Alec, Jace and Izzy are three hours into their weekly movie night marathon when Jace drops the bomb on him.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” Jace says. “But before I do, you have to promise not to kill me.”
Alec raises an unimpressed eyebrow in his direction and pulls the bowl of popcorn closer, as though it will be able to protect him from whatever Jace has to say.
“Is it only Alec that has to promise not to kill you?” Izzy asks, and, when Jace nods in reply, she grins and pulls up her feet to get into a more comfortable position on the couch. “Awesome. Then carry on. I’ll referee your imminent death fight from here.”
Jace rolls his eyes at her, but also loses a bit of tension in his shoulders. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper.
“What did you do?” Alec asks with a sigh, reaching forward to grab the paper as Jace unfolds it and hands it over to him. It’s a letter. From a company called Idris Media Group, telling Jace that they have reviewed his application and have the pleasure to announce that—
He looks up in shock. “You’re going to be on a reality show? Are you out of your mind?”
Jace sends him his most apologetic look, and Alec’s stomach sinks, suddenly realising where this must be going.
He turns back to the letter, feeling his jaw clench more and more the further he reads.
He’s proven right a couple of lines later. It’s not just Jace that’s going to make an ass out of himself in front of millions of people; the letter welcomes Jace and Alec Lightwood onto the show.
MAIN INTERVIEW ROOM—LOS ANGELES STUDIO SET
INTERVIEWER: You guys are our only sibling pair this season. What made the two of you want to sign up for Adventure XXL—The Adventure HOTTER Than Hell! ?
ALEC turns to JACE, crossing his arms expectantly.
JACE: Well, Alec and I have always been very competitive, and we love to push ourselves. And since we came back from our last tour overseas, I guess we’ve been—missing the adventure, you know?
ALEC , monotone : What he said.
INTERVIEWER: So you were both in the military?
JACE: Marines, yes. Alec here made it all the way to Captain.
ALEC: First Lieutenant’s only one rank below.
INTERVIEWER: Wow! So you’re both heroes! That’s so cool!
JACE, quickly, with his most disarming grin : Just happy to do our part, ma’am.
Alec in no way tears off his microphone and storms off the set after his and Jace’s interview is done. He walks. Briskly. As far away from the intrusive cameras as possible. He might have caved to Jace’s pleas and agreed to help him win the huge amount of money that lies at the end of the game, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it.
Once he finds a quiet corner, he pulls his phone from his back pocket and starts scrolling for Izzy’s number. Before he has the chance to find it, someone bumps into him from behind, making him stumble.
“Whoa, I’m sorry,” the man who just walked into him says. He grabbed Alec’s arm for balance as they collided, and is only now letting go. Their eyes meet as the other man straightens himself, taking a step back, and Alec is suddenly left speechless.
Brown , his brain comments, uselessly. The man’s eyes are a deep, dark shade of brown, framed by thick, black lashes and some kind of metallic shimmer that just makes them all the more alluring. Alec’s heart stutters in his chest, and then finds a new, quicker rhythm. He swallows hard, telling himself that he should look away, or at least say something.
He fails at doing either.
“Sorry for being such a klutz,” the other man says with a chuckle, after they’ve been staring at each other for a moment too long. “I’m Magnus. I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced?”
“Alec,” Alec manages. Magnus’s hand is warm in his, squeezing Alec’s with just the right amount of pressure. Perfect , Alec’s mind supplies, nonsensically. The handshake lingers, and for every extra second that passes, Alec’s burgeoning blush becomes more and more of a problem.
“Pleasure to meet you,” Magnus says, his touch still lingering, as though he doesn’t quite want to let go of Alec’s hand.
“I, um—I need to get going, actually,” Alec says, ducking his head to hide the worst of his blush. “I need to call my sister and—” he breaks off, belatedly realising just how bad the words ‘plot ways to kill our brother’ would sound to a stranger.
“Sounds important,” Magnus says, with another devastating smile. Their hands are still touching. “Any chance you’d put that on hold to help me out, though? It’s a bit of an emergency.”
Alec swallows again, all thought of Izzy and Jace leaving his mind. “What is it?”
“I’m here with my colleague,” Magnus replies. “We’re both in academia, and, well, there was a bet involved in us coming there—let’s just leave it at that. Anyway, we’ve been here all of ten minutes, and he’s already gone off somewhere to sulk. We’re next up for the interview segment. Help me track him down?”
Alec clears his throat. God, he really needs to get a grip. “Um. Yeah, sure. What does he look like?”
“Lots of tweed,” Magnus answers. “He’s taking his British heritage to an embarrassing level, even though he’s barely even lived there.”
Alec’s eyebrows rise in surprise. They’re on an outdoor set in LA. The sun is high in the sky and the temperature is in the high eighties. He looks around, automatically searching for places that would provide some relief from the heat.
“There’s an indoor canteen over by the next building that has air con. It’s open access, unlike the nearby studios.”
It’s Magnus’ turn to look taken aback. And then his surprise morphs back into a smile, this one somehow even worse than the previous ones when it comes to wrecking havoc on Alec’s system.
“You’re a genius,” Magnus says happily. “Would you like to—”
Alec never finds out the end of that sentence, because a girl with a clipboard comes jogging up to them, telling Magnus that his partner is back on set, and that they really need to start filming.
“Good luck,” Alec blurts, just as Magnus starts walking away. “Um. With the… you know. Interview,” he adds, when Magnus looks back at him over his shoulder. “Good luck with your interview.”
“Thank you, Alec,” Magnus replies. The girl with the clipboard makes an impatient sound, and then grabs Magnus by the elbow and starts to bodily drag him back towards the set.
The sound of Magnus’ departing laughter stays with Alec for an embarrassingly long time.
MAIN INTERVIEW ROOM—LOS ANGELES STUDIO SET
News footage of a dramatic accident plays across the screen. In the centre is the wreckage of a school bus, tipped over on its side on a highway. Emergency response vehicles surround the site. A montage shows LYDIA in a firefighter’s uniform, working side by side with JOHN and his fellow EMTs. The montage ends on a massive explosion, the camera closing in on LYDIA’s face, as she throws herself to the ground to shield the child she’s carrying from the flames.
LYDIA, leaning against JOHN and smiling sweetly into the camera : ...so that’s how we met. After we got all the children safely to the hospital, John asked me out to dinner.
JOHN: Which we ended up spending most of it saving the life of a man having a heart attack.
JOHN takes LYDIA’s hand, bringing it to his lips for an adoring kiss.
JOHN: It was his and his wife’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. We actually got the chance to celebrate it with them a few weeks later, once he was out of the hospital.
LYDIA, turning to the INTERVIEWER and wiping away a stray tear : Sometimes you meet someone where you least expect it, and know that things are just meant to be, you know?
“Listen up, everyone! My name—as I expect you already know—is Luke Garroway, and I’ll be your invaluable guide throughout this adventure!”
Alec looks up from his lunch. The man who called out the words is standing up on the small stage situated in the centre of the food court. He’s keeping a wide stance, his hands on his hips as he surveys the room. Confident. Strong. Extremely handsome and well aware of the fact. Alec’s eyes drop from the man’s face to his wide, toned chest for a moment, before he catches himself and quickly looks away. Next to him, Jace snorts into his drink, having obviously caught him.
“Don’t blame yourself,” he tells Alec quietly, bumping him with his elbow. “Garroway’s been voted Hottest Man on Earth two years in a row. I saw a magazine just last week that described him as ‘the definition of tall, dark and handsome’. Izzy loves the guy.”
“Alright! Everyone, look at your partners. Now back to me. Back at your partners. Then back to me . I know what you’re all thinking, and while I’d love to take each of you lovely ladies and gentlemen on the Adventure. Of. Your. Life. that’s not the format of this show, so let’s get the ball rolling, shall we?”
As Alec watches on in astonishment, Garroway holds out his hands, catches a basketball that someone from the sidelines throws him, and squeezes it. The ball—which has got to be a fake, Alec’s mind argues weekly—bursts open between his hands, sending a virtual rainfall of glittering stones pouring down onto the stage.
“Would you look at that, ladies?” Garroway says. “The ball is now diamonds ! Welcome to Adventure XXL, everyone!”
A rocky, upbeat soundtrack starts to play while the people around Alec get to their feet, cheering and applauding. Jace is among them, an excited smile firmly in place on his face as he drags Alec up as well.
“Come on, look excited; they’re filming this part,” Jace whispers, and then lets out a loud whoop, jumping up and down in time with the beat.
“I will kill you, and Izzy will help me do it,” Alec murmurs back, forcing himself to clap. “No one will ever find the body.”
“Nope, no killing,” Jace replies happily. “You promised. No take backs.” He throws an arm around Alec’s shoulders just in time for one of the cameras filming to veer their way.
Alec grits his teeth and resolutely doesn’t smile.
MAIN INTERVIEW ROOM—LOS ANGELES STUDIO
A montage of two children playing in a field plays on the screen. The footage is grainy and a little shaky, clearly home-video quality. In the background, a female voice can be heard, calling out to the children to be careful as they tumble around, chasing butterflies.
INTERVIEWER: So, Clary, Simon, you’ve been best friends since childhood?
CLARY: Yeah, we’ve grown up together. Always been there for each other. So when I wanted to apply to be on this show, Simon was the first person I asked to come with me.
SIMON: We make a really good team.
CLARY: We do. Remember the time when—?
SIMON, grins : When Amber Thompson—?
Both start laughing.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think your strong friendship will help you on the show?
SIMON: Oh, definitely. We’re perfectly in sync. The other teams are going to wish they had the teamwork we’ve got going on.
CLARY, holds up her hand for a high-five, grinning at back him : Bring it on!
“Ugrh, I think I’m going to be sick,” the beautiful and dangerous-looking brunette standing a couple of yards away from Alec says to the man next to her. “Those two are like the human version of apple pie. It’s revolting.”
“One wrench in the works, and they’ll come tumbling down,” the man next to her replies. “Look at him. He’s carrying a torch for her that could light up all of New York. Getting them to fall apart will be almost insultingly easy.”
“True,” the woman replies, an almost predatory grin spreading across her face. “Well spotted, Raphael. They won’t pose a challenge to us; I’ll make sure of it. Besides, he’s delicious .”
Even from where he’s standing, Alec can see Raphael roll his eyes to the heavens. He shakes his head and walks out of the room, starting to write a new message in his and Izzy’s thread.
Been here less than a day, and there’s already people stirring up drama , he writes.
Izzy’s reply comes through in less than a minute.
Did anyone form a pact yet?
Alec frowns. I don’t think so? he writes back. Is that something we’re supposed to be doing?
It’s either that or sleep with another contestant, Izzy replies. You need to bring some drama if you want to stick around to the end.
Alec rolls his eyes at his phone. Thanks but no thanks.
Don’t be such a buzzkill, Izzy writes. Sorry, have to go! Surgery in twenty.
Go save lives, Alec replies, smiling down at his phone as Izzy sends back a row of emojis. He takes a deep breath, puts his phone back into his pocket and then goes off to find Jace.
Apparently, the next part of preparations is wardrobe.
A rocky soundtrack accompanies footage of extreme skiing that plays on the screen. Two skiers, both in red, set off down a glacier, cutting a neat pattern through the powder snow, then flying off a ledge and vaulting in the air together before landing and continuing down the slope. The music fades, and the camera cuts to ALINE and HELEN, whose chairs have been placed noticeably further apart than they’ve been for the other contestants.
INTERVIEWER: So you’re former skiing rivals who turned best friends! And so gorgeous, both of you! Men must be falling all over themselves to get your attention!
ALINE and HELEN are both smiling. Both smiles look a little strained around the edges.
ALINE: We do all right.
INTERVIEWER: Do you ever end up fighting over the same guy?
HELEN ducks her head. ALINE glances over at her, and the corners of her mouth twitch.
ALINE: Can’t say we do.
INTERVIEWER: Well, there are some really handsome single guys around, so take care, girls. Someone might swoop in and steal one or both of your hearts before you know it.
HELEN: Actually, my heart is already quite taken.
ALINE turns towards her in surprise, while the INTERVIEWER looks suddenly uncomfortable. Something happens out of frame, drawing all three women’s attention. There’s a tense moment of silence, and then HELEN turns back to the camera with a smile, her green-blue eyes wide and innocent.
HELEN: … with skiing! It’s really my one true love.
ALINE, quickly, doing her best to keep back a grin : Me too. I love skiing. Especially going down… hill, you know? Such a rush.
HELEN: You could go so far as to say we’re experts in that discipline.
INTERVIEWER: It says here in my notes that you’ve both won the World Cup, so I’d say so!
ALINE, completely straight-faced : The key to high performance is natural talent combined with lots and lots of practice.
After three full days of interviews, wardrobe, photoshoots, and more paperwork to fill out than Alec cares to count, they’re finally ready to start filming the competition part of the show. There’s a cocktail party arranged in the bar of their hotel on their last night there, which Jace drags him along to. Alec reluctantly puts on one of the nicer shirts that Izzy made him pack and follows him, then orders a beer and stays at the bar while Jace goes off to mingle.
The bar itself is actually quite nice. Most people have joined the large group of cast and crew at the other end of the room, so Alec gets to sit and drink his beer in relative peace. It’s good beer too. Nothing complicated or overly hoppy like the beer some of Jace’s friends like to bring over, just simple and cold, drawn by a friendly bartender who doesn’t try to chat and who brings Alec a small bowl of nuts with every refill.
Alec hums happily to himself and throws another handful into his mouth.
“Mind if I join you?”
Alec very narrowly avoids choking. He swallows too many nuts at once and has to take a gulp of beer to help ease the way, his eyes watering as he tries not to cough.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Magnus says. “I saw you here, and thought I’d come say hello.”
“Hi,” Alec manages, happily accepting the glass of water that Magnus seems to have procured out of thin air. He gulps it down and sets the empty glass back on the bar. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” Magnus replies. “It was really my fault for sneaking up on you like that. Can I buy you another drink as an apology?”
Alec feels the back of his neck heat up. It’s not the first time a guy has come up to him in a bar and made such an offer, but Magnus easily sails into the list of the top ten most attractive ones.
“Um,” he says, eloquently. “Sure, yeah. I, uh—I’d like that.”
“Great,” Magnus replies, and Alec immediately loses himself in his smile. Eyes. His whole...everything.
Jesus, he really needs to get a grip.
Magnus leans across the bar to get the attention of the bartender, causing the fabric of his jacket to strain across his shoulders and arms. Alec quickly looks away, draining the last of his beer in a vain attempt to cool himself down.
“Here we go,” Magnus says, taking the drinks the bartender puts in front of them and sliding one of them over to Alec. He raises his own in salute, nudging the edge of the glass against the side of Alec’s. “To friendly competition.”
Alec nods and does his best not to stare at the way Magnus’ throat moves as he swallows. He brings his own drink to his lips and gulps down a third of it in one go. Magnus takes pity on him and keeps the conversation light; they go over the regular getting-to-know-each-other topics—hobbies, pets, favourite TV shows. Alec learns that Magnus has two cats, one of which might be a demon, but Magnus adores it anyway.
“He used my favourite leather jacket as a scratching pole,” Magnus tells him with a slight pout. “And then he stretched himself out and rolled around on it, looking up at me like he was daring me to do something about it. That cat will be the death of me someday, I swear to God.”
Alec has to brace himself against the bar, he’s laughing so hard. He can’t remember the last time he laughed like this with someone other than Izzy or Jace. Magnus grumbles something and takes his phone out of his pocket, scrolling through it until he finds a picture of an extremely smug-looking cat and holds it up to show Alec.
Alec dissolves into a new bout of laughter.
“Another round?” Magnus asks, once Alec’s managed to pull himself mostly back together, motioning at Alec’s almost empty glass.
Alec frowns, trying to remember how many he’s already had. His world has got a little soft around the edges, but whenever he looks at Magnus, his head feels crystal clear. “I probably shouldn’t. We’re shipping out tomorrow.”
Magnus lets out a surprised laugh. “You make it sound as though we’re going off to war.”
“Sorry. Habit, I guess.”
“Yes, I saw your interview,” Magnus says. “Captain. That’s very impressive.”
Alec shrugs, even as his heart beats faster at the flirty tone in Magnus’ voice. “I was just doing my job.”
“Intelligent, competent and humble,” Magnus says, the corner of his mouth twisting upwards. “You’d better show one of your bad sides soon, Alexander; you’re dangerously close to giving me a complex.”
“I’m nothing special.”
“I don’t believe that,” Magnus replies, and the flirty look in his eyes turns into something softer, more sincere. Something that manages to take Alec’s breath away for a moment.
Alec quickly breaks away from Magnus’ gaze, realising he’s been staring again. The back of his neck burns as he clears his throat and leans across the bar to catch the attention of the bartender, ordering another round for both of them.
Magnus doesn’t call him out on it, but the mood between them feels like it’s shifted somehow. Turned less flirty and more… Alec clears his throat again, pulling his gaze away from where it’s subconsciously dropped to Magnus’ lips.
“What do you think will happen tomorrow?” Magnus asks, accepting the new glass that the bartender brings him.
“They’ll drop us in the wilderness somewhere,” Alec guesses. “Give us enough supplies to make our way to the nearest city and then have us find our way to the next point on the map.”
“Your brother seems the kind that can charm his way to almost anything.”
Alec grins and rolls his eyes. “He thinks he can, at least.”
“Mhm,” Magnus agrees. “Between you and me? I think you’d get a lot further working off of your charms.”
“You’re an intriguing man, Alexander,” Magnus says. “I’m looking forward to seeing all that you can do.”
“I hope I won’t disappoint.”
“I don’t see how you could,” Magnus replies. His hand slides closer to Alec’s on the top of the bar, his fingers brushing against Alec’s knuckles and then mapping out the lines of each of Alec’s fingers in turn, his touch featherlight and absolutely maddening. “You’ve got beautiful hands.”
Alec very narrowly manages to keep back the moan that wants to break from his throat.
“So, I was wondering,” Magnus continues, while his fingers continue their path over the back of Alec’s hand, down towards the inside of his wrist, “does your brother usually stay out late for these kinds of events?”
Heat travels down the length of Alec’s spine. He turns and looks over to the other end of the room, and spots Jace, who seems to be in the middle of an animated discussion with Helen and Aline.
“Um. I—I’m pretty sure I could persuade him to?”
Magnus’ answering smile makes Alec shift restlessly in his seat. He fumbles for his wallet to settle the last round of drinks, trying to will his body into submission by imagining just how awkward it would be to stand in front of the rest of the cast and crew with an obvious hard on.
“I’ll be right back,” he tells Magnus. “I’ll just—”
Magnus stops him with a hand on his arm.
“Hang on, I think I have an even better idea.”
As Alec watches, he motions the bartender over, then leans across the bar and tells her something that’s too quiet for Alec to overhear.
The bartender raises an eyebrow and then smirks, neatly palming the keycard and folded up twenty dollar bill that Magnus passes to her. “The blond one, you say?”
“Room 405,” Magnus replies. “And tell him to please be quiet when he gets in; my room mate likes his sleep uninterrupted.”
“Will do,” the girl says, her smirk widening as Magnus takes Alec’s hand, starting to pull him away. “Have a great night.”
“You too,” Alec replies dazedly, and then feels himself flush as the girl laughs. He tightens his fingers around Magnus’ and picks up his pace, arousal pulsing steadily stronger through his bloodstream as they exit the bar and head towards the elevator.