends’ echoing through his mind. “Though we’ll have to start coordinating outfits now, if we want to have time—”

“Seriously, Alec? 4/10, needed more trumpets.” Jace interrupts, punching Magnus’s shoulder in greeting. “If you didn’t want to do it yourself you could’ve at least gotten a flash mob or something.”

Alec wheels around to face his brother, cheeks still hot.

“What are you talking about?” Alec says, helplessly. He looks to Magnus, who shrugs in response, having learned long ago that it’s pointless to interfere in Lightwood-sibling politics. “Jace, what are you even saying?”

“Your promposal sucked, big brother. That’s what I’m saying.” Jace replies, eyes rolling as if it were obvious. “And they say romance is dead. Well, after watching that, I’m inclined to agree.”

“Ooh, ‘inclined.’ Very high-brow, Jace. Mom and Dad would be impressed. Hi, Magnus.” Isabelle waves, turning to face Alec as she fully rounds the corner and approaches them. “Hey, Alec. What wisdom is Jace sharing now?”

“He’s meddling—” Alec begins, but being a Lightwood currently surrounded by two other Lightwoods, he doesn’t have a chance to get that thought out uninterrupted.

“Alec asked Magnus to prom,” Jace shouts, hands flying up in the air. “And he did it in typical Alec-fashion, which was about as exciting as a Father Starkweather sex talk. He needs help, Iz.”

Alec’s protests are loud and immediate. It’s hard for Magnus to keep mum in these sorts of talks. While he’s aware of the fanfare and pomp that typically surround the entire prom process, given that he and Alec are very much not a couple and are going to prom as friends, he doesn’t see what the fuss is about.

In fact, even if they were dating, Magnus wouldn’t want for more. Alec’s lack-of-a-filter is something he’s always found hopelessly endearing. Not to mention the beautiful prose he’d crafted in his recovery.

The scandalized look on Isabelle’s face is enough to tell Magnus she and Jace missed that part of Alec’s little speech. It takes every ounce of Magnus’s self-control to hold back the laughter.

“You did WHAT?! Alec, no! I had a plan!” Both of Magnus’s brows shoot straight up. Isabelle was planning something? She turns to face Magnus, then, dragging him into the conversation headfirst. “Magnus, I’m sorry for my brother. Jace and I will sort him out.”

Magnus smiles, a warm, gentle thing, aimed straight at Alec with intent to reassure.

“It’s not a problem, Isabelle, your brother did a fine job. It was very charming—and I was happy to say yes. So, there you have it. All’s well.”

“Still, though,” she says, deep in thought as she turns to face her brother.

There’s something about her expression that promises more to come. Magnus makes note of it and vows to keep a close eye on Alexander in the next few days. Alec doesn’t need the added stress of whatever Isabelle is planning for him. Not with graduation coming up, and the way his parents are looming over him about college, and plans, and abandoning his responsibilities.

Alec rolls his eyes as his sister leans in close and mumbles something in a low, hurried voice, her arm linking through his as they walk in another direction without saying goodbye. Magnus frowns, torn between chasing Alec and his sister down the hallway and not wanting to interrupt Alec’s time with Isabelle.

He doesn’t have the chance to follow them, though. Jace slings an arm over Magnus’s shoulders and turns the two of them away from Alec and Izzy’s retreating backs.

“Come on, buddy. We’ve gotta get to class. Coach is gonna bench me if I’m late, and let’s be honest—you don’t stand a chance against Raj without me.”

Magnus sighs. Volleyball. The latest subject of his nightmares. Why he was chosen as a team captain is beyond him, but as loathe as he is to admit it, Jace is right. He needs Jace on his team if they want to win.

Magnus doesn’t care if they win, lose, or if the ball explodes in a burst of heavenly fire only to render play impossible. But the others in his class are heavily invested, and as annoyed as Magnus is by their over-competitive gameplay, in an odd way, his classmates have grown on him.

So, for their sakes, he’ll try to win. And that starts with having a winning team—a team with Jace on it.

“Alright, Jace,” Magnus sighs. “I suppose I do look better in gold than silver. Let’s get this over with.”

//

| A.L |

Later that night, Isabelle comes into Alec’s room uninvited and flops on his bed. Her laptop is open to YouTube before Alec can come up with an appropriate protest.

“Iz, my homework—”

“It’s due on Friday. Today is Wednesday.” Izzy’s painted nails fly across the keyboard. She clicks a few videos and adds them to the queue. “Besides, this is educational too. We can’t come up with an amazing promposal without doing a little research first.”

“This is so stupid.” Alec knows he’s whining, but at the moment it’s impossible to care. “I’m going to look stupid. I already asked him, Iz. And he said yes! No need to make a fool out of myself in the name of a do-over.”

Isabelle frowns and looks over at Alec. “I won’t let that happen, big brother. You’re going to be amazing, I promise. We’re not doing anything too far outside of your comfort zone. It’ll be elegant. Classy. Perfect for Magnus, and for you.”

Alec pauses, considering his options. Magnus already said yes. He’s not sure why this is such a big deal to Isabelle, but it is, and that’s enough to bring Alec pause.

Maybe it’s a big deal for Magnus too? He’d never say otherwise if that were the case. And there’s certainly no one more deserving of something elegant and classy than Magnus Bane.

Plus, a little voice tells him, this could be your chance to win him back.

“Fine,” Alec says, barely audible over the sound of Isabelle’s cheering. “But we need ground rules, Izzy! Nothing at school. No marching band, no major public stunts. If I’m going to do this I want it to be about Magnus and I, no one else. Got it?”

When Alec finally gets the courage to meet Isabelle’s gaze, he’s caught off guard by the warmth there. It’s enough to tell Alec how seriously she’s taking this. The tension melts from his shoulders.

“As it should be,” she agrees, scrubbing a hand under her nose to hide a sniffle. “Now, let’s start here! Look, Alec. This guy wrote on the inside of a pizza box.”

//

The plan they come up with isn’t terrible, per se, but given that it’s meant for Magnus, there are a million ways in which Alec can screw this up. Though his fear isn’t enough to keep him from texting Magnus and asking him to meet up in the library after school the next day. If there’s even a chance this will make him smile, it’ll all be worth it.

There’s no archery on Thursday afternoons, which means he doesn’t have to lie to Coach Garroway about where he’s going. It also means Magnus isn’t suspicious when Alec asks him to hang out.

Still, though. Alec is a terrible liar. He knows the charade won’t last very long.

“Hello, Alexander.”

“Magnus,” Alec says, smile bright. “Hey! You’re early.”

“I wanted us to get a head start on that journal assignment for English.” He unzips his bag, pulling out various notebooks and pens to spread across their usual table. “It’s due on Monday but if we finish it now—”

“Actually,” Alec interrupts, grabbing Magnus’s wrist to stop him, “I was hoping we could…go out?”

One of Magnus’s brows raises. “Out? Alright. Are you hungry?”

“Yes. I mean—fuck. No. I’m not hungry. Are you?”

“Not necessarily,” Magnus says, looking at Alec with an odd expression. “Is everything alright?”

No, Alec thinks, gathering the supplies Magnus laid across their table and putting them in a neat pile for Magnus to collect.

“I’m fine,” he says instead. “About today…it’s a bit of a surprise. Do you trust me?”

“One hundred percent.” Warmth pools low in Alec’s stomach at how quickly Magnus replies. Fuck. They’re just friends. Alec knows that; it was a mutual decision. He should respect it. It’s what’s best for them, even if it goes against every instinct in Alec’s body to do so.

He reaches down and tangles his fingers with Magnus’s anyway. Magnus’s lips turn up at the corners—Alec figures he’s forgiven for his momentary lapse of protocol.

//

“It looks like it’s going to rain,” Magnus comments, tugging his coat tighter around his torso as they make their way to the subway station. Alec looks up at the sky.

No, no, God, please. Just a little bit longer.

“It does,” he agrees, sullen. “I hate the rain.” Especially today, when so much of Alec’s plan is contingent on it not being miserable outside. “You don’t happen to have an umbrella in your bag, do you?”

Magnus shrugs, his grip on Alec’s hand tightening for a moment. “I’m afraid not. Chin up, darling. The rain isn’t all bad, right?”

His arms fold over his chest, hands balled into fists. “No, it is. The streets flood, the trains are crowded…I’ve gotta say, the cons are outweighing the non-existent pros at this point.”

And rain will make the flowers grow,” Magnus sings, squeezing Alec’s hand. 

In spite of the nerves tangled thick in Alec’s stomach, a smile presses into his cheeks. “You know, I’m not sure a song about death is the ticket to making me feel better.”

“You smiled, didn’t you?”

Why wouldn’t he?  It’s impossible not to with Magnus by his side.

//

“Ooh, Rockefeller Center? Are we going shopping? You really do know the way to my heart, Alexander.”

Alec shivers, guiding Magnus through the automatic doors with a hand on the small of his back.

“Not quite,” he says, scanning the room quickly for the check-in desk. “Hold on, I need to find—there. Come on, this way.”

The woman sitting behind the desk sits up straighter as they approach, eyeing the emblem on Magnus’s school-issued sweater. “Good afternoon, boys. Do you have a reservation?”

“Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane,” Alec answers, noting the way Magnus’s eyes widen with surprise. “We’re scheduled at 4:30 PM.”

She clicks around on her screen. Alec can tell the moment his name pops up…he’d gone into great detail in the ‘special requests’ portion of the ticket form.

“Of course, Mr. Lightwood. Here are your VIP lanyards. Keep these with you at all times, alright? When you’re ready to go up, follow the red ropes down to elevator number five. Your concierge will escort you to the Observation Deck.”

Alec’s ‘thank you, ma’am’ is barely out of his mouth when Magnus physically drags him around the corner, just out of sight of the main lobby. The second they’ve got some semblance of privacy Magnus is in Alec’s arms.

Alec stumbles to catch him, laughing nervously. “I guess that answers my question about you fearing heights.”

“This is incredible,” Magnus murmurs, lips resting against the press of Alec’s collar. “When you told me you had a surprise, I was envisioning a latte, or something to that effect. But a trip to the top of the world…what’s the occasion?”

“No occasion,” Alec lies, putting a bit of distance between their bodies. “Just wanted to do something fun. Ready to go up there and see what the fuss is all about?”

The breathless affirmation Magnus gives him makes Alec want to scrap the whole plan; he wants to push Magnus against the wall and kiss him until the only words Alec remembers are, ‘I love you.’ Though Isabelle probably wouldn’t like that very much. Alec figures building security wouldn’t either. He leads Magnus over to the elevators instead, saying a silent prayer that everything is set up correctly.

//

The first thing Alec realizes after stepping out of the elevator is that it’s pouring down rain. There’s an alcove by the elevator bank for them to take cover in, but it does little to protect them from the harsh whip of the wind.

The second is the sopping wet mass of rose petals, wet and clinging to the bottom of their shoes. At one point, Alec assumes they were artfully arranged, carefully laid to spell out the word ‘Prom?’ Now, though, there’s no order to them at all. He can only assume the poster he and Izzy carefully glued glitter to last night is in a similar state.

Magnus lifts his foot, studying the mess with a sad expression.

“Well, that’s unfortunate. I bet it was beautiful before the storm hit. Whoever it was for…do you think they got a chance to see it before it all got ruined?”

Alec groans and sinks his head in his hands in reply. As predicted, this is a total disaster.

“Doubtful. Listen, Magnus, maybe we should go. This weather—”

“What? Leave? Nonsense. We just got here.” He pauses, squinting to make out the shape of the skyline through the sheets of rainfall. “Do you think we should take pictures first?”

Pictures? What? “But you can barely see anything.

“I see you. That’s enough for me.” Just friends. Alec’s whine is low, a bit desperate. Fuck, he wants to kiss him. “Come on, darling. Let’s go this way—do you think we can see the Brooklyn Bridge through this fog?”

If they turn the corner, Magnus is going to come face-to-face with the poster Alec made. The petals might’ve been ambiguous enough, but that has Magnus’s name written on it.

 “Wait! Look, there, the Statue of Liberty—"

It’s too late—Magnus darts out into the rain, a playful smirk lighting up his features as he turns to look at Alec while walking backward. “Catch me if you can, darling.”

Alec curses under his breath, slipping out into the storm behind Magnus. He rounds the corner quickly, rain soaking through his blazer as his feet slide against the wet tile—and promptly crashes into Magnus’s back, his arms twining around Magnus’s torso to keep from toppling them both.

Magnus is every bit the deer in the headlights, gaze locked on the glass wall in front of them. Rain sticks to his lashes, clumping them together—he blinks the moisture away and stares.

Right at Alec’s waterlogged poster; at the melting curve of the ‘M’ in his own name and the ruined remnants of the glitter glue dripping onto the floor.

“Magnus…”

“That’s my name,” Magnus says, voice high and tight. “Alexander. Is that…did you make that?”

The rush of embarrassment is warm as it crashes through Alec’s system, distracting from the fact that his clothes are soaking wet. “I did,” Alec answers, turning Magnus in his arms. “It was—I’m sorry, Magnus. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It—um, it looked a lot nicer before the rain happened.”

Magnus’s hands rest flat against Alec’s chest, rings catching in the saturated fabric. Alec can feel him shivering. He pulls him into a hug, chin hooking over Magnus’s shoulder.

“The rose petals. Did you put those there too?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Alec sighs and tucks his nose in the nape of Magnus’s neck, breathing in deeply to steady himself.

“Because I wanted to ask you to prom.”

“Prom?” Magnus squeaks. “Darling, you already asked me. I said yes, remember?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t ask you the right way.”

Magnus pulls back, just enough to look at Alec’s face. Understanding is etched in the glint of his eyes, makeup starting to smudge underneath them.

“Let me guess: Isabelle talked you into this?”

Alec nods. “And Jace. They said I needed to prompose, or something like that. This was my attempt at that, as washed out as it was.”

“Oh, Alexander…”

“I know what you’re going to say, Magnus.” Magnus presses his lips together, one brow raising under the wet plaster of his hair against his forehead. “You’re going to tell me I didn’t need to do any of that. That you were perfectly happy with me asking you in the cafeteria.”

Magnus’s smile is beautiful and warm. It’s impossible for Alec to hold back a smile of his own, as overwhelmed as he is. “Beautiful and smart. How did I get so lucky?”

“That’s the thing. I’m the lucky one, Magnus. And that’s why I let Isabelle talk me into this—I wanted you to know how lucky I am to have you in my life, no matter what the capacity is. Sure, you might be okay with the way I asked you before…but I wasn’t. As soon as I found out there was more, I knew that’s what I wanted to give you. That’s why we came up with this plan. My only regret is that it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.”

“Didn’t it?” Magnus whispers, leaning in closer. “Tell me what you wanted to happen.”

When Alec shivers this time, it has nothing to do with the cold. “Well, I was going to bring you up here, and you’d see the path of rose petals…o-oh fuck, Magnus—”

Magnus’s mouth traces the shell of Alec’s ear, kissing softly down to his neck. “Continue.”

“R-right. Um. So, you’d see the petals, and then we’d walk over to the poster. There were going to be more petals here, spelling out the word ‘prom.’ And then—ah—the rest is up to you.”

“Is it still up to me?”

Alec pulls away from the heat of Magnus’s mouth, blinking away the rain and the haze of pleasure. “What?”

“We might not have the rose petals or the poster, but I have an answer for you regardless. It’s a yes, Alexander.”

“Yeah? You really want to go with me even though this was a disaster?”

“The only disaster I see right now is that I can’t kiss you the way I want to.”

Just friends. It’s a dangerous sentiment, the one Magnus is voicing. They agreed to take this slow. Ease back into things; AlecandMagnus, when they were both ready. Here with Magnus in the pouring rain, Alec is having a very difficult time remembering why exactly that is.

Alec is ready. He’s been ready since the second they said goodbye.

Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe it’s because he’s 850 feet up in the air. Whatever it is, it’s enough to have Alec speaking without fear of the consequences.

“Kiss me,” he begs, eyes lidded as he presses their foreheads together. “Kiss me and I swear, we’ll go somewhere warm and talk about everything afterward.”

“My place,” Magnus whispers, breath fanning hot against Alec’s lips. Thank you, Father. “We’ll talk? You promise?”

“I promise.”

“Fantastic,” Magnus says, hauling Alec in by the lapels and crushing their mouths together.

They could’ve stood there for minutes or hours, rain pouring down around them and soaking Alec to the bone—none it matters. None of it exists at all. His entire world narrows down to the slick drag of Magnus’s lips against his; to the noises Magnus makes as he tangles a hand in Alec’s messy hair.

Later, they’re going to have to talk about this. For now, Alec surrenders to the moment, letting it wash over him until the city below disappears entirely.

//

Their sodden clothes drip puddles by their feet on the floor of elevator five. The concierge looks on in distaste, but thankfully, he doesn’t say anything to them about it as they leave.

Magnus takes Alec back to his apartment in Brooklyn for a warm shower and a change of clothes.

Surrounded by the scent of sandalwood and Magnus, Alec closes his eyes and relaxes fully for the first time since their breakup back in February. There’s a voice in his mind telling him everything is going to be okay between them. It’s easy for Alec to listen to that voice, fingers dragging against his own lip as he thinks back to the way they kissed in the rain.

Alec’s not sure why he’s so certain about it, but he is. He loses himself in the feeling for a moment. With the shower water pounding hot against the muscles of his back, Alec smiles.

Yeah, he thinks, things are going to be just fine.

//

| M.B |

The sight of Alec Lightwood sitting cross-legged in Magnus’s sheets, hair dripping onto the tight cotton of Magnus’s borrowed t-shirt messes with Magnus’s mind in the best sort of way.

He’s still riding off the high of that kiss. It’s probably why Magnus feels so content. Everything feels so perfect in this moment that he isn’t afraid to express how he feels.

He leans against the doorframe, letting the words fill the empty space between him and Alec.

“Aku cinta kamu.”

Hazel eyes snap up to brown, wide and curious. “Huh?”

“That’s what I told you before. The Indonesian phrase you couldn’t remember?”

Alec sits up straighter. “Can you say it again? More slowly?”

“Of course, Alexander. If you’re planning on typing it into Google Translate later though, there’s no need.”

“But I want to know what it means.”

“Aku cinta kamu.” The bed dips under Magnus’s weight. One of Alec’s hands fits perfectly in both of his. “I love you.”

Alec inhales sharply, lips parting in a soft o. Beautiful, Magnus thinks.

“What did you just say?”

Magnus focuses on the heat of the feeling, letting himself get caught up in the heady rush of affection. How can he put such an electric feeling into words?

“I love you,” Magnus says, words rushing out in a breathy giggle. “I’ve been in love with you for months, Alexander. You have no idea how good it feels to finally put it in words.”

Truthfully, Magnus isn’t sure what to expect from Alec in the immediate aftermath. He wanted to take things slow. Somehow, Magnus doubts a love confession fits that bill. It’s too late to take it back. He realizes, however, that he doesn’t want to take the words back.

What he’s not expecting is for Alec to giggle. Loudly.

“Months? R-really? I’m so—oh Heavens, Magnus. I can’t believe it.”

“Can’t believe what? That I love you?”

Alec sobers immediately, scrambling against the slippery silk sheets to wrap his arms around Magnus’s neck. “No! Magnus, no, it’s not like that. I love you too. You’re everything to me. I wasn’t laughing at that.”

Alec loves him too? Magnus’s heart soars. “You love me?”

“In every way possible.”

“I—oh. Then…”

“In the past few months,” Alec starts, cupping Magnus’s cheek, “I’ve spent a massive amount of time holding back that very sentiment. I told myself you’d never feel the same. That this—us—was something I threw myself into headfirst; that I fell too hard and too fast. It’s why I wanted to take things slow. But this entire time you’ve been in love with me too. And now it’s all out in the open.”

“The power of conversation,” Magnus jokes, leaning into the contact. “I suppose we could’ve saved ourselves a lot of time had we discussed this earlier.”

“Probably,” Alec mumbles, pressing a quick kiss to Magnus’s lips. “But I wouldn’t change a thing. All this hurt, the heartache…I have to believe it was for a reason, Magnus. God doesn’t make mistakes.” The light catches on Alec’s cross pendant as he drags it across the chain around his neck. “In the end, it brought us closer. You and I…we always seem to find our way back to each other.”

Back to each other…butterflies stir restlessly in Magnus’s stomach. “Alexander, does that mean we’re…”

“Dating? Boyfriends?” Alec’s smile is brilliant—Magnus thinks back to the last time they had this conversation, tender and new in the dusty cathedral. “If you’re asking me, Magnus, my answer is yes.”

“I love you so much,” Magnus says in response, fingers wrapping around the back of Alec’s neck. “Yes, I’m asking. You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”

“Me? I’ve been here the whole time. I’m not the one that went halfway around the world without so much as a goodbye.” He and Alec have talked about this, so Magnus knows Alec is joking. Mostly joking, anyway. “I missed you, Magnus.”

Alec’s adorable pout is enough to make Magnus’s heart ache with longing. It only takes a second for him to realize that hey, if he wants to lean over and kiss the pout right off Alec’s stupidly perfect lips…well, no one is going to stop him.

Magnus does just that. Alec’s pleased little hum vibrates straight through to Magnus’s core.

“Yes, I missed you. I might’ve had you here—” Magnus gestures to the space around them, “—and here—” he taps his own chest, just above his heart, “—but I didn’t have you here.” His arms tighten around Alec’s waist, pulling him impossibly closer. “And now that I do…I don’t think I’m ever going to let go. From here on out we’ll find a way to work through things together.”

Alec adjusts his lanky frame so that he’s lying in Magnus’s arms, head pillowed in the dip between collarbone and shoulder. “Mm,” he murmurs, snuggling even closer. “I hear relationships take...effort.”

“Yeah?” Magnus says, kissing Alec’s forehead for a long, steady moment. “I’m all for effort.”

//

Magnus is halfway through the Institute’s front entrance when a pair of arms curl around his neck, pulling him back into a hug he’s not fully prepared for. The scent of Isabelle’s perfumed wrist is enough to ease the split second of alarm he’d felt.

“Hey you,” he says, spinning them a bit because it makes her laugh. “You’re looking radiant this morning.”

Isabelle smiles, tucking a curl behind her ear. “Thanks! I bought a new highlighter last night.”

“I was referring to the huge smile you’re wearing, but now that you mention it, I can tell. You’re glowing, my dear.” Magnus offers her an arm—she loops hers through his, falling into step beside him. “Did something happen to put you in such a good mood?”

Her grin shifts into a smirk. “I don’t know, Magnus. Why don’t you tell me?”

Ah, so this is about Alexander. Magnus bites back a smirk and shoves his free hand into his pocket.

“I’m afraid I don’t have a clue what you’re referring to, Isabelle.”

“Hmm. No one asked you any questions yesterday?”

Magnus winks, guiding Isabelle into the bank that houses her locker. “Was it ever really a question if you already knew my answer?”

“You know my brother.” Isabelle dials her combination without having to look. “No matter how certain he is about something, doubt will find an invite to the party.”

“I hope last night’s conversation helped to alleviate some of that doubt.”

“Mission accomplished. I’ve never seen my brother so happy before. It’s why I wanted to find you this morning. I just…thank you, Magnus.”

When she turns to face him, Magnus is surprised to find Isabelle brushing away tears. He clicks his tongue in a gesture he knows belongs to Ragnor and pulls Isabelle into a tight hug.

“None of that, now. You’ll make me cry too. Also, I’m the one who should be thanking you. Alec told me how integral you were in the planning stages of yesterday’s main event.”

The slam of the locker door mingles with Isabelle’s laughter.

“Sure I was. I still can’t believe we checked everything except the weather forecast, but I suppose that’s a Lightwood Production for you. The only way it could’ve gone more awry is if Jace got involved.”

Magnus laughs and heads in the direction of his own locker. “I don’t know, Isabelle. I think it worked out pretty well in the end, don’t you?”

“You two finally got it together and got back together, so yes, I’m inclined to agree.”

From the corner of the hallway comes the monotonous drone of the morning bell. Five minutes left until the start of homeroom. Magnus grabs the Chemistry textbook he borrowed from Alec and never quite gave back, shutting his locker with a quiet snick.

“That we did. Will we be seeing you at lunch?”

Isabelle smiles. “I wouldn’t miss it. Go on, I can see it in your eyes. You’re desperate to go see Alec before class starts. You and I can catch up later over manicures.”

God, Magnus loves Isabelle. He can’t resist the urge to pull her in for one more hug before they part.

“I always look forward to it, my dear.”

//

Much like the rest of his childhood, Magnus’s earliest memories of prom stem from him being someplace he wasn’t allowed to be. In this instance, it was his foster sister’s closet. Magnus remembers kneeling on the floor with the doors shut, dragging his hands along the cool emerald silk of her gown with childlike wonder.

Apparently, his foster mother had been calling him down for dinner for quite some time—Magnus hadn’t heard, too wound up in the heels he’d discovered on her shoe rack and the tube of lipstick snatched from atop the vanity. He hadn’t meant to get lipstick on the dress…it was an accident. He just wanted to try it on.

Magnus’s foster mother hadn’t been too happy when she found him a few minutes later. She’d yanked him out by the arm and tossed the gown on the bed, shoving him into the tub without ceremony and scrubbing the makeup from his small face. He was seven years old at the time. Magnus remembers the disgusted drag of her words when she told him ‘makeup wasn’t meant to be worn by little boys.

Magnus snorts, eyeing himself in the mirror briefly. Oh, if only Iris Rouse could see him now.

He’d gone to bed without dinner that night.

Forever tempted by the things he cannot have, Magnus has been obsessed with prom ever since. As a result, he’s seen a lot of movies.

In his mind’s eye, Magnus is Andie Walsh in Pretty in Pink; kissing Alec senseless in the parking lot and twining long arms around his neck. He’s Ren in Footloose, dancing the night away with Alec, Izzy, Raphael, and Simon by his side.

He’s Cinderella at the ball, bursting through the double doors to a chorus of gasps and admiring gazes, because damn does he look good. Along with the rest of Magnus’s prom dream, his outfit has been sorted long before Alec’s invitation stole what was left of Magnus’s heart.

Magnus wrestles open his closet door and smiles at the sight of the garment bag. It’s nothing new—the Tom Ford cocktail jacket had been a lucky find at The B Stage, one of Magnus’s favorite designer consignment spots. The second fluorescent shop lighting shone on the beautiful gold brocade, patterns swirling down the length of the arms in rich, dizzying pirouettes, Magnus had drained his savings account without a second thought, vowing to save this piece for a night he’ll never forget.

And now, with the love of Magnus’s life by his side, the moment is finally right. Magnus reaches forward and drags his fingers over the coated fabric of the garment bag without conscious thought. It gives under his touch, the tips of his fingers tracing the thick line of a lapel up and over the chest of the jacket.

There’s something beautifully poetic about showing up to senior prom in gold, Magnus thinks. Spiritual, almost. “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” And come out he had…Heaven knows Magnus’s journey to this point hadn’t been an easy one.

Magnus’s parents and their little stone house just outside of Jakarta; four walls and three hearts, lashing out at each other in the worst sort of way. Then Magnus’s step-father came along, stealing the two of them away to New York.

If he thought the pain was going to get better…Magnus was dead wrong. Instead, it gained a physical manifestation. Bruises up and down the hairpin curve of his spine with a necklace of green and purple fingerprints to match. Six years old—his first time in a courtroom. Magnus’s first foster home placement was soon to follow.

A daisy chain of new placements came in the wake of his first, cyclical and confusing. The ‘nice new families’ started and never seemed to stop. Why did they never stop? It was Magnus, it had to be. Otherwise someone would have seen something in him worth keeping. Unless there was nothing there to see.

This continued throughout Magnus’s educational career: elementary, middle, high school.

Six different high schools with three different foster home placements; Ragnor being the last (and best) Magnus has ever had. Bullies, being assaulted for simply existing, coming out and being persecuted for loving those he chose to love.

Falling in love with the wrong person. Camille. The damage she’d done in the aftermath.

Bottles, pills, repeated dances with the devil to keep the pain away. That had gone on for two years. Making mistakes—publicly—and being shackled by the consequences of those actions.

July 2017—Ragnor told Magnus he was transferring him to the Institute. Walking in on the first day of class…

Magnus’s breath hitches, the golden light of the dying day dripping into his peripheral vision, because oh, this is when things had started to look up.

Reconnecting with Raphael, the brother he thought he’d lost to the cogs of the system. Finding out that Raphael had a family now; a Mom and a Dad who love him and pray with him every single night. Going with him to Mass that Wednesday despite not feeling any sort of calling to it himself.

Meeting Alexander and his daring sister. Making him laugh in the library, buying him hot chocolate, and falling in love. Learning the language Alec’s heart speaks so that his own can echo it back.

Finally mastering the curve of the words with a hand along Alec’s arm and his lips pressed to Alec’s ear. I love you, I love you. Over and over again until suddenly, Alec was saying them back.

To be loved and to be in love. No, Magnus thinks with a smile, it certainly hasn’t been easy. But has it been worth it? All the heartache, the suffering, the loneliness and near-misses dressed up to be his life?

There’s not a doubt in Magnus’s mind—the answer is a resounding yes.

With one last look at the garment bag, Magnus shuts the door of his closet. The hinges groan quietly in the empty space of his room. He lays back on his bed and closes his eyes, blinking away the white of his ceiling as a deep-rooted calmness washes over him. Magnus isn’t sure where the feeling of peace comes from. It’s easier for him to identify the line of scripture etching itself in gold on the backs of his eyelids: 1 Corinthians, 13:13. They’d gone over it in class just this afternoon.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

The words sink him further into his current headspace, glimpses of hazel eyes and lips stretched into a tight smile slipping in-between the letters. For all of the years that Magnus has spent dreaming about a magical prom night, it’s all about to come true, shot through with a shimmering thread made of a thousand ‘I love yous’.

The greatest of these is love. And he has that—god, does Magnus have love in his life.

There are still complications to be dealt with: Alec isn’t out at school yet, so he and Magnus will have to keep their distance once they get to the venue. Magnus won’t get to feel Alec’s arms around his waist; won’t get to twirl with him in the middle of the dancefloor or feed him bites of hors-d'oeuvre from the sprawling buffet table. It doesn’t upset him, though. Magnus knows they’ll find a way to make things work, because they have each other, and that’s what the two of them do.

Magnus and Alec have a love unparalleled. And in the end, that’s all they’ve ever needed.

//

Two days before the prom, Isabelle teases Magnus with an out-of-focus picture. It’s only when he squints and pulls his phone up to his face that he’s able to make out the shape of a jacket in the dark of Izzy’s room, sharp against the soft purple of her bedspread.

She hadn’t bothered to turn on the lights—an intentional move meant to, quite literally, keep Magnus in the dark. God, these Lightwoods will be the death of him yet.

Magnus spends an embarrassing amount of time trying to parse information from that silly photograph. It takes Raphael snapping at him to focus, Magnus, before he’s clicking off the screen of his phone and tossing it aside with a frustrated whine.

Two more days and he’ll be seeing Alexander in all his best-dressed glory. He just has to have patience until then.

//

The hand-beaded brooch Magnus ordered from Etsy in place of a traditional boutonniere for Alec arrives the night before prom. Magnus’s heart skips several beats at the sight of the box on the counter—he’d been starting to wonder if it would arrive on time.

He opens it carefully, gasping at the sight of it nestled in the tissue paper. The wire-shaped rose is stunning, crystalline Swarovski petals catching the light at every angle. It’s perfect. Magnus beams and twirls around the kitchen with the box held in his outstretched hands. 

Sure, it’s a bit of a surprise, but Magnus hopes it’ll be a welcome one. At the very least, this will be something Alec can keep throughout the years. A memory, golden and ethereal, of a magical night full of love.

Magnus hopes he’ll be something Alec keeps, too…he knows he’ll be keeping Alec from now through the rest of his days.

//

| prom night |

“—and I am not doing that,” Alec grumbles, voice coming from the direction of Magnus’s left shoulder.

Magnus hums, desperate to turn around and finally see his beautiful boyfriend, but Catarina schools him with a knowing look and fusses with Magnus’s lapels.

“Patience is a virtue,” she says, leaning on her tiptoes to peek around Magnus’s shoulder. “Take my word for it—you both look incredible. I’m so glad we decided to do this at the loft.”

Given that Robert Lightwood was less-than-thrilled at Alec’s choice in prom dates, Magnus had suggested they all meet up at Ragnor’s to get ready for their big night. The commute to Brooklyn from the city had been less than ideal for the Lightwoods, but everything ended up working out just fine. Unsurprisingly, Raphael and Simon were the first to ring Ragnor’s doorbell, wearing matching all-black suits Magnus knows come from Raphael’s favorite line at Nordstrom. Catarina was next, camera in tow. Magnus had gotten himself dressed and ready after Catarina’s arrival, taking extra care with his makeup when the minutes started to feel like hours.

Izzy and Alec were the last to arrive. They’ve only been here for ten minutes but it’s been the longest ten minutes of Magnus’s life.

He has yet to see Alec’s outfit for the evening—has yet to see Alexander. Magnus knows he’s done for the second he turns around.

The plastic box holding Alec’s boutonniere shakes in Magnus’s hands.

“Hey,” Catarina says, cupping Magnus’s face so their eyes meet. “It’s going to be alright, Magnus. Let yourself feel this. Nothing is going to go wrong, yeah? This night is yours to enjoy.”

Magnus takes a deep breath and pushes down the bubble of anxiety. “Yes. You’re right. I’ll—”

“Alec! No peeking!” Isabelle cries. Magnus’s giggle catches him by surprise. At least Alec is as affected by this as he is.

“Hopeless. The both of you—why do I even bother? You know what? Go ahead. Turn around—Alec, you can take off your blindfold now.”

Time slows to an almost-halt. Now that he’s allowed to turn around, part of Magnus wants to savor this moment. Make it last. He closes his eyes and counts to three in his head.

One, two, three. I love you, I love you, I love you.

“Oh,” Alec whispers, eyes wide and unblinking. “I—oh. Magnus, you look—”

Breathtaking. Alec’s shoulders are a delicious broad line in the tight black fabric of his tuxedo, gold trimming sewn onto the lapels to complement the gold of Magnus’s jacket. His tie is a rich gold silk, running down in a single line to a matching waistcoat and painted on black dress pants…a flash of light at Alec’s neck catches Magnus’s attention. He drags his eyes back up the length of his boyfriend’s body, slow and hot—and there, resting against the knot of Alec’s tie, sits his ever-present gold cross pendant.

Magnus swallows, trying to find the words and pull them past the lump in his throat.

“Darling. My Alexander. You’re so—god, I can’t even think straight.”

“Is that a good thing?” Alec asks, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “Izzy picked it. I had no clue what you were wearing, so I just assumed she did—”

Magnus leans forward, silencing him with a quick kiss. He pointedly ignores the click of Catarina’s shutter release in the background.

“It’s a good thing,” he confirms, forehead pressed against Alec’s. “You’re so beautiful, Alexander…I love you, and I feel so blessed to be spending this evening by your side.”

Alec’s cheeks bloom a bright red, smile tugging at his lips. “Magnus. I—have I ever told you how long I prayed for this? To find someone like you—no, to find you? Since we met my world has been nothing but incredible and it’s all because you’re with me. I just—sometimes I think you’re everything I’ve ever wanted.”

“And other times?”

“Other times,” Alec says slowly, leaning in for another kiss, “I know for sure.”

Their free hands find each other, fingers tangling without a second thought. Magnus spots the plastic box in Alec’s hand and smiles at the sight.

“Is right now one of those times, Alexander?”

“No,” Isabelle interrupts, not looking sorry at all to be prying them apart. “Right now is picture time!”

//

Catarina arranges them on the too-narrow staircase in varying pairs, rattling off posing instructions in-between the clicks of the shutter.

“Stand up straighter, Alec—yes, put your arm around her shoulders. Isabelle, just a bit to the right.” She stops, pulls the camera away from her face, and turns to Ragnor. “Ragnor, can you—”

“On it like a car bonnet, love. Alec, more like this—there we are, that’s a good lad.”

Magnus snorts and takes a sip of his virgin cosmo at the look of exhaustion on Alec’s face. There’s sympathy there, deep down, but it’s also amusing to watch. Catarina and Ragnor together have always been a force to be reckoned with.

“Good,” Catarina says, peering down at the screen on her camera. “Next up, Magnus and Alec. Magnus?”

“Right here, doll.” He puts the glass down carefully, nearly melting at the relieved look Alec shoots his way. “Hello, darling.”

“Magnus,” Alec says, leaning into the embrace immediately. “Save me. Is it ever going to end?”

Magnus pauses, pretending to consider for a moment. “Mm, give or take another hour.” The color drains from Alec’s face—Magnus dissolves into a fit of giggles, effectively killing the act. “I’m kidding, Alexander. We’ll be leaving in the next twenty minutes.”

“Thank God above,” Alec mutters, burying his face in Magnus’s neck.

“Boys? Get your boutonnieres ready. Do either of you need help pinning them on?”

“No,” Alec says, pulling himself back into his own space. “Nope, I got it. Do you?”

Yes, Magnus thinks, I have everything I’ll ever need. “Ready when you are, my love. Why don’t you go first?”

//

Magnus is sure the five of them make quite the sight climbing onto the D-train into Manhattan, Isabelle holding the train of her gold mermaid dress the entire time they’re standing in the platform. He enjoys every second of it, even when Simon pulls out the honest-to-god lightsaber he insisted on bringing and starts using it to poke Alec’s shoulder.

It takes them about twenty minutes to reach their stop. Raphael leads the way, cutting a path for them through Times Square and straight up to the Marriott, when a plush red carpet awaits them.

He turns to Alec, smiles, and gives his hand one last squeeze before moving to stand with Isabelle like they planned. Alec’s smile slips fractionally before he remembers to right it. Temporary, Magnus mouths. He hopes it’ll offer him some comfort.

“Don’t worry, Magnus.” Isabelle’s voice is a low whisper, meant for the two of them and no one else. “I actually have a little surprise. For both of you, although I’ll need your help to pull it off.”

A surprise? Magnus raises one brow, leaning in closer to keep the conversation going.

“Anything you need. I will admit to being curious, however. Are you going to tell me what to expect? Or is it a surprise for me as well?”

The look in Isabelle’s eyes could burn the city to the ground in a second. She’s all passion; painted lips quirking up in an expression Magnus has come to recognize as the Lightwood’s brand of rebellion. It’s a ‘fuck you’ to anyone who might try and stop her; a love for her brother and a joy to be part of his happiness.

“No, I’m going to tell you.” She loops his arm through Magnus’s, letting the bouncer scan her ticket as they enter the Marriott’s massive lobby. “I’m going to tell you everything, Magnus. And then we’re going to make it happen.”

“All things through God,” Magnus jokes, reveling in the sound of Isabelle’s laugh. She pauses for a moment, searching Magnus’s expression for something…

And then she tells him her plan, from start to finish.

//

| A.L |

If Alec were asked to describe his ideal birthday, his night would go a little like this: he and Magnus locked in a beautiful hotel room together, the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign hung on the outside doorknob. Knowing Magnus (and knowing the way he knows Alec,) they would’ve ordered way more room service than the two of them could comfortably eat. The thought alone has Alec stifling a giggle. It’s such a Magnus thing—he’s always been terrible at deciding what he wants to eat.

So Alec would’ve ordered half the menu and laid it all out on any table-like surface their overpriced room had to offer: desk, nightstands, the flat side of a suitcase. They’d kiss each other between sticky bites of pancake and chopped fruit until all Alec can think about is the soft brush of Magnus’s hotel robe under his hands and how Magnus’s nails are tracing the curve of his spine over the warm cotton of his t-shirt. He’d kiss him again after that, all thoughts of food long forgotten.

As it stands, most of Alec’s birthday wish has come true. Here he is in the Marriott with Magnus…and Jace, Izzy, Simon, and Raphael. It might not have been what Alec’s imagination initially came up with, but Alec thinks this is good in a different way. Fun. The food isn’t half bad either.

“Alec?”

Alec startles, the sparkling cider in his champagne flute sloshing dangerously close to the sides of the glass. “Iz? Sorry, I was…”

“Eye-fucking your boyfriend from across the dance floor?” Izzy smirks, ignoring the way Alec’s mouth falls open. “He is pretty hot, brother. Can’t say I blame you.”

“Isabelle, language. And I was not doing—that. I needed a minute, that’s all. Events like this…you know how they tire me out.”

While not his intended purpose, Alec’s words have Isabelle’s entire demeanor shifting.

“Hey, it’s alright. I get it. Actually…I planned on it.”

Isabelle’s grin is suspicious, all teeth and bright red lipstick in the too-dim ballroom lighting. Atmospheric, Simon had called it.

“Planned on it?”

“Yeah,” his sister says, hand coming to rest in the crook of Alec’s elbow. “Do you trust me?”

“I trusted you more before you asked me that question,” Alec replies immediately, rolling his eyes at the playful wink Izzy shoots his way. He lets her tug him off the dance floor and down a hallway to their left. “Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise. For you.”

“Alright.” Alec is willing enough to go along with this until Izzy guides them to a tasting room marked ‘No Public Access’ and reaches for the handle. Trespassing is where he draws the line, especially in a hotel as nice as this one. “Wait a second. Izzy, stop, Maybe we shouldn’t—"

The door swings open and Alec is unceremoniously shoved inside. It clicks closed behind him before he has time to protest.

Alec rights himself with a grumble. He’s ready to turn and leave right now, before a hotel employee finds him in here and kicks him out—but the sight right in front of him is enough to make him gasp.

The room Alec is standing in is small, meant for a meeting or a luncheon. He figures it can’t house more than 40 people, 50 tops—certainly not suitable for an event as large as a senior prom. It’s why the Institute chose to rent the Marquis Ballroom. Rooms like this one hadn’t been included in the package. Alec knows that for a fact.

And yet, the room Alec is currently standing in has been decorated to match the Institute’s rented ballroom. There’s a miniature version of their balloon arch in the corner, strings of fairy lights wrapped around the support beams serving as the room’s only light source. Alec blinks to help his eyes adjust, taking in his surroundings with a quiet sort of wonder.

“It’s supposed to be atmospheric,” Magnus says, making Alec jump. “At least, that’s what Simon said earlier. Hello, Alexander.”

He’s standing in the middle of the makeshift dance floor, every bit the vision in that elegant gold jacket. Magnus’s head is tilted to the side as he waits for Alec’s reaction, smile warm.

“Magnus.” Alec’s throat nearly closes at how ethereal Magnus looks. “I don’t—w-what—”

“Isabelle. She figured we’d appreciate having some time to ourselves. She and Clary spent the whole afternoon decorating and making sure everything was perfect.”

The whole afternoon? Alec’s stomach flutters with a dizzying affection. “All of this for me?”

Alec can’t remember when Magnus got so close to him, but Heavens above, the last thing he wants to do is complain. Magnus’s arm slips around his waist, one hand coming to cup his cheek.

“You are more loved than you realize,” Magnus breathes, leaning up to kiss Alec softly. “There are so many people who would wage wars for you, Alexander, myself included. But here, in this space, there’s no need to fight. No one to tell us no or stop me from holding you the way I want to. No one exists except for us. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?”

Alec’s reply is instantaneous; sharpened by the strength of his conviction. “Not as beautiful as you.”

“Oh darling…I’m afraid if you keep talking like that, I’ll be forced to abandon my plan entirely in favor of kissing you breathless.”

“I wouldn’t mind that,” Alec murmurs, delighting in the frantic thud of Magnus’s heart against his wandering fingers. “I am curious about this plan, though. What’s all this about?”

Magnus’s eyes shine with some unspoken sentiment. He’s holding a small white box in his palm, no bigger than a cellphone—Alec can’t believe he didn’t notice it before.

It’s all he can do to reach out and take it, thoughts spinning a thousand miles a minute.

“Happy birthday, Alexander. I’m afraid it’s no ballroom...but I hope you like it regardless.”

His birthday—of course. Alec opens the box with trembling hands, pulling out the silver bracelet nestled carefully within.

It’s pretty, Alec thinks, perhaps the prettiest piece of jewelry Alec has ever owned. The chain is soft and delicate, connected to a rectangular metal plate on either side—he flips it in his palm, finger dragging against the line of text engraved into the surface of the metal.

I refuse to sink. Just below it, another line of text. This one reads—

“Hebrews 6:19,” Magnus says, voice soft. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul.” There’s an anchor charm dangling by the clasp Alec hadn’t noticed before, a single, tiny diamond glimmering in the center. “So much of this world is beyond our control. As much hurt as we’ve gone through, individually and together, there will always be something else looming in the horizon—storms that threaten to rob us of our sanctuary.”

Alec makes a soft sound and pulls Magnus closer to him. He’d shield him from it all if only he could. Magnus’s answering smile tells Alec he knows what he’s thinking; that he feels the same way about Alec.

“But you, my love, will rise above it all. You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met…and being with you makes me feel strong, too. As long as you have your faith, in both God and in us, there’s nothing we cannot weather. I love you. I will love you for the rest of my days.” He gestures at the bracelet in Alec’s hand, trapped between their bodies. “May I?”

Alec nods wordlessly and offers Magnus his left wrist. Magnus makes quick work of the clasp, stepping back a few inches to admire his work.

And now it’s Alec’s turn to talk. There are a million things Alec wants to say in response, a litany of I love yous and I seek that same strength in you, it’s always been you fighting for dominance in the space of his thoughts.

When Alec opens his mouth, the only thing that comes out is, “Dance with me.”

It’s a stupid thing to say—Alec can tell by the way Magnus’s eyes widen just a fraction, clearly caught off guard. Maybe that’s because Alec practically shouted the words in his enthusiasm, though. It’s hard to tell.

Regardless, it’s grounds for an immediate explanation. “I love you, Magnus. I love you more than anything; more than I thought I could love anyone. I want…I’m going to give you everything, I swear. One day I’m going to give you the world.”

“I don’t want the world,” Magnus says, head shaking. “I just want you.”

“And you have me. Forever—that starts tonight, right here in this room. You’ve made so many of my dreams come true in the past few months…it’s time for me to start returning the favor.”

Magnus pauses, ready to argue, but stops short when the meaning of Alec’s words settles.

“Wait a second. You know about my prom dream?” Alec beams, nodding. “Who told you?”

“Cat might’ve mentioned it on my way out the door. I’m really happy she did, so please don’t get fussy with her.”

His boyfriend grumbles adorably in response, arms twining around Alec’s neck. Alec is helpless to the moment—he leans in and kisses Magnus, giggling into his mouth.

When they pull back, Magnus is giggling too. “Alright, alright. Let’s dance. Oh! There’s no music. Izzy didn’t want to attract a lot of attention—give me a moment, darling. I have my phone—”

“We don’t need it,” Alec says, dipping Magnus back in his arms in a way that has him squealing. You’re the song my heart sings, all I’ll ever need. “I love you, Magnus.”

Magnus’s answering smile is breathless. “I love you too,” he answers.

The night passes on, and together, they dance.

Chapter Text

| M.B |

The days that follow the most magical night of Magnus Bane’s life are just as magical, albeit more quietly so.

It’s all in the little things: the way Alec nuzzles Magnus’s cheek in greeting the next day, the knowing smile on Isabelle’s face as he and Alec hold hands under the lunch table, and several lazy afternoons spent snuggling on the terribly worn couch in Magnus and Ragnor’s apartment.

Today is no exception: they’re lounged out on that very couch now, Alec’s back pressed tightly to Magnus’s front. There’s a movie playing on the TV neither of them are paying attention to in favor of scrolling through Playbuzz personality quizzes on the screen of Magnus’s phone.

“What kind of fruit bum do you have?” Alec snorts, head shaking. “No, Magnus. Don’t even think about it. That’s ridiculous and I don’t want any part of it.”

Magnus pouts, pretending to be pensive. “Au contraire, darling. If you won’t take the quiz I suppose you’ll have to settle for my uneducated assessment—or should I say, ass-sessment.”

Alec’s answering squeak is accompanied by the prettiest flush, mouth agape. Magnus is just about to open the quiz despite Alec’s adorable protests when his screen comes to life in his hand.

Matching pink boxing gloves and tired, sweaty smiles—it’s a call from Catarina’s cellphone. Magnus smiles and tucks the phone between his ear and shoulder.

“Hello doll,” he hums, pleasantly surprised, “to what do I owe the pleasure?”

Catarina’s voice is oddly strained. There’s some sort of commotion going on in the background; a disjointed voice crackling over a loudspeaker. “Magnus. Are you—is Alec with you right now?”

An odd question made stranger by the breathless edge to Catarina’s voice. Warning bells start to sound in Magnus’s mind. He sits, jostling a drowsy Alec into full alertness.

“Yes, he’s right here. Is everything alright? Aren’t you at work?”

“I am. Listen, the two of you need to come to Amherst. Right now. Something is—I shouldn’t be calling you right now or telling you any of this, I could lose my job. But Magnus, please. Hurry up and get here.”

“Tell me what’s going on first.” Magnus’s voice must relay his trepidation—two sets of eyes are on him, concerned. “Catarina, you’re scaring me. Are you hurt?”

The chair Ragnor was sitting in creaks in protest as he rises. His car keys are in his hand, eyes crinkled at the corners from the worried cast of his frown.

“It’s not me,” Catarina says, voice thick with unshed tears and god, it must be bad if she’s about to cry. Distantly, Magnus realizes Alec’s phone is ringing. Alec’s worried eyes never leave Magnus’s, even as he wrestles the phone out of his pocket and mumbles a greeting into the receiver. “Magnus, it’s Robert Lightwood. There was an accident this afternoon—”

An opportunity to openly stare at Alec Lightwood is not one Magnus is willing to pass up: as a result, he’s almost always watching him. He’s watching him now, which is why he sees it.

The slackening of Alec’s jaw; fingers tightening on the phone for one harrowing moment before it slips right out of his hand. The way his mouth opens around a silent, broken breath, color draining from his beautiful face in a rush that makes Magnus queasy. Ragnor is in front of Alec in a second. He’s asking Alec questions but Alec makes no indication of having heard any of it.

Magnus watches Alec break in slow motion. Everything in his world grinds to a halt until it’s just the two of them, trapped in this single, heartbreaking moment.

“—multiple internal and external lacerations, a complete fracture of the C1 vertebrae—”

He can hear Catarina talking, an incomprehensible slurry of harsh medical terminology punctuated by her desperate assurances that she did all she could. Magnus doesn’t pay any attention to it, hyper-focused on the way Alec’s breathing has gone shallow.

On the muffled screaming coming from Alec’s phone, face-up on the area rug. On the way Alec hasn’t moved a muscle since answering that call.

“Magnus, come on.” Ragnor. He’s taking the phone from Magnus’s frozen hand, speaking to Catarina in a soft voice. “Cat, it’s me. Yes, I’ve got the boys, we’re leaving now.”

Click. Ragnor throws Magnus’s phone on the couch and bends to pick up Alec’s. “Hello? Mrs. Lightwood? This is Ragn—Isabelle.” His face contorts with pain. “Oh, love. Are you with someone? Tell me where you are.”

Alec’s lips are moving. Magnus shifts closer to make out what he’s saying.

“No,” Alec murmurs, eyes glassy and unfocused. “No, no, this isn’t real.”

Magnus’s arm hovers in the space between them. Alec makes no move to make contact but his body angles toward Magnus’s, each breath sounding more ragged than the last.

“Alexander…darling, I’m right here.” Fuck, Magnus has never felt more unsure in his life. “I won’t leave your side. I swear it. I’m here, I’m here.”

“Magnus?” Alec’s voice cracks around the consonants. When he blinks and shifts his gaze to meet Magnus’s, his expression holds traces of a slowly-dawning clarity.

Like coming up for air after being held underwater. It’s a reality Magnus wishes he could protect him from, because those things Catarina had been saying on the phone…did not sound good.

“Yes, darling. I’m right here next to you.”

Alec closes the distance between him and sinks into Magnus’s waiting arms.

“Isabelle—she t-told me—oh God, Father, please, please. Please let there be a mistake.”

Tears start to roll down Magnus’s cheeks in earnest. Ragnor is guiding them out the front door and over to the elevator without another word, mashing the button for the underground garage with more force than necessary.

“I’ve got you. I’m here, Alec. I’m here.” The words feel empty; hollow and wrong in their ability to reassure. They fall from his lips like a prayer anyway. “I’m not going to let go, shhh. My darling, my love. Kamu adalah cahaya hatiku.”

Ragnor’s voice is a whisper meant just for Magnus. “You’re doing well, crumpet. Keep talking to him. I reckon he’s in a state of shock, so you’ll have to help him with his belt.” There’s a strangled note to Ragnor’s voice when he tacks a pleading, “yours too,” on the end.

Alec’s frantic babbling has mostly quieted, although the mumble of his prayer vibrates through Magnus’s chest where they’re pressed together as much as their safety belts will allow.

So Magnus keeps talking to fill the silence. It’s mostly endearments; sweet, honeyed words in both English and Indonesian whispered in Alec’s ear to keep the panic at bay. Ragnor’s massive Escalade (and, Magnus thinks, the aggressive way he’s driving) has cars parting like the Red Sea on either side of them.

By the time he pulls up to Amherst Memorial, Catarina’s number is already dialed and ringing on the hands-free interface.

“We’re outside,” he says, brusque and clipped. Ragnor whips the car into the first open space he sees and cuts the ignition. The screen goes black, effectively ending the call.

It doesn’t matter, though. No sooner has Magnus opened the car door and guided Alec out with an arm wrapped tight around his waist than he sees Catarina, waving them over to the automatic doors.

Her eyes are red-rimmed, stethoscope hanging loosely around her neck—one look at her face, and Magnus just knows. “Alec, sweetheart. Your mother and siblings are all here. If you come with me, I’ll take you to them. Does that sound alright?”

The hand twisted in Magnus’s shirt tightens even more. Catarina holds out an arm in invitation, gesturing for Magnus to bring Alec closer.

“W-where’s my father?”

“He’s upstairs,” Catarina says, voice impossibly soft. “Isabelle and Jace are with him now. I’ll take you to see him, Alec. All you have to do is take my hand.”

Magnus holds his breath and waits for Alec’s decision. In the end, he knows the decision has to be his. The only way any of this will start to become real is if Alec allows himself to think of it as such. Until he does they’ll all be caught in this sick sea of stasis with the sound of Isabelle’s screams crashing like waves on the shore.

Alec breathes—once, twice—and goes into Catarina’s embrace willingly. Magnus sags against Ragnor the second Alec leaves his arms.

It takes the sight of them walking away for Magnus’s mind to catch up.

“Wait! I’m coming too. I promised Alexander I wouldn’t leave.”

“It’s family only. I’m so sorry, Magnus.” Magnus’s heart sinks straight to the floor. “I’ll come find you and Ragnor as soon as I’m able. Why don’t you head to the cafeteria and get something to drink?”

Magnus shakes his head, vehement. “No. I don’t want a drink. Alexander—”

“Ragnor,” Catarina murmurs, head canting to the left. Ragnor’s arm locks around Magnus’s torso in response to her unspoken plea.

“Let go of me! I have to—Alec, darling—”

“Shh, crumpet. We have to let them go now. Alec is with Cat and she’s going to take good care of him.”

Take good care of Alec—no, that’s Magnus’s job. He should be there. Alec needs him. He’s about to become intimately acquainted with a pain so visceral it’ll knock him off his feet with no one there to catch him.

Magnus knows this because he’s felt it firsthand. He learned how to fall apart before he even knew his own name.

“But I promised.” His entire frame is wrought with shivers. Ragnor shrugs out of his hideous argyle cardigan and drapes it over Magnus’s shoulders. “I p-promised him I wouldn’t leave, Ragnor.”

“And you’re not breaking that promise. Right now, Alec needs to be with his family. Catarina is going to take him there. You and I will wait here until he’s ready…and when he needs you, Magnus, no one will stop you from going to him. Consider that my promise to you.”

They’re walking down a hallway, stumbling in an awkward little half-shuffle because of the way Ragnor is holding him. Magnus falls into step beside him to make their stride a bit easier.

Ragnor rewards him with the ghost of a smile. “There’s a good lad. Right, then. First order of business, we need to find—ah, and there it is.”

He leads them through the open doors of a storefront, eyes flitting from rack to rack. The hospital gift shop, Magnus’s mind supplies. There are rows upon rows of ‘Get Well Soon’ cards, balloons tied to a metal grid, teddy bears along the back wall…truth be told, he’s not sure what they’re doing here.

“What size shoe do you wear again?”

“Eleven,” Magnus answers. “What are you doing, Ragnor?”

From a shelf to their right, Ragnor produces a pair of slippers. They’re plain grey with no embellishments. He takes them to the counter and swipes his Visa before handing them to Magnus, ushering him out the door and into a hard-backed chair.

“You’ve not got shoes on, crumpet.” Magnus blinks—he scrunches his toes, nearly gasping at the shock of the cold tile against his bare feet. “In our haste to leave it seems you and Alec forewent them. Not to worry, though. Put those on and we’re right as rain.”

“How did I not notice that before?”

“You had a lot going on,” Ragnor answers, gently. “Quite alright. We can go to the cafeteria now if you’d like. Get that coffee Catarina suggested earlier. Or we can find a nice spot to wait in. I reckon the pediatric waiting room has Moana on the telly. You love Moana.”

Alec loves it too. Magnus shakes his head, leaning in to whisper something in Ragnor’s ear.

When Ragnor speaks again, it’s with no shortage of sadness. He stands and offers a hand—Magnus laces their fingers tightly, letting himself be guided down a long, narrow hallway.

“This way,” Ragnor says.

There’s little else for Magnus to do but follow, so he does, closing his eyes when the drone of the intercom starts to sound like Alec’s pleading.

//

It could have been minutes or hours later when Alec joins Magnus in the quiet space of the hospital’s cathedral. Magnus knows it’s him without needing to turn.

He’d know Alec anywhere; blindfolded, robbed of his sight, his hearing, his sense of smell. There’s not a universe out there where Alec isn’t the most familiar part of Magnus’s world. His home, his center, the one who sends him reeling just to bring him back more whole than before.

The pew squeaks quietly as Alec settles beside him, leaving just enough space to keep their shoulders from brushing.

“My father is dead,” he says, voice quiet and flat. “The doctors say he died on impact.”

The news doesn’t come as a surprise to Magnus. It makes him shiver all the same.

“Alexander…I am so sorry. Words cannot express how much my heart aches for you.”

Alec nods and clasps his hands together. “Isabelle isn’t taking it well. She’s with Jace now. We had to drag her out of the room when the doctors asked to start the paperwork.”

“And you?” Magnus asks, imploring. The space between question and answer doesn’t leave much room for breathing, so Magnus doesn’t. “How are you handling things?”

“I don’t know,” Alec answers, eyes glued to the altar. He pulls those impossibly long legs up on the pew next to Magnus, sock-covered toes hanging off the edge as he hugs his knees closer. “Everyone keeps asking me if I’m okay. What does that even mean anymore?”

Magnus kicks the grey slippers off his feet and slips to the floor in order to kneel in front of Alec. At first Alec doesn’t even make note of the movement but the second he does his nose scrunches adorably.

“It’s funny how words take on a different meaning in the immediate aftermath of pain like this,” Magnus says, tucking Alec’s feet into the slippers one-at-a-time. “As if it’s not enough for the world to shift on its axis, the words we use to describe ourselves shift too. Don’t worry about having an answer for the world’s questions, Alexander. You don’t owe anyone a damned thing…believe me, they’ll understand.”

Alec blinks down at his newly-covered feet in a silence that Magnus recognizes as reflective.  Alec is looking at Magnus still kneeling on the floor, one hand resting on his ankle.

Then, “You never once told me I would be okay.”

“What?”

“In the car,” Alec says, “on the way over. You never—not once did you tell me I would be okay, Magnus. Everyone else did. Catarina, Ragnor, my mother. Not you.”

Oh. Magnus leans back on his heels. A Bible digs into his back where he’s leaning against the wooden seatback of another pew.

“Does anything about this feel okay to you?” Magnus tries to soften the blow of his words with a kiss pressed to Alec’s kneecap as he rises off the floor. “I’ll never be in the business of lying to you, darling. I didn’t dare make that promise when there’s nothing I can do to see it through.”

“Magnus.” It’s a plea; a whimper. Magnus is by Alec’s side on their bench in a second, pulling him into his side. He sings his gratitude to the highest of heavens, relief palpable the second Alec is back in the safety of his arms. Neither of them speak…but it’s alright, it’s enough. He only hopes the drag of his fingers through the hair at Alec’s nape is enough, in turn, to offer him the slightest of comforts.

It’s Alec who breaks their silence. Magnus’s heart shatters in time with each pained confession.

“I can’t cry. I’m—this whole time, Jace and Isabelle, they were both…but I can’t. And my mom, Magnus. Why can’t I cry, Magnus? What the hell is wrong with me?”

“You’re shocked, darling. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Grief can manifest in various forms.”

“It’s not grief either. I don’t…I don’t feel anything at all, Magnus. It’s like it never happened.”

The tears burn hot against Magnus’s closed eyelids. He lets out a stuttering exhale and tries desperately to keep himself together. Then, just when he’s certain his heart cannot break any more—

“Do you want to know what the last thing I said to him was?”

No. God, no. Please. “Whatever it was…Alexander, you had no idea something like this would happen.”

Alec smiles, bitter and fractured. “I told him I’d never forgive him. He’s been cheating on my mom for months with a woman he met online.” The gasp that leaves Magnus’s lips is purely accidental—Alec barrels on, unaffected. “Caught them making out in the car the morning of prom. I’m not sure if Mom knows about it but I told Jace after I found out. I guess it doesn’t matter now.”

Fractals of light scatter across the small room, bathing the two of them in rose gold and red. The stained-glass window in this cathedral depicts Mary with her arms spread wide, a flock of sheep at her feet.

Earlier, Alec claimed to be feeling nothing. How can that be, Magnus thinks, when you’re drowning in guilt?

“‘Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’” The words aren’t enough but it’s all Magnus knows how to say; the only comfort he can think to offer in a time like this.

Alec makes an anguished sound against the skin of Magnus’s neck. It echoes up into the hollow ceiling beams with a haunting clarity. 

“Matthew?”

“Isaiah, actually. Chapter 53, verses 4-6.”

Blink. A moment ago, the warmth of Alec’s weight was a hard line of contact by Magnus’s left side. Now, though, he’s in his lap, their foreheads pressed together like Alec will suffocate with any less proximity. Magnus’s hands rest on Alec’s hips, thumbs rubbing soothing circles into the skin there.

“I love you,” Alec rasps, and oh, there are tears streaming down his face. “I can’t—God, I can’t, tell me what to do—”

“Breathe,” Magnus says, pushing his own tears down, down, down. “It’s the only thing you have to do, Alec. We’ll figure the rest out together.” The squeak of the door in its frame has him looking up and back.   Catarina is standing at the threshold with Isabelle at her side, sadness etched into the lines of her face.

Briefly, Magnus wonders who brought them to the cathedral. Catarina knows Magnus like the back of her hand, so maybe it was she. Magnus once confessed to seeking Alec in the space between pulpit and pew…she reassured Magnus that his connection; his tether to this space, was just as valid as a faith-based one.

Or maybe it was Isabelle, her gaze magnetic and laser-focused on Alec clambering out of Magnus’s hold to stand on his own two feet.

“Alec?”

Alec sniffles, inhale shuddering and drawn out. A beam of light hits the curve of his cheek. Magnus shudders, barely repressing the pained sound buried deep in his lungs.

Watching Alec break apart at the news was painful. Seeing the light fade from his eyes as he throws up a wall…that’s absolutely devastating.

“Hey, Iz. How are you holding up?” Alec’s voice is flat, steady to a fault. “Where are Mom and Jace?”

Isabelle approaches, dressed in tight fitting workout clothing. Her face is bare, eyes swollen and red, and god, she looks so young.

“Jace is with Ragnor, they went to get something to eat. Mom is talking with someone from the hospital. Haven’t seen her in a while.” Magnus stands, needing to close the distance between himself and Alec. Isabelle manages a watery smile for his sake. “Hi Magnus. Thanks for being here.”

“Isabelle.” She is in Magnus’s arms the minute he opens them, sniffling against the soft knit of his sweater. “I’m so sorry, honey. I know there’s nothing to be done but if you can think of anything, do not hesitate to tell me, day or night. You mean so much to me. All of you.” Magnus winks, forcing a smile into his voice. “Even Jace, but don’t tell him I said that.”

“Your secret is safe with me,” Isabelle says, gripping Magnus’s forearms as she stretches on her tiptoes. At first Magnus thinks she’s going to kiss his cheek. He angles his face to help her reach her target...Isabelle speaks instead, soft and just for Magnus.

“Keep an eye on Alec for me. He’s not—I know what he’s trying to do, and I can’t stop him, but please, Magnus. He needs you and he might not know how to ask for help.”

“I will. With every piece of my heart, Isabelle, I promise you, I’ll do my best.”

There’s a space between Catarina and Alec in the middle of the aisle that Isabelle fits herself into naturally. She nods at Magnus with an expression of gratitude before turning to the taller woman, holding out her hand.

Catarina takes it without hesitation. “Magnus, Ragnor is waiting for you in the ER lobby. Alec, Isabelle and I are going back up to meet with Maryse. Take all the time you need in here, alright?”

It’s both reassurance and a ghost from conversations past. Take all the time you need. Let it mean something, Magnus. There’s nothing wrong with making your own meaning.

Magnus nods. The three of them disappear out of the hospital’s quiet little cathedral together…and Magnus is left alone with his thoughts once more.

| M.L |

For the majority of her adult life, forgiveness has been something Maryse Lightwood grappled with. It’s impossible to pinpoint when the line was crossed; what mistake tipped her over the razor’s edge of ‘redeemable’ and ‘good’ to leave her face-first in the sand—but Heavens above, Maryse knows she’s crossed it fifty times over by now. She’s not ignorant to her flaws, nor is she clueless about the repercussions of her actions.

Especially her actions as of late. Maryse has so much to thank God for: her health, the Institute, a Father that is almighty and forgiving…but above all, Maryse is thankful for her children. Alexander, Isabelle, Jace, Max—four intelligent, compassionate young spirits who continue to amaze her every day.

Yes, Maryse’s children are by far the greatest gift God has blessed her with. Being their mother means more to her than she’ll ever be able to express.

That’s probably why Maryse is incapable of forgiving herself, much less seeking that undeserved forgiveness from God. Four beautiful children; the closest earthly connection to Heaven Maryse has known…and she’s failed them, time and time again.

She’s gotten angry when she should have loved; thought when she should have acted. Ignored their cries for help in the name of setting a standard. In the name of a perfect family.

Jace first li