Magnus closed his eyes, trying to feel the magical energy around him, and located a promising twist to try.
On the other side of his lab room, a bottle exploded.
His eyes snapped open at the sound, and he fixed the (thankfully empty) bottle with a sigh just as Isabelle knocked on the door.
“I heard a crash, you okay?”
He pushed away his frustration to smile at her. “Perfectly fine. It was just a minor mishap.”
Isabelle leaned against the doorframe. “Any progress?”
Magnus looked around at the notes spread around him. “As dear old Thomas used to say, I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work, so we’ll call it a productive day.”
Isabelle shook her head, but she was smiling as well. “If you say so.”
Magnus felt it dignified to change the subject. “And your work?”
“Going.” Isabelle shrugged her shoulders. “You know how it is with analysing magical data, it takes a lot of time and coffee and you never get results that tell you anything for sure.”
The smile he gave her was definitely a little tired. “Tell me about it.”
“Anyway, I was about to head home, unless you had something pressing?”
Magnus glanced at the clock. It was six already.
“Not at all,” he said, “Go and enjoy your evening, I’m just going to try a few more things.”
“I left the preliminary field test results on my desk, if you wanted to go through them,” Isabelle said. “See you tomorrow!”
And she was off. For his part, Magnus sat back in his chair and sighed loudly in the faint hopes that it would give him some sort of inspiration. Isabelle’s results were unlikely to provide him with any.
Not that it was due to any lack of ability on her part. He had been very lucky in finding Isabelle to be his assistant researcher. Or perhaps more accurately, it had been Isabelle who’d found him, one day arriving on the doorstep of his lab with praise for an article of his he’d once upon a time published in a mundane scientific journal and some very non-traditional character references for her internship application.
Magnus had never looked for nor wanted an intern, but he remembered having some very interesting discussions with Meliorn about the chemical implications of some medicinal plants once upon a time, and his name had got Isabelle into one of the comfortable armchairs Magnus had in what he’d called a breakroom in his lab. And once she’d made it in, her obvious capabilities, boundless enthusiasm and stellar interpersonal skills had done the rest, and some three hours of interesting conversation later, she walked out his door with an offer. And once they’d realised that there was quite a lot of experimental work and theorising that a mundane with the sight could do, her initial internship had quickly turned into a job. Magnus could easily afford her salary, and it was nice having a co-worker.
He had no idea what she planned on telling a potential future employer if she ever decided to leave. It was quite possible she simply did not plan on leaving; that would suit him just fine.
With her around, it was also much easier for Magnus to feel like he hadn’t completely shut himself off from the world around him to better advance his work. True, he was in regular contact with Cat and Dot, and would likely never be rid of his best friends, and of course he had a wide array of acquaintances. It was difficult living through centuries without amassing a fair few contacts. But being immortal also meant that it was absolutely normal to go a few decades without meeting someone, and if you weren’t careful, everyone just assumed you simply hadn’t crossed paths due to coincidence and never bothered you.
It was nice to know that if he wouldn’t be at the lab every weekday and some weekends for business hours, Isabelle would notice his absence. And her work was a great complement to Magnus’s own.
If only he could make any of it work.
Magnus’s thoughts returned gloomily back to the task at hand. At the moment, that task was creating a portal. It was a simple name he’d given for the rather less simple task of synthesising his decades of research into a practical solution to enable warlocks to travel great distances with magic.
Piece of cake, really, if a piece of cake could overtake someone’s life and make them pour all their energy into it for several decades.
Magnus picked up his pen and started going through his notes, looking for another idea. It was likely futile, but it was only a little past six; he still had hours to ease his developing frustration by trying whatever magical trick that came to mind.
He woke up to a quiet beeping, startled and almost fell off his chair.
It only took Magnus a few seconds longer than it should have to realise that the beeping was his alarm, slightly muffled because his phone was still in his pocket. His neck was killing him, and his legs felt numb, but this time he’d somehow managed not to crumble any of his notes.
As far as accidentally falling asleep at his desk went, it was a decently well done execution.
Nevertheless, Magnus wasn’t too keen on bragging to Isabelle about it, so he got up as quickly as he could and rushed up the stairs into the uppermost floor of the building, which he had had converted into a comfortable loft to live in.
A quick shower, rushed hair and make-up routine and a magical clothes change later, he was getting downstairs just as the door at the main entrance creaked to signal Isabelle’s arrival. Magnus slipped quickly into the lab and was seemingly right in the middle of making coffee when Isabelle entered the breakroom.
“Good morning. Do you have any appointments for today?”
“No.” Isabelle slipped off her scarf and casually grabbed a piece of candy from the bowl on the coffee table. “Figured I’d get started on that report I said I’d write up. Did you have time to look at my results?”
Magnus flipped the switch on the coffee machine in an entirely natural way. “Unfortunately no. I can make time today if you’d like.”
“It’s okay, you don’t have to.” Isabelle smiled. “There’s some stuff I think you’ll find interesting, but nothing relevant to what you’re doing now.” She made a vague gesture with her hand. “So no rush.”
Magnus smiled back at her. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Magnus was going to spend the whole morning working, and was well on his way to achieving that goal until there was a knock on his door somewhere between his ninetieth and ninety-ninth experimental try.
“It’s open,” he said loudly, fully expecting Isabelle to enter.
It wasn’t her.
His work was about to be seriously interrupted, but despite of that, Magnus couldn’t help but smile as Catarina walked into the room, Dot just behind her.
“He does,” he said, trying to mimic Catarina’s tone.
“You haven’t answered our messages for a few days,” Dot’s tone was mild but it was obvious it was an admonishment, “so you don’t get to act like it’s unreasonable to check up on you.”
Magnus wanted to argue, but he wasn’t even sure where his phone was right then (probably on his nightstand? Probably), so he didn’t really have a leg to stand on.
Besides, he loved his friends and hadn’t meant to make them worry.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’ve been really busy.”
“You’ve been really busy for the last five years at the very least.” Cat settled comfortably on the sofa, absent-mindedly taking Dot’s hand. “You’re immortal, Magnus, you have plenty of time to figure this whole portal thing out even if you sometimes take a day off. What’s your hurry?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe I just really want to impress everyone at the science conference this autumn and properly rub Lorenzo Rey’s nose in how brilliant I am after he claimed the whole concept of a portal was ‘whimsical nonsense an eight-year-old would deem childish’.”
Cat laughed. “He’s immortal too, you’ll have time to do that at the conference after that.”
“In twenty years. You overestimate my patience.”
“We’ve seen you repeat the same experiment literally for seven hours straight,” Dot pointed out.
Magnus most certainly did not huff. “That’s different.”
“Maybe it would be if you were really motivated just by petty rivalry.” Dot sighed. “We miss you, Magnus. Saturday brunches are not the same without you.”
Magnus tried very hard and failed not to feel guilty. He missed them, too. “You just miss my Belgian waffles.”
“That goes without saying.”
“And I’m sure you’ve learnt to enjoy a romantic brunch date.”
Catarina laughed, but neither one of them denied it. Then again, that wasn’t the point, which was why Magnus couldn’t feel smug about his comeback for too long.
“It’s just that all this-” the vague gesture was meant to encompass the whole lab, or really, his whole life’s work, “it’s really important to me, and sometimes I get too single-minded about pursuing my ideas. But I didn’t mean to make you worry about me, or ignore you. I’m sorry.”
Dot smiled ruefully. “We just want you to be happy. And not work yourself to death.”
“I am happy.” Maybe he could be happier. But he wasn’t unhappy, per se. “But let me make it up to you. Drinks, tonight?”
“At an actual bar,” Cat stipulated. “It was fun drinking mystery cocktails from test tubes once, but...”
Magnus laughed, even as he was raising his hands. “At a proper bar of your choosing, I promise.”
They made their plans, and Cat and Dot left. For his part, Magnus reached into his pocket to set himself a reminder on his phone to leave the lab, only to remember that he still didn’t have his phone on him. A snap of his fingers, and it materialised.
Just in case, he set three separate reminders. He might love his job, but he genuinely did love his friends, too. And part of that feeling of could-be-happier was probably because he missed spending time with them.
Magnus set down the take away containers on the table and sat down opposite Isabelle.
“Your lunch is served.”
“And yours,” Isabelle said, but she was already reaching for the spring rolls. “Anything new come to your mind this morning?”
“If something had, you’d have heard about it already.” Magnus sighed. “It’s so frustrating, knowing I understand magic enough to make it happen but just- Not having made it happen.”
“You’ll get there.” Isabelle’s voice was a mix of compassion and conviction. “If only because you don’t know how to quit trying.”
Magnus laughed. She was right. Even with all his frustration at his slow progress, he didn’t even know how he could quit if he ever wanted to.
“Please tell me at least one of us is not completely stuck in their work for the moment, though.”
“I’m not completely stuck,” Isabelle said with a smile. “But- Oh, that reminds me! So, um, do you remember my brother?”
“Not personally.” He’d never met the elusive Alec, whose work he was not clear on but knew it entailed frequent relocation. “But how could I forget you have one? Where is he, these days?”
Isabelle checked her phone, presumably for the time. “Right now, I think Buenos Aires. But he’s actually moving back to New York pretty permanently.”
He could see why she was so happy. They were close; that much was obvious even in Isabelle’s occasional mentions. “That’s lovely! You must be very excited.”
“I am. But I wanted to ask...“
Magnus rolled his chopsticks absentmindedly in his hand. “Whatever you need.”
“He’s arriving tomorrow but I have an interview scheduled with a seelie in New Jersey,” Isabelle said. “She’s a total recluse and I’m pretty sure if I try to reschedule, she’ll just tell me to forget the whole thing. Do you mind if I sit him down here and tell him to wait until I can come and take him to my place?”
“Of course not.” Magnus smiled. “Mi casa es su casa, Isabelle. Although I do hope you didn’t take all the good manners and left some for him, too.”
Isabelle laughed. “I don’t know about manners, but he’s big on personal space and peace and quiet. You’ll barely notice he’s here.”
It hardly mattered. Even if this Alec was the most obnoxious and disruptive person on the planet, Magnus would put up with him for a day for Isabelle’s sake. But it was not exactly polite to put it that way.
“Speaking of our nearest and dearest,” he said, “remind me to leave the lab this evening when you’re going. I’m having drinks with Cat and Dot.”
“I saw that they stopped by.” Isabelle’s smile was lop-sided. “Did Cat give you a piece of her mind like she intended?”
“Just a small one,” Magnus said and reached for another container of chow mein.
“It’s been a while since we’ve got to do this,” Cat said, reclining against the soft backrest of the booth.
Magnus exaggerated his huff. “Yes, I know! I work too much; you need not bring it up every second.”
Cat snorted. “I wasn’t even talking about you. I’ve been saddled with so many double shifts recently, you wouldn’t believe.”
“She has the next two days off,” Dot said, her gaze incredibly fond as she looked at Cat.
Magnus declined to point out that no one but Cat herself was forcing her to work so hard as a nurse, or indeed work at all. He knew all too well the need to put yourself into your chosen profession, whether others fully understood the why of it or not.
“Make the most of it,” he said. “Or sleep through it all.”
“That would be making the most of it.” Cat took a sip of her drink. “Or it would be, if someone didn’t have a shop to keep and would be my pillow.”
“Oh, no.” Dot laughed. “You two are not going to make me seem like the workaholic of this group. That is not happening.”
Cat smiled at her, and her arm moved, probably indicating that she’d taken Dot’s hand under the table. “You do have a stack of books on your bedside table.”
Magnus laughed. Dot raised her eyebrow at him. “That’s an interesting reaction from someone who hasn’t taken the time to leisurely relax this entire millennium.”
She was joking, of course, but Magnus couldn’t help feeling more serious. His sense of humour had become one of the things he’d sacrificed on the altar of work, who was surprised?
“I really just want to make it happen,” he said, fiddling with his glass. “It’d be wonderful, wouldn’t it?”
“It would, we know,” Cat said, with admirable patience given that they’d had a similar discussion at least a hundred times already. “You’ll get there.”
“But how? It feels like I’ve tried everything.”
“Maybe that’s part of your problem,” Dot said, not unkindly. “You might just be overthinking it. The best solutions are the most elegant and simple ones.” She smiled. “It’ll come to you.”
“She’s right.” Cat nudged at Magnus’s foot under the table. “The portal you’re envisioning is really just a magical passage in space. It can’t be that hard. If you ever slept properly, you’d probably have cracked it already.”
Magnus gave her a look, but Cat met him with a steady gaze as she took another sip from her glass. He wanted to argue, but there was a good chance that Cat was right.
Of course, that wouldn’t mean that he’d jump at the chance to take her advice on it. No one who was incredibly excited to work on something was eager to sit back, relax and let their brain do its own thing in the background. Magnus was self-aware enough to know this, and yet he still couldn’t put it into action.
“What I’m deciding to hear here,” he said, “is that you both have complete faith in my capabilities and wish me good luck in my work.”
Cat and Dot exchanged a look. It was probably at least a little frustrated, but neither one of them openly called him out on that.
“Well,” Cat said, “that’s true. You’ll get there, Magnus.”
Magnus smiled. It felt tired, but it was genuine. “Thank you. I know I’m really annoying to be around nowadays, but I appreciate that you put up with me, anyway.”
“It’s what friends are for,” Dot said.
After that, they directed the conversation into other topics and had a lovely evening simply chatting, until Cat began yawning around ten and Magnus waved them goodbye to let them go off to bed.
He meant to do the same himself, but something Cat had said about bending time and space kept nagging at him at the back of his mind as he walked home, and so, from the front door of the building, it was just a little too easy to quickly drop by his lab to make a few notes.
Some four hours later, Magnus could barely keep his eyes open and finally managed to get up to his loft. He did remember to remove his make-up, and even got himself properly into pyjamas before collapsing on his bed.
He jolted awake as if his body had suddenly remembered it was not where it was supposed to be.
Since it was already bright outside and the sun was high, his body was exceptionally right.
Isabelle would probably be proud of him for sleeping in, though, so Magnus felt no pressure to skip his morning shower or his make-up routine. They hadn’t had enough drinks for him to have even a hint of a hangover, and despite of the fact that it was well past ten and he should have already been at work for several hours, Magnus felt good as he descended down into the lab. The previous night’s work had been unexpected and felt promising; he’d just have something quick for breakfast and get to work. A few hours’ worth of extra sleep would be unlikely to tip the scales in his race against time. It might even do him some good.
He went for the breakroom, grabbed a banana from the fruit bowl and almost dropped it on the floor from the surprise as he turned around and realised he wasn’t alone.
The man on the couch had looked up from his book, and their gazes met, both equally unprepared for the meeting.
Ah, obviously, Magnus chided himself. Isabelle’s brother.
“You must be Alec,” he said, glad his surprise hadn’t come complete with an undignified noise. “Good morning.”
Alec had set his book aside and was now standing up. Magnus’s shock faded, he could appreciate that even if Isabelle might have taken the lion’s share of manners, the Lightwoods most certainly had had an abundance of good looks to go around, because like his sister, Alec Lightwood was absolutely gorgeous. He was tall (possibly even taller than Magnus) and lithe, and if Magnus had nine lives he’d give up three of them to see that slow, brilliant smile take over Alec’s face one more time. He was dressed comfortably in loose-fitting clothes (unsurprising; he’d probably spent the night in a plane), but Magnus certainly wouldn’t have minded seeing him in something a little tighter. Alec looked like he trained regularly.
And he was also talking.
“I- Yeah, um... I am Alec.” Alec looked like he almost bit his lip but stopped himself just before, and then Magnus was treated to another bright smile, all without having to trade in any hypothetical lives. “You must be Mr Bane. Izzy said I might see you.”
Magnus gave him a smile of his own and met Alec’s approach with an extended hand. “Please call me Magnus. And to think Isabelle let me suspect your manners.”
Alec’s handshake was firm and professional, and yet it seemed to linger a little in the most promising of ways. “Right. To be fair, she didn’t tell me either that you were so... magical.”
Magnus preened a little. “I doubt that. She could hardly have neglected to mention she worked with magic.”
In fact, he knew for a fact that she had told Alec about that aspect of her, and Magnus’s, life. Apparently Alec had been initially sceptical of her change of career plans – understandable, perhaps, considering ‘magical theoretician’ was hardly going to be as practical as ‘doctor’ – but he’d been won over by Isabelle’s obvious enthusiasm for her work. Alec obviously knew magic existed. But no one could sue Magnus for fishing for a compliment, could they?
“I- I knew that.” It wasn’t a compliment, but the way Alec was looking at him certainly felt like one. “As if Izzy could have kept that hidden, she loves her work way too much. And she won’t stop talking about what a great boss you are.”
Not the compliment Magnus had been fishing for, but he’d take it. He set the banana on the table behind him. Taking a few minutes to chat to one of the most important people in Isabelle’s life would hardly destroy his life’s work.
“And what has dear Isabelle told you about her work and mine?”
Alec bit his lip. “Not much that I understood, to be honest. She was about eleven when I stopped being any help with her science homework. She talks about advanced physics and molecular forces and all that, and when I ask her to dumb it down for me it all just sounds a lot like Harry Potter.”
The snort Magnus let out was thoroughly undignified. He snapped his fingers, and a cocktail glass appeared in Alec’s hand. Magnus raised an eyebrow. “Can Harry Potter do that?”
“According to the books, with a wand, yes.” Alec took a sip, and Magnus noticed smugly that he’d been right to peg Alec’s alcohol tastes for ‘classy yet a sweet tooth’. “Probably not with a drink, though, because they are children’s books. And you have better taste than him.”
There was genuine joy in Alec’s smile, and an intriguing degree of unguarded invitation. Magnus had long since realised he had no time for romance, but his heart stirred at the sincere way the compliment was given anyway.
“Naturally,” he said, summoning himself a martini.
Alec blinked. “So, um, what is it that you do, really? Izzy always made it sound like you’re some sort of magical inventor.”
“I prefer ‘scientist’,” Magnus said glibly. “But I suppose your impression is not false. I study the limits of magic and create practical applications.”
“What are you working on now?”
Magnus swirled his drink around the glass. “I call them portals. You might think of it as teleportation, if you were into mundane sci-fi.”
“I prefer documentaries,” Alec said. “But that sounds amazing.”
“Why thank you, Alec. Is that short for Alexander?”
Alec’s cheeks seemed flushed, and he looked down at his drink. “Yeah. Don’t really get called that too often.”
“It is a lovely name.” It was. And Alec’s reaction certainly wasn’t implying he disliked hearing it. “I won’t lie, once I figure out how it can be done, it is going to go down in history as the most significant scientific find of this millennium.”
Alec smiled, a little lop-sided, and Magnus was surprised when the next words out of his mouth were not gentle teasing about Magnus’s ego.
“I’m sure it will. But you just got us drinks like it was nothing; how’s this different? I mean, aren’t both of them just moving stuff with magic?”
Oh dear. Gorgeous, charming and eager to listen to Magnus blabber on about his work?
He really needed to sit down or he’d swoon.
“Technically, yes,” he said as he moved to one of the armchairs and sat down. “In both cases, you want to move an entity through space. But,” he raised his glass, “this isn’t exactly the same object with the same molecular composition as it was before I moved it. It’s impossible to keep every single atom of an object exactly in the same place as it’s transported with magic. They just always shift a little. Not noticeably; the object’s practically the same. But on a molecular level, there are shifts. For inanimate objects, that doesn’t matter. For living beings, though...”
He let his voice fade.
Alec nodded. “That makes sense, I guess.”
“I did try to solve the problem by applying that,” Magnus said. “It was kind of hard, of course, because you cannot just try moving whatever living being crosses your path. It would be as barbaric as to push them through a meat grinder. I did some experiments with demons, but they are rather rare and difficult to hunt down, so-“
Alec sounded like his throat was a little dry. “You’ve hunted demons?”
Magnus shrugged, but he couldn’t make his face seem as modest.
“It was something of a side hobby,” he said. “Garnered me a bit of a reputation, in fact, but eventually wasn’t how I wanted to spend the rest of my life.”
“I don’t know much about this kind of stuff,” Alec said, “but demon hunting sounds dangerous.”
He said ‘dangerous’, but he looked more like he thought ‘hot’. Truth be told, Magnus was fine with both. He knew he could rock the whole ‘bloody but victorious’ look. Even if it was a pain to repair his clothes afterwards.
“It has its risks.” Which he didn’t really care to go into. “Anyway, as I wasn’t looking into potential serial killer contraptions, you can see how that approach was a dead end. That’s why no one’s yet cracked how to do it.”
Alec nodded. “What are you working on now?” He fumbled with his glass. “I mean, you don’t have to- It’s important work so I get it if you don’t want to just spill everything to every random person you meet, and I already admitted I’m really bad at science so I might not even-“
“I don’t mind.” Magnus settled more comfortably in his armchair. It was flattering to be thought so interesting by someone who’d only just met him. “I’ve spent a lot of time just trying to figure out how magic works, which is what your sister’s work for me is all about, in the hopes that that would help me work out some solution that no one’s yet thought of. Currently, to be frank, I’m really at a point where I’m throwing a lot of stuff onto a wall and hoping something sticks in practice as well as theory. Or, well, turns the wall into a portal.”
“That sounds like fun.”
Magnus returned Alec’s smile. “It is. Although it is also frustrating, when you’re staring at a blank wall and the large pile of things on the floor in front of it.”
“I’ve heard Izzy talk about how you work,” Alec said. “If it can be done, it’s definitely going to be you who works it out.”
As a compliment, it was a bit hampered by the fact that Alec had never even met another warlock, so he was hardly in a position to know such things, but Magnus was more than willing to let that slip through.
“Thank you for the vote of confidence,” he said.
“No problem.” Alec fiddled with the hem of his shirt for a few moments. “If you don’t mind me asking, though, how does magic actually work? I mean, I suppose if I was ever going to get it, I would have from Izzy’s explanations, but-“
A slight raise of Magnus’s hand silenced him.
“Isabelle is a formidable woman and a wonderful researcher,” Magnus said, “but she does not have the ability to use magic herself. Not all warlocks think of it in terms of physics, which I assume was the level she was talking on because it’s how she looks at it.” Alec nodded. “At its most basic, I suppose, magic is concentration. We see something in the world that others don’t, and for some reason we have the ability to use it. If you want to see it that way, it is like having an invisible hand at your command to do things.”
He summoned a ball of magic into his hand, and relished the awed gasp of surprise he got from Alec.
“Obviously it isn’t really an invisible hand,” Magnus said. “No one really knows what it is, exactly as no scientist can conclusively say how life comes to be. So I’m not sure if anyone actually knows how magic works, the way that you’re asking. But,” he moved his hand, and the ball of magic in his hand shifted into a fantastical bird that flew somewhere above Alec’s head and then vanished, “it does.”
Alec lowered his eyes from where the bird had been back to Magnus, and Magnus’s heart beat a little faster at the warm admiration aimed at him.
“I think you told me what I was really asking,” he said. “I suppose what Izzy’s explanation was really missing was the demonstration. That was beautiful. Thank you for showing me.”
“It was quite simple, really.” Magnus played with his ear cuff, feeling the best kind of unease at the way Alec was looking at him, like maybe he was magical instead of just someone who used magic. “I’ve done that since I was a young boy.”
That had been over three hundred years ago, but he wasn’t sure if Isabelle had let that detail about warlocks slip, and it wasn’t something to pursue right now if she hadn’t.
“And I’m sure it was also beautiful then,” Alec said, and Magnus averted his eyes, feeling his cheeks flush.
Perhaps he really should have gone out a little more often. Maybe then his ability to gracefully take a compliment would not have been so rusty.
Or maybe it was just that Alec Lightwood, with all his sincere admiration and caring, somehow possessed the skill of passing through all of Magnus’s walls without even realising it.
“It was,” he said, forcing himself to act lightly. “Sadly, it isn’t really helpful with my current research.”
Alec let out a laugh. “What, you cannot just create a magical bird for people to ride?”
Magnus blinked, two threads connecting in his head. “Say that again.”
“You cannot just create a magical bird for people to ride,” Alec repeated dutifully, obviously not understanding why the words had had such an effect on Magnus.
Thoughts were rushing in Magnus’s head, Catarina’s voice from the previous night chief among them.
The portal you’re envisioning is really just a magical passage in space.
And Dot: You might just be overthinking it. The best solutions are the most elegant and simple ones.
“You don’t magic the person, you magic the surroundings,” he said, and only then realised it had been out loud.
“I don’t know what just happened, but I know that look.” Alec looked at him fondly. “You’re about to disappear into your lab for hours to figure out some big discovery, aren’t you?”
Magnus managed to divert his focus for just one apologetic nod. “I’ll let you get back to your book.”
“Happy science,” Alec said after him, but Magnus barely even heard it.
Magnus stared at the paper in front of him. It was not what he’d worked towards for years; there were a lot of unanswered questions and details in dire need of ironing out.
But it was a grand plan for what he would do. It was a roadmap that finally had the X that truly marked the spot.
Now all he had to do was walk the signposted route.
Although, as his rumbling stomach decided to remind him just then, he should probably grab some lunch first. Or brunch, strictly speaking, since he’d never even got to the one banana he’d meant to have in the morning.
It probably should not have surprised him that Alec was still in the breakroom, this time on his phone.
“I take that smile means your idea did turn out to be some big breakthrough,” he said as he looked up at Magnus.
“You could say that,” Magnus said. He still felt like he was walking on air. “As my friend Dot always says, sometimes you know everything you need but you just need a little push to figure it out. Really, I could kiss you.”
To his delight, he could actually see the blush creep to Alec’s cheeks.
“You should probably take me out to dinner first.”
Magnus glanced at the clock and wasn’t really all that shocked to realise it was already dinnertime.
“I will if you’d like to tag along,” he said. “I haven’t eaten anything today.”
“There’s stuff in the fridge.” Alec frowned at himself. “Of course you know that, it’s your fridge. But you really should eat something before you collapse.”
Magnus had a flash of himself collapsing against Alec’s chest, Alec’s eyes looking down at him with worry and care. It was melodramatic and, considering the circumstances, ridiculous, so he pushed it out of his mind and focused on the reality.
“My favourite restaurant is just a block away,” he said. “Care to join me?”
He resisted adding something about Alec needing to make sure Magnus wouldn’t faint from hunger on the way. He wouldn’t, obviously, and besides he was fairly sure he was meaning it to be a date and that was hardly the most romantic offer he could make.
Alec’s eyes lit up. “I’d love to. I’ll just have to text Izzy where we’ve gone.”
For perhaps the first time during their acquaintance, Magnus sincerely hoped Isabelle wouldn’t want to join them.
As they were walking towards the Jade Wolf, Alec got a reply to his text.
“Izzy’s not coming,” Alec said. “She had a really long day with her interview and is going straight home.”
Magnus did not show his relief. He was fairly sure he didn’t, at least.
“Apparently, you should have her spare key somewhere in the lab,” Alec continued. “She tells me not to slam the door too loudly on my way in, so I suppose we’ve lost her to early bedtime.”
“Even the best of the best need sleep sometimes.”
“Oh, really?” Alec raised an eyebrow. “Because she also added that she’s happy you’re leaving work at a sensible time for once, so I take it you don’t really apply that advice to yourself.”
Magnus quickly changed the subject, but the warmth he felt at Alec’s care didn’t leave as quickly.
They got to the Jade Wolf, and Magnus quickly scanned the room to determine neither Luke nor Maia was hanging about that evening. This relative privacy verified – or the illusion of privacy anyhow, considering everyone knew who he was anyway – he took a table with Alec and set about simply having a nice dinner.
Alec made that incredibly easy. He started off by light chat about the menu, asking Magnus for recommendations since he knew the place already, segued the conversation into more general food talk, shared interesting stories about his travels and asked questions about the stories Magnus told.
He seemed like a man who’d had plenty of first dates within the last twenty years. At least that made one of them, then.
The conversation lulled a little when the waiter brought over their food, and Magnus was determined to be the one to pick it up again. He might have been a little out of practice, but his dating experience was over ten times as long as Alec’s entire life; you didn’t simply forget some things just because you were busy at work for a few decades or so.
“You’ve kindly let me go on about my work today,” he said, “but you have me at a disadvantage. What is it that you do, Alexander?”
Alec gave him a look that made Magnus instantly decide that this was not the last time he was going to use Alec’s full name.
“I used to do global coordination for a non-profit. The details are actually dull, unlike for your work,” Alec said, “so I won’t bore you with them, but I used to travel a lot for supervision and stuff. All the things I liked about being in the army but a lot less violent altercations. I recently got switched into another role, though, so now I get to be mostly in New York.”
Magnus filed away the off-handed detail about an army past that Alec obviously wasn’t very interested in discussing, and smiled.
“Not going to miss the travelling?”
Alec laughed. “The last time I even saw a bed was almost 48 hours ago, I’m definitely not going to miss that.” Magnus almost apologised for keeping him up, but Alec continued before he could. “I really liked it, but... I didn’t get all that many chances to see Izzy, or our mother, and for the longest time I didn’t mind living out of a suitcase but it’s not really the sort of thing I’d love to do for the rest of my life.”
“Too old for the carefree nomad life?” Magnus asked lightly.
Immediately as the words were out of his mouth, he wished he could take them back. Isabelle was somewhere in her twenties, and while Magnus knew Alec to be older, he was still in his early thirties at most.
Alec smiled, a softer one than most Magnus had seen from him up to that point. “Something like that. I mean, I probably can’t get away pretending I’m getting old and creaky with you of all people, I’d sound ridiculous, but I do think I’m in a place now where I want to settle down more.”
Magnus stopped breathing. “Isabelle told you-“
He hadn’t asked her not to. She’d asked if he was fine with her telling her family about her work, and he’d said he trusted her discretion. He’d meant it as a blanket approval for sharing everything Downworld-related with whoever she wanted to, but. When he’d said it, he hadn’t assumed he’d personally care about the reactions of any of the people involved.
Alec was watching him with eyes obviously full of understanding and yet still somehow hard to read. “She didn’t give me much detail, but she did once ask me to fact check something about Alexandre Dumas because she was fairly sure that story was made-up but she wanted to be certain.”
Which meant Alec had obviously figured out the salient detail of immortality. And yet, he also had the tact not to force Magnus into an explicit conversation about it. There was an obvious out for Magnus in Alec’s words, a light side-step to the entirely too serious a topic
Not only could he kiss Alec, he really wanted to.
Of course, it would have been a bit forwards like that.
“I’m gravely offended at the implication,” he said with a grin starkly at odds with his words. “I haven’t encountered such disrespect since I triumphed over Julius Caesar in chess and the man had the audacity to steal my victory phrase to describe his meagre military exploits.”
Alec’s eyes sparkled, so Magnus had obviously made the right call in assuming he’d be sufficiently well versed in ancient history to catch the reference.
“Chess was created after Caesar’s time, as far as I know,” Alec said, voice full of mirth, “and well out of his geographical zone anyway. But I’m sure that’s a great story nevertheless.”
It was. Magnus was very proud of it, and it carried them to the end of their meal, and the ensuing discussion about game strategies continued until they were on their way back to Magnus’s building. On the way, it started drizzling, and with a few unnecessarily grand gestures, Magnus produced an umbrella for them to share.
“That’s handy,” Alec remarked, and Magnus wondered if he was as aware of the way their hands touched as they both held the umbrella.
“There are few things in life that magic can’t help with at all,” Magnus said. “Speaking of, could I interest you in another demonstration of the magical summoning of cocktails?”
The words left him easily, because he enjoyed Alec’s company tremendously and didn’t quite want the evening to end. And it was barely eight o’clock; they’d have plenty of time for a little more chat.
But then he remembered again what Alec had said about his lack of proper sleep, and hastened to add, “Of course, you must be tired from travelling, so I perfectly understand if you-“
“I’d love to have cocktails with you,” Alec interrupted him as they arrived at Magnus’s front door. “Although you might just have to make it a good old-fashioned non-magical cocktail, what you served me this morning was divine and I’d love to know how to make one.”
Magnus banished the umbrella up to the penthouse to its proper rack as they started climbing the stairs. “I’m sure we can come to some sort of agreement.”
Some twenty minutes later, they stood in front of Magnus’s liquor cart in the penthouse, clinking glasses.
“Does your drink live up to your expectations?” Magnus asked as Alec took a sip.
Alec smiled at him over the glass. “Yeah. You’re as great a teacher as you’re a bartender.”
“Perhaps I should have thought this through better,” Magnus said airily, holding his own glass. “How shall I entice you into my company now that I’ve given up my best cocktail secrets?”
“I don’t know.” Alec’s eyes didn’t leave Magnus’s. “You’ll just have to get by on your handsome looks, delightful personality and imaginative stories.”
Magnus broke the eye contact. He was over four centuries old, he didn’t need to let Alec know he could be undone by a few compliments. Yet, anyway. “Maybe so.”
They drank their cocktails and let the conversation come naturally. Even when it sometimes halted, it felt very easy to just share space with Alec.
Oh, foolish heart, Magnus thought. Time spent not dating hadn’t changed him one bit. He was still prone to falling far too quickly far too deep.
He ditched his empty cocktail glass and followed Alec to the balcony door where he was looking out the window.
“You have an amazing view up here,” Alec said.
Magnus laughed. “Aren’t you supposed to be looking at me when delivering that line?”
Alec turned to him, a picture of utter delight. “I can see you have a very healthy level of self-esteem. Not that it’s undeserved.” His expression grew more sober. “I’m not good with lines. I’m too quick to say what I think.”
Magnus thought back to every compliment during the day that Alec had delivered. “Trust me, you’re doing great.”
“Oh.” Alec stepped closer. “I’m glad to hear that. You deserve great.”
Magnus didn’t really think when he moved, just close enough that Alec would have to bridge the final distance. And when Alec carefully brought up his hand, as if asking for permission, Magnus’s only thought was how to express it most efficiently, how to get Alec’s gentle hand to cup his face and how to keep Alec’s lips on his, and how tight exactly he could hold Alec, how good the kisses felt.
But when his hands began to skirt around the hem of Alec’s shirt and Alec’s hand had drifted so low he might as well be undoing Magnus’s cravat, Magnus had to force some other thoughts into his head. He had not spent the past decades completely celibate, but he’d never prefaced any of those encounters with a lovely, drawn-out date. And they’d been with strangers, anyhow. This was Isabelle’s brother, Magnus reminded himself sternly, and he would still skirt the edges of Magnus’s life even if either of them wished to never see the other again in the morning. It was perhaps an easier reminder than the question about that rather big if it was attached to, absolute and totally removed from Magnus’s own feelings, so he clung to it as he forced himself to pull away.
Alec gave away easily, smiling sheepishly at Magnus as their gazes met again. “Too fast?”
“Be it far from me to complain,” Magnus said. Alec looked absolutely delectable with his kiss-red lips, rumpled hair and flushed glow, and Magnus didn’t want to stop kissing him, ever. “But I rather think your sister would have words if we knew each other before she’d even had a chance to introduce us.”
“Only if it would make the introduction awkward.” Alec breathed in deeply. “But I understand your point. I hope she remembered correctly about that spare key?”
Magnus snapped his fingers and offered the key to him. Yet, he couldn’t help saying, “It’s late, though. I have a guest room with a very comfortable bed, if you’d prefer that to late night taxis.”
Alec watched him for a long moment. “Are you sure about that?”
His offer suddenly felt a lot more loaded than he’d intended, but it didn’t change Magnus’s mind. “I wouldn’t have brought it up if I wasn’t.”
“In that case, thank you, that would be lovely. I just need to get downstairs to grab some stuff from my suitcases.”
This time, Magnus made an unnecessary show of his hand movements, and was pleased to hear that the thud from the guest room was audible to where they were standing.
“No need,” he said.
Alec looked like he needed every last bit of his willpower not to kiss Magnus again, but he eventually tamed the urge, as Magnus observed with just a twinge of regret.
Magnus woke up still feeling the joyous aftereffects of a lovely evening, but he only remembered it had ended with Alec still in his loft when he was about to open his bedroom door in his bathrobe, hair and make-up undone.
He had put out on a first date on more than one occasion, but when it came to his appearance, he was firm.
That proved to be a good decision, because when he finally did emerge from his room, in work clothes, with immaculate hair and perfect make-up, Alec was lounging on his sofa. His hair was still obviously wet from the shower, he wasn’t wearing socks and Magnus could see a tantalising glimpse of hair from where Alec’s t-shirt was riding up.
He could get used to this, Magnus thought. It had been years since he’d spared his space with someone; he’d forgotten how romantic the everyday could be.
“Morning,” he said before his mind could do any more scarily quick jumps.
“Morning.” Alec sat up, his t-shirt regrettably fell to cover the whole of his torso, and he smiled at Magnus like he intended to rival the sun. “Izzy just texted me. She asked me to relay the message that she needed your opinion on something.”
“She’s already at work?”
Alec snorted. “She went to bed at seven last night.”
“I better not keep her waiting then.” He remembered again the plans he’d drafted the previous day, and Alec got treated to a bright smile as well. “And I have something of my own to discuss with her.”
“Has either one of you even had breakfast?” Alec shook his head. “I was thinking of checking out that bakery I noticed yesterday, I could get something for you as well.”
Oh, Magnus could so get used to this. “That would be divine. Thank you, Alexander.”
“Yes, you’re absolutely right, that’s an avenue of investigation worth following on.” Magnus looked closer at Isabelle’s notes. “Good luck with it.”
“I’ll try to-“
Isabelle was interrupted by a knock on the door, and Alec stepped in, the delicious aroma of fresh baked goods following him.
“Sorry to interrupt, but even geniuses need breakfast.”
“I could have had some before I came here,” Isabelle protested even as she reached for a croissant.
Alec’s hand found her shoulder, the easy sibling affection proving what Magnus had already known about them being close. “And did you?”
“I could have,” Isabelle said. “But thanks, you’re my favourite brother.”
Magnus didn’t need any commentary to Alec’s look to know that there were no other siblings in the picture. “Thank you.”
“No problem.” Alec picked up a bagel and made for the door. “I’ll leave you to do your thing, I have a meeting I really shouldn’t be late to.”
“Call me once you get out,” Isabelle said after him, but Alec’s agreement was only heard quietly through the door that was already closed.
During the exchange, Magnus had been preoccupied with picking the most delicious pain au chocolat. Having made his choice, he looked up to find Isabelle looking expectant. “What?”
“Aren’t you going to tell me?”
Magnus frowned. Yes, he’d gone on a date with her brother the previous evening, and her brother had stayed over, but a sister would hardly be interested in the sordid details, and Isabelle was usually more excited about science than gossip, anyway. As evidenced by the fact that she had come to him half an hour ago with an informal research proposal and not a game of twenty questions.
She gave him an unimpressed look. “You have that look about yourself. The one when you’ve hit something really important. It was nice of you to let me go first, but spill.”
Magnus took a bite of his pastry to let the suspense build, then set it down on a napkin in front of him and started talking.
He could see the mounting excitement in Isabelle’s eyes even though she never interrupted him.
“There’s a lot to be done,” he eventually concluded, “but I think I know how I’ll get there now.”
“Magnus, that’s amazing!” Isabelle reached out over the table to squeeze his hand, before her excitement gained a playful edge. “So no more accidentally exploding bottles during experiments?”
Magnus grinned. “I promise nothing.”
They continued talking until they were done with Alec’s breakfast, and then separated into their own offices to start working.
Magnus had just had the time to collect his notes from the day before for further elaboration when his phone buzzed.
Hey, it’s Alec, I got your number from Izzy. Just wanted to say I had a lovely time last night, and thank you for letting me have your guestroom for the night.
He wasn’t quite sure how long he smiled down at the message. His reply didn’t really come to him easily, but Magnus forced himself not to overthink it.
My pleasure, I really enjoyed your company. Perhaps we could do it again sometime.
He set his phone aside and started going over his plans, but his gaze kept flickering to it anyway.
What felt like an eternity later, it buzzed again, and Magnus would have been embarrassed at the speed he reached for it if it had been witnessed by someone.
He was not disappointed to see Cat’s name, but he hadn’t been hoping it would be her, either.
Dot’s birthday is in a few weeks, and you’re helping me with the surprise party. PS not a request, but you know you love throwing parties
He did. Not that it would be a huge party; they’d all got their fill of those in the 20th century. It also did not escape him that Cat’s tone probably meant she was determined to get him to think about something else besides portals for a moment, for his own good.
Nevertheless, of course he’d make time for it. Of course, he texted back. Let me know when she’s busy so we can discuss themes.
Sometime later, he got another text, and this time he knew to expect it to be from Cat. Hadn’t Alec even said he was going to a meeting?
Will do. BTW cannot remember the last time you texted back this quickly.
Perhaps I took your scolding to heart.
Cat didn’t answer immediately, and Magnus got so into fleshing out a detail he’d need to figure out that he almost startled when her reply finally came.
Except, he realised quickly, it wasn’t from Cat.
I’d love that, Alec wrote. Haven’t really spent much time in NYC since I was a teenager and would love some company getting reacquainted.
It was probably not a bait for bragging, but Magnus had fond memories from the night before and Alec probably felt the same.
I would be an excellent guide, I’ve lived here for over a century.
Alec’s reply was almost instantaneous. And I’m sure you have excellent stories, too.
That goes without saying, Alexander, but I appreciate the compliment.
Alec didn’t answer after that, and Magnus figured that his meeting probably had had a short break. He left his phone in his office to have a quick belated lunch with Isabelle, and neither Cat nor Alec had answered him by the time he got back. For his part, Magnus spent a good chunk of his time letting his gaze drift and daydreaming about which ones of his favourite places in Brooklyn would also be good date locations.
Eventually, though, he shook off thoughts of intimate restaurants and put his full attention into work. At least for a few seconds, until he realised that his now almost full day at work had gained him half a page of scattered notes and one absentmindedly drawn heart in the corner of one of his sheets of paper.
Magnus stared at the heart, fighting against the mounting realisation.
He couldn’t do this.
He was on the brink of discovery, about to change every single warlock’s life in a way that only magic could. That was a task that, at the very least, deserved his full focus. That needed his full focus if he truly wanted to pull it off. No matter how much he wanted to, he couldn’t go around wasting time, no matter how warm and sweet Alec’s brown eyes were or how much Magnus wanted to find out if Alec’s whole chest was hairy like the glimpse he’d caught the previous night. He might have not engaged in it for a long while, but he remembered how time-consuming a relationship was. Camille was maybe not the best example, since ‘high maintenance’ was an understatement and a misnomer to describe her, but his time with her had definitely been the least productive he’d ever been.
Just to torture himself, Magnus pulled out a calendar and started jotting down a timeline of how quickly he’d have to work if he wanted to have a tested and reliable version of a portal to exhibit at the conference like he’d planned. Even under the best of circumstances (and Magnus was old enough to know those didn’t exist), he’d have to work overtime compared to a regular job. And this was magic; complications were likely to emerge, that was just part of the deal. Not to mention Alec obviously had his own commitments (the fact that he hadn’t texted Magnus back was just proof of it). Maybe the instant chemistry and mutual attraction would have led to something extraordinary in another life, but in this one, Magnus did not want to see it fizzle out slowly because he didn’t have the time to nurture it.
His phone buzzed as Magnus stared at his timeline, but Magnus didn’t reach for it. If it was Catarina, she knew sometimes he was extremely busy. If it was Alec, well... It was heartless to break up over text, even if the relationship had never even started. Magnus would find some other way to gently let him down.
He picked up his scattered page of notes and felt his resolve to get back to work.
A door slammed somewhere in the building and Magnus checked the clock. A quarter to six, so that had probably been Isabelle on her way out. She usually popped in to say goodbye, but she knew how he was about his work. After his excitement about his new direction, she’d probably figured he was too absorbed in it to be disturbed.
It didn’t matter really. At least it didn’t until there was a knock on his door, and Magnus, convinced he was alone in the lab, almost fell off his chair in shock.
“Come in, Isabelle.”
She had a new, exciting direction ahead of her, as well. It made sense she’d stayed in late as well.
“We don’t really look that alike, do we?”
As if he hadn’t been startled enough already. Magnus looked up from his work. His futile daydreams about Alec’s eyes had not done them justice.
Maybe it was good to know that he forgot so easily.
“Ah, Alec,” he said. “I hope your meeting went well.”
“It did.” Alec smiled, but Magnus couldn’t really enjoy being the recipient of it. “I came to drag Izzy away to dinner and I was wondering if you wanted to join us.”
He did want, but sometimes you wanted what you couldn’t have. A dinner with Isabelle there would hardly be a date, but it certainly wouldn’t be focusing on his work either.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and genuinely meant it. “I cannot.”
“It’s okay.” Alec’s brow furrowed. “Is something wrong? I don’t want to overstep, but you look like someone killed your dog.”
“I’m more of a cat person, really.” He looked up at Alec. Maybe it would be better to just get it over with. “But, I suppose it’s only fair to let you know that I won’t be able to help you get reacquainted with New York after all.”
“That’s okay.” Alec stepped properly into the room and closed the door. “That was really just a cover to ask you out again, anyway.”
“That’s just it.” Magnus looked away. His filing cabinets were dull, but at least they’d never caused him heartache. “I... don’t think we can go out, again.”
Magnus wasn’t looking at Alec, but he knew a thing or two about quiet devastation, and it sounded just like that.
Maybe he shouldn’t have, but the words were leaving his mouth before he decided to say them. Alec did deserve an explanation.
“It’s not you, at all. You’re- wonderful, and sweet, and exactly who I’d like to be with if I were to be with anyone. But I- I really need to focus on my work right now, it is important and I have deadlines to meet, and I cannot just push it aside because you’re the most beautiful distraction I’ve met yet. I don’t have time for a relationship right now, it wouldn’t be fair to you.”
He closed his eyes, bracing for the sound of the door and a muttered goodbye. Instead, he got approaching footsteps and opened his eyes just in time to see Alec crouch down by Magnus’s chair.
“Hey,” Alec said, and Magnus was surprised to realise he looked soft and vulnerable, not wounded. “I don’t want to talk over you about how to live your life, and you can kick me out in a minute for being presumptuous, but... You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met, so I can’t just leave without saying this.” He looked straight into Magnus’s eyes, and Magnus couldn’t look away. “If you just don’t want to be with me, or even try to see where this might lead, that’s okay. If you’re genuinely just not that into me or want to focus solely on your work, I get that and I’ll get over it. But-“ He glanced down at the floor before looking back up, even more resolute. “Don’t assume stuff about what would be fair to me, I can look out for myself just fine. If you don’t want to go out with me for yourself, I get it. But if you just mean that you, too, think this could become something great but you don’t have a lot of time to spare just now, that’s not the same thing. I can wait, and I schedule things for a living, I can work with whatever time you have right now. If you want to give this a chance.”
Magnus looked away, because he had his decision, but he also had Alec, looking at him with conviction, and he didn’t seem like an easy man to convince otherwise. Especially when Magnus’s own conviction went so blatantly against what he wanted.
His gaze fell on his work papers.
At the top was his timeline, and next to it were his notes, to which he had added absolutely nothing since deciding a relationship with Alec was impossible.
Magnus stared at the paper. He could practically feel his resolve crumbling.
He hadn’t counted on meeting Alec, and now Alec was a complication in his plans whatever happened, that damage had already been done. Magnus was already distracted, either way.
And he only had so much willpower, anyway.
“I want to give this a chance,” he heard himself say. “I’m- just afraid we’ll come to regret it. I haven’t really felt this drawn to anyone in a long time, and I would hate to see it end poorly simply because the timing was wrong.”
With great effort, he moved his gaze to Alec’s face, anxious about what he’d see there. He had not been prepared for the bright, hopeful smile Alec was giving him, though.
“We can start slow,” Alec said. “Whatever you need.”
Magnus wanted to avert his eyes; Alec’s steady gaze felt like it was piercing all his defences, and Magnus was afraid of what Alec would see shining through.
“What if what I need is a month of uninterrupted work at all waking hours?” he asked.
He wanted this, so very badly, but he was not going to walk into it without even the most basic reality check. And he didn’t want to fool Alec into something that Alec couldn’t properly grasp, either.
“Two options,” Alec said. “Either, we find the time during breaks you’d take anyway. I mean,” he made a vague gesture at Magnus’s arms with an appreciative look, “don’t try telling me you don’t exercise. And I know for a fact that you eat.”
Magnus raised an eyebrow. “You’d come all the way here just to have a twenty minute chat with me over takeout?”
Alec’s gaze didn’t waver. “I’m very stubborn. You can ask Izzy if you need testimonials.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Magnus breathed out slowly. “What’s the second option?”
“You work, uninterrupted and at all waking hours, for a month.” Alec’s smile turned a little lopsided. “And I look forward to hearing you talk about your achievements when you can afford yourself some rest.”
Magnus blinked. “You’d do that? For someone you barely even know?”
“I have a lot of flaws,” Alec said. “But being a quitter isn’t one of them. And I already know you well enough to be sure you’re worth the effort.”
He said it like a fact, as if it was a true statement and not a highly subjective opinion probably based on too little evidence. And yet, it was clear, Alec absolutely believed it to be true. And he wasn’t afraid to voice it to Magnus, despite the fact that not quarter of an hour ago, Magnus had told him they could not become anything.
It would probably be an insufferable quality if they ever fought, Magnus thought. But right now, it felt like a promise.
“Okay,” he said.
Alec smiled, bright and happy and Magnus wanted to kiss it off his face. “Okay.”
Despite this understanding, Magnus still had no idea what they were now, so he restrained himself. “What happens now?”
Alec shrugged. “Now, I suppose, we go back to what I initially came here for. Izzy and I are getting dinner, would you like to join us?”
“I want to.” Magnus looked at his timeline yet again. “But I’ve got almost no work done today, so I really don’t think I can.”
He vaguely expected Alec to argue, but Alec simply nodded. “Okay. I hope you have a productive evening.”
Magnus smiled. “I hope so, too.”
At the door, Alec stopped. “Can I text you? You don’t have to respond, if it distracts you.”
Magnus unearthed his phone from under the papers, and a flick of his wrist banished it up into the loft. “I look forwards to relaxing with your messages once I’m done for the day.”
When he got back to work, Alec’s parting smile was still at the back of his mind, but this time, the thought was not so much distracting as inspiring.
Magnus glanced at the clock. Five past eleven. He’d told himself he’d work until eleven, so he read through the final section of his newly-written notes once more to check and then put away his papers except for those he’d need the following day.
Up in the loft, he warmed up some leftovers, let out a well-deserved sigh of relief at having survived an absolute roller-coaster of a day and got his phone to check his texts.
The first one (Just saying what I think), the continuation to their earlier flirting, felt like it was from another world, but it was followed by a string of others that made Magnus grin stupidly.
Wow it’s weird looking at that previous conversation. Anyway I hope you have a good and productive evening!
Just reminisced with Izzy about what a mess I was pre coming out. Maybe it’s a good thing you couldn’t make it tonight, those are pretty embarrassing stories.
I only just realised that all of my stuff is still in your place, and now Izzy won’t stop laughing at me. See who’ll get the last laugh when I stretch all her comfortable t shirts out of shape.
The last text had been sent barely half an hour before. Magnus walked into the guestroom, where Alec’s stuff still lay, whatever he’d used the previous night neatly packed back in.
Alec picked up on the third ring.
“Are you at Isabelle’s?” Magnus asked, sitting down on the bed.
“Is her living room decor still the same?”
“What- I-“ There was a muffled exchange, and then Alec spoke again. “She says yes?”
A quick flash of magic, and Alec’s things were gone. He could hear Alec gasp on the phone, though, and that erased any sad associations the gesture might have provoked otherwise.
“Wow,” Alec said. “Thank you. I was starting to miss my toothbrush.”
Magnus was glad Alec couldn’t see how ridiculously wide his smile was. “My pleasure, Alexander.”
“I beg to differ.” There was a short pause. “Did you get a lot of work done tonight?”
“I did,” Magnus said.
He hadn’t meant to yawn after it, but it was out before he could stop it.
“Sounds like it, too,” Alec teased. “You must be tired, I should let you get to bed.”
The bed underneath him was nice and soft, and Magnus had to really resist the impulse to recline on it because the exhaustion behind his eyes hinted he might not get back up if he did.
“Will you call me tomorrow?”
The words slipped out of his mouth without thinking, but Magnus felt no wish to take them back.
He could hear the smile in Alec’s voice when he answered. “Sure. Are you going to banish your phone away again, or can I choose when?”
Magnus suppressed his laughter. “Whenever in the evening, if you’re free then.”
“I’ll try to pencil you into my very busy schedule of judging Izzy’s Netflix tastes.”
There was a faint sound of protest, and Magnus could only assume he’d soon be in the middle of a Lightwood sibling argument if he didn’t duck out.
“I appreciate the effort,” he said. “Goodnight, Alexander.”
“Goodnight, Magnus. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
After smiling ridiculously at his phone for an embarrassing amount of time, Magnus made himself get off the guestroom bed and into his own bedroom to change into more sleep-appropriate attire. He went to bed, body heavy but mind lighter than ever.
Magnus frowned. It was all well and good to decide to create a protective channel through which you could transfer a living being across space, but like some other decisions he’d made lately, it was more complex when applied to practice.
He really wanted a break.
As if on cue, his phone rang.
“Did you read my mind?”
“No,” Alec said. “Is this a good time or a very bad one?”
“Very good.” Magnus sandwiched his phone between his ear and shoulder and raised his feet onto his desk. “I was just thinking I wanted a break.”
“Fortuitous.” There was a short pause. “How has your day been?”
“Busy. But it’s going somewhere, which is something I’ve been missing. And yours?”
“Good. I’m starting to suspect everyone’s being extra nice to me because I just transferred here, but it’s actually just making me wonder when the other shoe will drop.”
Magnus relaxed into his chair. “Maybe they’re just nice.”
“Maybe. But you already have great co-workers, how likely would it be that both of us lucked out as much?”
There was no commentary from the background, so Magnus assumed that Isabelle had had plans for the evening.
“I’ve had my share of bad ones. Not really co-workers, mine’s a lonely business, but certainly people I have to interact with professionally.”
Magnus thoroughly relished giving Alec an abridged and certainly not biased account of his rivalry with Lorenzo Rey, but by the time he was done, it was impossible to ignore the clock.
“Is it time for you to get back to work?”
Magnus let out a startled laugh. “Now I’m really starting to suspect you of mind-reading.”
“If I could pick a superpower, that would be the last one on my list.” Magnus could hear Alec take a breath, as if he regretted having to say the next words. “I should let you get back to magical theory.”
Magnus regretted knowing that to be true, too. “Thank you for calling.”
“Trust me,” Alec said, and Magnus could practically hear his smile, “this was absolutely my pleasure.”
He couldn’t help the victorious feeling as he watched the magic fade into invisibility around him. It was a small victory, really, but those built up, and now Magnus was officially slightly ahead of schedule.
He deserved a medal. Both for magic, and for a wonderful work ethic.
Hell, he deserved a night off.
And after days of texts and short phone calls, he knew exactly how he wanted to spend it.
It took Alec some time to answer, and with each ring Magnus could feel his heart drop just a bit. Alec had been wonderful about his schedule, working around Magnus’s requirements and never begrudging him for abrupt ends to discussions when Magnus was called into work again, but he had his own life, of course, one that Magnus was only a very small segment of, it made sense he would have his own-
“Hi, Magnus,” Alec’s voice interrupted the ringing. “How are you?”
“I’m good,” Magnus said, reining in his relief. “Great, actually. How are you?”
“Great, now that you called. Are you taking a break?”
“Yes.” He’d crossed his fingers without thinking about it. “For the rest of the evening. I was wondering if you’d be free tonight?”
He closed his eyes and braced for rejection.
“I am,” Alec said. “I definitely am. Would you like to... want to meet up?”
Magnus smiled so hard he could feel it in his cheeks. “Yes, I would love that.”
There was a short silence that Magnus spent marvelling they’d actually get to do that. When it stretched, he wondered if maybe Alec was thinking the same.
“What would you like to do?” he asked. “I was thinking dinner. Are you hungry?”
“Starving,” was Alec’s almost instantaneous response, followed by a chuckle. “I just left work. Are you at the lab?”
“Mmmm. There’s this great Ethiopian restaurant I know a few blocks away from here, would that be okay?”
“Of course.” There was a pause. “It’ll take me like half an hour to get there, will you text me the exact address?”
Magnus leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and smiled. “Yeah, sure. See you there.”
After setting his things in order for the following day and a leisurely walk, he only had to wait for Alec at the restaurant for a few minutes.
“I was really glad you called,” Alec said as they took their seats at a table. “Did you get your work to a good place to pause for a second?”
“I did.” Almost automatically, he launched into an explanation, but just a few sentences in, he made himself take a deep breath and stop. “But I don’t really want to talk about that right now. I’m supposed to be having a night off.”
“That’s fine.” Alec made a motion as if to zip his mouth. “No questions about your work or how magic works tonight.”
Magnus smiled, but for a horrible moment, he imagined them lapsing into silence and thus finding out the only thing bringing them together was Alec’s curiosity with what he didn’t properly understand.
“So what do you usually do in your spare time?” Alec asked. “I mean, aside from making some lucky soul’s week by taking them out to dinner?”
“Recently,” Magnus let out a helpless laugh, “sleep. I haven’t really- had all that much free time for quite a while. My friends kindly drag me out for drinks occasionally, but I’ve been very focused on work.”
“When you say ‘recently’, is that, um, for how long?” Alec bit his lip. “Because it’s a relative term.”
Magnus considered the question. “How old are you?”
“In that case, I,” Magnus couldn’t help the smile, “have probably had free time during your lifetime. At some point.”
It was something of an exaggeration, but it made Alec laugh. “Well then, what did you do for fun, in those times when I wasn’t even born yet? I know it wasn’t mindless browsing online, because the internet wasn’t really a thing yet.”
Magnus raised an eyebrow, although the effect was ruined because he couldn’t stop smiling. “Should I applaud you for not immediately going for the obvious jokes about fossils or the Stone Age?”
“No need,” Alec said, smiling right back. “Besides, you have more of a Bronze Age vibe, anyway.”
Magnus laughed. “Who do you think was the first person to add some tin into copper?”
“Not you.” Alec’s foot brushed against Magnus’s under the table. “But do tell me all about it.”
He could have whipped up something out of thin air, but the waiter coming in to take their orders gave him an easy excuse to demur out.
“To get back to your original question,” he said once they’d ordered, “I dabble here and there. Comes from natural curiosity, I suppose. It’s hard to name something I haven’t tried at least once. And it’s hard to maintain the same hobbies when the times keep changing. Do you know how many musical styles I’ve seen created? I enjoyed dancing in the 1800s and I enjoy it now, but in many ways it’s not at all the same thing.”
“That must be weird.”
“It has its perks.” Magnus frowned. “And drawbacks. I remember there was a song I used to love when I was a child, but I don’t quite remember the lyrics or the melody, and neither does anyone else, so I’ll never hear it properly again.”
He bit the inside of his mouth, trying not to look away. He hadn’t meant to get even close to any of the issues Alec could so easily grab on to there, things Magnus didn’t like to talk about in general, and certainly not to someone he’d only recently met. Alec was just very easy to talk to, and he’d somehow slipped through so many of Magnus’s layers in ways that few people could.
But that didn’t mean that he wanted to let him through these layers right there, at least not then.
“I think that’s not limited to you, though,” Alec said. “I mean, there was this video game that I used to play when I was a kid. In hindsight, it was probably meant to teach you simple maths, but I just played it for fun. And now someone’s misplaced the disc and today’s computers might not be able to play it, and I can’t even remember the name, so in essence I’ll never play it again. I mean, it’s not exactly the same, because I suppose if I spent enough time on it, I could find it again, it would just be so difficult that in practice, it’s kind of impossible.”
Magnus very narrowly stopped himself from reaching over the table, grabbing at the front of Alec’s shirt and kissing him.
“I suppose you’re right,” he said. “In many ways it’s just a universal experience of missing what used to be. But you have to admit my story sounds better.”
Alec laughed. "That's hardly surprising, given what a masterful storyteller you are."
"Oh, Alexander," Magnus said, pretending coyness and ignoring any hint of joking in Alec’s words. "You must realise you no longer have any need for flattery."
Alec watched him with a smile. "If flattery makes you smile like that, maybe I do."
Magnus ducked his head. He could get used to Alec's compliments, this simple and easy affection between them, and he wanted to see it grow. And yet, somehow now that he had it, he could not just simply let go and enjoy it, not when there were so many uncertainties hanging over them.
"We should talk about this."
Right after saying it, he regretted the way it came out. That was not how he'd meant it at all, it sounded like he was breaking up whatever it was that they had been having these past few weeks. That couldn't have been further from the truth.
To his relief, Alec didn't look alarmed, though. He gave Magnus a serious look, reaching over the table to squeeze at Magnus's hand before returning back to sit properly in his chair.
"Then let's talk about this."
The words were followed by silence that felt awkward until their eyes met and they both snickered.
"You make me feel about as graceful as a teenager again," Magnus said.
Alec grinned. "That feels like quite an achievement. Although the feeling's mutual. And to be honest my teenage years were not, uh, a good time, to say the least, so it's kind of like getting another go at it, except this time it’s better."
Magnus wanted to ask, since Alec seemed to have offered so blatantly, but he could not quite bring himself to do it. Maybe Alec's words were in the same spirit as Magnus's earlier ones about his childhood; a show of trust, but offered accidentally and not something he was supposed to follow up on.
"I really want this to work," he said instead, returning the conversation back to the earlier topic at hand.
Alec nodded. "I do, too. But we both knew that already, so I suppose you have something else you were wishing to talk about."
Magnus stopped himself from biting his lip. "I still find it unbelievable that you would be happy with just occasional short phone calls for months, whatever you say now. And I- I'm starting to see I wouldn't be happy with that either."
Alec nudged Magnus's foot with his own under the table. "I can't lie, I wouldn't necessarily be happy with just this small contact, but I would be a lot less happy without any contact at all, so. I know it's a difficult time for you, so I'll take what I can get. You don't- There's really no worry that I'll get bored or something, to be honest. When I put my mind to something, I can't quit."
Magnus couldn't help the smile. "Having a fight with you is going to be such a pain."
"So I've been told." Alec reached out across the table for Magnus's hand again. "Can't wait, to be honest."
"Lucky me," Magnus said, and it was meant as self-deprecation, but he also felt the truth in the words.
He would be lucky to get to the stage where they'd be a couple who sometimes fought.
"But," Alec said, returning him back to earth, “we could also try to find other times to meet. Like I said, I'm great at scheduling. And I know you don't actually live in your lab, so there must be times when you're not working.”
"I work out," Magnus said.
One side of Alec's mouth quirked up. "So I’ve gathered. I appreciate the effort you put into your biceps."
If they had been in a less public place, Magnus would have flexed his arms just to make a point about how much he appreciated hearing Alec say that, but as they were still in a restaurant, he refrained.
"I don't know if you'd be interested in joining me, at some point," he said instead. "I mean, obviously you live some time away from my place, so it would mean extra travel for you, not to mention that I work out at home and it’s likely considerably less well equipped than what you’re used to anyway, and I understand if you'd rather not have that, I really do, I'm not trying to make demands on you that I'm not willing to somehow reciprocate-"
"That sounds like an offer, not a demand.” Alec snorted. “Besides, you do realise that you just asked me to basically come watch you sweat and show off your muscles? I would actually go through a certain degree of difficulty to witness that.”
Magnus didn’t let himself be reassured by the playful tone. “I’m serious. I have... been in a relationship where only one of us made sacrifices for it to work, and I never want to make anyone feel like it made me feel.”
That was another piece of his history that he usually didn’t give out on a second date (or preferably ever; he couldn’t avoid Camille indefinitely, but he’d do his best), but luckily Alec didn’t push for details on that either.
“Then, on a serious note,” Alec said, and Magnus pushed all other thoughts from his mind and focused on the matter at hand, “you’re right, it’d be impractical to actually do it together often. But maybe we could do them at the same time and, I don’t know, Skype?”
Magnus smiled. He could see what Alec had meant about it being an offer now; the thought of seeing Alec sweaty and hard at work, even from a screen, did sound highly enticing.
“I’d love that.”
“Great.” Alec’s gaze on him held a degree of hunger now, but mostly it was warm. “I’ll get up a way for us to compare our schedules easily.”
Magnus took a sip of his drink. “I’m sure you can see now why I’m so keen on creating a portal now, though. If I could simply portal you into my loft, we wouldn’t be having all of these logistical issues.”
Alec laughed. “Think about that if you ever feel unmotivated to continue your work.”
“Oh,” Magnus said, and enjoyed the slight flush on Alec’s cheeks, “I certainly will.”
“There’s something else I was thinking about,” Alec said as they were walking away from the restaurant towards Magnus’s loft. “You can definitely say no.”
Magnus moved closer and nudged at Alec’s shoulder gently with his own. “Now you’ve just made me curious.”
“It’s a little about the same distance to my work from here as it is from Izzy’s place.” Alec turned to look at Magnus’s face. “So, um, if- if you wanted, I could stay over after our dates. I make a decent pancake, if that sways your decision.”
Magnus laughed, and since there was no reason to, didn’t suppress his urge to kiss Alec’s conveniently nearby cheek.
“I’d love that,” he said. “Although I-“
He trailed off, not quite sure how to say ‘on some level, I’m not quite ready for sex with you yet’ without making it weird.
By some miracle, Alec understood what he meant. “I wasn’t implying- Your guestroom is exponentially nicer than Izzy’s sofa, this was actually quite a selfish request in that way.”
Magnus smiled, deciding not to force Alec to explicitly admit he really just wanted to spend time with Magnus.
“You’re lucky I have magic,” he said instead. “Or else you’d be missing your toothbrush again.”
“I can get an extra one,” Alec said. “I mean, I’m lucky and my mouth will appreciate you tonight, but I don’t want you to have to bother every time.”
Once they got into Magnus’s loft, Magnus fixed them drinks again, and they continued their easy chat again. It was delightful, but at some point, Magnus started finding his gaze drift south from Alec’s eyes towards his mouth.
He couldn’t bring himself to feel ashamed of it when Alec noticed, though. “What?”
“Nothing,” Alec said. “Just that I’m pretty sure you didn’t hear a single thing I just said.”
Magnus raised an eyebrow. “You did say that your mouth would appreciate me, earlier.”
“I did.” Alec shifted closer to him on the sofa. “I should probably keep my promise.”
“You do,” Magnus’s breath hitched as Alec’s hand brushed against his stomach, “seem like a man of your word.”
“Pride myself on that,” Alec said, and immediately after silenced himself against Magnus’s lips.
Despite their close position, Alec practically in Magnus’s lap, and their roaming hands, the kisses stayed sweet and gentle, as if they both knew that they had time together and were in no rush to move forwards, free to just enjoy where they were just then. At some point, Alec tilted his head upwards to kiss the tip of Magnus’s nose, and Magnus couldn’t help the giggle escaping him, eliciting a similar sound from Alec.
This was good, he thought as he rested his head against Alec’s. They were in no rush.
“Yeah, sure, I’ll dig them up and get them ready for you.”
“Thank you, Isabelle,” Magnus said as Izzy scrawled a note for herself about the files of hers that Magnus suspected would be useful for him. He offered her the breadbasket. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Isabelle smiled, clearly pleased. “Probably scandalise yourself by going without showering for a week because you’d be seeing no one.”
“Living with your brother has made you revert back to teenage ways of talking.”
Isabelle pursed her lips, as if considering the idea. “You might be right. It’s worth it, though. He’s really meticulous about cleaning. My flat has never been neater.”
Magnus smiled into his glass of water. It wasn’t something that had come up with Alec, but he had no trouble fitting this piece into his impression of Alec.
It also put some very domestic images into his head, where they naturally took their place next to Alec frying eggs on Magnus’s stove, but that was no one’s business but his.
“Speaking of Alec...” Isabelle’s voice pulled him out of his fantasies. “You two seem to have hit it off even better than I imagined you might.”
Her tone was neutral and friendly, but Magnus couldn’t help but read her words in the light of Alec now having stayed at his place overnight more than once. She was his sister, it was only natural.
“If you’re worried-“
“Oh, dear heavens, no,” Isabelle interrupted him. “I wasn’t-“
Magnus looked away. “I wouldn’t blame you if you were.”
“I know you, Magnus.” Isabelle’s voice was certain now. “You’re good. And Alec, he’s good, too. I’m happy for you guys.”
He wasn’t sure if he even wanted to hide how touched he felt. “Thank you, Isabelle.”
“You both seem a lot happier like this,” Isabelle said. “And I know it’s not just me, because Cat called me to ask why you’re suddenly going to bed before midnight and sounding less stressed.”
Magnus closed his eyes. “Well, I suppose since his family knows, it’s only fair that my family knows, too.”
Isabelle laughed. “He gives amazing backrubs, by the way. Just a little family tip.”
Magnus smiled at her. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Dot has a long surprise client consultation tonight, Cat texted him. Drinks & secret party planning?
Magnus paused to consider. He was slightly ahead of schedule, and more to the point, he was feeling very positive about his progress. Did he have time for his oldest friends? Absolutely.
Sure, he texted back, just name the time & place.
As Cat responded, Magnus began to slowly wrap up his work. As he was straightening the pile of folders on his desk, his phone rang.
“I’m starting to think there’s more to this than serendipity,” he said into the receiver. “It might be worth Isabelle’s time to investigate if there’s something about magic that enables you to always call at the most opportune moments.”
Even through phone lines, Alec’s laugh was a delight.
“I’m sure she’d love that,” he said. “Are you leaving work?”
“Yes.” Despite being in a great mood just moments before, Magnus felt dread coil in his stomach. “I- have plans with Catarina tonight. Dot’s birthday is going to be in a few weeks, we’re planning a party.”
Whatever he’d been prepared to hear in response from Alec, it was not a cheerful, “You did tell me you were the best party planner in the tristate area. I hope you guys have fun.”
“We sure will,” Magnus said, still feeling a little off-kilter. “Do you have any plans for tonight?”
“I won’t lie, I did kind of hope you would be available. But since you have other plans, I’m going to make the trip to practice my archery. Izzy said she might come with, too.”
Magnus smiled, the phantom fear slowly evaporating from his gut. This was simply a normal conversation, there was no sword hanging over him about to drop at the slightest issue.
“I didn’t know you did archery.”
“I haven’t been able to keep up with it all that well,” Alec said. “But it was my way to channel all my aggressive urges as a teenager, and I used to be pretty good at it.”
“I’m sure.” Magnus glanced at the clock. “Look, I’d love to talk more, but I’m running a little late to meet Catarina. I’ll talk to you later?”
“Call me when you get at home? Unless it’s really late, I suppose.”
“It shouldn’t be, Catarina likes her early bedtime.”
He was, indeed, just a little late to his and Catarina’s meet-up, but Catarina did not seem to notice. She was on her phone with a pint of beer next to her as Magnus walked into the bar they’d agreed to meet in.
“My dear Catarina,” Magnus said, sitting opposite her, “apologies for the delay.”
Cat glanced at her phone. “You’re like a minute late, Magnus, I wasn’t exactly worried. Besides, this time you actually answered me well on time, so I cannot complain.”
“Well, I’m certainly not trying to make you get angry with me. How have you been?”
“Good, and I don’t even have any particularly hilarious stories from the ER to share.”
“And our upcoming birthday girl?”
Cat’s smile turned softer. “Amazing as always. She’s been having some interesting stuff at work, and I’m sure she’ll be delighted to tell you all about it. You both have always loved old books more than I could understand.”
Magnus smiled. He was quite sure Cat could very well understand everything she heard, unless she was seriously letting herself get distracted by how delightful Dot looked when she got really into talking about the printing methods from the 1700s or the ink quality or bibliographical studies or any of the myriad of things she loved about her work.
“I’m sure she’ll give me the pleasure of hearing it from her soon enough.”
“Certainly. And you?” Cat looked at him shrewdly. “A little bird told me it’s not entirely a coincidence that you’ve been in a particularly easily reachable mood recently.”
Magnus put in entirely too little effort to hide his smile. “No need to be coy, Isabelle already told me she told you everything.”
“She did,” Cat said. “She sent me a picture, too, for what it’s worth.”
Cat shrugged. “And nothing much. What I care about in relation to him cannot be seen in a picture.”
Magnus expected her to continue, but Cat did not, just continued to look at Magnus with an expressionless face.
He cracked first, as they had both known he would, a helpless little smile taking over his face and tenderness colouring his voice.
“He’s- The way he makes me feel, I haven’t felt like that in centuries. I really think it could come to last, Catarina.”
“You always say that,” Cat said, not unkindly.
Magnus let out a very short half-choked laugh. She was right, but-
“He thinks so, too. I- practically turned him down, initially, because I will be busy at work for a while, and he said he could wait.”
He knew he was sounding mushy by the time he finished, and Cat remained unmoved for the most part. But he could see she was at least a little convinced.
“As long as it doesn’t come to bite at you later.”
She didn’t have to elaborate. During their long friendship, Cat had seen more than a few of Magnus’s heartbreaks, from the relatively mundane to the soul-shattering. This time, though, Magnus genuinely didn’t believe that was going to happen.
“Not like that,” he said. “I- If it lasts, only time will tell, but if it didn’t, he wouldn’t be cruel about it.”
“That’s a lot of trust to place on someone you’ve known for a blink of an eye.”
Magnus saw the out in the words and pounced on it. “I’m sorry, we cannot all find love with someone we’ve been friends with for over a century,” he said. “Speaking of which, tell me more about this party that you need help planning.”
Cat smiled, allowing the subject to drop. “You know her. Just a few people, good food, a few drinks. Nothing life-changing, just a nice night to remind her how loved she is.”
Magnus suppressed a sigh and replaced it with a small smile. Cat’s whole demeanour was testament to how loved her wife was, and Magnus- He was happy for them, absolutely and always, but he’d always been, absent-mindedly and secretly, a little jealous of the happy ease and comfort of having been with the same person for almost a century. On the other hand, though, it made him hopeful for his own burgeoning relationship, even though Alec was a mortal and-
No. It was absolutely far too early to even entertain any sort of notions about that. Alec was too young to have had even his midlife crisis yet, and as Cat had pointed out, their relationship was not even a month old.
“I know exactly the atmosphere you’re going for,” he said instead, pushing thoughts about himself out of his mind and focusing solely on what his friend needed. “Classy, perhaps a little old-fashioned. Do you think we could manage to secretly set it up in the shop without her noticing?”
“Maybe if we asked someone to fake a consultation about their books,” Cat said. “But are you sure she wouldn’t worry about someone spilling cake on her precious stock?”
Cat laughed. “Oh, how I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve been here the whole time.”
She gave him a look. “I’m sure you know what I mean.”
Magnus looked away, but he couldn’t deny it.
Magnus hissed and brought his finger to his mouth. He loved experimenting with magic, but he could live without accidentally almost burning himself with it.
It was worth it, though. The theory he’d need to create a protective tunnel in space that a living being could use to get from anyplace to anywhere was near a working solution, and Magnus could practically feel his end goal approach its fulfilment.
If occasionally he needed to soothe hurt fingers, he’d take it.
The notes he started taking on his progress were safer to work on. Magnus was just thinking about probably having jinxed himself to get a papercut when there was a knock on his door.
“Hi,” Alec said. “You have a second?”
Magnus set down his pen. “For you, Alexander, I have a whole minute.”
Alec chuckled as he stepped more inside the room, but still hovering in the doorway. “Izzy said she was working late, so I thought I’d bring her dinner. And then I realised that she’s not the only scientist I know who’s probably working late, so...” He raised a plastic bag with a very promising smell wafting from it. “Ethiopian?”
Magnus wasn’t hungry. Or at least, he hadn’t been until Alec had brought food straight into his office. In hindsight, it was probably closer to seven hours since he’d had something of a meagre lunch, eager to get back to his work that was, at the moment, going so well.
The exaggerated ‘I love you’ was on the tip of his tongue, but mercifully he bit it back. They were friends, and good friends at that, but that bit of friendly joking might have been a little inappropriate when they were also dating.
Not necessarily inaccurate, but Magnus still knew how dating worked even though he hadn’t engaged in it properly for years.
No matter what his hopeful and eager heart might suggest. He would hold off on that sort of declarations.
“Alexander,” he said warmly instead, “you are a lifesaver.”
Alec smiled. “Izzy told me to say that she’s taking a break, so there’s company to be had in the breakroom if you wanted to eat there.”
“I think I will,” Magnus said. “Although I must be quick.”
Alec smiled, a little indulgent like he knew the only reason Magnus had to be quick was because he was excited to continue working.
“I’ll leave you two to science,” he said cheerfully. “There’s a series of documentaries on Izzy’s Netflix queue with my name on them.”
The thought occurred to Magnus and was out of his mouth before he even properly processed it.
“You could watch them at the loft if you’d like,” he said. “I’m tied up with this for the evening, but I would love to go to bed with you.”
If he’d been the slightest bit worried about the reception to such a suggestion, that was washed away with Alec’s smile.
“That’s a great idea. Do you know when you’ll finish? You could probably use a snack by then, I could make something.”
Something was squeezing Magnus’s heart in the best possible way. “I’m hoping around ten, but I’ll let you know if that changes.”
“Okay.” Alec reached for the door handle, but he was still looking only at Magnus. “You’ll find me on your ridiculously nice couch then.”
Magnus smiled as his mind conjured up the image of Alec in comfortable sweatpants munching on popcorn while watching The Blue Planet in Magnus’s living room, casual and obviously belonging there, and he almost didn’t realise Alec was leaving.
“Hey, Alexander,” he managed to halt Alec before he disappeared from sight, the food left on the sofa by the door. “Thank you. I really appreciate you.”
The smile bloomed on Alec’s face, and Magnus was gratified not to see even a hint of surprise.
“I know,” he said. “You too.”
“When you brought up this idea,” Magnus said, mentally counting his one hundredth push-up and stopping, “you led me to believe that I’d actually see you.”
For a few seconds, he could only hear Alec’s breath, but when Alec spoke, it was evenly. Whatever running he did, it obviously was more long-distance than sprinting.
“I can send you pictures once I get back to Izzy’s place,” he said. “If that was something you’d be interested in.”
Magnus huffed out a laugh as he summoned up a place for himself to do chin-ups and repositioned his phone so that he would still be audible.
“Don’t taunt me with possibilities unless you intend to deliver.”
Alec’s laugh was short, but Magnus enjoyed every second, even while part of his attention was taken by his own workout routine.
“Speaking of pictures of you,” he said after a short silence, “we’re organising a birthday party for Dot Thursday next week.”
“I remember.” There were particularly loud sounds of traffic in the background, but Alec’s voice still came through audible. “I don’t dare ask how pictures of me are related, but you mentioned you were meeting up her wife Catarina to plan it.”
“Mmmm.” Magnus came to a halt with his chin just above the bar, holding the position. He couldn’t actually see Alec’s face even though he was looking at the screen, but it still felt better to ask that way. “I was wondering if you’d like to be my date to the party.”
There was a short silence, followed by a very breathy laugh.
“Yeah, of course.” Alec chuckled again. “Sorry, for a moment I forgot you can’t see the ridiculous smile I have. I think I scared a few dog walkers.”
He was still maintaining the same position and his arms were starting to remind him of it, but Magnus suddenly felt lighter.
“I’m really excited to meet your friends,” Alec said. “They sound like great people.”
Magnus finally let himself fall down from the bar. “They’re like family to me.”
“How long have you known each other?”
Magnus smiled to himself. “Longer than a few lifetimes, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“I’m not really sure what I was asking, but now that you mentioned, do you think I could get some proof out of them that you definitely did not punch Hitler in the face? However satisfying it was to hear that story.”
He would, Magnus knew instantly. Contrary to what he’d told Alec, he’d actually spent all of the 1920s in South America with Cat and Dot.
“No,” he said.
“We’ll see,” Alec answered, by the tone of his voice not deterred in the slightest.
“I regret inviting you.”
Alec laughed. “No, you don’t.”
No, Magnus thought. He didn’t, at all.
Magnus spent the afternoon of the party busily turning Dot’s quaint little bookstore into a quaint little birthday party backdrop, one ear always listening for any sounds from his phone in case Meliorn would text him with an update from the other side of the city where he’d graciously agreed to do Magnus the favour of pretending to consult Dot on some old seelie encyclopaedias that he had and which apparently, by some beautiful strike of serendipity, could actually use being looked at by a warlock specialised in old books.
He and Catarina had just the time to have everything up to their standards when Meliorn texted that Dot had left his place.
“Right on schedule,” Catarina said, glancing at her watch even as she was digging for her phone. “You greet guests; I’m going to go and call to make sure she gets here.”
Catarina’s phone call about meeting up at the shop to go for dinner did not actually last long enough for any guests to arrive, but they began to trickle in soon enough. Magnus did some small talk and fielded friendly enquiries about his recent (in warlock terms) absences from the Downworld social life, but he was more than happy to escape the conversation when he noticed Alec entering the shop.
Magnus couldn’t help his smile as he made his way towards the door. He’d usually only seen Alec in more or less casual attire, and he’d quickly learnt that if he wanted to have in-depth discussions about fashion with someone who personally cared rather than was just in general interested in what Magnus had to say, the Lightwood he should have stuck with was Isabelle. But apparently, that didn’t stop Alec from being a sharp dresser when he needed to. It was clearly not the flashy outfit of a fashion aficionado (Magnus had received many well deserved compliments with his own attire already), but his suit was an amazing fit and his shirt wouldn’t have seemed out of place in Magnus’s own wardrobe.
“You look particularly handsome tonight, Alexander,” he said as he got to Alec’s side, summoning flutes of champagne for both of them.
“Hi.” Alec’s searching look melted into softness at the sight of him. “Thanks. Although you’re one to talk, you look- Out of this world.”
“We make a good pair then.” Magnus offered his arm and Alec happily took it. “Dot isn’t here yet, but come this way, I need to use you as a buffer against some friendly enquiries.”
Alec raised an eyebrow, but the gesture was belied by his smile. “Thrown to the lions so soon?”
There was not even a hint of apprehension on his face, though, so Magnus felt confident in saying, “I’m sure you can handle it.”
“Anything for you,” Alec said, and Magnus ducked his head to hide his smitten smile.
They didn’t get too much time making casual introductions, though, before Cat announced that Dot was approaching, which meant turning off the lights and hiding so that when Dot opened the door and stepped in, her surprise at the reveal of a party would actually be a surprise.
Magnus was deliberately standing a little behind, wanting to give Catarina her moment congratulating her wife without intruding, but Dot knew both of them too well not to make a beeline for him as the first guest, Cat smiling in tow.
“Thank you,” she said, pulling him into a hug as soon as she got close enough.
Magnus returned the warm embrace. “No need to thank me. Happy birthday, Dorothea.”
Dot’s eyes were sparkling as they separated and she took Cat’s hand. “Maybe I should apologise instead. For the longest time I was sure I’d receive your birthday wishes through an almost belated text.”
Magnus scoffed, even though he couldn’t blame her for the thought. “Let it be one of my gifts for you this year to not require such an apology.”
“Always so generous,” Cat said, although the sweet look in her eyes was aimed at Dot.
Their closeness reminded Magnus of Alec’s presence, discreetly hovering slightly away from them so as not to intrude. He stepped back a little, to stand more naturally next to Alec, placing his arm at the small of Alec’s back and in vain trying to suppress a smile as Alec instinctually leaned closer to him.
“Speaking of myself,” he said, “let me introduce you to my boyfriend Alec Lightwood. Alexander, this is Catarina Loss and Dorothea Rollins, some of my oldest friends.”
Dot smiled as they shook hands, as decades of customer service work had doubtlessly taught her, but Cat’s face was impassive. It was, perhaps, the best that Magnus could have hoped for; his romantic track record was not exactly impeccable, and Cat had never been easy to impress anyway. She would be polite, but to truly get in her good graces was far more difficult.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” Alec said once the handshakes were over. “Magnus has told me a lot about you.”
One of the guests chose exactly that moment to come ask Dot something about presents, and Magnus volunteered to help solve the issue. Somehow he and Dot got separated from Alec and Cat, finding themselves next to the rather overflowing table filled with presents.
“You’d think that after a few centuries you’d have everything you need,” Dot said as she looked at them.
Magnus chuckled and gently nudged her shoulder with his. “And yet you’ll love opening all of them, won’t you?”
Dot laughed. “Of course. It’s not really about the things you need but the joy of getting gifts.”
Magnus summoned glasses of champagne for them. “To gifts.”
Dot shook her head, but she took the glass. “You’re incorrigible.”
“And you have always found it charming.”
He took Dot’s lack of denial as agreement, but it took him a second to realise Dot was looking past him to someone on the other side of the room.
“I think you’ll find you’re the easily charmed one,” she eventually said, turning her gaze back to Magnus. “I hope it won’t lead you astray.”
Ah, of course. It was probably Alec’s tall-standing head she’d been watching across the crowd. Perhaps he should have known. Dot might be all kindness and smiles on the outside, but you didn’t nearly get burned at a stake in Salem without acquiring a certain degree of cynical pessimism about the world.
“It’s early,” he said with a dismissive hand gesture.
“You know time works differently for immortals,” Dot countered. “And I’ve seen you fall in love in one evening, so I know you’re deflecting.” She seemed to notice his discomfort, and her expression turned soft. “I worry about you, Magnus.”
Magnus evaded her gaze. “And I appreciate your care. But I’ve learnt since Camille. From her, if you will. Besides, once you spent more than a minute in his company, you’ll find Alec’s far too blunt to be capable of deception.”
“That’s not the only thing I worry about.” Dot glanced at the presents again. “Even if it works perfectly for you, he is still mortal.”
From anyone else, Magnus would have been offended at the impertinence of bringing up the elephant in the room about his relationship as if it hadn’t occurred to him. But centuries of knowing someone and being there for them through thick and thin gave privileges unimaginable for other people.
That, of course, did not mean that he wanted to get into that discussion right there.
“We cannot all have your luck,” he said with a decidedly airy tone. “If you enjoy this party, you truly cannot wait for what I have planned for your wedding anniversary.”
Concern didn’t leave Dot’s eyes, but she respected his willingness to drop the matter, going along with his distraction with a smile. “You know that’s a practically meaningless date for Cat and my relationship. It even came too late for the centenary.”
Magnus gave her a knowing look. “Your tears on the courthouse steps told me otherwise. Besides, we all know you really don’t want company for all of your anniversaries, so I’m claiming the one I was present for.”
They continued the lighter chat until they got separated from each other while mingling with the guests. It took Magnus some time to find his way back to where they’d left Alec and Cat, and was a little surprised they were both still there. Cat had never been big on mingling, rather preferring to find fixed spot to which her presence drew the sort of people she wished to talk to, so it was not odd that she was still where she’d been earlier. But her continued conversation with Alec, joint as they were with a werewolf from the Bronx whom Magnus knew only superficially, that was not something Magnus had assumed.
The werewolf left before Magnus made his way to them, and his now fading surprise did nothing to dim his pleasure at how they obviously seemed to be getting along well.
“There you are,” he said as he reached them, putting his hand at the small of Alec’s back. “How you can avoid being caught by all the gossips at your own party, Catarina, I will never know.”
Catarina simply smiled. “Your effervescence has to have some downsides.”
“I suppose we all have our crosses to bear.” Magnus turned to look at Alec. The answer was obvious from his look, but Magnus still asked. “You okay? I didn’t mean to abandon you for so long.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Alec said. “I’ve been enjoying great conversation.”
Magnus smiled. “I’d hate to interrupt it, but could you get me another drink? I finished my first one. And the second.”
“Of course.” Alec turned to Catarina. “Do you want something?”
“No, thank you,” Catarina said, and Alec faded into the mass of people.
Once he was gone, Catarina gave Magnus a look and summoned herself a full glass. “I assume you wanted to talk to me about something?”
Magnus’s smile turned rueful. He wondered if even Alec had noticed how transparent a move that was. “Maybe. I hear you have great conversation.”
Catarina raised her eyebrows as if it had taken that long to understand what Magnus wanted.
“Can’t help it if your boyfriend has excellent taste. You should be thankful for that. If he didn’t, he might not have gone for you.”
Magnus shook his head, but Catarina’s support was always welcome, even when it was expressed in a back-handed way.
“Last time we talked about this, I couldn’t get a positive word out of you.”
Catarina shrugged. “You didn’t mention that he could give you a run for your money when it comes to snark.”
Magnus smiled. “You mean you’ve stood here the whole time, judging people together?”
“It wasn’t all judgement. He also expressed great admiration for Dot’s book collection. And your outfit.”
Magnus shook his head, even though his feelings were far from negative. Maybe he should have known that Alec and Cat would get along well; they did, in some ways, have a very similar disposition.
Alec returned with another glass of champagne for Magnus, and the party went on. When Dot also wandered over, Magnus took his chance to extract his date from the side lines and introduce him around. Party talk was always so much more pleasant when you had someone to clandestinely roll your eyes with, and Magnus had a very good time until the party began winding down.
Once the guests had left, they quickly cleaned up the shop, and then Magnus and Alec said their goodbyes to Dot and Cat and left.
It was a lovely, crisp evening, and Magnus certainly didn’t mind the walk. Still, when he spoke, it wasn’t motivated by a wish to prolong it past the nearest subway station.
“Do you want to come to the loft and stay over?”
Lit by the streetlamps, Alec looked like he had stars in his eyes. “I’d love that.”
Magnus moved slightly closer. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d left a party with such a content, happy feeling in his body.
“So,” Alec said with a deceptively light tone, “how did I do?”
Magnus turned to look at him, feigning incomprehension. “Do what?”
Alec raised an eyebrow, but his eyes were laughing. “If you didn’t want me to know you can summon drinks at will, you really should have been less impressive when we first met.”
Magnus ducked his head, but it did nothing to stop Alec seeing he was almost laughing.
“Subtlety still seems to be something of an issue for me, I see.”
“Maybe, maybe not.” Alec kissed Magnus’s cheek as if to provide emphasis for his words. “But don’t avoid the question. Did your family like me?”
He’d been happy before, but the wave of joy at the question exceeded even that. It had been long since he’d introduced someone to Cat and Dot, and it had been even longer since that someone had wished to make a good impression. He pushed away Dot’s kind concern and focused on the excitement in her eyes as Alec had asked her about her book collection, and on Cat’s casual approval and true enjoyment of Alec’s conversation that Magnus hadn’t dared to hope for.
Magnus could already see how Alec would easily fit in his life, years down the line. Who would waste their time worrying about the distant future when the near future held the sweet promise of that?
“I think you know they did,” he said, trying for a teasing tone.
“Never hurts to check.” Alec moved slightly more towards him; if they got any closer, walking forwards would become difficult. “I really liked them, too.”
They walked in silence for a while, until Alec spoke again.
“They’ve been together for a really long time, haven’t they? Dot and Cat, I mean.”
With enormous effort, Magnus did not tense. “Over a century. We’ve known each other even longer; their love grew from a solid friendship.”
“Did you ever want that? Someone immortal to be with?” Alec shook his head. “Sorry, you don’t have to answer that, that’s-“
He didn’t finish the sentence, and Magnus couldn’t guess which one of them Alec thought unprepared for the conversation.
“I’ve been with many people,” he said into the ensuing silence. “And at times I thought I- might have found that. But what I’ve learnt from everything is to worry more about how good the relationship is in the present than whether or not mortality has given it an expiration date. If it isn’t a good relationship, it’ll blow up long before anyone’s life comes to an end, anyway.”
Alec nodded. “That... makes a lot of sense.”
“It sounds like an inspirational quote someone might have on their wall.”
Alec snorted. “It does. Maybe you can change careers once you’ve rocked the scientific world with your portals.”
Magnus smiled, glad for the lighter interlude. But to his surprise, Alec didn’t follow up with any more questions about immortality and dating.
It was a topic Magnus hated talking about. He should have been glad.
But instead, the silence made him want to fill it. The topic was uncomfortable, certainly, but with Alec, he felt safe in the uncomfortableness, anyway.
“My last serious relationship was with a vampire,” he said into the silence.
Alec didn’t reply, just made a vague sound to encourage Magnus to talk on.
“Camille was... everything your more decadent media portrayals of vampires would lead you to imagine. I don’t think I’d ever loved anyone as much as I loved her. I thought maybe – certainly, really – I’d never have to deal with being alone, for eternity.”
Alec nodded, his face betraying no discomfort. “What happened?”
Magnus feigned a cough. “I, ah, finally had to admit to myself that she was not personally concerned about love. Or my feelings. Had never been, in fact.”
“I’m sorry.” Alec sought Magnus’s eyes, but Magnus dropped his gaze onto the ground. Eye contact felt too vulnerable. “That must have been horrible for you.”
Magnus bit his lip. “I’ve- had time to get over it.”
Alec didn’t comment on that, but his steady presence at Magnus’s side was more comforting than words could be.
“It’s curious,” he found himself saying. “After her, I hid some part of myself. I haven’t felt like this about anyone for well over a century. You’ve unlocked something in me.”
He could see Alec’s surprise, and could only guess it had to do with the timeframe. Alec didn’t comment on that, latching on to something Magnus would much rather discuss.
“Well, I’m glad you chose to give me a chance. I’d half convinced myself I could never have exactly what I wanted, until you came along.”
Magnus’s building loomed ahead of them, and Magnus was already opening the door with his magic.
“And what exactly did you want?” he asked, partially to mark a decided shift away from the heavy topic of his own history and partially because he felt confident based on previous experience that whatever Alec said, it would be complimentary to Magnus.
Alec didn’t disappoint.
“Someone I could feel sure with and who’d feel the same about me,” he said as they started climbing the stairs up to the penthouse. “Who’d have his own life but who’d be happy to share parts of it with me and partake in the parts of my life I’d want to share. Someone who’d be stable but also inspire me to be adventurous. And,” he finished with a twinkle in his eye as they reached Magnus’s loft and Alec crowded Magnus against the wall, their lips just inches away from each other, “I definitely needed him to have a goatee and amazing eyeliner skills.”
Magnus laughed into the kiss, pulling away to answer, “With such specific wishes, you were lucky to meet me.”
“Yes,” Alec said, kissing him again. “I was so lucky to meet you.”
In the morning, they had a leisurely breakfast before Alec headed off to his work and Magnus went down into the lab to continue his things.
By lunchtime, he sat back in his chair and smiled.
It was a little messy, scrawled on multiple yellow legal pads and numerous post-it notes with the order truly beyond mundane comprehension, but it was a working theory. A full working theory. If he had a death wish, he could try to summon a portal right now and walk into it, and there would be a chance that he’d live to tell the tale.
However, he rather enjoyed his life, so instead, he pulled out his phone again.
Luke picked up on the third ring.
“What do you want?”
Magnus snorted. “What, no greeting?”
“I know you,” Luke said, and it was true, even if their friendship was relatively new by Magnus’s standards. “It’s the middle of the day, and I know you’ve been particularly busy recently. Don’t try to tell me this is a social call.”
“I shouldn’t try to fool a detective.” With one gesture, Magnus pushed the papers on his desk into a pile and put up his feet onto the newly available surface. “Now that you’ve let me hear it about being an absent friend, it does sound terribly rude to ask for a favour.”
“You’ve done enough favours for me to last a lifetime. What do you need?”
Magnus examined the nails of the one of his hands that wasn’t holding his phone. They were neat, not even a single chip on the polish.
“I was hoping to get you to take advantage of the NYPD’s superior resources. I’m looking to get information on reports of demon activity.”
“Explain that to me again,” Alec said, his food halted halfway to his mouth. “Why demons?”
Magnus took a sip of his water. “I need to test my invention. I trust it to be correct, but I wouldn’t bet anyone’s life on it yet. Hence, I need disposable test subjects. Demons need to be banished from this realm anyway, and I do like a chance to get out and flex my muscles. So, win-win for all concerned.”
Alec nodded. “Does it sound patronising to ask you to be careful?”
The warm feeling in Magnus’s heart told him no. “I was killing demons before your grandparents were born, but I appreciate the sentiment.”
Alec’s pupils were a little wider than usual. “Is it inappropriate to say that the idea of you hunting demons is really hot?”
No, it wasn’t. “You might think differently if you ever had to wash demon ichor off your clothes.”
Alec laughed. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
There was promise in his tone and in his eyes, and Magnus made a mental note to cash in on that once they’d get back to the loft.
For now, though, he could just bask in Alec’s obvious appreciation of everything about him. It was a great feeling.
“If you enjoy the thought of me covered in slime, remind me to tell you about this one party I went to in Tokyo once.”
“It’s not so much you and slime but you and showing off your fighting skills,” Alec said, “but I’m all ears.”
“Well, if you’d like to hear about the many duels I’ve got into, maybe I should tell you a different story. Incidentally, also about a party I went to in Tokyo.”
“Was this during the same visit?”
Magnus smiled. “No. I’ve made many. There are many cities I love in the world, but some of them I go back to more often than others. Have you been?”
Alec shook his head, a laugh on his lips. “Not unless you count that time I slept on a bench at Narita International Airport for eight hours because they cancelled my connection flight. I’ve heard great things, though.”
Magnus gave him a sympathetic look before focusing on the more pleasant part of Alec’s reply. “I have to take you someday.”
Alec smiled, and his whole demeanour was so soft and sweet that Magnus almost had to look away. He’d call it loving, but he didn’t want to get ahead of himself, no matter how much it felt like there was no way for him to fall in a way that Alec wouldn’t catch him.
“I’ll look forward to that, then,” Alec said before taking another bite of his food.
They finished their meals, shared dessert and started walking towards the loft as if from a mutual silent agreement.
(“Shouldn’t you be looking for your own place?” Magnus had asked him teasingly, what felt like ages ago now.
“I should,” Alec had said. “I’ve just been busy with other stuff, and I don’t think Izzy minds me denting her couch as long as I clean so regularly that she never has to.”
Now, months later, Magnus wasn’t quite certain when was the last time Alec had spent two consecutive nights at Isabelle’s, and Alec getting his own place certainly was not on the top of Magnus’s list of suggestions if they were to alter their current arrangements.)
Their moonlit walk finished at the loft with both of their coats on the floor and Alec’s bare skin tantalising against Magnus’s fingers. Alec himself was pulling the hem of Magnus’s shirt up his back, clearly intent on pulling it off completely. Magnus would have loved to be more helpful with that, but it would have meant that he’d have had to pull away from Alec’s lips when the furthest away he wanted to be was the few millimetres that sometimes formed when either one of them laughed particularly happily. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d swapped such artless kisses, but he also couldn’t remember when he’d felt this much joy from-
There was a familiar sensation in his skull and Magnus clenched his eyes shut, darting off Alec like he’d been burned.
No, no, no.
Not here. Not now.
“Magnus?” Alec’s voice was not too close; he hadn’t moved. There was a thump, as if Alec had let his hand that had been on Magnus’s back just seconds ago just fall on the bed. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I just-“
The sentence hung between them, uncompleted.
The sheets rustled a little, and Magnus hoped and didn’t that Alec would move over, put his large hand on Magnus’s shoulder and ask again.
“Do you want to slow down?”
He could put back the glamour, make up an excuse and continue how he’d wanted to. Alec would worry, for a moment, but he wouldn’t suspect, not this, and there would be nothing to worry about what Magnus wanted tonight. But... It hadn’t been deception, keeping this to himself, but now that it had brought itself up like this, it felt like hiding it would be. And Magnus didn’t want anything like that marring tonight for himself. Even if he might regret it once he saw the consequences of truth.
“There’s something I haven’t told you,” he said, “about warlocks. We carry marks from the demons that sired us.”
And slowly, he turned around and met Alec’s gaze, his golden cat eyes meeting Alec’s familiar hazel ones.
He could pinpoint the second Alec noticed it, and braced for horror, disgust, even just pure rejection. He did not prepare for Alec to move forwards, bring his hand to cup one side of Magnus’s face and smile.
“Magnus,” Alec said, his tongue wetting his lips. “They’re beautiful. You’re beautiful.”
Magnus brought his hand up to cover Alec’s, and didn’t say, ‘I love you’, although he could hope, some hours later when Alec was asleep in his arms and Magnus felt too happy to sleep, that maybe Alec had felt it in his actions, anyway.
Magnus kept rereading and rereading the text from Luke, the eagerness to spur to action momentarily so strong that he couldn’t move.
A group of shax demons reported here. Have fun. Be safe.
Attached was a map link. Less than an hour’s drive, secluded location. It was perfect for him. This was the test he’d been hoping for.
Magnus jumped up from his chair, changed his outfit into something more practical and expendable with a snap and grabbed the gear he’d need.
He was already halfway to his garage when he paid even the slightest bit of attention to the last part of Luke’s message. Magnus had done his fair share of reckless decisions (arguably, including going after this pack of demons at all), but that had taught him a thing or two about preplanning.
Besides, he had a date to cancel anyway.
Alec picked up on the second ring.
“Hey, I was just about to call you.”
“Something came up, I’m afraid,” Magnus said. He’d apologise later for the missing pleasantries. “How do you feel about a short road trip?”
He reached the garage, and headed straight for the Porsche. It was conspicuous, and tonight Magnus didn’t mean to be, but that was what glamours were for.
“With you? Sign me up. When did you want to go?”
Magnus slammed the door after pushing his bag of gear into the boot. “I’m getting into my car right now. Where are you?”
“Just leaving the gym.” Alec’s tone was neutral, but Magnus knew his face could not be. “Do you want to elaborate on your plans?”
Magnus took a breath even as he slammed the keys into the ignition. There was a reason Alec had been his first pick, but that reason wasn’t that Alec would be easy to convince to go in blind.
“I’m going to kill a pack of demons,” he said. “I’d like you to come with and drive us back, after. If that’s okay.”
There was a short break, but somehow, Magnus knew that Alec was smiling throughout it. “Yeah, of course. Can you come pick me up?”
“Sure, just text me the address.”
Alec’s gym was slightly out of the way of Magnus’s most direct route, but not by far. The little detour was already made up for with the sight of Alec leaning against the wall, casual and freshly showered, with-
“So,” Magnus said as Alec got into the car, “when you said ‘gym’, I didn’t imagine you with a bow.”
Alec pushed his bow and quiver into the backseat and gave Magnus a smile as he moved back to buckle his seatbelt.
“They have an excellent archery range. I don’t really like being rusty at something I used to be great at.”
Magnus smiled as he reversed out of the parking spot. “If I play my cards right, will I get to see that someday?”
Alec laughed. “Sure. But only when I stop missing my targets again. Wouldn’t want to embarrass myself in front of you.”
Magnus parked the car by a very rundown and probably abandoned barn. It was where the road ended, and it was also a hill away from where Luke had said the demons’ nest would be. That was maybe too close for comfort, but it’d have to do.
“They’re supposed to be on the other side of that,” he said, making a vague gesture at the grassy hill that looked a little eerie in the dimming light of the evening. “Stay back, demon venom is- Potent. If I’m not back within the hour, you should-“
He didn’t actually have anything reassuring to finish that sentence with.
“Let’s just agree that you’ll be back within the hour,” Alec said. “How do you kill a demon?”
Magnus reached for his boot, making sure the dagger there was secure. “Like a person, basically.”
Alec glanced at the hill. “And you’re saying their nest is right behind that hill.”
“Well,” Magnus said, shrugging off his coat. It was far too nice to be slashed by demon claws. “Not right behind it. More like below it on the other side. But you still might... hear something. Do you have headphones?”
Alec made a vague nod towards the backseat.
“Great.” Magnus breathed in deep. This was far from his first time, and he wasn’t nervous, not really, but having to leave Alec to do what he meant to was not something he’d factored in when he asked Alec to come with. “Wish me luck.”
Alec pulled him in for a quick kiss, and Magnus went pliantly. One last moment of softness before he’d have to shrug off all that and become Magnus Bane, The Demon-killer.
“Good luck,” Alec said. “Be safe.”
Magnus rushed out of the car and didn’t look back. A nest of Shax demons was well within his capabilities, and he was not going to die tonight, but... There was always a possibility, however small, and if he dwelled on that he’d never get to what he planned to do.
There were a few trees going up the hill, providing cover for him, but not so much on the other side, the bare hillside leading down to a patch of clear, even land that preceded the edge of the forest. Magnus glanced back at the barn. It was a good long distance; he wouldn’t need to take the fight to the forest anyway.
He started descending the hill, his senses on high alert.
Magnus got almost to the foot of the hill until the first demon appeared, the rest of the group not far behind.
“Good evening,” he said, just because he could.
There were four of them. He hadn’t seen the nest, so there might be some more lurking in the forest, but Shax demons had little tactical genius; they smelt a threat, and they all appeared. There were four.
The first of them was completely wasted; Magnus had to blast it into oblivion with brute force without any experimentation as it lunged for him ahead of the group, pincers trying to wound him. He ducked out of the way of the others and they went past him in a tight group.
Magnus stood up straighter. He had to break them up, otherwise they’d all go the way of the first one, and he’d be back to waiting for new demon leads.
He needed a distraction.
The demons had turned around and were coming for him again. Magnus raised his hands and summoned a fleet of birds made of magic, sending them just a little to the side of the demons. Two of them took the bait, chasing after the magic that would soon dissipate. But the third one either hadn’t noticed or hadn’t fallen for his trick, just as Magnus had hoped.
He dodged the demon’s attack and moved to create a circle around himself and the demon, keeping the other two out and the one he was focused on in. It was a risky move; he couldn’t fight and dissolve the circle at the same time, so if he found himself losing, he’d have no way out.
But Magnus hadn’t come here to lose.
Ignoring the demonic growls and wails from outside the circle where the other demons where trying to breach, Magnus focused on the demon inside. It was on the other side, temporarily halted, definitely gearing up for another attack on Magnus. He took the time to revise the motions he’d already committed to his memory.
As the demon lunged at him again, Magnus conjured up the maelstrom of magic he’d already created in his lab. But while then it was merely practice, not intended for anyone to enter, this time the demon went right into it.
Alone in the circle, Magnus could truly savour the moment as the demon appeared on the outside, joining the other two in circling his little protective cover, trying to find a way back in.
His invention worked.
The victorious satisfaction coursed through his veins, but Magnus couldn’t give in to it completely. Not yet. Not when he still had three demons to banish.
He created another portal, this time on the other side of the barrier, and one of the demons moved right into it, appearing in the circle.
Magnus laughed as the demon came at him. It truly worked, it truly worked, his mind sang even as he sent a sharp burst of magic at the demon that split it in two.
He’d done it, echoed in his head as Magnus brought down the protective barrier and stepped back a little to face the two demons left. Just for the fun of it, he sent them both through a portal to some way off, then one of them to one side and the other one to the edge of the forest.
“I’m a genius,” Magnus told one of the demons as he yet again portalled it further away from himself before it could attack him. “The most amazing warlock of all,” he added to the other one, portalling it just the tiniest bit to the right before sending one of his daggers right into the centre of its body.
The dagger let out a quiet thud as it fell on the ground, but Magnus had no time to waste on that, his focus on the last demon, back again.
Now that he didn’t need to split his focus, Magnus could truly concentrate on enjoying his actions. He created portal after portal on the demon’s way, and once the demon caught on and started avoiding them, Magnus pushed it in with some magical gusts of wind.
Eventually, though, he began to grow a little tired, his magic running low as it was unaccustomed to this new form.
“I need to explore the stamina aspect of it further,” Magnus said to the demon, “but that’ll be a job for another day. Goodbye, maybe I’ll see you in hell some day.”
The demon growled and lunged at him again, and Magnus gathered up his magic to send it where it belonged.
But out of the blue, accompanied by a whirring sound, an arrow appeared, piercing the demon and banishing it before Magnus could do anything.
His instinctual reaction was to turn to look up the hill, facing an attack, until his brain caught on and he shook his head in an exaggerated way as Alec emerged from behind the tree at the top of the hill, his bow still in his hand.
“If memory serves,” he said, standing still and smiling as Alec walked down, “I asked you to stay in the car.”
It had got dark, but Magnus would swear he could see the reflection of the stars in Alec’s eyes.
“You asked me to stay back.” Alec grinned, slinging the bow over his shoulder. “I did. I hope I didn’t stop you from doing one final experiment or something, though.”
“No,” Magnus said. He’d blame his light-headedness at the magical exhaustion. “I was just having fun.”
“It looked like you did.” Alec reached out to grip Magnus’s shoulder. “You okay?”
“Perfectly fine.” He glanced back at where the arrow had got stuck into a tree. “I thought you said your skills were rusty?”
Alec shrugged. “That’s all relative. Besides, don’t change the subject. That was amazing. You’re so amazing, Magnus.”
Now that the adrenaline from the fight was slowly starting to fade, Magnus was left with a pure, unadulterated sense of success that Alec’s admiring gaze just fuelled.
“Why thank you,” he said. “I truly am.”
Alec stepped a little closer. “You truly are.”
For a second, Magnus wanted to create another portal, get the ultimate satisfaction of seeing what he could now do for himself, maybe even leave the car here and portal to the loft with Alec, but he thought the better of it. Demon experiments aside, his portal was still not verified for human use, and that would have to wait for some time when Magnus was not in need of a really good night’s sleep.
They verified what Magnus had already known; the nest was empty. Magnus texted Luke the update, and went to fetch his almost forgotten dagger from the grass.
“Tell me something,” he said as he watched Alec pull the arrow from the tree. “How does a practice arrow made for sports pierce a demon?”
Alec let out a laugh and walked up to Magnus, showing him the obviously rough whittling that had sharpened the tip of the arrow.
“You left one of your daggers in the car.”
Magnus smiled, feeling once again his heart warm at the thought of Alec watching over his fight with the demons.
“You didn’t have to.”
He wasn’t going to tell Alec it had been dangerous. Obviously it had, but so was going after the demons in the first place. Alec clearly knew what he was doing, and Magnus remembered he had combat experience; he wasn’t going to become condescending just because Alec hadn’t lived hundreds of years to hone his skills.
“For future reference,” Alec said with a smile in his tone, “when I say ‘let’s just agree that you’ll be back’, I mean that I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that happens.”
Magnus raised an eyebrow. “I was doing fine, you know.”
“Oh, I know.” Alec bit his lip; it was decidedly not a coy gesture. “You were fine, I could see that much. Maybe I just wanted to show off a little, too.”
Magnus found the smile overtaking his face without his permission. Alec had made it no secret how attractive he found this grittier side of Magnus. That feeling was very much mutual.
“And I appreciate that,” he said, snaking his arm around Alec’s waist as they started up the hill again. “When we have the time, we really need to train together. I want to see how you do in close combat.”
“Are you bringing your magic along, too?” Alec asked, his hand settling on the small of Magnus’s back as well.
Magnus turned his head to grin at Alec. “Only if you’d like to.”
Even in the dim lightning, it was obvious that the answer to that question was yes.
Magnus dozed out on the way back to the city, warm under his clean and perfectly intact coat, and only woke up when Alec apologetically shook at his shoulder to get directions to Magnus’s garage.
The car parked, they made their way up into the loft, Magnus leaning on Alec the whole way up. He wasn’t really that tired, especially not after the nap in the car, but when the opportunity presented itself, who was he to not enjoy it? Besides, it did something to his heart how easily Alec was there to support him, how gentle his arm around Magnus was, how much care he was giving Magnus.
“Do you need to eat something?” Alec asked once they were in Magnus’s living room. “I’m starving, so you must be too, you’re the one who killed three demons tonight.”
He hadn’t given that any thought, but now that Alec mentioned it, yes, he was.
“I could summon us something.”
“Or you could rest,” Alec said, “and I could call the restaurant.”
“I’m not that tired,” Magnus protested but he was not interested in insisting on it, and they cuddled on the couch until their food was delivered.
“Has it really sunk in yet?” Alec asked as they were making short work of the pizza.
Magnus licked grease and tomato sauce off his finger. “What?”
“You did it,” Alec said, his smile turning soft. “You really created a functional portal.”
Magnus swallowed even as he reached for another slice. “No, it hasn’t. And I haven’t used it myself yet, I don’t think it will before that.” Alec opened his mouth, and Magnus hastened to add, “I won’t, not until tomorrow.”
“It can wait,” Alec agreed. “The most amazing warlock of all has the luxury of time.”
Magnus snorted and pulled Alec even closer so he could hide his face against the back of Alec’s neck.
Magnus took a deep breath. It was not the first one of the morning.
He’d done it, last night. So many times.
But that had been in the heat of battle. It made no difference to his actual abilities, of course, but here, in his pristine office where he’d spent decades trying to solve this very puzzle, it felt like an impossibly daunting task.
This would be it; the fruit of his labours.
Magnus swallowed, took another deep breath and made himself raise his hand to do the required magic. Before he could think about it even for a second, he walked into the swirling pathway and emerged right where he’d meant to, in the narrow space between Isabelle’s office door and her desk.
Isabelle’s face, when she looked up from her research, was pure joy, her words incomprehensible from excitement as she darted up to round the desk and hug Magnus.
He’d told her of his progress, of course, and updated her on the previous night’s success over breakfast, but she was a scientist, too. She’d understood what he couldn’t say and hadn’t pressed him to try the final test, probably recognising the signs of that apathetic disbelief being so near a true breakthrough provoked.
Now, though, with her words of congratulations slowly sinking in and her warm hug grounding him to reality, it really began to sink in.
He’d created a portal.
He, Magnus Bane, had truly made history even among people who’d lived through so much of it that it had lost its shine to many.
Magnus hugged Isabelle tighter for a second and then pulled away.
“May I?” he said even as he conjured another portal.
“With pleasure,” she said and stepped in.
Magnus knew the portal was a success because he could hear Izzy’s excited voice from his own office where he’d sent her. He created another one, and in a second, she was back, the two of them grinning wordlessly at each other.
Magnus was the one to eventually break the silence.
“I must show Cat and Dot,” he said, and then realised that they could also assist him in making sure his work was replicable. “What’s the time?”
“Half past nine.”
Dot would be in her shop, and Cat possibly still at the hospital if her shift had run late. Both hard at work.
And yet, despite that, Magnus knew they’d want to hear from him as soon as possible. Not only because he was their friend and they cared, but also because they were warlocks and he was about to change their lives forever.
Isabelle seemed to feel the same. “You should call them.”
“I should.” Magnus reached into his pocket for his phone, realised it must still be on his desk, portalled into his office and picked it up, getting back into Izzy’s office in just a few seconds. “This calls for celebration. You should take the rest of the day off, enjoy it. We’ve both deserved that.”
Isabelle laughed, getting up to grab her purse. “Consider me gone. No takebacks.”
She made for the door, but Magnus stopped her. “Want to take the fast way home?”
“You bet,” Isabelle said, and five seconds later, the portal was closing in the office and Isabelle was already at home.
Magnus let the joy of being able to do that wash over him, and then dialled Dot’s number.
“Are you at the shop?”
“Yes. How so?”
Magnus wondered if she could hear his smile. “Just thought I’d drop by, if that’s okay.”
“Of course,” Dot said. “Anytime.”
Without ending the call, Magnus portalled himself into her backroom. She wasn’t there, but Magnus heard her say his name both from the customer area and through the phone, so he simply stepped out from the back.
Dot startled but relaxed when she had a second to realise it was him.
“Magnus, how-” Understanding dawned on her face slowly, battling with disbelief. “Did you...?”
The shop was empty, so Magnus simply created a portal and moved into the upper level of the shop, leaning against the railing and smiling down at Dot.
“I did it,” he said, so quietly he wasn’t sure if Dot even heard it. “I finally did it.”
Whether she heard it or not, Dot squealed from excitement, and Magnus portalled himself back down right on time for her to hug him.
“You did it!” she said, her face mushed against his shoulder. “You really did it! Magnus, that’s amazing!”
“I know.” He took a deep breath. Hearing her say it made it a little more real. “Do you know when Cat-”
“She had a night shift.” Dot pulled away a little. “She should be getting home in... anytime, now.”
Dot didn’t ask Magnus to give her the details or even want to try it for herself, electing to wait until her wife could join them, and Magnus filed that away in that small collection of hopeful memories he kept for those times when he doubted if love truly existed at all.
Cat arrived soon, and the tired look shifted away from her face when she took in Dot and Magnus sitting by the counter at the shop.
“Oh, great,” she said. “I had a really tiring time at work, I need to vent.”
“And we’ll gladly listen.” Magnus kept his face neutral, or at least he tried. “But can I offer you a distraction first? It might cheer you up.”
Cat frowned slightly at him. “Sure.”
Magnus summoned a portal. “Will you please walk into this?”
“You better not have picked up a taste for practical jokes, because I’m-” The rest of Cat’s sentence got lost as she stepped in, still frowning slightly.
Magnus made a gesture at Dot. “After you.”
He followed right after, nearly walking into Cat and Dot where they’d not moved too far away from where they’d appeared in his living room. Dot was smiling, excited and proud, but Cat- Magnus wished he could have seen the first stages of her shock and wonderment.
However, he was there for the second it clicked.
“Did we just-?” Cat looked around, and reached to grab at the sofa. “This is not the most elaborate illusion ever, is it?”
Magnus guided her to sit down and went over to the liquor cart to pour them drinks. “It’s not. I did it.”
“How?” was Cat’s immediate response, followed by, “Thanks” as Magnus brought over drinks.
“Exactly,” Dot said. “I’ve been biting my tongue, but really, Magnus, tell us everything.”
Cat turned to her. “You knew?”
“For some moments until you arrived.” Dot put a hand on Cat’s thigh. “We were waiting for you to talk more.”
Magnus looked away; Cat didn’t answer, but it felt private anyway.
“If we could get back to how amazing I am,” he said after a moment, and his friends’ attention was immediately back on him.
He talked them through his process and the workings of the portal he’d created, and finally guided them through how to actually make one.
It was only when Cat raised her hands and a portal like he’d created appeared that Magnus finally, truly let himself believe that his work had paid off.
He barely noticed Cat disappear into the portal and appear back soon thereafter, or Dot doing the same, so overcome with the actual magnitude of what he’d accomplished.
It was not only that he could do this, in many ways making distance irrelevant to his life. It was not even that he could do it, and Cat and Dot could, too. It was truly something he could teach, something that likely every warlock could learn to create.
He really was about to revolutionalise the lives of his entire people. How did you wrap your head around that?
“Magnus?” He was startled from his marvels by Cat’s voice, her crooked smile implying it was not the first time she’d said his name. “This has been lovely and all, but you said I’d get to complain about what a frustrating time I had at work.”
“Yes, of course,” he said, sitting up straighter, banishing his visions of glory. Revolutions never looked like you thought they would. You couldn’t ignore the little things, like making sure your friend still got to get into detail about every single thing that was wrong with the healthcare system she worked in. “Do tell.”
Cat laughed, creating a new portal. “I’d rather do it in my favourite restaurant, if it’s all the same to you.”
And that was how Magnus ended up spending a good few hours eating lamb kebab in Marrakech and adding supportive comments whenever Cat stopped to take a bite.
He hadn’t dreamed of this when he’d been toiling days and nights over portals. But as he reached for his glass in the middle of Cat’s side tirade at a man who had made it clear he didn’t think she was capable of doing her job, Magnus thought how he wouldn’t change it for the world.
It would be exciting, discovering all the little moments that would follow in its wake.
They got back to Dot’s shop after their meal, mindful of the fact that despite the excitement created by Magnus’s news, Cat had not slept in a good long while and she truly had had an exhausting night.
Magnus left them with a request to hear back about any discoveries they might make as they continued making portals. Back in his loft, he made a drink and sat down to properly marvel in his success.
But even the martini or the beautiful view, and not even the growing feeling of serene accomplishment in his chest, could really give him what he wanted.
It was truly a cause for celebration, but Magnus didn’t want to celebrate alone.
“Hey,” Alec said, picking up on the third ring. “Izzy said you went to tell Dot and Cat, how did that go?”
Magnus smiled. “Wonderfully. Look, I was wondering, where are you?”
“Can I come over?”
“Of course. Does that mean that you’re going to-” Alec halted probably as he could see the portal taking form by the front door, finishing his sentence only when Magnus had only followed through, “do that?”
Without even ending the call, Alec walked up to Magnus to kiss him.
“Have you been doing that all day?” he asked after a few minutes, his arms still holding Magnus tightly like he wanted to make sure Magnus’s whole body had actually moved with the portal.
Magnus thought back to going to Dot’s shop. “I’ve deserved it.”
“You certainly have.” Alec pressed another quick kiss against his lips. “How are you feeling?”
“A lot of things.” Magnus stroked the fabric of Alec’s shirt with his finger, trying to find the words. “Joy. Excitement. A little bit of fear. I’m still not sure I’ve properly realised what I’ve done, but I also can’t wait to rub Lorenzo Rey’s face in it at the science conference next month.” He took a deep breath and focused his gaze on Alec’s shoulder. “But also like I could literally go anywhere in the world, and the only place I want to be in right now is with you.”
He could see Alec’s beaming smile even in the edge of his vision.
“I’m right here,” Alec said. “We can stay right here if you want.”
Magnus smiled and claimed another kiss because he could. His whole schedule was finally wide open and he could be leisurely with his boyfriend however long he wanted.
But then again, maybe he just fundamentally was not a leisurely, calm person, because the next time he spoke, it was to say, “You should grab your coat.”
Alec furrowed his brow. “Are you sure?”
“Positive.” Magnus smiled. “There’s so much that I want to share with you, and now I can.”
Alec’s face cleared and he squeezed Magnus’s shoulder. “In that case, just a second.”
Magnus watched as Alec moved to grab a jacket, then took his hand and led him into a portal.
They emerged on a deserted side street, just as Magnus had intended.
Alec looked around, intrigued. “Where are we?”
“You’ll see,” Magnus said, pulling him away from the side street into sunlight. “I dare hope you’ll like the city better than the airport.”
Alec stared, slack-jawed, and probably started to take in the street signs and the people walking past them, the sounds of the city.
“You really took me to Tokyo,” he said eventually, slowly like he was still trying to grasp the concept.
Magnus watched him try to wrap his head around it, enjoying every second. Like with Cat and Dot, the greatest pleasure he could find in his inventions was seeing what they could do for other people.
Alec blinked. “Should I have brought my passport?”
The laugh startled out of Magnus. That was not what he’d expected to hear.
“Technically, I suppose yes, but I doubt anyone’s going to ask you for it.”
With a wide smile on his face, Alec squeezed gently at Magnus’s hand. “Okay. What do you want to do now?”
Magnus took great pleasure in showing Alec around, coaxing him into a few shops, and eventually when they got hungry, taking him into Magnus’s favourite sushi restaurant.
“So,” he said as the evening started to creep in and they were sitting at the Palace Hotel enjoying a few drinks, “how was your first proper visit to Tokyo?”
It had be sometime past midnight in New York time already, but he wasn’t really feeling tired. He could give himself the whole of tomorrow off, and it would be a Saturday so Alec wouldn’t have work either. He’d enjoy this as long as he could make it last.
Alec smiled at him over the rim of his glass. “You know it was amazing. Thank you for taking me.”
Magnus ducked his face. “Thank you for holding my bags while I tried on the seventh coat.”
“You looked great in all of them,” Alec said with conviction. “My pleasure.”
Magnus smiled and leaned in for a kiss. He got lost in it, savouring it with his eyes closed even when they’d already pulled away. He only opened his eyes when he felt Alec’s hand on his.
“I love you,” Alec said, voice quiet. “I’ve wanted to say that for a while.”
It had been a long time since Magnus thought he might die from happiness. “I love you, too.”
Alec moved in for another kiss, and Magnus threw his arms around him, pulling him close. He had just the brain capacity to think, in between kisses, that with his long-sought invention ready, all the wonderful people in his life still there and the man he loved loving him back, everything truly was coming up Magnus Bane.
“Is my cravat crooked?”
Cat laughed. “You know it never is.”
Alec nodded in agreement. “You look even more amazing than usual.”
“And for what it’s worth,” Dot added, “no one is going to remember what you looked like. All everyone will be able to even think about is the mind-blowing research you’re presenting.”
“With the way you’ve prepared,” Isabelle smiled at him, “we all know you’re not going to forget a single detail.”
Magnus smiled at all of them, trying to let their encouragement soothe his nerves. It didn’t, really. Maybe it was because it was not really presentation anxiety he was suffering from, but rather extreme anticipation of people’s reactions to what he would be telling them in just – he glanced at his decorative but functional pocket watch – half an hour.
Cat stood up from the sofa and walked to him. “You should take the time to enjoy this peace and quiet, because once people know, everyone is going to want a piece of you.”
Magnus nodded. “I’ll do my best.”
Dot moved towards the door, placing a supportive hand on Magnus’s shoulder on the way. “We should probably go check if there are any free seats left. Break a leg, Magnus.”
She and Cat left, hand in hand, and Isabelle followed right after, giving Alec a look as she left them alone in the hotel room. Magnus looked at the mirror nervously again, as if his cravat might have moved of its own volition and would need to be adjusted again, and in the reflection, he could see Alec walk to him. He pulled Magnus into a hug, and Magnus went along with it. They were practically the same height and Magnus’s shoulders were broader, so it was nearly impossible to feel small in Alec’s embrace, but Magnus rested his face against the crook of Alec’s neck, closed his eyes and felt contained. Grounded. Not like a balloon about to be drifted off into the big wide sky, which was how he’d been feeling since they arrived at the conference venue.
He felt safe. Supported.
“You’re going to rock their world,” Alec said, and his lips brushed against the skin near Magnus’s ear.
“I know.” He had to pull slightly away from Alec for his words not to be muffled. “That’s what’s so nerve-wracking. The dazzling presentation part I could do in my sleep.”
“I know,” Alec said with a laugh. “Do you need anything?”
Magnus’s breath came out shaky He leaned against Alec with more of his weight. “Twenty-five minutes more of this would be nice.”
Alec smiled. “I can do that.”
Twenty-seven minutes later, Magnus was standing in the wings of the stage, checking the crowd with a viewing spell. Isabelle, Dot and Cat had only barely managed to snag seats for themselves, if their location in the back was anything to go by. Alec, only now having entered the room, had missed out, standing a little way off from the doors. None of them were standing in a place that would easily allow for him to look to them for support during his presentation.
That didn’t matter. He knew they were there, and that was enough. Him alone on the stage, that wasn’t the part that terrified him.
His name was announced, and Magnus let the viewing spell fade in front of him. He took a deep breath, put on his most confident smile, and portalled himself onto the stage, letting the audience’s collective gasp feed his self-assurance as he opened his mouth to speak.
Cat had been right about everyone rushing to talk to him, after. Magnus thrived in the centre of the attention, fielding expressions of surprise, compliments and questions about his work and when he’d teach its practice alike. When he was able to look beyond the mass of people around him, he could see that some of his old acquaintances had caught wind of Cat and Dot and were now presumably grilling them in lieu of waiting to talk to Magnus. Some lucky soul who knew Isabelle worked for him had found her, too. No one knew Alec, though, so he could still stand to the side of the room, unbothered. Their gazes met above other people’s heads as Magnus looked his way, and Alec smiled encouragingly.
It was not quite a half-an-hour hug, but it still kept him tethered to earth.
Magnus turned back to the woman in front of him holding a small warlock child, told her he’d be leading a workshop on portal-making the following day, and as she smiled and repeated this to her child, yet again realised he had not fully grasped the magnitude of what he had achieved until that moment.
“This must be the worst couples’ getaway ever for you,” he said the following evening as he ran his fingers along Alec’s side, both of them cocooned under the covers in their hotel room bed.
Alec huffed ever so slightly and shifted so that he could look Magnus in the eye. He didn’t look like a man in the middle of the worst trip ever.
“Let’s see,” Alec said. “I’ve spent two days watching you get showered with well-deserved praise and enjoy teaching others something you’ve always wanted to do. Not to mention, you’ve been dressed to the nines for it and it turns out seeing you act like a powerful thought leader really turns me on, so...” His grin was lop-sided. “Yeah, definitely the worst couples’ getaway ever.”
Magnus ducked his head. He had, in fact, spent two days receiving praise, but none of it made his heart skip quite like that.
“It’ll die down soon enough,” he said. “I mean, I do have a long list of teaching appointments lined up, but once I’ve taught someone, they can also teach it, so eventually no one will even care that it was me who created it first.”
Alec pressed a kiss against Magnus’s shoulder. “That’s a lie and you know it.”
It was. But it would have less practical implications in the future and be simply about the prestige of being the inventor of the portal.
“I wanted to thank you,” Magnus said into the silence that fell between them.
“Being so stubborn, for starters.” He tightened his hold on Alec, pulling him closer. “For thinking I was worth all that scheduling and abruptly ended phone calls and meetings stolen in between my work time. For being there for me. I couldn’t have done it without you, and Cat, and Dot, and Isabelle.”
Alec’s eyes sparkled, but his mouth stayed serious.
“You’re worth all that and more,” he said. “And besides, I should really thank you, too, if we’re going down this road. I’ve never been happier than I am with you.”
Magnus’s eyes fluttered closed. “Do you always have to get so competitive when I’m just trying to appreciate you?”
Alec laughed. “Pot, kettle. You love it.”
He did. It was hard to believe that less than a year ago, he hadn’t had Alec in his life. It was amazing how quickly Alec had found a way into his heart and his life, slotting in like he’d always been there. He had fulfilled a long-held dream and forever changed the way warlocks travelled, but as he cuddled closer to Alec, he couldn’t help thinking that his own life had forever changed, too, in quite a different way.
“I do,” he said. “I love you.”
He could hear the smile in Alec’s voice. “I love you too.”