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Harder than the Liquor I Pour

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Alec opens the door and walks into the dimly lit bar, giving his eyes a second to adjust.

It’s a small, hole-in-the-wall place that suits Alec perfectly. He’s not here to meet friends or celebrate an occasion. No, he’s here to have a drink-- or two or six-- and forget about the day from hell he’s just had.

He heads straight to the bar, settling down on a stool. As his gaze sweeps around the place, he’s surprised to see that everything looks in good condition. The leather seats aren’t cracked with wear and age-- they gleam subtly in the light. The bar is spotless and the dozen or so people milling around are of the quiet and unobtrusive sort.

It shouldn’t be surprising but Alec only comes here a few times a year and somehow the place is never quite what he imagines it should be.

He’s a little lost in his head and startles when a glass lands in front of him with a dull thud.

Looking up, Alec sees the bartender studying him with a raised brow. “You look like you could use this, darling.”

Gaze dropping, Alec sees that it’s a whiskey on the rocks and can’t help but grin faintly. He reaches for the glass and gives a quick salute in thanks to the bartender before throwing it back, grimacing as the burn hits his throat.

“How’d you know,” he asks, and sets his tumbler back down, gesturing for a refill.

The man hums as he reaches for the bottle. As he pours, Alec completes his own study of the man.

He likes what he sees.

The man is wearing ripped black skinny jeans that reveal more than they cover. His shirt is unbuttoned so far that it would look ridiculous on anyone else and Alec raises a brow at the sheer material. That, combined with his black painted nails adorned with half a dozen rings and razor sharp eyeliner makes the cloud lift infinitesimally from Alec’s shoulders.

Alec stares at his glass as it’s refilled and Magnus just shoots him a dry look. “I’m a bartender. It’s kind of in the job description, pretty boy.”

Hiding his smile, Alec lifts the glass to his lips and takes a lingering sip. “Why is it that I’ve never seen you here before? Are you new?”

The bartender leans over the counter, resting on his elbows. “I’m filling in for someone tonight. If I’d known you were a regular, though, I would have made sure to come around more often.”

“I don’t come here very often,” Alec says, his voice self deprecating. “Only when it’s warranted.”

The bartender shoots him a curious look before he’s flagged down by another customer. He gets another order and goes to fill it on the other side of the bar. Alec uses that time to drain his glass and can’t help the way his thoughts turn to earlier.

God damn him, he knows that he wins far more than he loses but when he’s dealt a loss the blow is all the more devastating.

His phone vibrates and Alec reaches for it dispassionately, reading the text from Jace distractedly.

Alec, Clary told me what happened this afternoon. I’m sorry, man. Call me if you need me.

Rolling his eyes, Alec shoves his phone back in his pocket and looks up just in time to see Magnus bend to retrieve a bottle of liquor from a crate on the floor. When Magnus suddenly turns his head, their eyes meet unerringly and Alec doesn’t have time to suck in a breath at having been caught, let alone look away.

Luckily, Magnus doesn’t seem offended or put off. No, instead he grins and throws a wink at Alec before turning back to the drink he’s making.

Alec turns his glass on the bar, preoccupied, but a few minutes later he shoves his thoughts onto the back burner when Magnus returns.

“See something you like,” Magnus asks lowly and Alec looks at him deadpan, though he lets his gaze wander on a slow, appreciate once over.

“I see a lot of things I like,” Alec replies and doesn’t look away when Magnus’s eyes meet his.

Humming thoughtfully, Magnus wipes down the counter near Alec for a few moments before asking, “What’s brought you here?”

Grimacing, Alec finishes his second glass of whiskey and tries to ignore the bitter edge of his tone when he confesses, “I lost a patient on the table today. Thank fuck it rarely happens, but this is my go-to place when it does.”

Magnus lets out a sympathetic noise as he tops off Alec’s glass. “I’m sorry to hear that. I can’t imagine what it’s like.”

Alec laughs shortly. “I play God for a living but I never forget that I’m never actually in control of the outcome. I can try my damnedest but sometimes it’s not enough, no matter how much I might wish otherwise.”

“So when that happens, you come here to forget?”

Shrugging half-assed, Alec takes a drink. “This is far from my first casualty and I know it won’t be my last. I’m the lead trauma surgeon at NYU hospital and I know I can’t let it get to me. Still, though,” he shrugs again. “I usually take an evening and throw a bit of a pity party. I’ll have a mild headache in the morning but by the time I step back into my scrubs, I’ll be as good as new.”

“You try to drown your sorrows because you weren’t good enough?”

“I suppose that’s part of it,” Alec allows. “But my patient was still a person and they still-- their family still-- put their faith in me to fix them, to heal them so that they’d be able to leave the hospital. I guess part of it is in my inability to save that person but I think whoever they are, they deserved to be mourned. Don’t you?”

Alec swallows harshly at the words that have just fallen out of his mouth like so much garbage. He’s Alec Lightwood, the best damn doctor on the eastern seaboard. He has a bit of a reputation for being a hard ass, an unsympathetic bastard. His interns are regularly intimidated as hell and he’s heard the whispers behind his back.

Dr. Lightwood’s the coldest son of a bitch I’ve ever worked with, he’s heard regularly. The truth is, it was mostly a carefully maintained facade. Alec had a job to do and he preferred to keep these little instances where he needed relief away from the prying eyes of the hospital whose grapevine was scarily efficient.

Alec startles when the bartender lays a hand over his where it’s resting on the bar. “That’s kind of you,” he says, “To mourn someone you didn’t know.”

“It’s only right,” Alec argues, and throws back the rest of his glass.

The bartender considers him for a moment before holding out the hand that was over his just a second before. “I’m Magnus, bartender extraordinaire.” His lips quirk. “Among other things. While I certainly wouldn’t mind calling you pretty boy for the rest of the evening, I think it only fair that you share your name, too. Don’t you?”

Alec thinks for a minute, letting the silence drag out. The bar is quiet, with muted conversations going on behind him. The bartender-- Magnus-- doesn’t seem intimidated by Alec’s lack of immediate response. No, it seems like he sinks into the silence, perfectly content to wait Alec out with a faint grin and a challenge in his eyes.

Slowly, Alec reaches out and grasps Magnus’s hand in a poor imitation of a handshake. He meets Magnus’s eyes and knows they both know that this is a mere prelude for what’s to come.

“Alec,” he says slowly and watches as Magnus’s smile deepens.

“Well, Alec, my shift ends in an hour. Wait for me?”

Alec’s tongue ducks out to wet his lips and he watches as Magnus’s gaze falls to his mouth.

He lets it curve into a satisfied grin as he murmurs, “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

He doesn’t know how the fuck he got himself into this situation but Alec has just enough wherewithal to know that he’s well and truly fucked.

He let Izzy and Jace drag him to Pandemonium tonight. It’s ostensibly a celebration for a recent promotion Izzy’s landed at the coroner’s lab but Alec’s hardly in the mood to celebrate anything.

His head has been a mess the last few months.

Ever since that night weeks ago when he met a bartender with a sympathetic ear and a body to die for, Alec’s been walking the razor-thin edge between cloud nine and abject misery with an adroitness that he didn’t know he possessed.

What was supposed to be one night of losing himself in a willing body has turned into a low level addiction and a day hasn’t gone by that Alec hasn’t cursed himself-- and Magnus-- for his goddamn predicament.

They’ve been together a couple dozen times since that first unexpected meeting. They’d ran into each other just a few days later outside of a local cafe and decided to exchange numbers just in case.

Just in case had turned out to be the next evening.

Without quite knowing how, it’s turned into several times a week. One of them will text the other and meet up wherever happens to be closer. Alec’s been over to Magnus’s penthouse, for Christ’s sake, and Magnus has frequently come over to Alec’s much more utilitarian apartment.

There’s also been the occasional hookup at a convenient bar.

As Alec scans Pandemonium, he sighs internally. He needs to get his shit together.

The truth is that it’s getting harder to leave in the morning-- harder to feel Magnus slip out of his bed without a goodbye. There have been a handful of conversations the past month, bare bones pleasantries turning into involved discussions. Alec tells himself it’s inconsequential, all of it just a form of foreplay. He can’t deny, though, that Magnus is endlessly fascinating. The more he knows, the more he wants to know.

Lately, Alec’s been pervaded with wanting to ask Magnus out, for real. Yet, he always bites his tongue before the invitation has a chance to leave his lips. He knows that he’s walking the cusp of ruining their arrangement-- they’re fuck buddies, nothing more-- but it’s getting damned hard to remember that whenever Magnus beckons him closer or shares his surprisingly dry wit.

Shaking his head, Alec leaves Jace and Izzy to the packed dance floor and heads toward the bar that spans the length of one wall. He’s just about to order his drink when he catches something in his peripheral.

Someone.

Alec turns his head and scowls at the sight waiting for him. Magnus is leaning against the bar negligently, drink in hand, talking to someone else. The man in question lays a hand on Magnus’s arm and Alec watches as Magnus allows it with a private smile.

Clearing his throat, Alec turns back to the impatient bartender and orders a drink-- his first of a dozen, no doubt.

It takes just a minute and Alec opens a tab, turning away as he takes his first sip.

He powers through his instinctive grimace, taking another. He’s in no mood to be coherent by the end of the evening. He’s just set to either leave the bar altogether or join his siblings on the dance floor to find someone new for the night when someone steals his attention.

Taking a sweep of the room, the music drowns out Alec’s sharp intake of breath as his gaze collides with Magnus.

Magnus looks at him, eyes piercing, and smiles. It’s a challenge if ever there was one and Alec raises a brow, giving Magnus’s company a slow sweep.

Magnus’s grin widens and he tilts his head with an imperceptible shrug.

Debating what to do, Alec leaves him hanging for a minute while he knocks back the rest of his drink.

Really, though, Alec knew what he was going to do the second he saw Magnus.

Pushing himself away from the bar, Alec makes his way to Magnus. He pretends like he doesn’t see the victorious glint in his eye as he wraps an arm around Magnus’s waist.

The guy-- who hadn’t stopped talking since Alec had noticed him-- promptly shuts up and turns to leave, huffing out an aggrieved breath.

Alec looks at Magnus for a second before they both start laughing, falling against each other.

Alec suppresses a shiver when Magnus pulls him even closer, putting his mouth against his ear to be heard over the music.

“Thank you, Alexander. You’re my knight in shining armor.”

Alec smiles as he replies, “Something tells me that you can take care of yourself just fine.”

Magnus doesn’t see anything but his smile grows imperceptibly wider. Willingly following, Alec tries to curb his awareness of Magnus holding his hand as he’s pulled to the VIP section.

Magnus seats them at a small, private booth for two that overlooks the rest of the club. It’s a power position if ever there was one and Alec can’t help his expression from morphing into one of undisguised intrigued.

It’s quieter on this level. The bass is still enough to rattle Alec’s chest but there are far fewer people here and most of them seem occupied at any rate.

Magnus catches his look and laughs softly. His mouth opens but before he can say anything, a server has arrived at Magnus’s side. He shoots Alec an inquisitive look, tilting his head in the server’s direction and Alec just nods, content to try anything Magnus wants to order for him.

Magnus turns back to talk to the server and Alec takes a moment to study Magnus. He looks different than he usually does-- he always looks different-- but there’s something about this look that makes Alec’s mouth water.

His hair is shaved at the sides-- a new style the past few weeks-- and his nails are a deep red. There are a few necklaces falling against his bare chest and his pants are designer to go along with the jacket.

His makeup is played up as well and Alec can make out the sweep of highlighter against his cheek.

Magnus turns back, settling against the booth-- against Alec-- with a sigh. He looks up to catch Alec still staring. One of his hands fall to rest against Alec’s thigh and Alec’s mouth opens on a silent breath.

“Thank you again, darling. Some people can be tedious, wouldn’t you agree?”

Alec makes some noise of agreement and shifts as Magnus’s hand moves higher.

“You wouldn’t have minded, though, would you have?”

Achingly aware of Magnus’s hand, it takes a minute for Magnus’s question to pierce the fog of lust that had started to cover him.

Shaking his head a little, Alec looks at Magnus confused. “What?”

Leaning in, Magnus kisses over Alec’s jaw. His hand goes to Alec’s waistband, a finger trailing over the edge.

“You wouldn’t have minded if I’d found someone else for the night,” he murmurs. Something in Alec shouts in protest but he’s too focused on the way Magnus is touching him to give voice to his idiotic reaction.

“Of course not,” he rasps. “This is just a convenient arrangement. No more, no less.”

Magnus pulls back to look Alec in the eye and Alec hides the way his throat has suddenly gone dry.

“Right,” Magnus says lowly. “No more, no less. We’re just two people having a good time. There’s no need for jealousy or petty displays. You aren’t mine and I’m certainly not yours.”

Caught in Magnus’s stare, Alec is helpless to do anything but nod mutely. He ignores the way something in him shrivels as Magnus’s voices this thing of theirs in its stark reality. It’s the truth, after all. From the very start, they’ve both understood that there were no feelings involved. They weren’t attached.

More fool Alec for wanting more.

“We’re just having fun,” Alec says hoarsely and slips a hand under Magnus’s jacket to the bare skin beneath.

Magnus shudders and his eyes flash with something that Alec can’t decipher. It’s gone as soon as it appeared, though, and soon enough Alec’s head is filled with other things.

He loses himself in Magnus for the hundredth time and curses himself for his stupidity.

 

Magnus winces away from the sunlight that’s poking shards of glass into his eyes. He turns his head, hiding his face in a blanket with a muted groan.

Fuck tequila and its penchant for giving him a headache.

Magnus freezes in the next second, though, as he realizes that he’s not on a blanket.

He’s on Alec.

Carefully, he maneuvers up to sitting and curses himself. The morning light is still dim enough that it can’t be much past dawn and they hadn’t come back to Alec’s until Pandemonium had shouted last call.

His memory feels a little murky-- goddamn tequila-- but Magnus distinctly remembers the conversation they’d had at the start of the evening and his shoulders slump as he takes in Alec sleeping peacefully.

It’s his fault, he supposes. He’d taken one look at the sad Adonis who’d plopped down on his stool and couldn’t resist. If he’d known that filling in for his lead bartender Raphael would have meant he’d find himself in this situation in a few months, he never would have agreed.

He watches Alec sleep, listens to the adorable little snores that he’s gotten reluctantly used to during the past several weeks. He’d even go so far as to say they make him fond at this point.

Shaking his head a little, Magnus carefully disentangles himself from wrinkled sheets. He finds his clothes and throws them on haphazardly.

It’s always best to make a strategic retreat, Magnus thinks wryly.

He can’t resist looking back, though. Biting his lip, he studies Alec and wonders how much longer he can do this.

He thinks about Alec with alarming frequency. Alec’s funny and smart as hell and Magnus can’t remember the last time he enjoyed someone’s company so much.

However, if last night showed him anything, it’s that it’s all hopeless.

Magnus leans over Alec, laying a feather-light kiss on his cheek.

He lets out a breath. “I guess I’m just the fool who fell for someone who won’t fall for me.”

Straightening, Magnus is just turning towards the door when he startles as a hand wraps around his wrist. He looks up and sucks in a panicked breath as he sees Alec leveling him with a serious look that doesn’t seem the least bit sleepy.

“Alexander,” Magnus whispers and trails off, not sure what to say.

“Magnus,” Alec says, voice hoarse.

The two of them stare at each other mutely. Magnus doesn’t know what to say-- what he can say-- to fix this. He ruined things. He developed feelings for the stoic doctor who feels more than he likes to let on and now the day’s finally come to face it.

He sighs a little in regret. He would’ve liked one more night to remember before it all vanished in a puff of angry smoke.

He’s so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he doesn’t immediately hear Alec’s question.

“I’m sorry,” he says on autopilot. “What was that, darling?”

Alec clears his throat. He hasn’t let go of Magnus’s wrist and Magnus feels his thumb sweep absently against his pulse.

“Did you mean it?”

Freezing, Magnus looks up at Alec. He sees the stiff set of his spine and the way his mouth is pressed into a thin line. The way that it seems like Alec’s retreated from him even if he’s still close enough to touch.

Magnus abruptly gives in, shoulders slumping. One way or another, his secret’s out and he owes Alec the truth.

“I did,” he admits softly. “I know we agreed this was just physical but I’m in love with you, Alexander, and I have been for quite some time now.”

Magnus watches as Alec takes a deep breath. The only thing keeping him in place is Alec’s hand still keeping him close.

He watches with dread-wrapped hope as Alec’s mouth opens before abruptly shutting. Alec sits up and pulls Magnus closer, between his thighs, and rests a hand against his side.

“Stay,” he says, voice just above a whisper.

“Alec?”

Alec’s expression changes, morphing into a grin. Almost without thought, Magnus shifts closer, running a hand through Alec’s disheveled hair. A piece of him slides into place as Alec leans into his touch with a contented smile.

“Stay,” Alec repeats. “It turns out that my love isn’t as unrequited as originally thought and I really want to make you breakfast.”

Laughing, Magnus feels some indescribable joy bubbling to the surface. He straddles Alec, pushing him onto his back. Alec goes willingly, sliding his hands down Magnus’s back with a sigh.

The two of them look at each other, wondering and not without a little self deprecation.

“What was that speech last night, darling? About this thing between us just being fun.”

Alec scoffs. “What was I supposed to say after you told me you didn’t belong to me? You weren’t wrong. I thought I was just a hopeless bastard for falling in love with someone I could never have. I thought I’d ruined everything.”

“Funny,” Magnus says. “I thought the same thing.”

Alec shakes his head. “If I’d known how you felt all this time, it would have saved me quite a bit of despair,” he says dryly.

Magnus laughs a little, leaning over Alec to place a lingering kiss on his mouth. “You and me both, darling, I assure you.”

“Then how lucky that I heard you before you left.”

Narrowing his eyes, Magnus says, “I thought you were a heavier sleeper.”

Kissing down Magnus throat, Alec says, “I woke up when you got out of bed. You make a good blanket,” he teases.

Snorting, Magnus moves back to look at Alec. He looks like a mess, Magnus thinks with overwhelming fondness. He looks like my mess.

Magnus straightens over Alec, stretching with his arms over his head. He feels Alec’s hands go to his hips, steadying him and doesn’t even try to stop the smile from lighting up his entire face.

He feels light enough to burst.

Releasing a deep sigh, Magnus looks down at Alec who looks perfectly content to stay in bed forever.

“I make mean belgian waffle,” he says, raises his brows.

“Really? My french toast has never had any complaints.”

“Care to put that to the test,” Magnus asks, poised to leave.

Alec raises a brow in challenge. “First one to the kitchen has to do the dishes.”

Magnus gasps as Alec flips them over, laughing loudly as Alec scrambles out of bed.

That laughter quickly cuts off when he lunges out of bed and tackles Alec to the ground, determined to win.

Distantly, Magnus hopes that this is the first of many mornings spent together, laughing and sharing stories and cleaning up the kitchen-- together.