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Higher than the Big Trees

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Heathrow is as busy as ever and Magnus dodges and weaves through the crowd on his way outside to the taxi stand. He can’t help but wonder why so many people think it’s okay to stop abruptly in the middle of a busy walkway, but it’s airports and he’s long since grown immune to it.

It’s the first week of July and it’s warm but not scorching. New York was growing miserable and Magnus thanks the planners of the conference for this brief respite.

He stands in line at the taxi queue for a few minutes, feeling remarkably alert. He’d only dozed for a little over an hour, using the remaining flight time to go over the week’s schedule and catch up on his latest pleasure read. It was a thriller and he’d been absolutely engrossed, not realizing how much time was passing until he’d felt the jostle of wheels on the tarmac.

He gets in the next cab with little fanfare, briefcase beside him and carry on in the trunk. He gives the address for the hotel and thinks, with little regret, that he’s missed the opening dinner. He was looking forward to catching up with his colleagues, but he was a little exhausted and relaxing in his hotel for the night, with a brief forage for dinner, sounded just right.

As the car speeds along, Magnus takes in one of his favorite cities. London has a special place in his heart. He’d gone to Oxford for his doctorate and while it was over an hour from the city, he’d come into town often enough, causing all sorts of havoc with Ragnor and Cat and all manner of other people. He’d been in the U.K. for four years and every time he visits the city, he feels a wave of nostalgia hit him.

He wonders what it would be like to see it with Alec next to him.

It’s a foolish thought, but Magnus has long since grown accustomed to thinking of Alexander with frightening regularity. He thinks it would be nice to visit with someone who’s been here before. It’d be fun, swapping stories and sharing experiences, new and old.

He keeps the idea open. Someday.

He can’t use his phone without data, so Magnus relaxes against the seat, glad that the driver isn’t in a chatty mood.

Soon enough, Magnus is dropped off at the hotel. He checks in without issue and makes his way up to his room. He’s thankful not to share with anyone. There was no one else going from Columbia and as the Chair of the History Department he’d been given preference.

Magnus takes a quick shower to rid himself of the plane feeling clinging to him and throws on a simple pair of jeans with a t-shirt. He powers up his cellphone for the first time since he left New York. As it boots up, he debates on what to have for dinner. He has a generous expense allowance for the duration of the conference and there are dozens of restaurants within walking distance.

He connects to the hotel’s wifi a few seconds later, setting his phone down absently.

His thinking is interrupted, though, as his phone starts vibrating. Not once or twice but at a constant rate, steadily buzzing for almost a full minute. Startled, Magnus grabs it before it can fall from the desk and swipes across the screen, unlocking it only to find dozens of notifications.

He sees a few messages from Alec. There’s a picture of him on the floor of what Magnus presumes is Fuel. He looks wiped out as he glares at the camera. The caption underneath says I survived but barely:/ Kicked Jace’s ass a time or two, though.

The next message is another picture. This time it looks like it’s taken at a restaurant outside, the sun shining behind a grinning Isabelle with a handful of fries, half of which are stuffed in her mouth. She looks like a kid, mischievous and victorious. The accompanying text simply offers This is why I can’t have nice things:(

Magnus can feel the smile pulling his cheeks and he laughs a little. Poor Alexander. The last text messages are unexpected, though, confusing Magnus.

Shit, I’m sorry Magnus. I wasn’t thinking.

I should’ve known this would happen.

How are you feeling? Let me know you’re okay.

Magnus has no idea what Alec is referring to. He’d thought they left things great between the two of them this morning.

Deciding to come back to that message in a few minutes, he takes a look at his other notifications. His eyebrows climb up his forehead as he takes in the dozens of alerts from Twitter and Instagram.

He opens Twitter and sees that his follower count has risen by over a thousand people since yesterday. Baffled, he clicks on the notifications and scrolls through-- it must be a few hundred tweets. After a minute or two he finally reaches the reason and-- oh.

He stares down at the screen, seeing Alec Lightwood has followed you.

Magnus leans against the edge of the desk, thinking. Slowly, he scrolls up and sees where Alec has liked a few of his tweets-- one about teaching, another about how much he hates early mornings, a trivia fact he’d found out when researching his latest book.

Immediately following that are all manner of people-- fans-- speculating.

This is so random. Who’s Magnus??

Uhhh why would Alec follow a professor?? Is he going to school or something lmao

Ljldfskglj dude this guy is hot as fuck. Did Alec just thirst follow someone????

Well, this is certainly unexpected.

Shit.

Once again, Magnus is confronted with the fact that Alec isn’t just a regular guy. Everything he does gets put under a microscope by half the world. Still surprised, Magnus wonders. If a simple follow and minimal engagement had garnered such attention, what would happen if it came out that they were friends? Something else?

He goes over to Instagram and sees the same thing has happened. Alec followed him during their phone call this morning, only this time he didn’t just like a few pics. He left comments.

There’s a picture Magnus took last week. He’s in front of his open french doors, his One Handed Tree Pose in perfect form, if he does say so himself. Shirtless, in a pair of plain black boxer briefs, he’s a little revealing. He’d debated putting on actual clothes but he’d just woken up and was messing around one Sunday morning and hadn’t wanted to spare the effort.

The comment underneath wouldn’t be noticeable if made by anyone else. But it’s Alec and underneath his comment are a hundred more by strangers.

Holy shit, you weren’t kidding about being a yoga instructor! Maybe you can teach me some moves sometime!

Magnus skims through the other comments but leaves them be as he moves on to the next post that had captured Alec’s eye. He’d gone with Ragnor, Cat, and Madzie to a farm in Upstate New York one weekend during the spring. Madzie had been enthralled with everything from milking cows to feeding pigs. There’d been chickens walking across the yard and he’d snapped a picture of two chicks as they’d walked across the driveway. He’d just used the emoji for the caption but as he sees Alec’s comment, he can’t help but snort a laugh.

Two chicks w/ cute butts

Shaking his head, Magnus likes the comment before moving to the last picture. It’s from the middle of May and it’s just one of his empty classrooms before the start of the summer term. It’s a lecture hall with a few hundred seats for his introductory history course. The sunlight is spilling through the high windows and the mahogany wood paneling makes it look so delightfully academic and quaint, like a time gone by. His caption is my happy place and he feels warm as he reads Alec’s comment.

You definitely would have been my favorite professor if I’d gone to college :)

There’s a smile on Magnus’s face even as he thinks about the consequences of Alec’s slip up. So, this was what his texts had meant. He’d followed Magnus on social media, liked a few posts, and now there were hundreds of fans speculating about him. About them.

They’d talked about this just a couple of weeks ago. Magnus liked his life just fine. He was well-known at Columbia, in academic circles, but other than that he was just another New Yorker going about his business.

No question, this friendship with Alec was tricky to navigate. With anyone else, Magnus wouldn’t think anything of posting a picture of the two of them hanging out. But rabid speculation wasn’t part of that equation.

Half sitting on the desk, Magnus stares at the floor, absently tapping his foot. Before he does anything else, he wants to decide how he feels about this latest development.

While he’s accepted that sooner or later, if they continue this, his life will probably be inundated by intrusive press, he’s not sure if now’s the time. There’s a part of him that wants a little more time to enjoy just being Magnus Bane without having his name attached to Alec’s. But there’s no denying that he likes being part of Alec’s life, having him as a part of his, and really-- isn’t he just prolonging the discovery? Maybe he’s overthinking this. It’s Twitter for Christ’s sake, not the nuclear disarmament codes.

Magnus decides with alacrity that he doesn’t care. This doesn’t have to mean anything. In fact, it’s a good thing. It’s the next step in this friendship of theirs. Friends follow each other. Friends like each other’s posts. Eventually, friends might post pics with other friends. It doesn’t have to mean anything. It shouldn't bring his world crashing down.

It’s not like he’s Alec’s boyfriend. Really, why would fans or paparazzi care so much about a friend of Alec’s, especially when it’s apparent that there’s nothing else there?

He ignores the niggling thought that this might be just as serious a step as he fears. Like, once this is done that's it. No take backs, no avoidance.

He repeats Alec is worth it to shut that damning voice up.

He unlocks his phone and goes to Alec’s texts. He reads over the messages and pretends he doesn’t feel the butterflies. It’s stupid and juvenile but Alec’s concern, his worry that he’s messed up, is endearing.

Don’t worry, darling, there’s nothing to apologize for. I’ve been following you for awhile now-- it’s only fair that you follow back :)

This doesn’t have to be a big deal. You’re always active on social media, this shouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary.

I’m fine, Alexander, but thank you for worrying. Are you okay with this?

Magnus wonders if Alec’s regretting his spree. He’s probably not any more eager to have his name linked with Magnus. He’s a celebrity-- it must get tiring to have to police such small actions all the time.

I’m used to it, don’t worry about me :)

How’s London?

Like that, everything settles and the two of them talk for a little while. Magnus doesn’t realize how late it’s getting until he looks up from his phone and sees his room shrouded in darkness. His fingers have been flying over his phone for the past hour, talking with Alec about their shared love of London and how their days had gone, along with plans for tomorrow.

It’s almost nine in the evening and Magnus takes stock. His stomach growls and with a sigh he’s pushing up off the desk and making his way to his suitcase.

He digs out a black blazer to throw over his v-neck. He grabs his key card, wallet, and phone and then he’s off to find food.

As he walks down the streets, he breathes in the city air and his shoulders roll back. The next few days promise to be a whirlwind of learning and teaching and he’s looking forward to it. He manages a few conferences a year and each time he leaves exhausted but content. He never could have guessed it, but he really does love his career. It’s a surprisingly good fit and no matter how much Ragnor or Raphael grumbles, he knows they feel the same.

Happy place, indeed.

 

Magnus is buttoning his jacket and laughing along to something Dr. Brenitz has said when they round the corner and he runs into someone. He reaches a hand out automatically to steady the person before he sees who it is.

He immediately wishes that he’d let them fall.

“Dr. Belcourt,” Magnus greets coolly.

She lifts her head, regal as ever. “Dr. Bane.”

Looking over at his companion, she also addresses Brenitz, though her smile kicks up a few hundred degrees. Brenitz, for his part, is helpless to do anything but smile and nod enthusiastically. The poor man is seventy if he’s a day and it’s obvious that he’s not use to such a beautiful woman paying attention to him.

Magnus tunes them out, well versed in Camille’s dance. While there was no doubt that she was brilliant, she also had no problem using her considerable skills to get what she wanted. Magnus had found out one day during their fling that she’d been sleeping with several other candidates. Some of them just for fun, but a few to spite Magnus and to get ahead in the program.

The woman was a vampire, sucking the life out of everything around her to further her own ambition.

The panel yesterday had gone remarkably well, considering. Camille had barely acknowledged him, leaving him to answer questions at his own pace and without challenge. The conference was half over and he was eager to see it through. He’s been practicing his keynote speech slated for tomorrow morning and all the way around, this had been a great opportunity.

If only Camille hadn’t decided to crawl out of her hole for it, then it would’ve been perfect.

Soon enough, Camille leaves them without a backwards glance, though she makes sure to give her hips a little extra sway as she walks away.

“Damned beautiful woman,” Bernitz mutters, gaze glued to her ass.

Magnus laughs along, inwardly shaking his head at how oblivious some men can be. “Trust me, friend, sometimes it’s better to look and not touch.”

The two of them continue on to their mid afternoon seminar on Aboriginal Narratives and Magnus doesn’t spare Camille another thought.

But he should’ve known he couldn’t escape her. At a pub around the corner from his hotel, Magnus leans back in his chair as his dinner is brought to the table. His mouth waters as he smells the food, not having time to eat lunch today, and he offers an absent thanks to the waiter. He’s smiling down at his phone as he continues his conversation with Alec. They were talking about the subway system in New York and its many problems and Magnus can’t help but huff out a laugh as Alec sends another complaint about teenagers who don’t know when to stop with the Axe body spray.

He doesn’t immediately notice when someone slides into the seat across from him, distracted as his thumbs fly over his keyboard to respond.

“Now, what could have you smiling like such a fool?”

Magnus barely pauses before finishing the message, hitting send and taking a subtle breath-- praying for patience-- before he looks up and sees Camille’s dark eyes looking at him with a tinge of amusement.

“Camille. What do you want?”

She doesn’t answer right away, instead taking a minute to relax against the chair, crossing her legs and rearranging her skirt so that it falls several inches above her knee. Her smile is calculated as she tilts her head, looking Magnus over with an intensity that could rival a spider’s.

“What do I want,” she asks, as if surprised at the question. “I’m just here to enjoy a meal with an old friend. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Magnus feels his own lips kick up, though his smile isn’t what anyone would call inviting. “Oh, I think you do. We don’t speak except when we have to and it’s been like that for over five years. It’s an arrangement that suits us both. So, what motive could you possibly have for coming to my dinner table, unannounced and uninvited?”

Camille deliberates for a minute, tapping blood red nails on the scarred wooden table. “I heard you’ve made a new friend.” Her smile is just a baring of teeth as she continues. “It looks like you’ve caught a big fish, darling. I wonder what he’d have to say if he knew about your past. He does have an image to think of, after all.”

Magnus stills as Camille’s words pour over him. There’s a part of him that wants to roll his eyes and shoo her away like the mangy dog she is but there’s another part, small yet persistent, that can’t help but absorb her words with startling impact.

Magnus has made one bare bones reference to his past to Alec, when they’d first discussed the implications of pursuing this thing between them, and he wasn’t lying when he said that he had one or two skeletons rattling around his closet. Only a handful of people know the truth and he’s worked hard to bury that past. Unfortunately, Camille was one of the lucky few.

Goddamnit.

He hasn’t known Camille damn near a decade without learning her quirks, though. He sees her restless shifting and darting eyes. She’s not as in control as she’d like him to believe and that gives him all the leverage he needs to relax against his seat, a king surveying a peasant.

“What the hell are you talking about, Camille,” he asks in a pleasant tone.

She bites her lip, playing coy, before tsking, delicately shaking her head. “You should know that the internet is never really private. Especially if you don’t even take the time to block someone. Anyone can see that there’s been quite the uptake in activity on your Twitter and Instagram this week and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.”

Magnus stares at her, incredulous. “Are you really telling me that you don’t have anything better to do than stalk me online? It’s been five fucking years since we were remotely friendly. What possible reason could you have for sinking so low?”

Camille stands up, smoothing down her dress. She looks at Magnus with guiless eyes but he sees the mercenary gleam in them.

“You never know who or what could prove useful, Magnus. I keep my friends close but my adversaries closer and you’ve always straddled the line between the two. While it’s true that I wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire, I like to check up on people who have potential. We were close once upon a time and you know that I like to keep my options open. Consider this fair warning.”

Raising an imperious brow, Magnus echoes, “Fair warning?”

Staring down at him impassively Camille looks like a viper, stunning but deadly. Magnus rolls his eyes internally at the imagery but can’t deny the strain of truth. Still, Magnus is almost thirty years old-- he’s not the young, naive twenty two year old student who first saw Camille and was bowled over by her intellect and looks. He’s older and wiser and a hell of a lot more powerful than most give him credit for. Camille doesn’t have any power over him-- hasn’t in ages-- but it’s amusing to see her try and flex her muscle all the same.

He can’t deny that he’s curious about what could persuade her to take such an interest in him after all this time, though. He knows that she doesn’t harbor any delusions of them getting back together. No, this isn’t a jealous ex come to make her lover rue the day. Something else is going on but Magnus doesn’t know what and, frankly, he doesn’t give a damn.

He just wants her out of his hair.

“I’m just letting you know that everything comes at a price, Magnus, and I think it’s time I got my payday. Bye, darling.”

Magnus watches her as she turns around on her Louboutin heel and walks out of the restaurant. Damn, but he can’t stand Camille and her cryptic ass. He shakes his head as he wonders how he was ever young or stupid enough to fall for her, no matter that their relationship had only been a few short months.

He turns to his dinner, banishing her from his mind. He can’t worry about Camille right now. He doesn’t want to on a good day, but especially not when he could be talking to Alec.

Between the two of them, there’s no contest.

The rest of Magnus’s evening is uneventful. His fish and chips are still hot, thankfully, and with Alec’s amusing texts to entertain him, dinner flies by. He leaves after another hour and returns to his room just as it’s getting dark.

He’s plugging his phone in and changing into sleepwear when it starts ringing. He walks over and sees Cat’s contact lighting up the screen. He swipes right and the phone unlocks to show Madzie’s smiling face.

“Magnus!”

“Sweetpea,” he says in the same excited tone. “How are you today?”

“Good,” she answers, smile wide enough to show a few missing teeth. “Mom took me to the park and I got to feed the ducks.”

“Sounds like a productive day,” Magnus says seriously.

The two of them chat for a few minutes. She asks where he is and what he’s doing and if he’s seen the queen. She reminds him about his souvenir habit-- Magnus rolls his eyes, like he would forget his tradition of picking something up for her every time he travels-- and he listens as she tells a rambling story about a kid at school, a bottle of glue, and a very distressed teacher.

It’s quiet for a few minutes and Magnus relaxes against the headboard, distantly thinking about getting up a little early and reviewing for tomorrow’s speech when Madzie perks up and yells into the phone, “I made a new friend!”

Magnus pulls his attention to her. “Oh? Did you meet someone at the park?”

“No, I met them when we went to the studio.”

Magnus raises his eyebrows, surprised. “You mean the studio in your house?”

Madzie shakes her head. “No, we went to a huge building for studio time. I ran into Alec, that’s his name, and did you know he plays soccer! He asked me what position I played in softball. I didn’t know so mom answered and he was very nice. Mom said I might see him again if he needs more help.”

Magnus barely hears Madzie, focused on the first part of what she said. He shakes his head a little, as if to clear it, before asking, “Did you say Alec, sweetpea?”

Madzie is nodding enthusiastically when all of a sudden the phone is taken from her grasp. The picture is blurry a moment before it clears to show Catarina’s face where she’s standing next to Madzie.

“Sorry, Magnus,” Cat apologizes. “I gave her my phone half an hour ago to talk to you and got caught up on a business call. I didn’t expect to leave you two alone for so long. What’s this I hear about Alec?”

Cat switches her gaze off camera to Madzie, Magnus guesses, sending her a chastising look. “I thought we discussed this, honey. We don’t talk about people we see when mom’s working.”

Magnus hears Madzie mumble sorry through the speakers, but he hardly pays it attention. He looks at Cat, alert. “Dear, you worked with an Alec? Alec Lightwood?”

She moves towards the living room, sitting down and humming before answering him. “Alec Lightwood,” she confirms. He can just visualize the arch look she's giving him. “You know the drill. You can’t tell anyone who I worked with because it could be a breach of confidentiality.”

Magnus bits his lip, debating. He could easily agree and ignore the arsenal of information he was just given. . . or he could dig for details.

Really, it’s a no brainer.

“What did you think of him,” he asks, genuinely interested. Before he tells Cat anything, he wants to know her real opinion of Alexander. An outside opinion would probably be a good thing right about now because Magnus can admit that his objectivity has long since flown out the window.

Cat hums on the other end, obviously thinking. She draws it out for a few seconds and Magnus grows impatient. He’s just about to prompt her when she starts speaking, obviously measuring her words.

“I think that Lightwood’s reputation is well deserved. I know you love his music, and by extension his image, but in the industry he’s known to be a hard worker and a pleasure to work with. I have to agree with everyone else. He was kind to Madzie and didn’t have a problem when I brought her with me-- actually she took to him like a duck in water which you know surprised the hell out of me. He was on time and professional but there was a vein of warmth, too. He’s not a shark.”

She breaks off with a laugh. “Well, I’m sure he’s a right bastard when he needs to be but during our session he was in good spirits. He was really a dream to work with. I told him that if he needed anymore help with this album or in the future, I’d be available. And I meant it.”

Magnus swears he can almost hear Cat roll her eyes. “You know how often that happens. Overall, I’d say your little crush on him isn’t undeserved. There are certainly worse musicians and celebrities to stan.”

He tries to think of something to say that won’t reveal anything, settling lamely on, “Well, that’s good then.”

Catarina scoffs. “Where’s the enthusiasm? I thought you would care more that he’s earned my definitive seal of approval.”

Magnus laughs a little. “Sorry to disappoint, dear, but I’ve had a busy week and I suppose my mind is just preoccupied with other things. I’m glad to know that you like him and that he wasn’t a stuck up, spoiled celebrity.”

Cat hums, finally saying, “Whatever,” with a dramatic sigh.

The two of them talk for a few more minutes, with Magnus confirming his arrival home Friday morning, U.K. time.

Magnus doesn’t tell Catarina about Alec. For one, he can’t find an opening. There’s no easy way to say funny that you mention it but I’ve actually been texting Alec nonstop for five weeks. And I think I’m crushing on more than his music, by the way. I’m so relieved that one of my oldest friends likes him because that’s half the battle won if anything else were to happen.

No, he can’t find an opening and it doesn’t feel like the right time. Magnus thinks that maybe he should go to Alec with the information first. They’ll laugh about it, maybe over drinks or during another movie marathon or something else entirely.

The thought makes him feel warm.

As Magnus hangs up, he laughs to himself and stretches his arms over his head. What are the chances. He doesn’t believe in it but sometimes Magnus can’t help but think that there may be something to fate after all.

Before his thoughts turn too deep, he sets his alarm for the morning and turns the lights off, settling into bed. Tomorrow is the busiest day of the conference for him-- he has two workshops that he wants to sit in on during the afternoon. His keynote speech is slated for the mid morning slot to catch everyone who might duck out early for flights home. He has to pack tomorrow evening and he wants to do a little exploring and needs to pick up a souvenir for Madzie.

Magnus ignores the little voice that prods, and maybe Alec too?

Magnus goes to sleep, running over his speech as his thoughts grow bleary.

He doesn’t expect to be jostled out of a sound sleep half an hour before his alarm is set to go off by a phone vibrating off the nightstand, interrupting steamy dreams of a man that looks guiltily like Alec.

He really doesn't expect to see that it's Alexander's name flashing across the screen.