part one: swiss army romance
you’re dying to look smooth
with your tattoos
but you’re searching just like everyone
The good thing about going to shows at The Hideaway is that Alec can tell his parents he’s going over to a friend’s house to hang out and it’s technically the truth. He and Eddie are friends after a fashion, or at least acquaintances, after all the time Alec’s spent there in the last few months. And he is going to Eddie’s house. The fact that Eddie has basically made his basement an underground music venue isn’t relevant.
They let him go with Aline with barely a glance, just a reminder to be home by midnight. And why shouldn’t they? They’ve known Aline since she and Alec were in middle school. But it was Aline who dragged him to his first show, back in December.
The Hideaway is outside the town limits, past the last new subdivision, in an old farmhouse, which is probably the only reason it hasn’t been shut down yet. The field next to the house is already filling up with cars. It’s nearly March and still below freezing, but they leave their coats and gloves in the backseat and walk over the frozen ground to the house with the hoods of their hoodies up and their hands shoved into their pockets. Alec would probably like to run to the warmth of the thrown open basement doors, but that would look desperately uncool and Alec already has a hard enough time fitting in. Anyway, they won’t need their coats once they’re inside and overheated from the crowd.
There are kids outside smoking, and pre-show music wafts out of the open basement door. Aline is on high alert as soon as they pay their ten bucks and head inside.
“What are you gonna do if you do you see her?” Alec says in her ear. He has to shout to be heard over the music, even this close. “Turn the other way and walk out again?”
“Shut up,” Aline hisses. “It could be different this time!” Alec laughs and uses his height to clear a path to the coolers. Their entrance fee gets them unlimited cans of Beast until they run out. Alec and Aline will likely only have one, but they’ve got to get them now or they’ll all be gone.
There’s no backstage at The Hideaway. There’s no stage, really, just a section of floor with a drum kit, some microphones, and a circle of amps, with two decent speakers mounted on precarious stands to either side. It means that the bands are just hanging out with everyone else before they play and it means that Alec spots the drummer for New Year’s Project without looking too hard.
“Two o’clock, by the window,” he tells Aline. Aline looks, then turns away, studiously avoiding even looking at that side of the room.
“I thought this time was going to be different?” he asks her.
“I need liquid courage,” Aline mumbles into her beer. Alec shakes his head. If this is anything like the last three times they’ve come to see New Year’s Project, Aline will drink her beer, shove her way to the front for their set, stare at an oblivious Helen Blackthorn the entire time, then be everywhere Helen isn’t for the rest of the night.
Alec teases, but he can’t say he’d do anything different if he felt as strongly about someone here as Aline does about Helen. It’s just as well, because for all their claims to counterculture he’s figured out pretty much everyone here is straight.
Alec still doesn’t have a lot of close friends here besides Aline, but they’ve shown up often enough now that there are lots of kids he knows, and he falls into easy conversation with a few of them until the music starts.
The first band has the unfortunate name of Champagne Enema, but they’re not bad. They’re not as hardcore as their name suggests, but a pit still forms in the middle of the floor, so Alec drains the rest of his beer, leaves his hoodie with Aline, and throws himself into the nearest flailing body.
For the next twenty glorious minutes there’s nothing but the music and the slam of bodies together. Alec loses himself in the pure physical sensation and the strange camaraderie between himself and everyone else throwing themselves at each other.
When Champagne Enema screams out “thank you!” and starts packing up their instruments, Alec is covered in sweat – his own and other people’s – probably bruised to hell, and helplessly grinning. He finds Aline leaning up against the wall. “I’m gonna get another beer, you want?”
She shakes her head. “I’m gonna get a good spot,” she says. Alec nods and barely stops himself from teasing her further.
He spends his time in line trying to catch his breath. When he finally gets to the cooler he finds a couple lonely cans left so he quickly snags one. After a second of thought he grabs a couple ice cubes and holds them to the back of his neck. He sighs in relief at the coolness.
“Hey, swiss army romance, you wanna let other people get a drink too?”
Alec startles, dropping the ice, thankfully not down his shirt. A couple people titter in laughter. Alec doesn’t know exactly how he’s being made fun of, but he’s been around long enough to recognize when someone is making a reference he doesn’t understand.
His cheeks burn. He turns around to deliver some sort of scathing retort, and then chokes on his own words. Of course this asshole is basically the most beautiful man Alec has ever seen.
He watches the guys eyes widen slightly, probably because Alec has straightened up to his full height, which is taller than this guy.
Unfortunately he can’t take advantage of it. He’s still blushing and and he can’t remember a word he was going to say. He knows he looks like an idiot and he hates it. He manages to roll his eyes and walk away. He hopes someone else took the last beer while this guy was making himself look cool at Alec’s expense.
Fuck. This attitude is the one thing that sucks about coming here.
When he finds Aline, haunting the edge of the amps, he’s still blushing and the euphoria of the pit is completely gone.
“You okay?” Aline asks, distracted.
“Yeah, just …” Alec doesn’t know how to explain and doesn’t want to get into it. “Nothing.”
And then Helen Blackthorn sits down at the drumkit so Alec doesn’t have to explain anything.
That night when he gets home Alec carefully brushes his teeth and gets ready for bed before he sits down at his desk and turns on his computer. He bites his lip as it boots up.
Swiss Army Romance, he types into the search engine.
Okay, he thinks, when the results come up. He’s heard of the band, but he hasn’t really listened to them. He clicks on a lyrics page and reads.
His heart beats faster as he reads, flushing in anger and embarrassment even though he’s alone.
And you’re dying to look cute in your blue jeans
But you’re plastic just like everyone…
You could be anyone
It isn’t just that the guy was making fun of him. Like he could see straight through to Alec’s soul, he knew Alec’s just faking it the best he can – in the scene, at school, with his family. He saw it, and he let everyone standing there know it.
Frustrated tears prick at Alec’s eyes and he blinks them away furiously. It’s fine, he tells himself. It feels worse because he was beautiful, stunning really, and he looked at Alec and immediately saw that Alec’s not any of that. But that’s fine, because Alec already knew that. The scene was supposed to be a place where that didn’t matter, but of course that’s not true and Alec already figured that out.
Alec turns off his computer with a vicious jab of his finger and goes to bed.
It stays with him.
All week as he goes to school and practice, when he’s with Aline and Izzy, when he’s having dinner with his family, there’s a nagging voice in the back of his mind, a restlessness in his hands and feet, telling him he’s a fraud and if that guy could see it right away then maybe everyone else can too.
Alec hates this about himself, the way he can’t let anything go. He should just forget about it. He knows that guy already has.
Still, when he goes CD shopping with Izzy after school on Thursday he finds himself drifting to the Ds, rifling through until he finds Dashboard Confessional. There are several options, but he picks the one with that song on it. Because if he’s going to keep pressing on the bruise it might as well be the right one. And this way he’ll know what people are talking about at least.
Izzy’s still looking, but Alec takes his CD up to the front to wait. Raphael, who usually works on Thursdays during Alec and Izzy’s CD binge, has on his perpetually bored expression. Alec used to find him intimidating, but he’s actually been helpful in his recommendations for Alec’s widening music tastes. He makes suggestions without being judgemental, and that’s something that Alec can appreciate.
He looks at the disc Alec puts on the counter and says, without changing his expression, “If you’re getting into Dashboard, you should check out Further Seems Forever, it was Chris Carrabba’s band before he left to do his solo thing.”
Alec nods like he knows who that is and makes a move to go back into the aisles. Raphael stops him with a gesture and goes to get it himself, then moves around to the other side of the aisle and picks up another CD that he brings back to the counter.
“You might like Something Corporate, too. You wanna listen?”
“Sure,” Alec says, and Raphael pulls out the Discman they keep behind the counter and hands Alec the headphones.
Alec presses play and the piano swells in his ears. He closes his eyes. It’s not moshing music, but it makes his heart beat faster and something swell inside his chest and up his throat nonetheless.
He listens through two and a half songs before Izzy taps him on his shoulder, ready to check out. Alec opens his eyes and takes off the headphones and the real world suddenly rushes in again.
“You want it?” Raphael asks.
“Yes please,” Alec says. Raphael nods and rings them both up.
Usually it’s an argument about who can listen to their new CD in the car on the way home, but Alec doesn’t want to listen for the first time with Izzy, not when everything still feels so close to the surface. So he lets Izzy play her music, something with lots of guitar and synth and girls screaming. Alec actually doesn’t mind it, but he can’t tell Izzy that or he’ll never get to listen to his own music again.
Halfway home, Izzy turns down the music and says, “Okay, what’s up with you?”
“What? Nothing.” Alec pretends he really has to concentrate on the road, even though he drives this way multiple times a day.
“You’ve been weird all week,” Izzy says, “and you didn’t even try to make me listen to your whiny boy music.”
“It’s not whiny,” Alec says automatically.
“It is,” Izzy says. “And that’s not the point.”
“I’m fine, Iz.” What’s he supposed to say? A pretty boy was mean to me, and it made me sad. It’s ridiculous. He’s not a child anymore.
“I’m going to get it out of you eventually.”
“There’s nothing to get out of me,” Alec insists.
“Fine,” Izzy says. “What are you doing this weekend?” Alec shrugs. One of the kids from the Hideaway is having a party, but he doesn’t know if he wants to go. “Buffy marathon?”
“Season two,” Alec says.
“Season three,” Izzy insists.
“Do you want me to attend this marathon?” Alec asks.
“Ugh, fine, season two” Izzy says, giving in way too easily, which means that this marathon is entirely for Alec’s benefit. He can’t even care. Suddenly he wants nothing more than to watch old episode of Buffy with his siblings this weekend.
“I’ll invite Aline too,” Alec says.
“Cool,” Izzy says with a smile.
Alec feels better already.
By the next weekend, Alec feels better enough to go to The Hideaway dance party.
The dance party takes place every few months when there are no bands scheduled to play and Eddie himself or one of his friends DJs a night of fun music that everyone can dance to. It’s considered a highlight of the The Hideaway calendar. This is only the second dance party since Alec’s been going to The Hideaway, and at the first one he barely knew anyone and didn’t have the confidence to dance as much as he’d have liked. He’s been looking forward to this one and he refuses to let that asshole ruin it for him.
Still, he’s nervous. He fidgets in Aline’s front seat, picking at his t-shirt – much tighter than he was wearing four months ago – and his jeans, also tighter than he used to wear. Some of the guys buy girls’ jeans, but Alec’s legs are too long for that. It’s just as well; he’d probably look ridiculous.
“Okay, what is with you?” Aline snaps as they turn off the highway. She sounds eerily like Izzy, and Alec briefly regrets that they’re such good friends.
“You’re fidgeting like a toddler. You haven’t been this nervous going to The Hideaway in months.”
“It’s nothing,” Alec says.
“Bullshit,” Aline says right back.
Alec stares out the window, but there’s nothing to see but fields and the entrances to subdivisions. “Someone said something, last time,” he admits. “But it’s fine.”
“What did they say?” Aline asks sharply.
“He said I was fake, it’s not a big deal.”
“Okay, well it seems like a big deal if it’s making you nervous.”
“He said it in front of a bunch of people, and they laughed. It messed with me for a little bit, but I’m over it.” Alec’s mostly over it, anyway.
“What an asshole,” Aline fumes. “Who was it? I’m going to kick his ass.”
“Please don’t,” Alec says. “That will only make it worse.”
“Just tell me who it was so I can be passive aggressively mean.”
Alec concedes the point. “I don’t know his name,” he says. “Asian, a little shorter than me, hair shaved on one side. He had a sleeve tattooed with some kind of flower on his left arm.”
Aline slams on the brakes so hard Alec’s seatbelt locks and nearly chokes him.
“What the hell?” They’re lucky there aren’t any cars behind them.
“Are you talking about Magnus Bane?”
“Jesus Christ, Aline, drive. I don’t know who Magnus Bane is.”
“Alec, he’s a legend. He like, founded the Idris scene.”
Alec, stung that he’s once again being reminded of how little he knows, folds his arms across his chest. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to know that,” he says. “Can you drive?”
Aline begins driving again, but Alec doesn’t relax.
“Sorry,” Aline says eventually. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just always wondered what he was like.”
“Apparently he’s an asshole,” Alec says.
“Supposedly he got super bitter after his last break up.”
“Can’t imagine why anyone would break up with him,” Alec deadpans. Aline snorts.
“He is pretty cute though,” she says.
“How would you know?” Alec asks.
“I’m a lesbian, not blind,” Aline states.
Alec bites his lip, then admits, “He’s cute. More than cute. It kinda made it worse.”
Aline nods. “Well, fuck him. You’re not fake, you’re the best. And we’re gonna have fun tonight, right?
“Right,” Alec says with a smile.
“Then get pumped, Alec Lightwood!” Aline yells and turns up Cute Without the E until the car is shaking and belts out the lyrics with Adam Lazzara.
Alec joins in, and they sing until they park in the field next to The Hideaway, and they dash to the doors still laughing.
The Hideaway dance party isn’t like the school dances that are Alec’s only other reference for a dance party. The music is way better, for one.
The dancing is different, too. Nobody’s grinding on each other here, or trying to look sexy. There’s a lot of jumping up and down and arm pumping, and sometimes there’s moshing, and mostly it’s just people letting go and having fun, and that’s why the dance parties are so popular.
They get beers and as soon as they’re done Aline drags him into the dancing mass. She seems determined to stick by his side tonight, and Alec doesn’t mind. It means he gets to spend the night dancing with his best friend. They jump around, they sing to each other, and Alec spins Aline under his arm until she’s dizzy. They’re having so much fun, Alec stops thinking about Magnus Bane for the first time in two weeks.
They take a break after a little while and Aline offers to see if there are beers left. Alec sags against a wall and tries to catch his breath. He’s glad he came.
Right up until Magnus Bane steps in front of him and says, “Hey.”
He looks good with his hair falling perfectly over one eye and little bit of eyeliner and a tight, soft-looking Thursday shirt. Alec doesn’t understand why Magnus would be talking to him unless it’s to embarrass him again. The thought makes his throat tighten and the buzz of good feeling threatens to fade away completely.
He pushes off the wall to go find Aline but Magnus reaches out and grabs his wrist and he’s going past.
Alec flinches and pulls his wrist back, breaking Magnus’ grip. Magnus’ eyes widen in surprise.
“Why?” Alec asks.
“Why do you want me to wait?”
Magnus’ eyebrows furrow like he’s confused. “Because … I wanted to talk to you?”
“Why?” Alec grits out. “Aren’t I plastic just like everyone? I’m sure you can find someone more interesting to talk to.”
He leaves Magnus blinking, mouth open, like it’s a shock that the person he publicly humiliated two weeks ago doesn’t want to hang around and let him do it again. Hell, he’s apparently a big deal around here, maybe people do let him. Alec may be a fraud, may be too uncool for Magnus, but he’s got more of a backbone than that.
“Was Magnus Bane just trying to talk to you?” Aline asks as she hands him his beer. Alec keeps walking, hoping to get as far away from Magnus as possible.
“Yes.” Alec cracks the beer and takes a long sip. He doesn’t even like beer, not really, but he’s gotten so used to drinking it it almost feels comforting.
“What did he want? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Alec says. “I don’t know what he wanted, I didn’t let him get that far.”
“Good,” Aline says. “God, what an asshole.”
Alec shrugs. “Let’s forget about it, come on.”
They find a couple kids they know and fall into easy conversation with them while they drink their beers. It’s getting easier to have these conversations with the kids here, to follow the endless labyrinth of references they make as easily as breathing. Sometimes now he even offers up his own opinion on whatever music they’re discussing. He’s about to suggest they go back to dancing when Magnus Bane sidles up to their group.
“Hey Magnus,” Duncan says enthusiastically, and Alec tries hard not to rolls his eyes. He catches Aline’s eye and tilts his head in the direction of the dancing. She nods and chucks her beer can in the nearest bin.
But they don’t get three steps away before Magnus says, “Alec, wait.”
Alec freezes. He never told Magnus his name, which means that Magnus had to find someone and ask. What is with this guy? Alec sighs and turns back.
Magnus takes Alec’s failure to leave as permission to speak. “Can we talk for a second?”
If Alec refuses, if he just walks away, in front of everyone, it would be a big thing. Everyone would be talking about how Alec and Magnus have a feud, and they would be wondering why. People would take sides and they would side with Magnus because no one knows who Alec is. Alec doesn’t want that. “Okay,” he says.
“Will you be okay?” Aline asks quietly, but apparently not quiet enough for Magnus not to hear because he grimaces.
“Yeah, it’ll be fine,” Alec says with more confidence than he feels. Aline doesn’t look convinced, but she lets him go, though not without an assessing look at Magnus that viscerally reminds Alec of her mother.
Magnus leads Alec to a battered loveseat inside a small alcove constructed of bookshelves that Alec didn’t know was there. There’s a couple making out on it but they vacate quickly when Magnus clears his throat.
Alec’s not impressed and he’s pretty sure his face is letting Magnus know it because he grimaces again.
“Sit?” he asks. Alec sighs again and does. “I wanted to apologize,” Magnus says and Alec’s eyebrows shoot up his forehead. “I really wasn’t thinking about that part of the song when I said that. But I realize now how it could sound. I didn’t mean it that way.”
“What part were you thinking about?” Alec asks. He knows the whole song by heart now. His inability to let shit go resulted in almost constant listening for a straight week.
“We’re not 21, but the sooner we are,” Magnus says. “No offense, I just assumed you weren’t.”
“I’m not,” Alec admits.
“And there’s nothing wrong with that,” Magnus says.
Alec considers. Magnus didn’t have to apologize, but he did. “I might be a little over sensitive,” he allows. “I’m pretty new and not everyone’s been nice.”
“I don’t think you were over sensitive. Some people are assholes. I … was definitely one of them that night. Sometimes my first instinct is to be witty at other people’s expense, because like you said, not everyone’s nice. But it’s not always a good one.”
“I guess I was holding up the line,” Alec says.
“Can I ask you a question?” Magnus asks, turning on the loveseat and pulling his knee up.
“Is Aline your girlfriend?” Alec blinks his surprise at the non-sequitur. “It’s just that no one seems to know for sure.”
Alec squirms at the idea of people talking about his love life, and then flushes at the thought that Magnus wanted to know enough to ask.
“No,” he says quickly. “We’re—” he stops himself. “I’m gay,” he says instead and flushes deeper because it’s only the third time he’s said that to someone and he hadn’t quite meant to say it.
You’re an idiot he tells himself. He might have asked because he likes Aline.
But Magnus smiles wide and leans closer. Alec, helplessly, leans in as well, drawn in by that smile, until their legs are almost touching. “I didn’t think so,” he says, “because I’ve seen the way she watches Helen, but it might just be that she’s a superb drummer appreciator, which is totally understandable.”
Alec has to smile. “One day she’s gonna get up the nerve to talk to her. And by one day I mean, like, maybe one day in a decade or so.”
Magnus throws his head back and laughs and Alec’s throat goes dry. Oh this is bad, he thinks helplessly.
“Maybe we can facilitate something happening sooner than that,” Magnus says. Then he puts a hand on Alec’s wrist and Alec nearly combusts. “And thanks for telling me, about you. I know not everyone’s cool, but thanks for trusting me. Anyway, I’m bi, so you and me and Aline and Helen can be the founding members of The Hideaway Queer Club.”
“Only if I get a button,” Alec says solemnly.
“Buttons!” Magnus exclaims. “Alexander, you’re a genius. Of course we need buttons! And a secret handshake!”
“Would it really be a secret if we had buttons?” Alec asks.
“Oh, they’d know what it was for, but nobody would be allowed to learn it.”
“This is getting more and more complicated. Sounds like we need a treehouse so we can have meetings.”
“I’m sure Eddie would let us use one of his trees,” Magnus says, and he sounds so serious that Alec has to laugh.
“You’re ridiculous,” he says.
“Frequently,” Magnus says. Alec smiles, wide and stupid, but he can’t help himself. Then Magnus says, “Well, I need a cigarette,” and Alec realizes he’s making an idiot of himself.
“Oh yeah,” he says, leaning back. Of course Magnus doesn’t want to waste his whole night in a corner with Alec. “I’ll see you—”
“Come with me?” Magnus asks.
“I don’t smoke,” Alec says. Like an idiot.
“I won’t hold it against you,” Magnus says. “Just come so we can keep talking.”
“Oh, okay, sure.”
He follows Magnus outside, wrapping his arms around his waist in an attempt to ward off the cold that doesn’t work at all. You are going to freeze your nuts off just to impress some boy, he berates himself. But he doesn’t go back inside. Magnus is a very, very pretty boy.
Magnus lights his cigarette and then jumps up and down a few times.
“This is why I need to quit,” he says, and immediately takes another drag.
“Also they’re bad for you or something,” Alec says. Magnus waves off that objection.
“We’re all gonna die someday.”
“Wow, that’s really deep,” Alec deadpans. Magnus laughs, thankfully.
It’s apparently impossible for Magnus to stand around out in the open without people wanting to talk to him. He seems to know everyone. Well, he would if he’s as important to the scene as Aline said. Alec expects him to eventually abandon Alec for one of the people he knows better, but each time, Magnus just says, “Do you know Alec?” And people nod or say “hey man” and most people try to include him in the conversation after that.
They stay outside while Magnus smokes through two cigarettes and stands increasingly closer to Alec while complaining about the cold, until their arms are touching and Alec really hopes the red on his cheeks will be attributed to the cold.
“Then let’s go inside, you lunatic,” Alec says after about the 50th time Magnus complains.
“Oh, you wanna go inside? If you insist, Alexander. See you guys later,” he waves at the people they were talking to and drags Alec back inside.
He kicks different people off the loveseat this time and drags Alec to sit down with him, then goes off on an impassioned rant on why Eli, the current DJ is so much better than Lorenzo (“Eli’s not afraid to play the fun stuff. Lorenzo thinks he has prove how much cooler than everyone else he is.”), the current Saddle Creek lineup (“Bright Eyes is always going to be great, he can afford to branch out a little.”), and then he makes his way back to Dashboard Confessional.
“The thing about Swiss Army Romance,” he says earnestly, “is that it’s really about the whole scene. Not just Idris, but all over.” They’re turned to each other, nearly touching in the middle of the loveseat, heads bent low to each other. Alec occasionally loses the thread of Magnus’ stories because he’s cataloguing the shades of brown in his eyes, but he doesn’t think Magnus notices. “When he calls the you in the song plastic, it’s not an insult. He’s acknowledging that everyone puts on a mask, everyone’s trying to figure out who they are, you know? You’re searching just like everyone, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just where we’re all at.”
“Uh huh,” Alec says.
Magnus smiles and ducks his head. “Sorry, I think I’m talking too much.”
“No,” Alec says. “I didn’t think of it that way when I listened to it. I like it better the way you describe it.”
“It’s not really a song that’s like, ‘you suck,’ it’s about how no one has it all together, so you shouldn’t be throwing stones.”
“Not even you?” Alec asks.
“Especially not me,” Magnus says. “Actually, when I saw you the other week I—“
Magnus cuts himself off and sits up straight. Suddenly he scrambles off the loveseat and grabs Alec arm to pull him up. “Alec, come and dance with me right now.”
Alec lets Magnus pull him to the dance floor that got a whole lot more crowded when A Praise Chorus started playing. The crowd means they’re pressed close while they jump and scream the lyrics at each other. Magnus’ unselfconscious joy is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. He greedily takes in everything, knowing he’ll want to remember every detail of this night for a long time, from the jut of Magnus’ throat when he tilts his head back to the way sweat has smudged the eyeliner around his eyes and the way he smiles every time he catches Alec’s eyes.
“I wanna always feel like part of this was mine!” He sings out, holding Magnus’ gaze. “I wanna fall in love tonight! I wanna fall in love tonight!”
He’s in so much trouble, and he doesn’t even care.
are you gonna live your life standing in the back looking around?
are you gonna waste your time?
gotta make a move or you’ll miss out
i’m on my feet
i’m on the floor
i’m good to go
all i need is just to hear a song i know