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Thorns And Roses

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You can do this, there’s no problem at all. Just get up there. Maybe she won’t even choose you. I mean, look at you. She’s got standards. And I mean- I mean come ON! She won’t choose you, of course not. She’s a smart woman. Oh God, what if she sees through me! What am I gonna do then?! What if she tells everyone that she doesn’t want me there because I’m- I’m-

“Alec!”

Isabelle’s voice cuts like a knife through the anxiety induced haze in Alec’s mind. He jerks his head up, and tries to focus on his sister’s face, his hazel eyes glassy with a cocktail of fear, anxiety, and apprehension, his palms sweaty.

“Alec! Alec, you okay? You with me? Alec?”

“I-I can’t breathe!”

“It’s okay, Alec. I’m here. I’m right here with you. You’re safe, you’re with me. Breathe for me, big brother. I’m right here with you. Just breathe.”

Alec lets his sister’s voice guide him through the fog in his mind, her hands on his arms are a grounding touch. He centres his mind, breathing slowly and deeply.

“Slow and steady, there we go.”

Alec feels a little calmer now. He still isn’t completely out of it, but now that it’s a bit clearer, he can find his way. He finally looks at those mocha brown eyes filled with concern. “It’s better now. Thanks for that, Iz.”

“Don’t thank me now. I am your sister. It’s my job to help you. Even if you are preparing to throw your life away.” Izzy throws her perfectly shaped right eyebrow at him.

“Not again, Iz,” Alec groans.

“You don’t have to do this Alec,” Izzy pleads. 

“I do, actually,” Alec tries to sound determined, but whether it's to Izzy, or himself, he’s not sure.

“No you don’t. Let Jace go up there. He’s okay with it too. Please don’t go.”

“Iz you-“

“Alexander Gideon Lightwood, would you stop being so self-sacrificing every damn minute!” Izzy is getting impatient now.

“Five minutes till camera rolls people!” The assistant director, Aline , Alec remembers, yells.

“I have to go Iz.” Alec half-walks, half-runs away from her, not sure if the walls around his heart can take another blow of her determined reasoning.

Of course I have to do this. I’m no good to my parents otherwise. Having a son like me is practically political suicide, and if doing this means they have a better time campaigning, well, I could happily die for them, and this is just marriage.

Yes, Jace could’ve gone up there, but this will need diplomacy, and a clean media presence, and as much as I love him, the playboy image doesn’t help here. It’s all about strategies. And Jace is not who someone would go to for strategies. And after the media outrage my parents faced the last few months, I’ll do anything to protect my family name. 

Even if it means denying that I’m- you know. 

And-and, yeah meeting someone who loves me for who I am would be wonderful. God knows I’ve been having this dream since I was 12 years old! But that's all it is, a 'dream'. This is the real world. It sucks.

It’s not like Mom and Dad can just change their whole lives. They have high hopes from this campaign. I can’t screw this up. 

I have to think about my family.

“Okay people, let’s begin the Rose Ceremony. It’s showtime.” Aline gives a thumbs up.

Alec adjusts his black bowtie and smoothes down non-existent creases on the black lapels of his wine-purple tuxedo jacket.

Showtime indeed.

  ---------------------------------------

 “Miss Blackthorn?" Aline knocks on the door to her green room thrice.

No answer.

“Ma’am, we’re starting shooting in an hour.”

No answer.

“Ma’am?”

A muffled voice comes through the door.

“Ma’am I’m coming in,” Aline decides in a moment.

Aline opens the door cautiously, and finds Helen sitting on the floor, far away from the door, tucking her head in between her knees, the light dimmed in the room. Aline approaches her, stopping outside her personal space.

“Miss Blackthorn, you okay?”

“It’s okay, I’ll be ready in a minute. Sorry you had to see all-all this.” Helen wipes her face with the back of her left hand, right hand gesturing at herself.

“It’s not a problem Ma’am. Do you need anything? Maybe someone to talk to?” Aline doesn’t dare to move from her spot, afraid she may startle Helen with any sudden movement 

“It’s okay, really, you don’t have to listen to me. The show starts in a couple minutes, I’m sure you have many things to do.” Helen finally looks up at the woman before her.

Bright jade eyes start at the bottom, taking in the olive green Doc Martens, following the black jeans to the untucked black t-shirt, to the sleeveless olive green hoodie thrown over it, a grey binder tucked at the crook of her elbow. She reaches up to the face, and there’s a headset around the woman’s neck, crackling with incoherent sounds. 

But Helen can’t seem to care about that, as she takes in the beautiful face in front of her, framed by shoulder length jet black hair, brown eyes that seem almost black in the low light, pulling her attention in even more, with unabashed concern and kindness in them. There isn’t a trace of makeup on that face. It is the most beautiful face Helen has ever seen, and she works with professional models on a daily basis.

“Actually, I could use a little break. From all the production hustle, you know,” Aline says sitting down in front of her, her chocolate brown eyes twinkling with a smile. “If that’s alright with you, Ma’am?”

“Oh please, call me Helen. And I just don’t want to waste your time with my problems. Wait, you didn’t tell me your name.”

“Aline. Aline Penhallow. And please, feel free to talk about whatever you want. I’m told I’m a good problem solver.” Aline smiles and makes a fake snobby gesture, making Helen laugh for the first time since she entered the room. Aline stares at her form shaking with laughter.

Wow, she’s breathtaking!

“Is that so? Well then, here it is, the woes of my life.” Helen makes an over-dramatic gesture of touching the back of her right hand to her forehead, making Aline break into a smile. Helen's eyes widen seeing her smile. 

Holy crap, that is a beautiful smile! 

“It’s just- it’s gonna seem really silly.” Helen hesitates.

“I always wear mismatched socks. Right now, I’m wearing a purple one and an orange one,” Aline says after a moment.

“What? What does that have to do with anything?” Helen asks, scrunching her nose, completely thrown off track now.

Awww, she looks so cute with her nose scrunched up! Damn it Penhallow, control yourself!

“You said it’s gonna seem silly. Well, I wear mismatched socks for good luck, it seems silly to you, but it’s absolutely important and serious to me. Whatever it is, it’s serious enough to bother you, so don’t worry. Just tell me.”

Helen stares at her. I-I don’t know what to think of this.

Finally, Helen clears her throat.

“Thank you. I needed that. It's just, I-I miss my family tonight. My parents aren’t alive anymore, but I have six siblings. I’m the oldest. Mark and Jules are actually babysitting the rest for the time being. But that’s what I’m worried about. I love them, but I’ll be lucky if I get home to the house in one piece after this.” Helen’s eyes shine with fondness, her mouth curling into a soft smile.

She’s a great sister.

“If they’re anything like their sister, I think they’ll be fine,” Aline says matter-of-factly.

“Thank you for that Aline. That’s very kind of you.”

“I’m just being honest,” Aline shrugs.

“Actually I was wond-“

Helen gets cut off by someone’s shout coming from Aline’s headset that she'd put on the ground before sitting down.

“Oh crap! I’m so sorry to do this, but we’re down to fifteen minutes now. And I really need to get you ready,” Aline says, guiltily.

“No, no, please, it’s your job. And I’m sure I couldn’t have had a better person to talk to. Thank you for helping me, Aline. I feel better now, thanks to you.”

“It’s my pleasure. You’re gonna be amazing, Helen. And if you need someone to talk to, just find me.”

“I may just take you up on that offer,” Helen smiles at her.

“Penhallow! We need Camera 1 and 5, ready to go, stat. PENHALLOW!”

“Coming Boss!” Aline faces Helen, “Duty calls.”

“I’ll get ready too. Break a leg, Penhallow.”

“Break some hearts, Blackthorn.” Aline gives her a wave, and leaves, beaming at the smile Helen gives her.

Later, when she sees Helen step in front of the camera, in a stunning silver gown, her silver blond hair in wavy locks, and jade eyes rimmed in purple eyeshadow and mascara, crystal purple stilettos on, wearing a million-dollar smile, she suddenly feels jealous of the ten men standing opposite her.

 ---------------------------------------

Magnus looks at himself in the mirror of the vanity in the green room. The show operator has given him the fifteen minutes warning, till his appearance, coming in at the middle of the show instead of the start as a twist. He will be the surprise contestant of this season, and one of the ten originals will be going home. It was a PR strategy, to keep the audience on the edge of their seat, and he admits that it will work. The public loves twists and turns in a love story after all.

He's donning a charcoal grey suit of his own design, a hot pink tie with a silver arrow tie pin, purple vest, jewellery and rings worn in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, perfectly coiffed hair with fuchsia highlights, his favourite snake ear cuff in his left ear, and Ralph Lauren boots. Magnus is glad he decided to go with his winged purple eyeliner, and black eyeshadow. He has kept the ring finger of his left hand empty, to present as a punch line thought up by the show runners, Magnus rolls his eyes at that. And of course, glitter is a must. After all, he is Magnus Bane, The Glitter God of fashion.

Magnus rubs together his impeccably manicured index finger and thumb of his left hand, a nervous tick he’s had since early childhood.

I’m doing this. I’m actually doing this. I’m taking a chance on love.

A love where the public gets to witness every part of my story.

Well, maybe this time, it will be better. Camille and I were so private, but when she broke my heart, it didn’t hurt any less, maybe this sort of transparency would be better for me.

But all of this applies only if Helen even chooses me at the end. Hell, if we even have something worth choosing.

She is a wonderful human being, Magnus thinks. He met her during one of the fashion photoshoots for his 2018 Fall collection for Threadbare , the famous fashion magazine published from Helen's company, Thornbush . In spite of being the CEO, Helen was there to personally greet Magnus and his team, and he found out that she does that for every client. Feeling intrigued, Magnus talked to Helen before, during and after the photoshoot, and had been pleasantly surprised to find her smart, funny and hard-working, with intricate knowledge of all of the departments under her supervision. Also, it was her strict and fair work-ethic as well as couture fashion sense that won him over. Not all CEOs were like Helen, and Magnus wished they stayed in touch after that. 

Oh well, she’s gonna know me pretty well for the next couple of weeks. What if she doesn’t like what gets dredged up in this?

I’m putting my entire soul on the line here.

It may just be a disaster. Maybe I should’ve declined when they asked me if I was interested, I had just broken up with Camille, AGAIN, and I-

No. NO. I’m done letting Camille manipulate me.  Now I don’t care if I get my soulmate from here, or if I get my heart broken, it will all be on MY terms. No more cheating, no more lies. I’m taking back my life from her.

One rose at a time.  

 

Chapter Text

Alec feels his heart racing inside his chest, threatening to burst out any time. He takes a deep breath, remembering his mother’s words when Simon mentioned about the producers looking for eligible bachelors suitable for Helen.

“A chance to create a love story, in the public eyes. This could help the campaign, don’t you think so Robert?” Maryse asks her husband, who simply replies with a curt nod. Alec, even with his better than average memory, fails to remember when he saw his father display affection towards any family member when they were not in front of a camera lens.

She immediately put Simon on the job to research ‘this Blackthorn girl’, as she put it. It took Simon one day to dig up virtually everything that there was to know about her, and after reviewing the file in one evening, the matriarch had announced at the dinner table that Alec would be participating.

 “Alec, you are the eldest, and you are a Lightwood. We need a win. After the media leak about The Circle, I don’t want there to be anything other than good publicity, not if I can help it. And you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. I trust that you won’t let us down. I don’t care what you have to do, who you have to deal with, you are going there, and you are winning that little reality show, and the voters will associate the Lightwood name with a beautiful, sappy love story, and it’s gonna affect the ballot. What do you say?” Maryse looks at him with determination in her eyes, lips pursed, making her look very much like an executioner rather than a matriarch.

As if she would’ve accepted anything other than ‘yes’.

Alec still remembers what he was feeling at that moment. Strangely enough, it wasn’t as though his world was ending, like sandcastles of his dreams getting toppled by a wave crashing on the shore. 

No. Instead he felt calm, cautious. There was no sandcastle to be destroyed anyway. Alec knows that he couldn’t have what he wanted, no matter how hard he wanted. He has known that since he was asked by his parents to have a discussion with them about his political career, on his 15th birthday. It was their way of securing the Lightwood legacy. That day when she made that announcement, Alec felt like a burden was lifted from his shoulders. He is a soldier in his parents fight to make it to the top, and like any soldier, when he gets an order, it’s his job to carry it out. He remembers calmly exhaling, then looking at his mother straight in her chocolate brown eyes, and he remembers saying ‘yes’, firmly, the graveness of his own voice surprised him.

He remembers excusing himself from the table, saying that he wasn’t feeling well and going up to his room. Izzy and Jace tell him that they found him sitting on his bed, staring at nothing, like he was not tethered to anything earthly. He only remembers suddenly feeling the crushing weight of his siblings hugging him tightly, and the damp feeling in the front of his shirt where Izzy buried her face in, his shoulder under a death grip of Jace’s hand. He remembers it like waking up from a sleep he doesn’t remember falling into, and the blank expression on his face only urging them to hold him closer.

The next few weeks Izzy and Jace kept pestering him to say no to Maryse, Izzy going as far as threatening to never talk to him again. But Alec remembers smiling and telling her that everything would be fine. Jace dared to ask Maryse to consider him for the show, but she immediately shot him down saying that they needed a cautiously crafted fairytale, and Jace was too brash for that to work. Alec remembers Izzy wincing at her words, and then looking over at Alec to mouth ‘I’m sorry’, Alec simply mouthing ‘it’s okay’ back.

He didn’t feel anything anyway.

Helen’s a great person , Alec thinks . Kind, caring, responsible. It’s already better than he ever imagined it would be.

“Alexander Lightwood!” The host, James’s dramatic and cheery voice breaks Alec out of his reverie. He looks up at the audience, trying to put on his best smile. 

“The best bet of the show, according to our audience! I mean, they’re not wrong. Valedictorian, graduating college summa cum laude, with a degree in Criminal Law, and a pristine social media presence,” he continues animatedly, then whispers in a secretive way into the mic, “and he’s not so bad on the eyes either,” then winking wildly at the camera.

Alec blushes at that, gaining him a combined ‘awww’ from the crowd.

“So, Alex I-” 

“It’s Alec, actually. I prefer Alec,” he corrects James immediately, cringing at his bluntness a second later.

Thrown off track, James only takes a moment to compose himself. “Alec, uncommon, unique, intriguing, a lot like yourself, isn’t it ladies?” He tries to salvage the awkward situation, and the audience, mostly consisting of young women, laughs out in response. It takes all of Alec’s willpower to keep from rolling his eyes in front of the camera.

“So, Alec! Tell us a bit about yourself.” James looks at Alec inquisitively.

Well my mother wants me to be here for their political career, my palms are sweaty, my heart rate is erratic, I’m emotionally exhausted, and I’m so deep in the closet, Aslan can’t even find me here.

He doesn’t say that of course. Instead he sits up straight, crossing his leg, chin held high, while straightening his wine purple jacket, establishing his hold on the audience by all the techniques taught by his mother. He then takes the mic from James and speaks into it.

“Well, my name is Alec, I’m 29 years old, and,” Alec pauses strategically, “I’m trying to find someone to share my love and my life with.”

The well-rehearsed speech, written by Jace, earns him a roaring applause from the audience. And Alec thanks every higher being in the universe for blessing him with Jace as his brother.

James then moves on to explain the process of the show, and Alec stops listening halfway to his first sentence, his mind too restless to focus.

Okay then, let’s do this. One day down. The rest of my life to go.

He doesn’t even flinch at the inner proclamation of despair anymore.

----------------------------------------------

Whoo, ok. Step one, go out there. Step two, smile. Step three, make introductions. Step four, choose someone to send home. Easy enough, right?

Her anxiety has been peaking the entire day. In front of so many people, every facet of her on display for the world to see. It makes her feel vulnerable and exposed.

My work is for the world to see, Helen contemplates, but doesn’t mean I’m ready for the world to see me. I wonder what Ty and Livvy are up to now. Maybe they’re asking Jules to read them Sherlock Holmes again. Emma’s there with him, I wonder when they’ll stop pining and finally fess up, she smiles fondly .

Wait, why didn’t Mark call me yet? He was supposed to inform me about the Threadbare June cover, we need to submit it by- oh right! Today’s the 5th, the Kiearktina dinner date! Kit’s gonna have a field day with that! That reminds me, what the damn hell is Kit doing? Boy if you wait for Ty to come out and say romantic proclamations then we’re gonna be here forever. Just do it already, and save us the angst. 

That’s it! We should have an article in the June cover about angst in today’s relationships because of lack of communication. Lord knows the world needs clearer communication, and people who don’t pretend, but don’t trade kindness for snark.

People like Aline. I hope I’ll see her again. How did she manage to calm me down anyway? I haven’t been this comfortable with anyone in, holy shit, it’s been a long time. Wonder what she’s doing now? 

Probably running around in her mismatched socks.

A fond smile finds its way in Helen’s face absently.

“Miss Blackthorn you’re going in,” the stage detail says, capturing her attention.

“Yes, yes, of course. Thank you,” Helen smiles.

“You’re welcome, Miss Blackthorn.”

Helen nods to herself and then takes a deep breath, relaxing her nerves. Then she goes up the stage, in perfect sync with James introducing her as the latest Bachelorette. She waves at the crowd, smiling beautifully, immediately winning some heart eyes from the audience.

James then ushers her over to the bachelors sitting on the other side of the stage, and she sits on a plush royal blue sofa, taking her place in between the men, strategically arranged to endorse her as the queen bee. Entertainment industry and its dramatics, Helen thinks sarcastically.

“Now that the one we all have been waiting for with baited breath is finally here, everyone please welcome this season’s participants of The Bachelorette .”

The crowd roars and cheers at that, and Helen plasters her best smile on, ready to be under the constant scrutiny of the public. 

“We do have a surprise for you, but before, let’s get everyone introduced, shall we?” James’ puts his hands together, and everyone sits up straight.

“Helen, you are our Bachelorette for this season,” Helen nods at that, “Can you describe how you are feeling?”

Helen takes a second to herself, trying to put her thoughts straight. Even after all these years spent in front of a camera lens, her anxiety still unnerves her at the most inopportune moments. But she’s nothing if not professional, so she schools her face in an amused expression.

“To be perfectly honest, James, I’m overwhelmed,” Helen smiles at the camera, “I’m so grateful to be here right now, that all these wonderful individuals want to be here to consider the potential of a relationship with me.” She notices a hazel-eyed boy smiling kindly at her, which helps her with the anxiety a little, and she speaks into the camera, “and I’m so proud of the fact that America chose me as their Bachelorette, and I sincerely hope I can do your love justice.”

The audience erupts into loud applause and cheering for Helen.

“Now, for introductions, Helen, these are our ten bachelors, ten of the amazing eligible bachelors competing for your hand.” James pauses to turn at her.

“Is there enough place for one more on that couch?”

Everyone turns to look at the owner of the voice.

“Magnus!” Helen exclaims happily.

---------------------------------------------

The crowd turns the heads at the same time the contestants look up at the entrance at the end of the audience seats.

Magnus revels in the attention. They can’t look away, of course they can’t, I’ve made sure they wouldn’t.

He snaps up at Helen calling his name. She looks beautiful, he thinks, stunning, sophisticated, filled with measured risks. Yet, there’s a hint of fire underneath that sophistication, fire that burns as white as the platinum blond curls of her hair, fire that reveals she isn’t a stereotyped ‘dumb blond’, but a soul full of life, and love. Clear headed, poised, Helen’s as close to perfection as people can get. But do I deserve even a speck of it? 

“What’s Magnus doing here?” Helen faces James, confused at the events happening in front of her.

“Surprise!” Magnus says, throwing his hands up in the air dramatically, and walks down to the stage, steps slow enough for everyone to take a good look at him, but fast enough for him to reach the stage in time for James to walk up to him from his seat.

“Everyone, please welcome, our mystery guest, our trump card, the Glitter God himself. Magnus Bane!”

“Ah James, you flatter me,” Magnus shakes hands with him, and then proceeds to the couch where all the other contestants are seated.

“Magnus, it’s a pleasure!” Helen gives him a true smile, making him smile in turn.

“Trust me Helen, the pleasure’s all mine.”

Magnus looks around for a place to sit, but the only one available is next to-

WOW!

Dark hair that makes his pale skin stand out even more, hazel eyes that looks like an entire galaxy got trapped in those irises, legs for days! 

“May I sit here?”

Hazel-eyes gapes at that, and scrambles away to make a seat for Magnus.

Of course I’d come out to have a good time with the calm, poised one, and honestly get attacked by the shy disaster.

“Magnus Bane, I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced?” Magnus sticks out his hand.

Hazel-eyes turn panicked, and after a few moments, he answers in a voice that makes Magnus smile like a smitten teenager.

“Al-Alec.”

After a few moments of staring, hazel-eyes, Alec , stammers, “We should ah-probably-ah-” gesturing at the rest of the people on the stage who are introducing themselves to Helen.

Right, Helen!

“Right, we should join the others.” Magnus decides to revisit this conversation later.

Alec smiles dopily at Magnus, and then abruptly turns away, as if remembering something.

Magnus decides to let it go, and focuses on the other contestants. Well, tries to anyway.

There’s Michael Whitegraves, the gym instructor, and fitness enthusiast who owns a gym chain in LA, Harvey Cartwright, the event planner, Alfred Dearborn, the cardiologist, Emil Pangborn, the entrepreneur, Sebastian Verlac, the restaurateur, Jonathan Morgernstern, the industrialist, Rajwabardhan Chowdhury, the architect, Victor Aldertree, the lawyer, and Meliorn Seelieson, the actor/singer. And of course, there’s Magnus and Alec, the fashion god and the law professor at NYU, respectively.

This year’s contestants hail from varied arrays of occupations, which amuses Magnus. James then turns to Magnus, asking him to say his piece, since he wasn’t there when the other contestants said theirs.

“Magnus, why is it that the king of Bane fashion empire needs a consort now?”

Magnus arches an eyebrow at that.

“Well first, James, and Helen, please feel free to tell me if I am overstepping my bounds, she’s not anyone’s consort, she’s the queen of her own empire.” Helen’s smile shines brighter than the spotlights shining on them at that statement. To his credit, James looks a bit flustered.

“And to answer your poorly framed question, I’m a romantic at heart, but I’ve fallen for too many wrong people, for reasons that were simply not enough in hindsight. But, I know her, and I respect and admire her, in every way possible, and if there is a chance of us happening, well I will fight for it.” Magnus intends to finish with a look and smile at Helen, but ends up smiling at Alec, who in turn seems to find his face the eighth wonder of the world.

“Well,” James drawls theatrically, “Is your admiration strong enough to battle all these gentlemen?”

Magnus chuckles softly, then turns serious, “well, no one says love is easy. But you know James,” he touches his silver serpent ear cuff, a wicked smile on his face, “I do love a challenge.”

The crowd claps at the loudest they can, making Magnus smile, and he looks at Helen to find her smiling back at him. But it’s the hazel in Alec’s eyes, filled with fondness, desire, and curiosity, that tugs at Magnus’ heartstrings, making it impossible to ignore the blushing man sitting next to him.

Not that he wants to ignore him anyway.

But, they are reaching the end of the show, and the actual Rose Ceremony is about to start in five minutes, when Magnus feels the usual tug of insecurity in the back of his mind.

Is she going to choose me? What if she doesn’t? What if I’m too flashy for her? I know she likes me as a friend, but maybe she doesn’t want such a flamboyant person as her life-partner. I wouldn’t blame her, it is her choice after all. And-and I was prepared to live out my life alone anyway, this was just a gambit. 

Wonder if it’s the same for everyone here. What is it for Alexander? Alec, right. Though Alexander suits him more, you know. Regal, royal, thoughtful, reserved, and beautiful. 

“Gentlemen, when Helen calls out your name, please step forward. Helen, whenever you’re ready.” James gestures at the ten roses displayed on a beautiful silver tray in front of her.

Helen then starts calling out names. Magnus’ heart rate picks up with each name.

“Meliorn, would you accept this rose?” “Of course, Helen.”

One down, nine to go.

“Victor, would you accept this rose?” “Yes, Helen.”

Two down, eight to go.

“Emil, would you accept this rose?” “It would be my pleasure.”

Three down, seven to go.

“Alfred, would you accept this rose?” “Absolutely.”

Four down, six to go.

“Raj, would you accept this rose?” “Thought you’d never ask.”

Five down, five to go.

“Jonathan, would you accept this rose?” “Of course.”

Six down, four to go.

“Sebastian, would you accept this rose?” “Unwaveringly.”

Seven down, three to go.

“Harvey, would you accept this rose?” “Without a question.”

Eight down, two to go.

“Magnus, would you accept my rose?” 

Breathe in, breathe out.

“I would be honoured, darling.”

Magnus takes the rose Helen offers to him, and presses a soft kiss on her cheek, making her smile sweetly. Magnus smiles too, and takes his place with the rest of the men.

That’s when he notices the two people left.

Oh no, Alexander!

What if Helen doesn’t choose him? I was really looking forward to knowing him better. Wait, what am I thinking? Anyone worth anything would know better than to pass up on him. And Helen’s a smart woman, of course she wouldn’t do that. 

Damn it, he looks like a scared puppy there, he’s gonna be ok, right?

“There’s only one rose left, and the two gentlemen, Michael and Alec. Helen, take your time.”

“Michael,” Helen speaks, “I’m impressed by your passion for making the world a healthier place, and your dedication to it. I myself am passionate about my work, and I admire that in others as well.”

“Alec, would you please come here?”

Alec walks over to her, determination clear in his gait, and squares his shoulders as he stands in front of her.

“Alec, you have made an intriguing first impression on me. You appear calm and reserved, your words are measured, but,” she breaks into a soft smile, “your words are firm, determined, but gentle. You have a very calming presence, which seems so insignificant, but very few actually have. And you were the first person up on the stage today to smile at me like a true friend, not just someone who wants to marry me.”

“That’s what I want in someone I might end up sharing my life with. A best friend. So, Alec Lightwood, would you accept my rose?” 

Magnus sees relief flood over Alec’s face, but there’s also something else.

Disappointment, maybe. But why would he be disappointed to be chosen?

“Of course. Thank you for considering me, Helen.” Alec takes the rose and gives her a kiss on the cheek, which she takes, gladly.

“Michael, I like you, I do, but I don’t think we’re compatible together. So I have to let you go. Good luck, take care.”

As Helen bids the man goodbye, Magnus darts his eyes back to Alec, who is very intently pulling at the cuff of his purple jacket. Magnus makes a mental note to talk to him later at length, and instead tries to focus on smiling widely when the show ends with the overhead camera getting a wide shot of all the bachelors together.

Ok, one Rose Ceremony down, ten more to go. And maybe I’ll even get to know Helen be- is that a tattoo on his neck?! How did I not notice that before?

Magnus stares at the inked skin poking out of Alec’s shirt collar as he scratches the back of his neck, adorably, in Magnus’ totally unbiased opinion.

Tattoos. He has TATTOOS!

Well, in my defence, he also has soulful hazel eyes. They’re distracting me from his freaking tattoos!

Magnus takes a deep breath. 

Crap, I’m screwed.

Chapter Text

“Mr Lightwood, here’re your keys, you’ll be staying in room 1701, our staff will show you the way.” The lovely receptionist, Kaelie , Alec notices, gestures him to the elevator.

The Bachelorette production has provided lodging and wardrobe for everyone who made it past the first round, and the grandeur of the lobby of ‘The Seelie Realm’ shows why they would choose that particular hotel. The walls are painted a beautiful sage green, with vine designs strewn across them in all bright emerald. At the centre of the circular lobby is a beautiful lily shaped carmine glass centre table. Alec follows the bellboy to the elevator.

Oof, wish I could sleep for a week straight. But hey, keep wishing Alec, maybe you can will it into reality. 

Alec can practically feel his Dad’s stern gaze, saying “Lightwoods are supposed to be the best of the best, you can sleep when you’re dead. And that’s the order.”

Ah, the order. His parents’ words are practically laws in their house. 

And as Maryse loves to remind her children, “The Law is hard, but it is the Law.”

So much for a long rest.

As he gets into the elevator, Alec’s mind wanders off, thinking about the shoot.

1, ding.

Helen’s nice. Beautiful. Elegant. She loves her company so much. Passionate. 

2, ding.

Michael left. So there’s one less person to compete against.

3, ding.

Damn! How do I even compete against those people.

4, ding.

They’re all so perfect. Successful, handsome. 

5, ding.

Not to mention straight. They actually WANT to marry her, to-to love her. And-and give her everything she deserves.

6, ding.

But, I’m here to compete, for my family. Doesn’t matter what I think, I have to win.  Thank God she chose me. I can’t get eliminated after the first ceremony only. Mom and Dad are counting on me.

7, ding.

But, but, Helen. She deserves more. I can’t do this to her. She deserves better. Better than someone who’s doing this-this charade-

8, ding.

Someone like Magnus, maybe.

Magnus is-is- hell I don’t know how to describe him. So beautiful. Like one of Michelangelo’s sculptures. Those eyes. People can get lost in those. He’s so respectful towards Helen, something she deserves. Something she should have. Of course she’s a queen. And he is obviously a king. Of their empires. Not like me.

Helen deserves someone who will shower her with-with love and compliments, and-and who she can happily grow old with. A true partner. A best friend, like she said.

And Magnus- Magnus deserves someone like Helen. Someone who can understand his world. Who can properly appreciate him. Who doesn’t get shy every time someone tries to talk to him. And how do I even-I don’t even wanna be here. I just-I want this to be over. I can’t-

“Mr Lightwood? Sir?”

Alec lifts his head up to find the bellboy holding the door open for him. “Your floor Sir.”

“Oh yes,” Alec tries to swallow the panic down. “Thanks. Uh-uh here,” he goes to tip him.

“Thank you, Sir.” The man then leaves him in front of his room, just round the corner.

There’s only one other suite on the floor. Perks of being one of the most eligible bachelors, I guess.

Alec puts the key in and twists it, pushing the door open. 

A gush of cold air greets him, a shiver running down his spine.

You’d like to think seeing an empty place wouldn’t bother me, especially after all these years. Izzy likes to ask me if it does.

I tell her no, you know, like a liar.

Well, no can do.  Better get used to this, Lightwood. Not like miracles are happening left and right.

Alec goes to the bedroom, an empty four poster bed with cream sheets welcoming him.

Well, at least the bed’s comfy.

A chill runs down his spine, Alec shivers a little. He has always been a little colder than other people, even during fall. Izzy likes to tease him about his holey sweaters and scarves, but hey, they’re practical.

Seriously, what’s up with the heating here?! I’m shivering. Where’s the suitcase? Wait, did they bring my suitcase up?

Alec goes to check the closet.  

Nope, nothing in the closet.

Except me of course.

Damn it! After a whole day of running around and stressing, I can’t even fall asleep! Shit, what if they mistake my luggage for someone else’s? 

Cursing out loud, Alec sprints to the elevator. His steps are ragged, his body already taking toll of the day’s emotional stress, aching for sleep.

Just as the elevator is about to close, Alec heard a voice calling out to hold the door.

No, not A voice. 

THE voice.

Smooth, warm, confident, elegant. Like someone mixed all the seven wonders of the world together and then decided that it wasn’t enough, so proceeded to add-

“Thank you so much! Oh Alexander! It’s you.” Magnus’ eyes glint under the neon lights of the elevator, his smile making Alec’s heart beat faster.

Those are beautiful, aren’t they?

“Going down?” 

“Wha-what?” Alec stammers.

“Going to the lower floors, Darling?” Magnus gives Alec an amused smile.

“Lobby” is all Alec manages to squeak out.

He’s standing right next to me!

HE CALLED ME DARLING!

Okay Lightwood, be cool. Do NOT screw up. Don’t, just don’t.

“What are you doing on my floor Alexander?” Magnus gives Alec a curious look.

Wait. Hold the fuck up. No. No, no no no no.

HIS floor?!

“Your-um-your floor?” Alec just doesn’t believe his ears.

“Yes, I’m in 1700. Why?” Alec’s eyes widen.

“I’m-um-in-in 1701.” Alec feels his throat close up.

“Oh really?” Magnus’ face lights up. “Well, guess we’re neighbours then, for the time being.”

The elevator dings as it reaches the lobby. Magnus gets out first, turning to face Alec.

“Good night Alexander. See you around.”

Alec stands in the elevator, frozen on the spot.

Alec’s face lights up in a lopsided dazed grin.

Yay, he’s across the hall from me!

Realization dawns, and Alec’s eyes widen, and the grin vanishes, eyebrows vanishing in the mop of his raven hair, unruly from all the time he runs his hand through it.

Oh no, he’s across the hall from me!

--------------------------------------------

Magnus stands in front of the fountain in the hotel garden, taking deep breaths. This hotel is one of the places he and Camille came very often, so the once-sweet memories flooding his brain are leaving a bitter taste in his mouth.

He was going to stay in, but the walls seem to engulf all of him. Every time he stands in the balcony, he can feel her scorning him, standing beside him, swaying her blond ponytail back and forth.

You think you can win Helen Blackthorn? Oh Magnus, you’re so naive! It’s off-putting, Darling. Helen will take one look at you and she’ll throw you aside for someone better.

I mean, have you looked at yourself?

You dress like a peacock strutting around, a madman trying to assert his sanity. You don’t deserve Helen. 

You cry and drink yourself to sleep on the anniversary of your mom’s death. Helen doesn’t want a crybaby. And, on that note, who wants to marry the son of a man who murdered his wife in cold blood? While his six-year-old watched, I might add?

Oh Magnus, no one wants to love you. No one can love a man like you, especially when you are the way you are.

Magnus can feel her green eyes boring into his skull, drilling a hole in his head with her patronizing gaze, guarded with a lovely tinge of concern.

No one wants you. No one ever will.

Magnus takes a deep breath, swallowing hard. He tries to find his jacket, to get out of the room. 

I’m suffocating. I need air.

He sees the cravat in the side pocket of his suitcase, the one he bought to match Camille’s dress in this year’s Met Gala. A beautiful shade of blood-red ruby. It mirrors the ruby necklace he got her to wear with her gold dress, with an inscription on the inside.

Amor. Love. The love of my life, I thought.

What a love, indeed!

Magnus can still hear her voice wafting through their shared hotel room, where he first saw her in the very familiar, very intimate position with that English model, Ralph Scott.

“Ralph! Please! Oh, Ralph!”

He was so shocked that his feet were planted on the floor, and not until Camille had opened her eyes and looked straight into his eyes, her eyes lustful and carefree, he managed to gain his bearings.

He had stormed out, fuming, humiliated and heartbroken. He’d spent the entire day at the hotel bar, checking for flights available, and booked the first one he could find, planning to leave at the first chance he could grab.

He thought about leaving behind the stuff he left in the room, but that also contained several of his newest designs, his passport and visa, and some of the mementos he kept to remind him of his closest friends. So he finally decided to pay one last visit to the woman he’d thought he would’ve married one day.

He’d found Camille draped over the bed, in her sheer purple dressing gown, turning pages of the latest issue of Vogue leisurely.

Looking at the bed seemed to only instigate his anger, his humiliation, and his heartbreak. So he decided to simply take his stuff and leave, not bother speaking to her.

But just as he packed everything up, Camille had called him out, in her sickly sweet tone, the same tone that once made him smile, now simply made him feel the daggers she drove down his back.

“Magnus, sweetie, what’s all this?”

He had stood his ground, refusing to turn around, to even acknowledge her.

“Magnus, speak up. Where are we going? Have you planned me another impromptu trip to Paris?”

Magnus had turned around at that, incredulous at her cheerful tone. What was she talking about?!

“Camille, I haven’t planned you anything. I-I thought you made your stand clear.” Magnus struggled to keep his voice even, pent up emotions threatening to spill at every word.

“What stand? Sweetheart, what are you talking about?” Camille had looked confused, then cheering up the next moment, “Oh we’re roleplaying, I see. Wait, let me get ready. I love when you get creative for us.” She clapped her hands together, then started to get up.

“Are you serious right now? There is no ‘us’ Camille. Not anymore.” Magnus tried hard to rein in his emotions. “You destroyed every chance of it when you slept with that model.”

“Oh that. Is that what this is all about?” Camille had made it sound like she was talking to a five-year-old throwing a temper tantrum. “Baby, please tell me you’re not upset because of that silly matter.”

“Silly? Is that what you think this is? Camille you cheated on me! In our hotel room! In front of me!”

“Magnus dear,” Camille had cooed. “Please tell me you didn’t think that you were the only one.”

Magnus had made his leave at that. He could hear Camille yelling after him.

“Magnus Bane! You self-righteous prick! You’ll come back to me one day! You’ll see that no one in this world wants you! You will break your sad little heart and you will come crawling back to me! Because only I could ever put it back together! I’m the only one who ever cared about you Magnus! You’ll see!”

The wet fabric of his jacket makes Magnus realize that he has been standing in the middle of his suite for a while now, tears streaming down his face. Even after eight months, the wound she made in his heart is still fresh, turning into gangrene slowly day after day.

He is out of the room before he even realizes, his feet having a mind of their own.

Then the face he last expected to see greets him in the elevator.

Alexander Lightwood.

With those shifty hazel eyes filled with wonder, Alec stammers through every question Magnus asks.

Magnus takes away only three things from that conversation.

First, it’s very easy to make Alec blush. Magnus looks forward to doing that many more times.

Second, Alec looks like an angel while blushing. Truth be told, he looks divine all the damn time.

And the last one, Alec is just across the hall from him.

As Magnus walks to the fountain in the hotel garden, his mind backtracks to the man in the elevator.

 Alexander. 

He looks so open, it’s refreshing after being betrayed as many times I have in my life. 

He is also my neighbour for the next two months.

He doesn’t talk much, does he? Not the typical strong, silent type either. He’s mysterious, but that seems like a beautiful mystery, the one he lets only the most intimate people in on.

And he smiles so beautifully. Like all the stars in the sky decided to come together to dazzle the one he’s smiling at. He should smile more, people can easily fall in love with that smile.

But he wasn’t smiling when he got the rose. Why?

Why was he not happy when he got the rose? Like he was hoping to stay, but if he were to be let go, he would be relieved.

What’s his burden? Those eyes seem like he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Should I ask him? Maybe I can help him.

Magnus shakes his head, trying to throw the idea off.

No, Magnus, stop getting ahead of yourself. Stay within your limits. Just because he seems like a good person, doesn’t mean he wants you getting nosy in his business.

When Magnus does make it back to his room, he heads straight to bed, his head filled with questions about the hazel-eyed boy in the other suite, nerves calmer than they were when he left. Plopping down on his peach sheets, he sleeps better than he has in months.

--------------------------------------------

Knock, knock.

Helen glances at the clock, her face scrunches up noting the time in the emerald green dial.

A quarter to eleven.

Who’s here knocking at my hotel door at this time?

She stands up, putting the well-worn copy of Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone down, and checks through the eye-hole in the door. Better safe than sorry.

Of all the people she thought of being on the other side of that door, the face she sees is completely unexpected.

But not unwelcome of course.

“Aline!” Helen practically beams, “what are you doing here so late?”

Aline looks Helen up and down, taking in her owl-print indigo pyjamas, and t-shirt with Ravenclaw crest in the middle of it.

Helen smiles sheepishly, remembering her outfit, “I thought I’d turn in for the night, and uh-”she motions at the shirt, “I’m a bit of a fangirl.”

Aline smiles at the woman in front of her. Never in a million years did she expect to see someone so sophisticated and fashionable as Helen in Harry Potter pyjamas.

She looks so cute in those pyjamas. Wait, she’s wearing pyjamas!

Of course it’s late for her! Penhallow, you idiot! She was getting ready for bed. Not everyone is a night owl like you dumbass! 

“I just wanted to talk to you about the next shoot. But, damn, I didn’t realize it was so late. Perks of working odd hours,” Aline shrugs. “I can come back tomorrow.”

Just as Aline turns to leave, Helen catches her wrist. “No, please. Stay, I don’t mind.”

Aline doesn’t move for the spot, not so much because of what the other girl says, mostly because her head pretty much stops working when she feels Helen’s hold on her wrist.

Her hands are so soft, like an Angel!

Focus on the important parts Penhallow! 

She’s holding my wrist!

“Uh, um, uh,'' Aline opens her mouth to say something, then closes it promptly.

“Oh of course! Sorry!” The blonde quickly withdraws her hand, and somehow Aline feels the emptiness around her wrist too sharply.

“I’m so sorry!” Helen smiles apologetically, “would you like to come in?”

Seeing the other one nod at that, Helen moves out of the doorway, letting Aline in.

Pull yourself together Blackthorn! What the hell were you thinking grabbing her wrist? Stop screwing around!

“Would you ah- would you like some water?” she asks instead, while Aline stands awkwardly in the drawing room.

“Yes, please, thank you.”

“One water, neat. Coming right up.” Helen smiles, and Aline relaxes a little. 

“Oh and Aline?”

“Yes Helen?” The raven-haired girl turns around to face the blonde.

“You can sit you know, contrary to popular belief, sofas don’t bite.” Helen pretends to offer a piece of closely-hidden wisdom to her, making Aline laugh.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” says Aline, completely at ease now.

Helen comes back with two glasses of water, and sits down beside Aline, folding her legs underneath her, while Aline sits cross-legged on the sofa, facing each other.

“So,” Helen drawls, “what’s up?”

“I wanted to tell you about the next date activity.” Aline offers up, surprising Helen.

The contestants aren’t supposed to know about any date activity before the actual day, to maintain true reactions, not even the Bachelorette. That’s what the rules said when she signed the waiver sheet, before joining the show.

“I thought we weren’t supposed to know?” Helen sounds confused.

“You aren’t,” Aline looks down at her lap, before continuing quietly, “but I wanted to let you know.”

“Why?”

“Because I thought it might help you to prepare better.” The answer does nothing to clarify Helen’s confusion.

“Prepare? For what?”

“The date. It’s an ice-cream date.” Aline looks straight into her eyes, brown eyes boring into jade ones, “I didn’t want you to worry again. Or be caught off guard.”

Helen stares at Aline for a minute, then takes her hand.

“Thank you, Aline. Thanks for thinking about me. That means so much to me. I-I just, I don’t do well in front of people. You probably think I’m lying because I literally work with so many people all day, how could I ever-”

“No I don’t,” Aline smiles at Helen, “if you have difficulty with people, then I’ll try to help any way I can. You don’t need to explain anything.”

Helen simply stares at her open-mouthed.

“Helen, listen to me,” Aline leans in, capturing all of Helen’s attention now, “just because we work with people the whole day, does not mean we like spending time in a crowd. Just because your work is centred on people, doesn’t mean in your personal time, you have to be too.”

“Thank you,” the blonde replied quietly, her eyes filled with tears, “thank you for saying that. My parents were the only other ones to understand.”

Aline says nothing, simply urging Helen to empty her heart to her, trying to soothe the pain a little for the kind, compassionate girl.

“I-I,” Helen sniffles, “I told my parents about this, when they asked me to join them for a gala couple years back. I told them how I get anxious, and I start overthinking stuff. They-they just hugged me, and-and said it’s okay, and that they loved me. They even brought home ice-cream for me, on their way back.”

“And, I can’t talk about this stuff to my siblings. I mean, they would understand, and support me,  of course, but I'm the big sister, I’m supposed to be the one taking care of them.” Helen waves her hand around aimlessly.

“You don’t want to burden them,” Aline offers up, and Helen nods.

“Exactly.”

“Well, when you want, if you want, you can talk to me,” she smiles, “always.”

Helen looks at her again, seemingly trying to find something.

Aline Penhallow. Where have you been my whole life?

Helen clears her throat before smiling, “Thanks for telling me. Now at least I’ll try to have a good ice-cream scoop out of this date, if everything fails.”

“Ice cream IS the best food,” Aline voices her agreement, “How did everyone seem?”

“Well, Harvey kept telling me that blue should not be anyone’s first choice, and gold is always a safe play in any event. Alfred kept trying to give me a heart check-up. Emil, Raj, Sebastian and Jonathan kept trying to one up each other in regaling me with the, frankly, boring stories of their businesses. And Victor kept telling me why my very ‘feminine’ profession makes me a perfect candidate for his wife.” Helen finishes making air quotes with her hands.

“Oof, that’s rough.” Aline flinches.

“Yeah tell me about it,” Helen says, taking a sip of her water, “The only ones who actually treated me like another human being are Meliorn, Magnus and Alec.”

And you, Helen thinks, but doesn’t say out loud.

“So guess who I’m not sitting next to in any date?”

“Huh”, Aline places a hand on her chest dramatically, drawing a sharp breath, “Please tell me it’s not Victor! However else would you find someone to appreciate your ‘feminine’ qualities?” Aline rolls her eyes, sarcasm clear in her voice.

“Don’t even joke about it,” Helen visibly shudders at the memory of the cringey conversation she shared with the man.

Aline chuckles, then noticing the time, jumps up from the couch.

“Oh my God it’s almost midnight! I’m so sorry I kept you up so late! I should leave.”

“It’s okay Aline,” Helen smiles, “I liked staying up late with you. There aren’t many people I like talking to, and you are one of those few, hope you don’t mind.”

“Do you see me complaining?” Aline gives her a sideways smile, “Well then, off to bed. Sleep well, Blackthorn.”

“Dream sweet, Penhallow.”

When Aline finally gets out of the hotel and gets into her car, she takes a deep breath.

She liked staying up with me.

She likes talking to me.

I like talking to her too.

I like talking to her.

I like her.

Wait.

I like her!

I LIKE HER!

Shit!