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In the Sin Bin

Chapter Text

“Only four minutes in the sin bin tonight, Wayland,” Alec shouted across the locker room to his best friend and teammate. “You’re slacking.”

Jace flipped him off and gave that All-Star grin that had all the puck bunnies falling at his feet. But that smile hadn’t had any effect on Alec for years now, and Jace knew it. Alec grinned and whipped his sweaty jersey into the clothes basket.

It had been an almost perfect game tonight, until Alec’d let a puck slip through his five hole in the last minutes of the third period. But the New York City Blazing Angels had won anyway, sliding past their division rivals to move one game closer to a playoff berth. The other players acknowledged Alec’s good work with slaps to the back and tipped up chins as they glanced his way. As a rule, the Angels weren’t on overly affectionate team, but they all respected each other in a way none of Alec’s other teams ever had. The Angels were the best team Alec had ever played for. At the age of twenty-eight—and seven years since he’d gone pro—he was finally looking at a team he could go all the way to the championship cup with.

Alec accepted the quiet praise then concentrated on removing all his gear. As the goalie, he was covered in way more padding than any of the other players, and it took him twice as long to get undressed and into the showers. Which usually came with cold water, but the benefit of more privacy.

“Lightwood!” Coach Garroway bellowed from his office. “There’s a crying woman on my phone. Come in here and calm her down.”

There was a chorus of oohhhs from the other  players.

“Who’d you dick and dump, Lightwood?” one of the other players cackled.

Alec gave an overblown fake laugh, but otherwise ignored the friendly taunts. He knew for a fact that whoever was on the other end of that line—if it was a woman—wouldn’t be any of his one-night stands. He wanted to take a look at his cell to see if he had any missed calls—so he had some clue as to who was so desperate to reach him that she would call his Coach—but his cell was buried somewhere in his duffel and the longer he kept Coach Garroway waiting, the more wolfish he’d become.

He trudged into the Coach’s office, still wearing half of his gear. Garroway was focused on the paperwork in front of him, holding out a handset in Alec’s general direction. Alec heard sobs coming from the other end of the line. He recognized the squeak in between breaths immediately.

“What happened now, Clary?” Alec bit out. His agent Hodge Starkweather’s personal assistant rankled him—in some way or another—most days and her calling in hysterics didn’t help her cause. He didn’t deal well with tears, even if Clary was sort-of-family.

Clary sputtered. “Hodge was just arrested!”

Alec blanched and dropped onto the seat in front of Garroway’s desk. “What?”

“Hodge was arrested! The finance department discovered that he’s been working with Valentine over at Morgenstern & Morgenstern and they’ve been siphoning money from player’s accounts for years now and the police just came and arrested him and now”—Clary broke into ragged sobs again—“I’m not going to have a job!”

Alec gritted his teeth. “Clary. Get your shit together. I’m sure the agency will keep you on. I need you to tell me how much of my money may be on the line here.”

Coach Garroway’s head whipped up at that. He set his pen down, focusing on Alec.

“Oh,” Clary said, sniffling—as if she was just realizing that the world may not revolve around her problems. “I don’t know. The person from finance that I talked to said Hodge and Valentine had ripped off all their shared clients in some way or another. I didn’t think about you. Sorry.”

Alec put his head in his free hand. “I need to know how much, Clary.”

“Hang on.” More sniffling. “Let me pull up the spreadsheet finance sent over.” There was the sound of Clary typing at her keyboard then an audible intake of breath. “Oh, Alec.”

Alec grimaced, looked up and caught eyes with Garroway, who was frowning. Deeply.

“How bad is it?” Alec asked, every lingering ounce of joy from the team’s win leeching from his veins.

“They’re estimating somewhere around four million dollars.”

Alec’s head spun. Four million dollars. That number couldn’t be real. It was almost everything he’d saved over his entire career. His salary was good—about to get much better if the Angels made it to the championship—and he’d always been more of a saver than a spender. Compared to other players, Alec’s daily needs were small.

“Four million,” he choked out and Garroway winced. “Is it gone? Or do they think they’ll be able to get some of that back? I mean, he couldn’t have spent it all.”

“I don’t know. Oh, Alec. I’m so sorry.”

He swallowed the bile rising in his throat, and swiped at his upper lip with shaking hands. “I’m going to need to make some calls now. You okay?”

“My shit has been gathered,” Clary replied, her tone resolute, even as Alec’s world was crumbling. “I’ll call your cell if I hear anything else.”

“And Clary?” he said, before she hung up. “Don’t call Simon yet.”

There was a beat of silence and Alec knew he was sunk.

****

“Meebs?” Clary said, as she knocked on Magnus’ open office door. “I need to talk to you for a second.”

Magnus’ head whipped up. “No. Absolutely not.” But it wasn’t his time or Clary’s he was dead set against.

Clary clicked a pen against the file folder in her hand as she entered. “Mags?”

Magnus shuddered. “No.”

Clary threw herself dramatically into the chair in front of his desk, legs sprawling over the arms, and Magnus knew this conversation was going to be a long haul. “Come on. I’ve known you for years now. You’re fun. I’m fun. We’re fun together. I should have a name for you that reflects….” Clary’s sentence dragged off into silence as she appeared to be searching for the right word.

“Fun?” Magnus tried.

“Yes! Fun!” Clary arched a sculpted eyebrow, and she leaned forward. “Maggie B?”

Magnus shivered as if someone had just spray-painted, then kicked over his gravestone. “Definitely not. Nicknames don’t work that way, biscuit.”

Clary pouted. “See? You have the cutest nickname ever for me.”

“You’re a cinnamon roll, darling,” Magnus said genuinely, earning a delighted upturn of Clary’s lips. “Now, you needed one second?”

“I may need more than that.”

Magnus feigned surprise. “I am shocked.”

Clary rolled her eyes and tossed the file folder onto his desk. “I’m sure you’ve heard about Hodge by now.”

“I did. I’m sorry, biscuit. You know I’ll be happy to help you find a new job.”

Clary stood and sat on the edge of Magnus’ desk. “Not needed. The agency is keeping me on…as your new personal assistant. If you read your email you’d know this already.”

“Email is so 1890s,” Magnus dismissed, scowling at his screen. He probably should check his email every now and then but he preferred to work face-to-face or by actually talking over the phone. While he had run across some of his clients on other apps on his phone, he was always discreet enough not to connect in an unprofessional way. He gestured toward the hallway, the bracelets lining his wrists clinking. “Besides, angel, I already have tragic-homemade-sweater Kitty as my assistant.”

“Who you share with three other agents. I, however, will be all yours.”

Magnus narrowed his eyes. “Don’t taunt an old man. It’s not nice.”

Clary reached across the desk and clamped a hand on Magnus’ shoulder, her infectious smile lighting up her face. “You’re only ten years older than me. And thirty-five has never looked more eighteen.”

“You’re hired.”

“Great.” She tapped a lacquered nail against the file folder. “But I come with a catch.”

Magnus sighed. “The hot ones always do.”

Clary’s lip twitched at the innuendo, but she continued undeterred. “They’re dividing up Hodge’s client list between other sports agents, and there’s one I begged to have you take on.”

“An athlete?” He left no question in his tone to how he felt about this. As an agent for IE, he dealt with performers and artists, not testosterone-soaked gym junkies. “I don’t rep neanderthals. I don’t even do them. And you know how shallow my application process is.”

“Well, this one….” Her eyebrows furrowed, then she shook her head. “It’s not going to matter. I need you to take on Alec. He’s family. Kind of. And he got burned big time with Hodge. He has trust issues but he’s fiercely loyal, so he won’t leave the agency but he’ll be unhappy with any of the others. I know him. He just will. But you, Magnus…. You care about your clients. Just take him on temporarily. Meet him. I think the two of you may just hit it off.”

Clary slid the file across Magnus’ desk.

Magnus sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers together, refusing to touch the file.

“Please, Magnus. I promise you’ll love him.”

Chapter Text

“I know you hate the entire idea of this, Alec,” Isabelle said in a gentle voice. It was her sisterly tone—meant to be soothing, but it wasn’t. At all. “I’m telling you, though. This endorsement is great visibility for you and for the team, plus it will pad your empty bank account fast.”

This scenario was exactly why Alec hadn’t wanted Clary to call Simon when Hodge was arrested. But Clary and Simon were best friends, and Simon was married to Alec’s sister Izzy, and they were all too intertwined for his own good. Especially when it came to anything that had to do with public relations and his PR-powerhouse sister Isabelle Lightwood.

Izzy set her hands on her hips. “You don’t want to have to move in with Jace do you?”

“We’ve been over this, Izzy,” Alec said, scowling at the makeup table and racks of fucking minuscule underwear the stylists were picking through. “I have enough money to keep my place for at least another month. Maybe two.”

Alec tried not to think about how that originally sickening amount of four million dollars had gotten so much worse in the last week, as forensic accountants scoured through player’s statements and discovered the depth of just how much Hodge and Valentine had stolen. They’d been cooking up fake balance statements to present to their clients for years. While Alec wasn’t the biggest victim, by far, he was pretty much living paycheck-to-paycheck, in a job where paychecks didn’t come on a biweekly basis. He wasn’t bankrupt, but if he wasn’t careful then he would be soon.

Which was how he’d found himself giving into the pressure his sister had been putting on him for the last two years to accept a few endorsement deals. To cash in on his good looks and charm, as Izzy put it.

Alec wasn’t feeling particularly charming today.

“With this contract we’ll be able to stretch that. You’ll get a nice check once this shoot is over, and I have a couple other possibilities that I’ve presented to your new agent.” Izzy tapped on the screen of her phone. “Speaking of. Clary is heading up with your new agent right now….” Izzy turned on her stiletto heel and faced Alec. “I need you to stay calm, Alec.”

Alec frowned. He was doing a lot of that lately. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Magnus is…unconventional.”

“You know him?”

Izzy shrugged. “He and his parties are legendary.”

Alec groaned. “Great.”

The elevator doors opened and Alec saw the burst of Clary’s red hair first. She flashed him a tight smile—as if she were nervous—and looked over her shoulder, talking to someone Alec couldn’t see yet.

“Be nice,” Izzy hissed, snapping into her professional persona and crossing her arms.

Alec’s eyes narrowed as he took in the man walking with Clary. The man was shorter than Alec, dark hair streaked with blue, and gold accessories piled on his ears, neck, wrists and fingers. Fingers that were tipped with fucking nail polish. And there were ruffles, and buttons, and this shine to him, and…no. All kinds of no. Alec barked out a laugh as Clary and his new agent stopped in front of him. “You’re kidding me, right?”

Clary blanched and the man’s lips pursed into a tight line.

Alec rounded on Izzy, his anger taking hold. “No one in the Angels’ front office will take me seriously if I walk in with him.”

“Well, aren’t you as delightful as Clary said you would be,” the man said with an air of confidence that was infuriating. “Alexander, I’m Magnus Bane.”

Alec clenched his jaw. He hated when anyone called him by his full name. “It’s Alec.”

Magnus ignored him. “Clary has brought me up to date on your current status with the team and I spoke with Imogen, the CEO of the agency, about your particulars. We shouldn’t have to do any negotiating in terms of your contract before the season ends. I have extensive experience in endorsement deals as well as media rights. I’ll be handling all of those on your behalf from here on out.”

“I have no say in this?” Alec bit out.

Clary jumped in. “It’s temporary, Alec. Three months. Then you can decide if you’re staying on with IE or not.”

“We hope you will,” Magnus replied, the sentiment laced with sharp edges. Magnus whisked a bottle of baby oil off the makeup table and tossed it at Alec. “Now, strip. You have a money-maker to shake.”

Alec gaped as Magnus turned with a flourish and plopped himself down on a couch, immediately pulling out his phone and pointedly ignoring Alec.

 

****

 

I promise you’ll love him, Meebs. You’ll hit it off, Mags,” Magnus seethed under his breath, glaring at Clary, who sat next to him on the couch. “You lied to me. I don’t think I’ve disliked anyone on first sight as much as that man.”

Clary wasn’t looking at him, though. She was tracking Alec as he paced around the room, her eyebrows stitched together as if in deep thought. “He usually isn’t this bad, Magnus. Really.”

“He’s a stereotypical jock,” Magnus dismissed, glancing up as Alec started to undress. Magnus frowned at the bulging, cut muscles revealed as each layer of clothing disappeared. Well, weren’t those just stereotypical, too?

Clary shifted, facing Magnus, and set her hand on his forearm. “You have to give him a shot.”

Magnus leveled another glare in her direction. “I’d rather ask Camille to move back in with me than spend another minute with him.”

Clary winced. “Alec needs you, Magnus. Whether he realizes it or not. Izzy agrees with me, and you know she’s one of the best in her business. We have faith in you, even if Alec doesn’t…for now.”

Magnus sighed, going back to scrolling needlessly through his phone. “I won’t back out of this assignment. The bonus Imogen is giving me for negotiating his image rights is obscene. But like him, I will not.”

“Shit, you went Yoda. This is bad.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” Clary patted his arm. “Continue ranting.”

Magnus shook his head. “I won’t smear my Dior Lip Glow by speaking more about his offending presence. I have an image to uphold.”

Clary smirked. “That’s the Magnus I j’adore.”

“Cosmetic puns. I approve, biscuit.” Magnus couldn’t help but smile. Clary had that affect on him. But Magnus’ smile was wiped away a second later as he listened to Alec barking at the makeup team in a gruff voice.

“I won’t like him, Clary—I promise you that. But I will help him. It’s the tightest of assholes that need a firm, experienced hand to coax them open.”

Clary’s responding laugh filled the room and warmed Magnus’ heart.

 

****

 

Alec gritted his teeth when he heard Clary laughing from the other side of the room. He was half-naked already, a team of makeup artists and stylists circled around him discussing his body as if he wasn’t even in the room. It was dehumanizing and not at all how he wanted to be spending his day, but he had no choice.

He spun the bottle of baby oil in his hands and set it back on the table, grimacing as he glanced again in Magnus’ direction. It was obvious to him that Magnus wasn’t straight—obvious to anyone who laid eyes on him—and the realization that Magnus was now officially tied to him made Alec squirm with discomfort.

The hockey league was more accepting of LGBTQ people than any other professional sports league in the world, but that was a PR front more than a creed the players lived by. There were no out players in the league. None. And Alec wouldn’t be their first. He’d been able to avoid suspicion for seven years—hiding his one-night stands, refusing to get into any kind of relationship besides the fake PR girlfriend kind (usually facilitated by the ever-helpful, but-hopeful-he’d-change-his-mind-someday Izzy)—and having Magnus as his new agent would bring attention to Alec that he didn’t want.

The wrong kind of attention was all Alec seemed to be drawing these days, though, when all he wanted to be known for was being a good player.

Alec sucked in a breath, shifted on his feet, then Izzy’s hands were on his, stilling him.

“You’re doing that thing with your left hand,” Izzy murmured, so the stylists crowding around him wouldn’t overhear.

Alec dropped his hands to his sides, balling them into fists and trying to ignore the numb spot in his left hand that he rubbed when he was nervous or overthinking something. Izzy knew where Alec had gotten that injury. She knew too much about him.

“Are we doing this or not?” he barked out.

The crew jumped and Izzy shook her head and walked away.

He knew he was being a dick, and he also knew that no one in this room deserved the fallout of the nuclear bomb that was his current life. But he didn’t know how to rein his anger back in. He’d done everything his coaches had expected of him—his entire life—and just when he was beginning to see the results of years of hard work, his success was being ripped away without his choice. His choices weren’t even his anymore. Not really. If he'd had any choice of how to spend today—four days before the Angels’ went on an extended road trip that would be the deciding factor in their playoff spot—he’d have been on the ice with Jace.

He’d rather have pucks flying at his face than the makeup brushes that were currently being wielded in his direction.

“Yes, are we doing this or not? I have much more interesting places to be,” Magnus yelled from the other side of the room. But when Alec whipped his head around to respond with a biting remark, he realized Magnus wasn’t talking to him.

Magnus stood and enveloped a tiny woman with short, wispy dark hair in his arms. The woman’s smile was bright, and kind, and she kissed Magnus on both his cheeks before responding in a quiet voice so Alec couldn’t hear what she was saying. But the warmth on Magnus’ face was obvious. A slinking loathing cut through Alec’s veins at the sight. Magnus had been nothing but dismissive and callous with him from the start. Magnus could fuck off as far as Alec was concerned.

“That’s your photographer—Aline,” Izzy said as she stepped up next to him again.

Alec made a non-committal noise.

He could see out of the corner of his eye that Izzy was studying him, but he didn’t look her way. He was too busy imagining how satisfying it would be to see Jace shoot a line of pucks at Magnus’ too-pretty face.

Izzy sighed. “Magnus knows everyone, Alec. He’s going to be good for you. Trust me.”

Alec sneered and didn’t reply. He went back to rubbing at the numb spot on his left hand.

He’d handled worse.

He could handle Magnus Bane.

Chapter Text

“How bad was it?” Simon asked, popping a sliced pepper in his mouth, leaning over his counter to talk to Alec.

“On a scale of one to ten?” Alec shuddered, remembering just how long he’d spent in the shower today to get all that shine off his skin. “Off the charts bad.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Izzy said as she removed the lasagna Simon had made from the oven. “He looked gorgeous. Had this whole scowl thing going on that was very bad boy. This campaign will go viral. I can feel it.”

“That scowl was genuine, Izzy.”

“And it made your eyes simply light up. Don’t lie to me. I know that you feel better now that you got all that anger out of your system and earned a paycheck.”

Alec tried to pretend like she was wrong, but he couldn’t. The shoot had given him a chance to be an asshole all day—because that darkness was what Aline had been looking for—and he’d been paid insanely well for one days work. He grinned. “Yeah, I do.”

Izzy patted his cheek. “There’s that smile I love.”

“And you met Magnus today, right?” Simon asked as he finished off the salad with a light coating of dressing.

Izzy groaned, shooting a look in Alec’s direction. “And there goes the smile that I love.”

Sure enough, just the mention of his new agent’s name was enough to have Alec frowning again. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I thought everyone loved Magnus!” Simon exclaimed. “He’s so sparkly and exciting. Like a lit-up ferris wheel at nighttime propelled by rockets.”

Alec tipped his head studying Simon, then looked to Izzy. “Some day you have to explain to me how he managed to make you fall in love with him.”

Simon grinned, pushing his glasses up his nose. “I’m irresistible, really.”

Alec shook his head. “I don’t see it.”

“He is completely irresistible,” Izzy confirmed, planting a kiss on her husband’s cheek.

Alec rolled his eyes as if he wished he were somewhere else, but really, Izzy and Simon were ridiculously in love and it was…sweet. Their apartment was a second home for him and he was happy his sister had found someone who adored her the way she deserved. He picked at the salad and steered the topic back to what had been grating at him all day. “So let’s get this over with. Magnus Bane. Tell me everything you know. Since it looks like I have no choice but to work with this…guy until the end of the season. I’m planning on making it to the championship instead of being knocked out early, so that will be three months. I need to know as much as I can, without having to talk to him. If that’s possible.”

“There’s a saying about curiosity and murdered kittens,” Izzy chided him.

Alec barked out a laugh. “Overdramatic much, Izzy?”

Simon shook his head. “She’s right. Maybe it’s better if you go into this blind. I’ve only ever the met him a handful of times when he’s been out with Clary, but I get the feeling he doesn’t really conform to any pattern.”

“I told you, mi hermano. He’s unconventional.”

Simon waved a spoon in his wife’s direction. “That. I get why he and Alec don’t gel.”

Alec had to hear this. “You do, huh?”

“Well, yeah. Magnus is all”—Simon made a KRRRPWOWOOWW sound and flung his hands around—“and you’re all”—Simon frowned and slumped his shoulders forward while saying meep meep. Alec stifled a smile at Simon’s description of him. “It’s the meeting of two fundamentally opposable elements, and there are, like, thousands of comics written about why that’s a bad idea. It’s an actual trope-thing in fiction.” Izzy eyed Simon dubiously. But Simon was undeterred. “What? It’s definitely a thing.”

Izzy shook her head fondly. “You’re such a dork.”

Simon beamed at Izzy. “I love you too.”

“So Magnus…?” Alec tried again.

“You can Google search him if you’re that interested, Alec,” Izzy said. “But I’m not going to the be the one you base your opinion on. I told you to trust me and that’s all I’m going to say about it.”

“I don’t like him,” Alec reminded her. For what had to be the tenth time today.

Izzy nodded. “I think we got that.”

“He’s going to be bad for my image.”

“Heard you the first time you said that today,” she huffed.

Alec sighed, giving in. “And I need to trust you.”

“Knew you’d come around, big brother.”

There was a knock at the door.

“That must be Clary,” Izzy said. “Can you let her in, Alec?”

Alec stood, heading for the door. “You invited her?”

“When has she ever not been invited to a Lightwood-Lewis Kosher Kitchen night?” Simon replied.

Alec grinned, opening the door as he looked to Simon over his shoulder, “Is there a way to get me uninvited?”

But Simon’s mouth was frozen in a shocked o-shape and Izzy was biting her lip, eyes focused over his shoulder…. And Alec’s smile faltered, died, when he turned to face the hallway and took in Clary…with Magnus standing next to her.

 

****

 

Magnus did his best not to grimace when he saw Alec. He failed and rounded on Clary. “You lied to me. Again!”

“I didn’t,” Clary insisted. “This is Simon’s apartment.”

Simon peeked his head out from behind Alec’s shoulders, and twirled his fingers. “Hey, Magnus.”

Magnus brushed past Alec without acknowledging him. “Hello, Spencer.”

“It’s Simon.”

Clary smiled and hugged Simon. “He knows.”

Magnus made his way to Izzy, grasping her on the shoulders and kissing both her cheeks. This Lightwood he liked. “I didn’t get a chance to give you the greeting you deserved this morning.”

The door slammed shut, sending the apartment floor shaking, and Magnus turned to find Alec staring at them with his eyebrow arched. “You two know each other?”

“I told you we did,” Izzy replied with complete calm in the face of her brother’s mini-tantrum. “He throws great parties.”

Magnus slipped an arm around Izzy’s waist. “And you know how to dance.”

Izzy grinned at him, then glanced at her husband. “It was before we even started dating, Simon. And it was never like that. We see each other professionally every now-and-then still.”

Simon shrugged and Alec did this squinty-eyed thing that made Izzy dissolve into peals of laughter. “Everyone take a seat. I’ll grab a bottle of wine. Simon? Will you help me bring the dishes in?”

Clary went to the far side of the modern dining room table and Magnus pulled her chair out for her, then took the seat next to her. Alec remained hovering near the door, his gaze flicking between the kitchen—where Simon and Izzy were—and Clary, but he never made direct eye contact with Magnus. Magnus was more than fine with pretending the eldest Lightwood wasn’t in the room either.

“Sit down, Alec,” Clary insisted, humor in her voice. “He won’t bite.”

Magnus smirked and Alec caught eyes with him.

“Don’t,” Alec said to Magnus, sternly.

Magnus feigned ignorance to the comeback that was most definitely about to come out of his lips before Alec spoke. “I have no clue what you’re talking about.”

Clary cleared her throat to stifle a laugh.

Alec finally moved, taking the seat at the opposite head of the table from where Magnus sat. Getting as far away from Magnus as he possibly could. Magnus would’ve been offended, but keeping all of that raging testosterone out of his breathing range made for better air quality.

Izzy carried in a bottle and glasses, setting them on the table and filling them, making no comment on the seating arrangement, but a definite small smile on her lips when she glanced at Magnus. Simon followed with arms full of serving dishes, refusing Izzy’s help. Izzy kissed him on the cheek and took a seat the head of the table, next to Magnus.

“I don’t want to talk business all night,” she said as she arranged her napkin on her lap. “But did you get that proposal I sent over?”

Magnus was okay with talking business, especially with someone as competent and intelligent as Izzy. “I did, sunshine—”

Alec made a choking noise. Izzy raised her eyes, smirked at her brother, and refocused on Magnus.

Magnus inhaled deeply, gripped his knife tighter to keep himself from whipping it in a specific direction and continued, “I think Gallant Group is our best bet. Large enough to pay out, diverse enough to have multiple opportunities, but not so large as to not have leverage.”

Izzy took a sip of her wine, considering this. “I agree. Now. Let’s eat.”

Simon served Izzy first, earning a blinding smile from his wife, then tried to pass the plate to Alec, but ended up dropping a bevy of vegetables off the edge when he couldn’t bridge the massive distance Alec had created by sitting at the far end. Alec frowned (Magnus was beginning to think this was Alec’s permanent facial expression), scooped food on his plate and had the same issue when he tried to pass it on to Clary.

Clary yanked the dish out of his hands. “This is ridiculous, Alec. Sit next to Simon.”

Alec stopped with his fork partway to his mouth. “Can’t. Need room to stretch my legs. Some of us have feet that touch the floor.”

Clary stuck her tongue out at Alec, and he did the same back—an actual smile breaking through until he saw Magnus watching him. Alec schooled his features again and went back to eating, shoveling the contents down in record-breaking time that made Magnus’ stomach churn a bit.

Alec set his napkin on his plate, then stood, heading for the kitchen. “Well, this has been…fun but Lydia’s picking me up soon. We have some club opening to go to.”

The words were out of Magnus’ mouth before he remembered he wasn’t supposed to directly acknowledge the ice king’s presence. “Pandemonium?”

Alec stopped mid-step and looked over his shoulder. “Um, yes?”

“I got an invitation as well.” Magnus dabbed his lips with his napkin. “Thinking I’ll skip it, though.”

Alec’s eyes hardened. “A bit too straight for your tastes?”

Magnus chuckled uneasily. So Alec was going there. “I couldn’t draw perpendicular lines if I tried.”

“Surprise!” Alec said, waving his plate around, spilling food to the floor. His jaw ticked as he locked eyes with Magnus. “Says no one ever when they meet you.”

Magnus sneered, tipping his chin down and refusing to back down from Alec’s challenge. “I’m not ashamed of who I am.”

“You know what?” Alec tossed his plate on the kitchen counter and faced the table, pointing a meaty finger in Magnus’ direction. “Get bent.”

“Oh, I think I’m already there, honey—”

Clary jumped to her feet, setting her palms on the table. “Enough, you two! Izzy, this is your house not mine, so I don’t want to cross any lines….”

Izzy was the vision of a woman in control. She met Clary’s anxiety with a placid command of her every word. “What? They’re just talking.”

Magnus lifted a brow and studied Izzy. She was up to something.

Alec ripped his jacket off a hook by the door. “Fuck this. I’m out.”

“Alec—” Magnus grabbed Clary and she yelped as Magnus dragged her into her seat again. It was clear to him now that Izzy had an agenda for this evening that he hadn’t been briefed on, but Clary had.

Adiós, big brother,” Izzy replied in the same, even tone. “Tell Lydia hi from me.”

Simon was frozen in place with food plopping from his fork onto his plate, and his mouth half-open when the door slammed shut behind Alec. “Can someone tell me what just happened?”

Izzy set her napkin on her lap again and picked up her wine glass. “Look, Magnus. My brother isn’t the asshole he’s being right now.”

Magnus clinked his ring against his glass as he studied her. “I keep hearing that, but all evidence is to the contrary. And I’m quite sure now that there’s something to do with your dear brother that you, biscuit, and Stefan haven’t told me. A reason for you wanting me to see Alexander outside of his professional duties, perhaps?”

Both Simon and Clary opened their mouths to speak and Izzy silenced them just by lifting one finger. “Simon. Clary. Don’t. Magnus has to get to know Alec himself.”

Magnus considered this. He had a good idea what Izzy was not-so-subtly hinting at. And—he hadn’t thought it was possible, but…—the thought made him even angrier at Alec. “And what a joy that will apparently be.”

Izzy leaned in. “I need you to see this temporary contract through, Magnus. And to do that you don’t have to like him, but you have to understand where he’s coming from.”

Magnus nodded. He didn’t like the circumstances he would be working under, but he was a professional. He dealt with sensitive divas all day. Alec may have been the most sensitive out of all of them, but he was nothing Magnus couldn’t handle. “I fully intend to, Isabelle.”

“Good.”

Simon’s fork finally made it’s way into his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully. “You know, my band is playing a gig on Saturday. Maybe you could come by. Alec is going to be there since it’s the last night before he heads out on the road. If you have to find a way to get to know each other, it’ll be loud and with a lot of other people so you won’t be forced to talk much.”

“Ah,” Magnus took a sip of his wine. “So he can silently judge me in close proximity.”

Clary shook her head. “He’s not—” Izzy glared at Clary, and Clary snapped her mouth shut. She took a deep breath. “Got it. Shutting it down. You should come Magnus. It is a party.”

Magnus smiled at her. “You know all my weak spots, darling.”

Clary’s features softened, and that mischievous glint came back to her eyes. “Not all of them.”

“And let’s keep it that way, biscuit. Now, let’s finish this lovely dinner.”

Izzy clinked her glass against Magnus’, looking way too satisfied at the evening’s dramatically-eventful events.

He and the devious, little Lightwood were going to need to have a private conversation soon.

 

****

 

Alec took a deep swig out of his rocks glass and winced.

“You’re hitting that whiskey pretty hard, Lightwood,” Lydia said across from him.

“Today was a nightmare,” he admitted. He set his glass on the table and surveyed the undulating bodies on the club dance floor. He knew how to dance—courtesy of his sister—but he rarely gave in to the urge.

“How about tonight?”

For a second Alec wondered if he’d said something out loud about dancing, but he caught the thread of their conversation again quickly when he remembered that Lydia would want to dance with him as much he would with her. The whiskey was burning a pleasant path down his throat, Lydia looked gorgeous, and he wasn’t anywhere near Magnus Bane…. He tried to give her a genuine smile, because her presence was making tonight easier.

“Getting better,” he answered honestly.

“Good,” Lydia said. She reached out and settled her hand on his. “Now smile. There’s a couple a few tables away that look like they’re trying to take pics of us.”

Alec resisted glancing over his shoulder. “Doing the fake selfie thing?”

Lydia giggled. “For sure.”

“Kiss needed?”

“Not tonight.”

Alec hummed and took another drink. “I thought Jace was meeting us here?”

“The Angels’ living legend has been here for the last hour. Didn’t you see the stampede that nearly happened at the VIP entrance?”

Alec just shook his head fondly. Jace created chaos wherever he went. “Come on. Let’s go sit with him.”

Alec took Lydia by the hand and led her around the dance floor, pushing through the crowd toward the VIP rooms. He was stopped at the entrance by a gaggle of fans in tight dresses whose heads snapped up when he said his name. Alec politely signed a few pairs of boobs with sharpies offered to him with glossed nails, and made sure the bouncer at the entrance knew to let Lydia in when she was pulled aside by friends.

Jace stood and wrapped him in a tight hug when Alec found his booth. “Where the hell have you been, buddy? This place is amazing.”

“Don’t get too drunk, Jace,” Alec said as he settled into the velvet cushions. “It’s you and me on the ice tomorrow.”

Jace scoffed. “Even a hangover can’t slow me down.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Lydia here with you?”

“She stopped at the front to talk to some friends.”

Jace slicked his hair out of his eyes and turned to Alec. “So how’s that whole thing going?”

“Good. She’s…nice. Just as nice as she was in college.”

“Good,” Jace replied, his mismatched eyes landing on Alec’s, serious for once. “The last one was all out for the fame.”

Alec forced a laugh and took a swig from his glass. “You would know.”

Jace leaned in. “Anything else? You know, on the side?”

Nothing. Nada. A hoser, in hockey slang. No matter what language he used his love life was non-existent. It had been months since he’d even bothered to find a one-nighter. It all seemed like more work than it was worth at this point.

“Nah. Hockey is my first love, you know that.”

“Remind me to never touch your goalie mitt,” Jace taunted and Alec had to smile.

Lydia appeared with a waitress in tow. She grinned at them and hitched her thumb over her shoulder. “More drinks?”

Jace slapped Alec’s thigh. “Definitely more drinks.”

 

****

 

Everything in Alec’s vision was blurry, slanted to the left. Off-kilter.

Not straight.

Alec cackled at the thought, and Lydia patted his chest, holding him up so he could get his key in his front door.

“Thanks for going out with me,” he tried to say, his tongue thick.

Lydia didn’t answer him. She pushed the door open and helped him over to the couch, dropping him down. Alec closed his eyes and let his head fall back. The room was beginning to spin, and his limbs were mush, but feeling this out of sorts—disconnected from every thought that tried to fight it’s way through his muddled brain—was good. He needed to forget.

There was movement next to him and a cold glass was pressed into his hand. “Drink some water. You’ll thank me for that in the morning.”

He gulped down the cool liquid and resettled himself against the arm of the couch, facing Lydia. She had her legs tucked under her, arm draped across the back and was watching him carefully.

Alec swallowed. “What’s that look for?”

“I have to tell you something. But I don’t know if you’ll remember it in the morning if I do.”

“Is it something I’ll want to remember?”

She pursed her lips. “Probably not.”

Alec set the water glass on the coffee table and sat up. He rubbed at his eyes and faced her. “Then go for it.”

“Raj called me.”

Alec’s stomach lurched and his fingers immediately went to that numb spot, working at it to ease the sudden ache. “And?”

“He’s getting married.”

Alec shifted away from her, planting his feet on the floor, trying to find something steady. Any kind of unshakeable piece would be good right now. He set his elbows on his knees and leaned forward, running his palms over his hair. When his erratic heartbeat was under control again, he caught eyes with Lydia. “I’m assuming from your tone that it’s to a woman.”

Lydia nodded.

Alec huffed. “That’ll be a disaster.”

“Promise me you’ll never go there, Alec,” Lydia said in a quiet, but stern voice. “Hockey isn’t worth it. I know you love it, but you’re going to have way more years off the ice than you’ll have on it.”

Alec stared at that spot on his left hand, at his thumb digging into the muscle trying to work some kind of feeling into that spot again. He shook his hand out and slumped into the cushions. “I may need a successful wife to help me pay my bills. You looking?”

“No.” She inched over, pressing against his side and resting her head on his shoulder. “You’ll get through this, Lightwood. I know you will.”

Alec closed his eyes and grasped her hand.

He wished he could be as certain as she was.

Chapter Text

“Heads up, Lightwood. Coming your way,” Jace called out from the blue line.

Santiago and Pangborn were tussling in the corner, fighting for control of the puck, and Alec was watching Santiago carefully. Santiago was on the attack, and it hadn’t taken long for Alec—let alone other teams—to figure out that Raphael was compact but lightning quick.

Out of the corner of his eye, Alec could see Jace setting himself up to clear the puck away if Pangborn got a stick on it. “The point of practice is that they’re supposed to surprise me, Jace. So I don’t know when the puck is coming at me.”

“Just helping you out, brother,” Jace said with a laugh. “You’ve been off your game the last few days.”

Alec’s head snapped up. “I’ve what?”

The puck screamed past Alec’s head and whizzed into the back of the net.

Jace made a clicking noise with his tongue. “Just like that.”

“That’s how it’s done,” Santiago taunted as he skated by. “Captain is right, Lightwood. I haven’t gotten a shot like that past you all year.”

“Lightwood!” Coach Garroway bellowed from the bench. “Get off my ice.”

Alec pushed from his crouch stance, pulling off his glove and flipping his mask up. “Shit.”

Garroway was barking orders at Jace and the other players when Alec skated up and stepped through the bench door. But Alec knew Garroway well enough by now to understand Coach ignoring him was a very bad sign.

Kadir, the athletic trainer for the Angels, met Alec at the door. “You need ice for that knee?”

“My knee is fine,” Alec snapped. He dropped onto the bench, removing his mask, then motioned for the bag.”Yeah, give it to me.”

Kadir knelt in front of him, extending Alec’s leg out to check his range of motion.

“It’s fine, really,” Alec mumbled, but Kadir ignored him, pressing an ice pack to Alec’s knee.

The screech of a whistle echoed through the arena as Garroway called for a break and Alec took a swig of water from the bottle at his side, mentally preparing himself for a verbal beatdown. One he deserved. When the ice was clear, and the clatter of skates was retreating to the locker room, Garroway dismissed Kadir and leaned against the boards. He looked calm. Way too calm.

“Listen, Coach—” Alec started, but Garroway cut him off.

“I don’t remember giving you permission to speak.”

Alec licked his lips and swiped the sweat off his brow, nodding.

“Drank too much last night? Got girl problems? I know you’ve been dealing with unnecessary shit off the ice, but you are abso-fucking-lutely not allowed to bring any of your problems in here. You worried about your bank balance and want to get paid? Do your job better than everyone else. Find a way to shut the noise out, we need you to be impenetrable.”

“Got it, Coach.”

Garroway crouched down, getting in Alec’s face, and Alec would’ve sworn that his eyes were lit up from the fires of hell themselves. “Do you?”

Alec didn’t dare look away. “Yes. I’ve got it, Coach.”

Garroway leaned back, his jaw ticking. “No distractions, Lightwood. Wayland may be your captain, but you’re the pin that keeps this grenade locked down. I better not see one puck get past you this afternoon. Now go eat.”

Alec sucked in a breath between his teeth and headed for the locker room.

 

****

 

“Hey, Magnus!”

Magnus turned on his heel, coming to a stop in the—what he had thought was empty—hallway leading into the arena.

“Sheldon,” he replied brightly. “What are you doing here?”

Simon’s shoulders slumped. “It’s Sim— Whatever. Not important. I, uh, work here.”

Magnus’ eyebrows shot up at that. “Do you now?”

“I run the zamboni after practices.” Simon pushed his glasses up and grinned. “Izzy helped set me up with this. It works with my irregular schedule because of the band, and, uh, all of…that.”

“Fascinating,” he said. And really, he was fascinated by the idea of Simon the lead singer of an indie rock band who zamboni’d on the side, and the stunning wife Isabelle who dominated the public relations stratosphere in New York City. But the look on Simon’s face told Magnus that Simon thought he was teasing him. Magnus didn’t have the time or patience right now to suss out how to soothe the indie-rocker-ice-smoother, though. Instead he tilted his head toward the ice. “Are they still practicing?”

Simon glanced at his watch. “Should be done anytime now. I was just heading down. You need help finding Alec?”

“I’m just following the chill.” He waved his hands, a pair of Marc Jacobs fingerless gloves shielding his wrists from the cold. “Guessing it will lead me straight to the frigid yeti I’m in search of.”

Simon shifted nervously from foot-to-foot. “Look, about Alec—”

“Let me guess,” Magnus interrupted. “Alec is a good person at heart and he’s going through tough times and I need to be a bit less pitbull and more pussycat?”

“No,” Simon shook his head. “That’s not what I was going to say.”

Magnus crossed his arms. “You’ve sunk your hook into me. Go ahead.”

“You’ve got a job to do and from what I hear you’re exceptional at it. Izzy is right that you need to know who he is in order to advocate for him the best way. But I don’t think you’re going to learn anything about Alec directly from him. It took him years to open up to me. So under threat of death-by-Izzy, let me give you hint. Alec is a good guy, but he’s also stubborn and incredibly frustrating. It’s like he’s missing this filter in his brain that should be telling him when to shut up or when not to say exactly what he’s thinking….” Simon stopped and took a breath. “He and I may have that in common.”

Magnus just smirked.

“But the difference between Alec and I,” Simon continued, “is that he can’t even lie to himself. I live in a near-permanent state of denial, but Alec doesn’t. It creates this chaos between his head and his heart that trips him up.”

Magnus adjusted the line of silver rings settled above his knuckles, pretending not to be fascinated by this topic too. Simon had a lot to say—so many, many words—but there was an openness to him that Magnus appreciated. “So the gender-swapped Elsa does have a heart?”

Simon chuckled. “Pretty sure he does.”

“I like you, Simon,” he admitted. “You are intriguing.”

Simon’s face lit up. “Same! But I’ve got to—”

“Go,” Magnus finished for him, gesturing Simon away. “There are delicate hockey players who need their ankles protected.”

Simon walked backwards, waving. “I’ll see you around, Magnus.”

Magnus twirled his fingers in Simon’s general direction and marched toward the ice. The inside of the arena was lit up and some horrid, cacophonous music was blaring out of the speakers. There was a tall man hunkered down in front of the net—whom Magnus had to assume was his client—with a semi-circle of players fanned out in front of him, slapping pucks in Alec’s direction in quick succession. Alec’s movements to stop the onslaught were smooth and efficient—deflecting every shot that came at him.

As he got closer to the ice, Magnus could hear the slap of puck against glove and against Alec’s gear when he used his body to block the net. Magnus winced when a puck slammed into the cage around Alec’s face. Magnus was all for hard things coming at—or on—his face, but not like this. Why anyone would subject themselves to such torture willingly was beyond him.

He descended the arena steps to the glass that separated the spectators from the players and tapped on the glass.

A muscular man in an Angels’ jacket rotated around at the sound and glared at Magnus, his frown deepening as he took in Magnus’ decidedly non-athletic ensemble.

“Coach Garroway?” Magnus said through the glass. “I’m Magnus Bane, Alec Lightwood’s new agent.”

Coach Garroway’s eyebrows shot up at that. “Come around to the player’s entrance at C116. I’ll let security know to let you in.”

Magnus nodded and trudged up the steps again, finding the sign for the player’s entrance after a bit of wandering. By the time he made it back to the ice—this time emerging through the player’s entrance—the music had been cut off and the player’s were all circled around the bench, leaning on sticks or fiddling with their gloves and helmets, as they listened to Garroway speak.

Magnus’ appearance didn’t go unnoticed, though.

There were whispers, slaps and nudges—pointing people in his direction—and one outright laugh. It wasn’t anything Magnus wasn’t used to already. He crossed his arms, glared back at all the smirking faces, and sought out Alec in the crowd.

Despite how far he was trying to slink into the another player’s back, Magnus didn’t have any trouble spotting the human icicle. Magnus met Alec’s eyes, unflinching, and waited for Coach Garroway to finish.

Simon was already on the ice, at the controls of the zamboni, and he waved at Magnus, a smile breaking out on his face. Magnus’ lip twitched and he raised a hand in acknowledgement, earning more confused stares from the players.

“Practice again at eight am tomorrow. See you then,” Coach Garroway said, dismissing the players. He peered over his shoulder at Magnus. “Lightwood, you’ve got a guest.”

Alec was already red and sweaty from the practice, but his face flamed further when others looked between him and Magnus. He sneered and stayed where he was on the ice as the other players filed past Magnus down the tunnel to the locker room.

Magnus waited for the bench area to clear, then stepped through the gate onto the ice. He tracked Simon’s slow progress across the ice, using the seconds to reach Alec to think of a way to open this conversation that didn’t initiate conflict from the start. But the sheer disgust that Alec had on his face as Magnus walked toward him was more than enough to provoke Magnus.

He eyed Alec. “Flushed and with a sheen of sweat. There are other activities much more enjoyable that would give you the same result.”

Alec’s jaw clenched. “What do you want?”

“What? We’re just talking, “ Magnus said, mimicking Izzy’s statement from last night. He kicked at the ice. “Chill.”

Alec did that squint with his left eye and crossed his arms. “You may have just rolled out of someone else’s bed, but I’ve already had a long day. Just tell me what you want.”

Magnus smoothed down the lapels of his jacket, affronted. He hadn’t just rolled out of bed—his own bed, for the record—and it had taken him hours to craft this day’s particular image. Something the disheveled jock in front of him—with a mussed, cheap haircut and more than a few days worth of stubble—obviously didn’t care about.

“Um, guys?” Simon called out. “I need to get the ice there. Like, right where you’re standing.”

Alec skated backwards, heading farther onto the ice instead of toward the bench. His eyebrow arched as he moved deeper into what was decidedly his territory and not Magnus’.

So this was how it was going to be. Magnus followed, paying close attention to each step so he didn’t falter, meeting Alec at the center of the rink.

“How was Pandemonium?” Magnus asked, pointedly ignoring Alec’s desire to get to business.

“Fine. Lydia and I had a good time.”

Alec put emphasis on the woman’s name, drawing attention to it. If Magnus’ intuition was correct—and he always went with his gut—then every mention of a woman’s name, coupled with Alec’s, was meant to craft Alec’s own image.

Magnus used makeup, designer outfits and accessories to portray who he was to the world. Alec used women. To hide. Magnus’ discomfort heightened.

“Playing house,” Magnus chided. “How quaint.”

Alec’s eyes narrowed, his voice going into a near growl. “You don’t know me or Lydia. So back the fuck off.”

“Hey, um, Alec? Magnus? I need to….” Simon waved a hand in their direction.

Magnus side-stepped out of Simon’s way and Alec followed him, encroaching on Magnus’ personal space this time. “Just so we’re really fucking clear on this—I don’t like you.”

Magnus leaned forward, putting their faces only inches apart. “My cuckoo is tapping at the same clock, sweetheart.”

Alec’s eyes darted over Magnus’ face. “What does that even mean?”

“Am I being too coy?” Magnus tipped his head and sneered. “I don’t like you either, Alexander. In fact, I think you may be at the top of the list of people I hate and that alone is worthy of note. It’s an achievement to make it there.”

“Alec. My name is Alec,” he spit out. He huffed and took a step back, glancing at the empty tunnel leading to the locker room. “Just tell me why the fuck you’re here.”

Magnus crossed his arms and relented. “I have a meeting set with Gallant Group for tomorrow and they want you to attend as well.”

Alec’s mouth gaped and he sputtered, anger sharpening his features. “You could’ve just texted me.”

“I prefer to work this way with my clients. See them in their…natural habitat.”

There was a cough that sounded suspiciously like laughter and Magnus turned to find Simon wheeling by on the zamboni, his eyes locked forward but a restrained smile on his lips.

“You’re a fucking piece of work,” Alec scoffed, ignoring Simon.

“Glad you finally recognize the masterpiece in front of you,” Magnus retorted.

“Are we done?”

“Have a good day, Alexander,” Magnus said, turning to the exit.

“Text me the next time, Bane,” Alec called out. “Having you here— You’re not worth the trouble.”

Magnus clamped his teeth on his lips to hold back a scathing reply. Walking away was his only choice.

Or he'd slam a fist into Alec’s scruffy face and mar Simon’s pristine ice with blood.

Chapter Text

Magnus jolted awake from the fists banging on his apartment door.

He tumbled out of bed and directly on Chairman Meow’s tail, earning a deep scratch across his ankles for the misstep. He winced and limped his way to the door, throwing the lock and opening it.

Ragnor had his fist up to hit the door again and nearly jabbed Magnus in the eye when the door was suddenly open. Magnus dodged the accidental punch and glared at his two best friends in the world. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I told you he forgot,” Ragnor muttered to Catarina.

“It’s your morning for breakfast,” Catarina reminded him. “But I knew you’d probably forget—as usual—so I picked up pastries on the way here.”

Magnus surveyed the tray of coffees in Ragnor’s hand, and the bursting bags in Catarina’s and sighed. He stepped out of the way and gestured for them to come inside. “Remind me why we can’t do this at a restaurant.”

Catarina kissed him on the cheek. “Because I always end up overtipping to make up for Ragnor’s prickly nature.”

“I’m not prickly,” Ragnor insisted, in a very prickly voice.

“You are,” Magnus and Catarina answered at the same time.

Ragnor frowned at that.

“Make yourself at home,” Magnus said. “Let me brush my teeth at least.”

When he emerged from the bathroom—breath fresh, face washed, and dressed in the low-slung jeans and tight tees he preferred outside work—Catarina had everything spread out on the table and Ragnor had his feet up on one of the other chairs as he scrolled through his phone.

Magnus swiped the cell out of Ragnor’s hands and set it face down on the table. “The reason we do this is to talk.”

“You were primping, not talking.”

“Well, I’m here now.” Magnus held out his hand. “Caffeinate me.”

Catarina pushed a cup into his hand and took the seat next to him, filling plates that she passed on to Ragnor and him. Magnus loved everything about her.

“So let’s talk,” she said. “How are things going with your new client?”

Magnus stopped with the croissant half-way to his mouth. “I’m going to murder him before the contract is up.”

Ragnor snatched Magnus’ cup from where it sat and peered at the label. “I don’t remember ordering melodrama with the vanilla flavoring this morning.”

Magnus stole his cup back and gulped down as much coffee as he could without singeing his throat. “You think you’re funny. Spoiler alert: you’re not.”

“Who is this new client?”

“A hockey player for the Angels,” was all Magnus had to say.

Ragnor shook his head and gave a loud snort.

“He can’t be that bad,” Catarina tried.

“He can and he is. He’s a closeted hockey player who hates the sight of me.”

“I’ve never understood the term ‘closeted,’” Ragnor said around bites of his scone. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Magnus narrowed his eyes and studied Ragnor. “It makes perfect sense. As much sense as a word can possibly make.”

“It doesn’t,” Ragnor insisted.

Magnus let that go. “Anyway, I hate the sight of him too. But his contract is going to make me a sum of money that will make my personal shopper a wealthy woman as well. I just have to get through three months without choking him.”

Ragnor threw his head back and laughed. “For fucks sake, Magnus, you’re going to fall in love with him. I can already see it.”

Magnus blanched. The thought of being involved with anyone like Alec—let alone Alec himself—made Magnus’ skin crawl. “I don’t think you’re listening to what I’m saying….”

“Bla, bla, bla,” Ragnor intoned. “He’s boorish and rude and physically fit and—”

Catarina’s eyes were dancing with mirth. “And a challenge. You are motivated by a challenge, Magnus.”

“I hate both of you too,” Magnus answered without any heat behind it. He slumped against the back of his chair, frowning. “But not nearly as much as him.” He clenched his jaw and spoke through his teeth. “I loathe him.”

The room went quiet.

Ragnor settled his feet on the floor and leaned forward, his eyes locked to Magnus’. “Wait. You’re serious aren’t you?”

“Magnus,” Catarina said in a quiet voice. “You have your walls and your bravado, but you don’t actually hate anyone.”

Magnus pursed his lips. “There’s a list. It’s a short one, but it exists.”

Ragnor poked at Catarina’s arm. “Don’t forget Camille.”

“She deserves to be the list,” Catarina allowed.

“The way he looks at me….” Magnus hesitated for a moment, unsure how much to say. But these were his friends. He trusted them enough for him to be truthful. “He makes me think of ugly things. Makes me feel shame that I’m long past. I can’t condone behavior like his in today’s world. Things are different now. You’re older than I am, Ragnor. You know.”

That earned a slight smile from his friend. “Thank you for pointing out how ancient I am, Magnus.”

Catarina sat forward. “Are you sure you’ve read him right?”

Her eyes were kind and the hands circled around her cup were used to heal. She was too good for this world. Too good to be one of Magnus’ friends, let alone a mutual favorite.

Magnus patted her hand. “I’ve met men like him too many times not to recognize the mask he wears.”

“You know that usually comes from self-loathing,” she pointed out.

The thought made Magnus uncomfortable, so he pushed it away. He sat tall in his chair. “I don’t have time to psychoanalyze or fix him—he’s my client. My job is to make him money and in the process make myself more money. I can do that and not like him. In fact, I think it may be a stronger partnership, because I won’t let any feelings of friendship or sympathy take over during negotiations.”

Ragnor smirked. “You are going to be ruthless. Any chance you can tape this for me?”

 

****

 

Alec sat in front of Magnus’ office fiddling with his tie, adjusting the knot to make sure it sat in the right place. He wore suits often enough—before games and for charity events usually—but picking out his clothes this morning had involved Izzy showing up at six am to ensure that what he chose showed off his physique as well. Displaying the merchandise, was the phrase she’d used. It was as if every success he’d had in life had been turned on its head to become torture devices, personalized to him, in the last few days.

But early morning wardrobe sessions and whether or not his biceps looked massive enough—Izzy’s main concern—weren't what he was most worried about today. He was positive that he was walking into this meeting only to be ridiculed. He needed this deal to go through. Yet he could be eliminated from any serious negotiating position because of Magnus Bane.

“You look nice, Alec,” Clary whispered from behind her desk.

Alec gave her a small smile and began to twist his cufflinks, his anxiety amping up. He scowled. “Is Bane here?”

Clary nodded. “He’s meeting with Mrs. Herondale right now. She wanted to hear how he managed to secure a meeting with Gallant Group.”

Alec raised an eyebrow. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Magnus. And Gallant. It’s kind of a big deal.”

He moved from the waiting area couch to a seat in front of Clary’s desk, his interest getting the better of him. “Why? Aren’t they a company you usually work with?”

“No one at IE has been able to break through there. Gallant is huge and opening up negotiations with them will impact every agent here.” She shook her head and smiled fondly. “I still don’t know how Magnus managed it.”

Alec stilled, trying to process this new piece of information—that didn’t reconcile with anything he thought he knew about Magnus—when he heard the decisive clicking of heels approaching. He glanced up to find Imogen Herondale cutting through the sea of cubicles to the edges of the floor where the private offices were located, with Magnus at her side.

Magnus looked…different today. His suit still had a shine to it, but it was classic, tailored. His hair was styled instead of loose, slicked away from his face. His eyes were smudged with a hint of kohl and his lips had no gloss, just a natural pinkness—

That was a detail Alec wasn’t noticing. He just wasn’t.

He glowered and stood as Imogen glided over to him.

“Alec,” Imogen welcomed. She outstretched her arms and Alec leaned down to kiss both her cheeks. “I trust Magnus is handling you well?”

Alec cleared his throat, glancing over her shoulder. Magnus was tight-lipped. Silent. “We’ll see how today goes.”

“We will indeed,” she said.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Herondale and Mr. Bane,” Clary cut in. “The contingent from Gallant is at the main desk.”

Magnus nodded to Clary with an air of professionalism Alec would’ve sworn a man like Magnus wasn’t capable of. “Please see them up. Alec, if you’ll follow me? We have a conference room booked on the top floor.”

 Alec followed Magnus, noting that the way Magnus moved had shifted subtly from the last time he'd seen him. This was a man in his domain. A man in charge. Realizing that he could recognize that change in Magnus was…infuriating. Alec furrowed his brow.

Imogen fell in step with Alec as they walked to the elevators. “So I hear this may be the year the Angels bring the cup back to New York.”

Alec ripped his gaze away from his study of Magnus and glanced at her, holding the elevator door so she could step inside. “I try not to talk about it.”

“Superstition and sports,” she scoffed and entered.

Magnus was in front of the button panel, Imogen slid into position at the center facing the doors and Alec went to her left, leaning casually against the wall, even though he felt anything but relaxed. Alec took a deep breath as the elevator swished into motion, swiftly taking them to the top floor. Each second of continued quiet ate at Alec’s nerves.

“Are you joining us in the meeting, Imogen?” Alec asked to break the silence.

“No. I trust Magnus has this deal in hand. I want to say hello then I'll leave you to it.”

Alec found his gaze wandering to Magnus again, trying to see him the way other people did. Clary adored him. Izzy insisted Magnus would be good for him. Imogen Herondale, the owner and CEO of one the biggest entertainment agencies in the world, trusted him enough to lead a meeting with a game-changing client—on his own. But Alec couldn’t trust him….

Could he?

“I hope to see you again soon,” Imogen said when the doors opened.

He tried to push thoughts of Magnus aside, leaning down to kiss her cheek again. “Likewise.”

“This way, Alec,” Magnus offered, sweeping his hand to the right.

Alec paused before he stepped into the hallway, the words catching in his throat—feeling foreign, but necessary—before he got them out. “Thank you.”

Magnus simply gave him a clipped nod in response.

Alec's frown deepened.

This was the most civil he and Magnus had been to each other since they’d met, yet something about this interaction was off. Magnus wasn't glaring at him or challenging him or having any kind of reaction to Alec. Magnus was detached, dispassionate. This was exactly the type of relationship Alec had been hoping for with a new agent, but with Magnus it felt wrong.

Alec’s thoughts began to swirl out of control, and he swore he could still feel the rushed ascent of the elevator below his feet. He was worried about his role today. Scared of fucking this opportunity up. Getting a contract from Gallant would make the difference between him fighting through financial issues for the remainder of the season or being able to focus solely on his game. This negotiation was exactly why he needed an agent, and he couldn’t trust Magnus, he tried to tell himself. He didn’t even like him—

“Alec?” Magnus said.

Alec snapped back to the present, eyes meeting Magnus’, and he must have looked as frightened as he felt in that moment, because something made Magnus’ features soften.

“We’re this way,” Magnus repeated.

Alec nodded and felt the edges of his sudden panic blurring, fading…because of the quiet confidence Magnus radiated. No, he thought. It couldn’t be this man pulling Alec back to solid ground. It couldn’t.

He hated Magnus.

Alec scrubbed a hand over his freshly shaved chin and stared at Magnus, trying to decipher how he really felt. Magnus tipped his head, narrowed his eyes, and opened his mouth as if he was going to say something, then abruptly turned on his heel without saying another word.

“Shit.” Alec found his feet again and followed Magnus into the glass-walled conference room.

“Take the seat at the head of the table,” Magnus instructed, his lips drawn into a thin line again. He removed the chair at the other end and motioned for one of the assistants to wheel it out of the room. “You just have to sit there and look the part. There won't be much you have to say.”

The same assistant came back a minute later, pushing in a cart with glass bottles of water and earthen cups that matched the rustic yet refined decor of IE's international headquarters. Magnus thanked the assistant and went to setting the cups on the table, leaving a bottle of water next to each. But when he got to Alec’s spot he unscrewed the lid on the bottle and filled the cup, sliding it over to Alec.

Alec took a deep drink. He didn't know what to say or how he was supposed to talk to Magnus when he wasn't yelling at him. “You look, uh, different today.”

“Now is not the time, Alexander,” Magnus snapped.

Alec’s face flamed but he managed to nod and shut up.

Magnus flexed his ringless fingers, cracking his knuckles, then sighed and took the seat next to Alec. He tipped his head in the direction of the elevator bank, where Imogen had lingered to greet the Gallant group.

“That’s Lazlo coming through the elevator now,” Magnus said. “He’s their head of endorsements. The man behind him is Tomas—their in-house lawyer. Lazlo enjoys skiing and frequent visits to his mistress. Tomas prefers honey in his tea instead of sugar and has an awful taste in shoes but a flawless one in art.”

Alec spared a glance at the two men, then refocused on Magnus. “How do you know all this?”

“It's my job to know,” Magnus said simply. He arched an eyebrow. “The shoe thing, though? That one is just obvious.”

Before Alec could fully process that he was smiling at something Magnus Bane had said, Magnus tipped his chin in the direction of the woman speaking with Imogen. “And that is Dorothea Rollins, the chief marketing officer for Gallant. You don't need to know anything about her. Like you, she won't have much to say at this meeting.”

Alec took another drink. He had one part to play in this meeting, he could do this. And he was beginning to think that maybe Magnus did have this whole thing under control. He eased back in his chair. “Is it normal for a CMO to be at one of these meetings?”

Magnus smirked at that. “No. It’s not.”

The team entered the conference room and Alec stood as introductions were made, noting the way Magnus greeted the men with graciousness but undeniable authority. He was slightly warmer with Dorothea, but the difference was so subtle Alec didn’t know if he’d imagined it.

With the formalities over, Lazlo huffed into his seat. “Let’s get started then. We’ve seen the cost-benefit analysis and market reports you sent over, Magnus. Is there anything you’d like to add to it at this point?”

“What I sent over is more than adequate for a first conversation,” Magnus said coolly.

Lazlo leaned back in his chair. Eyeing Alec. Checking out the “merchandise.” Alec barely restrained a shudder.

“Frankly,” Lazlo said, his gaze sliding back to Magnus, “I simply don’t see the value in someone who’s just a goalie to our brand.”

“And the sum you’re seeking is outrageous,” Tomas added.

On the other side of the table from her employees, next to Magnus, Dorothea didn’t appear to be paying attention to anything being said. She was scrawling something into her cell with a stylus.

“Then why come here at all, Lazlo?” Magnus asked.

“Professional courtesy?”

Magnus narrowed his eyes, the kohl amping the intensity of their gold-green color. “Try again.”

“Of course we’re interested in Mr. Lightwood, but we can’t pay you what you’re asking for.”

Magnus waved a hand in the air. “Tell me what you can offer then.”

Lazlo leaned forward at this. “Half your proposed amount with additional restrictions on future image rights and approval over any further endorsement deals offered to Mr. Lightwood by other companies.”

Magnus barked out a laugh that had everyone turning in his direction besides Dorothea. “I’m sorry. Was I not supposed to laugh there? I thought we’d entered the comedic portion of the evening.”

Lazlo’s face went red. “I don’t think you understand what you’re negotiating here—”

“I don’t think you understand what you’re negotiating here,” Magnus interrupted without a beat of hesitation. “Alec Lightwood’s name is already in the press—as a sympathetic victim of fraud instead of an entitled, wife-beating, untouchable god of sports. He comes from roots that resonate with middle america, and has an image that ties back to the wholesomeness of home and family, yet let’s your older female demographic swoon. Men pay millions a year to look like him, and regardless that they never will, they will continue shelling out that money seeking a hint of what his body looks like. The Blazing Angels—beloved in this city and across the country—are on every commentators list to win the championship this year. Alec will be out of your price range in less than three months. We are only taking on two select endorsements, one of which has already been contracted and shot, with four other meetings today. Alec doesn’t need you—you need him. But as his agent, I’m inclined to advise him that a partnership that doesn’t value his worth as a whole isn’t the best fit.”

Alec had to rein in his shock at how persuasive Magnus was. How aggressive. He looked to Lazlo to see his reaction and the man’s lips were moving as if he was trying to form a coherent reply but couldn’t. Alec let a slow smile go.

“And let’s not forget,” Magnus continued, “with Alec you also get the benefit of opening communication channels with other Angels’ players. Something you haven’t achieved on your own, Lazlo. But, as you said, he is just a goalie.” Magnus held Lazlo’s gaze for a beat of silence, then looked at his watch. “Well, look at that. It’s time for you to go.”

“It’s what?” Lazlo sputtered.

Magnus stood, smoothing his jacket. “I’ll have my assistant see you out. Thank you for your time. You know where to leave a message if there’s any other business we have to discuss. But, at this time, we don’t.”

Alec stumbled to his feet, feeling as surprised at the abrupt ending as Lazlo and Tomas looked.

But Magnus wore his smile with ease, taking Dorothea’s hands between his when she stood. “It’s been lovely seeing you again, Dot. Please give my best to Jerry.”

“I will.” The Gallant CMO patted Magnus on the arm. “And I’ll be in touch soon.”

Magnus didn’t follow Lazlo, Tomas and Dorothea out, and Alec remained where he was—frozen to the spot. The group was met at the elevator by Clary, who shot a bewildered expression at Alec. Alec could only shrug.

Alec stuffed his hands in his pockets and faced Magnus. “That was…not what I expected.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Magnus replied, his tone just as cold as it had been with Lazlo.

“It was,” Alec said sincerely. He tracked Magnus’ refined movements around the conference room as he cleared the table. “What if they start calling around? To verify what you told them?”

“It’s all true.”

“I’m wholesome?” Alec challenged.

Magnus filled a cup with water, took a drink and faced Alec. “That is the image you’re going for, right? A finely-crafted facade that placates those with fragile sensibilities?”

Alec’s heart thudded in his chest. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m quite sure you do.”

There was only one thing Magnus could be alluding to, and years of denial and lies made Alec’s self-preservation instinct kick in without thought. His throat had gone dry, but he could hear the venom in his reply. “How did you know? Did Izzy—”

Magnus cut him off. “Despite what you may think, your sister is a professional. Neither Clary nor Simon said anything either. Your deeply seated self-hatred is masked quite well—if one doesn’t scratch too far past the surface. And it appears as if you invite very few close enough to get a hint of what desires lie beneath.”

Alec seethed. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I know painfully well what I’m talking about. But that doesn’t matter. You’re the one in the closet, and it looks like you are more than happy to stay there. So as your agent, it is my job to secure contracts based on the image you can live with, that will make you the most money.”

Alec stammered, struggling to reply. He wanted to answer honestly and tell Magnus that he wasn’t okay with this. That this wasn’t the life he wanted at all, and he didn’t know how to escape this prison he’d built for himself. He knew now that Magnus wasn’t simply competent, he was gifted at this job, and that if Alec could find a way to trust him then they could make this partnership work….

But the restrained fury in Magnus’ clenched jaw made Alec stop cold.

It didn’t matter what he thought of Magnus.

Magnus hated him.

Alec pulled his shoulders back, meeting Magnus’ unflinching stare. “It’s all about the money, right?”

Magnus gave a dark laugh and turned his back on Alec. “Apparently it is. Clary will show you out. I’ll be in touch when I hear from Gallant.”

Chapter Text

“So how did it go?” Clary grilled him the second the elevator doors shut.

Alec gritted his teeth, trying to rein in his anger. He couldn’t even look at her. “How did Magnus know I’m gay?”

“I didn’t tell him!”

He took a deep breath and leveled her with a look that made her take a step back. “Izzy?”

“No way.” Clary shook her head adamantly. “She’s the one who made me swear I wouldn’t say anything.”

“Simon,” Alec grit out.

“Not him either. He would’ve called me to confess if he broke down and said something. So Magnus knows?”

Alec scrubbed his hands over his face. How the fuck had Magnus known? Was he really that obvious? “Apparently I’m not very good at hiding my deepest desires.”

“He didn’t say that,” Clary insisted.

“And he doesn’t have any problem keeping my closet intact as long as he’s getting paid.”

Clary crossed her arms. “I get the feeling you’re paraphrasing.”

Alec stormed out of the elevator when the doors opened. “What the hell do you know, Clary?”

“I know Magnus as well as I know you,” Clary said as she followed on his heels. For being so short, she was too damn fast. “He’s not in this job for the money.”

Alec pushed through the front doors and into the sunshine. “Everyone works because of money, Clary.”

Clary yanked on his sleeve, bringing them to a stop on the steps. “Fine. You can choose to be jaded about this, but you of all people know that money isn’t what motivates everyone.”

“I don’t know that anymore. I just attended a meeting where I used my physical appearance to get paid.”

“Alec. Come here.” She took Alec’s hand and led him over to a bench. He sat down with a huff, looking at the mass of people on the sidewalk but not really seeing any of them.

“Look at me, Alec. You’re being paid for being good at a sport you love. Being ridiculously attractive helps, I’m not going to lie. But it’s not the only reason why these companies want you to endorse their products.”

Alec huffed out a laugh, despite his shit mood. Clary had a way of doing that to him. He glanced at her, raising an eyebrow. “Ridiculously attractive?”

“You are a tree I wouldn’t bother trying to climb. Because you’re too close to the ground…. Leaning. Like, not straight.”

“Way to see that metaphor all the way to it’s terrible end,” he retorted.

Clary rolled her eyes and scooted closer to him, grasping his hand. “Now tell me, how did it go? It was over so fast!”

Alec blew out a long breath. He was still processing everything that had happened. “Magnus was…intimidating. I’ve never seen anything like it. He dismissed them. Telling them that they didn’t have anything further to discuss when they didn’t accept his terms.”

“Holy shit.”

Alec’s lips quirked into a smile. “He was brilliant. And I’m going to have to tell Izzy that she was right. You know how much I hate doing that.”

“Magnus is brilliant, isn’t he? I don’t know how he can switch between different aspects of his personality so quickly.”

Alec’s shoulders slumped as he remembered how he and Magnus had ended the meeting. “Well one aspect of his personality is static. He hates me.”

“He doesn’t.”

“I’m very sure he does.”

“Why? What did he say?”

Alec met Clary’s eyes. He knew she would see right through him, but he needed someone to see his hurt right now. To recognize that he wasn’t the fake persona that he put on like a second skin every day. “He hates me because he’s not hiding and I am.”

Clary’s features softened. Her eyes were sad. “But did you tell him that’s not the way you want it to be?”

“He wouldn’t want to hear it even if I did.” Alec flinched. His voice sounded bitter even to his own ears. He let go of her hand and stood. “Shit, Clary. This is why I didn’t want to take on any advertising deals. Now I’m going to be roped into all of these clauses about how I live my life. My personal life isn’t personal anymore. I can be who I am behind closed doors, but not in public. I’m never going to have the choice to be…open.”

“What Hodge did to you, Alec…. You didn’t have a choice.”

Alec fumed. “So now he’s fucking up my life even from behind bars.”

“Yes, he is,” Clary nodded, and her voice was rough. “And it’s not fair. But most of these contracts run one to two years, and by then you’ll have a championship ring on your finger—maybe two—and you can tell them all to fuck off. It’s temporary, Alec.”

“Shhhh,” Alec chastised her softly, smiling. “We don’t talk about rings or championships.”

“You’ll be with Izzy tonight, right? That will be good.”

Alec sank down next to her again. “If I can deal with her gloating.”

“She’s proud of you, Alec. All of who you are. She’s your biggest advocate and you can’t fault her for being happy that something has gone well for you. If Magnus was as effective as you say, I don’t think you’ll be waiting long to hear on Gallant.”

“As much as I don’t want it, I really want it.”

Clary nodded. “I know you do. Life—”

Alec interrupted her. “It sucks and then you die. Yeah, I know.”

“I was going to say it’s full of mysteries.” Clary bumped her shoulder against Alec’s. “Two kinds of people.”

Alec circled his arms around her. They didn't always get along, but he loved Clary. She was one of his best friends and it was because of moments like this—where she made him see that life didn’t have to be as disastrous as he envisioned. “Text me if you hear anything, okay? And have fun with Simon tonight.”

Clary returned the hug, resting her cheek on Alec’s chest. “You too, Alec. Give my love to everyone.”

 

****

 

Magnus set the handset of his office phone back on the cradle and grinned.

Four hours.

It had taken only four hours for Gallant to cough up another thirty percent and forego the endorsements approval clause in exchange for two year exclusivity in their product lines. It was the biggest contract Magnus had ever landed, and one that would open doors for all his colleagues. Magnus had finally made his mark on IE and it was one that would have ripple effects for years to come.

It was the professional equivalent of giving a prostate pounding that left your partner deliciously sore and weak in the knees for days afterwards. The overly competent lover who was never forgotten. Magnus had never been more proud.

He stood, whipped his coat off the rack and descended on Clary’s desk in a flurry of bliss. “It’s time for cocktails, biscuit!”

Clary didn’t look up from her screen. “Can’t. Simon is coming over tonight. We have a…thing.”

“A thing?”

Clary shook her head, still pattering away on her keyboard. “Long story.”

“My dearest sweet cinnamon roll, I don’t think you’re hearing me. I. Need. To. Celebrate.”

Clary’s eyes tracked away from her screen slowly, a smile inching up her lips as she locked gazes with him. “No. Magnus. Really? Gallant came through?”

“Of course they did,” Magnus scoffed, even though he’d grown less and less sure of his bad cop negotiating tactic as the day had worn on.

Clary jumped up and wrapped him in a ferocious hug. “That’s amazing! We definitely need drinks. Why don’t you come over to my place? Fully stocked bar courtesy of me, and fully stocked refrigerator courtesy of my mom.”

“And fully stocked sarcasm courtesy of Shaun,” Magnus noted.

Clary laughed. “Stop it. Simon thinks you don’t like him when you pretend not to know his name.”

“I like Stanley just fine.”

Clary beamed at that. It wasn’t difficult to make her smile, but nothing seemed to make her happier than when all of the people she loved got along.

“I’ll get my coat. Let’s go.”

Magnus unlocked his cell. “We’ll Uber it to your place instead of the subway. My treat. Can’t have my queen mingling with the peasants now.”

Clary giggled all the way to the elevator.

 

****

 

“This is much better than going out,” Magus said, tucking his feet under the chenille blanket Clary had placed over him. He took a sip of his wine and snuggled in deeper to the couch. His suit be damned. It was going to be wrecked with wrinkles and unsightly folds when he emerged from his blanket cocoon, but that’s what a good dry cleaner was for. He’d been freezing when they got to Clary’s walk-up apartment in a suspect part of town, and her lack of a reliable heating source had only chilled him more. But she had plied him with wine and soft blankets and now he was cozy and warm. He was going to have to give her a raise. “When did I get old enough that a dark, noisy bar is no longer a magical place of endless possibilities?”

“It’s a sure sign that middle age is creeping in. Next comes the gray hairs.”

“I'll look even more dignified with silver streaks at my temple,” Magnus protested.

Clary patted his leg. “Sure, babes. Whatever you say.”

“Hey, guys,” Simon said, walking through Clary’s front door without a knock.

“Hey, Simon,” Clary called out over her shoulder. “We’re marathoning the classic seasons of America’s Next Top Model. Join us.”

“Where’s your beautiful wife?” Magnus asked.

Simon dropped a duffel bag at his feet, and went to sit on the arm of the couch next to Clary. “You didn’t tell him?”

Clary bit at her lip. “No, but we can if you want.”

Simon dropped his chin down, his voice going into a near-whisper. “He knows?”

“I told you he would,” Clary whispered back adamantly. “He knows.”

Simon frowned. “How bad was it?”

“I don’t know,” she said, exasperated. “You’ll have to ask him—”

“While I enjoy puzzles every now and then…,” Magnus interrupted. Clary and Simon stopped talking, looking at him as if they’d forgotten he was in the room at all. “I’m lying. I don’t enjoy puzzles at all. And code breaking is not on my list of strengths. For the benefit of the third wheel in our currently wobbly tricycle, can we please start speaking in full sentences?”

Simon gave him a once over, then pushed his glasses up his nose. “Are you wearing a suit?”

“It’s cold in here and Clary’s yoga pants end at my calves. I make a point not to show any leg until summer.”

Simon clicked his tongue with distaste. “I don’t know if I like this look on you, Magnus.”

Clary whacked him on the stomach with her free hand and he cried out in surprise.

“What? That was a complete sentence.”

“He looks fabulous,” Clary insisted. “This is what success looks like.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Magnus,” Simon backtracked. “You do look fabulous, but also really imposing, and this look is so…bland. It’s not you. Take it off. It’s creeping me out.”

Magnus stood, unbuttoning his jacket and Simon’s eyes went wide as he continued to mutter.

“I know I said you look fabulous but you don’t have to undress for me….”

Magnus rolled his eyes.

“I don’t really swing that way. Although I guess I could given the right circumstances….”

Magnus lifted an eyebrow and shrugged the jacket off his shoulders.

“But I’m in a very committed relationship. Taking that whole until-death thing to heart and all.”

Magnus pulled his jacket all the way off, revealing the gold dragons with crimson and purple flames that arced over the shoulders and down the arms of the shirt, but were well-hidden below the jacket he’d chosen this morning. “Is this too bland for you, Seamus?”

Simon broke out into a wide smile. “Wow! It’s so sparkly. Wait? Did you just call me Seamus. Shit, he’s mad at me. Was it the compliments? Too strong?” Simon rounded on Clary, pointing at her. “Don’t tell Izzy this conversation ever happened.”

Clary smirked.

Simon threw his head back and groaned. “You’re so going to tell her.”

Magnus rolled up his sleeves, getting comfortable, and snuggled into his blanket again. “You were saying something about your wife and where she is or is not tonight?”

“Right, Izzy. My wife who I’m totally, one hundred percent straight for is—“ Simon glanced between Magnus and Clary. “I don’t know where to start.”

Clary scrunched up her brow. “The whole story?”

“Is this a story that’s going to get you into trouble by telling me?” Magnus asked.

Simon shook his head. “Our only ban was on telling you Alec is gay.”

“Ah, so now that I know I can know.”

“Exactly.”

Magnus shrugged and took a sip of his wine. “I don’t know if I care anymore where Izzy is.”

“Which means now he’s really interested,” Clary interpreted.

“Short version,” Simon said, “Izzy’s with Alec tonight. It’s their younger brother’s birthday.”

Magnus sat up. “I wasn’t aware there was another Lightwood.”

“Figured you probably weren’t,” Clary said. She clicked off the TV and faced Magnus. “Max was an oops baby. Alec was nine when Max was born.”

“A good oops or a bad oops for the Lightwood parents?”

“That’s debatable,” Clary answered. “Robert and Maryse Lightwood are a whole other story. For Alec and Izzy, though? Max was never anything bad.”

“And the long version?”

Clary hedged for a moment. “This isn’t a happy story, Magnus.”

Magnus felt immediately uncomfortable. He may not have liked Alec but he knew well that there were some stories that belonged solely to the people who had lived through them. “Is this something I should hear from Alec himself?”

“He won’t tell it to you,” Simon said. “I’ve only ever heard it from Izzy.”

“I don’t think this is something I should hear,” Magnus insisted.

“Honestly, Magnus?” Clary said. “I think maybe you should.”

“I think so too,” Simon added. “Considering….”

Clary nodded her agreement.

Magnus shook his head. “I don’t follow.”

“You know Alec is gay,” Clary said. “But you don’t know why he ended up hiding that for so many years.”

Simon set his hand on Clary’s shoulder. “Izzy thought you already knew and that’s why you were keeping Alec’s contract despite your rocky start. She’d be okay with us telling you. Then she doesn’t have to relive it all. It’s hard…for both of them.”

“All right,” Magnus relented. They knew the Lightwood family better than he did. “Go ahead.”

“I’ll grab another bottle of wine,” Simon offered. “You start, Clary.”

Clary rearranged herself on the couch with her back against the arm rest and her toes poking under Magnus’ blanket. She took a deep breath. “So ten years ago, Alec was finishing up his freshman year of college. Max had gone to a pick-up game with Alec and some of his friends on a Friday night, and after the game, instead of driving Max home Alec wanted to go out with his boyfriend Raj, another player on the team.”

“Neither one of them were out,” Simon added, from the kitchen. “So they only saw each other when they could get off campus.”

“One of the assistant coaches offered to drive Max home,” Clary continued. “This guy was a family friend who’d been with Alec through years of hockey leagues, so there wasn’t any question in Alec’s mind when he offered. Alec and Raj got in Alec’s car and Max got into this coach’s car and they drove away. Alec was a few cars behind them on this main road approaching the intersection where the coach would take a left to take Max home and Alec and Raj would continue on for whatever it is they were going….” Clary furrowed her brow. “I don’t know if I ever got that part of the story.”

“Me either,” Simon confirmed.

“Anyway, the coach got in the lane to turn left and Alec saw the flashers signaling an oncoming train and he expected the coach to wait, but he didn’t stop. Alec saw the train and he saw Max in that backseat and the car wasn’t braking or speeding up and Alec watched—” Clary sucked in a breath, tears gathering in her eyes. “Alec watched as the train slammed into the car and sent it flying.”

Magnus’ stomach sank, twisting painfully. He set his glass down on the coffee table. He scooted forward and grasped on to Clary’s shaking hands. He knew where this story was likely heading. “You don’t have to tell me any more if you don’t want to, biscuit.”

Clary held onto him tightly. “No, it’s okay. Simon hadn’t started dating Izzy then, so we didn’t live through this—they did. I don’t know how—” Clary cut herself off. She swiped a tear away from her cheek and gripped his hand again, steeling herself. “Izzy said the wreckage was brutal. But Alec…he didn’t think about the risk to his life. He sprinted out of his car to get to Max, calling for Raj’s help, but Raj was frozen. Kept yelling at Alec about being found out….”

Simon moved Magnus’ glass aside, set down the bottle of wine and sat down on the coffee table. His jaw was clenched, and there was a fire behind him eyes that Magnus had never seen in him before. “Then Raj bolted, just took off. Leaving Alec alone.”

Magnus’ blood went cold. “No.”

Clary stilled. “Max’s heart wasn’t beating when Alec pulled him out of the car.”

Magnus shivered. He leaned forward and wiped Clary’s cheeks dry, ignoring the tears tracking down his own face. It didn’t matter that Magnus had expected this ending. He knew what it felt like to hold someone you loved in your arms and not feel the reassuring beat of a strong heart under your fingertips. It was a vicious ache—an emptiness that spiraled into your soul—that no one should ever have to experience.

“But Alec—” Simon began to say. His voice was shaky, and he had to take off his glasses to wipe the tears from his eyes, but Magnus did a double take when he realized Simon was smiling. “My badass brother-in-law Alec had learned CPR and emergency first aid from one of the trainers at college and he used his belt as a tourniquet on Max’s leg and kept up chest compressions until the ambulance got there.”

“Alec saved Max’s life,” Clary said with an air of wonder.

Magnus sucked in a breath. “Max lived? I thought for sure….”

Clary squeezed his hands. “He lived. Because of Alec. Max ended up losing the lower part of his left leg but he survived.”

“And because of that I have two badass brothers-in-law,” Simon said, the pride evident in his voice. Simon motioned for Clary to scoot over. She turned, leaning against Magnus’ side and dropping her head on his shoulder as Simon settled in next to her. Simon sighed. “They found out later the coach had had some kind of aneurysm and was probably dead before the train even hit. There was no one to blame, it was just a tragic accident that could’ve been infinitely worse.”

Magnus kissed the top of Clary’s head. “You were right. That isn’t a happy story, but it has a good ending.”

They were all quiet for a moment, then Simon leaned forward and popped the cork out of the wine bottle, refilling all the glasses and handing them out. “That’s the thing about it. There’s never really an ending to the effects of something like this. You ever notice how Alec rubs at his left hand? Some part of the wreckage speared through his hand when he was pulling Max out. Apparently that spot is still numb and he’ll never regain feeling.”

“But it doesn’t stop him,” Clary said. “Nothing stops Alec when he’s really driven. It’s one of the things I admire most about him.”

This was his client Alec Lightwood she was talking about—a man she obviously loved dearly, whom she had deemed worthy enough to be her family even though they weren’t connected by blood. A man who Magnus had shunned from the start because of what he did for a living and how he looked. Judging Alec by appearance and assumption….

Just as Magnus had always been judged by others.

The weight of Magnus’ missteps sat heavy in his heart. “I think I get the idea, but how does this all tie into how Alec ended up closeted?”

Clary lifted her head and looked him in the eyes. “You have to understand, Alec was eighteen when the accident happened. He wasn’t out to his parents. But from what Izzy tells me, he and Raj were serious and Alec was planning on coming out. The accident and Max’s recovery changed everything for the entire family in the years following, and Alec put his personal needs to the side for Max.”

“He and Raj were over the second Raj turned tail,” Simon added, his anger bleeding through every time he said Raj’s name. “Raj transferred schools the next year—but I don’t think Alec ever got over that betrayal. What happened with Max and with Raj messed Alec up for a long time. Alec never ended up coming out. He didn’t date anyone—seriously or not—and then he went pro and hiding that he was gay wasn’t a question.”

Magnus had been a lackey at IE seven years ago, not a full agent, but he remembered what athlete contracts were like then. “He couldn’t come out with how contracts were phrased.”

Clary nodded. “Max went through some hard years, too. Getting used to his prosthetic leg at first, then their parents divorce, then when he learned how much his accident had affected Alec. But he’s good now. Studying at Columbia to be an engineer. He wants to design and build athletic equipment for people with physical limitations, so that everyone has the chance to play.”

“He’s a great kid who makes horribly inappropriate jokes.” Simon laughed. “Impossible not to love, really.”

Clary glanced at Magnus. “I would say you’ll love him too, but I’ve only been half-right when it comes to the Lightwood siblings so far.”

No. He’d been the one who was wrong.

But before Magnus could find the right words to say that to Clary, Simon was continuing. “Anyway, a short answer to the long version of where Izzy is tonight—every year Izzy, Alec, and Max get together on Max’s birthday and have a sleepover. It’s their one-night-a-year that’s reserved for just the three of them.”

“And Simon camps out at my place,” Clary said. “Look, Magnus, I know Alec is only out to a handful of people, but I also know that’s not how he intended his life to go. It’s definitely not how he wants to be for the rest of his life.”

Magnus acknowledged that with a nod. He didn’t know what to say anymore.

“So Alec knows you know he’s gay?” Simon asked him.

“He does.”

“And? How did that conversation go?”

Magnus remembered the look of vulnerability—of fear—that had crossed Alec’s face when Magnus had confronted him after the meeting. He took a deep swig of his wine. “I felt much more confident in the moment than I do now. It’s hard to hate someone after hearing that story.”

“You shouldn’t have hated him in the first place,” Clary said in a quiet voice.

Magnus cringed.

She was right.

“Have you told Alec yet about Gallant?”

Magnus shook his head.

“Text him now. He’ll want to hear.”

“He’s with his family, biscuit. That’s more important.”

“Text him, Magnus,” Clary urged with a soft smile. “Believe me. He’ll be happy to hear from you.”

 

****

 

“I can’t believe you made a blanket fort to celebrate my nineteenth birthday, Alec.”

Alec elbowed Max in the ribs and gestured to the sheet and blankets he’d attached to the high ceiling, draping them over the entertainment center all the way to the back of his massive couch. Making a carnival-like tent that he, Max and Izzy were now situated under shoulder-to-shoulder, watching TV. “This took me three hours to make. Respect the fort.”

“And I spent three minutes making chocolate milkshakes!” Izzy said brightly.

Alec sucked in more of the supposed milkshake through his glittery straw and grimaced. “I don’t think there’s any chocolate in this.”

“So there may be more vodka and rum than chocolate,” Izzy admitted. “And ice instead of ice cream….”

Max scrunched up his face as he took another drink. “Is that lemonade I taste?”

“Fine! I give in. It’s a drink called the green demon. But I had to pretend like we weren’t condoning underage drinking. So I added Hershey’s syrup.”

Max shook his head, and downed more of the awful drink. “You promised me you’d never allow her to use your kitchen again, Alec.”

“She brought these from home. Don’t blame me.”

Izzy dismissed them both with a silver-nail-polish-tipped middle finger. “So what are we going to watch first, mis hermanos?”

Alec set his drink aside and plucked the stack of Blu-ray discs he'd preselected off the couch. “Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Christian Bale, or The Rock?”

“Those are just guys, not movie titles,” Max pointed out.

Alec grinned. “I know.”

“Do we seriously have to fight about this again this year?” Izzy complained. “I never get to pick the movie. Ever. Come on, Alec. You owe me.”

“I’m going to take my prosthetic off and beat you with it if you even think about letting her do it,” Max threatened, his lips tipped into a smirk.

That Max was so comfortable with every aspect of himself—that he could joke about things that had once been painful—made Alec proud. He wished he could have half the confidence his brother had.

Alec lifted an eyebrow, meeting Max’s challenge. “So that’s how tonight’s going to go, huh? Come at me, bro.”

“I’ll hold him down for you, Max.”

“Traitor!” he yelled at Izzy, smiling. “I build you this elegant blanket fort and you repay me with betrayal!”

“I thought you built this for me!” Max yelled back. “Get him, Iz.”

Izzy grinned mischievously and launched herself at him.

“Shit,” was all he managed to get out, then Izzy was crashing into him, tickling his sides, and Max toppled onto the Lightwood pile of limbs, and Alec couldn’t breathe he was laughing so hard. Just when he thought he was going to have to admit defeat—because Max had his arms pinned and Izzy was ruthlessly digging her nails in and taunting him with the names of unwatchable rom-coms—Izzy abruptly stopped tickling him.

She tipped her head, listening to something. “Is that Dead Inside by Muse?”

“Fuck.” Alec could hear the song now, a ringtone he’d set in the heat of the moment. “Yeah, it’s Magnus calling. Hang on.”

Alec untangled himself, smacking Max and Izzy on the back of the head on his way out, and crawled out of the fort. He swiped his cell off the coffee table he’d moved to the edge of the room, picked up the call and put the phone to his ear. “What do you want, Magnus?”

“I have news you may want to hear.”

Alec held up a finger to tell Izzy and Max—who were peering out at him through the sides of the fort—that he needed a minute, and went into his bedroom, shutting the door.

“What is it?”

“Gallant offered a contract I recommend you accept.”

Alec gaped. “Are you serious?”

“An ungodly amount of zeros serious.”

Alec knees went weak and he sat down on the edge of his bed. “Holy shit. And you're calling to tell me this? I’m surprised you didn’t show up here.”

Magnus laughed at that—a sound that was genuine and warm, not the callousness or arrogance Alec was already used to. “I wanted to drop by, but Clary told me to just text you, so we played mah-jong to break the standoff—since Simon was being difficult and refused to vote. Then we realized that none of us know how to play mah-jong, so now I’m calling you. It was a compromise. Anyway, we can talk details later. I don’t want to keep you. Get back to your siblings.”

Alec recognized that sinking sensation in his stomach too well. “Clary told you what I’m doing tonight.”

“She did….”

Alec waited for the pity. For the apologies about Max that always came across more like insults. Or for the word hero to be applied to him when he was anything but.

But Alec didn’t get any of those. Magnus gave a nervous laugh and said, “I’ve been advised that hating you on first sight may have been a bit rash.”

“You have, huh?”

“Frankly, I don’t know,” Magus said, all sarcasm and lightness and teasing. “I need to do a cost-benefit analysis to be sure.”

“I hear you’re good at those,” Alec replied, trying to match Magnus’ tone. He was a bit off-kilter with how this conversation had gone so far, though. Compared to the last time they’d seen each other—only hours ago—Magnus was talking with him, not at him. He knew why Magnus’ view of him had shifted, but he couldn’t be mad at Clary for spilling the whole story. He wouldn’t have been able to do it himself. Alec hoped this change meant what he thought it did. “You were very good in the meeting with Gallant today. Thought I should tell you that. If it wasn’t clear…you know…before.”

“Thank you, Alec.”

“I should be thanking you,” Alec rushed to get out. He didn’t know how long this apparent truce would hold. “I wouldn’t have this contract if it weren’t for you.”

There was a beat of silence, then, “Listen, Alec. I’m not okay with you being in the closet and I can’t pretend to be. You have the money and the visibility to break the paradigm and make a world-altering impact….”

Seconds. Their truce had last seconds. Alec clenched his fist and opened his mouth to snap at Magnus, then Magnus sighed heavily into the phone, and Alec reined his anger in. Waiting Magnus out.

“But….” Magnus finally said.

“But what?”

“But I understand how you ended up here. When you’re ready to be out, tell me. I’ll help you however I can.”

The threat of tears prickled at the corners of Alec’s eyes. He sucked in a deep breath to clear his head. “Okay.”

“We didn’t talk about his beforehand,” Magnus continued. “But I never allow lifestyle clauses in contracts I negotiate. There are the usual caveats about illegal activity and no public displays of competitors products, but who you choose to love will never be part of any contracts we work together on.”

“I didn’t even know that was an option,” Alec stammered. “Thank you.”

“No thanks needed. They’re antiquated clauses. And I’m getting paid well to make sure you’re happy.”

Alec smiled at that, remembering what Clary had told him about why Magnus was an agent, and realizing that it was true. “But it’s not all about the money, is it?”

“It’s not.”

Alec picked at the frayed edges of the old college sweatshirt he was wearing. “This is weird. You and me. Talking without yelling.”

Magnus laughed softly. “It is.”

Alec groaned and flopped onto his bed, the reality of his situation settling in. “Izzy is going to give me so much shit now that I don’t hate you anymore. She was right, Magnus. And I was wrong. Do you understand how bad this is?”

Magnus gave a full-out laugh this time. “I think I do. Clary looks positively triumphant. It’s maddening.” He was quiet for a moment and Alec could picture what Magnus looked like when his gears were turning. “You know….”

“What?”

“They don’t need to know that they were right.”

“You want to pretend we still hate each other?”

“It would be fun.”

Alec sat up. This he could get into. “So how loud do I need to yell to make this realistic?”

“It’s not really about the volume. It’s the harshness of your tone and the amount of fucks you insert into a sentence.”

Alec raised an eyebrow. “I have a tone?”

That is the tone,” Magnus quipped.

Holy shit. Magnus really was teasing him.

Magnus wasn’t okay with Alec’s choice to not be out, and they still had a lot to learn about each other to make this partnership work, but Alec thought…maybe this will be good.

He stood and started pacing, eager to tell Max and Izzy the news but wanting to spend just a few more minutes on the phone with Magnus. “I’m going to watch Simon’s band play tomorrow. Maybe you should show up.”

“I was already planning on it. Rock god Simon himself invited me.”

“Good. Then come. I’ll buy you a drink. We can start over. Or you can throw the drink in my face, whatever feels natural in the moment.”

“Well, Alexander—”

“Magnus,” Alec cut him off. “I may not hate you anymore, but still don’t call me that.”

Magnus chuckled. “Okay, Alec. See you tomorrow then?”

“Yeah. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Alec ended the call and threw his bedroom door open. “Guess who’s the new face of Gallant Group?”

Izzy screamed, Max tackled him to the ground, and he was being peppered with kisses and smashed into his floor. He could only yell “Don’t bruise the merchandise!” twice until he couldn’t talk anymore and he, Max and Izzy dissolved into laughter.

Chapter Text

If Alec had a comfort level when it came to bars, then Taki’s was closer to it than Pandemonium had been.

Although, to be fair, Taki’s was more diner than nightclub. It was one large room with booths on one edge and a scarred, wooden bar on the other with a cutout leading to the kitchen behind it. The tables and chairs used for restaurant service during the day were stacked in a corner—making room for more people than was probably allowable by New York fire codes. But Alec could get a burger here—a good burger—and that pretty much sealed the deal for him. He was having a good time. At a bar.

With Magnus.

“Is that really something you should be eating the night before a game?” Magnus chastised him, leaning forward on the stool next to Izzy.

Alec restrained a smile and took a grotesque bite out of the sandwich as he pretended to stare ferociously at Magnus.

He’d thought Magnus had been kidding last night when he’d said that Izzy and Clary didn’t need to know they’d been right. But Magnus had arrived at Taki’s like a firework—sparkly, loud, and ready to go off. So Alec had gone with it. Really, he and Magnus were having too much fun convincing Izzy they still hated each other. Izzy was endearing when frustrated, and she always caught on to things he didn’t want her to know…. And Alec was having real fun for once. He just wanted to tease her for a bit longer.

Izzy glanced between the two of them—she was way too intelligent and way too suspicious—then downed the rest of her drink, immediately waving the bartender over for another. With Izzy’s attention on the bartender, Magnus winked at him—this attempt at a wink more than a suave move—and Alec nearly choked as he tried to stifle a laugh.

He set his burger down and wiped his hands, composing himself. “What’s the name of Simon’s band tonight?”

Izzy poked at the ice cubes in her fresh drink with her straw. “Greedo’s Revenge, I think.”

“So Simon is Team Han Shot First, huh?” Alec said, not expecting either Izzy or Magnus to get the joke.

But Magnus giggled and Izzy’s head snapped around, eyeing him. Magnus peered over his own shoulder as if he were looking for the source of the sound as well. Izzy’s gaze slowly came back to Alec. “I don’t know what that means.”

Magnus had a hand clamped over his mouth, trying not to laugh, and Alec had to look away to keep his cool. “Not important, Iz.”

Izzy turned to look at Magnus again, and Magnus pulled himself together with flawless grace. “Well, this has been…interesting, but I love a hot piece of meat in my mouth as much as my client seems to, so I’m going to see what’s on the menu for tonight. I’ll find you later. Maybe.”

Izzy watched as Magnus walked into the crowd. “I don’t think he was talking about burgers.”

“Whatever,” Alec answered. Lamely. He was finding it much harder to deliver good comebacks now that his blood wasn’t boiling with rage at the mere sight of Magnus.

Izzy narrowed her eyes. “What is going on between you two?”

Alec shrugged and finished off the rest of his burger to hide his smile.

“I thought things had changed between you and Magnus.”

“I told you—I respect his skill. I don’t have to like him to work with him.”

“Huh,” Izzy said with unnerving calm. “Magnus said the same thing to me.”

Shit. If he sat here for too much longer he was going to be found out. Where was his partner in crime? He was much better at this when he had Magnus’ sharp tongue to work off of.

“I gotta…. I’m going to….” Alec stammered, sliding his plate away. He hitched a thumb over his shoulder and stumbled off his bar stool. “Yeah. I’m going to join the party.”

Alec ignored Izzy calling out for him, because now he definitely was smiling. There was no way he was going to be able to make it through the night without Izzy finding out. But he’d have more fun while it lasted.

He pushed through the crowd, at least a head taller than everyone else, searching for Clary and spotting her in one of the booths near the stage.

“Congrats on Gallant,” Clary said as he slid into the booth with her. He slung an arm over her shoulder and kissed the top of her head.

“Thanks, Clary.”

“So what’s next with the contract?”

“It’s going to be a few more days for the actual contract to be ready for me to sign, but Magnus said they’ve already contacted him with a potential shoot date for the first campaign. Looks like it will happen while I’m in LA. Magnus is planning on flying out if I’m still on the road when it happens.”

Clary took a sip of her drink. “You seem okay with that. Considering you—”

“Hate him?” Alec finished for her. He was barely maintaining one pretend front tonight. He leaned in. “Don’t tell Simon or Izzy quite yet, but I may not hate him as much anymore.”

Clary lifted an eyebrow. “As much?”

“Not at all.”

“I knew you’d eventually like him.” Clary beamed. “And why can’t I tell Izzy this?”

“She was right.”

“Gotcha. This was Magnus’ idea wasn’t it?”

“Maybe.”

Clary shook her head, fondly. “You two are going to be so dangerous working together.”

Alec couldn’t disagree.

He took stock of the empty booth and glanced around the club again. “So where’s Simon?”

“Warming up in the men’s bathroom. This place isn’t really designed for live music. Hey, could you do me a favor? The waitress dropped off Simon’s drink but he hasn’t been back to the table since she came by. Could you take it to him?”

“Sure. I’ll be back in five.”

Alec grabbed the full glass in the middle of the table and cut through the main floor, heading for the back. Izzy was still at the bar, chatting with one of Simon’s band members. Clary was holding their booth for when Simon started playing. And Magnus…. Alec scanned the room, searching for the electric blue of the tunic he was wearing and found him in the corner by the bathrooms with his lips at the neck of…a woman?

Alec stopped short, sloshing some of the drink on the front of his shirt.

 

****

 

So maybe Magnus wasn’t as over the dark, noisy bar scene as he’d said to Clary last night.

“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked Jennifer, brushing a dark strand of hair away from the lipstick she’d just reapplied. “It’s the least I can do.”

Her eyes were locked to his lips and her fingers twined in his bracelets, dragging him closer. “I’m actually heading out to another club with friends. You can join—”

“Hey, Magnus.”

Magnus looked up to find his client hovering with a sweating drink in his hand, a wet spot on the front of his shirt and his brow furrowed. Magnus pulled away from Jennifer. “Alec! This is Jennifer.”

“Jessica,” the woman corrected.

“Forgive me,” Magnus said with sincerity. “Alec, Jessica.”

She gave him an easy smile. “It’s fine, Magnus. It was loud in the club’s bathroom.” She circled an arm around his waist and surveyed Alec. “So how do you two know each other?”

“I’m Alec’s agent, darling.”

“Magnus, you’re an agent?! And Alec…you are?” she cooed. Then her eyes went wide. “Oh my god, are you that actor that just got cast in that fantasy series based on those books?”

Alec narrowed just his left eye, as he seemed to do when he was dubious. It was…alarmingly disarming.

“What? No. I play for the Blazing Angels.”

Jessica stood tall, flipping her hair off her shoulder and pushing out her chest. “An athlete? You two aren’t interested in maybe, I don’t know, sharing…me?”

“Oh. My. Fuck.” Alec gave a long exhale, looking completely scandalized.

“While I applaud your creative thinking skills, Jessica,” Magnus cut in. “Alec’s and my relationship is purely professional.” He smirked at Alec. He’d enjoyed his time at Taki’s tonight, mostly because of the banter between he and Alec. “And there is the small matter that he hates me and I hate him.”

Alec shrugged. “So there’s that.”

“Hate sex can be so hot,” she insisted.

Alec’s cheeks went red, absolutely flamed. Magnus couldn’t help but think how innocent Alec looked in the moment. How unguarded and real.

He couldn’t help but wonder what Alec looked like when he was completely vulnerable….

Magnus shook his head to clear it and spared Alec further embarrassment. “We’re just going to go over here.”

Alec scrubbed a hand over his stubble as he chuckled. “I think that’s a good idea.”

 

****

 

“Clary wanted me to bring this to you,” Alec said as he tried to push the now-warm drink into Simon’s hands.

“Can’t,” Simon replied. “I need my fingers.”

Alec noted that Simon didn’t have a guitar or his phone or even any sheet music, then he surveyed the unkempt bathroom…. And he didn’t want to think anymore about what Simon needed his fingers for.

Alec took a sip of the drink since Simon didn’t want it. He cringed as the piney flavor hit his tongue. Gin. Gross.

But he took another drink anyway to ease the confusion swirling in his brain. “So I, uh, ran into Magnus out there. Practically making out with a woman.”

Simon laughed. “Only one? Slow night for him.”

Alec tipped his head, studying for any sign that Simon was messing with him. But Simon had already gone back to doing these throaty humming noises that echoed off the tiled walls.

The thing was, Alec had been sure that Magnus was gay. But now he…wasn’t.

They’d had conversations that alluded to Magnus not being straight, but those had been fights, bickering, more than talking. So maybe Magnus had just been baiting him….?

He was so confused.

And he didn’t know how to ask Simon about that without sounding idiotic or stepping over the line that straddled Magnus’ professional and private lives.

Alec began to pace, downing more of the gin and soda.

“Alec?” Simon said.

He stopped. “Yeah?”

“While I usually love the zoo and especially the tiger and lions cages where you can stand there and watch these super dangerous and beautiful creatures prowl back and forth…. Your pacing is way distracting right now.”

Alec pointed at the door. “You want me to….”

“Go. Yes. Please. Sorry, I just—”

Alec forced a laugh, pushing questions that he shouldn’t need an answer to to the back of his brain. “It’s okay, Simon. Good luck tonight.”

 

****

 

Magnus grabbed another drink from the bar then made his way to the booth where Clary was seated, just as the music started up. Greedo’s Revenge wasn’t Magnus’ usual type of music, but Simon’s voice was surprisingly pleasant. He could be spending his Saturday night in worse ways.

He spotted Izzy planted in front of the stage, watching her husband like she was a living heart-eyed-emoji. Simon gazed back at her as if she were the only person in the room, and the whole scene made Magnus ache in a lovely way. He couldn’t imagine looking at anyone he’d met with the same adoration that Izzy and Simon did with each other—but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t happen. Some day.

“Hey, babes!” Clary greeted him. She pointed at the man sitting next to her in the booth. “This is Mike. One of my old friends from college.”

Magnus slid in across from Mike, noticing the once-over the man gave him as he sat down, and introduced himself. All three of them settled into listening to Simon’s band and didn’t say much. But every time Magnus glanced over at Mike he was smiling. So Magnus leaned forward to show some interest and get the man talking. He wasn’t ever going to find love if he didn’t try.

At least he could have fun while he was looking.

Mike was warm and knowledgable and nice. He was blond instead of dark-haired, but Magnus could push aside his preferences in search of a spark—that moment when interest turned to heat, to need. Passion. It was rare that anyone incited that strong of a reaction in him from the very beginning.

Magnus tried not to show his frown when that thought blazed through his head, repeating as if there was something he had missed….

In his peripheral vision he caught Alec approaching the booth and he automatically scooted farther over for Alec to take the seat next to him on the bench. Mike was talking about oil paints and a piece he was hoping to have accepted into a gallery in SoHo, but Magnus was having trouble concentrating….

Because of Alec.

Alec seemed to be intently watching the conversation Magnus was having with Mike. Magnus tried to keep his full attention on the man across from him—instead of the man next to him—especially when Mike jotted down his number and passed it over to Magnus, but Alec wasn’t even trying to hide that he was listening in.

Mike whispered something to Clary that had her glancing at Magnus with a sideways smile and Magnus would’ve usually considered that a good sign, but found…he didn’t care. He leaned back, slid Mike’s number into his pocket, and faced Alec. He pitched his voice low so only Alec could hear him. “Was that territory you were hoping to claim?”

Alec appeared even more perplexed and flustered than he had earlier. “No. It’s just— Weren’t you just with—” Alec winced as he took another sip of his drink. “Never mind. It’s none of my business.”

Alec’s face was scrunched up like a confused puppy and Magnus realized immediately what Alec was getting at. “Ah, you mean Jessica. I think she found someone to take her up on that hate-fuck threesome offer. She has initiative. You know, I should see if she wants a job….” He gripped the top of the booth behind Alec’s head and pushed up, scanning the room for Jessica.

Alec tipped his head up to look at Magnus. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

Magnus peered down at Alec to answer him, then realized how close they were. That Magnus could see a reddened section of Alec’s lips, as if he’d been worrying the flesh between his teeth…. Magnus drew back and settled into his seat again. “Well, yes. Why?”

“Nothing.” Alec turned away, then was abruptly turning his body fully in Magnus’ direction, and leaning in to be heard above the music. “You know what— It’s just…. I’ve never met anyone like you.”

“Should I take that as a compliment?”

“It’s more of an observation, but not a bad one. So sure.”

Magnus twirled a hand in the air, his bracelets clinking together. “What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?”

“You didn’t say that.”

“I just did.”

“No. You didn’t say that. That’s Ursula Le Guin.”

Magnus was shocked speechless.

Alec’s gaze danced over his face, taking in all of Magnus’ reaction. “It’s only been a day, but I think you already forgot I’m not just a goalie.”

Magnus readjusted his necklaces and shifted as well so he was facing Alec. His leg curled up next to Alec’s, close enough to feel his body heat, but not touching. “Point conceeded. So you like to read?”

Alec huffed out a laugh. “Yeah. I’m on planes, and buses, and in hotel rooms. A lot.”

“No TV?”

“Jace and I room together when we’re on the road and he loves TV. He always wants to have it on—something about noise in the background to keep his head clear. I usually tune it out with headphones, or finding quiet spots away from everything….”

“With music?”

“Sometimes. Usually audiobooks, though. I like words more than music.”

“Music has words,” Magnus pointed out, just to be difficult.

Alec shook his head. “Not all of it.”

Not just a goalie, indeed, Magnus thought. He picked up his drink and sipped thoughtfully. “I don’t know what to say, Alexander….”

Alec rolled his eyes. “It’s Alec, Magnus.”

He bit at his straw and smiled around it. “I still haven’t decided what feels more natural—consuming my drink or—”

“Seeing how it looks on my face?”

There was a teasing lilt to his words that Magnus wouldn’t have expected. Wasn’t today just full of fun surprises?

“I wholeheartedly approve of face-related sexual innuendos,” Magnus encouraged. “You can throw those at me anytime.”

Alec arched an eyebrow.

“Bring it, Lightwood,” Magnus challenged.

“I knew it!” someone yelled.

Magnus’ head snapped up, realizing the music had stopped at some point and the lights in Taki’s had gone to full brightness, and Izzy was next to the booth, pointing at him and Alec with a triumphant grin on her face.

“I saw you two smiling,” she continued. “You like each other now, don’t you?”

Magnus saw the mischievous smirk on Alec’s face out of the corner of his eye, and he knew he was in trouble, but he still wasn’t prepared for the shock of piss-warm liquor being tossed at him as Alec abruptly stood, yelled “Fuck off, Bane!” and stormed out of the bar….

With his shoulders shaking from laughter.

 

****

 

Alec was still laughing when he put his key into his front door then pushed inside. He hung his keys from the hook and pulled his phone out of his pocket, hitting the button to call Magnus. The distinctive trill of Facetime started up, ringing twice with no answer and Alec wondered if Magnus was going to pick up at all, then the call connected and Magnus’ scowling face appeared on his screen.

“Magnus’ Magnificent Gin Emporium. We’re soaked and sticky, but always pine fresh. How may I help you?”

Alec cackled and had to swipe tears from his eyes. “I’m so sorry. Izzy was right there and she was so smug and I didn’t know what else to do!”

Magnus scowled even deeper, but Alec was beginning to recognize when Magnus was putting on a front. His eyes gave him away. Every single time.

“Hang on. You caught me in the middle of getting changed.” Magnus must have set the phone down because Alec suddenly had a view of what was either a wall or the ceiling—painted a bold red.

Alec kicked off his shoes and went into his bedroom, setting his own phone down to whip off his shirt and shuck his jeans. “I’ll pay for the dry cleaning, “ Alec offered, continuing to talk even though Magnus couldn’t see him.

“Oh, I know you will,” Magnus’ voice came through the speakerphone. “I’ve also asked Clary to remind me never to challenge a professional athlete to bring it.”

Alec picked up his cell again, but Magnus wasn’t back yet. “It is like a red flag and a bull.”

There was a blurring of the screen for a moment, then Magnus’s face reappeared. “Noted. You can stop laughing now.”

“I can’t,” he protested. “You should’ve seen your face!”

“I couldn’t. You blinded me. With gin.”

Alec rearranged his pillows and settled against the headboard. “You’re the one who said we should pretend not to like each other.”

“But I believe the invitation for drink-throwing was intended to be mine, not yours.”

Alec shrugged. “I saw an opening and went with it.”

“You’re a goalie, not a forward,” Magnus said with an air of authority. “It’s not your job to take shots.”

“Whoa,” Alec exclaimed, a smile inching up his lips. “Look who’s been learning hockey.”

“I may have downloaded a book or two onto my Kindle.”

“You’re reading about hockey? Ursula Le Guin is one thing, but hockey? Nope. Nuh-uh. That isn’t okay in any way. You have to come watch a game.”

Magnus grimaced. “It will be a cold day in hell when I show up at a sporting event willingly.”

“We are playing the Devils when I’m back in town,” Alec deadpanned.

Magnus’ lip twitched.

Alec couldn’t hold back a satisfied grin. “I almost made you smile there.”

“You didn’t,” Magnus insisted. “That was an awful pun.”

Alec’s smile faltered. He thought of puns, and metaphors, and the innuendos Magnus loved to throw around. “Look. Can I ask you something?”

“As long as there’s no gin involved, yes.”

“I know this is probably going to sound really stupid,” Alec prefaced. He took a deep breath. “I don’t really know anyone else who’s not straight…. And I don’t know if I’m supposed to know whether or not someone else is…. Then there’s you— And I—”

Magnus’ features softened instantly. “I’m bisexual, Alec. I assume that’s what you wanted to know.”

“That’s men and women then…for you?”

“In the simplest terms, yes.”

Alec let that sink in. He itched at the stubble he’d have to shave off tomorrow. “I’m pretty sure I’m 100% gay, like no interest in women.”

“Pretty sure?”

Alec chuckled softly. “Alright, completely sure. I mean, I can recognize a beautiful woman, but there’s nothing…there.”

“I’m your agent, Alec,” Magnus chided. “I don’t need to know what is or is not happening in your nether regions.”

“That’s not what I meant—” Alec stammered.

“I was teasing, Alec.”

Alec sunk farther into his pillows. “I’m not used to talking about any of this.”

Magnus was in motion again, too, the image going out of focus. When Magnus resettled it looked like he was lounging on a black velvet couch. And he was definitely shirtless.

After so many years of hiding, Alec had perfected looking without really looking. But he tried not to notice the golden cast of Magnus’ skin or that Magnus’ necklaces were gone, revealing the graceful arch of muscle over bone…. Those weren’t details he needed to know.

Magnus was his agent.

“It’s okay,” Magnus reassured him. “Believe it or not I was once there too. Knowing people who could sympathize…. It changed everything for me.”

“For the better?”

Magnus seemed to be considering that. He ran a finger over his lips that were now free from gloss.

“Most of the time,” he finally answered.

“Tonight was fun, Magnus.”

Magnus quirked an eyebrow as if to say really? without having to say it.

“Okay, okay,” Alec admitted, giving in to the unverbalized question. “Probably more fun for me than you, especially at the end. I’m sorry for dousing you in gin. It won’t happen again.”

“Oh I’ll be sure to return the favor someday.”

“Shit. You really will, won’t you?”

Magnus simply twisted his ear cuff between his fingers.

Alec marveled at how Magnus said so much without saying anything. And how much he avoided saying by using uncommon words and complex sentence structures. Magnus communicated on a whole other level than most people. It was…fascinating. A challenge.

It made Alec want to learn how to speak Magnus’ peculiar language.

“I’m going to tell Izzy tomorrow that we don’t hate each other anymore,” Alec said. “I’ve never been able to hide anything from her for long. And despite the gin-soaking I’m pretty sure she already knows.”

Magnus smiled a that. “She’s a good sister.”

“She really is.” Alec stifled a yawn and glanced at his alarm clock. “Listen, I should really sleep now. I have an early flight.”

“Safe travels and good luck in the game. Goodnight, Alec.”

“Night, Magnus.”

Chapter Text

Magnus had planned on a quiet night.

A quiet night with the Angels’ game on his TV while he worked in his home office, but a solitary, productive night nonetheless. Then he’d received a text from Izzy inviting him over to watch the game with her. He’d politely declined, stating how behind he was with his other clients because of a certain Lightwood, and when she didn’t respond he’d figured that was the end of it.

Then his phone had pinged with a text from Clary begging him to come to Izzy’s because she had a surprise for him. Followed quickly by a text from Simon that was apologetic (he was really sorry because Clary and Izzy were making him send this) and gracious (Simon didn’t want Magnus to think Simon didn’t want him there too, because he really did) and unknowingly sexual (could Magus please come over and save Simon from being double-teamed)…. And Magnus couldn’t say no.

Magnus shifted the liquor bottle from one hand to the other and knocked on Izzy and Simon’s apartment door.

If nothing else, he really needed to see the look on Simon’s face when he told him how the internet defined double-team.

But it wasn’t Simon who greeted him when the door opened. Izzy—dazzling even at her most casual—smiled brightly. “Glad you could make it, Magnus.”

Magnus handed over the bottle, hugged her, then pulled back, surveying her outfit more closely. She was wearing a fitted, v-neck Angels t-shirt and fleece pajama pants with a pattern of golden wings covering them.

“I may have overdressed, darling.”

“You look gorgeous,” she said, gesturing at the artfully-spliced jeans, Neil Barrett thunderbolt tank, and the Junya Watanabe topcoat he favored now that spring had finally come to New York. She grasped his hand and pulled him inside. “I wish I could wear something else, but this was the outfit I was wearing the night Alec had his first shut out with the Angels. Apparently I’m cursed to wear it for eternity.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Izzy patted his chest and took his coat from him. “You will.”

“You’re here!” Clary appeared out of the kitchen, popping up on her tiptoes and planting a kiss on his cheek. “I got something for you. I couldn’t find one piece of Angels’ gear that looked like anything you would wear. And then I found this….”

She held out a tiny bag with the Angels’ logo on the side and dropped it into Magnus’ hands.

Magnus opened the bag and pulled out a slim cardboard box of nail wraps. There were red and gold wings, pucks made of ice with blue flames trailing off them, the gleaming Angels sword, and the distinctive NYBA letters of their logo.

Magnus mock frowned and held up his hand. “I just got my nails done.”

Clary dismissed that. “Don’t try to pretend this will be the first time you’ve had multiple designs in one day.” She plucked the package out of his hand. “I’ll put them on for you.”

“No way,” Izzy said, stealing the box from Clary. “It’s my house. I want to say I gave a manicure to the Magnus Bane.”

“Don’t let either one of them touch your nails,” another, decidedly male, voice cut in. “I’ll do them for you.”

Magnus looked over his shoulder at a man he had to assume was the youngest Lightwood. He was wearing an Angels hoodie and basketball shorts that fell to just below his knees, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, his carbon fiber cheetah leg crossed over the other socked foot. He had lighter hair than either Izzy or Alec, but eyes the same dark color as Izzy’s, lips that were nearly identical to Alec’s, and the devastating overall beauty that was definitely a genetic Lightwood trait.

“Magnus, this is Max,” Izzy introduced. “Max does have the steadiest hands out of all of us. I think it’s working with those tiny electric circuits every day.”

Max smirked. “Or that you made me start doing your nails when I was barely out of the womb.”

“Some day your wife will thank me.”

“Or husband.”

Izzy rolled her eyes like this wasn’t the first time he’d corrected her on that. “Whatever makes you happy, Max.” She held up the bottle Magnus had brought. “You want this to drink, Magnus?”

“That is a gift. I’ll have whatever you want to make me.”

From somewhere else in the apartment, Magnus heard Simon call out Don’t do it, Magnus!, Max chuckled, and Clary looked panicked.

Magnus pushed out a hip and circled a lazy finger in all of their general directions. “I unwittingly stumbled into a family joke, didn’t I?”

Clary was biting at her lip, holding in a laugh. “I’ll pour you a glass of the wine I’m drinking.”

“All of you can fuck off,” Izzy said, with no real heat behind it, and followed Clary into the kitchen.

Max pushed off the wall. “So you’re Alec’s agent….”

“And you’re Alec’s brother….” Magnus replied, matching Max’s easy confidence.

Max shrugged—a gesture so much like both his brother and sister. “I’m pretty sure both of us have an identity that doesn’t involve the grumpiest Lightwood.”

Magnus held back a smile at Max’s description of his brother. “And yet both of us are here for Alec.”

“Maybe you are,” Max said, his eyes shining with mischievousness. “I’m here for the big sticks.”

“Max!” Izzy chastised him, from the kitchen. “You just met him! No inappropriate jokes.”

Magnus grinned. He spoke louder so Clary could hear him a room away. “You were right, Clary. This Lightwood I like.”

 

****

 

Imogen had been right when she said sports and superstition went together. The Angels were taking all superstitions to a ridiculous degree this year, and it was possible Alec was the worst out of all of them. Goalies usually were. Alec’s face was baby skin smooth—as it would be every game until the team was guaranteed their spot in the playoffs—but this was one superstition Alec wished had never become a thing. His cheeks were becoming more and more reddened with each player that came by and tapped his face for good luck.

“I fucking hate you, Jace,” Alec said through clenched teeth.

“Not my fault your face is so touchable,” Jace dismissed as he tightened the laces of his skates.

“What moisturizer do you use, mi amigo?” Santiago asked.

Alec just shook his head and went back to strapping his leg pads on. With the bottom part of his uniform set he swiped his cell out of his locker before he would be too geared up to look at the messages one last time.

Izzy had sent him a text that simply said you got this. Max had sent a line of knife emojis then a penguin (the team they were playing tonight) then a separate line of thumbs up followed by an angel. But it was the one from Magnus that had Alec flipping back to his messages.

Magnus had sent a picture of him holding the phone high above his head to catch his face in the frame, and Max leaning over Magnus’ other hand, his brows stitched together in concentration and a cotton ball swiping at Magnus’ nails. The text below it read: if I’m going to be forced into watching hockey, at least I can do it fabulously.

It wasn’t exactly “attending” a sporting event—as Magnus had told Alec would be a cold day in hell when that happened—but close enough. Apparently Magnus was at Izzy and Simon’s with his family. The thought made him smile.

“Never seen you happier before a game,” Jace remarked.

Alec clicked his cell off and dumped it into his duffel bag. He hadn’t replied to any of their messages and he wouldn’t until the game was over. He peered up at Jace’s grinning face. “I got this, Wayland.”

“Yeah, you do, bro.” Jace stood on his skates and clunked his way over, patting Alec on the cheek like he did before every game. “Let’s go do this.”

 

****

 

“He’s doing it,” Izzy exclaimed, nearly jumping off the couch cushion and slapping Max on the arm.

Max glared at her, holding the hair dryer steady over Magnus’ nails. “No hitting while the wrap is adhering, Iz.”

Magnus made sure to hold still as not to challenge his talented manicurist any further. He glanced at the TV and tried to make sense of what he was seeing. “What’s going on?”

“It’s one of Alec’s pre-game rituals some commentator picked up on, so the New York network always shows it now,” Max explained, a smile on his face as he watched Alec on the screen. He turned around again and examined the edge of the wrap he’d finished. “There’s a camera in the back of the net and Alec taps it twice before a game.”

“Once for me and once for Max,” Izzy said, puffing up with pride.

“These Lightwoods are so fond of each other,” he said to Simon, who was sitting on the couch next to him, an arm draped around Izzy’s shoulders. “I don’t have any siblings. Is that normal?”

Izzy jumped off the couch, dragging Max with her and doing this roll of her hips and swipe with her feet that mimicked what Alec was doing on the screen as he scuffed up the ice in front of the goal, but much more sensuously. “Come on, Max! We gotta prep the crease with Alec.”

Max didn’t even hesitate to join in.

Simon smirked. “There’s nothing normal about the Lightwoods.”

 

****

 

This was a normal game.

A totally normal game, Alec tried to convince himself.

Music blared through the Penguins’ arena and the lights flashed as the home team entered the rink—the black and white jerseys of the Penguins in stark contrast to the royal blue and gold of the visiting Angels.

A. Totally. Normal. Game.

Alec settled into his crouch, watching the opposing team circle the ice.

 

****

 

Magnus circled his fingertip over the rim of his wine glass, cataloging Alec every time he was on screen. Alec may have been an Angel, but he moved like a lion.

He was a protector of his territory. A stoic leader in the midst of frenzy.

He was graceful and strong

“Magnus!”

He snapped his head up, eyeing Clary. “You don’t have to yell, biscuit. I’m right here.”

“No. Apparently, I do. I’ve been trying to get your attention for almost a full minute! What are you watching so intently? Don’t tell me you’re actually getting into a hockey game?”

Magnus scoffed. Alec was his client. And he’d come here to watch hockey. So watching his client play said hockey was what he’d been doing for the last—he glanced at the game clock on the TV….

“The first period is almost over?” he said with disbelief.

“Holy shit,” Clary breathed out. She faced the kitchen, where everyone else had moved to the bar stools and he hadn’t even noticed. “He’s actually watching the game, Iz!”

“It’s my job, cupcake,” he retorted and went back to watching Alec prowl in front of the net. He swallowed thickly, and downed more of his wine lest his voice come out too rough. “I have to learn hockey to rep my client well. It’s not like I have a choice on the matter.”

 

****

 

If Alec had the choice—which he definitely didn’t—then no one would talk to him about anything but plays during the game. But Jace was a chatty player. Making snarky comments as he skated by. Taunting the other team. At the same time, Alec couldn’t fault him for any of it. Jace was their captain and he instinctively knew when to let a play ride out and when he needed to intervene. Alec had learned to shut Jace’s voice out when it had a certain tone or volume. When Jace was trying to tell him something, Alec knew. When Jace was just fucking around, Alec knew.

The other players didn’t bother to say anything to him that wasn’t about the puck in play. And Garroway would rip the throat out of any player who tried to coach from the bench. Alec and Garroway had always seen eye-to-eye on how Alec directed play from the crease.

Alec spoke a lot on the ice.

He communicated with barked warnings to his teammates and a raised glove tracking the puck. It was the way he preferred to work and his teammates trusted him.

So when he caught on to the Penguins’ formation as they crashed down the ice at him, and he started yelling, “Pangborn backdoor, Pangborn BACKDOOR!” Pangborn should’ve been listening and adjusted his position to take on the Penguin setting up for a shot on goal. But the puck was already whipping around the net, right into a Penguins’ waiting stick and the puck was flying at the net. Alec slid across the crease onto his side, stacking his legs pads together, the puck stinging as it slammed into his mitt. The ref called the game to a stop and Alec dropped the puck to the ice and forced himself up.

Pangborn merely tapped his stick against Alec’s pads as a thanks for the save and kept moving.

Alec didn’t acknowledge him either way.

Five minutes left in the second period.

The Angels were ahead two goals to none.

He let out a long breath, and settled into his crouch again.

 

*****

 

Magnus tried to settle into the couch but couldn’t. “How do you stand this?”

“Stand what?” Izzy asked as she braided Clary’s hair.

“They almost scored on Alec!” Magnus protested. “How are you so calm?”

Max took a drink out of his beer, his legs propped on the coffee table. “But they didn’t. Therefore, calm.”

Magnus’ heart felt like it was going to explode. He was anything but calm and he couldn’t understand how any of them were. “Did you see that last statistic? That puck was going almost one hundred miles an hour.”

Clary shrugged. “They can go faster.”

Magnus shook his head at their combined nonchalance and went to refill his wine glass. So far, the wine wasn’t doing its job of relaxing him so he needed to step up his game. If Alec could catch a hockey puck with his hand then Magnus could definitely rise to the challenge of finishing this second bottle of wine. It was only logical.

When he sat down again, his wine glass full and his calm replenished, the Angels’ captain Jace Wayland was in another player’s face, inches away, screaming at him but not touching him.

“Who pissed in the blond one’s Wheaties?” he asked Max.

“One of the Penguins was messing with Alec. Alec handled it, but Jace apparently wants to reinforce it.”

Alec was digging his skates into the ice in front of the goal and everyone else was in the center. “But there’s no one near Alec.”

“Being the goalie can be really solitary—until someone from the other team starts fucking with him.” Max shared a look with his sister that was pure deviousness. “The Angels don’t allow anyone to fuck with their goalie.”

 

****

 

The Penguins’ D-men were fucking with him—trying to rattle him—but Alec wasn’t going to let them.

It was subtle at first. The butt of a stick jabbing into Alec’s glove. A defender brushing up against him after he’d cleared the puck. Nothing he couldn’t handle. Nothing he hadn’t already handled by remaining calm and deflecting every shot that came at him.

He didn’t have to look up at the scoreboard to know there had been too many shots on goal. Their defense was struggling tonight, when the Angels blueliners had become the best in the league by the end of the season. At least the offense was more than holding their own. The Angels were still up two goals to none.

But as the game wore on, the Penguins kept up their relentless attack, slipping past the Angels until the puck was spending more time in Angels territory than it should. It took until halfway through the third period for the red light behind Alec to light up when the puck finally slipped past him, closing the Angels’ lead to only one goal.

That goal was all the momentum the Penguins needed.

The pace of the game picked up, and the crowd roared, white towels waving in circles in Alec’s peripheral vision.

Alec ignored the taunts thrown his way. Remained steely-faced when the puck slammed into the crossbar of the net, the clank ricocheting in his ears. He continued to bark out orders to the defensive line that was being pummeled because they were trying to clear the puck and protect him….

Then Santiago let his frustration get the best of him, slamming his stick into the side of a Penguins’ head, and sending a grimacing Santiago straight to the penalty box. Alec calmly lifted the cage around his mask and took a swig of water while he could.

They were going to be one man down for the rest of the game.

He was sweat soaked. The weight of his gear heavy so far into the third period.

But this was when Alec’s focus kicked into overdrive.

 

****

 

Magnus’ heartbeat kicked up. “I fully realize this is just a game and if they don’t win tonight then they have the next game to go for the playoff berth, and it’s just a game, but—”

“It’s not just a game,” Max finished for him. He was sitting forward, both hands gripped tightly around his beer bottle. His ease from earlier was completely wiped away when he met Magnus’ eyes. “It’s never just a game with Alec in that goal.”

 

****

 

This was his goal. His net. His to protect.

The Angels were one minute and twelve seconds away from spending the rest of the regular season knowing they had a spot in the playoffs.

Alec crouched, ignoring the burn in his legs, and waited for the puck to drop.

Jace was fastest on the faceoff, getting a clean pass to another Angel who took the play into Penguins’ territory. It took only seconds for the Penguins to regain possession, swiftly working their way down the ice and Alec was in constant motion as the puck swirled around him. The first shot came fast and Alec dropped down, the puck rebounding, skipping away, only to be picked up immediately by another Penguin who slapped it directly back at the goal.

Alec didn’t bother to count how many times the puck was fired at him and he sent it away. The Angels hadn’t been able to move play to the other side of the ice for most of the third period and short one man—their fastest player no less—they were even less likely.

Faceoff.

Slapshot.

Save.

Backhand.

Save.

Alec heaved in breaths through his mask. Tuned out the roar of the crowd. Called out warnings. And felt like this game was never going to end…. Until the buzzer went off, signaling the end of play, and Jace crashed into him, a blinding smile on his face.

 

****

 

The Lightwood siblings smiles were blinding as they whooped and high-fived, and Magnus was fairly sure he looked as in awe as they did.

Izzy grasped his shoulders and shook him. “The playoffs, baby. We made it to the playoffs!”

A pleasant wine buzz was flowing through his veins and he was being tackle-hugged from all directions, and Magnus couldn’t take his eyes off the screen—where Alec was removing his mask and brushing sweat soaked hair off his forehead, a massive grin lighting up his face as his teammates congratulated him.

“Magnus!” he heard Clary say. “Again? Really?”

Magnus didn’t bother to hide that he’d been distracted by Alec this time. He looked at Clary and pointed at the TV. “That was…intense. And he was so…relaxed.”

Already standing in the kitchen mowing down a handful of chips, Max grinned. “Alec never loses his cool on the ice.”

“He rarely loses his cool off the ice,” Izzy added as she refilled all of their drinks at the counter separating the kitchen from the living room.

Magnus arched an eyebrow as he wandered over, taking the bar stool between Simon and Clary. “I beg to differ. I’ve witnessed Alexander’s temper both off the ice and on.”

Simon laughed and bumped a shoulder against his. “You just bring it out in him, Magnus.”

Magnus took that as a compliment. “I am inspiring.”

Standing behind the counter, Izzy took a quiet sip of her wine. “You know, Alec really does hate being called Alexander. It’s what our parents called him…. It’s probably best if you don’t call him that. Even when you’re teasing.”

Behind Izzy, Max was shaking his head.

Magnus let his gaze slide from Max to Izzy. “Your brother seems to disagree with you, Isabelle.”

Max’s eyes narrowed and the corner of his lips ticked into the hint of a smile. “Betrayed. Just when I was beginning to like you, Magnus.”

Magnus shrugged.

Izzy rounded on her brother. “You don’t agree with me?”

Max studied her for a beat, then wiped his hands clean on his shorts and stepped up next to her. “Alright. You know what? Let’s go there. There are things we tiptoe around in this family when we talk about everything else. Izzy, you have a wicked tongue because you’re terrified of being rejected. Simon, you’re not completely straight. Clary, we all know you dye your hair. I use my scathing wit to deflect attention from my leg. Alec was disowned because he’s gay, and yes, Alec’s full name is Alexander—a name our shitty-ass, absentee parents gave him. He’s a tough guy. He can handle it.”

Magnus glanced around to see everyone’s reactions and found color high on all of their cheeks, but small smiles as well as they looked at Max. As if they loved him even more for his forthrightness. It was a family dynamic he’d never witnessed before and looked forward to seeing more of.

How had the Lightwoods roped him in so swiftly?

Then Max faced him. “Magnus, I don’t know you well enough yet to call out your shit. But give me time, I’ll sniff it out.”

Magnus smirked. “Let me save you a journey fraught with peaks more volcanic than Mount Doom—I have major daddy issues.”

Clary barked out a laugh and covered her mouth to stifle it.

Max quirked an eyebrow and leaned forward. “As in your father? Or is this a kink thing?”

“The former, not the latter,” Magnus clarified.

“Cool.” Max stood and slung an arm over Izzy’s shoulder. “Welcome to the hot mess that is the Lightwood-Lewis-Fray family.”

“We should have name tags,” Izzy said. “Hi My Name is Izzy And I’m Emotionally Stunted.”

“No.” Simon slapped the counter. “We need t-shirts.”

Izzy gave a feral grin. “Definitely. Grab my laptop.”

 

****

 

Alec grabbed his duffel bag and dug through it for his cell phone, switching it on. Notifications started to ping immediately and Alec scrolled through them, looking for one particular name.

He opened his thread with Magnus to find a selfie that had Max in the front, his mouth open as if in the middle of a yell, Izzy tilting to the side with a smiling Simon holding one of her legs, a raucous Clary holding her arm, and Magnus between Clary and Max—both his hands up in peace signs, displaying the NYBA of the New York Blazing Angels on his nails.

Alec grinned, then broke out into a full laugh when he read the message below the pic:

I think hell just froze over

Chapter Text

Magnus trudged into his apartment building, mentally exhausted after a long day of reviewing contracts. It had been a week since the Angels had secured their spot in the playoffs and he was finally caught up on the work he’d set to the side to accommodate Alec.

No.

Alexander.

Like every other day this week, they’d shared more than a few texts today. Messages that had started out purely business then somehow ended up in a discussion about Brazilian politics that evolved into a back-and-forth on where to find the most authentic Hungarian goulash in the city. Magnus’ head was bursting with facts about paprika he didn’t know he ever needed to know.

He’d been getting hints for weeks that Alec was intelligent, but by now he was well aware that Alec was not just a goalie. It seemed like no matter what topic they landed on, Alec brought a new perspective to it, or a fact Magnus wasn’t aware of. There were now whole sections of the city where Magnus couldn’t walk without thinking of something Alec had told him.

Magnus’ thoughts were dominated by Alec. And Magnus wasn’t sure when that had started to feel…commonplace.

“Mr. Bane?” Magnus’ doorman called out, pulling him out of his reverie. “A package arrived for you today.”

Magnus accepted the package with an arched eyebrow and waited until he was in the elevator to examine it. It was a new box, not reused, with a return address of a shipping store in Dallas, Texas. On the bottom right corner there was a note written in scrawled black letters: Open me carefully.

Magnus cradled it while unlocking his door, then dropped his bag and keys in the entryway and set the box on his counter. Chairman rubbed up against his ankles, weaving between his legs.

“My apologies,” Magnus said to Chairman. “I would pick you up but I don’t know what’s in the box. I suppose that on the list of risks I’ve taken just today, opening a mysterious package—from an unknown sender with an ominous message on the outside—ranks pretty low. I don’t have that many enemies do I?”

Chairman Meow, well…he meowed.

Magnus shook his head. “No, I don’t think Ragnor and Catarina would plan an elaborate enough funeral. I should really inscribe my wishes into some kind of legally binding contract.”

He slipped a knife down the seam—with utmost care, as not to upset the enigmatic sender—and peeled back the upper folds, revealing a card with his name on the front and two kraft-paper-wrapped packages inside.

“No explosion or white powder. A minor victory, but a victory nonetheless.”

Chairman purred.

Satisfied that both he and his cat deemed the contents safe, Magnus unsealed the envelope and drew out the card, opening it. All the note said was:

 

Call me before you open these.

Alec

 

Magnus tipped his head. Reading the note again.

“Alexander sent me a package,” he said to Chairman.

Chairman tipped his head in the opposite direction.

“Indeed,” Magnus answered his cat.

Magnus picked up his cell, thumbed over to his contacts and hit the button to call Alec.

“Hey, Magnus,” Alec answered his cell, his voice sleep rough. “Isn’t it late there?”

Magnus glanced at the clock on his stove. It was barely past ten pm. “Not terribly. Where are you?”

“I don’t know,” Alec said through a yawn. “Florida maybe?”

Magnus toyed with the card between his fingers, smiling. “That would be in the same time zone as the fine city that is our permanent address.”

“Oh.” Alec chuckled lowly. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“I can call back if you’re sleeping,” he offered. “I’m sure you must be exhausted between practices, games, googling paprika facts…. Oh, and your daily lack of grooming….”

Alec laughed, the unguarded sound making Magnus go silent so he could listen to it.

“You noticed the stubble, huh?”

Magnus set down the card—leaving it open on his counter—and ran his hand over his own jawline. He hadn’t shaved since yesterday and could wait another day before he had to. “That so-called stubble would probably take me an eternity to grow.”

“Ah.”

“What?”

“I get it now.”

Magnus furrowed his brow. “Get what?”

“You’re jealous of my superior facial-hair-growing skills.”

Magnus leaned a hip against his counter and scoffed. “Does it scratch?”

“What?”

“Your manly chin hair that grows like majestic corn in a sun-drenched field. Is. It. Itchy?”

“Well, yeah.”

“I see no reason to be jealous, Alexander.”

Alec began to laugh again, but the hypnotic reverberation was cut off with another yawn. “Did you call me for a reason, Magnus?”

“Yes, actually I did—”

There was a muffled oomph then, “Shit. Yeah, yeah, yeah….” Magnus listened as Alec huffed out a frustrated breath. “Hang on, Magnus. I woke Jace up. He threw a pillow at me.”

“You shouldn’t disturb Goldilocks,” Magnus chided him.

“He is surly if everything isn’t just right,” Alec mumbled. There was the sound of a door closing. “Okay. So the reason I’m sitting on a cold ass hotel bathtub in my boxers is…?”

“I got your package.”

Alec was quiet for a moment, then, “You got my package.”

“Hence, my call to you.”

“Did you— Um. Did you open it?”

Magnus took in Alec’s stuttered words and the underlying nervousness they betrayed. He picked the contents out of the box and laid them out on the counter next to Alec’s note, studying them all. “Your note explicitly stated not to open anything until I called you.”

“I didn’t think you’d actually listen.”

Normally he wouldn’t have listened, but this was a request from Alec. A new weakness he wouldn’t admit to out loud.

“I was too distracted trying to figure out how you got my address,” he deflected.

“Privileges of being sort-of-famous,” Alec answered. “And Clary told me.”

“That traitorous biscuit!” Magnus said with mock offense.

Alec snorted.

Magnus smiled as he ran a finger over Alec’s inked name on the card. “What was that laugh about?”

“Nothing,” Alec dismissed. He took a deep breath. “Anyway, the package is two books. Since you insist on reading about hockey I figured I’d add to your collection. Go ahead. Open the first book.”

Magnus paused. “You sent me a gift?”

Alec gave a nervous laugh. “Two actually.”

Magnus let the shift from Alec’s easy banter to a vulnerable Alec filter through his thoughts as he unwrapped the package that had been on the top of the stack. The title The NHL: A Centennial History was written in bold letters on the shiny black cover.

“I had some free time when I was in Dallas,” Alec explained. “I needed to get away from the arena and hotel for awhile, so I wandered over to a bookstore. Anyway, I saw that book, read the blurb, and laughed. It said something about men who loathed each other working together. And that it was the story of what happened on the ice and behind the scenes of the league. It seemed appropriate considering you and I—” Alec cleared his throat. “Anyway, I don’t know if you like history, but I thought I’d give it a shot.”

“I love history,” Magnus admitted. “That one, as you might say, hit the back of the net. ”

Alec chuckled—a sound Magnus was getting much too accustomed to—and an ease returned to his voice. “Good. You can open the second one now. It’s a first edition of the paperback copy of Anatoly Tarasov’s Road to Olympus. He was the father of Russian hockey.”

A first edition? This book was much different than an impulse buy at a chain bookstore….

Magnus carefully pulled the paper away from the second package and settled his cell between his ear and shoulder so he could use both hands to open the book. The pages were yellowed from age, and the spine was curved but not bent—as if it had been read multiple times but handled with great care. He had the feeling this book was important to Alec for more than it’s age or subject matter.

Magnus went with his instincts. “Tell me more about Tarasov.”

“Anatoly Tarasov is a legend,” Alec said. Magnus swore he could hear the smile on Alec’s face. “He said that a hockey player must have ‘the wisdom of a chess player, the accuracy of a sniper, and the rhythm of a musician. Above all, he must be a superb athlete.’”

The quote rolled off Alec’s tongue as if it was well-practiced. Magnus was…fascinated.

“I’ve always taken that to heart. Maybe a bit too much,” Alec continued, chuckling softly. “There’s no off season for me. The league doesn’t do things the way Tarasov did because the players would revolt. He was extreme, had a vicious temper, and he was a genius. I wish I’d had the chance to meet him before he died. Anyway, I hear this edition is pretty rare. It’s more of a collectors item than something fun to read, but I don’t know…. I was sort of assuming you have shelves of collectable books?”

Magnus noted the slight upturn at the end of Alec’s sentence. Alec was worried he’d made an incorrect assumption, but it was obvious to Magnus that Alec had put great thought into choosing this book. He’d considered Magnus’ interests and how they could possibly meld with Alec’s own. It was touching in a way that wasn’t unexpected. The Alec he’d gotten to know in the last week was thoughtful. More aware of others than himself most days.

“I do,” he reassured Alec. “Especially rare texts. This is perfect. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Two goals,” Magnus replied, sticking with his hockey themed metaphor, since anything hockey seemed to give Alec joy, “and I’ve given you nothing. You’re playing a potential shut out here, Alexander.”

“Huh. When you put it that way…. It’s no fun playing with an empty net.”

It was a hockey term Magnus wasn’t familiar with. Yet.

“I don’t follow.”

“I’m in St. Louis in two days. Take your best shot, Magnus.”

 

****

 

“Why didn’t you tell me your agent’s assistant is hot, Lightwood?”

Alec stopped in his tracks, rubbing the water from his hair with a towel as he emerged from the bathroom. He tossed the towel back into the bathroom, made sure the one around his waist was secure and looked at Jace, who was casually slung back in a chair with his feet propped on the desk.

“When did you see Clary?”

Jace was flipping Alec’s cell in his hand, a much too satisfied smirk on his face. “Your cell rang when you were in the shower. I saw the name and that she was trying to Facetime you.”

“So you picked up the call? Really, Jace?”

Jace grinned and dropped his feet to the floor. “I have no regrets. Why didn’t you tell me she’s so hot? I have a thing for red heads.”

Alec scoffed as he dug through his suitcase. “You have a thing for women.”

“You protecting Clary from me?”

Alec shook his head. “Clary can take care of herself.” He pulled out boxers, sweats, and one of his college sweatshirts from his suitcase and faced Jace. “Honestly? She’d dominate you.”

Jace’s brow furrowed, his ever-confident exterior cracking. But those moments rarely lasted long with Jace. Jace shrugged it off and tossed Alec’s cell on Alec’s bed. “Anyway, she was calling to tell you that your agent sent a package over with contracts you need to sign and send back. It should be at the front desk.”

Alec stilled. It had been a hellish two days of continual travel, practice, and games since Tampa. He’d forgotten about his challenge to Magnus. Was the shipment from him really contracts or…that?

“At the front desk, huh?”

“Apparently.” Jace stood. “I’m going out with a few of the guys. Celebrate having home ice for the first two rounds of the playoffs. You coming?”

“I’m done. Going to crash early.”

“See you later, bro.” Jace paused in front of him, gripping Alec’s shoulder. “Amazing game tonight.”

Alec smiled at the praise. “You too.”

As soon as the door was slamming shut behind Jace, Alec got dressed and called down to the front desk, requesting the package to be delivered up. Five minutes later, there was a knock on the door and Alec had a bulging express mail package in his hands. But before he opened it, he sat down on his bed and called Magnus.

“Congratulations on the shut out tonight,” Magnus answered his cell. “Isabelle is furious that she’s never going to be able to wear anything besides angel wing pajamas for the rest of her life.”

Alec chuckled. Izzy, Max, Clary, Simon and Magnus had gotten together again tonight to watch the game, sending him a now-very-normal flurry of texts and ridiculous pics. Messages that helped him start games in a much better mindset.

“She’s going to be even more furious when I make her wear them to the arena during playoffs.”

“You wouldn’t.” Magnus sounded horrified.

“Don’t underestimate hockey players and superstitions. But I won’t. Those pajamas are home-based game watching traditions. Tell her to pick out her outfit for the arena carefully, though—it should be something timeless.”

“Isabelle can handle herself,” Magnus asserted. “I’m more nervous about mine.”

The possibility of getting Magnus to a live game had gone from ‘a cold day in hell’ to Magnus shopping for an outfit to wear to the arena? Alec smiled, but didn’t bother to point out that fact. “I got your package.”

“Spectacular,” Magnus trilled. “And?”

“And what? I didn’t open it.”

“I gave neither ominous warnings nor vague instructions like you did.”

“I still waited.”

“Hack away at that package, beard-wielding lumberjack. I sent the last part of the Gallant addendum for you to sign and an envelope to return it to Clary.”

Alec slid the contents of the massive envelope onto the bed, finding a stack of papers with colored tabs indicating where to sign, the return envelope and…nothing else.

Alec was…disappointed. “That’s it?”

“Shake the envelope, Alexander,” Magnus said with a hint of humor in his voice. “Getting everything in took some work, but, lucky for you, I’m experienced with generous sized objects and tight spaces.”

“Inappropriate, Magnus,” Alec said. He picked up the envelope again and shook loose what he’d thought was just packing material at the bottom. “There’s a paperback and an envelope.”

“That’s it. I know you will be shocked by this, but there are times I can go overboard—”

Alec grinned. “You? Never.”

Magnus huffed and continued on, “However, I held back and only sent two books. The paperback is Ice Station by Matthew Reilly. The main character, Shane Schofield, is a magnificently built Marine who’s called Scarecrow—”

“Scarecrow?” Alec asked, his face scrunching up as he surveyed the cover. “Tell me this isn’t horror. Horror…. I can’t do it. It scares me.”

“I believe that’s the point of that genre,” Magnus said dryly. “No worries, my trembling mountain man. This is action not horror. He’s called Scarecrow because he has scars running down his eyelids from when he was tortured in Serbia.”

“Got it,” Alec said. A book with Marines, torture, and action wasn’t anything he would’ve guessed Magnus would send him. “Is this one you’ve read?”

“I picked it up on a dare from a friend who challenged me to not always be so aristocratic. I ended up enjoying it immensely but lied to my friend. He’s insufferable when proven right.”

Alec laughed. “Of course you did.”

“It’s been a few years since I read Ice Station, but if I remember right, Scarecrow getting shot and dumped into a pool of killer whales—while there’s a nuclear bomb heading for him—isn’t the most exciting part. It’s more absurd than a Michael Bay summer blockbuster and just as mindless and entertaining. A distraction for the copious hours you spend in planes, buses, hotels, and avoiding shaving. There are four more in the series if you enjoy this one.”

“I love these kind of books,” Alec responded genuinely. “We’re at two-one now.”

“The second one…. Open the white envelope. Inside you’ll find an encrypted jump drive. On it is one book—The Charioteer by Mary Renault, a gay literature classic. It was groundbreaking when it was released in 1953. Some of the ideas about homosexuality are cringe-worthy by modern standards, but at its heart it’s a beautifully written love story between men. I assumed it would be safer for you to have this book digitally than in physical form. You’ll find both the ebook and the audiobook on there.”

Alec held the black USB drive between his fingers, his stomach flipping, nerves tingling where he was gripping the drive tight. He’d never dared to own anything that could tip him off….

“I hope that choice wasn’t an overreach, Alexander,” Magnus said quietly.

“No,” Alec answered immediately, even though his voice was rougher than he would’ve liked. “It’s more than— It’s… I’ve never read any gay lit. I didn’t know anyone…and I haven’t—”

“I assumed that as well,” Magnus cut in, sparing Alec from stumbling more over his words. “This is one of my favorites, so I’d love to hear what you think. And there are more books like this I can recommend, if you want. As long as you feel safe.”

As long as you feel safe.

Alec turned Magnus’ words over in his head as he turned the USB drive over in his hand.

Magnus was offering space to talk. Offering Alec a connection to a community he’d always been on the outskirts of. Magnus didn’t agree with Alec’s choice not to be out, but by sending the book this way, he was offering Alec safety. Alec gripped the drive tighter, closing his fist around it. The drive was so small, but what Magnus was offering him was enormous.

Alec had to pause to find his voice. “You said this is encrypted. What’s the password?”

“Bane of my existence. All lowercase, all one word.”

“A password I won’t forget,” he tried to joke, but he knew….

Shit.

Magnus was supposed to be a man he didn’t like, and yet, he knew Magnus Bane was becoming one of the best pieces of his existence.

Alec could barely find his voice to say, “Thank you, Magnus. We’re tied. Two-two.”

“Only because I held back,” Magnus said. His voice was light, teasing, as if understood how deeply affected Alec was, yet needed that fact not be acknowledged out loud.

Alec swallowed, a tightness in his chest that was foreign, but…right. “You never score if you don’t take a shot, Magnus.”

Magnus hummed thoughtfully. “I’ll see you in LA.”

 

****

 

Magnus shifted his position on the couch set off to the side in the photography studio. He tried to keep his focus on his phone while he waited for Helen to allow him access to Alec, but he was restless, to say the least. Alec didn’t even know Magnus was here yet.

Magnus’ flight had been delayed, bringing him in hours later than he’d thought he’d arrive and leaving Alec to fend for himself. Ever the professional, Helen Blackthorn had orchestrated Alec’s arrival and ensured he was comfortable and taken care of—since Magnus couldn’t be there. Magnus trusted Helen, and he trusted Aline to take photos that would be just as stunning as the other campaigns they’d worked on together. It never sat right with Magnus when he wasn’t available for his clients when they needed him, though, and his lateness today really didn’t sit right with him.

This wasn’t a client. This was Alexander.

He sat forward and glanced again through the gap in the door of the room where they were getting Alec ready. He could see flashes of movement but nothing to clue him on when Alec, Aline, and the crew would move into the main studio for the actual shoot.

“Losing your patience?” Helen asked, her lithe form leaning against a chair as she tapped away on an iPad in her hands.

He eyed her. “Why can’t I go back there?”

“He’s fine. Trust me. He was…insecure when he got here.” Helen smiled fondly. “But Aline calmed him down.”

Magnus blew out a long breath and sat back. “You and Aline are surprisingly adept at soothing the male species.”

“Don’t be an ass, Magnus.” Helen tipped her head in the direction of the back room. “They’re coming out now.”

Magnus hadn’t heard or seen anything to indicate that they were done in makeup, but ten seconds later the door opened and Aline entered first, trailed by Alec.

Magnus hesitated for only a moment, his heart kicking up a beat at the sight of Alec. He stood and buttoned his jacket, waiting quietly, and watching Alec from across the room. It had been weeks since he’d last seen Alec in person. Weeks of talking, texting, Facetime, emails. Weeks of learning the way Alec moved while Magnus watched him on screen. Weeks of listening to Alec talk, coming to understand what it meant when Alec paused or stuttered or took a deep breath. Weeks that made this first sight of Alec much more familiar than it should have been.

And Magnus found he was…nervous?

Aline noticed him and lifted a hand in greeting, which made Alec’s gaze slide away from Aline, finally finding Magnus. A slow smile spread across Alec’s face as their eyes caught.

Magnus couldn’t help smiling back.

Alec broke away from Aline and approached, his eyes flickering down, taking in the lines of  Magnus’ linen jacket. “Hey. You look…good. Ready for the warm weather…and, yeah, all of…that.”

Magnus started to give Alec the same once over, but had to stop when he realized how little the robe Alec was wearing covered. He arched an eyebrow, trying to appear unfazed. Alec was nervous too, and he wanted to put him at ease. “I would say the same for you, but this robe is practically indecent. Didn’t they have something that is meant for a man more your size than mine?”

One corner of Alec’s lips tilted up. “Jealous of the stubble and the robe now, huh?”

“An itchy face and cold thighs. Yes, there is much to be jealous of,” he quipped, earning a full smile from Alec that made his heart beat even faster. “How is it going so far?”

“Aline is pissed at me,” Alec said, leaning in so only Magnus would hear him. He ran his hand over his cheek. “I wouldn’t let her shave my stubble off.”

Magnus surveyed Alec’s fingers scratching over his jawline. Long fingers, marked with nicks and scratches of hard work, twisting in a thick, dark-haired beard that accentuated Alec’s lips…. He wondered what the hair would feel like under his own fingertips—

Shocked that thought had crossed his mind at all—and with the proximity of Alec’s all-encompassing masculinity suddenly so very, very close and on display—Magnus took a beat longer to respond than he usually would.

“It is”—Magnus cleared his throat—“more of a beard than stubble now.”

Alec didn’t seem to notice his hesitation. “I trimmed it myself back there, but no one else can touch it. The playoffs, Magnus. Playoffs.”

The playoffs. Business. Yes. Representing Alec—his client—was the only reason he was here.

“I understand.” Magnus held up a finger for Alec to hold that thought. Alec gave a lop-sided, blinding grin and Magnus leaned around Alec. “Aline. If anyone else tries to touch Alec’s sacred playoff chin hair then I will claim possession of your favored camera and use it to take excruciatingly detailed naked selfies.”

Aline silently glared at him, then her gaze slid to her wife—who was also her operations manager.

“I already told him not to be ass once today,” Helen responded to Aline’s unvoiced question. “If he didn’t listen the first time he won’t the second time.”

Aline merely rolled her eyes and kept working with her equipment.

Satisfied there wouldn’t be any forced shavings happening, Magnus refocused on Alec. “I’m sorry I’m late.”

“It’s not like you were flying the plane.” Alec reached out and smoothed down a corner of Magnus’ lapel, thumb grazing across the skin exposed where Magnus had left the top buttons of his shirt undone. “I’m just glad you’re here now.”

Magnus opened his mouth to speak, but with the warmth of Alec’s words—so genuine—and heat of Alec’s touch—still lingering on his skin—he couldn’t think of one thing to say.

It was like the swish-click of a lighter, igniting a spark inside Magnus that he hadn’t realized was there at all….

Had he?

“Alec,” Helen called out. “We’re ready for you.”

“We’ll talk more after,” Alec said.

Then Alec patted his chest, oblivious to how that simple touch had inexplicably become akin to dousing Magnus in gasoline.

 

****

 

Alec gripped the collar of his robe and dropped it off his shoulders into the hands of a waiting assistant. This may have been his second shoot with Aline—and he was feeling much more comfortable with her, especially since he’d met her wife—but being nearly naked in front of a large group of people wasn’t something he’d ever get used to.

“Alec,” Aline said as she stood behind her camera. “Let’s go over this one more time. We’re going to be doing macro shots and overall body shots around the theme of what an athlete is made of. It’s going to be a lot of detail work, time, and patience, with subtle shifts to the position of your body. You’ll need to pay attention to small movements that keep the larger, overall purpose in perspective.”

“He’s a goalie, Aline,” Magnus called out from where he was slowly pacing at the back of the room. “That’s what he does every day.”

Alec smirked.

This was what it was like to have an agent who got him. Magnus understood him in ways Hodge had never tried to learn.

He’d had quite a bit of contact with Hodge at one time—trying to build up a partnership he could trust. But his experience with Magnus was different. He and Magnus talked, a lot, on the phone and over text and via email and well…just a lot. There was always something to do with business that he and Magnus could discuss. More than often not, though, they ended up discussing books or music or absolutely nothing. For longer than they probably should.

That wasn’t the only difference between his old agent and new one, though.

Hodge had never looked at Alec the way Magnus had looked at him earlier. And Alec had never been aware of Hodge the way he was with Magnus.

He could feel Magnus’ eyes on him as the shoot started.

And it made Alec want to stand taller.

 

****

 

Magnus loved LA.

There were a slew of beautiful people in LA—a slew of beautiful people in this room alone—but Magnus was having difficulty keeping his eyes on any of them besides Alec.

Magnus had been through this once before. Watching Alec in that first photo shoot stripping down to almost nothing. Talented, professional hands working on his hair, face, and body—over his arms, legs, back, and chest—to accentuate the angle of his cheekbone, the cut of his jaw, and the raw power of the muscles he’d perfected with years on and off the ice. Yes, Magnus had sat in on a photo shoot with Alec before.

This shoot for Gallant was decidedly different.

A month ago, Alec Lightwood had been a client, a product. That view had been insulting and degrading, and it had tainted the way Magnus had viewed even Alec’s physical form. He’d never been into men who were more on the bear spectrum—burly, hairy, and very masculine. But bearish and athletic wasn’t all of who Alec was.

He knew Alec now. Understood why the women who touched him brought an innocent stain to his cheeks and the men brought a steeliness to his resolve. He was getting to know the man beneath the facade and he liked Alec. It was fair to say he’d begun to think of him as a friend….

Magnus slipped his jacket off and draped it over a chair, the room suddenly way too hot.

Right now, though, he wasn’t looking at Alec as either a client or a friend….

He didn’t know what to do with that.

 

****

 

Alec wore only a skin-tight set of black briefs and he should’ve been hot under the glare of the studio lights. Pink-cheeked because of the scrutiny of Aline and her crew.

But he blushed profusely when he caught Magnus’ eyes fixated on him.

And he shivered when Magnus began to lose layers of clothing as well.

First his suit jacket, and his scarf. Then the sleeves of his shirt unbuttoned and rolled to just below his elbows.

Alec tracked Magnus as he paced around the room. Anytime they caught eyes, Magnus’ features would soften, as if he was attempting to wordlessly tell Alec that it was okay. That he was doing well.

More than once Aline had to remind Alec to keep his eyes on her.

Gradually the buttons on Magnus’ shirt were undone by Magnus’ graceful hands—one by one, until Magnus’ necklaces were hanging against bare skin.

Alec tried not to notice each new hint of skin that appeared as time wore on.

Hour after hour, with muscles burning despite what was a relatively inactive day, Alec had to work to maintain his focus. To ignore bracelets on muscled forearms, glitter on bronzed skin, white teeth nipping at gloss-stained lips…. 

At the end Alec was exhausted.

And it wasn’t because of the Aline’s relentless pace.

The studio lights clicked off and Alec ignored the minuscule robe in favor of downing the bottle of water handed to him as he watched Magnus approach him in his peripheral vision.

“Do you have to be up early for practice?”

Alec finished the water, licked his lips, and tried to keep his gaze solely on Magnus’ eyes. “No. I’m, uh, flying back to New York tomorrow. No practice until Friday. Everyone else they…flew out today.”

Magnus twisted the rings on his hand. The motion was hypnotic. Innocent yet suggestive. “I booked a suite at your hotel. Come by room 2804 if you want to have dinner later. Your choice.”

Magnus twirled around on his heel, swiping his jacket off the chair and settling it over his arm. Alec wasn’t checking out the sway of Magnus’ hips or the roundness that was right there as Magnus walked away. He just wasn’t

Alec’s eyes snapped back up as Magnus turned.

A slow, satisfied smile inched up Magnus’ lips as he gestured at Alec’s briefs. “Whether or not you decide to leave those on is also your choice.”

 

****

 

For not the first time in his life, Magnus had no idea what he was doing.

He was well-practiced at faking it. Sliding into a second skin of cool confidence and loquacious nature meant to distract from how uncertain he was inside. It was rare when he was so rattled that he couldn’t settle into that head space.

He was decidedly rattled right now.

Ragnor’s voice repeated in his head—you’re going to fall in love with him—over and over and over again. His friend knew him too well. Magnus fell faster than buttonless pants and harder than Thor’s hammer. But Ragnor wasn’t going to be right about this.

“You’re not going to fuck him and you’re not going to fall in love with him,” Magnus muttered to himself as he stared into the mirror, applying his lash primer. “But first, you’re absolutely not going to fuck him.”

Alec was his client. His friend. His closeted friend.

All of those were grounds for striking Alec out of the realm of possibility.

It was likely Alec wouldn’t even show up tonight anyway. He’d looked wrecked after the shoot. Alec had been so worn down that he—a shy man by nature—had foregone his robe when Aline finally called the day to an end. Not that Magnus could find fault in that oversight. All of that skin, and defined lines of muscles, curling chest hair, unguarded smile—

Right. That wasn’t what Magnus needed to be focusing on either.

He sighed and picked up his mascara.

“He’s a closeted friend who is your client,” Magnus stated. Holding strong.

Magnus’ hand went flailing when there was a knock on his door. He rubbed out the streak of mascara on his forehead and took a deep breath. “Alec deserves better than you. You know that.”

He scowled at his reflection and went for the door.

Standing outside his room was a freshly showered Alec, his hands stuffed in his pockets, his chin tipped down and a soft smile on his lips. “Still up for dinner?”

Magnus gripped the door tighter and stepped back for Alec to enter. “Finishing getting ready now. Would you like a drink?”

Alec brushed past him, an innocent upturn on his lips. “Sure.”

Magnus went to the bar, putting all of his focus into placing ice cubes in two glasses and picking up the crystal tumbler of amber liquid with care so he didn’t send any of it careening to the floor with his unsteady hands.

Alec stepped up next to him and quirked an eyebrow. “Whiskey?”

Alec was too close and Magnus was too aware of him and Magnus bristled without thought. “I’m not as stereotypically flamboyant as I come off, Alexander.”

Alec’s brow furrowed. “That’s not what I meant. I love whiskey. It’s just…another thing we have in common.”

Magnus cringed.

“My apologies,” he backtracked immediately. Magnus finished pouring the drinks and handed one to Alec. “It’s been a long day.”

Alec accepted the glass, frowning. “We don’t have to do this.”

Magnus’ shoulders slumped. He couldn’t allow his own adolescent hormone surge to set Alec off-kilter. “No, Alexander. I want to.”

Alec’s eyes darted over Magnus’ face—as if he was assessing the truth of Magnus’ words. Seemingly satisfied, Alec smiled again and lifted his glass. “The whiskey will help then. To us.”

Alec winced at the first bite of whiskey across his lips and Magnus restrained a smile at the reaction.

He liked Alec.

Alec was a friend.

Magnus had a responsibility to protect him, and not just because it was his job. He wanted to.

He had to put everything else to the side and not allow his control to slip.

Alec deserved better.

Magnus set his glass down and went to his dresser to put on the rest of his jewelry. “We don’t have to talk business all night, but you should know I was contacted by Sebastian Morgenstern at the egotistically named Morgenstern & Morgenstern. He’s taken over control of the company with this father’s…extended hiatus. He wanted me to let you know that they will continue to work to recover any money they can and hope to earn your trust again so you may rekindle your prosperous relationship.”

Alec barked out a laugh. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

Magnus smirked. He popped his ear cuff on and picked up his drink again. “Sadly, I am not. I shouldn’t be saying this nipping so close on the heels of how our first interactions went, but I don’t like him. It would be my professional opinion to seek alternative financial council.”

Alec flopped into the wing-backed chair by the windows, grimacing. “I don’t have any money left to manage.”

“More than most.”

“And more than I was raised on,” Alec admitted. He leaned forward and set his elbows on his knees. “I try not to forget that, but sometimes it’s hard.”

“You and Isabelle have done well for yourselves,” Magnus said, settling onto the couch in the spot closest to Alec. “It seems as if your brother is on the same track. You should be proud.”

Alec shrugged.

Magnus ran his fingers over the condensation on his glass. They’d already broached the subject of Alec’s upbringing and there was a topic that Magnus had been attempting to reconcile since the first night he’d met Max. “Alexander. I’d like to ask you something that’s personal.”

“I’m in your hotel room. Drinking. Doesn’t get much more personal than this.”

Magnus arched an eyebrow in silent reply.

Alec’s cheeks turned a blushing shade of red that was obvious despite his hotel room’s low light. “Alright, it could be more personal. Anyway. Go ahead.”

“Simon and Clary told me that you never came out, but your brother said you’d been disowned by your parents. Even if the diverging stories hadn’t made me wonder, there is more to who you are, and only you can tell me those pieces. I was hoping that maybe we’d reached a place where you could.”

Alec scrubbed a hand over his beard. “That is personal.”

“And you don’t have to answer if you’re not comfortable,” Magnus insisted.

Alec shook his head. “It’s okay. Both of them are right. I didn’t ever have a coming out that was public in any way, but my parents did find out. I was outed by my ex-boyfriend.”

Magnus heaved a sigh. “I’ve only been told about one ex.”

“That’s because there’s only one. He— Raj—” Alec winced at the name, took a deep drink. “He decided a year later that he needed to ask my parents forgiveness for not helping Max. While he was there, he shared how he’d gone down the path of ‘fixing’ what was wrong with him—that he wasn’t gay anymore. Then he offered to assist in my recovery from the ‘stain of homosexuality’ too.”

Magnus was horrified. “He’d undergone conversion therapy?”

“Apparently. I wasn’t home when he was there, so I don’t know exactly how it all went down—just what my parents yelled at me later. It was all very…unpleasant.”

“It sounds like a violation.”

“It was.”

Magnus gritted his teeth. “I gather your parents were not as enraged as I am right now.”

“They were—just not about the right thing. What’s really fucked up is that I don’t know if they had more of an issue with me being gay or the color of my ex’s skin. I’m still not clear on it and both options are disgusting. I didn’t give them a chance to explain—I moved out the night they confronted me.”

That was worse than any scenario Magnus had imagined in the last two weeks. He took in the line of Alec’s hunched shoulders. “You don’t need to be fixed, Alexander.”

Alec ducked his head, then looked up at him with determined eyes. Resolute. “I have a hell of a lot I could fix, but being gay isn’t on that list.”

Magnus took a deep breath and leaned forward, mirroring Alec. “You’ve been betrayed by too many people who should have protected you.”

Alec chuckled darkly.

“We’re still learning about each other,” Magnus said quietly. “So I won’t say you should trust me. But I hope to earn your trust some day.”

Alec’s brows were stitched together in confusion. “I already do trust you, Magnus.”

Magnus stilled.

That was exactly why Magnus had to draw a definitive line between Alec being a friend and being more.

He would do everything in his power to maintain Alec’s trust.

“Thank you, Alexander.”

Alec smiled sadly and took another drink. “Anyway, I received legal notification about a week after moving out that I’d been removed from their estate plans. We grew up poor, but both of my parents are loaded now. As long as Izzy and Max are taken care of, I don’t care that I won’t see a penny of their money.”

“It’s not about the money, though.”

“It’s not.”

Magnus settled into the couch again, slinging his arm across the back. “Parents are supposed to love unconditionally, but that’s not always the truth of the situation. You’re lucky to have Isabelle and Max.”

Alec’s face brightened at the mention of Max’s name. “You’ve spent a lot of time with Max in the last two weeks.”

“I have.”

“Izzy told me he was in usual form the first time you met.”

“He made Isabelle admit that he could marry a man if he wanted,” Magnus said. “Then he made an innuendo about hockey sticks and penises.”

The corner of Alec’s mouth tipped up and he scoffed fondly. “Max.”

“Any chance he’s not straight?”

“Doesn’t really matter, right?” Alec replied. Magnus shook his head to let Alec know he agreed. “Right now, though, he’s all about—in his own words—challenging Izzy’s heteronormative bias. I didn’t know what that meant until I googled it.”

“He’s a smart kid,” Magnus offered.

“Smartass,” Alec clarified.

“Usually goes hand in hand.”

Alec smirked. “You would know.”

“Likewise, Alexander.” Magnus finished the rest of his drink and set the glass on the coffee table. “So, do you want to go out?”

“Yeah,” Alec said. His entire demeanor much more at ease now that they’d gone back to their usual banter. “That sounds fun. What did you have in mind?”

Magnus smiled.

 

****

 

Alec tried not to blink. He was seated on the edge of the massive jacuzzi tub and Magnus was between his legs, one steady hand tipping Alec’s chin up and the other brushing a thin twist of eyeliner on Alec.

“I can’t believe I’m letting you do this.”

“Your eyes are stunning, Alexander. They should be properly framed.”

Alec tried to ignore the way his heart beat faster at Magnus’ casually delivered compliment. And that Magnus was close enough for Alec to smell his cologne and pick out the individual specks of glitter on Magnus’ chest. And that with the way they were positioned Alec could easily have grabbed on to Magnus’ hips and tugged him down—

Alec cut that thought off as fast as he could. “I’ve worn makeup before. I was always Izzy and Max’s test subject because they said I had the best bone structure. Max may be just as good at this as you are.”

“That would not surprise me at all,” Magnus said. He leaned back and surveyed his work. “Can I do a bit more?”

“Like what?”

“Just some black eyeshadow. Put a spotlight on your masculine inapproachability and natural aura of mystery.”

Alec chuckled. “Sure.”

Magnus dipped his finger into a silver container. “Close your eyes.”

Alec obeyed, feeling Magnus’ breath against his cheek when Magnus leaned in. It had been a long time since he’d been this close to a man who wasn’t a relative or a teammate, let alone someone he was attracted to.

Alec remained as still as he could, breathing in Magnus’ closeness, letting his presence calm Alec.

There was no denying it anymore for Alec—he was attracted to Magnus. What he wanted to do with that, if anything, left his head spinning when he tried to make sense of it. So for now, he was just living with this new reality.

A new reality that apparently included him agreeing to the insane idea of going out to a gay club with Magnus.

“You’re sure this place is safe?” Alec asked. Again.

Magnus’ finger glided across Alec’s eyelids, then Magnus stepped back and told Alec he was done.

Alec opened his eyes and watched Magnus wipe his hands then systematically begin to clean brushes and close up containers.

“Anyone at this club is there because they’re queer too,” Magnus reassured him. Again. “It’s an exclusive club where membership or the recommendation of a member is needed. They’ll want their secrets known as much as you do.”

“The more you talk about this, the more it’s starting to sound like the intro to a BDSM porn.”

Magnus laughed. “It’s not a BDSM club. Just a safe haven with excellent food and drinks. It’s more of a social club than a nightclub, but there will be music and dancing if you want.”

Alec stood and tugged at the hem of his black henley. “And this is okay to wear?”

“Your overall aesthetic is flawless, Alexander. If you don’t want to come back to the hotel alone then you won’t.”

Alec frowned. “I won’t be alone. I’ll be with you.”

Magnus smile looked too brittle—too forced—for only a heartbeat, then he was waving a hand in the air and exiting the bathroom in a flourish of clinking bracelets. “You don’t have to babysit me. Leave your options open.”

He followed Magnus into the main room, watching as Magnus undid a few more of the buttons on his shirt and removed a necklace only to replace it with another that fell almost to his waist. Alec leaned against the wall and crossed his arms.

“Are we cabbing it?”

Magnus tilted his head and gave a dramatic eye roll. He gracefully swept the hotel phone up and hit a button. “Anna, the car can come around now.” He paused, listening. “Of course. Thank you.”

“Anna?”

“She knows all, sees all, can accommodate all—that is morally defensible—and says nothing. She’s wise, wily, and a distractingly curvaceous woman.”

Alec quirked an eyebrow in silent question.

Magnus sniffed. “She’s much too upstanding to ever think of bedding the likes of me.”

“I like her already.”

Magnus shot him a pointed look that made Alec chuckle.

Alec patted his back pocket. “I should run down to my room and get my wallet. I forgot to grab it earlier.”

Magnus swept the door open and held it for Alec. “You won’t need it.”

“Where exactly are you taking me?” Alec asked as he walked past Magnus into the hallway.

The corner of Magnus’ lip tipped up, but before he could say whatever mischievous thing was coming next, Alec noticed there was a woman with a jaw-dropping hour-glass figure in a red shirt and black pencil skirt striding confidently down the hallway in their direction.

Alec tipped his head toward her. “Anna?”

Magnus leaned his head into the hallway and grinned. “Anna, darling.”

“Magnus,” she greeted him. “It hasn’t been nearly long enough.”

Magnus let the door fall shut behind him and pulled her close, kissing both her cheeks. “Still recovering from the bail hearing, I suppose?”

“I would tell you there’s no bail fund tonight, but I’d be lying. I automatically up the emergency funds when you’re in town.”

“Anna,” Magnus introduced. “This is Alec.”

Anna extended her hand and shook Alec’s. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Follow me.”

Anna slid her hand in Magnus’ offered arm and led them to an elevator tucked behind a corner at the end of the floor. She extracted a keycard from the pocket of her pencil skirt and a button lit up. “Your car will be waiting directly outside the doors on the underground level. I’ve already instructed the driver of your destination. She’s to wait for you there until you leave or wish to go elsewhere. If you need anything—no matter the time—text me.”

Magnus kissed her cheek again. “As competent as always.”

She held the door when the elevator arrived, allowing he and Magnus to enter, but remaining in the hallway. “Alec, lovely to meet you. Make sure to get my number from Magnus for the next time you’re in LA. I’d be happy to assist you with anything you may need.”

Alec could only get out a rushed thank you before the doors were sliding shut and the elevator was in motion. “I may be gay, but wow. Distractingly curvaceous was an understatement.”

“Anna is in love with her body and for very good reason.”

Alec shifted from foot to foot, leaning against the wall of the elevator. “Is a woman like her your usual type?”

Magnus’ gaze was unflinching. “If you mean dark hair and soulful eyes, then yes.”

Alec bit back the question he really wanted to ask when the doors opened. There was a sleek black town car at the curb and a woman in all black outfit who stood next to the open backseat door. “Good evening, Mr. Bane. Anna left a bottle of Louis XIII in the car for you and your guest. Let me know if you need to stop anywhere else on the way.”

Magnus expressed his thanks and motioned for Alec to climb into the car first, then slid in next to Alec as the driver closed the door behind them.

Alec looked around the refined interior and shook his head. He hadn’t know what to expect when Magnus had told him to stop by his suite for dinner, but it wasn’t any of this. “I thought I was supposed to be the semi-celebrity, but you live on a whole other plain.”

Magnus crossed his legs and shifted so he was facing Alec. “Trappings of the business, Alexander. I’m not wealthy, but my clients are. They’re wooing you, not me.”

Alec grinned. “It’s working.”

Magnus picked up a bottle with reddish amber liquid and glass spikes on the side. “Louis XIII?”

“I don’t know what that is,” Alec confessed.

Magnus pulled the stopper out and poured servings into two glasses. “Ridiculously expensive and yet totally free for you, what else?”

Alec reached for the glass. “Definitely.”

 

****

 

“So what are you?” Alec asked in a hushed voice as they trailed behind the maître d’.

Magnus set his hand on the small of Alec’s back and looked up at him. Maybe it was the cognac in the car, or the fact that the restaurant was filled with tables of same-sex couples, but Alec hadn’t stopped smiling since they’d arrived and Magnus was having trouble concentrating on anything besides making sure Alec stayed happy. “I’m sorry, what am I what?”

Alec peered down at him, his eyes bright. “You said this place is for members or guests of members. Which are you?”

“Ah, a member. The dues are astronomical but I convinced Imogen the expense was worth it a few years ago. Anything we eat or drink will be expensed to the IE account. But no guest names are ever recorded. No one at IE will know you were here with me.”

The maître d’ motioned to a private table at the side of the main floor and Magnus nodded his agreement.

Alec took the seat opposite him. “I don’t know what else to say besides thank you. I know all of this”—he made this sweeping motion with his right hand—“isn’t the way you’d like for things to be. You’re doing it for me, though, and I’m not quite sure why. But it— It means everything to me. I just…. I felt like I had to say that.”

Magnus couldn’t pretend that being this secretive didn’t reopen old wounds, but he didn’t need to repeat himself. Alec was here—in a place that was a known queer space, looking way less than straight—and he was smiling. Grateful. Magnus was very sure he would continue doing whatever he could to make Alec more and more comfortable with himself, however long it took.

So he gave Alec the only response that mattered.

“You’re welcome, Alexander.”

 

****

 

Magnus clapped his hands over his mouth, but it was too late. Heads were turning in their direction at the high-pitched, uncontrollable giggle coming from Magnus’ lips.

Alec didn’t care. They could all fuck off as far as he was concerned.

Making Magnus laugh—really laugh, not just an ironic twist of his lips—was better than any high he’d experienced off the ice or on.

Alec didn’t bother waving the waiter over. He picked up their bottle of wine and divided the rest of the contents between his and Magnus’ glasses. “So anyway, that’s why I have this scar through my eyebrow and Jace will never, ever get close to another duck again.”

“Remind me never to go running with you,” Magnus said as he blotted the tears from his cheeks.

“I get the feeling that won’t be a problem.”

Magnus accepted the glass Alec handed him and eased back in his chair. “True. I shun all physical activity as a rule.”

“Except when it involves orgasms, I’m sure.”

Magnus raised his glass in acknowledgement. “There’s an exception to every rule, Alexander.”

“So tell me. What are yours?”

“My rules or my exceptions?”

Alec was getting used to this. Magnus had this way of deflecting that was masterful in its subtlety. His intelligence was his best defense. If questions were hockey pucks, then Alec had taken quite a few shots on goal tonight, and Magnus had let very few of them slip through.

“Doesn’t formalizing an exception just make it a new rule?” Alec challenged him.

Magnus narrowed his eyes. “There are always exceptions to the exceptions.”

“So, really, there aren’t any rules.”

“You—” Magnus rubbed his forefinger and thumb together as he seemed to do when he was deep in thought. “You, Alexander, are too intelligent for my own good.”

Despite not getting an answer, Alec considered that shot on goal a success. “I think you enjoy things that aren’t good for you, Magnus.”

Magnus simply smirked and took another sip of wine.

 

****

 

“You lied to me!” Alec sputtered.

Magnus was offended, and he was happy to defend his point when Alec scrunched his face up adorably like he was doing now.

“I did not deceive you,” he asserted.

Alec pointed his fork at Magnus, glaring. “You did. You didn’t tell me that The Charioteer is the gay version of Twilight.”

“First of all, no,” Magnus protested, holding back a smile. “That may be the most outlandish thing you’ve said tonight and I heard every word of the duck story. Second, you read Twilight?”

Alec speared a potato off Magnus’ plate. “Your aristocratic inclinations are showing, Magnus. I never read the books but saw all the movies. Izzy has a thing for vampires.”

“‘The gay version of Twilight,’” Magnus scoffed. He pushed his plate closer to Alec and rested his arms on the table. “Mary Renault has to be somersaulting in her grave.”

“It’s not Bella, Edward, and Jacob for sure, but I didn’t expect for there to be a love triangle.” Alec finished off the food on Magnus’ plate and sat back. “There’s so much hyper-intelligent subtext in this book. I went online to download a discussion guide and help me through all of it.”

Magnus preened. Alec had sought out additional information on a book Magnus had given him.

“How subtly she handles the relationships between Laurie and Ralph and Laurie and Andrew can be daunting to piece together,” Magnus allowed.

“That’s the thing—it isn’t for me. I thought I was missing something because everything I read online said it can be difficult to understand, but I get it. Maybe—” Alec rubbed at that spot on his left hand. “Maybe too well.”

Magnus had to rein in the urge to take Alec’s hand in his. To offer a new sensation from the numbness that was there. Maybe even a touch that could temper the echo of old wounds. He hadn’t even considered Alec’s closeting when he’d given that book to Alec. The Charioteer was gay fiction, but a book that would’ve been banned had it been more forthright about the relationships it portrayed. That Alec could readily identify with the underpinnings of how heavily gay relationships had to be cloaked over sixty years ago—when it should’ve been very different for all of them now—was tragic.

It reminded Magnus that Alec didn’t want to be closeted, but didn’t know how not to be at this point in his life. It was a fact that Magnus would have to keep closer to his heart.

He resisted reaching across the table to comfort Alec, but barely.

“Well, now that you’ve finished your food and mine,” Magnus said, shifting the subject for both of their sakes, “do you want dessert?”

Alec picked his napkin off his lap and tossed it on his empty plate. “Actually, you said there’s dancing here?”

“There’s a nightclub in the basement. There’s also a library, private meeting rooms, a cigar bar, a spa, and a gym.”

Alec’s eyes went wide. “Is there a place like this in New York?”

“Of course. There are chapters in every major city, and some minor cities where there are pockets of wealth.”

“Maybe…. Maybe we can go to the one in New York when I’m home?”

Magnus should’ve had a different answer, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. “I’d like that.”

“On one condition, though.”

“Oh, and what is that?”

Alec’s eyes lit up. “You have to dance with me. Tonight.”

“Absolutely not,” Magnus replied. He was barely holding strong with Alec a table length away from him, let alone within touching distance.

“Magnus. This is my first time in a place that’s as close to a gay bar as I could get for a long time. I can’t dance alone—” Alec’s smile fell away. “Shit. You don’t want to dance with me.”

Magnus swore his heart skipped a beat. He had to tell Alec the truth, just like he always did, even if it was pushing against a boundary that Magnus was fighting desperately to maintain.

“There’s nothing I’d love more.”

 

****

 

The lights were pulsing, his limbs were pleasantly loose, and Magnus’ hand was clasped in his as Alec wove through across the dance floor for the back corner.

He’d never done this before—never dared to be seen anywhere in public holding another man’s hand—and it was a rush. His heart thudded in time to the driving bass as he turned, bringing Magnus in front of him.

Alec had been watching Magnus enough to know Magnus moved with ease. But he had no idea just how fluid, how graceful, Magnus could really be. Alec could hold his own thanks to Izzy, but Magnus could dance. Every movement a synchronous ripple from hips to feet, languid hands with rings that shone in the lights, necklaces swaying with the sensual twist of  his torso, strips of golden skin revealed as Magnus matched the pounding rhythm of the music.

Song after song, Alec hungered for more. Wanted Magnus’ hands on him. Needed to know how they’d feel on his skin.

Alec lost track of time and let his inhibitions fall away, gradually closing the distance between them that Magnus seemed intent on maintaining.

“Come on, Bane,” he teased into Magnus’ ear. Magnus’ hair tickled at his cheek. “Stop holding back.”

A bead of sweat trickled down his spine as Magnus’ body pressed up against his.

Alec dropped lower, settling his hands on Magnus’ hips, and drew him even closer.

 

****

 

Devastating.

Everything about Alexander Lightwood was sheer, apocalyptical devastation.

Alec parted Magnus’ legs with a subtle shift of his knee, fitting them together tightly. Alec towered over him, sheltered him. Everything except the feeling of Alec’s body against his and the driving beat of the music disappeared. He circled his hands around Alec’s biceps and held on.

Alec’s hands gripped his hips, fingers teasing at the skin there, then hands inching up his torso in tentative exploration. Magnus dropped his forehead into the curve of Alec’s neck, lips grazing exposed skin when Alec ground against him. Maddening friction that was too much and not nearly enough….

If Magnus didn’t stop this now, there would be no turning back.

He dug his fingers into Alec’s chest, went up on his tiptoes and put his lips to Alec’s ear. “I think we need to go.”

Alec sucked in a ragged breath that Magnus could feel reverberating through his fingertips and into his bones.

“Yeah, I think so.”

 

****

 

Alec could barely remember how they’d made it into the elevator, let alone back to the hotel. He was sober, yet half-drunk—and it wasn’t the wine that left him feeling like his world was tilting on its axis. Being with Magnus was intoxicating in a completely different way.

It was like everything in Alec’s life was so clear and yet completely blurring out of focus. It made his head spin and his skin warm and he wanted more. But there were rules, and exceptions to those rules, and exceptions to those exceptions, and Alec had unknowingly dropped himself into a game in which he had no idea how to strategize.

There was no playbook when it came to Magnus Bane.

Magnus stood in the opening of the elevator, keeping the doors from closing, his back leaned against the jamb, arms crossed as he silently looked at Alec with a small, but exasperated, smile on his lips.

Alec moved to stand across from him in the cramped opening, settling his leg next to Magnus’ and sliding down until they were eye to eye. “Thank you for tonight.”

Magnus shook his head. “Thank you for trusting me.”

“Always.” Alec leaned forward and set his hand on Magnus’ jaw, swiping his thumb across Magnus’ cheek, where the glitter eyeliner had started to flake. “I’m sorry for ruining your flawless aesthetic.”

Magnus closed his eyes at the touch, pressing into Alec’s hand, his lips opening just a fraction as he inhaled deeply.

“Magnus, I—” Alec began to say.

Magnus’ eyes snapped open. “Don’t.” His voice was soft. Regretful.

He circled his fingers around Alec’s wrist, pulling Alec’s hand away. He squeezed Alec’s hand once, and again—as if he was reluctant to let go at all—then stepped into the hallway. “I’ll see you in New York, Alexander.”

Every word Alec wanted to say felt like it was burning a path through his lungs in a desperate bid to escape. All he could manage to get out was, “See you there.”

As soon as the elevator doors closed Alec collapsed against the side.

“Shit,” he mumbled to himself. “What the hell am I doing?”

 

*****

 

Magnus swore under his breath as the elevator doors closed.

His heart was beating out of control, his skin was tingling, he couldn’t catch his breath, and, fuck, he could smell Alec’s cologne on him.

He trudged into his room to take a very, very cold shower.

Chapter Text

“How was LA?”

Magnus paused at the windows overlooking Manhattan and considered Imogen’s question. The first words that came to mind were intimate, erotic, maddening….

“Productive,” he answered as he faced Imogen. “Aline has a very talented eye.”

“And? How did Alec handle the shoot?”

He leaned against the window and crossed his arms. “Better than the first. I think both campaigns will be a success.”

“Good. I assume there will be more to come with him.” Imogen took a seat in her imposing high-backed leather chair. She met his eyes, unflinching, and Magnus couldn’t read the intentions behind why she’d called him to her office.

While he wasn’t going to be forthcoming with all that had happened in LA, he had nothing to confess to her.

“In terms of endorsement deals we’re done until the playoffs are over,” he said in answer to her implied question. “I’m going to be focusing on his contract renewal before that.”

“I look forward to seeing what you’re able to negotiate.” Imogen swept her hand in front of her desk. “Take a seat, Magnus.”

Magnus crossed the massive office and settled into the chair opposite her, unbuttoning his suit jacket and crossing his legs. “I assume this is not a social call.”

“Very well. Let’s get into it. You’ve shown you can work between sectors and, frankly, that’s not a skill IE agents have excelled in. You’re a powerhouse, Magnus. You are the future of this organization.”

“Thank you,” he acknowledged. “I also assume praise is not the reason you called me here.”

Imogen pursed her lips at his abruptness. “It’s not. We’re switching your client list around….”

Magnus’ hearing fuzzed out for a heartbeat, a lightheadedness overtaking him that he had to tamp down.

He and Alec were on a temporary contract, but he was committed to protecting Alec as long as he was Alec’s agent. It didn’t matter how much he wanted Alec—how much he craved Alec’s hands on him again—he couldn’t go there. He was invested. Had come to care about Alec’s welfare as more than a client. He could guard Alec as his agent, but without that formalized relationship all of his power would be stripped away.

She wouldn’t take Alec away from him?

Would she?

“You are removing clients from me?” Magnus interrupted.

Imogen’s face was emotionless. “Yes. I met with the executive team this morning and we reviewed your portfolio. We’ve compiled a list of clients who will either be dropped from the agency or moved to other agents to maximize your time. You will also be provided a short list of prospective clients we need you to acquire.”

“Poaching? You are traversing a precipitous ledge, Imogen.”

“I’m aware. I’m also aware that you have the ability to manage the delicate balance needed to successfully acquire us the caliber of client we are in search of.”

Imogen handed Magnus a piece of paper and he scanned through the list, holding back a relieved breath when he saw Alec’s name under the heading Ongoing Development. The majority of his current clients fell in that list, and the three other categories—Reassignment, Termination, and Acquisition—had fewer names.

Magnus’ eyes caught on one particular name he hadn’t expected to see under Reassignment. “I’ll accept all of your changes except one. Tessa Gray remains with me. She’s in final auditions for a Broadway show and the producer has already reached out to me for a meeting. If you’re looking for me to rep higher level clients then Tessa will soon be of that echelon.”

“Then she stays with you.”

“I want to have personal conversations with each of them.”

“I’d expect nothing less from you.”

Magnus set the list aside. “This was a meeting I should’ve been a part of, Imogen.”

Imogen bristled like a cat who’d been pet in the wrong direction. “You weren’t because I don’t think you’re ready to make hard calls when it comes to your accounts. You are emotionally invested in your clients. That is an advantage that manifests in stronger relationships and also a weakness that muddies your judgement. I will manage your weakness until you’re able to improve in that area.”

Magnus held back a scathing reply as he stood. “I don’t share your point of view but we’ve never had to see eye to eye in order to be successful.”

Imogen was tight-lipped as she nodded. “Let’s continue with that success. For now, I need you to focus on working through Alec to get to more of the Angels players. You’re in the spotlight, Magnus. It’s time to perform.”

 

****

 

Magnus managed to exit Imogen’s office without launching himself across the desk to throttle the callous harpy. Barely. He couldn’t help Alec, Tessa, or any of his clients if he was fired.

He strode toward his office, visualizing how his schedule needed to shift to accommodate conversations with his clients who would be dropped or moved.

Clary surged to her feet when she caught sight of him. “Magnus, I have to—”

He held up his hand, stopping her from saying anything else as he continued to his office door. “Not now, Clary. I need you to get Tessa on the line immediately.”

“Magnus!”

He froze, his palm circled around the handle, and leveled her with a gaze she didn’t back down from.

“You have someone waiting for you in your office. Sebastian Morgenstern.”

Magnus backed away from the door, glaring at her.

“In my office?” he hissed quietly. “Now?”

Clary fidgeted this time. “He refused to wait out here.”

Magnus took a deep breath and cracked his neck. “Well. This day is exceeding all of my expectations.” He stood tall, adjusted his lapels and buttoned his jacket. “Please reach out to Tessa for me and set up a time for us to talk in person. Today if possible, tomorrow at the latest.”

“Tomorrow is the game,” she reminded him.

“I’m aware. You have my schedule—work around it.”

“Do you need an out, you know”—Clary tipped her head toward Magnus’ office—“with him.”

“He has impeccable timing. I think he may need the out.” Magnus opened his door and stepped inside. “Morgenstern. I believe the ending to our last conversation was more than conclusive.”

Sebastian turned lazily in his chair, arms draped over the rests and legs crossed. “I wasn’t happy with the result.”

“I’m not sure what that has to do with me,” Magnus replied.

“I have a proposal for Alec Lightwood that I’d like to present to him in person.”

Magnus took his seat and faced Sebastian. “You’re in person with me and I speak for Alec. You can present it now.”

Sebastian leaned forward, tossing a piece of paper on Magnus’ desk. “I present to you—a check.”

Magnus picked up the check and stared at it, dumbfounded.

If Imogen was a harpy then, in this moment, Sebastian was their smug bastard king. “Does that have enough zeroes to earn me a moment of Mr. Lightwood’s time?”

 

****

 

“Stop talking and make sure that doesn’t fucking drop on my head, Jace.” Alec ground his teeth together, pressing the heavily-weighted bar into his second to last rep.

Jace peered down at him, his lip curled cheekily. “Don’t let go of it and it won’t smash that pretty face.”

Alec clanked the bar into the supports, arms burning, and Jace tapped his cheek. “My turn.”

“Actually, I was hoping it could be my turn.”

Every exhausted nerve in Alec’s body lit up at the sound of Magnus’ voice. Alec swiped a towel from the floor, eyes landing on Magnus, who stood in the entrance to the arena’s gym.

Alec grinned, then schooled his features when he remembered there were three other Angels’ players in the room. “Mixing with the riffraff today, huh?”

Magnus sniffed. “There is the distinctive scent of blue-collar in the air.”

Alec held back another smile and stood, wiping the towel across his face and over his bare chest. He’d started his work out wearing a loose tank top and gym shorts, but he’d discarded his shirt halfway through his five miles on the treadmill. He wasn’t sure where his shirt was at this point and…he didn’t care. He wanted to see Magnus’ reaction to him, especially with how they’d parted in LA.

Then, he’d been sure Magnus was checking him out. Now, he was just as sure Magnus wasn’t. Magnus’ eyes didn’t graze lower than socially acceptable levels.

Alec frowned.

Next to him, Jace cleared his throat and Alec realized he’d let a beat of silence fall that he never did when he was around someone he found attractive.

Alec shifted on his feet. “Jace, this Magnus Bane. Magnus, Jace Wayland.”

Jace swiped his hand on his shorts and shook hands with Magnus. “You’re the agent, right?”

“And you’re the heavenly fire of the Blazing Angels.”

Jace puffed up at the description and leaned in, lowering his voice. “You think you could give me your assistant’s number?”

“I’m fairly sure if you call my office that biscuit is the one who will answer.”

“Biscuit?” Jace barked out a laugh then turned to Alec, perplexed. “I thought you said her name was Clary?”

One of these days Alec was going to have to clue Magnus in on why every hockey player would laugh at Magnus’ nickname for Clary.

“It’s Clary,” he confirmed.

Jace’s face brightened. “Cool.”

Alec stepped around the benchpress, peeking at the other two Angels to see if they were paying attention to him—if he’d triggered any red flags—but both seemed intent on the TVs above the treadmills. He found his tank and flipped it over his shoulder just as he heard Jace say, “Look, I heard about what you’ve done for Alec. It’s good.”

Magnus glanced at Alec—his features were…impassive. Nothing like how Magnus had looked at him at the club, or even after.

“It is what Alec pays me for.”

Alec restrained a wince.

“So you think you could hook me up with Clary? Networking is an agent’s thing, right?”

Magnus slipped a business card out of his pocket and handed it to Jace. “I’m not a dating service, but if you wish to discuss business then call my office, Mr. Wayland.”

“Thanks.” Jace flipped the card between his fingers.

Alec crossed his arms. “What can I do for you, Magnus?”

Magnus’ eyes were still locked to his, as if they were incapable of skimming any lower than Alec’s nose. “I was hoping you had time to talk.”

Alec didn’t answer right away and Jace’s eyes darted between Magnus and Alec.

Jace hitched a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m going to go over here now.”

Shit. That was a red flag Alec was going to have to deal with later.

“So you stopped by,” Alec said wryly. “Instead of texting.”

Magnus smirked. “Naturally.”

Alec shook his head and chuckled lowly now that it was just the two of them. “I’ve got a couple hours until the team meeting. Walk with me while I cool off. I’ll show you around.”

“It was delightful to make your acquaintance, Mr. Wayland,” Magnus called out. Jace gave a distracted wave as he talked to the other two players.

Magnus brushed against him as they went through the gym doors, leaning in to whisper, “Clary will ruin him.”

He looked down at Magnus as the doors closed behind them—felt every millimeter of where Magnus’ shoulder was pressed against his arm, and that Magnus wasn’t rushing to pull away from the contact—and finally let a smile go. “I’m kind of looking forward to it.”

Magnus’ eyes flitted to Alec’s lips and he took a step back, fiddling with his ear cuff. “You were going to give me the five cent tour?”

There.

Alec knew Magnus well enough now to recognize when Magnus’ walls went up. And you only needed walls if you had something inside to protect….

Alec kept his shirt slung over his shoulder instead of putting it on. “Yeah, follow me.”

“Where is everyone else?” Magnus asked as they walked down the empty hallway.

“We had practice this morning and now we’re taking a break. Most of the guys took off for a bit before we get back into meetings tonight.”

“But you stayed.”

Alec nodded.

“Does your stern Russian godfather Tarasov have anything to do with this?”

He did, but Magnus already knew that. “I don’t leave the arena unless I have to. Jace is the same.”

“More superstitions, Hagrid?”

Alec ran his hand over his beard—trimmed but growing thicker by the day. “I have a lot of them.”

“Any particular”—Magnus waved his hands in the air—“pre-games mythologies I should be aware of as not to trip up your rituals?”

The question was innocent enough, but the answer that immediately popped into Alec’s head wasn’t.

“I do… But—” Alec felt a blush creeping up his cheeks. “Never mind. None you need to be aware of. Here, let me show you the locker room.”

Magnus surveyed him with an arched eyebrow, but didn’t push Alec to answer.

“There’s an entrance to Garroway’s office there,” Alec pointed out. “One in the hallway too. He likes the threat of him always listening to keep us in line. Shower room is through there, benches, and my locker.”

Magnus ran a blue nail polish tipped finger down the edge of the only picture Alec had in his cubby—he, Izzy, Simon, and Max at the place they’d rented in Maine last summer.

“Utilitarian, organized, and meticulously unpersonalized. It’s very…you.”

Alec couldn’t disagree. “Most of my gear doesn’t fit in here. I store it in the equipment room. Some goalies carry everything with them all the time, but strangely enough I don’t have superstitions when it comes to my gear.”

“None?”

“Okay. I take that back. I always carry this with me.” He lifted his mask off the highest shelf. “I use the cat-eye style cage.”

Magnus held out his hands, twirling his fingers. “May I?”

Alec handed it over and Magnus settled the mask in place over his head. Magnus wearing his gear was…hot. Of course it was. Alec shook his head in disbelief. “You look good with cat eyes.”

Magnus wrinkled his nose. “This, Alexander, stinks.”

Alec burst out laughing. “All hockey gear does. But goalie stuff is the worst. You get used to it.”

“I don’t think this matches my ensemble.” Magnus swiveled his head around as if he was searching for something, then made his way to a mirror set between banks of lockers. “Am I as intimidating as you in this?”

“You don’t need that to be intimidating,” Alec answered honestly. “I mean, I can’t pin down exactly what look you’re going for all the time. You’re always accessorized and so put together, but it’s like…. I don’t know. You look different every time I see you. But yeah. You’re intimidating without that.”

“I wasn’t aware you were studying me that closely, Alexander.” Magnus lifted the mask off, settling it in the crook of his arm as he fixed his hair in the mirror. “Although I suppose it’s only fair—I have seen you nearly naked more than I’ve seen you clothed.”

Was that flirting or the pattern of banter they fell into so easily when it was just the two of them? Alec tossed his tank top into his duffel bag, pulled his Angels hoodie out of his locker and shrugged it on.

“You don’t have to get dressed for me.”

Heat crawled up Alec’s neck. That was flirting. Whether or not Magnus flirted with any end goal in mind—or if it was merely a distraction technique—still wasn’t clear to Alec, though. He shook his head. “How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Be so…open with me, but back there…in the gym—? How did you walk in there and pretend you weren’t even looking at any of the men?”

Magnus tipped his head and handed the mask back to Alec. “How do you do it?”

“I guess I hadn’t thought about it that way.” He slid the mask on its shelf, grimacing. “That was insulting, wasn’t it?”

“To some it would be. I understand that talking about all of this is rather new for you.”

“I guess.” Alec zipped up his hoodie. “Come on. Let me show you the inside of the arena. I didn’t give you a chance the last time you were here.”

Alec led Magnus through the tunnel and out past the boards. The rink was quiet. Illuminated in low lights instead of the glare of game time. The surface was glassy smooth and unmarked from Simon’s last zamboni run.

Magnus tilted his head back, surveying the banners hanging from the arena rafters. The names and numbers of retired players. Conference championships that went back forty years. But no league championship banners. Not yet.

Alec wasn’t looking at the rafters, though—he had those empty spots memorized. He was staring at Magnus, and he couldn’t look away.

Magnus had a small smile on his lips when he peeked at Alec. “Why did you choose to be a goalie?”

Alec’s face flamed at being caught staring by Magnus. He huffed out a nervous laugh and scratched at his beard. “I wanted to spend more time here—on the ice. Other positions play in shifts. They’re on and off the ice throughout the game. But my skates don’t leave it unless I get pulled.” Alec shrugged. “And that doesn’t happen.”

“I know. I’ve seen your statistics.”

“I wasn’t aware you were studying me that closely,” he retorted.

Magnus ran his tongue along the bottom of his teeth, unsuccessfully hiding another smirk, then clacked his mouth shut around whatever he’d been about to say.

Alec slid forward and spun around so he was facing Magnus. Even though he was wearing shoes, not skates, the slipperiness was familiar beneath his feet. He glided across the ice pointing out spots for Magnus. “That is the crease, the blue line, center line. The circles are where the faceoffs are— But I’m guessing you already know all of those from the games you’ve been watching. Home bench and away.” Alec faced the other side of the ice, pointing to a glass encased box. “And that is the sin bin.”

Magnus raised his eyebrows. “If you wanted me to be enamored with hockey that should’ve been the first stop on your tour.”

Alec bit at his lip to hold back a laugh. He was way too fucking enamored with Magnus in this moment. “You probably know it as the penalty box—where players go when they get certain penalties.”

“How much time have you spent in there?”

“Goalies don’t go into the box.”

“So you’re saying you’ve never spent any time”—Magnus dropped his voice lower—“in the sin bin?”

Alec rolled his eyes at the awful innuendo. “Let me show you my favorite part of the arena.”

 

****

 

Magnus felt a bit woozy from how high they were. Or maybe it was Alec. He wasn’t entirely sure anymore.

“Alexander,” he huffed, winded from the mountainous trek up too many flights of stairs. He dropped heavily into a hard plastic chair. “These are the worst seats in the whole arena.”

Alec grinned, sitting down next to him. “I know.”

“And this is your favorite place?”

Alec eased back in the royal blue plastic seat and draped one leg over the seat in front of him. “It’s just….”—He waved his right hand in front of him and looked at Magnus—“I came from nothing, you know? I was the tiny kid who wasn’t great at anything when I was growing up. Then I found hockey, and I started to get taller, but I was still different. My parents were always working, completely focused on their own lives. Success and uplifting the Lightwood name were all they ever drummed into me, Izzy, and Max. We were their secondary consideration on good days. I guess I like it here because it reminds me of where I came from, and also reminds me that there are people just like I used to be sitting in these seats who are working hard for something better.”

Magnus pulled at the cuffs of his shirt, leaning closer to the warmth of Alec next to him to ward off the chill. “Goalies don’t have the same glory other players do.”

“Goalies have a reputation for being a little unstable,” Alec said with a smirk.

“Are you?”

“Maybe a bit more than the usual person,” Alec allowed. “I mean, I put my body between a tiny net and frozen discs of plastic flying at insane speeds. I love this game so much, though, and I couldn’t be any other position because it took too much out of me. A goalie has to be okay with being alone yet very focused on the team as a whole. Being a goalie works with who I am.”

“You’re a leader.”

Alec scoffed. “I’m not.”

Magnus left Alec’s assertion unchallenged—for now. Convincing Alec to see his own value would take more than a one sentence platitude. It was evident to him that Alec saw his failures much clearer than his successes. It was a trait that fascinated Magnus. Alec had so much to be proud of, and yet it was as if he was incapable of seeing his own worth.

All Magnus could see when he looked at Alec now was immeasurable value. He saw Alec for everything he was in this moment. Everything he could be in the future. And….

Magnus’ breath caught.

Everything they could be.

He wanted to date Alec, not just be with him.

“Magnus?”

Magnus dragged himself out of his reverie—of thinking of what could be—and refocused on Alec. An Alec that had gone from playful, to forthright, to suddenly…confused?

“Yes?”

“There’s this thing I’ve been…. Something I haven’t asked you.”

“And you’re afraid it may be insulting?” Magnus tried.

“Maybe? But I don’t think so.”

“You can ask me anything, Alexander.”

Alec brought both his feet to the floor, leaned forward placing his elbows on his knees, and caught Magnus’ eyes in a determined gaze. “How did you know I was gay?”

Magnus took a deep breath and answered honestly. “The way you looked at me.”

Alec furrowed his brow. “I hated you.”

“Exactly.”

Alec opened his mouth, then snapped it shut. He began to knead at his left hand as he stared out at the ice. “Shit. I’m sorry, Magnus. I’m sorry for everything I said to you and how I treated you when we first met. I’m sorry that I was one of the people who judged you before knowing you. I was so wrong and I don’t even know where to begin or end apologizing.” Alec hesitated. “I’m sorry that the way I looked at you reminded you of things you wanted to forget.”

Magnus was stunned. “I never said that.”

“You didn’t have to.” Alec smiled sadly. “There are pieces of my…experience I see in you too.”

Magnus wasn’t aware he’d given that much away.

“I’ve coaxed very private information from you, Alexander,” Magnus prompted him. “You have my permission to ask the same of me.”

Alec nodded. “Okay. Then besides my money and potential influence, why does it bother you so much that I’m not out?”

Magnus crossed his legs, flicking a piece of lint off his knee. Alec had asked and he would answer—no matter how uncomfortable it made him. “Her name was Camille. She was the one who never should have been, not the one who got away. I stepped back into the closet, willingly, for her. She didn’t believe bisexuals could ever be faithful, and I thought I loved her, so I pretended to be something I’m not. It’s all very ironic, considering she was the one who cheated on me. A ‘dalliance’ she called it—as if that made it less of a betrayal. I denied who I was for someone who never gave all of herself to me. I’ll never do that again.”

Alec cringed. “I’m sorry I remind you of that.”

“You look at me very differently now,” he reassured Alec.

“I see the real you and I’m…. I’m grateful you came into my life.”

Magnus felt his heartbeat in his fingertips. He kept his hands on his lap instead of reaching out for Alec. “I feel the same, Alexander.”

Alec sat back in his seat, edging over until he was shoulder to shoulder with Magnus. When he looked at Magnus they were only inches apart, and Magnus could trace the details of the jagged line of darker brown that circled Alec’s eyes. Could verify the perfect symmetry of Alec’s lips when he smiled.

“You know what’s crazy? I actually like you calling me Alexander. Until I met you, that name only brought up bad memories. But you always say it with this…depth of emotion that changes the way I hear it. I don’t know if that makes any sense.”

Alec was too close. Magnus was too invested.

But he couldn’t pull away.

“Things have been heated between us from the first second,” Magnus admitted.

Alec’s gaze flickered to Magnus’ lips. “They have.”

There were two months left on his contract with Alec.

He would see Alec through the playoffs and his contract negotiation, then he could think about another agent taking Alec on. Then, he could hope that Alec would be ready to come out. Then, he could explore everything he saw in Alec that he wanted to know more about. Two months from now, he could consider that there was so much more that could be.

But for now….

Magnus drew back. “Alexander, I wish this were not the case, but I didn’t just come here for this. We have something we need to talk about.”

 

****

 

Alec had barely slept last night.

Between nerves about the first game of the playoffs and the meeting with Sebastian Morgenstern set for this morning, he’d been more anxious than he was used to powering through.

Then there was Magnus….

Every second he spent with Magnus left Alec breathless and excited and wanting….

Yet left him more confused about a path in life he’d been so sure of.

He groaned. Rubbed at his eyes and rolled out of bed and into the shower, setting the water as warm as it could go without scalding him. He made quick work of cleaning—and taking care of himself, as was the game day ritual he’d never tell Magnus about—and got ready, paying as little attention to his reflection as he could. He pulled a baseball cap on so he wouldn’t have to bother with his hair and headed out.

By the time he made it to the coffee shop down a few blocks from his apartment, Magnus was already there—waiting and looking much more put together than Alec did.

Alec took a deep breath and sat down in the chair kitty-corner from him. “Hey.”

Magnus frowned when he took stock of Alec. He slid a cup across the table to Alec. “I took a shot and ordered for you—black coffee with sugar.”

How the hell did Magnus instinctively know how Alec liked his coffee?

“You’re up—two to three,” he said with a tired smile. “I’ll need the caffeine today. Thanks.”

“Mr. Lightwood?”

Alec clenched his jaw and turned toward the voice. The man standing next to the table—a younger, more callous looking version of Valentine Morgenstern—set his teeth on edge.

“Mr. Morgenstern,” he acknowledged. He didn’t stand, didn’t offer his hand.

Sebastian didn’t seem fazed by Alec’s unwelcoming greeting. “Good morning, Magnus.”

Magnus settled back in his chair, appearing even more unaffected than Sebastian. Even with the man towering above him, Magnus was the one at the table in control. “Some parts, yes.”

Sebastian sat down in the seat closest to Alec and across the table from Magnus. “I know you have a game today, so I’ll get right to it.” He reached into his suit pocket and placed a piece of paper on the table, sliding it in front of Alec. “This is a check for a million dollars. It’s all we’ve been able to recover so far. I wish it were everything.”

Alec had expected this because of Magnus, but that foreknowledge had turned his stomach last night and it made him even sicker to see that amount in person. Alec swallowed some of his coffee to keep down the bile rising in his throat.

“We’d like you back as a client, Alec, and this is a first step to re-earning your trust.”

“Trust?” Alec scoffed, refusing to touch the check. “There is no amount of money that will earn any trust from me.”

“I believe that’s the same answer I gave you yesterday, Morgenstern,” Magnus calmly added.

Sebastian’s cool gaze slipped from Magnus back to Alec. Alec shivered at the sheer blackness of Sebastian’s eyes. “I didn’t share with Magnus the entirety of our peace offering yesterday, Alec. We’d also like to open up negotiations with your brother.”

Alec gaped and looked to Magnus for a clue on what was going on. Magnus was visibly inhaling through his nose, his jaw twitching.

“What do you want with Max?” Alec asked, his skin crawling with dread.

“We understand he’s been shopping for capital for his start-up.”

“What? What does that have to do with you?”

Sebastian ran manicured fingernails through his blond hair. “He has an idea—a good idea—and we want in. I’d like to speak to him about me becoming an angel investor for him, and Morgenstern & Morgenstern signing on as a venture capitalist. I have half a million to offer, and the firm has three million we’re willing to consider investing. ” Sebastian relaxed back in his seat, set one hand on the table and thrummed his fingers as he stared Alec down. “We also have the leverage in the finance community to ensure Max is…protected from other investors.”

Alec balled his fist then felt Magnus’ hand on his arm, silently urging him to remain calm.

“That,” Magnus jumped in, “is thinly veiled code for blackballing Max Lightwood from other firms if he doesn’t accept your proposal. Be careful where you choose to tread.”

Sebastian didn’t address Magnus or correct himself. He kept his soulless eyes locked on Alec. “The million dollars is yours, Alec. A good faith repayment that I’d like to keep separate from the legal proceedings. What my father did was unconscionable. I’d like to see you, Max, and my firm benefit in some way from this travesty.”

“One million dollars to Alec and three and a half to Max,” Magnus said through clenched teeth. “It is a conveniently coincidental amount, Morgenstern.”

Sebastian smiled.

Alec couldn’t take anymore. He flung the check back at Sebastian. “Fuck you. You want to make a real peace offering? Contact the cops or attorneys and make sure your father never leaves prison. I don’t want anything you’ve touched. As for Max? Stay the fuck away from him. He doesn’t want your money either.”

Alec abruptly stood, his chair careening to the floor. He heard Magnus say I believe that definitely concludes our business as he crashed through the doors and onto the street, waiting from Magnus.

As soon as he had Magnus at his side, Alec stalked away from the coffee shop. Fuming. “It’s like he’s— He’s blackmailing me, Magnus. That’s my money. Money I would’ve given to Max without a thought if he asked for it. Sebastian Morgenstern has four and a half million dollars that he’s offering up as if that amount is pennies in his pocket, when it’s almost exactly what Hodge and his father took from me. What it took me seven years to earn! And how many of his other former clients is he doing this with? Fuck!”

Alec came to a stop on the sidewalk. Magnus reached out for him, drawing him out of the stream of people. “I had no idea he would try to use Max against you.”

“I know you didn’t.” Magnus’ hand was still twined with his and he felt Magnus’ hold on him loosen, so Alec gripped tighter. He needed the reassurance of Magnus’ steadiness right now. He needed Magnus. He let out a long breath. “You’re coming to the game tonight, right?”

Magnus nodded. “I’m meeting Isabelle and Max before the game for dinner.”

“Max can’t know about this yet, okay?” Alec insisted. “Let me talk to him first.”

“Okay,” Magnus agreed. He pulled his hand out of Alec’s and began to twist his rings. “If you aren’t opposed to the idea, I’d also like to notify the state attorney’s office about this meeting after you talk to Max.”

“Fuck every living Morgenstern. Go right ahead.”

“Alexander,” Magnus said quietly. “I didn’t expect you to make any other choice today, but I don’t think it should go unsaid that not many people would’ve made the same decision.”

“It was the right choice.”

“It was.”

Alec turned over Magnus’ words in his head. “And you expected that from me?”

“Of course. I’m sorry you have to deal with this at all. I’ll do everything in my power to assist you.”

“I know you’re sorry and I know you’re doing everything you can to help me. I told you, Magnus—I trust you.” Alec lifted his baseball cap off and ran his fingers through his hair. Magnus’ belief in him…. It calmed him. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Well, you only have another two months to find out,” Magnus said with a delicate twist of his hands.

Alec froze. He searched Magnus’ face. “What? Why?”

“That’s when your temporary contract with me runs out—”

“Didn’t Imogen tell you?” Alec interrupted. “I signed a two-year extension with IE when I got back to New York. And I told them I wouldn’t work with anyone besides you.” Alec took in the grimace on Magnus’ face, his stomach dropping. “I didn’t— I thought that was something you’d be….” His shoulders slumped. “I’m lost here, Magnus.”

“No, Alec. It’s fine. I’m just surprised because I had a meeting with Imogen yesterday and she didn’t mention it.”

Magnus rearranged his reaction into something that could’ve soothed someone who didn’t know Magnus—who couldn’t see how Magnus really felt—but Alec did.

Alec frowned. “Magnus….”

Magnus took in a stuttered breath, that made Alec’s chest clench painfully. “We work well together. I look forward to building an even stronger business partnership over the next two years.”

 

****

 

Magnus pushed through the arena turnstile behind Isabelle, all of his senses bombarded at once. The walkways circling the arena were a swirling mass of people in the white and blue of the Angels’ home uniforms, interspersed with the red and black of the visiting Devils. Voices jumbled together in a dull roar, he was jostled with the hurried movement of smiling fans, and the scent of fried foods and sour beer filled the air.

It was overwhelming, exasperating, and yet a complete rush—a fitting parallel to the man Magnus was here to watch play.

“He’s making that face again, Iz,” Max sing-songed next to him.

Magnus scowled at Max. “I told you. This is my game face.”

“You’re lying, mijo,” Izzy said. She grabbed his hand and started pulling him away from the entrance. “We’re all nervous—it’s okay. You know how many outfits I went through before deciding on this?”

“You look stunning,” he reassured her. The bright blue of her Angels t-shirt—with white wings printed on the back—set off her dark hair, and her white jeans hugged every enviable curve, heightened by the knee-high boots with silver stilettos she gracefully perched on.

“Hey,” Max protested. He waved a hand clasped around a hot dog up and down the same Angels hoodie Magnus had seen him in for every game. “This took me forever too.”

Izzy narrowed her eyes at her brother. “Where did you even get that hot dog?”

“Some guy—”

Izzy held up her free hand. “Stop right there. I don’t want to know.”

Max took a gigantic bite of the mystery meat and Izzy made a gagging noise.

Not even the opportunity for a meat-based cock innuendo could make Magnus smile. Really, it was nearly impossible to be sullen when surrounded by the Lightwoods, but Magnus was managing to hold tight to his shit mood.

Magnus frowned as they passed by the elevators marked for the suites. “Aren’t we going up?” 

“We are,” Izzy answered. “But not to the suites. We’re in the cheap seats.”

Magnus raised an eyebrow. Those were supposed to be players’ tickets in Max’s non-hot dog hand. Magnus had expected they would be within throwing distance of either the ice or a decent bar. With a two year contract extension now looming in his future he could use a gallon of any liquor right now.

“Alec always switches out our seats before the game,” Max explained, waving their tickets. “He gives fans his seats—by the boards or in one of the suites. We sit wherever their tickets were.”

Interesting.

So that’s what it felt like to have his heartstrings ripping his severely wounded organ out of his chest….

Magnus sighed. “Of course he does.”

Isabelle looped her arm in his and Magnus tried not to scowl deeper as he allowed her to lead him to the escalators.

 

****

 

Alec flipped through his messages again. There was a selfie of Simon and Clary on the zamboni—in the maintenance room where she always hung out with him during games. Izzy’s usual you got this followed by a line of hearts. Max’s blatant abuse of emojis. And from Magnus….

One picture of Izzy and Max, their arms looped around each other as they entered the arena. Magnus had caught them turned toward each other, bright smiles on their faces, as they queued to get inside.

He wished he’d gotten something from Magnus to give him a hint of how Magnus looked tonight. If he was smiling. Whether that smile was real or forced. What he was wearing. How his hair was done. How many necklaces and rings he’d piled on, or completely left off. What color glitter he’d chosen to dust across his pecs—

Although, maybe it was better that he hadn’t….

“Something wrong, Alec?” Jace said.

Alec exited out of his texts and clicked off his phone. He shook his head. “Nah, I’m good. Ready to get out there.”

Jace stitched his brows together and sat down next to Alec. “You sure about that? I haven’t seen you this checked out before a game in weeks.”

There were too many things swirling around his head for him to catch on to any one thought for too long, but it was having Magnus here—in the arenathat repeated the most. Hodge had never come to a game and Magnus was in those stands with Izzy and Max. More like a boyfriend would be than an agent….

He was unfocused, scattered, and he needed to get his head together before they took to the ice.

“Just…stuff and…things,” he evaded. “Nothing important. I’m good.”

Jace tilted his head as if he was thinking deeply about how to respond, then shrugged. “Whatever.” He patted Alec’s face, Alec’s cheeks already reddened from the Angels’ pre-game ritual. “We got this, bro.”

Alec forced a smile. “Yeah. Let’s do this.”

 

****

 

“I think I need an oxygen tank up here,” Magnus sputtered out as they took their seats in the very last row of the arena. They were on the opposite side of the ice from where he and Alec had sat yesterday—even higher than the row Alec had led him to.

“Give me a break,” Izzy said. “I just did all those stairs in heels.”

Max huffed. “Dude. I did all of those with only one leg.”

Magnus rolled his eyes at both of them. “You Lightwoods are a competitive bunch, aren’t you?”

His head was already spinning from the trek to the top, the thin air, and the steep angle of the seating this far up, then the lights went out, a cacophony of twenty-thousands voices screaming out at once—ricocheting off the concrete walls—making his ears ring. The Angels flew out of the tunnel onto the ice with crashing music, the roar of the crowd, and lights swirling around them as they were introduced.

“…And in goal tonight, number eighty nine, Alec Lightwood.”

Max whooped and Izzy did a screeching whistle, her pointer fingers planted between her lips.

Magnus couldn’t take his eyes off Alec. He was used to the way Alec flowed across the ice, his pre-game ritual of tapping the camera in the back of the net and etching grooves into the crease. He was used to Izzy and Max’s ridiculous dance as they mimicked him. He was used to the heavy anticipation that settled into his chest as he waited for the puck to drop.

He wasn’t used to the worry that overtook him as he took stock of a Devils’ player carving a sheet of ice at Alec as he swept by. It was a blatant taunt—a challenge—and served to remind Magnus just how aggressive this sport was. How real the threat of injury always was.

If he could have conjured up some sort of barrier to keep Alec safe he would have. He was feeling protective of the self-proclaimed unstable goalie, that he potentially wanted to date, who was a closeted friend that would also be his client for the next two years. The list of reasons why he should’ve been able to emotionally separate himself from Alec was growing, and yet he couldn’t. Magnus felt his knees go weak at the thought of two more years of this….

Fuck.

Maybe Imogen had been right.

 

****

 

Alec knew exactly where they were sitting—that was his first problem. There was no way he’d be able to see Izzy, Max, or Magnus from the ice, but that didn’t keep him from glancing to that corner when he was in the net facing their section. He was still covering, still making saves, but he was losing track of the puck as it bounced between players. His defense—used to hearing him call out a constant stream of warnings—kept glancing his way seeking instruction, but Alec was having trouble focusing on what was happening right now, let alone two or three plays ahead.

Problem two—he couldn’t get Sebastian Morgenstern’s haughty smile out of his head. His abrasive air of entitlement—as if Alec owed him. Then there was problem three—Max. Fighting to do something good with this life—so fucking unselfish—and being threatened by someone that should have never had any ties to him at all, but he did because of Alec.

And four…. Magnus. Up in those stands, at his first sporting event, likely wearing something that was out of place and garish and beautiful. Sitting with Alec’s siblings. Literally watching over him right now and always watching out for him. He knew whatever this was between him and Magnus—curiosity? attraction? lust?—that it wasn’t just one-sided. He knew that. But it didn’t matter because Alec wasn’t out and it was possible he’d never have the courage to be.

Magnus would never live another lie, and Alec didn’t want him to.

Shit.

Focus.

He had to focus.

Then the Devils’ left winger was suddenly screaming down at the ice at him and Alec dropped into a butterfly, the puck clanking against the edge of his skate and rebounding up and over, heading for the net. Alec whipped back his mitt and caught the side of the puck sending it tumbling, where Pangborn was finally able to get his stick on it and clear it out.

The buzzer ending the first period sounded and Alec drug himself to his feet, mentally preparing for the lashing he’d take from Garroway in the intermission.

 

****

 

“He’s slower tonight,” Max said as he finished off another tray of nachos. “Has his knee been okay?”

Izzy shook her head, her elaborate braid—threaded with blue and white ribbons—swinging. “He hasn’t said anything about it to me lately.”

Magnus huffed. A problem with Alec’s knee seemed like something Hodge should’ve had in his files.

He glanced at the scoreboard—ten minutes left in the second period, zeros on both sides of the board—and took another deep drink from the rum-filled blue slushie in his hand. “What’s wrong with his knee?”

Max gestured for Magnus’ drink and Magnus passed it down. Max took a sip, wincing just like his brother did, and passed it back. “Nothing major. Player slammed into him a few seasons back and it’s been touchy since then. The farther it gets into the season the harder it is for him, but their trainer works with him on it.”

A guy in the row in front of them turned his head. “I remember that hit. Punk ass bitch took a cheap shot on Lightwood because they couldn’t get through him. Still one of the best brawls I’ve seen here. Angels don’t let anyone fuck with their goalie.”

Max raised an eyebrow in Magnus’ direction as if to say see I told you and fist bumped the guy.

But it took only minutes before the same guy was cursing the day Alec was born as the red light lit up behind the Angels’ net and the Devils put the first goal on the board.

 

****

 

Alec was unraveling and he was taking the whole team with him.

The Devils’ second goal came on a rebound. The third on a breakaway.

Both were shots he’d been denying all season. Both were instances where the Angels’ defense would usually look to him to make a call on how best to protect the net—but the guidance Alec had been giving them the entire game was just wrong—and they’d ignored his calls, leading to a breakdown in the defensive zone.

He was finally able to push thoughts of anything besides the game out of his head, but only because his brain was overrun with with how much he was failing his teammates. How much he was disappointing the fans.

The Devils picked up on the Angels’ disarray quickly. Adjusting their play into a full on attack that left Angels smashed against the boards, scurrying to intercept. The Devils shots were low—seeking a score on a rebound—and usually the Angels could sweep those out of play before an opponent got their stick back to take a shot, but the Devils were faster, their hits more bruising.

The fourth goal gave the Devils’ center Blackwell a hat trick and shattered the last pieces of Alec’s confidence.

There was twelve minutes left in the third period and the Angels hadn’t managed to score one goal yet tonight. They were going to lose their first playoff game, at home, in a post season they were supposed to own.

All because of Alec.

 

****

 

Magnus’ childish frustration had started to drain out of him somewhere around the third goal, and as the fifth one slid in, all he was was worried about Alec.

Izzy gaped at the scoreboard, then turned on Magnus—eyes flashing. “You saw him earlier today, right? What the hell happened?”

Magnus didn’t know how to answer her.

“Well?” Izzy railed.

He’d already failed Alec by allowing that meeting with Sebastian to happen this morning, he wouldn’t betray the one thing Alec had asked him to stay quiet on.

Magnus shook his head. “You’re going to have to talk to him, Isabelle.”

Izzy turned her back on him as the arena started to empty of white and blue. The fans clad in red surged to their feet as the last minutes ticked off and the final buzzer sounded.

“Shit,” Max swore and stomped off.

Izzy let loose a torrent of Spanish words that Magnus was fairly sure were all profane, and slumped in her chair. She watched Max retreat down the stairs then hooked her arm through Magnus’, resting her head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry I went off on you there. You were right—Lightwoods are competitive. We don’t take loss well.”

Magnus couldn’t take his eyes off the tunnel, where Alec had disappeared without even removing his mask as soon as the game was over. “Alexander will be tearing himself apart right now.”

“Don’t text him, and don’t call him,” Izzy implored. “Believe me, we’ve been through this enough times to learn the hard way. He needs to do whatever he does to get ready for game two tomorrow. Shit. This is going to be ugly.”

He settled his arm over her shoulder and hugged her close.

“Look on the positive side, darling,” he tried. “We both get to go shopping again.”

 

****

 

The silence of Magnus’ cell was deafening.

Alec had always texted him back after a game—regardless of whether it was a win or a loss. But tonight was different. Magnus knew Alec considered this his loss.

He held his phone in his hands considering, for a brief moment, Isabelle’s advice and that he should probably listen to her. Instead, he typed out message after message in his text thread with Alec, deleting them all for being too dismissive or too vapid, until he finally gave up and threw his cell onto his coffee table.

He stood to make a drink, trying to unwind, when it occurred to him exactly what Alec probably needed to hear right now.

Green tea with lemon and honey tomorrow morning instead of coffee?

He dropped his cell onto the table again and went for the kitchen, but his notifications pinged almost immediately. He took two steps back and picked up his phone, his heart racing when he saw it was a reply from Alec.

How about now?

Magnus stared at the text.

Of course, he typed out.

His head snapped up at the soft knock at his door.

“Ah, literally now.” Magnus took a deep breath and unlocked the door, opening it to find something he could go the rest of his life without seeing again—a decidedly miserable Alec. “How long have you been standing out here?”

“Not long. Tonight was….” Alec pocketed his cell, grimacing. “Shit. Tonight was shit. I didn’t want to be alone and Jace…. He doesn’t want to talk to me. Izzy is with Simon and Clary. And Max…I can’t go there tonight. So I thought…. Then I kept on getting those bubbles popping up like you were typing something out to me and I finally got your text, and I just—”

Magnus stepped back. “Come in, Alexander.”

Alec hung his head as he pushed past Magnus. His hair was still wet. His t-shirt was worn, but not nearly as pocked with holes as his jeans. He dropped his duffel bag to the floor and stretched his arms above his head, joints popping.

Magnus had an overwhelming urge to hug him.

He closed his door. “Drink?”

Alec kicked off his shoes and set them next to his bag. “Yes, but no. The game tomorrow.”

“Have you eaten?”

Alec shook his head.

“Sit down. I’ll make you something.”

Alec took a seat at the counter without a word.

Magnus flitted around the kitchen, grabbing supplies out of his refrigerator and cupboards, remaining quiet as he worked. He didn’t know what to say, but more importantly, his instincts were telling him that Alec didn’t want him to say anything.

Alec was hunched over Magnus’ counter, forearms resting on the black granite surface. Every time Magnus glanced at him, he was staring into the middle distance as if he was reconsidering every decision he’d ever made—a movie cliche come to life that Magnus couldn’t find any humor in. All that was missing was the bottomless shot glass, the wise yet comically witty bartender, and the sudden appearance of a long lost love to guide the wayward hero back to his rightful destiny.

Magnus set a steaming mug in front of Alec. “Green tea with lemon and honey.” He started to turn back to his stove, then pivoted around again. “And maybe a touch of whiskey.”

The corner of Alec’s lip tipped up. Magnus considered it a victory.

“Thanks.”

Alec went quiet again and Magnus went back to work, pausing when Chairman appeared out of the bedroom and bumped up against his legs. Magnus eyed Chairman suspiciously, trying to telegraph a warning to his cat that this visitor needed to be loved on, not pounced on.

“I hope you’re not allergic to cats.”

“No. Max has this cat named Church. He hates everyone except me and Max. Just showed up on my parents doorstep years ago and Max took him in.”

“Chairman Meow can be capricious,” Magnus warned. “Even with me—and I saved him from the treacherous life of a feline vagabond. Don’t be offended if he doesn’t like you.”

“Everyone likes me.”

Magnus paused in the middle of filling a plate and glanced over his shoulder when he heard the dulcet sound of purring. Chairman was snuggled in Alec’s arms, bumping his face against Alec’s chest as Alec scratched between his ears.

Of course Chairman loved Alec—he was a Disney prince, in knife shoes instead of slippers, come to life.

“Chicken penne arrabiata,” Magnus announced. He slid the plate across to Alec, then picked a fork and napkin out of a drawer setting it in front of him. “I hear carbs are good for a recovering athlete. And for the soul. But not for the abs.”

Alec gave a dark laugh and Chairman jumped off his lap. “Believe me. My abs are the least of my worries tonight.”

Magnus frowned. He didn’t know how to make this better for Alec. According to Izzy it was impossible. “You know, if you still have time after you’re done eating, we could watch something mind-numbing with lots of gratuitous explosions.”

Alec took a bite, chewed it thoughtfully. “With hot guys?”

“If you wish.”

The set of Alec’s shoulders eased and the upturn of his lips was almost a real smile. Almost.

“I’ve got time.”

 

****

 

Alec couldn’t help but notice this was another completely different look for Magnus.

There were streaks of blue in his hair, and his eyes were circled with a similar shade that made the gold-green of them shine. He wore broad silver bands on each of his fingers, his wrists and neck free of anything else. His feet were bare, tucked under his jeans, and he lounged against the arm of the black velvet couch Alec had seen the first time he and Magnus had Facetimed. Unlike then, though—unfortunately—Magnus was wearing a shirt. A simple gray cotton tee with the NYBA logo on the front.

Alec took a sip of the fresh cup of tea Magnus had given him when he’d finished eating. “What did you end up wearing to the game?”

Magnus stopped scrolling through the movie guide on the TV and looked at Alec. “This.”

Alec pursed his lips. “You didn’t.”

“Pray tell. What is wrong with this?”

Nothing was wrong with what Magnus was wearing—it was perfectly normal. Which made it very wrong. “It’s nothing like I pictured you wearing. You probably blended in with everyone else there tonight.”

“That was the point,” Magnus said dryly.

Alec set his mug on the coffee table. “I like it when you stand out.”

Magnus side-eyed him with a grin and went back to scrolling. “Fast and Furious?”

“Which one?”

“Does it really matter, Alexander?”

Alec shook his head. He patted his chest and Chairman jumped up, rolling into a ball on his stomach.

“Do you want to talk about tonight?” Magnus offered.

“No.”

Magnus nodded and pulled a blanket off the back of the couch, spreading it out so it covered both his feet and Alec’s.

Alec sighed. “It’s just…. On the ice it’s like everything slows down. I know what to expect and what patterns to look out for. I have my area and I control it. I protect it. Off the ice…. I can’t get a handle on the rest of the world. It’s too out of sync and unexpected….” Alec stroked a hand down Chairman’s back. He’d been lost during the game and right now he felt so steady. “I couldn’t keep my focus where it needed to be tonight.”

Magnus laid the remote on the table and shifted so he was facing Alec. “This wasn’t a game you meant to lose.”

“It was still a loss—one I’m responsible for.” Alec blew out a long breath and Chairman moved with him, protesting with a tepid mewl. Alec rubbed behind his ear, lulling the tiny cat into sleep again. “Did you know I signed with the Angels when they were still a losing team? Jace and I both. He told me they were going to be the next big franchise and I followed him there.”

“How long have you and Jace played together?”

“Since he was ten.”

Alec attempted to catch the handle of his mug with his fingertips so he didn’t disturb Chairman. When Magnus realized what Alec was doing he picked up the cup and handed it to Alec, then tucked his feet under the blanket again, brushing up against Alec’s leg.

Alec smiled. “Jace is actually how I knew I was gay.”

“Ah, the first life defining crush. Was there ever anything…there?”

“I hoped for it for a long time, but no way. Jace is so het he’d deny it if his dick hung any way but down the middle.”

Magnus waved a finger at him, his eyes bright. “That, Alexander, is the most crude thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“Jace brings it out in me.” Alec smirked over the rim of his cup. “And you haven’t heard me on the ice.”

“He knows you’re gay?”

“We came to punches when he confronted me about it….” Alec set down his mug again and continued to pet Chairman, trying to ignore the muted sensation in the palm of his left hand. “It was rocky there for awhile. But we moved on. Despite him yelling that my best wasn’t good enough tonight, he’s a good friend.”

Magnus propped his elbow on the back of the couch and leaned his cheek on his hand. “I wish I had been able to hold off that meeting with Morgenstern.”

“There’s no time that would’ve been right for that bullshit. I’m glad we got it over with.”

A silence fell between them as Alec watched Magnus flip one of his silver rings between his fingers. A hypnotic movement of graceful fingers that reminded Alec of them dancing in LA. Alec felt a blush crawling up his cheeks at the vividness of the memory, but couldn’t stop it. Magnus simply gave him a small smile as if he knew exactly what Alec was thinking—and highly approved.

Alec’s belly was full, his veins warmed by the whiskey, a brainless action movie on the screen, and Magnus at his side. He was wrecked but he was content. He didn’t know how to maneuver any of this thing that was happening between Magnus and him. He couldn’t begin to anticipate what came next. It scared the shit out of him, but he didn’t want it to be any other way.

“Is it inappropriate for me to say I am desperately jealous of my cat right now?”

Alec tried to stifle his chuckle so his stomach wouldn’t move. “Don’t make me laugh. You’ll wake Chairman up.”

“I don’t believe I’d fit quite as compactly on your awe-inspiring abs, but I’m willing to try if you are.”

Alec kicked out at Magnus to make him stop then winced at the pain that shot up his thigh and down through his toes.

Magnus’ brow stitched together with worry. “Is this the knee issue Isabelle and Max told me about tonight?”

“It’s nothing. I usually ice it after a game then have our trainer loosen up the muscles, but I couldn’t tonight. I had to get out of there as soon as I could.”

Magnus patted his lap. “Stretch out, my wildebeest. Let me.”

Alec couldn’t hold back the splotches of red that he knew were raising on his cheeks. At least his beard was thick enough now to hide some of it.

But Magnus didn’t miss anything.

“It’s your knee, Alexander. I’ve been around a bit, and a knee kink would be a new one even for me.”

Alec held onto Chairman as he chuckled. “This is where Max would say ‘don’t kink shame me.’”

“Your brother is a breathing ironic t-shirt slogan,” Magnus quipped. “Do you want me to?”

There was nothing—absolutely nothing—he wanted more.

His heart thudded as he shrugged. “Sure. Yeah. Why not.”

Magnus scooted over and Alec draped his leg across Magnus’ lap. Magnus didn’t hesitate to dig his fingers in, returning his gaze to the TV even though neither of them had watched any of the movie so far.

With Magnus’ hands finally on him, Alec could push everything else away. He let his head fall against the arm of the couch and closed his eyes.

Every touch of Magnus’ magical hands through the damning holes in Alec’s jeans was soothing and yet erotic. Powerful yet sensual. Magnus was safety and the mad urge to risk everything.

Magnus looked soft tonight. Was touching Alec with care. But Alec had seen Magnus’ features harden in anger. Knew what those hands looked like when used to emphasize a brutally delivered point.

Everything with Magnus was like two sides of a coin. Polar opposites that could coexist…. As long as they faced away from each other.

But Alec couldn’t turn away from him.

Magnus’ hands didn’t stray from a respectable radius around Alec’s knee, then Alec shifted his position and grazed the distinct bulge between Magnus’ legs.

Alec startled and Chairman hissed and jumped off his belly.

“I told you—Chairman is capricious,” Magnus mumbled. His voice was…rough.

Alec draped his forearm over his eyes, breathing through his racing heartbeat.

“Is this helping, Alexander?”

Alec could only nod.

He sank into the cushions and Magnus’ hands moved with him, sliding above his knee. Fingers digging into his thigh, working him over, making him pliant and needy and aching for more.

Magnus wasn’t asking for anything, he was giving. And Alec was selfish—so fucking selfish—because he wanted more.

Alec scrubbed his hands over his face, trying to ignore the rush of blood thrumming through his head…and other parts of his body.

Coaxing Magnus into touching him wasn’t why he’d come here tonight. He’d needed reassurance. Known that even though Magnus was part of the problem he was also the solution. Being with Magnus made him happy and Magnus seemed just as content when he was with Alec. There couldn’t be anything more between them, but….

Shit.

Maybe pushing at both of their boundary lines had been exactly why Alec had shown up here tonight.

But he couldn’t.

He couldn’t.

“All of that gear has to be murder on your back,” Magnus said quietly. “Turn around. I’ll do your shoulders too.”

Alec couldn’t find his voice. He dropped his feet to the floor and turned for Magnus.

Alec scooted back, fitting himself into the curve of Magnus’ body as Magnus went to his knees on the couch. Magnus’ fingers dug into the tightness below his neck. Palms skating over his shoulders and down his biceps. Magnus was hovering over him. Grounding him. Shielding him.

And driving Alec insane.

It would only take one swift movement for Alec to straddle Magnus. Press Magnus into the couch and fuck against him. To crash their lips together and breathe him in….

Alec licked his lips. He was desperate to know what Magnus tasted like.

But he couldn’t.

“I should go.”

Magnus was quiet for a moment, then, “I should want you to go.”

Alec closed his eyes, sucked in a breath.

He couldn’t drag Magnus further into the lie that was his life.

Magnus didn’t deserve to live behind closed doors or to dress so that he blended in.

Magnus was out. He stood out.

He was everything Alec wished he could be.

Magnus stilled his hand at the curve of Alec’s neck, thumb resting between Alec’s shoulder blades.

“Me staying here….” Alec inhaled a steadying breath, feeling Magnus move with him. “It wouldn’t be good for either of us.”

“I’ve never been good at saying no to things that were bad for me, Alexander.”

He could feel Magnus’ warm breath on his neck. It sent shivers down his spine.

“Then I’ll do it for us.” Alec stood and Magnus’ hands fell away. Alec leaned down, placing his palms on Magnus’ neck, thumbs tracing the line of this jaw. He couldn’t stop himself. He had to know what Magnus’ skin felt like against his lips.

He placed one soft kiss on each of Magnus’ cheeks—inhaling deeply, memorizing. “Goodnight, Magnus.”

Magnus grasped onto him, holding him in place—cheek pressed against cheek. He sighed and untangled his fingers, releasing Alec. “Goodnight, Alexander.”

And Alec walked away before he couldn’t.

Chapter Text

Alec stepped onto the sidewalk outside Magnus’ apartment and flipped his hood up. He was across the river from his place—way too far to walk at this time of night—but he needed the air.

He had no idea what he was doing.

Walking away from Magnus had been nearly impossible. He’d done it because he’d thought it was right, so why did it feel so wrong? He’d never thought twice about emotionally disconnecting in order to maintain his secret because hockey always came first. But he’d never been this…open around anyone he was attracted to. He had to face this new reality—whatever it was he was feeling for Magnus had moved beyond the simplicity of attraction. He’d never wanted anyone like he wanted Magnus.

He’d walked away because he didn’t just want Magnus for sex.

Sex was easy. Wanting more from Magnus was difficult and messy and confusing and terrifying.

More just wasn’t possible right now.

He scowled and pulled his cell out of his pocket to request an Uber, unlocking his screen to find ten missed calls and six unread texts—all from Jace.

“Shit.”

Alec skipped reading the texts and hit the button to call Jace.

There was the thumping of heavy bass in the background when Jace picked up. “Ignoring me?”

“I was busy.”

“Right. Come have a drink with me.”

Alec kept walking. “Not in the mood to be yelled at, Wayland.”

“No yelling, Alec. Just…come out with me.”

Jace had that tone. The one where it was obvious he was speaking through his teeth, holding back whatever it is he really wanted to say. If Jace didn’t get a chance to speak his piece then he’d continue lashing out at Alec in passive-aggressive ways until he made both of them miserable. “Where are you?”

“Pandemonium.”

Alec stopped in his tracks. He was only blocks away from there. “It’s the night before a game and you’re at a club?”

“I know what I’m doing. Just get over here. I won’t keep you out late.”

“Fine.”

Alec pulled his duffel farther up his shoulder and made his way toward Pandemonium. He left his bag at coat check and was escorted directly to the VIP section where Jace drew him into a one-armed hug, patting his back.

“You want a drink?”

“Just water.” Alec sat down on the couch, surveying the table. There were two glass bottles—one water and one fifth of vodka. Only the water appeared to have any dent in its contents, but Alec had to comment anyway. “Please tell me you’re not drinking.”

Jace gave a carefree smile and sat down next to him.

“Whatever.” Alec leaned forward and poured himself water, then sank into the cushions and dropped his head back, sighing.

The music was like individual knifepoints pounding into his skull, Jace was conspicuously silent, and he could feel Jace’s eyes on him. Jace had said insinuated he wanted to talk. Alec had come here knowing Jace didn’t just want Alec to have a drink with him. Yet the last thing Alec wanted to do was pack his head with more complexities that he didn’t know how to piece apart.

Alec peeked at him. “I give. Just say whatever it is you need to say.”

“You gotta tell me what’s going on with you, Alec. I know the money thing’s been weighing on you, but that’s gotten better. And that douchebag financial advisor didn’t help anything yesterday. But come on. You can’t tell me it’s only that. I know you better.”

Alec considered lying, but knew Jace would eventually get it out of him anyway. “There’s someone I’m interested in and it’s— Well, it’s complicated.”

“So fuck him and get it out of your system.”

Of course that would be Jace’s solution. “It’s not like that.” Alec ran his fingers over the condensation gathering on the side of his glass. “I think I might want more from him.”

Jace barked out a laugh. “You can’t be serious.”

“What?”

“You can’t take on any kind of a relationship now,” Jace insisted. “There’s nothing more important than hockey. Nothing. I think you’ve forgotten that.”

Alec ground his teeth together and sat up. “What the fuck does that mean?”

“You let off-ice distractions get to you.” Jace pointed a finger at Alec that Alec had the mad urge to rip off. “How your personal life is going directly correlates to how focused you are on the ice.”

“My personal life is fine,” Alec said coolly.

“Is it? Because you are playing like shit!”

Alec tipped his chin up, surveying the dance floor instead of looking at Jace. “No yelling at me, huh?”

“Look. I know this mystery crush is your agent. You know it’s your agent. So let’s stop dancing around who we’re talking about.”

The arena gym…. He’d forgotten about how Jace had seemed to catch on to something then.

“His name is Magnus, Jace.”

“That—” Jace pulled his leg up on the couch and turned to face Alec full on. “That is a problem. How many guys have you fucked and known their names?”

“What’s your point?”

“My point, Alec—” Jace took a deep breath and laid his hand on Alec’s shoulder. “My point is that the bouncer over there is paid to let anyone we want up here, then look the other way. You don’t need a relationship. You need to get laid, brother.”

 

****

 

“Important messages on the top,” Clary said to Magnus as they stood next to her desk. “Papers to sign in the blue folder. Updates to your schedule should already be synced to your phone. And I ran through Slack and printed off the most relevant threads—which completely defeats the purpose of Slack, but there you go.”

Magnus filtered through the stack, assessing his priorities for the day. It may have been Sunday, but that wasn’t a day of rest when you were an agent. “How bad is my email inbox?”

“Clear. Has been for days. You’re welcome.”

Magnus looked up at her, smiling. “You are my queen.”

“Anything else I can do for you before your first appointment?”

He’d been at the office for hours—unable to sleep, twitchy—but he hadn’t checked his schedule because he knew Clary was coming in. “And who may that be?”

“Jace Wayland.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Jace Wayland of the Angels. He called yesterday to make an appointment with you.”

Magnus held back a smirk, surveying Clary’s outfit. She looked as charming and approachable as always. Jace was in a for a severe Sunday morning wake up call if he thought wooing Clary would be easy. “He works fast.”

“He insisted on today.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Magnus said wryly. “Will you join me in my office, please?”

Clary followed him, closing the door behind her. “Magnus, I want to say thank you for the raise too.”

“You’re welcome, Clary.”

“You didn’t just do it because we’re friends outside of here, right?”

“You deserve every penny of it and more,” he reassured her. “When I can get more for you I will.”

“I won’t say no to that.”

“Now.” Magnus set the stack of papers on his desk and went to the antique buffet situated against the wall of his office. “I need you to peel off your overly-competent assistant facade and shimmy into the friend zone.” He held up a cup. “And also, drink with me.”

“Is this a test?”

“If it was, biscuit, then you wouldn’t be asking me because you wouldn’t know it was a test.”

“It’s nine am.”

“It’s happy hour somewhere.” He held out a cup that she didn’t take. “As much it pains me, this is just coffee.”

She accepted the cup, cradling it in both her hands as she took a seat. “Rough day already?”

Magnus sat against the edge of his desk in front of her and stretched his legs out. “A torturous evening followed by a lovely non-dinner, then an exceedingly frustrating night capped off by a very unfulfilling morning”—he paused for effect—“when I discovered I had indeed woken up alone.”

Clary studied him and Magnus waited her out.

“You were at the game last night,” she finally said.

“I was.”

“And you didn’t go out with Izzy, Simon, and me after.”

Magnus shook his head. “I didn’t.”

“Which means you either skipped out on us for a date or someone was over at your place last night.”

“The latter.”

“And you’re being super evasive, so I’m guessing either an ex I wouldn’t approve of or someone new I won’t approve of.”

People dismissed Clary way too quickly based on how innocent she appeared to be. Magnus knew better. “The latter again.”

“You did not hook up with Elias,” Clary groaned. “I told you that man is so much trouble he practically has horns.”

“And crow’s feet.” Magnus shook his head. “Not Elias. My morning would’ve been just fine if I’d woken up without him next to me.”

“I have no idea then. None.”

He’d hoped this would’ve been a name Clary would’ve said first so he didn’t have to. “Alexander.”

She furrowed her brow. “Who? I don’t think you’ve told me about him….”

“Alec, Clary. Alec Lightwood.”

Clary paled, an impressive feat for the fair-skinned beauty. “I’m going to need a real drink.”

Magnus sighed. “I had no interest in him, Clary. You have to understand that. But something…shifted between us in LA. Then he came to my apartment last night after the game. He was so wounded and I wanted to make him feel better—”

“Tell me you didn’t take advantage of Alec after that loss,” Clary cut in.

He deserved that response. Clary knew just how fast Magnus’ bedroom door crashed open. But Alec…. Alec was different.

“His vulnerability made me want to protect him more,” Magnus asserted. “I had convinced myself I could be solely his agent, but…. There was something he said to me when we were talking about the meeting with Morgenstern— ‘I’m glad we got it over with.’ We. That one word…. It sounded right and felt right. It wasn’t as prosaic as we watched a movie or we talked—both of which we did last night. It was as if there was an us—a unit that consisted of just he and I. I haven’t been in anything serious since Camille, but this—Alec….” Magnus swallowed down the emotion creeping into his voice. “Clary, he told me that he likes it when I stand out.”

“Magnus…. He’s not out.”

He was well aware of that fact, but what he hadn’t realized until last night was, “He’s a painfully honest man caught in a situation that doesn’t allow him to honest.”

Clary’s face fell. “You like him.”

Magnus laughed darkly at that. “You told me I would. And last night made it clear that he is, at the very least, physically interested in me….”

It was more than that. Magnus was sure of that after last night. He was well acquainted with one-off encounters that were based completely on a physical need. The way Alec had held onto him and kissed his cheeks…. The pained roughness in his voice when he’d said goodnight….

Alec wanted more from him too, but he was scared.

“You haven’t answered me directly, and I don’t think you would go there,” Clary said. “But please tell me you didn’t have sex with him.”

He shook his head, then answered out loud. “No.”

I’ve never been good at saying no to things that were bad for me.

Magnus cringed at the memory of how flippant his reply to Alec had sounded. As if Alec was what was bad for him.

It pained him that Alec hadn’t disagreed.

He regretted that he hadn’t had the chance to clarify what he’d meant.

Magnus pushed away from the desk and began to pace. “He stopped us from anything happening. To be quite blunt, I was much too ready to ignore every sound reason I have and risk it all in that moment.” Not just sex, everything. “It was good that he stopped us.”

Clary sighed. “That’s where the unfulfilling morning comes in.”

“I believe I said very unfulfilling.”

“Alec doesn’t need a one night stand,” Clary pushed. “He needs someone who can give him time. Someone who will have to be very patient and wait for him to be ready to come out. And you? You were there with Camille, Magnus. You can’t— I don’t want to see either of you hurt.”

“Well, I’m representing him for the next two years.” He couldn’t filter the dejectedness out of his voice. “So we have nothing but time.”

“I heard.” Clary set her cup down and shifted in her chair to face Magnus as he paced along the wall. “But even if you could deal with waiting for him to be out, you can’t date a client. It would ruin your professional reputation.”

Intellectually, he knew that. Emotionally, he wasn’t sure anymore if that mattered. What it would take for Alec and him to give them a try was all he’d been thinking about since Alec had walked out of his door last night.

His career could be destroyed for any number of reasons at any given moment—the entertainment industry was fickle. And Alec could come out today, tomorrow, next year…. The point was Alec wanted to. Alec didn’t plan on living his life in the closet and maybe that could be enough for Magnus to take the risk now and worry about a potential hit to his career later. He wasn’t afraid of starting over—he’d been there more times than he could count and had always survived. He wasn’t averse to biding his time for something that could be good either. And the more time he spent with Alec the more he believed they could be very good.

He just had to find a path that would protect Alec. Because, like Clary, he didn’t want to see Alec hurt either.

Clary couldn’t know any of this yet, though.

“My reputation is impeccable,” Magnus dismissed.

Clary frowned. “I know that face, Magnus. Don’t try to wiggle your way around this like every other rule you don’t like. You pursuing Alec would be a disaster.”

“But?” he tried to joke.

“No but, Magnus. You and Alec would be a disaster.”

 

****

 

Alec dropped his forehead against the shower tile and let the water beat down over his shoulders.

Going out with Jace last night had been a bad idea. One Alec had known would be the wrong choice and still went through with it. His life was crammed with really poor decisions these days.

And Jace….

Jace was the devil on his shoulder, whispering the worst of ideas into his ear. Ideas that were way too tempting.

You need to get laid, brother.

There was no denying it had been too long. His skin felt stretched thin. He was in desperate need of someone else’s hands on him. Someone to draw the stress out of his bones…. But Pandemonium hadn’t been the place, and last night hadn’t been the time.

Now he was even more wrecked than he’d been leaving Magnus’ place.

This was now two nights in a row where he’d barely slept. Two nights that fell right before important games.

And two mornings when he’d woken up hard…thinking about Magnus.

Yesterday when he’d been in the shower he’d avoided every thought of bronze skin and fluid movement that flashed through his mind. Ignoring those damning visuals in favor of getting off as efficiently as he could.

This morning he…couldn’t.

This morning he gave in.

He took himself in hand and closed his eyes, starting with a slow stroke as he remembered Magnus’ lips on his collarbone at the club, heated brushes of skin that had left invisible, indelible marks in their wake.

He remembered Magnus’ lips nearly on his neck last night, so close that Alec could picture turning his head and crushing his mouth against Magnus’. Teasing his lips open with his tongue. Breathing him in and being met with the same force of need that was consuming him, both of them losing all control.

Straddling Magnus hips and rutting against him. Undoing zippers and stroking Magnus’ length just like he was doing to himself right now. His own calloused fingers circled his cock—fingers that he wanted to be the smoothness of Magnus’. The coolness of metal rings and the warmth of agile hands gripping him tight and driving him to the edge.

Him undressing Magnus piece by piece until he was naked beneath him. Skin to skin, fingers aching to touch everywhere. Needing to taste Magnus and dropping to his knees to take Magnus’ cock in his mouth. Magnus yanking on his hair and thrusting into his throat until Alec couldn’t breathe….

Alec groaned as he came, sliding his hand slowly over his cock until he was shivering despite the steaming water beating down his back.

He flipped the temperature up and placed his forearm on the tile, slumping, resting his forehead on his arm as he caught his breath.

“Shit,” he said out loud. “That was too good.”

The real thing would be even better—Magnus’ hands were too graceful and strong not to make a complete mess of him—but it wasn’t like he’d ever know.

Alec stepped out of the shower and spotted the flashing light on his cell on the counter, a heavy dose of shame flooding his cheeks when he saw Magnus’ name on his screen.

Alec grimaced at himself in the foggy mirror. “You just jerked off to Magnus while he was texting you. Great. This is just…great.”

Alec wrapped a towel around his waist and ran a hand over his beard as he opened the text.

Did you have a chance to speak to Max?

Business.

Exactly what their first communication since last night should’ve been, but Alec was still…disappointed.

Having breakfast with him. I’ll text when I’m done

Magnus’ reply came almost immediately. Let me know if you need help

Alec began to respond when the reply bubbles popped up. He waited.

Offer for tea still open. If you have time

That text wasn’t business. Not really.

It was an opening of sorts. Maybe a way for to Magnus to show that things didn’t have to change between them? Maybe a come on? Fuck. Alec had no idea.

Practice after I meet Max. Thx tho

Alec paused. Continued to type. Coming tonight?

I’ll be there

K

Alec swore under his breath. “Well, this isn’t awkward at all.”

 

****

 

“Mr. Bane?” Clary’s voice came over the intercom, crisp and professional. “Mr. Wayland is here to see you.”

Magnus stood and buttoned his jacket, opening his door to find Clary sitting at her desk—back ramrod straight—and Jace with his arms crossed, glancing woundedly at her like a puppy who’d been sent to his crate by his master.

Magnus held back a smile, and offered his hand. “Mr. Wayland, it’s good to see you again so soon.”

Jace’s eyes flickered to Clary before he shook Magnus’ hand. “Thanks, you too.”

“Alec left me with the impression that you didn’t leave the arena if you didn’t have to.”

“Alec is taking care of…stuff too.”

Magnus took in Jace’s response. Jace hadn’t denied Alec’s statement and Jace was protective of Alec—maintaining Alec’s privacy. Jace and Alec were likely much more a bonded pair than Alec had let on. “Is he now? That all sounds very official. Please come in.”

Magnus led Jace into the office, gesturing at his own jaw as they walked. “So you don’t share Alec’s superstition about magical chin follicles?”

“I don’t do the playoff beard thing. Can’t really grow one—” Jace’s face scrunched up in frustration as he dropped into the seat across from Magnus’ desk. “Anyway… I’d like your advice actually.”

Instead of going behind his desk, Magnus took the seat next to Jace. “About Clary?”

“What? No.”

“I was under the impression you were here for Clary.”

“Okay, yeah—she’s hot, but I don’t think she likes me?” If Jace’s inflection and expression were any indication, rejection wasn’t a natural state for the Angels’ supernova. To Magnus’ fascination, within one breath Jace’s demeanor had changed, though. He licked his lips, tipped his head to the side and the cockiness rolled off him in waves. “Whatever. I’m here on business. Hoping you can give me some insider info on working with IE. My agent is useful as a flaccid dick. I don’t want him taking a cut of the next contract I sign, especially the next one.”

“Well then. Let me apologize first for assuming you were here for other reasons.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t give you a reason to think otherwise.”

Magnus waved a hand in the air. “Granted. Let’s move on. Tell me, how restrictive is your agreement with your agency?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been as involved with any of this as I should’ve been. I can have my lawyer give you a call.”

“Okay. And how much longer do you have on your contract with the Angels?”

“Two more months.”

“Same as Alec’s.”

Jace shrugged. “We signed around the same time.”

“There are legalities we would need to work through, but I’ll be surprised if any of them are insurmountable. IE will be happy to accept you into their family.”

“Not IE.” Jace pointed at Magnus. “You. I don’t want another sports agent—I want you.”

“I’m sorry. Could you repeat that, please?”

“You heard me,” Jace said with all confidence. “And I know you want me too.”

Magnus restrained a smirk. “Well, Mr. Wayland. This is not a situation I thought would be presented to me this morning.”

“It’s Jace.”

“Very well,” Magnus allowed. “Have your attorney call me, Jace. We’ll go from there. I won’t keep you away from Alec and the arena any longer than necessary.”

Magnus stood and Jace followed him, placing his hand on Magnus’ arm. Magnus didn’t flinch away from the touch, but he didn’t welcome it either. Jace seemed to catch on and quickly let go.

“About Alec. He can’t know about this yet.”

Magnus didn’t divulge anything to do with his clients’—or prospective clients’—business without their permission, but Jace wouldn’t know that. “You tell me how you want to move forward. I’ll keep this quiet until we can discuss it further.”

“Good… Just— One more thing.” Jace ran his hands through his hair. “I’m here because I trust Alec and he trusts you. But I’m also here…. I’m also here because I love him. He’s the only brother I’ve ever had.”

Magnus apparently hadn’t really looked at Jace until now, because he was only just seeing the differing the colors of Jace’s eyes as they locked onto him—intent. Whatever Jace was trying to tell Magnus was important to him. “I don’t understand.”

Jace chuckled at that. “I don’t either. But that doesn’t matter. He’s a good guy. So just…. Watch out for him, okay?”

“I will,” Magnus replied without hesitation.

Jace grinned and patted him on the back.

Magnus let him this time.

 

****

 

Alec pulled his cap on and headed out the door of his building, catching a cab to the restaurant where he was meeting Max. The car jolted into movement and Alec caught the cabbie glancing back at him. He was used to being recognized on occasion. Hockey players weren’t well known everywhere, but the Angels were a popular team. A popular team royally fucking over the city if the sports station that was currently booming out of the radio was any indication. Alec slid his sunglasses on and tried to ignore the commentary about the clusterfuck that had been his loss last night, but the cabbie kept eyeing him the mirror.

“Going to lose tonight too?”

Alec gritted his teeth. “Don’t plan on it.”

The man clucked his tongue. “The least you can do is put in a fight.”

Alec held back a sneer.

It didn’t matter that he’d been a pro for seven years, he still wasn’t entirely comfortable dealing with the public. Fan service took a lot out of him. Fan critique even more. But he deserved the criticism. He deserved every iota of frustration painted across this guy’s face. He couldn’t go into tonight’s game broken or weak. He had to bring the fight.

He took a deep breath. “Yeah, I’ll do that.”

The cabbie’s face brightened. “Excellent, my friend.”

The cabbie waved off the fare when he dropped Alec at the corner of Essex and Rivington, and Alec thanked him—handing him a twenty dollar bill anyway and one of his customized business cards. “Call the number on the card and tell them I asked you to call.” He tapped the side of the car and headed inside the Essex.

The hostess led him to a table in a back corner where Max sat with his back to the rest of the tables, giving Alec the seat he always preferred—where he could watch who was around him. He touched Max’s shoulder and Max stood, wrapping him in a hug.

“Guessing this isn’t a new pre-game ritual,” Max said, still holding him tight.

“It’s not,” Alec confirmed. “Sorry, Max.”

Max squeezed him one more time then sat down. “So tell me. You’re making me nervous.”

Alec removed his sunglasses and flipped his baseball cap so it sat backwards, taking the seat across from Max. “The son of Valentine Morgenstern approached me with a million dollar check yesterday. He said it was all they’d been able to recover so far and he was giving it to me to regain my trust. Then he proceeded to threaten your search for venture capital if I didn’t accept his check and set a meeting between you and him.”

“What a fuck bag!” Max shook his head in disbelief then picked up his menu. “You doing carbs or protein? Can never remember what your diet is on game day.”

Alec gaped. He pushed Max’s menu to the table. “Are you listening to me, Max? He is well connected. His threat could be legitimate.”

“He’s threatening you, Alec—not me—and not even very well. I’ll make my own way. I don’t want his money either, and if that keeps me out of circles that associate with him, then even better.”

Alec sat back. “How do you know I didn’t take his money?”

Max barked out a laugh. “You? No way.”

“Well, I didn’t. Just to make that clear. And Magnus wants to report our meeting to the state attorney’s office. So they may try to contact you.”

“As long as the five-o don’t fuck with my finals—that’s cool.”

Alec couldn’t help but chuckle. He hadn’t expected his brother to freak out, but he was constantly surprised how genuinely sure of himself Max was. He picked up his own menu, even though he ordered the same thing every time he came here. “Protein, carbs, and a lot of calories. That’s my game day diet.”

Max nodded. “So what else is going on?”

“Besides extortion and tanking in the net last night?” Alec shrugged. “Not much.”

“I’m totally going to be that guy because it’s who I am. You look like shit, Alec. And not just post-game I’m-so-pissed-at-myself shit.”

“Long day in general yesterday,” Alec hedged. “Long season. Which is great, don’t get me wrong, it’s just…. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for life outside hockey.”

“Thought hockey was your life.”

Max waved at someone, but Alec ignored him in favor of studying the menu. Max seemed to know someone wherever they went.

“It is,” Alec answered, reading through the list of brunch options to see if there was anything besides the usual that caught his eye. “It’s just…. Maybe I want more? I don’t know. I’ve never really done the dating thing. Hook ups only when…needed. Jace says I need to get laid—” Alec looked up to find their waitress standing next to the table. His cheeks went molten.

“Yeah, I don’t think he’s interested in ordering that,” Max quipped to the woman.

Alec cleared his throat and tried to dredge up even a drop of dignity. “I’ll have the Aristocrat with fresh fruit on the side. Skip the drinks.”

“I’ll have the Deep South and skip the drinks.” Max handed over the menus, giving the waitress a dazzling smile. “The Lightwood brothers don’t need alcohol. We’re naturally intoxicating.”

Alec stared at his brother in disbelief. “Do you have an off switch?”

The waitress simply rolled her eyes as she walked away.

“I’m going to have to tip her one hundred percent,” Alec said.

“Worth it. Anyway, you were saying?”

Alec looked around this time to make sure no one was listening. “Jace says my personal life is messing with how I play and he thinks I need to laid.”

“So you come to your brother for help? I think we need to work on some boundary setting.”

“Give it a rest, Max. I need someone to talk to about this. Can you cut out the sarcasm for five minutes?”

“Dude. Why so surly? Maybe you need to get laid.”

Alec pushed back and started to get up from his chair.

Max yanked on his sleeve. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Sit back down. I’ll be serious.”

Alec scowled and sat back down.

Max picked up his water and took a drink. “Do you want to get laid?”

“I can’t tell if you’re being serious or fucking with me more.”

“It’s a serious question, Alec. Do you want to get laid?”

“Well, yeah.”

Max set his glass down and leaned forward. “You need to call Magnus.”

His skin was going to melt off his bones. He was sure of it. “What? Why?”

“To get laid? Because the two of you are boning?”

Alec sputtered. “Me and Magnus— We— We’re not.”

“Oh shit.” Max sat back and nodded. “Then…. Right. Okay. You still need to call Magnus.”

“Why?” Alec protested.

“To get laid! Why is this so difficult for you?”

“What?” Alec asked, incredulous.

“What?” Max retorted, confused.

Alec leaned forward, whispering. “How the hell did you know there was…something…there? You’ve never even seen Magnus and me together.”

“To be honest, I was just fucking with you. I didn’t actually think you and Magnus were doing it. I thought it was a one-sided fantasy on Magnus’ part, but that color”—he circled a pointed finger around Alec’s face—“is not one-sided.”

“I don’t like him,” Alec denied. Badly.

Like him? Yeah, well now I know you totally do.”

Alec set his elbows on the table and scrubbed his hands over his face. “Nothing has happened between the two of us.”

“But you want it to.”

“Maybe. I don’t know.” Max raised one eyebrow and Alec caved. “Yes, okay? Yes. But it’s not going to. I was at his place last night and nothing happened and it’s confusing me and…killing me.”

“I don’t get it. Is he not into you?”

Alec shook his head. “No, he is. But I can’t be with him, Max. Not really.”

“Why? Because there’s”—Max made air quotes with his fingers—“really big reasons, and”—more air quotes—“super challenging obstacles, and it’s”—still more air quotes—“a bad idea that could turn your world upside down? Did I get that right?”

“Yes?”

Max scoffed. Again. “I know pulling punches is your thing, but you’ll never change anything if you don’t switch up the batting order.”

“You’re mixing your sports metaphors,” Alec pointed out.

“How’s this? Learn to take a risk, Alec.”

It was finally Alec’s turn to scoff.

“No, really. You’re not happy with how your life is going, so change it. And to do that you’re going to have to not play by the rules. I know that’s not you and it goes against everything you are, but start somewhere—anywhere. There’s risk in everything in life, but the biggest risks have the biggest payoff in the end. Honestly? You need to watch some rom coms, Alec. This is pretty much a conversation straight out of all of them.”

“No way.”

“You’d learn a lot,” Max insisted.

“Not happening.”

Max reached his hand across the table and laid it on Alec’s. “I’ll be here for you when it’s time, big brother.”

Alec grinned, he couldn’t help it. “Shut the fuck up, Max.”

“Can I just say one more thing?”

Alec huffed. “Do you have to?”

“Yeah, I do. Think about the other guys you’ve hooked up with over the years. Were any of them like Magnus? I like the guy—not gonna lie about that. But he’s so out. Maybe you’re attracted to him because of that.”

Alec considered that. “You think I’m attracted to what he represents more than him?”

“You gotta answer that for yourself.”

Alec scowled. When had his life gotten so confusing? “Maybe.”

 

****

 

Night of Game Two

(Series tally - Devils lead one game to none)

 

“You know,” Max called out as he approached Magnus, “it’s a pretty well established superstition that if you sit on the Raziel statue that you’re doomed to an eternity of forced abstinence.”

Magnus practically flew off the base of the statue in front of the Angels’ arena at Max’s words. Max had texted him to meet up here and—despite the cleanliness of the majestic statue’s base and the lack of seating elsewhere—he’d been surprised to find no one else sitting there. “A mascot that enforces permanent chastity sounds more hellish than heavenly.”

Max chuckled. “I’m fucking with you. Good to know where your priorities are though.”

Magnus glared at Max and pulled at the cuffs of his shirt. “Where’s Isabelle?”

“It’s just you and me tonight. Izzy decided to switch up tradition and stay with her hubs and Clary in the zamboni room. Honestly, I think she just wanted to bang Simon on the zamboni while Clary watches.”

The mental images were too much. “That is information I never needed to know.”

Max cackled. “Magnus! I’m messing with you on that too. Wow. Your bullshit radar is off today. You lose some key brain cells overnight or something?”

Magnus sniffed. “I’m fine.”

“Sure ya are,” Max drawled, looking completely unconvinced.

“I’m simply focused on not trampling on any of Alec’s delicate web of superstition.”

“Uh-huh. So that explains the change to a shiny shirt and layers of silver jewelry today?”

He may have chosen this shirt because of how boldly it would set him apart from everyone else in the arena tonight. “This shirt is a Versace.”

“Oh my god, you and my brother are total opposites.” Max looped his arm into Magnus’ and guided him toward the queue for security. “You look great, by the way. Nice to see the real Magnus showing up to this game.”

Magnus smiled. “So where did the self-pilfering Robin Hood place us tonight?”

“We’re actually in one of the players’ suites. Alec only gave away two of his three tickets, Jace had an extra one, and Izzy was set on staying with Simon, so it’s you and me.”

You and me.

We.

Magnus was entwined with the Lightwood family in ways he didn’t want to unravel. Much too attached to all of them, yet with a gap between his life and theirs that he hoped to find a way to bridge. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, young Lightwood. Let’s get a picture to send to Alexander.”

 

****

 

Alec took to the ice with a mix of applause and boos that were audible despite the blaring music. It was a first for him. He’d been booed during a game, but never before.

He blew out a long breath and headed for the crease.

He knew from his pre-game texts that Magnus was up in the suite—with Max—looking gorgeous, standing out just as Alec had told him he liked. It was comforting and disconcerting all at the same time.

In that same suite was the cab driver who he’d given tickets to earlier today. A man that had reminded Alec he needed to not just show up—he needed to fight.

If he was ever going to change his life then it was going to be a fight. An internal battle to overcome his own fear, and an external one to stand tall against all of the people who would view him differently because he was gay. He had to learn to shake off people’s disapproval of him in life just like he did on the ice.

He wasn’t ready for all of this yet, but if he was ever going to be then he needed to bring everything he had to the things that mattered.

He was going to bring the fight tonight.

Because he needed to start living for all the pieces of himself that made him proud.

 

****

 

Magnus eased back in his seat and took a drink of his lemon drop martini. Lemon wasn’t usually a favorite flavor of his, but the balance of sour and sweet in the martini was stunning, the color of his drink matched his shirt, and it had been free—delivered to him by the suite waitstaff. Magnus could get used to this level of pampering very quickly.

“He looks solid tonight,” Max observed. “Much better than last night.”

“He does,” Magnus acknowledged.

There had been a selfish part of him that had hoped Alec would struggle tonight, because maybe that meant Alec had been affected as Magnus by last night. But Magnus had pushed that thought aside as quickly as it had flown through his mind. Magnus didn’t ever want to see Alec as broken as he’d been after that loss. And Alec walking away was exactly what had needed to happen—for both of their sakes.

“Speaking with you this morning had to ease his mind,” Magnus said to Max.

“That egotistical prick Morgenstern can fuck off. Did Alec tell you I’m in for however you want to handle reporting that meeting?”

“He texted me after your breakfast. But I wasn’t expecting any other answer. Everyone in your family seems very…forthright. Focused on doing what it honorable.”

“Probably because our parents aren’t.”

Magnus let that subject sit. There wasn’t anything he could contribute to a discussion on parents that wouldn’t increase the bitterness factor.

Max relaxed into his seat, bumping up against Magnus. “You know, there’s very little that eases Alec’s mind. You seem to, though.”

Magnus took a healthy gulp of his martini, piecing together what Max wasn’t saying out loud. “Alec told you what didn’t happen last night.”

“Yup.”

The sourness of lemon churned in his stomach. “I don’t believe anything to do with me is restful for Alec at this point.”

“Maybe.” Max’s lips tipped up in a ghost of a smile. “But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

 

****

 

Alec glanced at the scoreboard, checking the time. Thirteen minutes left in the second period. One to one.

Bring the fight, he repeated in his head as he crouched down and surveyed the ice.

He wasn’t at his best tonight, but he was much more focused than he’d been in the first game. The Devils’ were coming at them hard, trying to exploit the weaknesses they’d uncovered last night. So far the Angels were holding their own. He was holding his own, despite the Devils’ center’s attempts to throw Alec off his game by sticking close to the goal.

Blackwell had gotten in three goals last night, and Alec wouldn’t allow one of his shots through tonight.

“Time, time, time, Santiago,” he called out as Raphael took possession of the puck behind his net, letting his center know he had time to set up the play before the Devils were on them again.

Santiago appeared in Alec’s peripheral vision, rushing past in a blur, then passing to the right winger. The puck bounced between the Angels offensive players and the Devils skated hard, going for force in their hits instead of any finesse in stealing the puck.

Alec watched as the angle of Jace’s shoulders changed and Alec held his breath, waiting for the shot he knew was coming. The red light lit up behind the Devils’ net and Jace skated away with his fist pumping in the air as the fans took to their feet and the arena dropped into raucous chaos.

One to two with half of the game left to play.

Alec flipped his cage up and took a swig of water while they set up for the faceoff.

Thirty more minutes to play.

The defense was trying to keep Blackwell off him and the offense was getting their shots in. It was Alec’s job now to maintain the Angels’ lead.

Bring the fight, he thought again, and settled into his crouch.

 

****

 

Max glared at the rink, then up at the bank of TVs in front of the suite. “The refs should be calling Blackwell for interference. I don’t know why they’re letting that slide.”

“Tough call to make, my friend,” the man next to Magnus said. “He’s lingering just long enough and close enough to make his presence known but not enough to be penalized.”

“It looks like that shit is already pissing Alec off.”

Magnus glanced at the TVs. He couldn’t see what they were seeing. “I don’t understand.”

The man next to him leaned in. “Players aren’t allowed to do anything that keeps the goaltender from defending the net. It’s a gray area with much fervent discussion on what is interfering and what is not.”

“Ah. Yes, I could see Alexander being a bit territorial when it comes to his space.”

The man quirked an eyebrow. “Do you know Alec Lightwood?”

Max beamed and reached across Magnus to shake the man’s hand. “I’m Max—his brother. And this is his agent Magnus.”

“Ibrahim,” the man said as he shook their hands. “I see the resemblance now. Your brother is a generous man. He was in my cab this morning and I, well, I may have been a bit stern with him. But he gave me tickets to tonight. I brought my wife.” He pointed to the woman in a Wayland jersey standing at the railing of the suite, cheering. “She’s a huge fan.”

“So what did you say to him?” Max asked.

“Not to lose again.”

Max guffawed. “Awesome. I’m sure he’s taken that to heart. He does every piece of criticism he gets.”

“Well now I feel really bad.”

“Nah, don’t sweat it. No one is harder on Alec than he is on himself.”

Ibrahim smiled and went back to chatting with Max, but Magnus was studying Alec. There was no doubt Alec was playing better tonight, but the way he was carrying himself—the way he was moving—was different.

Tighter. More aggressive.

They had thirty minutes left to find out whether or not that change would lead to a win.

 

****

 

Blackwell swished by Alec again, skates cutting into the line surrounding the crease, but not snowing him or making any contact. He was skirting the edges of an interference call—had been since late in the first period. The refs had already given him one warning but Blackwell kept pressing in.

The Angels defense was working to keep the puck out of the defensive zone at all—and succeeding more often than not, giving Alec some breathing room—but Alec had no doubt that when Blackwell got a real chance to challenge Alec, he would.

Alec had to shut this down now or face the possibility of Blackwell and the other Devils fucking with his area for the rest of the series.

Bring the fight, he repeated until the sentence started to take on a whole new meaning.

Despite Jace being the captain, the other players relied more on Alec for on-ice instructions. The pin in their grenade Garroway had called him. If the Angels were going to make it to the championship then they had to find a better balance.

He and Jace had been playing together for so long that sometimes being on the ice with him felt more natural than breathing. They communicated with each other on another level than the rest of the team, and Alec needed to give the whole team space to learn to communicate with Jace the same way. He needed to command his net and allow Jace control of the rest.

Learn to take a risk.

As soon as the horn sounded ending the second period, Alec skated up next to Jace, slowing him. “Hang back. We gotta talk.”

“What’s up?”

“The defense is spending too much time protecting me and not enough getting the puck to the forward line. I’m known for keeping my cool on the ice and the Devils are playing all of us—using that to their advantage to get as close to the net as possible and distract the defense. I’m letting that happen. I know you all have my back but I’m not made of fucking glass. I need to make a statement. Let Blackwell know he’s not allowed near my goal. You know what that could mean, right?”

Jace pulled off his glove and swiped his hand over his lips. “How dirty are we talking here?”

“Nothing that will get me suspended. I hope.”

“Shit. Got it. Give the refs one more shot to get it right. They don’t, then do what you need to. I know you’re not fucking fragile, but I’ll still have your back.”

Alec pulled Jace forward and knocked his mask against Jace’s helmet. “You always do, brother.”

 

****

 

“What was that about?” Magnus asked Max, pointing at the ice.

Max stopped devouring the burrito in his hands and squinted at Magnus. “What?”

“Just before they went down the tunnel Alexander pulled Jace aside. I’ve never seen him do that before.”

“Holy shit, you’ve got it bad. You know what Alec’s usual routine is at intermissions?”

“I don’t— He’s—” Magnus sputtered. He straightened a lock of hair off his forehead and leveled Max with a death stare. “Aren’t there leftover rib bones you have yet to gnaw the meat off of?”

Max snorted. “I’m guessing I’m not the only one thinking about gnawing meat tonight.”

Magnus glowered. “Shut up, Max.”

 

****

 

The front of the net was a flurry of sticks, skates, elbows, and a mad dash for the puck. There was no way for Alec to keep track of exactly where it was in the crease pileup. He kept low, in a full butterfly, mitt ready and stick protecting his five hole as he tried not to be jostled out of position. He caught a flash of black and propelled his stick forward between skates, sending the puck out of the melee and both teams chasing after it.

He got to his feet and heard Jace yell at one of the refs. “They’re fucking eating dinner in his goddamn crease. You gotta fucking call that!” The refs attention never left play farther down the ice.

Alec gritted his teeth and went back into position, readying for play heading his way again. Blackwell charged forward, intent on the goal even though he didn’t have the puck, setting up in a position that blocked Alec’s view of the action.

“Screen slot, screen slot,” Alec barked out to let his defense know he couldn’t see the puck.

Alec stayed in position, deflecting a shot that came out of nowhere and Blackwell continued to encroach.

Before he could overthink it, Alec brought his elbow back and slammed his blocker into the side of Blackwell’s thigh, then a second time, shoving Blackwell away and sending him reeling in an exaggerated whip of arms and flailing legs to the ice.

Alec knew the whistle was coming before he even heard it.

 

****

 

“Oh shit,” Max swore as he surged to his feet, his hands on his head. Max looked to Magnus with disbelief then whipped his head around to the ice again, yelling, “What. The. Fuck. Alec?!”

Magnus looked to Ibrahim for an explanation.

“That’s a game misconduct,” Ibrahim explained, his eyes wide. “He’s ejected. Out for the rest of the game.”

Magnus gaped. “And now what?”

“Backup goalie.” Ibrahim said. “I don’t know who that is.”

“Jordan Kyle.” Max still looked stunned as he slumped into his seat. “Alec started sixty-two games this season. Kyle hasn’t seen much action.”

“He has less than ten minutes to play,” Magnus pointed out. “And the Angels are ahead.”

Max grumbled a ripe swear and scrubbed his hands over his face. “It only takes one second to score.”

 

****

 

“What the motherfuck was that, Lightwood?” Garroway yelled at Alec as he exited the ice.

Alec kept his jaw clamped shut and didn’t say anything as he clambered back to the locker room, Kadir following him.

Alec calmly removed his gear and sank onto the bench as Kadir flipped on the TV.

“Ice?” Kadir asked.

“Yeah.”

Alec stretched out his leg and let Kadir situate the bag over his knee.

Kadir sat down next to him, looking up at the TV as Kyle entered the rink.

Alec took a deep breath, stomach flipping as he watched the refs set up the faceoff to restart play.

 

****

 

There was a chorus of boos at the first goal Kyle let in, tying the game with six minutes left in the third.

Then the arena went silent.

With Alec off the ice, the Angels skated hard, keeping the puck in the offensive zone and taking shot after shot—each one deflected—as time ticked down.

With less than thirty seconds left in the game, Garroway pulled Kyle out of the net to gain a sixth man on the ice for the Angels. Max surged to his feet as the Angels and Devils battled for control of the puck in front of the Devils’ net. Santiago slapped a shot that ricocheted off the post, the crowd groaning in unison. Pangborn bashed his way through the line and drew the puck out again, passing to Jace, who was whirled around by a massive Devils’ defenseman barreling over him. The D-man stole the puck and surged forward, burying the puck in the empty net as the final buzzer sounded.

“What the fuck just happened?” Max said in disbelief.

Magnus stared at the scoreboard, trying to make sense of it all.

Devils - 3. Angels - 2.

The game was over.

They were down two games to none in the series.

 

****

 

Alec forced himself to meet every set of eyes as the Angels trudged into the locker room—some defiant, some exhausted, all of them defeated—until Coach Garroway walked through the door and leveled Alec with a savage glare. Alec ran a hand over his beard and looked away.

“I don’t know what the fuck happened out there tonight,” Garroway started in on them, the timbre of his voice a near growl. Regardless of the grimace on his face, Garroway was outwardly calm. The kind of calm that every player learned to fear. “We are down two games and our next two games are on the road. I expect each of you to bring your brains to work tomorrow and not just your bodies. We’ll review tape of this fuckfest starting at seven am. Until then, get the fuck out of my arena.”

Garroway stalked into his office, leaving the door open as usual—an ever-present threat.

“Lightwood fucked us again,” one of the third line defensemen gritted out just loud enough for everyone to hear.

Jace was in the guy’s space immediately. “Lightwood? If Alec hadn’t made it clear that the Devils needed to stay the fuck back, then they would’ve gotten even more aggressive than they already are. Our goalies took twenty-eight shots on goal and only let two in. You want to talk about job performance, then tell me how you let that D-man slip past you and get to me? Or how one man managed to mind fuck us all? We do our jobs and the Devils don’t spend time in front of our goal. All of us made mistakes out there tonight. We fucked ourselves tonight.” The guy gave a clipped nod and Jace stood tall, running a hand through his sweat-soaked hair. He looked around the locker room, a lazy smile spreading across his face. “I don’t know how all of you feel, but I think fucking is much more fun as a team sport.”

“Amen,” Pangborn called out. “Did you see that prissy ass Blackwell flailing on the ice? He was brought to his knees by our motherfucking goalie.”

The tone of the locker room shifted immediately. Alec huffed out a laugh as Jace dropped onto the bench next to him.

“Fucking is more fun as a team sport, huh?”

Jace grinned. “You should try that at least once.”

“Being worried about one other person is enough for me. Thanks.”

Jace gestured at Alec’s head. “You okay up there?”

“Yeah,” he answered honestly. “I am.”

“That was fucking crazy, Alec.”

He shrugged. “I had to take the risk.”

Jace’s eyes narrowed. “Who the hell are you? I’ve never seen you do anything like that.”

“I figured I had an eighty-twenty shot. Twenty percent chance the refs wouldn’t catch it, eighty percent chance they would, and a one hundred percent chance that I wouldn’t get Blackwell’s ass out of my face for the rest of the series if he didn’t think I was a bit deranged. I went against my gut and hit him.”

“You owned that goal tonight. I meant what I said—this loss is on all of us. We should’ve been able to keep the puck away from the net when both you and Kyle were in it—and especially when Kyle wasn’t in it. We’re too used to you deflecting almost everything. We rely on you too much. That is something your captain needs to make sure changes.”

Alec pursed his lips and nodded. “Okay.”

“Lightwood!” Garroway yelled. “In my office now.”

Jace slapped him on the back and Alec plodded into Garroway’s office, shutting the door behind him.

“Sit down. I’ve been notified that you won’t be receiving a one game suspension for your hit on Blackwell but you will be paying a fine plus additional penalties. Front office will be in contact with your agent to give him all the details.”

Alec blew out a sigh of relief. “Got it.”

Garroway leaned forward on his desk. “The Devils are going to be pissed you didn’t get that suspension.”

“They play any more aggressively than they already are, they’re going to spend the entire third game in the box.”

“We can hope.” Garroway ran his fingers over his mouth as he studied Alec. “I can’t believe I have to say this to you out of all the jackoffs in there—that is now two games you’ve let your emotions get the best of you.”

“It wasn’t emotional at all, Coach. It was a calculated risk.”

“A calculated risk? Well your calculations were way the fuck off. You don’t fucking touch another player, you hear me?”

“I hear you, Coach.”

“You get your shit together or I will personally yank you out of that goal by your neck.”

It wasn’t that long ago that he’d been sitting in this exact same chair with Clary crying on the phone as Alec begged her to get control of herself. He could hear Clary’s voice in his head as he repeated what she’d said that day. “My shit has been gathered, Coach.”

Garroway dismissed him with a wave of his hand.

Then, “And Alec?”

Alec cracked his neck and turned around to face his Coach.

Garroway was…smiling?

“Unofficially, Blackwell deserved that hit. But you didn’t hear that from me.”

 

****

 

You have fun with Max?

Magnus re-read the text from Alec and looked up at Max. “He wants to know if we had fun.”

“If we had fun?” Max bellowed, heads turning in their direction from other tables in the bar. “Is he kidding? How can he just— And he texts you back before me? Give that to me.”

Magnus passed his cell over to Max and watched him type out a reply.

Max smirked—the first real smile Magnus had seen on his lips since Alec was ejected from the game—and handed the phone back to Magnus.

The last message sent to Alec was: Ur brother is more fun than a bag of dicks

Magnus shook his head. “Really, Max?”

“Hang on, give it back.”

Magnus did. More out of curiosity than anything else.

Max emphatically pressed the screen with one finger. “There.”

“The poop emoji?”

“He’ll know what that means.”

Magnus set his phone on the table in disgust. “You’ve soiled my entire thread with him. Feel better now?”

“No,” Max insisted—frowning—then broke into a sly grin. “Okay, yeah.”

Magnus’ phone pinged.

MAX. Give the phone back to Magnus

I have control again, Magnus typed. Your (or ur) brother is a delight

Max leaned forward. “Ask him what the hell.”

Max wishes me to ask you what the hell

Alec’s reply came right away. Where are you?

Magnus looked to Max. “Where are we again?”

“Tell him the bar.”

Magnus arched an eyebrow and complied.

Vague location sent, Magnus set his phone down again and picked up his scotch. “I still don’t understand why we had to come here. We’re in the opposite direction from Columbia and you can’t even drink—”

“Shhh,” Max interrupted, shifting so he was facing the front of the bar. “I’m trying to hold on to my anger and Alec will walk through that door right about…now.”

Magnus stared at the door expecting Alec to magically appear through some sort of portal. A beat of silence passed and Magnus peeked at Max. “Now?”

“Okay. Now.”

Magnus glanced sideways again at Max when Alec didn’t materialize.

“Oh my god,” Max groaned. “He can’t even get this right.”

“Max,” Magnus pleaded. “Alec was a wreck after last night’s game. I know your default mode is antagonistic, but go easy on—”

“Now!” Max yelled, throwing his hands in the air as Alec pushed into the bar. “What the hell, Alec?”

 

****

 

Alec waved at the bartender and shook his head when offered a drink. Magnus was studying Alec with care as he approached, as if he wasn’t sure what mental state Alec would be in after that game. Alec smiled to reassure him and Magnus ducked his head, putting just as much scrutiny on the drink in front of him as he’d just had on Alec.

It was the first time he’d seen Magnus since last night, and yeah, this thing—whatever it was between them—was still there.

Alec tried to get his beating heart under control and took the seat next to Max, finally answering his brother’s question. “I was defending my goal.”

“See! That’s not you. Being this chill about being ejected? You being thrown out of a game has only happened one other time, and that time….” Max grimaced. “I thought for sure you’d lost it.”

“So you decided yelling at him will help that?” Magnus interjected.

Max whipped his head around and shushed Magnus.

“I didn’t lose it,” Alec replied. “I knew exactly what I was doing and Jace and I discussed it. Blackwell wasn’t backing off and I had to send him a message or else he’d be on me for the rest of the series.”

“A message that started the cascade of the team losing!” Max protested, his voice rising in volume with each word. “That was idiotic. Reckless. Asinine. Risky—” Max stopped himself abruptly. “Oh.”

Learn to take a risk.

Hitting Blackwell had been a dangerous choice, with immediate shitty consequences, but Alec was betting on the long-term payoff. Learning to take risks, even when it made him uncomfortable. One risk at a time.

Alec could only nod to his brother in reply.

The set of Max’s shoulders eased and he took a drink from his water. “Cool.”

“‘Cool?’” Magnus said with disbelief. “You’ve been furious with him for the last hour.”

“Nah, we’re cool.”

“Lightwoods,” Magnus muttered under his breath just loud enough for Alec to hear. And for Alec to get achingly lost in the warmth and familiarity he heard in that one word.

Alec reached out and gently tugged at the cuff of Magnus’ shirt. Magnus looked even more stunning in person than he had in the pre-game picture he’d sent. “I…. I, uh, like this.”

Magnus visibly swallowed before he answered. “Thank you.”

“Wow,” Max said, startling Alec. “It’s late. So, so late. And I have class and….” Max stood. “Why am I even trying? You two just stay here and have fun.”

Alec’s cheeks flamed. “Night, Max.”

Magnus glared at Max. “Always a delight. You traitorous bastard.”

“I have no regrets.” Max tapped the table then made his way out of the bar.

Leaving Alec alone with Magnus.

Alec watched Max until he’d disappeared from sight, then took a breath and faced Magnus. “So my brother just set us up.”

“I’d strangle him if I didn’t think he’d find a way to make an inappropriate joke about that too.”

Alec smiled. He liked that Magnus had been protective when Max started railing on him. He liked that Magnus got along with his siblings. He liked Magnus. Way too much for his own good.

Magnus shifted in his seat and played with his ear cuff. “Am I to assume by your swift arrival that you live in Gramercy?”

“Literally next door. I love this neighborhood.”

Magnus circled both his hands around his glass as if he needed something to do with them. “Max…. He shared with me that you told him about…last night. I’ll be quite honest, Alexander, after what didn’t happen….” Magnus furrowed his brow, staring into his drink as if the melting ice would hold the same answers as a fortuneteller’s tea leaves. His fingers twisted around the cocktail napkin under his glass. “I don’t know how to do this.”

Seeing Magnus flustered was…new. “Yeah, me either.”

Magnus lifted his eyes at that, tipping his head to the side. The lines between his eyebrows remained. “I don’t want to be sad around you, Alexander.”

“Same,” Alec replied immediately. He didn’t know what he was doing, but he knew he didn’t want Magnus to feel alone. “You’re one of the best parts of my life, Magnus. I don’t want to lose that—you—” Because we can’t be together. Not yet. “You know what I mean.”

“You won’t, right? I am contractually tied to you for the next two years.” Magnus drew his shoulders back, flicked his hair into place, then lifted his glass, swirling it in the space between them. Alec recognized each movement for what it was—Magnus bracing his defenses, erecting his wall. “You’ll be happy to know I’ve already started talking to the Angels’ front office. We’re going to open up initial conversations on your new contract soon.”

They were having two different conversations and yet the same one. But now wasn’t the time to push for hard truths.

All he could give Magnus right now was, “I’m scared as shit, Magnus, but I trust you. I have no doubt the wait will be worth it.”

 

****

 

Magnus was sure Max was going to have something to say about his outfit, but he didn’t care. Maybe he was dressing slightly scandalously for the restaurant they were going to, and he definitely shouldn’t have been getting dressed thinking about how Alec would look at him…. But he ignored that much-too-responsible voice in the back of his head and undid a few more buttons, checked to make sure his polish wasn’t chipped, and applied a thick layer of red gloss to his lips.

Chairman looked up at him as if to say you’re not fooling anyone.

“I know,” he retorted.

Chairman slinked away, lazily waving his tail.

Izzy had chosen a restaurant that wasn’t far from Magnus’ loft, so he walked—inhaling the spring air and tilting his head back to take in more of the sunshine. It was much too early to be having dinner at all, but Alec was scheduled to be at the Angels’ bus at seven pm and none of them were planning on being at the next game, so Izzy had demanded a family dinner.

A family dinner that included Magnus.

“Not business,” Magnus muttered to himself. “This dinner is not business”—he caught eyes with a man walking down the sidewalk—“and you should say no.”

Random stranger glared at him as he brushed past. “Fuck you.”

Magnus rolled his eyes. “Not interested, darling.”

Magnus opened the door to the restaurant and slipped inside, spotting Izzy’s cascading black hair and heading in her direction.

“Magnus!” Simon called out as he approached. “The party’s here.”

Magnus twirled—likely leaving a very festive stream of glitter in his wake—and Simon grinned ear-to-ear.

Izzy approached and kissed his cheeks with deliberate care, then used her thumbs to wipe away the lipstick she’d left behind. Her eyes were soft when she pulled away. “Thanks for coming.”

Magnus thinned his lips. “He told you. Or Max did. Or Clary. Which means possibly Simon as well.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Magnus narrowed his eyes. He had no idea why she was lying, but he was…grateful. “Very well then. Where do you want me?”

“Back there. We’re adding another table so there’s a bit more leg room.”

Magnus slid into the booth running along the wall just as Alec was sliding in next to him, having appeared from somewhere in the back. They’d been texting all day—not quite as much as in the last few weeks, but nearly normal—so Magnus felt like he’d already said hello to Alec a dozen times today. Alec had on a black shirt with the two top buttons undone and a curl of hair falling onto his forehead that Magnus wanted to brush back.

“Hey,” Alec said, leaning against Magnus as Izzy maneuvered the tables in the order she wanted them, then her and Simon sat across from Alec and Magnus.

Magnus set his phone on the table, and began to play with his rings, giving his fingers something to do. “I would say good evening, but it is definitely afternoon.”

“I’m not even hungry,” Alec whispered to him. “But I can’t say no to Izzy.”

Magnus huffed. “I am familiar with that problem.”

“Hey, guys!” Clary was nearly skipping as she entered the restaurant. She bounded over and wrapped each of them in a hug and took the seat next to Alec at one of the heads of the table. “I ordered drinks and appetizers.”

“You just got here,” Simon pointed out.

“I called ahead.”

“She’s thorough,” Magnus praised, earning a blinding smile from Clary. “She knows how to keep me happy.”

“It’s all of our goals to keep you happy, Magnus,” Izzy said.

“Some of us more than others,” Simon added, then yelped at what had to have been a poorly covert double assault under the table if Simon’s head swinging between Clary and Izzy was any indication. “Ow! Fine. I’ll behave.”

Next to Magnus, Alec sighed and mumbled, “Should’ve said no.”

“Who invited the zamboni driver?” Magnus quipped.

Max appeared through the kitchen door, carrying a tray and saving Magnus and Alec from further embarrassment. “Your drinks.”

“Do you work here?” Magnus asked.

“Nope,” Max said brightly, not offering any more of an explanation. He set a mug down in front of his brother. “Coffee for you instead of alcohol, Alec. It will put hair on your chin.”

Alec scratched at his beard. “I need the help.”

Magnus accepted a golden drink from Max. “Please ensure none of your chin hair ends up in my drink, Grizzly Adams.”

“No promises. My beard does what it wants—it’s very manly.”

“Your beard needs to check its privilege, Alexander.”

Alec shook his head, chuckling. “You’ve been spending too much time with Max.”

“Despite his Benedict Arnold tendencies”—out of the corner of his eye he saw Max taking the seat next to him—“I…tolerate your brother.”

Max clamped his hands over his heart. “That hurt, Magnus.”

Magnus looked over his shoulder at Max. “I’m sure not quite as much as utilizing an entire bag of dicks.”

Alec broke out into a rumbling laugh and Magnus felt as if his entire world had been set right.

The meal passed much too quickly—filled with laughter, stories, and Alec at his side. He barely spoke to Alec, but there were shared glances, Alec tapping his arm to make a point, hearing his name cross Alec’s lips with this…depth of emotion tied to it. It was all familiar—much too familiar. And Magnus could only hope that someday it would be more.

The plates were swept away and coffees replaced the drinks. Alec was glancing at his cell every few minutes, tracking the time, and Magnus could nearly feel the nervous energy rolling off him.

“Ready to get on the bus?”

Alec nodded. “It’s annoying that we have to go stay in Newark instead of being at home, but I get why Coach does it that way. I’m just ready to get there now. Settle into that head space. Where are you going to be for the game tomorrow? I could still get you tickets if you want.”

“Based on my past two appearances, I’m guessing it’s safer for your superstitions if I don’t show up. Regardless, I can’t. I have a client who is in final auditions for a new Broadway play. We’re meeting with the producers before their current show and staying to watch.”

“Is that something you like? You know…Broadway?”

Magnus sneered. “No.”

“Me either.” Alec sounded relieved. He picked up his cell and spoke to everyone. “I have to go. The bill is already taken care of.” Alec stood, clamping Simon on the shoulder, kissing Clary and Izzy’s cheeks, wrapping up Max in a one-armed bear hug from behind, then…

Alec’s hesitation made Magnus’ heart lurch. Magnus extended his hand. “Good luck tomorrow, Alexander.”

Alec took Magnus’ hand in both of his, sliding his fingers under the bracelets on Magnus’ wrist, holding tight. “I’ll see you in a few days.”

Magnus felt the warmth of Alec’s fingers on his skin for hours after.

 

****

 

Game Three

(Series tally - Devils lead two games to none)

 

They weren’t far from home, but the Devils’ arena was distinctly unfriendly territory.

The stands were an undulating mass of blood red and black. Posters with ferocious devils body checking terrified angels. Faces painted in the hellish masks. Rally towels in the shape of flames. It was all meant to make the fans feel like they were intimidating, but Alec had been a pro for too many years to allow the crowd to dictate how he played.

Garroway had been right—the Devils entered the rink pissed. And it showed in the sloppiness of their play from the beginning. By the second period, the Devils had racked up more penalty minutes in this one game than they had in the series so far. Then Blackwell threw his gloves down and challenged Santiago to a fight. If the Devils were hoping to pick up momentum by Blackwell beating down Raphael, then they’d chosen the wrong target. Raphael had Blackwell on the ice within seconds, so fast that another Devil charged in trying to defend their center and the rest of the Devils seemed to take their name to heart—all hell breaking loose.

Alec leaned back, placing his elbows on the top of the net and surveying the chaos. The Devils’ goalie wasn’t making any move to come out of his net and Alec was fine with that. Garroway stood with his arms crossed at the bench and gave a slight shake of his head when he caught eyes with Alec. Alec didn’t need the reminder. He’d gotten the message the first time—no touching another player. Goalie fights were more for entertainment during a brawl than anything else, and Alec wasn’t feeling particularly entertaining. It wasn’t like he had anything to prove anyway. He’d put Blackwell in his place and now Raphael was doing a damn good job of reminding him where he belonged.

From what Alec could piece together from his vantage point, there would be a mess of penalties following this, but the Angels were likely to come out with fewer penalty minutes and much more pride.

It was almost the end of the second period and the Angels were ahead by two-nothing.

Alec had a feeling that lead was only going to get bigger.

 

****

 

Tessa grabbed hold of Magnus’ wrist and turned his cell in her direction. “Are you checking sports scores at the intermission of a Broadway show?”

Magnus continued to scroll despite Tessa’s steely grip. “He hasn’t been ejected—yet. His save percentage tonight is above his end of season average, which was one of the highest in the league. Even the shots against is better, which means that Jace must have pulled the offense and defense back in line. Although the penalties in minutes is a bit alarming. Not nearly as alarming as it is for the Devils, mind you—”

“Magnus, do you have a fever? You’re speaking gibberish.”

“The Angels are playing the Devils tonight in the playoffs.” She still stared at him as if he wasn’t speaking English. He sighed. “Ice hockey, Tessa. It’s a long story.”

Tessa tucked a lock of blonde hair behind her ear, nodding sagely. “The Angels versus the Devils. How very biblical. Are we rooting for heaven or hell?”

“Fair question when it comes to me. I’ve decided to align myself with good on this one.”

“They’re flashing the lights. We should go back in.”

He held up a finger. “One more minute left in the game, Tessa. Everything can fall apart so fast. I need to make sure.”

Tessa crossed her arms and Magnus continued to refresh the page, the seconds ticking down. He hit refresh again and the screen changed—the time remaining replaced with the word Final.

Magnus clapped his hand over his mouth, unsuccessfully stifling a giggle. “Four to one!”

“I assume that’s good news?”

He stared at the screen, all joy leeching from his veins as he realized what this meant. “They won and I’m at a Broadway show.” He looked to her, eyes wide with fear. “Tessa. No.”

She laughed at him and cradled her arm in his, dragging him back into the theater. “Explain.”

“I’m ecstatic about Alexander winning, don’t misunderstand that. However, hockey is a sport rife with superstition. And my client, the New York Blazing Angels’ esteemed goalie Alec Lightwood, may be one of the most superstitious. He drags everyone he knows into his rituals and routines. I attended the first two games and they lost. They’re playing in the Devils’ home arena tonight and I obviously didn’t attend, therefore….”

“Now that they’ve won it’s possible you’ll have to attend another Broadway show for their next game.”

“It’s guaranteed, not ‘possible.’”

Magnus gestured for Tessa to go first, then followed her into their row. Once they were settled in again, Tessa turned to him. “The best way to combat superstition—or to substantiate it—is through logic. We’re going to need to know all of his superstitions and the superstitions of anyone else whose support he values. Oh! I can make a decision tree document to track the flow and see which ones have validity.”

“You are gleeful about this.”

“I simply can’t resist a challenge, especially one that sees the powers of heaven prevailing.”

Magnus lifted her hand and kissed the back of it. “Will and Jem will be positively rancorous if I keep you out too long tonight.”

Tessa rolled her eyes. “Oh my sweet monoamorous Magnus, the two of them can find their own ways to keep occupied while I’m away.”

 

****

 

Congrats on the win! Hate to do this to you right now but we need to talk

Alec let that text from Lydia sink in as he tried to listen to Jace too.

Thx :) Will have to be tomorrow, he typed back to Lydia. Jace is on a post game high and I’m stuck in a hotel room with him

“Are you listening to me, Alec?” Jace said, but he wasn’t really looking for an answer, he was already pacing again, a perma-grin making his dimples pop out. “This is it. All of us are gods—some of us more than others”—he winked at Alec—“but this. This is what has been coming together all season.”

Alec put his phone on silent and set it aside on the bed next to him. “Only took me being ejected and a two team brawl. Hockey—we’re doing it right.”

Jace just grinned bigger.

Alec cleared his throat. “You need me to vacate for a bit so you can get one of your fans up here?”

“Not tonight. I actually—” Jace abruptly stopped pacing, his eyebrows stitching together. “I’m going to take a shower and crash.”

“As in sleep? Or is that some kind of euphemism for threesomes that I don’t know?”

Jace responded with an overblown sarcastic laugh.

Well… That was a new development. Jace only turned down one-night stands when he was dating someone. And Jace rarely liked anyone enough to date them. Jace would tell Alec about her when he was ready, but Alec couldn’t help but taunt him a bit. “What? Don’t you need to get laid?”

“Just…don’t, okay?”

Alec smirked. “Whatever, Jace.”

Jace’s cocky smile was back in full force when he went into the bathroom.

Alec picked up his phone again, scrolling through his messages, going back to the last one he’d gotten from Magnus.

Click this link and download this app

While Alec waited for the app to install he responded to Izzy and Max and tried not to think about what Lydia needed to talk to him about. It was nothing he couldn’t put off for one more day. Alec launched the app, created a log in and was immediately inundated with notifications.

 

Magnus Bane created the group “Not Superstitious, Just a Little Stitious”

Magnus Bane added Alec Lightwood, Isabelle Lightwood-Lewis, Max Lightwood, Clary Fray, Simon Lewis, and Tessa Gray to the group

 

Magnus: With one win toward the inevitable four that will launch the Angels into the second round of the playoffs, it is imperative that I, Magnus Bane, as Alec’s agent, ensure a smooth ascent for Alexander. To this end, I’ve enlisted the support of Tessa Gray, an up and coming Broadway actress and purveyor of logic, who will catalog each superstition, instances of success, and compute the ideal mix of superstitions to maximize the Angels heavenly trajectory

Magnus: TL;DR post all the ridiculous shit you do before games to make Alexander win

 

Clary Fray changed her name to frayedknot

Max Lightwood changed his name to lightwoodsaves

Isabelle Lightwood-Lewis changed her name to thislightwoodscores

Simon Lewis changed his name to hanyolo

Tessa Gray changed her name to badumtess

 

Alec laughed and went to his setting for the app.

 

Alec Lightwood changed his name to mustacheyouaquestion

 

Seconds later….

 

lightwoodsaves changed the name of the group to “Puck Me”

 

Magnus: I hate you all

 

Magnus Bane changed his name to agent0069

 

badumtess: Game on!

 

Alec didn’t know Tessa, but she was already rolling with the ‘ridiculous shit’ his friends and family seemed to thrive on. And he’d take all the help he could get.

With all of them behind him—and the Angels coming together on a new level—Alec was more hopeful than he’d been before a game in weeks.

 

****

 

Day of Game Four

(Series tally - Devils lead two games to one)

 

“So this is where we stand so far….” Magnus said to Alec.

Alec’s view of Magnus jostled on Alec’s cell screen from Magnus walking somewhere in the city as they Facetimed. He hadn’t caught up on all the group notifications that had popped up while he was sleeping. Hadn’t even texted Lydia back yet, but she hadn’t reached out to him again either. So Alec had to assume that whatever it was could hold for now.

Talking to Magnus had been the first thing he’d wanted to do when he woke up.

The view on Alec’s screen verified he’d made the right choice. Magnus had on sunglasses, electric blue headphones snaking from his ears, and Alec could only see the top part of his shirt but the buttons were just as undone as they usually were—despite the crisp spring day. Alec had a feeling summertime was going to be actual torture.

“….Isabelle must leave her hair down—unbraided—and continue to wear her pajamas, but only today since it’s an away game.”

Alec nodded, trying to focus on what Magnus was saying instead of how good he looked. “Got it.”

“Apparently Simon has a vintage mint-in-box Voltron that sometimes travels with him to the arena. Isabelle has designed an experiment protocol to test out whether it should remain in the apartment or go with him. And whether or not it being in or out of the box makes a difference.”

“Simon will never remove that thing from its box.”

“He’s already agreed to. Said his people were used to sacrifice.”

Alec laughed at that and Magnus smiled.

“Then there’s Clary. Tessa says Clary’s trips to the hairdresser also seem to have a positive correlation to your save percentage.”

“Did Clary already know that or did Tessa uncover that?”

“It was good old-fashioned Puck Me teamwork. Anyway, Clary’s currently working to get a last minute appointment at her salon.”

This was all ridiculous to an extreme, yet soothing at the same time. Alec couldn’t believe any of them were willing to go to these lengths for him. “What about Max?”

Magnus’ looked into the camera. “He’s wearing his Angels hoodie.”

“He always wears his hoodie.”

Magnus nodded, the picture moving, and Alec guessed that Magnus was probably gesturing with his hands. “Therefore, Tessa doesn’t have the data to prove or disprove his one superstition.”

Of course Max, out of all of them, would find a way out of this. “Bastard. And you?”

“You know where I’ll be.”

Even if Alec hadn’t been able to see Magnus, his tone would’ve said everything.

Alec held back a laugh. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re not.”

Alec held up his pointer finger and thumb with barely any space between them so Magnus could see. “A little bit sorry?”

“I’ll bitterly accept your modicum of regret.”

Magnus peered at something to the side and the sun glinted off his glasses and off lips. Fuck. He looked good today.

Alec itched at his jaw. His skin was still too tight, but he had yet to…perform that one pre-game ritual he’d never talk about in their group. Alec flipped his legs to the floor, moving so he could cover up the red that had blotched across his cheeks at the thought. “What else has Tessa figured out so far?”

“The beard has to go.”

Alec narrowed one eye. “Is that so, Agent Double-O?”

“That username was an impetuous choice,” Magnus lamented. Alec caught a glimpse of Magnus’ free hand going to his ear cuff. “Not well thought out.”

He liked seeing Magnus flustered. A bit too much.

“I’m not complaining.” He leaned forward and studied at the image of his face in the corner of the screen. “Is Tessa serious? The beard has to go?”

“I’m teasing you, Alexander. And quite honestly, I’ll eject her from the group if she dares to make the suggestion.”

Alec’s eyes snapped to Magnus’ face. “You like my beard.”

Magnus wasn’t looking at the camera anymore. “Perhaps.”

Alec filed that fact away. “Anything else I need to know?”

“Tessa is going to post all of her findings later today so everyone knows how to proceed with their day and prepare for future games.”

“Sounds like you have it all in hand.”

“My hands are magical things,” Magnus asserted.

Alec couldn’t hide his blush this time. “I have no doubt, Agent0069.”

 

****

 

“Just how awful is this going to be for me, Tessa?” Magnus asked as they waited in line at the theater.

Tessa scrunched up her face. “Dreadful. The worst ever. Worse than death.”

Magnus gave a dramatic sigh. “Just when I think I’ve descended as far into hell as I can go.”

Tessa adjusted the scarf around Magnus’ neck and patted his chest. “You can always go lower, Magnus.”

“It is a valid life goal.”

There was a vibration against his chest and Magnus plucked his cell out of his jacket pocket. He peered at the name in disbelief, checked the time, then read the name again. He tapped the notification—I know you hate Broadway, but that jacket looks great on you

“What is it?” Tessa asked, trying to see his screen.

Magnus held the phone out for her to read. “Alexander texted me. The game hasn’t even started yet and he texted me back.”

Tessa shrugged. “He must have looked at the sheet I posted in the group. His refusal to text anyone back is like Max’s hoodie. It happens every time so there’s no positive or negative correlation with that superstition and how he or the Angels play.”

Magnus hadn’t been in their group since this morning, so this was news to him.

Alexander!, he typed. Texting me back before a game? You never cease to amaze me

Alec’s reply came right away. Idk if that’s a good thing or a bad thing

Always good, Magnus sent back.

Magnus thought for a second, then added, I like hearing from you before the game

I like this too

Magnus smiled. I’m glad you caught up on the group and the non-communication ban is lifted. Tell Max and Isabelle I’d rather be with them

Three messages from Alec followed quickly: Haven’t been in the group. ???. Only texting you

Magnus stilled.

“He didn’t see your message to the group. He’s only texting me, Tessa.”

“So?”

He opened his mouth to speak and Tessa waited.

Alec had broken one of his superstitions just so he could talk to Magnus.

“Magnus?”

He didn’t know where to start.

Tessa crossed her arms. “There’s something you haven’t told me about.”

 

****

 

The Angels had never skated as cohesively as they were tonight. The line changes were perfectly executed, the defense hit hard and cleared the puck, the offense racked up a record shots on goal, and the area around Alec’s net was clear. Alec managed his space, and Jace managed his. No one was ejected or started a brawl.

Like Jace had said, this was it.

If they continued to play like this, Alec had no doubt they’d make it to the championship series.

Alec even caught Garroway smiling when they exited the ice at the end of the third period, the scoreboard lit up with a bright red Angels - 3, Devils - 1.

Alec wished Magnus had been in the arena to see it.

 

****

 

Alec flipped his most recent gift from Magnus in his hand as he got out of the Uber in Brooklyn.

He’d bypassed his own place between here and the arena, but there hadn’t been anywhere else he wanted to go when the Angels’ bus had dropped the team off downtown.

He made his way into the lobby—getting a much warmer welcome from the doorman who’d let him up the last time—and took the elevator to Magnus’ floor. He knocked on the door and heard movement, then Magnus was swishing the door open. He’d taken off his jacket from the show, his sleeves were rolled up, his hair was disheveled, and Alec swore there wasn’t a look that Magnus couldn’t pull off flawlessly.

“Alexander!”

Alec held up the beard comb that had arrived at his hotel before the game. “You’re up two to four.”

“You like it.”

“Useful and surprisingly beautiful. Thank you.”

“So you’ve been released from the shackles of New Jersey?”

Alec slid the comb into one of the pockets of his duffel to keep it safe. “We got dropped off at the arena, but Max is studying for finals, and Izzy and Simon are at home, and I have no idea where Clary is….”

“You don’t have to be alone,” Magnus replied in an echo of the last time Alec had shown up here. “I was expecting our food and got you. I have a guest, but you’re more than welcome to come in.”

A guest?

Our food?

Alec frowned.

Magnus seemed to be holding back a smile as he beckoned Alec into the apartment and gestured for someone in the living room. “Alec. This is Tessa.”

Alec recognized her immediately from the picture Magnus had sent earlier.

“It’s lovely to meet you in person, Alec.”

Alec dropped his bag to the floor and shook her hand.

“Same.”

Alec’s gaze flickered to Magnus. He hadn’t really had a plan for what he’d do when he got here, but he had no idea now that he was here and it wasn’t just Magnus and him.

Tessa glanced between the two of them. “Let me get you a drink, Alec. We’re having wine. Would you like a glass?”

Alec cleared his throat. “Water is fine. Thanks.”

Tessa smiled warmly and disappeared around the corner.

“While she’s in the kitchen”—Magnus glanced over his shoulder—“I loved hearing from you before the game, but isn’t a bit of a risk?”

“What do you mean?”

“Anyone could be looking over your shoulder in the locker room.”

Of course Alec had thought about that, but Magnus was his agent, and, well, “It is a risk. But I’ll take it.”

Magnus tilted his head, brow furrowed. “Okay.”

Magnus led him into the living room, taking one of the wing-backed chairs and Alec settled onto the couch, accepting a glass from Tessa who sat down next to him.

“So how was the show?” Alec asked.

“Do you really have to bring up painful memories, Alexander?”

Alec took a drink of his water to keep from laughing.

“It was a very well-produced performance with a stellar cast,” Tessa replied. “But you should’ve seen Magnus at the Times Square sports bar we ended up in after the show. We were both ridiculously out of place but it became obvious very fast that Magnus was the most knowledgeable person in the bar when it came to the Angels. By the end of the game he had a line of people who wanted him to analyze their fantasy teams. I would say I’ve never seen anything like it, but this is Magnus we’re talking about.”

“I am captivating,” Magnus said with a flourish of his hand.

Alec didn’t know if there was anything he’d ever heard that he agreed with more.

He’d been thinking about Max’s question since their breakfast and he always came to the same conclusion.

Yes, Magnus was out and Alec did envy that. But it wasn’t why he was attracted to Magnus.

Magnus was intelligent and kind. Driven. Witty. Confident yet humble. He wore loud clothes and often spoke softly. He was a man who could command power and yet took the responsibility that came with that seriously.

He wasn’t just attracted to what Magnus represented, he wanted more from Magnus because of the man he was.

There was a knock on the door and Magnus got to his feet. “Food’s here. I’ll be right back.”

With Magnus’ back to them, Alec took the opportunity to lean over to Tessa and whisper, “I want him in the arena but I…. I looked at your…thing you posted in the group and I can’t find any way it makes sense. I know he won’t go tomorrow, but if this series goes to seven games…? I need him there, Tessa”

Tessa studied him for a moment, then nodded. “I’ll find a way around it.”

The door shut and Magnus returned, bags in hand. “We ordered more than enough. Please stay.”

Alec stood. “I should go.”

Magnus seemed to deflate in front of him. A heartbeat later, he had a forced smile in place. “Of course. You’re a busy man.”

Another right decision that felt wrong. But Alec was trying. There wasn’t anything else he could do for now. “Tessa, thank you for helping. I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”

“Goodnight, Alec.”

Magnus set down the bags on the counter and followed Alec to the door. Alec shouldered his duffel, opened the door then hesitated—turning around to face Magnus.

Alec reached out and brushed a bright purple strand of hair back from Magnus’ forehead. Hair that had been completely black this morning. “It hasn’t even been twenty-four hours since we Facetimed. Is this going to be a new color the next time I see you?”

Magnus’ features were serious, but Alec saw the playfulness in his eyes. “I don’t plan these things. They just seem to happen.”

“I think everything you do is much more intentional than you want people to believe.” Alec steadied himself with a hand to the doorjamb then pushed away. “Goodnight, Magnus.”

Magnus took a step outside the apartment and watched as Alec tracked backwards to the elevator. “Good luck tomorrow, Alexander.”

 

****

 

Game Five

(Series tally - tied two to two)

 

Simon was the only one out of his friends and family that was in the Angels’ arena tonight and Alec couldn’t get over how wrong it felt.

He wanted them all here, but there were rituals and routines. Probabilities that were supposed to increase the Angels’ chance of success. He’d spent his entire career surrounded by players, like him, who collected superstitions and relied on over a century of hockey tradition. But there was ‘tradition’ and there was ‘standing on ceremony’—doing something solely because you thought you were supposed to, not because it made sense.

Too much of his life was doing what he’d always done—because it was expected of him—instead of what was good for him.

And as he stood in the crease—missing the support of the people he cared about most in the world because of ridiculous superstition—he knew he was missing even more that could be good in his life.

He knew.

Wanting to be out wasn’t enough anymore—it was time for him to be out.

He didn’t know how or when. But why….

It was beyond time for him to be good to himself.

Alec took what felt like his first full breath in his entire life.

Felt steadier than he had in his entire life.

More hopeful.

The Devils were just as punishing in their assault on the Angels as they’d been the first four games, but the Angels were holding strong. Alec was holding strong.

By halfway through the third period, the Angels were up one to two, then the defenseman who’d stolen the puck from Jace to win the second game smashed Jace against the boards.

Jace went down.

And he didn’t get back up.

 

****

 

On the TV, The Sound of Music played but Magnus wasn’t paying the movie any attention. Tessa and he were in his living room, hunched over her iPad, reviewing the flow chart she’d made for the Puck Me group. Rather, that’s what they’d started doing, but Magnus was currently squinting at the TV, trying to make sense of what was happening in the Angels’ game—confined to a small picture-in-picture box in the corner of his screen.

“We missed something.” Magnus picked up the remote, and—damn superstition—minimized The Sound of Music and put the game on the big screen. The image that popped up made Magnus’ heart skip a beat.

There was an Angels’ player sprawled on the ice with medical staff surrounding him, and Magnus watched as the players around him—Angels and Devils alike—dropped to one knee.

“Who is that?” Tessa asked, her voice quiet.

He knew it wasn’t Alec, but beyond that, “I don’t know. I can’t see the number.”

One of the medical staff waved at someone off camera, then the players cleared out and a gurney appeared. A brace was lowered to the ice, and when the player was rolled, a chill settled in Magnus’ veins.

“That’s Jace Wayland. The Angels’ captain and one of Alexander’s best friends.”

Tessa sucked in a breath. “Alec has to be absolutely sick with worry right now.”

Magnus couldn’t find his voice to reply to her.

Tessa and Magnus watched the screen in silence.

Play restarted as soon as Jace was taken off the ice and the offending player was in the box. But the Angels couldn’t convert the resulting power play into a goal. They were shaken. Unsteady.

With eight minutes left in the game, the commentators announced Jace was injured—but conscious—and was being reviewed under the league’s concussion protocol.

Magnus didn’t know if Alec would hear that news until after the game was already over.

He was sure Alec didn’t know anything about Jace’s condition when the goal that tied the game came with six minutes left to play.

The Angels were falling apart.

Alec was falling apart.

And there was nothing Magnus could do to help him.

Then the goal that put the Devils ahead slammed into the back of the net at one minute before the end of the third period.

Tessa set her iPad on the coffee table and faced Magnus when the Angels’ third loss was official. “Are you okay?”

Magnus turned off the TV. “It doesn’t matter how I am right now.”

“It always does.”

Jace was injured. The Angels were now one loss away from ending their season way too early.

Alec had to be hurting.

Magnus shook his head. “It doesn’t. I’m more worried about Alec.”

“Magnus.” She said his name like a plea for sanity. “You and Alec can’t continue like this. Something has to break, and I don’t want it to be either of you.”

“Tessa—” Magnus’ cell began to ring. “It’s Alec.”

“Take it.” Tessa got to her feet and grabbed her iPad. “I’ll go.”

Magnus picked up the call and put the phone to his ear. “Hang on, Alexander. Tessa is just leaving.” He stood and kissed her cheek. “Goodnight, Tessa.”

On the other end of the line, Alec spoke. “Tell her goodnight for me.”

The sound of Alec’s voice made Magnus’ heart hurt. Physically hurt. He hadn’t even known that was possible. “Alec says goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Alec,” she said into the phone as she wrapped Magnus in a hug. In heels she was the same height as him, and she went to her tiptoes, pressing a soft kiss to his forehead before she left.

Magnus closed the door behind her and put all of his attention on Alec. “Where are you?”

“Still at the arena. We’re getting on the bus soon. Coach didn’t want us to lose our focus, so he’s sequestering us in Newark.”

Before Magnus could ask Alec how he was, Alec was speaking again. “How was The Sound of Music?”

Magnus let the question of Alec’s well-being slide for the moment. It was obvious Alec wasn’t ready to talk about it. Magnus could be a distraction if that’s what Alec needed. “I loathe musicals, Alexander. I can’t take one more.”

Alec chuckled, but without any lightness to it. “I hate losing even more.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“I think you underestimate how much I detest people breaking out into rhyming songs and choreographed dance numbers.”

Alec scoffed. “As much as you hated me in the beginning?”

There.

The tone of Alec’s voice had shifted. Fractionally, but still better.

“More, Alexander.”

Alec huffed out a laugh. It was quiet and short, but genuine this time. “Ouch. I still need you to go.”

There was a span of time where Magnus could only hear the sounds of what had to be the locker room in the background, then Alec sighed—a world-weary sound that wounded Magnus’ heart even more.

“Jace probably isn’t playing tomorrow, Magnus. They’re going to announce it will be a game time decision, but it’s…. His chances for starting don’t look good.”

“Do you need me at the game?”

Alec hesitated at this. “Yes, but no. Our playoff run will end if we lose this next game. I need you on Broadway more.”

“You play dirty,” Magnus teased.

“Gotta go with what works.”

Magnus could picture the smallest of smiles on Alec’s face with the way he’d said that.

“And Jace?” Magnus asked. “Does he need any support?”

“He’s being fully evaluated now for a concussion, but he’s been conscious since the hit. He’ll be okay. He’s, uh…. He’s well taken care of.”

Magnus noted Alec’s pause, but let it pass without further scrutiny. “What do you need? And I’m not talking about where I spend my time for the next game.”

“This,” Alec answered, emphatic. “This is good. Just…stay with me on the phone for a little bit longer?”

Magnus settled into the couch. “As long as you want, Alexander.”

 

****

 

Day of Game Six

(Series tally - Devils lead three games to two)

 

Magnus picked his cell off his desk and texted Alec. A friend gave Tessa tickets to Hamilton for tonight. I have hope

The reply bubbles popped up right away. Then, For me or the show?

More for you than me, Magnus typed back. My ears are planning a revolt. They don’t think I can hear them, but—plot twist—I can

Musicals are literally driving you insane

I’m painfully aware

Four messages appeared on Magnus’ screen in quick succession: Thank you. For last night. For everything. I don’t think I say that enough

Magnus didn’t have to think twice about how to respond. Only for you, Alexander

The minutes ticked by after that, but Magnus didn’t get a message back. He set his phone down again just as Clary’s voice came over the intercom.

“Magnus? Sebastian Morgenstern called again.”

He pressed the button to talk to her. “And yet, I still don’t care. I have no desire to speak with him.”

“I’ll keep taking messages.”

“You do that.”

Magnus disconnected from the intercom and flipped on the TV in his office, switching it to ESPN. He worked until he heard the commentators begin to talk about the game tonight, then looked up from his computer and turned the volume higher.

“The Angels face elimination tonight against a team they should’ve beaten soundly.”

“I don’t know what’s happened to them in the post-season.”

“They’re still saying that whether or not Captain Jace Wayland plays tonight will be a game time decision and that doesn’t bode well for the Angels.”

“Usually I’d be saying that playing in New Jersey puts them at a deficit, but this series has been unlike any other I’ve seen.”

“Losing Wayland on the ice will be a definite deficit.”

“How are you calling this one?”

“I gotta go with the Dev—”

Magnus clicked off the TV.

He refused to accept any other scenario besides the Angels winning tonight.

Winning this series.

Winning it all.

 

****

 

In all the years he and Jace had been playing on the same team, there were less than a dozen times when Alec had taken to the ice as a starter and Jace wasn’t with him. At least Jace was on the bench tonight—listed on the official roster so that he could be dressed. But his skates wouldn’t touch the ice if the team doctor and Garroway didn’t allow it.

He didn’t have any signs of concussion, but the purple bruise spreading from his hip down this thigh was massive. Jace would’ve played through the pain, but Garroway had instructions from the front office to protect their investment, and Jace’s agent had been just as wary, pressing Jace that he needed to think about future seasons, not just the playoffs.

That wasn’t how Jace lived his life, but the choice wasn’t solely his.

So Alec took the Devils’ rink without Jace next to him, but carrying Jace’s brash attitude with him.

If there was any time to emulate Jace, it was now.

They couldn’t lose this game, and Alec would do everything in his power to make sure they didn’t.

 

****

 

Tessa held out her hands, a black box with a perfectly tied gold ribbon nestled on her palms. “For you.”

Magnus lifted the box and turned it over carefully. “What is it?”

“It’s a gift. From Alec. In-ear Bluetooth headphones so you can listen to the game and not be too much of an ass about it.”

Magnus tugged at the edges of the bow and opened the box. There was a post it note on the headphone package reading:

 

All charged and ready to go.

Alec

 

Magnus traced the lines where Alec had put pen to paper, then secured the top to make sure he wouldn’t lose the note. “Me not being an ass about it…. Your words or his?”

Tessa considered him. “Does it matter?”

“Yes.”

“His words.”

Magnus smiled. He was so…gone for Alec. “Where are our seats?”

“Orchestra, Row C.”

Some of the best seats in the house. Magnus held tight to the box. Even if he couldn’t be in the arena with Alec tonight, he could take on one of Alec’s traditions as his own. “How about the very back row of the theater instead?”

Tessa tipped her head. “Paying it forward?”

“In a way,” Magnus allowed.

“I’m in.”

“Follow me to the box office, darling.”

 

****

 

There was nothing technically wrong with how the Angels were playing, but their dynamic was off. Uninspired. Alec did the best he could to make up for the lack of Jace’s voice on the ice. And every time he glanced at the bench, Jace was talking to Garroway or making the rounds as a shift came in—guiding players even though he wasn’t playing.

But the balance the Angels had achieved since the third game wasn’t there and all of them knew it.

It only took minutes into the first period for the Devils to realize it too.

The Angels were sliding into old patterns, reverting to the team they’d been at the beginning of the series instead of who they’d—literally—fought to become. And the Devils were systematically picking them apart. Again.

Ahead one to zero at the end of the second period, and barely hanging on to that slim lead, Alec pulled his Coach aside during the intermission. “We need him out there. Jace wants to be out there. And”—he sputtered, trying to think of the right words and failing—“we need him out there.”

Garroway set his hands on his hips. “It’s risky, Lightwood.”

“I know. But it’s a calculated risk, Coach.”

Garroway huffed out a laugh. “I’ll do some calculations.”

Alec nodded and took to the ice, digging his skates in at the front of the net.

When play started again at the beginning of the third period and Jace was still on the bench, Alec gritted his teeth. Then Garroway was next to Jace, whispering in his ear and Jace was practically flying over the boards at the next line change.

Jace wasn’t anywhere near as fast or light on his skates as he usually was, and the first pass sent his way never touched his stick, a Devils’ defenseman stealing it and passing it to Blackwell, who tore down the ice for the net on a breakaway. Alec shuffled, lining himself up with Blackwell’s trajectory. Blackwell closed in fast and Alec backed up, eliminating as much open space as possible, then Blackwell went right and Alec exploded in that direction, dropping into a butterfly as the puck slammed into his leg pad.

The puck ricocheted and Pangborn took possession immediately, clearing it out to the right winger and pushing play into the offensive zone. This time when the puck was passed to Jace he picked it up cleanly and took off for the Devils goal.

Jace could’ve taken the shot himself, but he didn’t. He passed to Santiago who dodged one of the Devils and whipped his stick forward, burying the puck in the net.

The Angels didn’t look back. With their captain on the ice with them again their hard-fought rhythm fell back into step.

When the final buzzer sounded on a two to nothing win, Alec burst out of the crease and wrapped Jace in a hug, both of them surrounded in seconds by a giddy group of sweaty, rank hockey players.

Alec had his first shut out of the post-season.

The Angels had staved off elimination.

They had one more game to win before they advanced to the second round.

And there was only one place Alec wanted to be to celebrate.

 

****

 

Magnus sat at his kitchen counter, staring at his phone, silently willing it to ring or ping or make any kind of noise. He’d been waiting to hear something—anything—from Alec since the Angels’ win. He’d heard from everyone except Alec, and he wanted to talk to Alec, and—

His cell skittered along the counter as it rang.

“Alexander,” he answered demurely. He couldn’t resist being a bit coy—teasing Alec—because he knew it would make Alec smile. “Did you have a pleasant evening?”

Listening to Alec’s low, rumbling chuckle was like sliding into a hot bath at the end of a long day. “I guess it was a pretty good night.”

“It was a great game,” Magnus praised.

“Better than Hamilton?”

“No question. An angel with majestic facial hair gifted me headphones so I could listen to the game—while also not being an ass to my fellow theater attendees.”

“I’m…glad they worked out.”

“Perfectly,” Magnus added. He had to make sure Alec knew that gift had been perfect. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Magnus.”

Magnus’ heart sped at the gentleness when Alec said his name. “You know, I’m technically ahead four to three in our gift-giving extravaganza, but—considering what you saved me from tonight—I may have to award you a bonus point.”

“A hockey player never turns down points,” Alec said seriously.

“Consider us tied then.” Magnus balanced his cell between his shoulder and his ear, removing his rings one by one, stacking them and his necklaces in a pile on his counter. “There may have been one minor incident caused by the headphones, though.”

“What was that?”

“My exclamation of joy after the second goal may have been…noticed by the five rows in front of me. Luckily, it came at a particularly lively portion of the show.”

“Only five rows?” Alec said dubiously.

Magnus could picture him doing that thing where he squinted only his left eye. Magnus smiled.

“Maybe ten,” he admitted. “On the positive side, I learned that full chorus numbers are particularly cacophonous, so you and the Angels may want to time your momentous plays for those crescendos to save Tessa further embarrassment. You know, only if you insist on keeping up this tradition for the next two rounds until the championship.”

“Magnus! Don’t jinx me. That’s now three games at home we’ve lost and three away games we’ve won. It’s not supposed to happen that way….” A rustling of fabric came over the line, then mumbled voices. “Hang on. I may lose you here.”

There was an extended moment of silence—broken up with occasional beeps—and Alec came back on the line. “You still there?”

“I am.”

Then a knock on his door.

Two quick taps that inexplicably stole every molecule of oxygen from the room.

Alec had come here after his win.

When Magnus didn’t move or say anything, Alec cleared his throat. Magnus heard the nervous sound in his ear and in the hallway.

“Are you, uh, home, Magnus?”

Magnus rediscovered the ability to speak. “Showing up unannounced again, Alexander?” His voice was steadier than he’d expected it to be.

“Maybe.” Alec’s tone had gone quiet. Unsure. “The last two times I came here and I didn’t…. If you’re— I mean….”

He didn’t want Alec to ever be unsure of him.

Magnus stood to bridge the mere feet that separated them. “You’re always welcome here.”

He clicked off the call, unlocked his door, and opened it.

Alec’s chin was down, his eyes cast in the shadows of his lashes. He pocketed his cell and fiddled with the strap of his bag. “Hey.”

Magnus swallowed.

The line he hadn’t wanted to cross with Alec was as real as the threshold they stood on opposite sides of now. But Magnus had invited Alec into his home, literally, over a week ago. Metaphorically…. LA had changed things between them, but Alec had inspired an overwhelming response in Magnus from the first moment they’d met.

Sending each other presents. Having dinner with Alec’s family. Alec texting and calling him before his siblings. Alec wanted him, and he wanted Alec. They were essentially dating Magnus realized with a start.

Magnus knew where he stood. What he was willing to sacrifice….

He wouldn’t know what Alec’s intentions were unless he let Alec past that threshold tonight.

Magnus took a deep breath. “Do you want to come in?”

Chapter Text

“I don’t want to come in.” Alec blew out a long breath and met Magnus’ eyes. “I want to stay.”

Magnus’ hand slipped off the door, his lips parting in shock, and Alec wanted to kiss him. Needed Magnus lips on his more than he needed his next breath. But he couldn’t.

He’d come here with one goal in mind. One focus.

And kissing Magnus wasn’t it.

Not yet.

Alec shifted on his feet. “You said I’m always welcome here. I just need to know….” A stuttering breath passed through his lips and Alec wished he could calm his racing heartbeat. “Will you let me in even if—” Alec paused, finding the right words. “What if I want things to change between us?”

Magnus didn’t react—didn’t say anything—and Alec hesitated.

He couldn’t read the expression on Magnus’ face. There were no signs of Magnus’ walls going up, though. No bravado. No hint of the intimidating man Alec knew Magnus could be. Magnus looked…vulnerable. And Magnus hadn’t said one thing when he was always quick with a witty reply. This side of Magnus was new. Unfamiliar.

In this moment, Alec felt unfamiliar in his own skin. But he knew what he needed to do.

He’d come this far despite his fears. To take a risk. He took an experimental step inside Magnus’ apartment and Magnus moved with him, allowing Alec in. Alec breathed a sigh of relief and dropped his bag to the floor, kicking the door shut behind him.

He wanted to wrap Magnus in his arms, but if he was going to do this right then all he had were his words. He always seemed to lose his ability to speak when Magnus was around, but saying what he was thinking out loud was important. Getting his words right was important.

Because Magnus was important.

Alec pushed up his sleeves and straightened his shoulders. “We won tonight and all I could think about was you. What you would say to make me laugh. How you would look at me. How you would make me feel….”

Magnus took a step back, shoulders bumping against the wall behind him, his features softening. “Alexander—”

Alec shook his head to silence Magnus. He had to get this out.

He closed the distance between them, stopping when they were only inches away. As close as he would allow himself to get. “I can’t have you, but I can’t stop thinking about you. You make me feel things that make me want to upend my entire existence. I’m not supposed to be here with you, and yet”—Alec shook his head, trying to make sense of it all—“it’s the only place I want to be.”

Magnus peered up at him. “I’m not supposed to want you here, but I do.” Before Alec could fully register that Magnus was saying exactly what Alec had hoped to hear, the corners of Magnus’ eyes and lips had tipped down. “I know I implied that you were bad for me when you left that first night, but I’m the one who is bad for you.”

Alec searched Magnus’ face, confused. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m your agent, Alexander. Our relationship is supposed to be professional. It’s my job to protect you, not put you at risk.”

“Magnus,” Alec huffed in frustration. “I know you. You’d protect me even if you weren’t my agent. Out of all of the shit that I’m trying to work through—trying to understand—that you are my agent is the least of my worries.”

Magnus furrowed his brow. “Then what are you worried about?”

“You,” Alec said with force. “What getting involved with me could do to you. I’ve listened to everything you’ve told me and I won’t ask you to be anything but who you are. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I don’t want you to be hurt because of me.” Magnus set his hand on Alec’s hip—fingers pressing in one by one—as if Magnus was unsure if his touch would be allowed.

Alec closed his eyes and rested his forehead against Magnus’. Those two simple points of contact grounded him. “What the hell are we doing to each other?”

“I don’t know,” Magnus said quietly. Magnus’ breath coasted across his cheek. Magnus’ fingers held him tight. “But if you don’t take a step back, I’m going to kiss you. And that, Alexander, is a line we can’t uncross.”

Alec didn’t move. “It’s a line I want to cross, Magnus.”

Magnus gripped him tighter.

“Just not right now,” Alec answered honestly. Alec pushed back—forcing himself to pull out of Magnus’ hold—putting needed space between them.

Magnus crossed his arms and Alec could see Magnus’ defenses going up.

Alec scrubbed his hands over his face. He wasn’t doing this right. Didn’t know how to be this open with anyone in his life. But if they were going to make this work then Magnus needed to know everything that was going on inside his head. “I called Izzy on the way here. Her firm works with IE and— I asked her to start looking into a media relations plan for me coming out.”

“A plan for you coming out….” Magnus repeated slowly.

Alec hadn’t known how Magnus would react to that news, but he definitely hadn’t expected almost no reaction. He began to pace. “It can’t happen immediately— according to Izzy, these things have to be executed the right way.”

“Alec.” Magnus’ features fell. “Please tell me you’re not doing this because I’ve pushed you.”

Alec shook his head. “I won’t lie and say that you aren’t part of the reason I’m doing this—but not because you’ve pushed me. I’m doing this for me. I’m ready.”

There was a hint of a smile on Magnus’ lips. “Alexander. That’s…huge.”

“Yeah.” Alec took a deep breath and met Magnus’ eyes. “I know.”

Magnus broke out into a full grin. He looked proud. And that meant much more to Alec than he thought it would.

“It’s also really fucking scary,” Alec admitted, a nervous chuckle slipping between his lips before he had a chance to stop it. He kicked at his bag—at that cats-eye mask inside. He couldn’t hide behind that mask for much longer and the thought terrified him. “I’ll be the first in the league. So we’re talking heavy media scrutiny and even more pressure for me to be perfect in goal.”

“Logically I understand that. As to how it all unfolds….” Magnus’ twirled his hands with a graceful flourish as he talked. “I wish I knew more to help you through this. To make it easier for you.”

“You’re already helping me, Magnus, and that means everything,” Alec asserted. It was the only thing he was certain of at this point. “But I also know that I can’t expect you to wait for me to come out. And even when I do come out, I can’t ask you to put your job on the line for me.”

“Maybe I’m willing to,” Magnus said without hesitation.

Alec swallowed. “Magnus—”

“There is no ‘maybe’ about it, Alexander. I am willing to.”

“I can’t ask you to—”

“You aren’t,” Magnus cut in. “I’m offering. I’d already decided that before you showed up here tonight.”

Alec’s heart skittered as he took in the enormity of that statement. Magnus had already thought about this. About them and what it would take to me something work between them. Alec wasn’t alone in this attraction that felt like so much more, but he didn’t know if that made this easier or harder….

“Look. I know all of this is backwards. I may not be the most experienced guy out there but even I know this isn’t how things usually work….”

“Clearly,” Magnus said with a sly smile. “By my estimation, we’ve been secretly dating for just under a month now.”

Alec stopped in his tracks. “What?”

“This epiphany was just as much a shock to me as it appears to be to you.”

Alec thought about it. The texts, the calls, dinners, dancing, gifts…. “Oh my god. We have, haven’t we?”

“Since the night—”

“I sent you those books,” Alec finished, earning a smile from Magnus. “I want to keep doing that. Getting to know you. Spending time with you. All of that.”

Magnus nodded. “But not becoming…physically involved with each other—drawing the line there—remains.”

“It has to for now. I don’t know how else to explain it…. I just— If we we’re going to give us a try then we need to be on equal footing first. I need to be out and your career can’t be at risk. It needs to be fair for both of us. Whatever this is between us feels….”

“Important,” Magnus said. “Meaningful. Rare.”

Alec grinned. Easier. Having Magnus in his life definitely made everything easier. Better. “All of that.”

“You Lightwoods and your damn honor,” Magnus chided fondly. “I accept your virtue-maintaining terms, Alexander. I also agree with them.”

Alec relaxed. There was more that was unsettled in his life than sure at this point, but that Magnus was with him in whatever came next was more than he’d hoped for.

“I know I said I wanted to stay, Magnus, but not for”—Alec swept his hand in front of him—“sex. I want to be here because of you. When I’m here I don’t have to pretend. I don’t have to be the stoic big brother or the flawless goalie. When I’m here I don’t have to be alone. Being in your apartment, with you…. It makes me happy. I feel safe when I’m with you.”

“To be frank, you look wrecked right now—not safe or happy.”

“It’s been a long day,” Alec allowed.

“You’re right—you have no need to be stoic or flawless here. Please. Sit down.”

Alec crossed the room and dropped to the couch, sighing. “It’s selfish of me to even ask to stay here, isn’t it?”

“I am intimately acquainted with self-interest that keeps you near me,” Magnus said, his lips curving into a smile as he followed Alec into the living room. “When I said you are welcome here—I meant it. That will never be contingent on expectations outside of mutual respect.”

Alec looked up at Magnus, shaking his head. “How do you do that?”

“What?”

“Say so much and yet give away so little.”

Magnus toyed with the pendant of the single necklace he wore around his throat. “No one is supposed to know that’s what I’m doing.”

Alec smirked. “Yeah, well, I see right through it.”

Magnus dipped his chin down, studying Alec with a restrained smile, then gestured toward the kitchen. “Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

Alec shook his head. He was more worn down mentally than physically at this point. “Just tired.”

“Take my bed,” Magnus offered. “You can’t sleep on the couch before a game as important as the one tomorrow.”

“Shit. I can’t drive you out of your own bed. I figured you’d have a guest room—”

Magnus scoffed. “This is New York and I’m not an athlete. I have one bedroom and an office that is the size of a glorified closet. Until tonight, I’ve never had reason for someone to spend longer than a few hours with me.”

A few hours. It likely hadn’t been Magnus’ intention, but Alec couldn’t help but think what activities those hours were filled with that only required one bed.

“But,” Magnus continued, oblivious to Alec’s inner monologue, “I do have a king size bed. We could draw a line down the middle—since both of us seem to be so intent on not straying past any of them.”

The same bed. And Magnus had actually made it sound like them sleeping next to each other wouldn’t be actual torture. “See? You’re playing it so cool.”

“I am not”—Magnus smirked—“unaffected.”

“I know, Magnus,” Alec replied. “I know you feel what I feel. That makes this all…harder.”

Magnus arched an eyebrow.

“Oh my god,” Alec groaned. “Not like that. I mean, okay, yeah…. But— Shit.”

“I am a thirty-five year old man, Alexander. I can control my libido.”

Alec huffed out a laugh. “Well, I’m twenty-eight. Maybe I can’t.”

“You already are. I would have fallen to my knees at least a dozen times by now—”

“Magnus! You’re making this—”

“Harder?” Magnus quipped.

Alec glared at him. “Not easy.”

Magnus bit at his lip. “I’ll try my best not to be enticing.”

Alec had to laugh. “Really not helping, Magnus.”

“Come to bed, Alexander.” Magnus held out his hand. “You need sleep.”

“Probably better if we don’t—” Alec gestured at Magnus’ hand. “You know. Considering.”

Magnus chuckled. “Very well. Please. Take the bathroom first. I have to answer a few emails then I’ll be in.”

Alec stood, swiped his duffel off the floor and shut himself in the bathroom. Alec’s bathroom counter at home was nearly empty, while Magnus’ was packed with hair products, makeup, brushes…. They were so different.

And yet…compatible. It had been just over a week since his first time here—less than two months since he’d met Magnus—but his entire life had changed. For the better. Because he and Magnus understood each other in a way Alec had never experienced with anyone else.

He made quick work of brushing his teeth and changing his clothes—shucking off his Angels sweatshirt and leaving a tank top and sweatpants on—then called out to Magnus as he emerged from the bathroom. “All yours.”

Magnus looked up from his cell screen, gaze raking over Alec.

“I’m just going to go—” Alec pointed at the bedroom, then tugged at the bottom of his shirt. “In there. I’m going in there.”

The corner of Magnus’ lips tipped up. “I’ll be right in.”

Alec pushed the door open and dropped his bag next to it. Magnus’ bed took up almost the full width of the room. A massive four-poster frame with scarves draped from the upper beams. The bedspread was a swirl of colors, and when Alec pulled back the top cover he found crimson satin sheets. Sheets that matched the red ceiling Alec had seen the first time he and Magnus had Facetimed. The first time he’d looked at Magnus and realized how physically stunning he was.

Now he was getting into Magnus’ bed. Going to sleep with Magnus next to him. And they both wanted more, but weren’t going to—

“My bed doesn’t bite. Unlike me,” Magnus said as he entered the room.

Alec startled and looked at Magnus. His hair was loose, tucked behind his ear on one side. Face makeup free and all jewelry removed. He was wearing silk pajamas bottoms that were black with silver threads, and the gray Angels tee he’d worn to the first game of the series.

He was just as beautiful like this as he was when flawlessly put together.

Alec realized he was skirting the edges of full-on leering and cleared his throat. “Dressing for the home crowd?”

Magnus grinned. “I usually don’t sleep in anything. But I decided that was likely not an appropriate choice tonight.”

Alec closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “Right. That wasn’t— Okay. So. Is there a side, you know, that you prefer?”

Magnus tipped his chin down as if to say really, Alexander?

Alec chuckled softly. “Side of the bed, Magnus.”

“Take that one.” Magnus moved without hesitation and pulled back the covers on the other side, sliding in. “How is Jace?”

Alec was caught off guard by the question, then realized that Magnus was probably just trying to make this easier on both of them. More normal—when it definitely wasn’t. Alec got in the bed and pulled the sheets over himself as he lay down on his back. “Very…Jace.”

Magnus smiled as if he knew exactly what that entailed. Then he turned to his side, fluffing up the pillow under his head and facing Alec. “And how are you?”

Alec turned his head to look at Magnus instead of facing him. All he could think about was keeping specific body parts from lining up in just the right way…. But he had made this bed—in an almost literal sense—and it was his to lay in now. Fuck it. He flipped over, mirroring Magnus’ position. “Not at all okay and yet really good. This is simultaneously the worst idea I’ve ever had and the best.”

Magnus seemed to be considering that. Then he splayed his hand in the empty space between them. “This is…difficult for me too.”

For some reason, that admission made Alec feel much more at ease. He quirked an eyebrow. “I thought you were a thirty-five year old man who could control his libido?”

Magnus leveled Alec with a steely gaze. “I’m not dead.”

“I know.” Alec let his hand fall to the bed, inches away from Magnus but not touching. “Just…. Don’t vacate to the couch, okay? I want to be here with you.”

“Okay,” Magnus agreed with a soft smile. “Goodnight, Alexander.”

“I don’t know about good—” Magnus placed his finger in front of Alec’s lips, silencing him, and Alec couldn’t help but smile. “Night, Magnus.”

 

****

 

Magnus woke up to Alec’s beard scratching at his chest through his t-shirt. His eyes slammed open and his heart thudded as he realized that his hand was curled around the back of Alec’s neck, fingers settled in the soft hair at Alec’s nape.

It took him only seconds to piece together from Alec’s breathing that Magnus wasn’t the only who was awake. And yet Alec hadn’t moved.

Magnus lifted his head just enough to confirm that Alec’s eyes were open. And that despite the behemoth size of his bed they were curled up in one corner of it. Even Chairman was rolled in a ball in the space between Alec and Magnus’ legs. Magnus’ heart tripped up a bit at the sight. “Good morning, Alexander.”

“You weren’t supposed to wake up until after I’d dragged myself off you.” Alec’s breath flitted over Magnus’ stomach where his tee had rucked up, raising chillbumps on Magnus’ skin. “I like this way too fucking much.”

Magnus tightened his hold around Alec’s neck and Alec closed his eyes, sinking into him.

This was it. It didn’t matter how long it took for Alec to come out or if Magnus did set his career in flames. This man was worth it all.

Magnus ran his fingers through Alec’s hair, Alec’s lips parting with the languid ministrations. Magnus had to get out of this bed or all notions of lines, or honor, would be decimated. “Take the bathroom first. I’ll make coffee.”

With that, Alec did drag himself off Magnus, sending Chairman mewling in a dejected flurry off the bed. Alec glanced over his shoulder then fell face first into the pillows again, mumbling something Magnus couldn’t make out.

Magnus tried not to think about how his pillows would smell like Alec when he came to bed again tonight. He dropped his feet to the floor and pushed up, keeping his back to Alec to avoid noting whether Alec had the same problem he did. “What was that?”

Magnus heard the sheets rustling, then, “I said, that was the best I’ve slept in months.”

With his back still to Alec, Magnus smiled. He spoke over his shoulder. “Naturally. You were with me.” He opened his closet door and took out linens. “Towels and washcloth for you. Shampoo and soap in the shower—in case you didn’t bring anything.”

“I did, but thanks.”

Magnus set the towels on Alec’s bag. “Let me make you breakfast.”

“I’m not going to say no to that.”

His problem under control enough not to be blatant, Magnus turned toward the bed. Alec was sprawled face-down across the sheets. His tank top scrunched up, biceps bulging where Alec cradled the pillow in his hands, sweatpants low on his hips, hints of the curve of Alec’s ass peeking above the waistband. Magnus took a moment to appreciate the view. “Is there any way to convince you that I’m a breakfast meat?”

Alec rolled his eyes.

Magnus smirked. “Maybe next time then.”

Alec pushed himself up and sat on the edge of the bed, itching at his beard. “I may need to call Izzy and see how much we can speed this process up.”

“We have all the time in the world—if not the patience. Today, you need to focus on your game.”

“Yeah. Shower, coffee, food, then the arena.” Alec scratched at his beard again, frowning. “Do you have anything I could use to trim my beard? I always do that on game day, but I don’t think I remembered to pack my trimmer.”

“Of course. There’s a pair of scissors on the counter you can use.” Magnus started for the door, then stopped. “Any other pre-game bathroom rituals I can lend a hand with?”

Alec’s face flamed.

Magnus was confused at Alec’s reaction until he thought about what he’d just said and….

Oh.

Well then….

Magnus gaped and his throat went dry when he realized he’d unwittingly stumbled upon a ritual Alec definitely hadn’t shared with their group. “On second thought, I’m going to go out— To get coffee…and breakfast. Walk. A long walk.” The thought of Alec taking care of himself with only a wall between them…. Magnus had to conjure decidedly unerotic images to keep his problem from making a sudden resurgence. “You do whatever—” He took a deep breath. They had to be realistic about this. “No breaking of tradition today. Let’s be honest. There’s only one way you and I are going to make it through possibly months of waiting.”

The color was still high on Alec’s cheeks when he finally met Magnus’ eyes again. But Magnus could recognize the playfulness in the twist of his lips. “Lend a hand, huh?”

“I’m very sure that would be crossing a line. Although”—he smirked—“I could just watch. That wouldn’t involve any touching.”

Alec cleared his throat and ran his hand over his lips. His cheeks had gone even redder. “You sure about that?”

Magnus had never Alec be so forward. If he’d thought last night was torture then he’d been wrong. So very, very wrong.

Magnus narrowed his eyes. “Alexander. You are extraordinarily good for me, but you also drive me mad.”

Alec smirked. “I’ll just get in the shower now.”

“And I will get us something to eat while practicing the virtue of self-restraint and definitely not imaging what you’re doing. To yourself. In my shower.” He walked out of the bedroom, muttering a plethora of swear words under his breath.

“Have fun,” Alec called out after him.

“Not nearly as much as fun as I’ll have later in my own shower,” he retorted.

There was a beat of silence, then, “Not fair, Magnus!”

Magnus clicked the door shut, laughing. He looked down at his outfit and realized he hadn’t even gotten changed to go out. At least he’d mindlessly slipped on a pair of shoes at the front door. There as no way he could go back into his apartment without offering to join Alec in his pre-game ritual.

He ran his fingers through his hair to smooth it down and adjusted his tee so he didn’t look nearly as wrecked as he felt inside and headed for the corner diner.

He was still processing everything Alec had said to him last night. Getting out of his apartment—into the sunshine and on the streets that he’d been walking for years, yet looked so different today—made all of it much more real. Alec wasn’t talking about a theoretical time that he might come out. He was engaging his sister in a plan for it to happen. Alec had spent the night in his bed, nothing had happened, and Magnus was glad it had gone that way.

Since Camille, he’d kept himself occupied and entertained with many beautiful men and women. He’d heard the whisperings of Magnus Bane doesn’t do relationships, and while he couldn’t fault the logic behind the statement, his current status wasn’t because he didn’t want commitment…or love. He simply hadn’t met anyone that a night—or two—wasn’t enough to satisfy his curiosity.

But Alec….

The realization that he wanted Alec at all had come to Magnus slowly—like a glass of water filled one drop at a time. And now that he had that glass in his hands, he wasn’t interested in downing it to quench his thirst. He understood that each new drop—if given time—had the potential to fill a well. A river. Or an ocean.

Alec had so much to give. And Magnus wanted to wait for each new drop from Alec. Sure that the enormity of what Alec offered couldn’t be contained in anything Magnus could hold in his hands.

Thirty minutes later—when Magnus was decidedly more at peace that he and Alec were doing this the right way, and he was sure he’d given Alec enough time to relax then get fully dressed again—Magnus made his way back to his apartment.

He opened his door to Alec seated at the counter, hunched over his cell, typing with one hand and petting Chairman with the other. Except for the duffel bag slung on the back of Alec’s chair, everything about the scene in front of him screamed domesticity and normality and it was everything Magnus hadn’t thought he wanted.

Magnus took in the furrowing of Alec’s brow. “Everything okay?”

Alec’s head snapped up. “Didn’t realize you were back. Yeah, I was just texting with Izzy.”

Magnus dropped the coffee and to-go bag on the counter and took the stool next to Alec. Alec’s hair was still wet, sticking out in all directions and he smelled like Magnus’ soap despite his assertion that he’d brought his own toiletries. Magnus smiled.

“How much did you tell her?”

“She knows I’m serious about coming out. She knows I stayed here last night. She doesn’t know any of the details of what we talked about….” Alec set his cell face down on the counter and Chairman vacated his lap with a plaintive huff. “Listen, Magnus—”

“You don’t need to ask again, Alexander. I will wait.” The furrow in Alec’s brow smoothed over at that. “There’s something terribly attractive about the prospect of dating you Victorian Era style. For awhile.”

“Look. I know there’s a line we can’t cross—and I feel like a total idiot asking—but I just…. I’d like to touch you. Somehow.”

Magnus arched an eyebrow and Alec’s cheeks began to stain with a shade of pink that made Magnus forget how to form coherent sentences.

“Just….” Alec worried his lips between his teeth. “Maybe your hand?”

Magnus swallowed. “Already trying to live up to that Victorian gentleman standard? You realize we did just sleep together?”

Alec cocked his head toward he bedroom. “I like that.” Alec entwined his fingers with Magnus’. “I like this too. We can do this, right?”

Magnus had held Alec’s hand at the club in LA. He already knew what Alec’s larger, calloused hands felt like against his skin. And Magnus had done much, much more sinful things with his hands than this, and yet he was having trouble finding his voice. He cleared his throat. “Touching like this is innocent.”

Alec rubbed slow circles over the back of Magnus’ hand with this thumb, seemingly entranced. “It definitely doesn’t feel that way.”

It didn’t.

“We’re talking months at most,” Alec said in a quiet voice.

Magnus had already arrived at the same conclusion. “Wait until we negotiate your next contract. Don’t come out until then. You need to be at that table in a strong bargaining position.”

“I assume that’s my agent speaking.”

“It is.”

“And what would my friend say?”

“You do it whenever you’re ready,” Magnus replied.

Alec finally tore his gaze away from their joined hands and lifted his eyes to Magnus’. “And what do you say?”

“I’ll wait however long you need.”

Alec swiveled around in his seat so he was facing Magnus completely and placed his other hand over Magnus’, sliding his fingers down until they were circled around Magnus’ wrist. “I won’t do anything to harm your career either. We have to find a way around that.”

“For fairness’ sake and in the name of Lightwood honor and integrity of course.”

“Pretty much.” Alec lifted Magnus’ hand and placed a soft kiss on the back. He let his lips linger, looking up Magnus through his lashes.

Magnus swallowed. “Alexander?”

Alec had a wicked grin on his face. “I gotta work on that line thing, right?”

How could one kiss on the back of his hand make him feel like he was going to spontaneously combust into a pile of ashes?

Magnus gave a clipped nod. “Right.”

To Magnus’ chagrin—and complete delight—Alec placed one more soft kiss then let Magnus’ hand go.

Alec shook his head and grabbed his cup of coffee. “This all feels like a…negotiation.”

“If so, I’ve clearly won,” Magnus said proudly. Alec smirked at that over his coffee cup and Magnus was sure his cause of death would be listed as eyelashes. “Are you nervous about tonight?”

Alec placed his elbows on the counter. “The first round is the furthest we’ve gotten since I joined the Angels. I’m not nervous. I just expect a lot out of my game tonight. Jace will still be slower—but we have to win and we will.”

“So what musical should I regale myself with here while you are doing battle?”

“The fact is—I want you at the arena. I want you, Izzy, Max, Clary, Simon—even Tessa…. All of you. I don’t want to be a slave to my superstitions, but I can’t let go of them all at once either. I’ve been talking to Tessa outside of the group, and the only thing she could come up with was all of you coming but staying in the zamboni room with Simon.”

“From the throne room to the dungeon,” Magnus lamented. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen.”

“Will you come?”

Magnus rolled his eyes. “I think you’ve already learned I can’t say no to you.”

Alec chuckled. “Now I know for sure.” Alec set his cup down and reached behind him, slipping the Angels sweatshirt he’d been wearing last night when he’d shown up at Magnus’ door from between the straps of his bag and handing it to Magnus. “The zamboni room gets cold, so maybe you could wear this?”

“It’s your sweatshirt,” Magnus said simply, clinging to the soft, thinning fabric.

Alec began to work at that spot on his left hand immediately. “I know ratty, casual wear isn’t really your thing, but today is a big game—”

“Thank you.” Magnus reached out, took Alec’s hand in his again—squeezing gently, giving Alec what he hoped was reassurance. And perhaps a tiny bit of payback.

The tipping up of Alec’s lips set the axis of Magnus’ world askew in a frighteningly beautiful way.

“You’re welcome.”

“Now that I have appropriate raiments for tonight, my Gramercy hipster, let’s eat.”

Alec shook his head, smiling.

Magnus would do everything in his power to ensure that smile never left Alec’s face.

 

****

 

I didn’t realize you were a giant????

Alec read the text from Magnus again, unsure what the context was until a picture quickly followed it.

Magnus was wearing Alec’s royal blue Angel’s sweatshirt. The sweatshirt that was the first piece of Angels’ gear Alec had ever owned—a gift given by the owner’s wife to all new team members. It had a vintage Angels’ logo on the front and his name and number on the back. It was at least two, maybe three, sizes too big on Magnus but Alec had never been more turned on by someone so fully-clothed.

The collar—stretched from years of use—hung low on Magnus, exposing the arch of Magnus’ collarbone. Magnus had rolled up the sleeves, showcasing his forearm and a wide gold band on the wrist of the hand planted on his hip. Alec could only see half of Magnus’ face in the picture, but it looked like his eyes were lined with gold as well. His lips and nails were a red that was absolutely sinful.

Gold, red, and royal blue.

Magnus was dressed like an Angel and he knew exactly how good he looked. So instead of drooling over Magnus via text—as he was currently doing staring at his cell screen as he walked across the player’s lot at the arena—Alec typed out a reply to Magnus’ remark about Alec’s size, In more ways than one :)

How very ungentlemanly of you, was Magnus’ immediate reply.

Alec barked out a laugh. You’re welcome. Btw my clothes look good on you

Everything looks good on me

Alec couldn’t deny that. Truth

Are you stripping down or gearing up?, Magnus sent.

Still in my suit

There was a pause then just a line of dots from Magnus, ….

Alec stared at the screen trying to make sense of that text. What does that mean?

Actual suit or birthday suit?

Alec laughed again. He did a lot more of that with Magnus in his life. Actual suit. We all wear one before the game. League dress code

I’m going to need a photographic evidence of this

Alec paused in the middle of the player’s lot and snapped off a picture. Then typed, This one was from Tom Ford. Think they may be wooing me for an endorsement deal

I’m impressed

As my agent?

Sure. Let’s go with that

Alec was grinning like an idiot and he didn’t care who saw him. Heading into the locker room now. I’ll text you before the game starts

Until then, Alexander

 

****

 

Magnus wound his way through the hallways in the arena, reading the signs to uncover where he was supposed to go. He wasn’t nearly as ostentatious as he had been at the last home game, but he felt comfortable and that had everything to do with the ragged sweatshirt he was being swallowed up in. Before last night, it was something he never would’ve worn in his apartment—let alone in public—but he wore it tonight proudly.

“Hey Magnus!” Simon called out, emerging from a room into the hallway. “Isn’t that Alec’s?”

Magnus pivoted to give Simon a view of the Lightwood 89 printed in fading white lettering on the back. “Has he always had the same number?”

“As far as I know. Another superstition I guess. Most goalies wear a one, thirty, or thirty-one.”

“You’ve never asked him?”

“Have you met Alec? He’s not into sharing. Well, except for with you apparently—” Magnus lifted his eyebrows and Simon grinned sheepishly and waved down the hallway. “Anyway, follow me. I’ll take you back to where the others are.”

“Hey, babes,” Clary greeted him when they entered the zamboni room. “Only you could pull off making an old sweatshirt look couture.”

Magnus kissed her cheek. Despite wearing garments fit for a sports god, he knew he looked good. He’d rolled up the sleeves and put on matching solid gold cuffs that circled both his wrists. Foregone his necklaces for a belly chain that wrapped around his waist. But it was highly likely he would be the only one to know it was there since Alec was being gentlemanly and Magnus wasn’t interested in having anyone else’s hands on him anytime soon.

Magnus looked around the sparse, freezing room. “And how do we watch the game? There’s no TV.”

Clary pointed at the door behind her. “There’s an office back there. TV, couch, and drinks in there. And isn’t quite as cold.”

“Excellent.”

Izzy sauntered over to him, a smile on her face as she pecked him on the cheek. “Hey, Magnus.”

“Still going to deny you know what’s going on?”

“No reason to. Alec made his choice and I always support him.” She smoothed a hand down Magnus’ arm and pulled at the fabric with a gentle tug. “I may just support him more than one hundred percent in the decisions he’s making lately.”

How all of the Lightwoods were this charming was beyond Magnus’ comprehension. “Does that mean I have your approval?”

“You didn’t need it. But of course you do, Magnus.” Izzy glanced around. “Where’s Tessa? I was hoping to meet her in person.”

“Alexander extended an invitation to her but she insisted on going to see a show tonight to uphold that part of the superstition.”

Izzy surveyed his sweatshirt again. “I can’t believe he talked you into wearing this horrid thing.”

“It is as cozy as I’m sure your flannel pajama pants are,” Magnus defended. “You told me I would understand one day.”

“Can’t escape fate forever, I suppose.” Izzy cocked her head toward the office door. “Max is in there if you want to get settled in.”

Magnus grinned and turned on his heel, entering the office. It was a tiny room with a desk littered with papers, shelves of tools, a state-of-the-art LCD screen mounted in the corner, and a timeworn brown couch where Max was seated, flipping the remote in one hand and holding a can of beer in the other.

“Maximilian,” Magnus greeted. “Good to see you again.”

“Nope. Not my name.”

“Maxwell?”

Max screwed up his face.

“Ah. Alec and Izzy aren’t the only ones with shortened monikers.” Magnus sunk—literally sunk, very far down—into the cushion next to Max. “Don’t fret, Max. Your full given name shall remain off-limits.”

Max leaned over and pulled a can of beer out of the mini-fridge in front of the couch and handed it to Magnus. “You’re awfully agreeable for being banished to Simon’s lair tonight.”

Apparently Magnus was going fully blue-collar tonight. He cracked the beer open. “Just…hopeful.”

“Nothing to do with the fact that you’re wearing my brother’s clothes? Or that you and Alec had a Lightwood-Bane sleepover last night?”

“Nothing at all,” Magnus said with complete composure.

“The unresolved sexual tension must have been palpable.”

Magnus considered whipping off a sarcastic retort. Instead he shook his head woefully. “You have no idea.”

Max was quiet for a moment. He pursed his lips then took a drink. When Max looked at him again there was a weight to his gaze that Magnus hadn’t seen with Max before. “He likes you, Magnus. I’ve never heard him talk about anyone the way he does about you.”

“He tells you everything?”

“Even if he didn’t I’d know. Once Alec is in, he’s all in. He gives everything for what he believes in—ideals and people. Alec is tough, but his penchant for self-sacrifice leaves him vulnerable. Don’t forget that.”

“I wouldn’t have expected to hear the protective brother speech from you.”

Max shook his head, then smoothed an errant strand of hair off his forehead. “No. This is the ‘be careful’ speech. For both of you. This won’t be easy, so just be careful.”

Magnus gave Max’s words the serious reply they deserved. “We will.”

“I mean….” The corner of Max’s lips tipped up. “Like, use protection. And lube. Lots of lube.”

Magnus huffed. “And there you are.”

“Just keeping you on your toes.”

Magnus’ phone pinged and he set his beer on the floor to open up his messages. He found a picture of Alec dressed in his gear with Jace leaning down next to him, holding the phone. Traded my Tom Ford for Bauer, the text below it said.

That was a brand name Magnus wouldn’t have known less than two months ago.

Then another message popped up, Jace says it’s time for me to stop texting. In his words—time to get my other head in the game

Magnus reread the text. So Jace knew about them….

Max cleared his throat and Magnus realized he was leaned over looking at the screen too. “You sure you two didn’t sleep together?”

Magnus scoffed. “Very.”

Max gestured for the phone and Magnus handed it over, watching as Max typed, Protect both heads out there, big brother

Will do Max

Max handed the phone back and Magnus typed, Good luck tonight, Alexander

There was a pause, then, Stay warm :)

Next to Magnus, Max groaned. “Oh my god. Make the schmoopiness stop.”

Magnus tucked his legs under him and let the warmth of Alec’s sweatshirt enfold him.

At this rate, he didn’t know if he’d ever stop smiling.

 

****

 

“Time to listen up,” Garroway said as he entered the locker room.

Alec turned his cell off and tossed it into his bag, putting all his attention on his coach.

Garroway stalked in front of them. “I’m not going to say what I usually do before a game like this, because we, as a team, haven’t been in this position before. You don’t need the reminder to skate hard or to leave everything you have on the ice—you already know what lengths you are physically and mentally willing to go to win.” Garroway paused, looking at each of them in the eye. “Tonight we bring our hearts. Our soul. Tonight we let all other bullshit go and remember what makes us passionate about this sport.” Alec nodded, breathing deeply, internalizing every word. All around him, he could see his teammates doing the same. “This game matters more than any other game you’ve ever played and you will win it because you are stronger. More focused. Because you want it more. I know this is breaking tradition, but we have to play different to win tonight. We have to be different.” Garroway pointed at Jace. “Wayland, call out who hits the ice first with you tonight.”

Jace grinned, dimples popping out, and stood. “Velasquez.” There was a wolf whistle and clapping. “Pangborn.” The volume of the room increased exponentially as Emil clanked his stick on the floor. “Santiago.” A chorus of get it, papi that had Raphael shaking his head in loving derision then thunderous applause. “And the zen master—called up to keep all our asses in line—Meliorn.” Meliorn stood for a delicate bow and the bench rumbled beneath Alec from the chants of ohm that filled the locker room.

“And in goal?” Garroway boomed.

“Lightwood!” Jace and the rest of the team shouted in unison.

Alec’s already red cheeks heated even more.

Garroway turned toward him. “You ever led the team onto the ice, Lightwood?”

Alec shook his head.

“New tradition, gentleman,” Garroway said. “Whoever can make me smile by the end of the game gets to put their skates on the ice before anyone else in the next game. Tonight’s your night, Lightwood.”

Alec stood and flipped his cage into place.

He let all his fears go.

Tonight he brought his passion.

Tonight was his night.

 

****

 

They were so close to the locker room that Magnus could hear the clattering of skates as the Angels entered the rink, the cheering of twenty-thousand people dull in comparison.

Three periods.

Sixty minutes of play.

Magnus watched Alec take to the ice first and breathed in the scent of Alec that surrounded him in this ratty, beloved sweatshirt.

The Angels playoff run wouldn’t end here.

And where he and Alec were headed was just as promising.

 

****

 

The first Angels’ score came only thirty seconds into the game. The second one, three minutes later. Not even five minutes into play and the Angels had a larger lead than they’d had in any home game so far. Twenty-thousand voices left the rink and boards shaking.

The Devils kicked up the pace of the game immediately. Their play was less physical, with a swift line changes that kept the puck in motion non-stop. They were skating clean tonight—cohesively—and Alec knew the Devils were driving the Angels hard to see how much pressure they could take before they started to crack.

It was home game and—because of how the series had gone so far—the Devils were waiting for the moment the Angels started to fall apart.

But that wouldn’t happen tonight.

Alec found himself smiling, shooting retorts at Jace when he skated by with a smirk. Blackwell looked particularly pissed with every shot of his that Alec deflected with a grin. By halfway through the second period the Angels hadn’t scored another goal, but the Devils had yet to put anything on the board. And the relentless pace the Devils had set was starting to wear them down. The Devils were a powerhouse team, not built for stamina.

The Angels were literally skating circles around them by the end of the second period.

“Rest up,” Alec taunted Blackwell as he skated by with sagging shoulders toward the tunnel at intermission.

“Fuck you, Lightwood,” Blackwell bit out.

Jace smirked, calling out, “My bro here is hung like a quarter horse. Pretty sure there wouldn’t be any rest if there was fucking involved.”

Blackwell sneered and headed for the locker room without another word.

Jace slapped Alec on the back and Alec guffawed, following Jace into the tunnel.

 

****

 

Magnus gaped and Simon’s singing cut off immediately.

“On a steel horse I ride?” Simon protested, sitting atop the zamboni. “Bon Jovi? Dead or Alive?” He pushed his glasses up, frowning. “And I thought the night my band played at that goth club by accident was a tough crowd.”

Izzy grinned at her husband through the office door. She had her feet kicked up on the armrest of the couch, head lounging on Magnus’ lap as Magnus wove tiny braids in her hair.

Max stood at the door to the hallway, head resting against the doorjamb as he listened to the sounds of laughter coming from the locker room.

Clary was perched on the jump seat next to Simon on the zamboni, kicking her legs like a child dangling their toes off a sun-drenched dock.

“Sing it again, Simon,” Magnus allowed. “We shall give your wittiness the appreciation it deserves.”

A chill had settled into the room from the ice Simon had just dumped down a chute to be carted away.

But Magnus was anything but cold.

 

****

 

Down two goals heading into the third period, the Devils reverted to their strategy of brutalizing their way to the goal. The Angels’ players tightened up their game in response. Their passes had to be faster, more precise, to work against the barrage of sticks, limbs, and bodies being thrown in their way.

The battle for the puck became more vicious in front of the nets—the Angels looking to increase their lead and the Devils seeking to close the gap.

The Devils offensive line wasn’t nearly as fast, but much more aggressive. Unlike the third game, though, the Devils were avoiding the penalty box at all costs.

With just under three minutes to go in the game, Alec’s attention went to movement on the other side of the ice—where the Devils’ goalie was rushing for the away bench and a sixth man was bounding over the boards.

“Empty net. Empty net,” Alec yelled.

The Angels executed an immediate line change, bringing their best defenseman to the rink and Alec dug his skates into the ice, adjusting his position to the puck whipping into the Angels’ defensive zone.

Velasquez took the two-on-one and Alec called out the shooting hand of the forward line. The Devils’ left winger spun past Velasquez, and Pangborn picked him up, slamming him into the boards and sending the puck careening. Alec slid to the cover the side of the net as the puck bounded into the corner and was picked up by a Devils’ D-man. Alec whipped his head around, shifted to protect the other side of the net, but Blackwell was already there, pulling his stick back and slamming the puck toward the net. Alec threw his weight to the side and up, the puck ricocheting off his mask, the heavy thud of contact echoing in his ears. The left winger appeared in Alec’s peripheral vision and Alec dropped down to stop a rebound score, but the red light behind him lit up before Alec could even blink.

The fans groaned as one disgruntled unit.

“You okay?” the ref asked as he skated by.

His ears were still ringing from the shot to the head, but Alec nodded and got to his feet.

There was only a one point difference between them with two minutes left on the clock.

The momentum could shift completely with one play.

But Alec wouldn’t let the Devils tie the game.

Overtime meant a sudden death scenario. And whoever had the highest score on the board at the end of the game moved on to the second round. Whoever lost wouldn’t play again until October.

This was where the Devils would get desperate. This was when the intensity could lead to mistakes. To fights. To injuries.

Alec’s knee ached. He was exhausted.

He thought about the lengths Garroway knew Alec was willing to go for the game. And about Magnus and the limits Alec wouldn’t let hold him back anymore.

Alec pushed himself into the proper stance again and refused to look at the clock. It didn’t matter how much time was left. He would play with just as much heart as he’d had the first time he’d put on skates until that final buzzer sounded.

The arena was a sea of white—fans on their feet and pounding at the boards. The familiar swish of ice and clanking of sticks felt like fire in Alec’s bones.

“Two minutes to glory!” Jace yelled at center ice.

Alec shook off the score and let a slow smile go.

 

****

 

Magnus couldn’t sit—but his shaking legs were barely able to hold him up either—so he leaned against Max for support, his arm entwined with Max’s as the puck dropped.

One and a half minutes.

Santiago won the faceoff and sent the puck into Devils’ territory. Magnus couldn’t keep track of the puck as the two teams battled for possession.

He glanced at the game clock at the bottom of the screen. One minute.

The Devils’ offensive line changed out and the Angels’ quickly followed with their best defenders, keeping the puck in Devils’ territory. The puck passing between the Angels’ first line with skilled flicks of the wrist.

Thirty seconds.

Magnus clamped on to Max tighter as a Devils D-man snatched the puck from Santiago and took off down the ice.

 

****

 

Alec hunched down and prepared for the breakaway, making minute adjustments to his position.

“Take the shot!” someone screamed.

The Devils’ defenseman’s stick swept back and he slapped the puck with punishing force. Alec had less than a second to react. He went left, protecting the upper corner of the goal and the puck slammed into his chest….

Just as the final buzzer roared through the arena.

 

****

 

Izzy jumped to her feet the second the game ended and crashed out the office door.

Magnus sagged into Max’s side. “They won.”

“Of course they did,” Max said with complete calm. “Come on. Let’s go see Alec.”

Max slung his arm over Magnus’ shoulders and pulled him into the hallway just as Izzy was taking off, catapulting into Alec’s arms, burying her face in his shoulder as he lifted her off her feet. Simon and Clary didn’t hesitate to jump in after her, bracketing Alec between them. Max let go of Magnus and when Izzy dropped back to her feet Alec reached out with one hand and pulled Max in by the back of his neck.

Magnus held back, letting Alec have his moment with his family. Memorizing every detail of Alec’s victorious smile. Then Alec’s eyes found Magnus and Alec was shaking off his family with kisses to the top of all of their heads and closing the distance between them and wrapping Magnus fiercely between his arms.

Alec was drenched in sweat. He stank.

And there was no other place Magnus wanted to be.

 

****

 

The rest of the world could fuck off.

This was what Alec was fighting for.

Where his passion, his heart, and his soul belonged.

Alec closed his eyes, holding Magnus tight.

 

****

 

Magnus stepped into the elevator at IE’s headquarters, found a space against the wall that he could lean his shoulder on and slumped against it. Normally he wasn’t so casual in how he presented himself, but it had been a late night. After the game he’d ended up at a restaurant with Izzy, Simon, Max, Clary, Alec, Jace, and most of the Angels’ organization. Between the fans and other players, Magnus had barely spent any time with Alec, but it had been worth it just to see Alec receiving the praise he deserved for that win.

He took his cell out of his pocket and pulled up his text thread with Alec.

Awake yet?

He hit send and held on to his phone as the elevator moved up to his floor.

As soon as he stepped out Alec’s reply came through.

Uggghhhhhh, was all the message said, then a picture of Alec with his face half buried in a pillow—his hair sticking up at all angles, his eyes still soft from sleep.

Alec in the mornings was a view Magnus could get used to very fast.

Go back to sleep, he typed. I’ll text you after work

Have a good day

You too

Magnus pocketed his cell and stepped up to Clary’s desk, eyeing the gigantic bouquet of lilies on the corner of it. “Flowers? And who is courting my queen?”

Clary’s lips lifted merely a fraction, but she otherwise ignored his question. “Good morning, Magnus. Your schedule is updated and messages are your desk. Izzy called to set up an official appointment with you. Said she wanted to run some things by you before you talk to Mrs. Herondale.” Her professional persona eased up as she leaned forward. “Alec’s really doing it? He’s really coming out?”

Magnus couldn’t help but smile. “On his terms, yes.”

Clary beamed at that and her phone began to ring. Clary glanced at the display and picked up the call. “What can I do for you, Charlie?” Clary rolled her eyes in response to whatever the person on the other end of the line said. “Hang on.” She put the call on hold and looked up at Magnus. “Sebastian Morgenstern is downstairs. He wants to see you.”

Magnus scoffed. “I don’t think so.”

Clary picked up the call again. “I’m sorry, but Mr. Bane is unavailable— No. I absolutely don’t want— Yes, Mr. Morgenstern. How may I help you?” Clary went quiet as she listened, her back straightening, then her brow furrowing. A chill passed over Magnus. She placed her hand over the phone and whispered to Magnus, “He says you need to look at your email before you decide to dismiss him this time.”

Magnus’ heart thudded in his chest as he got his cell out, swiped his screen and pulled up his email. Clary had become practiced at clearing his email since taking on the job as his assistant, so there was only one unread message—sent one minute ago. Magnus’ blood ran cold as he opened the message with a picture attachment. Fury overtook Magnus the second it came into focus.

It was of he and Alec on the street after their first meeting with Sebastian. Magnus and Alec’s hands twisted together because Alec had frozen to the spot in the middle of the sidewalk and Magnus had been pulling him to the side to talk. But as one frame—a moment caught in time—Magnus knew that picture implied something very different.

“Get him up here,” Magnus said through clenched teeth.

“Magnus—”

Magnus turned his cell for Clary to see. Her lips parted in shock and she began to say something, but Magnus cut her off. “This has to end now.”

Clary nodded. “I’ll notify security to be ready just in case.”

“You do that.”

Magnus turned on his heel and entered his office, taking the seat behind his desk and preparing himself.

Sebastian swept into his office and banged the door shut. Every nerve in Magnus’ body fired at the jarring sound, but Magnus restrained any reaction.

Sebastian stared him down. He held a manilla envelope in the hands clasped in front of him. “I’m glad you finally decided to see me.”

Magnus’ stomach churned but he wouldn’t give Sebastian the satisfaction of seeing how thrown he was. He leaned forward and steepled his fingers together. “Bribery didn’t work so now you’ve turned to threats?”

“The word threat implies that there may or may not be danger ahead,” Sebastian stated cooly as he walked over to Magnus’ desk. “I guarantee you—this is no threat.” Sebastian opened the envelope in his hands and dropped a stack of pictures on the desk, rifling through them as he spoke. “You and Alec having dinner with his family. You and Alec on the street together. Alec outside your apartment at night and then the next morning.”

Sebastian paused and Magnus didn’t say anything. He met Sebastian’s eyes without hesitation despite the dread skittering through his veins.

Sebastian smirked and unbuttoned his jacket, dropping into the seat in front of Magnus’ desk. “Agents don’t keep regular hours but even these are irregular by entertainment standards.”

“Your desperation is fouling my air,” Magnus dismissed. “I can tell you with complete confidence that Alec and I don’t have a physical relationship.”

“It doesn’t matter, does it? These pictures suggest otherwise.”

Magnus had dealt with men like Morgenstern before. He wouldn’t be swayed by a stack of photos that could easily be explained away. “What exactly is your end game here?”

“Alec is our most prominent former client. If he comes back then others will follow. It’s business, Magnus—not personal. But you have trouble separating the two, don’t you?”

Magnus wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all. So he did. “You have no idea who you’re dealing with.”

You have no idea who you’re facing,” Sebastian viciously sneered.

Magnus raised an eyebrow at Sebastian’s outburst.

Sebastian smoothed a hand down his jacket and his features eased again. “We know Alec is gay and the woman he’s been seen with is merely covering for him. One of his ex-boyfriends has been more than happy to provide all of the confirmation we require. While I understand his contract with Gallant doesn’t preclude such proclivities, it doesn’t allow for any press that would tarnish the company’s reputation. They can, and will, drop him if what we know—for lack of a better term—comes out.”

Magnus refused to confirm or deny Alec’s sexuality. Instead, he replied with a vague, “A hockey player’s sexuality may be news but it is not scandalous.”

Sebastian crossed his legs and leaned back, the picture of ease.

Magnus’ skin prickled with apprehension.

“You’re correct that you could spin that story,” Sebastian said. “However, there is also the small matter of your…upbringing. It’s appalling how cheap the glue is that they used on your sealed court records in Indonesia. Two decades later. I’m sure you’d thought you were past that ugliness.”

Magnus blanched.

Sebastian grinned, all teeth and venom. “You are publicly tied to him, Magnus. One anonymously sent tip and boom—international scandal. The closeted star hockey player in a secret relationship with the lothario bisexual agent with a blood-soaked past. The drama will be irresistible.”

Magnus clenched his jaw, fighting to hold his front. “What do you want?”

“I want Alec’s money and the money his compliance will bring back to my firm,” Sebastian stated definitively. “Alec stays in the closet, you continue to book him endorsement deals based on his clean image, and he comes back to us as a client—or we will ruin both of you.”

Magnus jabbed a finger at the pictures. “This is blackmail.”

“It is,” Sebastian confirmed with a haughty smile. “I’ll give you the day to speak to him but I expect that the next time I call your office I won’t be dismissed.” Sebastian stood and swished his hand in the direction of the desk. “I’ll leave those photos here. For your reference.”

The moment the door shut behind Sebastian, Magnus picked up his cell with shaking hands and dialed.

“Magnus!” Izzy answered, her voice bright. “Calling to set up a shopping date for the next game?”

Magnus dropped back against his chair, tears prickling in the corners of his eyes. His connection to Alec would bring pain to all of the Lightwoods.

“No, Isabelle. We have to talk.”

 

****

 

Alec paced in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows in his living room looking out over the river.

Izzy was on her way here with Magnus. In Alec’s car—that he usually only used on game days—so that they could enter his apartment building through the underground parking. So they wouldn’t be seen.

Because Sebastian Morgenstern was watching them.

Alec rubbed at his left hand—the numbness there gnawing at him— trying to piece together how things had shifted so cruelly so fast.

He and Magnus weren’t even together and now….

The lock clicked on Alec’s door and Magnus was the first through. Alec crossed the room in wide, determined steps and enveloped Magnus into his arms. Magnus sighed, pressed his face into Alec’s neck and circled his arms around Alec’s back, hands fisting in Alec’s shirt as if Alec was the only thing holding him up.

He’d known he needed Magnus to hold him together, but he hadn’t realized Magnus might need him too.

Alec pressed his lips into Magnus’ hair. He wouldn’t let this man go because of a threat, no matter how real it was. He couldn’t.

“Hey,” he said to Izzy as she dropped her purse and his keys on the table by the door.

“Hey yourself,” she replied with a sad smile. She rested her hand on his back for a moment as she moved past them and into the living room.

Magnus’ hands relaxed, palms flattening on Alec’s back. Alec drew back and cradled Magnus’ jaw. “You okay?”

Magnus shook his head. “No.”

Magnus’ eyes were shiny, his jaw tensed.

Alec wished he had the power to draw every ounce of pain he saw written on Magnus’ face away. “I hate him for doing this to you. That he’s using me against you.”

“Me?” Magnus’ features darkened. He grabbed Alec around the wrists and took a step back. “Alexander. This is your career he’s putting at risk. This is the definition of forced closeting. It’s not on your terms and it’s not your fault. He’s using me against you. If I wasn’t a part of this then he wouldn’t have nearly the same caliber of ammunition. This is my fault.”

“No. Absolutely not,” Alec said, determined. “If I wasn’t hiding none of this would be happening. Neither of us has done anything wrong here.”

Magnus held his gaze for only a second, then he was frowning deeply, moving past Alec into the living room, his shoulders sagging.

“You’re right that neither of you has done anything wrong,” Izzy said, her arms crossed, heel digging into the tile floor. “But that doesn’t change that we have a major problem that we have to deal with now.”

Magnus nodded, his focus on the windows instead of either Alec or Izzy. “Where do we start?”

Izzy glanced at Alec then Magnus and back at him—silently asking Alec if he knew what was going on with Magnus. Alec just shook his head. There was too much that was wrong for him to pinpoint what was bothering Magnus the most.

Izzy straightened her shoulders. “Magnus already ran through the pictures for me on the way here so I have context for what was happening in them—not just what it looks like they show. From a PR standpoint, they’re damning. I won’t lie about that.”

Alec hadn’t seen the pictures yet but he knew what they implied. He could run through every encounter he’d had with Magnus—that had been public in any way—and know that his demeanor, and actions, had shifted considerably since they’d first met.

He looked to Magnus. “Did you already talk to the state attorney’s office about that first meeting?”

Magnus was at the windows now. One arm crossed around his chest, the other arm resting on the first as he ran his thumb over his rings. “I did. But Morgenstern knows we won’t go to them with this.” Magnus took a deep breath, his shoulders lifting and Alec could see the moment Magnus’ protective facade slammed into place. “My past is more damning than those pictures are.”

“Magnus,” Alec said softly. He knew that there was something from Magnus’ childhood that Sebastian had dredged up, but the pain it was causing Magnus right now was the only thing Alec cared about. “You don’t owe me any explanations. Your past is your past. I know the man you are now and that is the only thing that matters to me.”

Magnus finally looked up at him. “You don’t know the whole story.”

“I don’t need to,” Alec asserted.

Izzy sighed. “I will if I’m going to know what to plan for.”

Alec kept his gaze locked to Magnus. “If you don’t want me to hear this, then tell me. I’ll leave and you can talk to Izzy.”

“I’d like you to stay,” Magnus stated, as if he was completely detached. “So you’re fully informed about what I’ve dragged you into.”

Alec winced but nodded his agreement.

“It’s rather simple really,” Magnus started, and Alec knew immediately it wouldn’t be simple at all.

Alec tensed his hands, forcing himself not to work at that numb spot. His own wounds didn’t matter right now—only Magnus’ did.

Magnus stepped away from the windows and faced Alec and Izzy. “My conception was the product of a sexual assault and my step-father always resented me because I wasn’t his. He treated me…harshly and it wasn’t my mother’s place to question him. After a number of years, my mother couldn’t deal with any of…that anymore and she hung herself.”

Alec’s knees went weak. His stomach dropping.

To anyone else Magnus may have appeared unemotional, but Alec saw the shaking of his fingers as Magnus balled his fist. “My stepfather blamed me for her death, of course, then tried to kill me. I was ten at the time.”

Izzy’s heels clacked as she tried to cross the room to him.

“Magnus—” Alec whispered, his voice cracking.

Magnus held up his hand, stopping both of them. “That’s merely the beginning. When the knife he tried to slit my throat with found its way into his belly instead—and he slipped into the river—I didn’t attempt to save him. They found his body two days later and I was taken to an orphanage where I lived for a number of years. Then I simply left one night and didn’t look back. All of the documents surrounding these circumstances were to be kept out of public record due to my status as a minor. I don’t know how Morgenstern tracked any of them down since I arrived in the United States under a different name. But”—Magnus smiled and it was all brittleness and pain—“I suppose that tells us what lengths he is willing to go to.”

Alec couldn’t take it anymore. He crossed the room toward Magnus slowly and Magnus looked away from him, his arms closing around his chest. As if he feared Alec was going to reject him. Or—Alec realized with a start—like Alec was going to hit him.

Alec stopped in his tracks. Magnus shined so brightly—lived honestly and with so much kindness—and Sebastian had made Magnus hurt. Made Magnus afraid. Alec was furious. Enraged. But that wasn’t the emotion Magnus needed to see painted on Alec’s face.

Alec spoke through the tightening of his throat. “That he would use that against you says more about him than you.”

Magnus closed his eyes and inhaled, his arms moving with the ragged breath. When Magnus spoke again, his voice betrayed how unsure he was. “I would have told you all of this on my own someday. When I was ready.”

“I know,” Alec replied immediately. He took another step toward Magnus and when Magnus didn’t flinch back he reached out. Magnus clasped onto his hand and Alec squeezed it. “Magnus, I still see you. I’m still so fucking grateful you came into my life.”

Magnus searched his face for only a heartbeat then he was tugging at Alec, pulling him in until Magnus had his arms around Alec’s waist. “Okay.”

Alec leaned down and placed a soft kiss to Magnus’ forehead.

When he looked to Magnus again, the sadness in Magnus’ eyes left Alec heartbroken.

Magnus’ shoulders lifted as he took a deep breath. Then he spoke so only Alec could hear him. “I need for you to be sure.”

“I am,” Alec answered without hesitation. “I trust you. Nothing he says or does will change that.”

“He says it’s not personal,” Magnus said, drawing back and looking to Izzy to include her again. “But I have the feeling that he’ll release information merely for spite if we make any kind of move against him.”

Izzy frowned. “I agree.”

“And he knew about Lydia.”

Magnus said her name carefully—they’d never had a discussion about her or her role in Alec’s life—and Alec startled at the mention of her name.

“Shit. Lydia. She texted me about a week ago. Said there was something we needed to talk about. And I know she’s been talking to Jace, so I just assumed if it was something important she would’ve tried again—” Alec glanced between Magnus and Izzy guiltily. “I’ve been…busy.”

Izzy glared at him. “You may want to call her now, Alec.”

Magnus just squeezed his hand again, then let go.

Alec slipped his cell out of his pocket and hit the button to call Lydia, setting it on speakerphone.

“Hey, Lightwood!” Lydia said as she picked up. “Great game last night.”

Alec cleared his throat. “Thanks, Lydia, but there’s another reason I’m calling. You’re on speakerphone right now with me, Izzy, and Magnus Bane—my…agent.”

Magnus smiled shyly at that and Alec shrugged his shoulders.

Lydia took a deep breath. “I knew I should’ve tried to get ahold of you again.”

Alec looked between Izzy and Magnus. “What happened?”

“I took my personal laptop into work and couldn’t get it to connect to the wifi. IT discovered that someone had accessed all my files and messed around with my settings. According to the IT guy I talked to, it was some kind of virus from someone who wanted me to know they’d gotten in. I use that laptop to backup my phone so everything is accessible on there. I wouldn’t have really worried about it because I don’t keep sensitive information on my phone or my personal laptop, but then I realized there were my messages with you. And with Raj.”

Alec’s stomach dropped. “Shit.”

“What’s going on?” Lydia asked, concern lacing her tone.

“It’s not good.”

“I should’ve pressed for you to call me back, but Jace got injured and I knew you were focused on the games. I didn’t want to add any stress when it was probably just me being paranoid. I’m sorry, Alec.”

“I don’t think it would have mattered even if I’d called you back immediately,” Alec answered honestly.

“What can I do?”

“Nothing right now, Lydia,” Izzy said. “Contact me if anyone starts asking about Alec or if it seems like anyone is following you.”

Lydia was quiet for a moment. “This sounds…bad.”

“It is,” Magnus confirmed. “Lydia, we haven’t had the pleasure of meeting but it seems as if Alec trusts you.” Alec nodded to let Magnus know he did. “Someone is targeting Alec because of his visibility in the media right now. We haven’t decided how to move forward yet so we need you to keep quiet about this for now.”

“Anything,” Lydia answered. “Let me know how I can help. Alec, will I see you tomorrow?”

Alec pursed his lips. “Tomorrow?”

“The Gallant event.”

Alec’s eyes widened. With his focus on the game last night then everything today he’d forgotten about the launch event Gallant was holding. “My campaign is launching tomorrow.”

Magnus’ jaw ticked. “That’s why he chose today.”

Alec felt a new wave of panic opening in his chest. “Lydia, I’ll have to call you later.”

“Take care of yourself, Lightwood.”

“Bye.”

Alec clicked off the call and stared at Izzy and Magnus in disbelief.

Magnus was right. Sebastian had brought this shit to their doorstep now because Alec was soon going to be all over the media—and not just for hockey. Sebastian was either going to have his picture perfect closeted hockey star in front of all those cameras or he was going to burn Alec’s career to the ground in a very public way.

How the hell were they supposed to fight this?

Izzy was already in motion, sliding her purse over her shoulder. “I’ll start working on our crisis management plan and reaching out to the contacts I trust so we’re not blindsided by anything. If you’re okay with it, I’ll also start dropping hints of a league player who’s going to be the first to come out. We get ahead of this and even if you are forced out—tomorrow or in the next couple of weeks—then we can work that angle to our advantage.”

Alec inhaled deeply and nodded. “Okay.”

Izzy paused and leveled a steely gaze between Alec and Magnus. “For however long this takes, the two of you shouldn’t be anywhere near each other unless it’s explicitly a business situation.”

“You can’t be serious?” Alec protested.

Izzy’s features softened. “For now, mi hermano. I’m sorry. You have to trust me.”

“Fuck Sebastian Morgenstern,” Alec spat out. His anger taking hold. “I won’t do it. I won’t give in to him.”

“This is not solely your choice,” Magnus said calmly.

Alec faced Magnus in disbelief. “You think I should give in?”

Magnus crossed his arms. “What other choice do we have for now?”

“I want to be with you, Magnus!” Alec shouted. He needed Magnus to understand this. “Not hiding, not lying. With you!”

Magnus’ face twisted. “I’m not enough to put you and your entire career at risk, Alexander!”

Izzy stomped her foot once to get their attention. “Enough! Both of you. Sebastian Morgenstern is trying to fuck you both over and you are letting him do it if you turn against each other.”

Alec scrubbed his hands over his face. Izzy was right. Sebastian was the focus of his anger, not Magnus. If he and Magnus were going to find a way through this they had to do it together.

“I have to get to work on this now,” Izzy pressed. “We don’t have time to waste. I mean it, though. You two can’t be seen together until we get a better handle on this. Magnus, do you want me to give you a ride home?”

“Please, Magnus. Just…stay.” Alec knew he was perilously close to begging. “While we still can.”

Magnus tipped his chin up and spoke to Izzy. “I’ll call you later so we can strategize.”

“Make sure you’re not seen when you leave,” Izzy reminded them with quiet force, and shut the door behind her.

 

****

 

“Magnus,” Alec said as soon as they were alone, locking eyes with Magnus. Resolute. “You are worth the risk.”

Magnus took that in—tried to believe he was—and held out his hand. Alec closed the distance between them immediately. Magnus was still so…exposed from talking about his past—so vulnerable. He’d made Alec just as defenseless, and yet Alec still wanted him. Still trusted him.

“It’s hard for me to believe that I am, you have to understand that, Alexander. But I see the way you look at me and I listen to everything you say to me….” Magnus entwined his fingers with Alec’s and pulled him closer. “I know I said I could only be with someone who is out, but not like this.” He paused, then emphasized, “Not. Like. This. There’s a part of me that wants to say that maybe you and I just aren’t meant to be…. You’re hurting and I’m hurting and this is the last thing we both said we wanted for each other.”

Alec peered down at him, eyebrows stitching together. “We can’t give up—”

“Listen to me, Alexander. I don’t want you to give in to him. I don’t want to give in either. But you have much more to lose than I do. We have to think about this logically. You and I not pursuing more is the only conclusion right now—both of us logically know that.” Alec opened his mouth to speak and Magnus set his palm on Alec’s chest to quiet him. “But that doesn’t mean we stop fighting.”

Alec seemed to ease at that. He let go of Magnus’ hand and dug his fingers into Magnus’ waist. “How the hell did this happen? We’re not even together.”

Magnus tried to smile, but his sadness was so close to the surface. “Alexander. Look at us. We are together in every way except physically.”

Alec’s gaze flitted to Magnus’ lips. “You said that if we kissed there’s no going back—no uncrossing that line—and I know what you mean. I get it. But both of us are old enough to know that life isn’t contained like the rink. Those lines aren’t painted below a sheet of ice….”

Alec brushed Magnus’ hair back, let his fingers linger against Magnus’ skin. Magnus’ sadness began to dissipate under the warmth of Alec’s touch.

Alec sighed. “I know what I said about waiting and it made sense when we were the ones in control. But right now all that we’re in control of is what does and doesn’t happen between us…. And how far we choose to go past that line.”

While they were here, they still had a choice for each other.

When Magnus walked out Alec’s door today, that choice would be ripped away from them.

Magnus slid his hand up Alec’s chest and circled his palm around Alec’s neck, seeking a connection. Safety in the midst of risk. “I don’t think either of us wants to go back.”

“Magnus”—Alec licked his lips—“we’re talking ourselves into something that will only make it worse for both of us.”

Magnus knew where this was headed and, “I know and I don’t care.” He teased at the jagged edges of hair at Alec’s nape and Alec closed his eyes. “Everyone thinks we’ve already had sex,” Magnus added with a teasing lilt. “So what’s one kiss?”

“Just one time,” Alec said. As if he was trying to convince himself. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes, locking on to Magnus’. “I trust you to hold on to the only piece of me that feels…real right now. I need you to believe that we can find a way through this, because I don’t know if I can.”

Magnus’ breath caught in his chest. “Alexander, you are breaking my heart.”

“I don’t want to say good, but—good. Because I’m….” Alec shook his head. “I’m already there.”

Magnus put his other hand over Alec’s heart. “Alexander—”

“I can’t take this anymore.”

Alec’s lips smashed against his, and Magnus was lost to the urgent press of Alec’s mouth—exploring, learning how they fit, tasting, breathing and moving together. Magnus ran his fingers to the back of Alec’s head, holding him in place. The fingers of his other hand curled under the neckline of Alec’s t-shirt, Alec’s heartbeat thundering under his fingertips.

Alec slid his hand on Magnus’ lower back, fitting them tightly together, and the first real press of Alec’s body along his sent shivers down Magnus’ spine. Magnus tilted his head, parting his lips farther for Alec—only Alec—and Alec moaned.

Magnus couldn’t get close enough.

The first touch of Alec’s tongue to his was slow, deliberate. Alec teasing at his tongue, lips and teeth, languid swipes that became heated in one heartbeat and Magnus opened completely for him, overtaken by the force of both of their need. He deepened the kiss, ripping another moan from Alec’s throat that lit every nerve in Magnus’ body.

Alec’s beard scratched at Magnus’ face, left a heated trail of oversensitive skin in its wake. Magnus sucked Alec’s bottom lip between his teeth then Alec’s hands were under his shirt, fingers dipping below Magnus’ waistband as Alec thrust his hardening cock against Magnus’.

This was one kiss. There would be more. Magnus had to believe there would be more. And if they didn’t stop now then there would be no notions of being apart from Alec at all….

But Magnus had never kissed anyone like this before and he never wanted it to end.

Magnus flattened his palm on Alec’s chest, nipping at Alec’s lips, sweeping his tongue into Alec’s mouth slowly until Alec was chasing after him for more. Magnus was rolling his hips against Alec’s, and if he didn’t stop now then this was going to end with Alec inside him.

He drew back and fought to catch his breath. “We have to stop.”

Alec ran his cheek against Magnus’ and nipped at Magnus’ earlobe. “I know.” Alec didn’t let him go, though. “Fuck. I want more, Magnus. I want all of you—everything you’re willing to give me. I want to tell everyone I’m with you….” Alec trailed a line of kisses down Magnus’ jaw before he drew back. “But I know we can’t.”

Magnus glanced at Alec’s kiss-swollen lips, felt Alec’s strong hands holding him tight, and knew for sure that even if they hadn’t crossed this line there was no going back for either of them.

“Not yet,” Magnus reminded Alec, because one of them had to hold on to hope.

“Not yet,” Alec repeated.

Magnus dragged Alec down to him and pressed a soft kiss to Alec’s lips. Lingering for only a second before he tore himself away. Alec’s hands dropped from Magnus’ waist and he didn’t move as Magnus went for the door.

“Goodbye, Magnus,” Alec said softly.

Magnus opened the door and turned to face Alec. “Not goodbye, Alexander. I’ll see you soon.”

Chapter Text

As the door closed behind Magnus, the reality of what had just happened hit Alec full force.

He’d kissed Magnus.

The scent of Magnus’ cologne lingered in the air. He tasted Magnus on his lips. Felt the warmth of Magnus’ skin on his fingertips. Saw his reflection in the hallway mirror—hair mussed, color high on his cheeks, the collar of his shirt stretched by Magnus’ hands.

And his heart was beating out of control.

He had an intimate knowledge of what Magnus’ body felt like pressed against his—finally—and he should’ve been reveling in that. Planning a first date, or anticipating the next kiss….

But it could be weeks, possibly months, before any of that happened.

Alec sank down, bracing his elbows on his knees.

It was just one kiss.

So why did it feel like so much more?

He laced his fingers behind his head—where Magnus’ hands had just been, drawing him close—and rocked forward as he clamped his eyes shut.

They’d made the choice to cross this line, even though both of them had known it would make things worse. But he couldn’t have known that his heart would actually ache—a tangible pressure that lanced through his chest, tightening his lungs.

It was like there was a vice around his chest, tightening every time he tried to inhale. Alec gasped for air.

Why couldn’t he breathe?

Not yet, he tried to remind himself. They both wanted to be together, but couldn’t. Not yet. But it was so hard to hold on to hope when he was unraveling more each second.

They weren’t even together, and maybe—as Magnus had said—maybe they weren’t meant to be. Everything had finally come together for them and fallen apart in less than forty-eight hours.

Alec balled his hands into fists—dug his fingernails into his palm—physically trying to hold himself together.

What the hell was he supposed to do now?

Anytime anything had happened in his life lately—good or bad—Magnus was the first person he’d contacted. But now…. He didn’t know if he could call. Or Facetime. Or even text.

He couldn’t see Magnus unless it was explicitly a business situation.

And the only person he wanted—needed—right now was Magnus.

But he wasn’t allowed to be with him.

This wasn’t just backwards, this wasn’t how relationships were supposed to start at all. They were ending and they hadn’t even really begun.

Alec ground his teeth together and surged to his feet. “Fuck!”

If he’d been at the gym he would’ve taken his anger out on a punching bag. Left his hands untaped so he could feel the sting of each hit. He would’ve fed each strike with the aggression prickling under his skin, until his knuckles began to split.

He shook his hands out and started to pace. Tried to breathe.

“Not yet,” he repeated—out loud this time.

He grasped on to those two simple words, saying them over and over again. He forced himself to enunciate each syllable until the words weren’t stuttered out between staccato breaths.

His shoulders began to ease, and his steps slowed as he neared the windows. He laid his forehead on the cool glass and was finally able to suck in a full inhale.

He was standing where Magnus had been less than an hour ago. Magnus had been so closed off then. In pain. Yet Alec had been able to hold him, reassure him. Even coax a smile out of him. Then Alec had kissed him….

He pushed away from the glass and ran his fingers through his hair.

And no. He didn’t want to go back to the way it had been before that kiss. Even if there was a physical ache in his chest when he thought about Magnus.

This hurt because Magnus mattered.

“Get your shit together, Lightwood.”

He cringed at the weakness in his voice.

None of this was fair.

But this was his reality—his life—and if he didn’t hold himself together then he wouldn’t have the strength to fight.

“I’ll see him soon,” he said this time. He smoothed his hand over his beard, fingers grazing his lips as he let out an uneasy laugh. “Shit. And I need to get out of this apartment and stop talking to myself.”

He went for the bedroom, changing into his running gear, shrugging on a hoodie, and pulling a baseball cap low over his eyes.

He needed to move. It didn’t matter where he ended up—but he couldn’t be trapped behind walls right now. He needed room to breathe.

When Alec exited his building the sun was on an arc towards the western horizon, dropping lower as each minute passed, casting the street in shadows as it slid behind skyscrapers.

Alec put his headphones on, started up one of his playlists, and began to run. He set a steady pace that had his blood thrumming and warmth spreading through his muscles within minutes, but his head wasn’t getting any clearer.

He propelled himself forward faster, trying to focus on the music and the rhythm of his feet, but he couldn’t shake the fear that was skittering through his veins.

He didn’t know if he was being followed now. If he was being watched. Gramercy had always felt like a safe place to Alec—a place to call home when the house he’d grown up in was no longer open to him—but the streets tonight were intimidating. He was suspicious of every person he passed. Watchful when these streets had been one place he could be at rest—himself. Sebastian had taken away the security of one of Alec’s safe spaces. Threatened his family. Torn he and Magnus apart because it suited his agenda.

Exposed Magnus’ past maliciously. Cruelly.

And he’d done it all for money.

Because, in this world, money had more value than life.

Sebastian’s threats carried weight because a wealthy man’s words would be received with more importance than the words of a man people wanted to look down on. There were people who feared someone like Alec because he was different, yet Alec was the one who had reason to be scared.

Alec swiped the sweat from above his lip and looked around him, realizing his unconscious search for safety had led him to the High Line—a section of elevated track that had been turned into a walkway cutting through Manhattan. A place that was always calming for him. He jogged up the steps and turned south.

Even though it was a Friday night, the walkway was packed. Tourists with cameras, families with young kids. Couples with hands entwined or arms wrapped around each other. Usually this was a place where Alec came to soak in the vibrancy of New York. A place where he could feel the city teaming with life and possibility. Tonight, though, he felt set apart from the liveliness. Excluded.

He dropped onto one of the wood lounges and draped his arms over his knees, catching his breath.

The warmth of the sun was fading with the sunset. Alec stuffed his hands in his pockets and watched as a group of people moved through the crowd. Their arms were loaded with telescopes that they set to work spacing out on the walkway. He’d forgotten it was that time of year—Fridays were stargazing night on the High Line once the seasons changed.

Stars were never very visible in the city, but Alec remembered lying on the lawn of his house, holding Max on his lap and Izzy pressed against his side. Max’s chubby fingers wrapped around his. Izzy’s hair tickling at his cheek. Those were good times. Memories that made him smile.

He had to wonder if Magnus had any happy memories like that from Indonesia. Alec hoped he did.

His playlist was still running and the song blasting in his ears was too raucous—too intrusive—so Alec took the phone out of his armband and clicked off the music. When he removed his headphones the familiar sounds of traffic, voices, and laughter filled his ears.

He stretched out his legs and relaxed back.

Now that he had his phone in his hands, all he wanted to do was reach out to Magnus. But he had no idea what to say.

He opened their thread—scrolling through the messages until he got back to the beginning—rereading them all. From the terse business texts in that first week, to the night Magnus had verified that they were indeed going to make Izzy believe they hated each other for a bit longer. The first picture Magnus had ever sent Alec—a billboard near Magnus’ office with Alec’s scowling face on a fragrance ad. A picture taken at the photo shoot where they’d first met. And Magnus’ wry commentary below that pic—I’m an athlete. Adore me. Fear me. Smell like me.

Alec smiled and continued scrolling.

Magnus with his family.

Magnus making him laugh.

Magnus flirting with him.

Magnus checking in—in his own verbose, roundabout way—to make sure Alec was okay….

It was all there for him to see.

He’d never intended to like Magnus at all. Never thought they could become friends. Never imagined that a mere hint of skin or an oversized ratty sweatshirt would make turn him into a stuttering mess.

Never hoped he’d ever find someone who he was willing to risk it all for.

But all the proof he needed was right in front of him.

Fuck. He was so sunk.

He was falling in love with Magnus.

Alec’s hands were shaking, fingers hovering above the keyboard, when someone dropped onto the chair next to him.

“Going incognito tonight?”

Alec inhaled sharply and exited out of his messages, clicking his screen off without sending anything. He had no idea what to say to the one person he needed to talk to.

He turned to Max, unsurprised to find him here. “Apparently not very well.”

Max was watching a kid across from them run his fingers through the tall grass. “Izzy called me. I figured I’d find you here.”

“Am I that predictable?”

“Yes.” Max gave a half-smile. “Although I did check your apartment and the bar first.”

Alec pocketed his cell again. “Drinking alone is rarely a good idea.”

“So you’re just sitting here brooding, huh?”

“I’m not brooding.”

“Right. I know that slouching and frowning are all part of your overall aesthetic, but what about the hickey on your neck?”

Alec pressed his fingertips to his skin. He didn’t remember Magnus kissing his neck, but the last few hours were an emotional blur. “Shit, really?”

“No. But now I know what you’ve been up to tonight.”

Alec waited for Max to tack on an And who you’ve been up for…. When Max didn’t say anything else, Alec said, “What? No innuendo there?”

Max shook his head, his jaw going tight. “If Izzy told me even half of what’s going on—and you really did kiss him tonight—then nah, Alec. I think you’ve had enough bullshit thrown at you today.”

Alec slumped into his chair. If Max was getting serious than things really were bad. He sighed and idly watched the couple across from him. They leaned into each other for a passionate kiss—as if they were the only two people on the crowded walkway. Alec licked his lips and swore he could still feel the warmth of Magnus’ mouth on his.

“I want to be able to do this with him,” he said to Max. Or maybe more to himself.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Max tilt his head in silent question.

“I mean…. Walk with him. Hold his hand. Kiss him if I want. When I want.” He curled his legs up, bracing himself against the chill that settled in with the sun dipping below the horizon. “I don’t want to be afraid to live my life.”

Max cracked the knuckles of his right hand one at a time with his thumb, hand clenching and unclenching. His lips were pursed, as if he was holding back….

Max railed when he was angry. Yelled at the top of his lungs and used his hands to accentuate every way-too-intelligent point he had. He never held back.

This was a Max that was furious, though, and Alec had never seen him so deathly calm.

“Max—”

Max held up his hand, stopping Alec. “I’m really fucking angry right now and none of that is directed at you. None of it.” Max met his eyes and the only thing there was love and acceptance—like always. “Okay?”

Alec felt tears gathering in his eyes. He couldn’t say anything without breaking down, so he nodded.

Max shifted, setting his feet on the ground and facing Alec. He scrubbed his hands over his face. He looked half-broken. Half forged in fire. “I may not know a lot when it comes to relationships, big brother, but I know fear.”

Alec inhaled a stuttering breath.

Max shook his head slowly, brow furrowing. “It never really goes away—it just changes as we change. We fear because we have something to lose. Or we fear because we’ve already lost something, and we don’t want to go through that pain again. I don’t know which is the bigger fear for you—what that dickface is doing to you, or losing someone again that you saw a future with.”

Alec winced. “He’s not Raj.”

“And you’re not the same person you were back then,” Max agreed. “You’re stronger than you were then. Happier. Fuck, Alec. I’ve never seen you happier than when you’re with Magnus.”

Alec swiped at his eyes, a half-smile on his lips.

“You’re never going to get rid of all your fear, Alec, but you have to decide how much of your life it dictates.”

Alec grimaced. “Too much right now.”

“Someday you’ll be able to do all of this.” Max gestured at the telescopes, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips. “Soon, you’ll be able to come to stargazing night on the High Line and study Magnus’ celestial body while he swoons at the constellations in your eyes.”

Alec had no choice. He had to chuckle.

Max gripped Alec’s shoulder. “And you don’t have to go through this tough stuff alone, okay? Call me. Call Izzy. Call Clary. Hell, have Simon take you on a zamboni ride. We’re your family and we love every brooding inch of you.”

“Okay,” Alec allowed with a quiet laugh.

Max knocked a closed fist against Alec’s chair. “You know what would do you a lot of good right now?”

Alec lifted an eyebrow. “Sebastian Morgenstern’s obituary?”

“That would help,” Max said with all seriousness. Then he tipped his head, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “But I was thinking a gigantic glass of wine and The Notebook.”

Alec had to fight to hold a grin back. “There is no good time for that. Ever.”

Max gave a full-on smirk this time. “We’ll see about that.”

 

****

 

Magnus stumbled through his apartment door.

He had called Izzy after leaving Alec’s apartment—ensuring there was nothing else he could do tonight—then dragged Ragnor and Catarina out to dinner with him. He hadn’t intended to get mind-numbingly drunk, but well…. There were so many things he didn’t want to think about, and now here he was. Tottering on one foot, his keys clattering to the floor as he flipped on the lights in his lonely, empty apartment.

Chairman meowed.

“Empty ‘cept for you,” Magnus reassured his cat.

Chairman flicked his tail, seemingly satisfied.

Magnus nodded—what he had to assume was—very sagely. At least there was one being on this planet that he hadn’t disappointed tonight. Then he promptly tripped over his cat, sending Chairman howling into the bedroom as Magnus fought not to sprawl face first onto his floor.

“Imma be okay,” he reassured no one, since even his cat had abandoned him.

There was the vague knowledge somewhere in the reasoning center of his brain that getting drunk had been a bad idea—one he would most certainly regret in the morning—but Magnus had had enough of logic today for an entire lifetime.

“Fuck logic!” he seethed and went to slam the door shut, but then it was bouncing back, hitting him in the shoulder and sending him flailing and struggling to stay on his feet. Again.

Ragnor appeared in the door, rubbing at his nose. “Really, Magnus?”

Magnus stitched his eyebrows together in confusion and lifted a finger to protest Ragnor’s unannounced presence, but…

Oh, yes. Now he remembered.

Ragnor had insisted on following him home to make sure he didn’t end up wandering into a karaoke bar and deafening a room full of innocent people.

“What did he mumble?” Catarina said, closing the door quietly behind her.

Ah. And apparently Catarina had come along as well.

“You’re so kind,” he said to Catarina, pointing a wobbly finger at the two Catarinas in front of him. “Much too kind to be friends with the likes of him.”

“And the hits keep coming,” Ragnor quipped.

Magnus smiled. “You deserve me.” Just as suddenly, his heart was clenching painfully. “Alexander, however, does not.”

“We went over this already,” Catarina reminded him, placing a hand on his shoulder.

He vaguely remembered agreeing to acknowledge his own self-worth, but he’d already been well on his way to drunk at the time. Catarina had used his weakened state to coerce him into seeing his own value. It was a criminal act of kindness. Magnus pondered that for a moment. That was a thing, right?

Alec would know.

Magnus rifled through his pockets and brought out his phone to text Alec.

“No, Magnus,” Ragnor chided him. “Absolutely not.”

Magnus held tight to his phone and dodged away from Ragnor, sashaying toward the island in the kitchen with utmost grace.

“Magnus, you can’t even walk,” Ragnor insisted. “You’re drunk.”

“Not,” Magnus protested eloquently and ran into the granite corner. He winced. He couldn’t recall ordering such abrupt—frankly, rude—edges on his countertops.

Ragnor remained on the other side of the island, his hand outstretched. “Hand me your mobile.”

Magnus scowled and slunk down behind the counter, opening up drawers and cupboards pretending to hide his phone away. The feat of opening drawers with one hand—and sliding his cell back into his pocket with the other—was surprisingly difficult. He fumbled for a moment longer, positive that he had been caught. But there was only blessed silence coming from the peanut gallery.

He stood back up, glared daggers at Ragnor and slinked—slunk? slinkaged?—his way into the living room, turning his back on his friends.

“What did you do with your phone?” Catarina asked him, all kindness and warmth. She was much too good to him, but not good enough for him to relinquish his sole connection to Alexander.

Magnus pouted. “I’m not telling either of you.”

“Magnus!” Ragnor boomed. “Where’s your phone?”

“I dunno,” he lied.

Or slurred. Or maybe slur-lied. Slurried.

He was slurrying a surly Ragnor.

Magnus giggled and kept his back to Ragnor, jabbing at screen of his cell. What the hell was his passcode again? Whatever it was, he should change it to A-L-E-X-A-N-D-E-R. Magnus frowned at the screen, the buttons blurring into a whitish blob. Or perhaps he could change it to A-L-E-C, because the voluminousness of his bearded, angelic goalie’s name seemed slightly overwhelming right now. He had to cross his eyes for there only to be two sets of letters and numbers, or maybe it was three—

Wait. What was he doing again?

Right. Alexander.

Magnus hunched over his screen, bringing it closer to his face, as the floor swayed beneath his feet.

“Magnus,” Ragnor growled and lunged. “Give me your phone.”

Magnus twirled away from him and Ragnor darted around him with ease—really, how was Ragnor so spry for his advanced age?—swiping at Magnus’ hands and missing. But Magnus hadn’t taken into account the unsteadiness of the floor as he attempted to escape Ragnor’s clutches, and he pitched to the side, landing on his back, staring up at the ceiling.

Magnus whomped out a breath of surprise at this new, undignified position, but felt his fingers still circled around his phone.

Magnus held his cell up in triumph. “Aha! You’ll never best me!”

Catarina floated past him, plucking the phone out his hands. “Friends don’t let friends drunk text.”

“Friends don’t let friends get blurringly drunk to drown their misery,” he pointed out from his position on the floor. It was surprisingly comfortable here. He may never move again.

Catarina scoffed. “You say that as if you weren’t the one finishing off our drinks for us.”

“Exactly how drunk are you, Magnus?” Ragnor asked. “Will there be dancing?”

“I haven’t drank—drunk? drunken?”—he twirled his hands through the air, momentarily hypnotized by the shininess of his rings—“Regardless. I haven’t imbibed nearly enough for that.”

“That’s disappointing,” Ragnor said in a very disappointed tone. Enough that Magnus briefly considered attempting a salsa step or two just to see Ragnor’s glower turn to a grin.

But then there was the floor….

It was cool and soothing and flat.

Ragnor would just have to remain perpetually disappointed.

“I’m impressed he can say imbibed. He can’t even correctly conjugate the verb to drink,” Catarina said.

Magnus held up his hand. “I need water. To drunken.”

Catarina appeared over him, nodding her head. “I think that’s a good idea.”

A moment later Catarina had returned with a glass in one hand and the other outstretched for him—inviting him to abandon the soothing floor. Magnus didn’t deserve the surety of this wonderful floor either, so he allowed her to pull him to a semi-standing position then promptly dropped onto the couch when his head began to spin. She pressed the glass into his hands and Magnus took a deep swig.

The water didn’t taste nearly as exciting as the wine at dinner. Or the martinis. Or the scotch.

But to be fair, even those drinks had tasted like dust tonight.

Everything tasted like dust now that he’d tasted Alexander.

He patted his pocket with his free hand, seeking out his cell. He needed to text Alec.

Then he remembered his one lifeline had been stolen from him so he didn’t make a complete ass of himself.

Magnus barked out a laugh.

It was much too late for that. He was an ass for Alexander Lightwood.

All-in for Alec’s ass.

He glared at his best friends. “Give me my phone back.”

“No,” Catarina and Ragnor said in unison.

Magnus scrunched up his face in frustration. “Fine. I don’t need it anyway. I don’t do relationships, so if I can’t fuck him then what’s the point?”

Catarina shook her head. “Now you’re just saying things that you’re going to regret in the morning.”

There was no need to wait for the morning—he’d already flung himself into a pit of regret and woe.

He needed his phone so he could text Alec that he was sorry for that remark. Alec would be bewildered, but Magnus liked it when Alec squinted one eye dubiously.

Alec was so handsome.

“I’m regretting this entire night,” Ragnor said, rudely interrupting Magnus’ Alec-based reverie.

His countertops and Ragnor were both rude.

“Only tonight?” Magnus lamented. If he couldn’t text Alec to apologize for something Alec would never know he’d said, he could at the very least torment Ragnor. “I haven’t been trying hard enough.”

Ragnor scoffed and threw something onto the coffee table as he took a seat on one of the barstools.

A manila envelope.

Magnus took another drink of the water, but he was much more sober all of a sudden. Magnus leaned forward and picked up the envelope, sliding it open and dropping Sebastian Morgenstern’s pictures onto the table.

Catarina was immediately at his side. “I don’t think this is what you need right now.”

Magnus didn’t reply. He couldn’t take his eyes off the pictures.

It didn’t matter that every one of these images could be explained away. The way Alec looked at him…. Magnus was intimately aware of how piercing Alec’s gaze could be when he looked at Magnus. But Magnus didn’t know he was just as obvious when he had his eyes on Alec.

Magnus picked up the photo from the night he and Alec had had dinner with Alec’s family. He and Alec weren’t even looking at each other, but Alec was leaned back smiling and Magnus was laughing at something, his arm slung across the back of the bench, fingertips grazing Alec’s shoulder….

“I kissed him,” Magnus said quietly. “And now I don’t know when I’ll be able to do that again. That kiss— I’ve never…. Alexander—” A chill passed over his skin. “I love the way his name makes me feel when I say it.”

Ragnor sighed. “It’s too late.”

Catarina nodded. “I know.”

Magnus glanced between them. “For what?” he challenged.

“Magnus,” Ragnor said in his well-practiced give me fucking break tone.

“Ragnor?”

Ragnor arched an eyebrow, and Magnus remembered….

For fuck’s sake you’re going to fall in love with him.

Magnus gripped the photo tighter. “No. I can’t be falling in love with him.”

Ragnor heaved a world-weary sigh and swiveled to face Magnus completely. “I know you’re frightened of falling in love again—after what Camille did to you. But from everything you’ve told us…. Alec isn’t Camille.”

Magnus was seething in an instant. “Never utter their names in the same sentence together.”

“Magnus,” Ragnor warned.

“Ragnor,” Magnus rebutted.

Ragnor glared at him.

Magnus rolled his eyes and slumped into the couch.

Ragnor smiled victoriously. “I’m glad we understand each other.”

“I love you and your unfashionable weakness for an all-green wardrobe, my sweet pea.”

Ragnor glanced at his olive shirt and then to Catarina. “He’s telling me he loves me.”

Catarina pulled the picture out of Magnus’ hands. “Time to get you to bed, Magnus.”

Magnus allowed Catarina to pull him up and Magnus stumbled forward, wrapping Ragnor into a hug. “I do love you.”

Ragnor patted his back. “I know, my dear friend. Now go to bed.”

Catarina slid an arm around his waist and Magnus leaned into her as she led him into the bedroom. He face-planted into the bed and heard Catarina moving around, then his shoes were being removed and the bed was dipping down next to him.

Magnus lifted his head enough to look at her. “My sheets smell like him, Cat. But less than they did last night. And tomorrow night….”

She lifted his hands and removed his rings and bracelets, setting them on the nightstand. “You never know what tomorrow brings.”

His meeting with Imogen Herondale. The Gallant event. The specter of another visit from Satan himself—Alec had beaten the Devils only to be confronted by a much worse demon. Magnus knew exactly what tomorrow held. “I don’t hold out much hope. But you’re the only one I can tell that to.”

She smoothed the hair off his forehead and laid her palm on his cheek. “You do, Magnus. Or you would’ve written him off already. You walk away without looking back when the end goal isn’t worth it.”

Magnus sighed. “He’s worth everything.”

“Then hold on to that hope.” She pressed a kiss to his forehead. “Goodnight, Magnus.”

“Goodnight, my dearest.”

Magnus stuffed his face in the pillow, clutching it tight, and fell asleep remembering what it had been like to hold Alec in his arms.

 

****

 

Alec woke up to the acrid scent of smoke in his nose.

He sat straight up and threw his legs over the side of the bed, stumbling into the kitchen still half-asleep. “What the hell?”

Max paused from waving away smoke and looked to Alec. “I made the mistake of asking Izzy to watch the bacon while I pissed.”

“You told me to watch it,” Izzy protested from her seat at the kitchen table. “Not that it needed to be flipped!”

Max didn’t have his prosthetic on yet—like most mornings—and he had a hip leaned against the counter, balancing, as he clanked the tongs in his hand together and pointed them at her. “Watching means flipping if needed.”

“Not my fault that my presence makes everything heat up,” Izzy said with a sly smile.

Max rolled his eyes. “I know you’re too hot, sis—”

In perfect unison Izzy and Alec both said, “Hot damn.”

Izzy grinned and air high fived Alec from across the room.

“Jesus give me patience,” Max muttered. “No police or firemen, okay? At least you didn’t destroy my quiche.”

Alec chuckled. “Give me the tongs. I’ll finish up breakfast. Go sit down, Max.”

Max used the counter and the table to propel himself forward and dropped into the chair next to Izzy, kicking his leg up on the seat across from him.

Alec set aside the burned bacon and put fresh pieces in the pan. “You know I love you, Iz, but you’re never over at my place this early. So what’s up?”

“I didn’t sleep much last night,” she said, taking a gulp of coffee. “Guessing you didn’t either.”

He had slept, but it had been fitful. “How are things looking?”

“We have a solid plan in place for every possibly scenario,” she said with a confidence that eased Alec’s mind a fraction. “I’ve written up a few draft statements in case we need to release something quick. Check your email when you get a chance and let me know if you have any major changes.”

“I’m sure they’re perfect,” Alec dismissed. Izzy eyed him. “Fine. I’ll review them after breakfast.”

“I won’t be at the venue tonight,” Izzy continued. “I need to be in the office in case anything does go down. I’m sending one of my colleagues to be on-site with you. She’ll have a direct line to me.”

“And I’ve got one of my finals tonight,” Max added. “So I won’t be there either. Sorry.”

“School is way more important,” Alec insisted. “Lydia will be there with me, don’t worry.”

Izzy stood, refilled her coffee cup and poured one for Alec. She leaned against the counter. “Lydia is up to speed too.”

Alec jolted at that news. “You told her everything already?”

“Look, I know she’s your friend and not a real girlfriend—and that helps this whole process immensely—but she needs to be prepared too. She can’t go into tonight without knowing exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. That she’s agreeing to go despite the potential knock to her image is something you should be thanking her for.”

“Shit. Outing me means that she’ll start to be questioned.” He owed her fourteenth century precious gems, not just thanks.

“Exactly.”

Alec took a sip of his coffee and kept his focus on flipping the bacon instead of meeting his sister’s too-perceptive eyes. “Have you, uh, talked to Magnus?”

“I did last night.” In his peripheral vision he could see her staring at him intently. “Haven’t you?”

“Not since he left.”

“Alec.” She sounded exasperated. “When I said you can’t be seen together I didn’t mean you have to cut off all communication. You can still call and text him.”

“I don’t know what I’d say.” He shrugged.

“How about hi or good morning? I know yesterday was tough, but the two of you need each other right now. The circumstances around you are fucking insane, but it’s not like anything has really changed between the two of you.”

Alec glanced at the table and Max gave an almost imperceptible shaking of his head. He hadn’t told Izzy.

He finally met Izzy’s eyes. “I kissed him.”

Her brow furrowed. “So? You’ve been doing that for weeks now.”

“Last night…. After you left…. That was the first time.”

Izzy’s features fell. “Oh, Alec. I just assumed since you’d spent the night at his place—”

Alec cut her off. “I really don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay.” Izzy gripped his bicep and went back to her seat next to Max.

Steadfast on not saying anything more, Alec went back to cooking. He took the bacon out of the pan and opened the oven. He cut out three pieces from the veggie quiche and continued setting up plates.

Izzy hissed something in a whisper to Max and jabbed a finger at the screen, which Max replied with a succinct shut up.

Alec got out forks and napkins and picked up two of the plates. “What you are you two fighting about?”

Max closed his laptop. “The usual.”

Alec set the plates down in front of his siblings. “Correcting your grammar in an essay?”

Max laughed. “Sisters can be so annoying.”

“Just for that, I’m taking all your bacon.” Izzy swiped a piece off his plate and took a massive bite.

Alec grabbed his plate and joined them, the bickering between Max and Izzy reaching cacophonous levels.

Alec smiled.

He wished Magnus could be here with them.

 

****

 

Magnus blinked his eyes open to an uncomfortable dryness. His throat was scratchy and he’d definitely need to increase his water intake to combat the dull ache in his temple, but otherwise he was fine—which made him immediately annoyed. He hadn’t been intending to get drunk last night, but if one was really going to wallow in misery than a morning hangover was requisite.

He made his way to the bathroom and did a cursory cleaning up, then trudged into the kitchen throwing the freezer door open, and grabbing the ice cream. If he wasn’t going to be hungover, he could still properly wallow. He grabbed a spoon from the utensil drawer and popped the lid off the container. Alec’s sweatshirt was still draped over the back of one of the counter stools and Magnus took the seat next to it, digging out a massive spoonful of ice cream. At his feet, Chairman was staring up at him accusingly.

“Ice cream is a legitimate first meal of the day,” he defended. Chairman, unimpressed with this argument, continued to stare at him. “It’s cinnamon bun ice cream—hence breakfast. The breakfast of champions.”

His cat’s whiskers dropped in a decisive frown.

“Very well. The breakfast of heartbroken champions.”

Chairman nudged up against the empty stool next to Magnus, sending Alec’s sweatshirt cascading to the floor, then snuggled into a ball on the fabric, cocooning himself in the folds.

Magnus couldn’t even protest. If he were small enough he would’ve joined his cat on the floor. He dug his spoon into the container in a very wallowing manner. “I miss him too.”

 

****

 

Alec picked up his cell and opened his thread with Magnus.

It had been over twenty-four hours since Magnus’ last text to him—I’m on my way

Nothing since then.

And Alec still didn’t know what to say.

The possibility for good morning had swiftly turned into good afternoon as Alec slogged through a team meeting, practice, and another team meeting to watch tape of the Penguins—their second round opponents. The more time that passed, the more unsure Alec became.

He hadn’t reached out to Magnus, but Magnus hadn’t tried to get ahold of him either. And they still hadn’t really discussed what to do about Sebastian Morgenstern…. But his first message to Magnus after that kiss couldn’t be business.

Before he took an endless amount of time to overthink it, Alec took a deep breath, typed out a text, and hit send.

 

****

 

Magnus broke Imogen’s piercing gaze and glanced at his phone.

He had to fight to keep his composure when Alec’s name popped up on his screen, and below that….

Hey :)

He’d avoided reaching out to Alec because he hadn’t wanted Alec to feel like he was under any pressure. But he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t waiting—hoping that Alec hadn’t regretted that kiss. And now….

Magnus was holding back from grinning like the lovesick fool he apparently was.

How did one word have the power to devastate him so completely and yet build him up even stronger than before? That one word was an ode. An epic novel. Magnus could remember every time Alec had greeted him with that same simple opening—a shy smile on his face.

A mere upturn of Alec’s mouth—let alone his generous lips actually forming words—was enough to send Magnus to knees, begging for Alec to reveal the secrets of the universe to him one word and one look at a time.

He tapped the screen to reply. Good afternoon, beautiful. In a meeting but I’ll see you tonight

Alec’s reply was immediate, K :)

Imogen cleared her throat. “Important business?”

The most important kind.

“A good agent is always in demand,” he said instead. He set his phone on silent and refocused on Imogen. “As I was saying, I have a trip planned to Dallas and LA this week to meet with two prospects and entertain some important contacts. Tessa signed the contract for her new show as well.”

“Any other progress?” Imogen wasn’t frowning as she scribbled in a gold-leafed notebook. Magnus considered that alone a success.

“Jace Wayland came to see me—he wants me to take him on as a client. I’ve been reviewing his current agency agreement. He’s in a place where he could end the agreement without repercussions, but we could offer a token percentage of Jace’s next contract in order to facilitate a clean transition. After those poaching lawsuits with that agency in California, I’m sure you want to avoid legal battles as much as I do.”

Imogen nodded. “What amount?”

“Half of one percent on his next contract with the Angels, but nothing new we book for him. He’s going to be worth millions to us.”

“See how the conversation goes. You have my approval to offer that if needed.” Imogen set down her pen and leveled him with a pointed stare. “What else?”

She knew him too well by now.

Magnus forced himself not to adjust his position as he said, “We also need to discuss Alec Lightwood.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “Do we?”

“You already know about the first meeting where Sebastian Morgenstern attempted to woo Alec back to Morgenstern & Morgenstern with a hefty check.”

Imogen nodded. “And Alec turned him down, yes.”

“Morgenstern didn’t accept Alec’s answer and has since done some nefarious, and likely illegal, undercover work.” Magnus picked up the manila envelope on the floor next to him and handed it over to Imogen. “You know I refuse to out anyone, but Alec had already approved me having a discussion with you about a rebranding and gradual coming out process before Morgenstern approached me yesterday.”

“Alec is….” She still hadn’t opened the envelope.

“Gay,” Magnus confirmed.

Imogen pursed her lips and undid the catch, sliding the photos out. She regarded them…clinically.

Magnus ran his forefinger over his thumb as he gave Imogen time to rifle through the stack. “Morgenstern presented those pictures to me yesterday. Threatened that he would forcibly out Alec if Alec didn’t agree to become a client again and use his media darling status to bring other clients back to their firm. Since Alec was already planning on coming out, we could have manipulated the spin in his favor if needed. But Morgenstern also decided to do some digging around in my past.”

Magnus took a deep breath and clenched his jaw. He’d avoided thinking about his childhood since talking to Alec last night. Remembering left him too vulnerable, and it was a state he couldn’t afford to be in right now. “From what he said to me yesterday it sounds as if he knows everything. He thinks that revealing information about my past will ruin me, but it will only harm Alec.”

Imogen was well aware of the reasons for Magnus’ unorthodox arrival in the United States. And revealing his immigration process to the executive team had been part of his background check when he was hired. Coupled with the threat to Alec, Magnus couldn’t be sure how Imogen would react to this news, though.

As Imogen’s silence dragged on, Magnus shifted uncomfortably. “At least, that’s the impression I’m operating under.”

“Your past isn’t an issue with me or the executive team,” Imogen replied. “You wouldn’t have started working here if it was. And Alec’s sexuality isn’t an issue at IE either.”

Imogen was intelligent. Pragmatic. He hadn’t expected any other answer from her, but he eased in his chair again.

She set the photos aside and focused her steely-eyed gaze on him. “But together, we do have a PR problem. I see what these pictures could portray, however I want to hear it from you. What exactly is your relationship with Alec?”

“I am Alec’s agent,” Magnus answered succinctly, meeting her unflinching gaze. “And he is my friend.”

“While our personalities do not mesh, Magnus, I respect you. You’ve proven yourself over and over to me and you’ve never directly lied to me.” She frowned. “Don’t start now.”

“Alec and I are friends. If I may be blunt…?” Imogen gave a clipped nod. “Alec and I haven’t had sex. There can’t be anything formalized between us besides our business relationship right now.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Both. I’m focused on protecting Alec’s safety and career, and IE’s interests at this time.”

“‘Right now’ and ‘at this time.’ You are choosing your words carefully,” Imogen noted.

Magnus was, but he wouldn’t hide that his priorities would eventually shift. “I am.”

Imogen leaned forward and rotated her computer screen to face Magnus. “These pictures I received in my email today make much more sense now.”

This was a different set of photos than were in the envelope, but all featuring he and Alec. All with the same connotation. Magnus perused the new photos with an outward calm, even though he was seething inside at Morgenstern’s viciousness, and met Imogen’s eyes again. His anger was focused on one person—and that wasn’t Imogen. “I suppose I should be upset that you were testing me, but I have more important things to worry about.”

“It wasn’t as much a test as giving you space to tell me the truth.”

Magnus huffed, but had to relinquish a small smile. Imogen hadn’t gotten to her position without some deviousness of her own.

He let that topic sit and moved on. “I’m hoping you’ll consider advising every other IE agent that has clients left with Morgenstern & Morgenstern that they need to take their finances elsewhere.”

“But not until IE is out of the spotlight and Alec’s safety has been secured.”

Magnus nodded. “Not until then.”

Imogen rotated her screen around again and clasped her hands on her desk. “And I trust you also have a plan for what defensive position we must take.”

“I’m working with our PR firm on crisis management and a full coming out plan—both will available for your review later today. I also have a call scheduled with Dot this afternoon and a follow up meeting with her while I’m in Dallas.”

Imogen’s brow furrowed at that. “Dorothea Rollins?”

“Morgenstern threatened Alec’s contract with Gallant,” Magnus explained. “Dot will be sympathetic, but if this explodes during tonight’s event she may not be able to salvage his contract.”

“You are as thorough as always.”

Magnus twisted his hand in the air, a wry smirk on his lips. “I’m attempting to work my magic.”

Imogen sat up taller. “We need to be clear on this one point—if anything ever changes between you and Alec, you cannot represent him anymore.”

“I’m aware and so is Alec,” Magnus said unapologetically. “I’d like to see Alec through his contract negotiation, but if anything changes before then I will remove myself. Regardless, we should begin talking about a succession plan if we want Alec to stay with IE. As of now, there aren’t any agents working for us I could see being the right fit for him, but perhaps I can be swayed.”

Imogen’s lips twitched. “I didn’t realize you were swayable.”

Magnus twirled his hand in the air. “I am extraordinarily flexible when the right occasion arises.”

Imogen shook her head, a near smile on her face.

Magnus rose to his feet, leaving the envelope with Imogen. He didn’t need to have those in his possession anymore. “I’ll see you at the event tonight.”

“Do you think Sebastian Morgenstern will make an appearance?”

It was at the top of the list of Magnus’ concerns. “I don’t know. But for Alec’s sake, I hope he doesn’t.”

“Magnus.” Imogen was smiling now. “You are relentless when faced with a challenge. I’m not worried about Alec or you. If Sebastian values his money, let alone his head, for his sake I hope he doesn’t show up.”

Magnus nodded and strode out of Imogen’s office—genuine hope lightening each of his steps.

 

****

 

Alec filled a glass with water and brought it to Lydia. She’d paled more and more as he’d talked, telling her everything Izzy hadn’t. Apparently, Izzy had kept her briefing with Lydia much more factual than the emotional tirade Alec had just unwittingly dropped on Lydia.

“That was more ranting than I expected to do,” Alec apologized as he handed the glass over.

Lydia took a drink and shook her head. “You obviously needed to get it out. After hearing all of that, I’m thinking I should’ve brought my flask, though.”

Alec chuckled. “It would’ve matched your dress perfectly.”

Lydia was perched on the edge of her chair as not to wrinkle the crimson form-fitting dress she wore for the Gallant event. She tugged at the hem brushing the top of her knees. “I could’ve used one of those thigh holsters women always have in westerns. I could pull that look off, right?”

“Always seemed like it would be a lot of work to access,” Alec said, dropping onto the couch next to her. He smirked and shrugged. “But what do I know about wearing heels or a skirt?”

“I think the point of the under-dress hiding place was to catch people unaware. Just a normal woman, not a gun-toting or alcohol-wielding hussy.”

“You are such a hussy,” Alec teased.

Lydia beamed. “I know, right?” She pointed at his clothes. “So, uh, sweatpants tonight?”

“I’m waiting for my suit to be delivered.” Alec cleared his throat. “I asked Magnus to pick something out for me. Weeks ago. You know, before all of…this.”

Lydia studied him for a moment. Then her voice gentled. “Your face changes when you say his name.”

Alec bit at his lip to hold back what was sure to be a sappy grin.

“It’s a good thing, Alec. I’m happy for you.”

There was a knock on the door and Alec jumped to his feet in a rush—partially to exit out of having to find some way to reply to what Lydia had said, but also because he’d been hoping all day that maybe Magnus would be the one to deliver Alec’s clothes for tonight.

He unbolted the door and pulled it open to find Clary balancing a garment bag and a duffel over her shoulder.

She smiled up at him. “Hey.”

“Hey,” he said distractedly. He glanced over her head and down the hallway.

Clary sighed. “No Magnus. Sorry.”

Alec frowned and let her in.

“Hey, Lydia,” Clary greeted. “You look stunning.”

“Thanks! I used that Rent the Runway site.” Lydia pushed out a hip, did a supermodel pout, and Clary grinned.

Alec raised his eyebrows and shut the door. “You two are awfully friendly. Should I be worried you’re going to steal my fake girlfriend, Fray?”

Lydia smacked him on the back with her purse. “We’re in the same kickboxing class with Izzy—although I haven’t been in few weeks. How’s that new teacher?”

“Same,” Clary said. “Too much arms, not enough glutes.”

“Your ass looks really….”—Alec gestured in her general direction and avoided looking anywhere near her ass—“round already, Clary.” She quirked an eyebrow and Alec sputtered. “Can we just get on with this? Please?”

Clary hooked the bag on the back of the door. “Of course. I’m sure you’re ready to get there.”

“I’m ready to get out of there and I’m not even there yet.” Alec was perilously close to sulking. “Any chance they won’t notice if I don’t show up?”

Lydia rolled her eyes.

“Maybe this will help.” Clary dug through the duffel. “Magnus asked me to deliver this to you.”

Alec’s heartbeat kicked up. He lifted the box out of Clary’s hands, fingers grazing over the handwritten note that was attached to the front.

 

I don’t want everything between us right now to be tinged by sadness and regret. We have a lot to look forward to….

-M

 

Alec removed the note, read the label on the shiny box with embossed lettering, and laughed out loud.

It was Magnus’ brand of luxury soap. The same soap Alec had…made good use of in Magnus’ shower. A lot to look forward to, huh? Only Magnus could manage to make a sexual innuendo with an otherwise innocuous object. Thankfully, neither Clary nor Lydia asked for any kind of explanation. Alec had to assume the heat in his cheeks said everything.

“He also picked this out for you to wear tonight.” Clary held out a small black box, a definite smirk on her lips. “Wings for his Angel. His words.”

Alec set the first present aside and opened the lid. Inside was a silver bracelet that would look like a line of feathers around his wrist. Wings for his Angel. That line was over the top, devastatingly sweet, and so Magnus.

Alec swallowed around the ache building in his chest and put it on. He glanced between Lydia and Clary, both of whom seemed intent on assessing his reaction.

He scratched at his beard to cover up his self-consciousness. “Is this borrowed like the clothes?”

Clary shook her head. “No. This one you get to keep.”

Alec nodded, not trusting his voice.

“Come on,” Clary urged. “Try the suit on so I can take a pic and report to my boss whether or not it highlights your broad shoulders the way it’s supposed to. I’m also under explicit instructions to take a full body shot so he can ensure you’re Gallant brand appropriate and that quote-unquote all that glorious facial hair is still in place.”

As if he would shave this beard off when it seemed to be an endless source of joy for Magnus.

“Right. I’m just”—he pointed over his shoulder—“going in there now.”

Lydia and Clary glanced at each other knowingly and Alec whipped the garment bag off the door and shut himself into his bedroom. He laid the bag on the bed and unzipped it slowly, excited to see what Magnus had picked out for him.

Alec smiled as he took stock of the contents. Magnus’ fashion sense was as flawless as usual. He’d picked out a classic fit charcoal suit, a dark blue collared shirt with white buttons, and no tie. Simple, modern. Striking.

Alec peered at the label and chuckled. Tom Ford.

He would have to remember that Magnus paid attention to everything Alec told him.

Alec got dressed, leaving the top button undone on the shirt, and went into his bathroom to slick his hair back and check his beard again to make sure there weren’t any stray hairs. He picked up his beard comb and started to run it through, his hand freezing when he realized that was a gift Magnus had given to him too.

He huffed out a laugh.

This beard comb. The bracelet. A paperback on his nightstand and an audiobook on his phone. An empty hanger in his closet where his Angels’ sweatshirt had been. He was wearing a suit to a public function that Magnus had picked out for him. That damn soap.

He was surrounded by evidence of Magnus’ presence in his life. He’d always been meticulous about not accumulating anything that would hint that he was gay. And now, Magnus was entangled in almost every facet of Alec’s daily life and Alec wanted more.

The weight of the bracelet on his wrist was reassuring. A reminder.

He didn’t know what tonight would bring, but he had no doubt Magnus would be at his side through all of it.

Alec caught the smile on his face in his reflection and shook his head fondly as he walked out of the bathroom.

Max had been right—Magnus did make him happy.

Clary and Lydia were huddled together talking when Alec rejoined them in the living room and both of their heads snapped up.

Alec stuffed one hand in his pocket and waved the other near his head. “How’s the hair?”

“You look red carpet chic, Alec,” Lydia reassured him with a smile.

“You do.” Clary stepped up to him. “Oh, and Magnus also told me do this.” Clary reached up and undid one more button of his shirt before Alec could protest, then took a step back and whipped out her phone to take a pic. Alec chuckled as he attempted to cover up his face with his hand.

“Knock it off, Alec,” Clary said, and batted his hand away.

Alec relented—this was the first of so many photos he’d have to pose for tonight. He gave his best I’m-a-serious-athlete face and Clary snapped off a few pics in quick succession.

Clary was focused on typing when she said, “Your car will be here in about twenty minutes. I have to head over to the venue now to verify that the last minute additions from IE have been added to the list.” She looked up from her phone. “You need anything else?”

“A really good excuse for not showing up tonight?” Alec tried.

Clary smiled serenely. “See you at the party.”

“First drink’s on me for skipping out on kickboxing class, Clary,” Lydia offered.

Alec scoffed. “Pretty sure the drinks will be free. But if not, they’re all on me tonight.” He tucked Clary under his arm and walked her out.

As soon as the door was closed Alec turned to face Lydia. “Okay. I’m better and yet still nervous.”

“It will be okay,” she said, her features going soft.

Alec took a deep breath. “You don’t know that.”

“I do. Maybe not tonight, but it will be.” Lydia opened up her purse and pulled out a compact. “May I? You’re sweating a bit and—” She gestured with the compact at his forehead. “How about some powder on your t-zone? It will help keep shine to a minimum.”

“I don’t know what a t-zone is, but go for it. I’ve worn more makeup in the last month than I have in years.”

The corner of Lydia’s lips tipped up. “There’s a story there you can share with me on the car ride over.” Lydia dabbed at his face then put her compact away and threaded her arm through his, facing the mirror in Alec’s hallway. “We look nice together.”

They looked like a power couple. Young. Beautiful. Styled to take over the world.

And it was all a lie.

Alec met her eyes in the mirror. “This is the last time, Lydia. I can’t pretend anymore.”

Lydia tugged on his hand until he was facing her. “I’m your friend, Alec. Here to support you. We’ve never said anything publicly about what our relationship is or isn’t. We’ve never even done anything more than you kissing my cheek, your arm around my waist, or a hug. I’d like to think that me being your friend isn’t pretending.”

Alec scowled. “It’s not— I didn’t mean it that way.” He sighed. “You know what I mean, right?”

Lydia smiled sadly. “I do.” She stepped back and went for the kitchen. “I know you don’t want to have alcohol on your breath for the press line, but do you mind if I raid your liquor cabinet?”

“Shit. I’m so wrapped up in my own head I haven’t even thanked you for going to this tonight. Or asked about how you’re doing.” Alec realized Lydia was waiting for an actual answer on the alcohol and nodded. She took out a bottle of whiskey and poured a shot, knocking it back swiftly. She was an alcohol-wielding hussy and he was grateful she was his friend. “So, you and Jace were talking a lot after he got injured. That going anywhere? I mean, besides the occasional hook up?”

She placed the bottle back in the cabinet. “Comparing information from two different sources?”

“I haven’t asked Jace about you at all. Prying anything out of him when he doesn’t want to talk is painful.”

Lydia arched an eyebrow as she reentered the living room.

Alec scratched at the back of his neck. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know I’m the same way.”

“Let’s just say that my love life is evolving—like everything else since John died.”

“So the job too, huh?”

Lydia opened up her purse and pulled out lipstick, reapplying it in the hallway mirror. “It’s all fair game at this point. Being a lawyer was the career my parents wanted, not me. I’m giving myself time to get it right.”

The buzzer to Alec’s apartment went off and Alec jumped. He put his fingers to the bracelet on his left wrist, steadying himself.

Lydia clicked the top to her lipstick tube in place and faced him. All red lips, curvy hips, and radiating confidence. “Let’s go, Lightwood. You got this.”

 

****

 

The driver opened the door at the Gallant campaign launch venue and Alec emerged, greeted by flashbulbs as he held out a hand for Lydia to take.

A woman with strawberry blonde hair in a black cocktail dress approached them. “Mr. Lightwood? I’m Meg from Alicante Public Relations. Do you have any questions or concerns we need to address before we hit the press line?”

Alec swallowed. He’d read Izzy’s draft statements and knew that Meg was here to step in if reporters asked anything that wasn’t hockey or Gallant related, but there was no good way to prepare for potentially being kicked out of his closet in a very public way. He adjusted his bracelet and shook his head.

“Let’s go ahead then. This way.”

“Hang on, let me fix your collar.” Lydia tugged at him, bringing him closer to her while also glancing at the PR rep to make sure she was out of earshot. She locked eyes with him. “It will be okay. Breathe. Smile. Treat this like every other press conference or interview you’ve ever done.”

Alec took her first piece of advice and inhaled deeply. “Thank you for being here with me.”

“You said that already.”

“Very sure I didn’t spell it out. So thank you.”

Lydia smiled and smoothed and her hands down his lapels. “I get to rent a fabulous dress. Have my makeup done. Spend time outside the office for the night—with friends. This is fun, Alec.”

“Glad one of us will have a good time tonight,” he grumbled and she laughed as he hooked an arm around her waist.

Together they posed for a few photos, then Meg directed Lydia off to the side and the focus was all on Alec—who was internally scrambling to figure out if there was a way to convince his sweat glands to close up shop for the night. But the photographers were all trying to get his attention at the same time, so they started calling out bets on the how many games the next round would last—lighting up a mini rivalry in the press line between Angels fans and Penguins fans—and Alec couldn’t help but begin to really smile.

After that he made his way down the line answering the usual questions—the ones he could rattle off without having to think at all, because the appropriate responses had been drilled into him since there was even a hint of him going pro—and Alec relaxed even more.

Towards the end of the line, Alec saw Jace hugging Lydia out of the corner of his eye—a distance between them that was socially acceptable.

“Come on, Wayland,” he called out. “Can’t deny the camera your beauty for too long.”

Jace loped over with a wide grin on his face and clapped him on the back. They posed for photos together, and signed a few autographs, and when Jace headed inside Meg was at Alec’s side immediately. “You’re done. Not too painful, right?”

“Alec!”

Alec turned at the shout and caught eyes with an NBC Sports reporter he’d talked to earlier.

“Alec, we need you to comment on a breaking story. Could we have a moment of your time before you go in?”

Alec froze. His heartbeat thundered in his ears and he looked to Meg for help.

Shit. This wasn’t happening. He wasn’t ready.

Meg was holding a hand over her earpiece, head tipped as if she was listening to someone on the other end. Alec tensed as he waited.

She pursed her lips then met his eyes. “I’ve been losing my cell signal all night under this metal overhang. The call dropped off before I could hear what Isabelle advised.”

The spots from the camera flashes still danced in his eyes, and his vision was graying out at the edges…. Alec sucked in a panicked breath. He acknowledged the reporter with a nod and handed his cell over to Meg, entering his passcode with shaking fingers. “Use mine. I need to know what to do here.”

She nodded. “Give me a minute.”

Alec grimaced. His survival instincts were kicking into overdrive. Everything in Alec was telling him to run. Neither flight nor fight was a solid strategy at this point, though.

Meg was grimacing when she turned back around. “You don’t have any service either.”

He turned to Lydia, but knew what her answer would be just by the look on her face. “Same here.”

Meg handed his cell back to him and Alec stared at the picture on his home screen….

A shot Izzy had snapped of he, Max, and Magnus standing at the bar together—their backs to the camera—at the post-game seven celebration. Max in his Angels hoodie, Alec in a plain black tee, and Magnus with Lightwood 89 emblazoned on his back, his head turned toward Alec, smiling.

The answer to what Max had asked him last night was so simple.

Alec didn’t want to be dominated by any of his fears anymore.

“I know my signal was fine in other spots,” Meg said. “Give me a minute and I’ll track back—”

He steeled himself and faced Meg. “No. I’m going to talk to them.”

Meg gave a curt nod. “I’ll intervene if needed.”

Lydia stepped up to him and set her palm on his jaw, running her thumb over his cheek. “Hey, it’s okay.”

Alec searched her face. “Even if it’s…not, then it will be later. Right?”

“Exactly.” Lydia took his hand and urged him forward. “I’m right here.” She took one discreet step back when he was in front of the reporter, but remained at his side.

Alec forced a smile and braced himself. “A breaking story?”

He clasped his hand over his wrist behind his back, holding on to that bracelet in a death grip.

The woman brought the microphone to her lips. “How do you feel about being a finalist for the goaltender of the year award?”

Alec’s hearing fuzzed out for a moment and his eyes widened. Had she just said…? His hands slipped apart and he ran shaking fingers over his mouth. “I’m sorry, what?”

“The list of finalists for the goaltender trophy was just released,” the reporter said with a huge smile. “You’re one of the three.”

Relief flooded through his veins and he glanced at Lydia—who had a wide grin on her face as she reached out and squeezed his arm—then turned to face the reporter again. Alec chuckled, all tension draining away in a rush. “This is the first I’m hearing about it and I’m—” Alec sucked in a huge breath. “I’m honored that the owners nominated me.”

“You had a rough start in the first round, but in the last two games you’ve played nearly perfect. Anything you can attribute that change to?”

“There are many factors that influence how a game goes down. The Angels are the best team I’ve ever played with, though,” Alec recited. That answer was one he’d given multiple times before, but that wasn’t the whole truth. “And my off-ice support crew is incredible.” Alec ran his thumb over the feathers on the bracelet and smiled. “Magnificent, really.”

“Thank you, Alec.”

With the news of his nomination shooting adrenaline through his veins, Alec swept Lydia into a hug.

“Come on, Lightwood,” Lydia said, laughing as he released her. “Let’s go celebrate.”

Alec strode into the glass-encased atrium—with his head held high.

 

****

 

Your man was just notified that he’s one of the finalists for goalie of the year

Magnus grinned at the text from Izzy. Everything about that message was perfect. Sheer, unambiguous perfection.

His man—he liked that moniker more than was likely healthy—was finally getting all the positive recognition he deserved.

The party was in full swing—even if the guest of honor was still outside the venue—the campaign was already popping up on social media, and the Angels were headed into the second round of the playoffs.

Tessa tapped his arm and Magnus looked up, following her gaze to the front door—where Alec was entering with Lydia at his side. Jace appeared out of the crowd and crashed into Alec, lifting him off his feet in a bear hug. Magnus could hear Alec’s unguarded laughter from across the room.

Everything could change in a heartbeat, but Magnus was sure that tonight wasn’t going to be that night.

 

****

 

Alec hadn’t made it farther than a handful of steps into the party without being inundated with people who wanted to talk to him. To congratulate him. Even Gallant’s CMO Dorothea Rollins—who had been distantly professional when Alec had first met her—was warm when she approached him.

He gradually moved farther inside with each new person that wanted a minute or ten of his time. It had been hours of small talk, shaking hands, taking pictures, and signing autographs—on thick, glossy copies of the campaign photos that were hung on every wall of the venue—but Alec still hadn’t talked to the one person whose voice he wanted to hear more than any other.

Magnus was in the same room as him, twenty feet away. Every time Alec thought he could feel Magnus’ eyes on him, he would get pulled in a different direction, and when he found Magnus in the room again he’d be engaged in conversation with Tessa or another person at his side.

Alec stood in a circle now with Clary, Jace, and Lydia, but he was barely paying attention to what they were saying.

He had every inch of Magnus’ appearance memorized from the sheer number of times he sought out even a glimpse. Magnus had on a black jacket with embroidered gold threads woven throughout. A dark red collarless shirt with a respectable number of buttons undone. His hair swept high, and bold eyeliner sweeping off the corners of his eyes. His lips were red—the same red they’d been the night Magnus had gone to dinner with Alec and his family. Alec had wanted to kiss Magnus that night.

Tonight, all he wanted was to see Magnus’ lips curve into a smile when he was looking at Alec.

He was sure Magnus was giving Alec space. Making sure Alec was comfortable. Respecting that boundary line that Alec had set up by bringing Lydia here. Alec was reinforcing his own closet tonight, and although he had very good reasons for doing it, it wasn’t how he wanted to live anymore.

He wasn’t supposed to be seen with Magnus at all.

But Magnus was his agent. And this was a business function. So talking to him was okay…. Right?

Fuck Sebastian Morgenstern. This was the longest he and Magnus had gone without speaking directly to each other since the beginning—when they’d hated each other—and Alec couldn’t go one more minute.

“Listen—” The conversation around him stopped cold the second Alec opened his mouth. He’d interrupted whatever the three of them had been talking about.

“Sorry, I just….” Alec glanced at Magnus again, not wanting to lose him in the crowd.

Clary followed his gaze and stifled a snort with her hand.

Alec leveled her with a look.

“I’m going to get a drink,” Lydia said. “Clary, Jace, you two want to join me? I think Alec has an IE contact he needs to catch up with.”

Jace grinned and clapped Alec’s back. “Say hi to Magnus for me, bro.”

“Have fun,” Lydia singsonged and looped her arms through Clary’s and Jace’s, leading them towards the bar.

Alec took a deep breath and made his way through the crowd toward Magnus.

“How does one make elbows look so manly?” Alec heard Tessa comment as he stepped up behind her.

Alec leaned said elbow on the high-top table she and Magnus were at. “It’s a talent, Tessa.”

“Alec!” Tessa proclaimed. “I didn’t know if I’d get a chance to say hello to you.”

Alec leaned down and kissed her on both her cheeks. When he stood again he locked eyes with Magnus, drinking in every inch of him. “Good evening, Mr. Bane.”

“Mr. Lightwood.” Magnus’ gaze raked over Alec, eyes pausing at the open v of Alec’s shirt. “The Victorian Era has never looked more modernly dashing.”

“I am a gentleman.”

Tessa scoffed and waved a hand at the campaign photos. “There is nothing gentlemanly about all that skin showing.”

“It’s what an athlete is made of, Tessa,” Magnus said with a flourish of his hands that never failed to capture all of Alec’s attention. “Hard muscle and chest hair and overpriced bottles of vitamin-laced endurance water—available now at your local grocer.”

Alec wanted to reach across the table and drag Magnus over. To kiss that sarcasm and beautiful self-satisfied smirk off his lips. And Magnus was looking at Alec as if he knew exactly what Alec was thinking. Alec held Magnus’ unflinching, flirtatious gaze for a beat longer then refocused on Tessa before he made a very public spectacle. “Did you bring your husbands?”

Tessa pointed across the room. “That’s Will and Jem over there by the bottle display.”

Alec followed her direction to find a black-haired man pointing at something in the rafters of the massive atrium and a man with a silver streak running through his hair shaking his head adamantly, his arms crossed.

Magnus laughed. “Should we be worried about whatever it appears Jem is trying to dissuade Will from doing?”

“Will is your date tonight, not mine,” Tessa said. “And it’s when Jem joins in that we need to worry.”

Alec lifted an eyebrow. “Will is your date tonight, huh?”

“Sadly, it’s a failed romance,” Magnus said with a twist of his lip. “Seeing as both of us are currently spoken for.”

Alec’s heart didn’t beat any faster at that admission. It just didn’t.

He ducked his head and smiled, fingers immediately going to the bracelet around his wrist.

“Shit,” Tessa swore and took off, calling out, “Will, no!”

Alec tracked Tessa’s mad dash across the floor to where Jace was now with Will and Jem. And Will appeared to be trying to climb onto Jace’s shoulders while Jem…held them steady?

Alec gave an exasperated chuckle and faced Magnus. “Should we help her?”

Magnus shook his head. “If anyone gets kicked out of the party tonight it’s probably better if it’s not you.”

“Probably,” Alec agreed. He set his forearms on the table and leaned down, getting as close to Magnus as he could. He had Magnus to himself for now, and even though Sebastian was the last thing he wanted to talk about, he needed to hear what Magnus was thinking. “Do you think we still need to worry about anything happening tonight?”

“Tonight? No. Morgenstern would be a fool to make any kind of move right now. Your stock just soared.” Magnus beamed and lifted his glass. “Congratulations on the nomination.”

“Thanks. I didn’t expect it.”

“You should have, Alexander. You deserve it.”

Magnus being proud of him didn’t fail to make him a blushing mess. “So, uh…. Are you going to be at the game tomorrow?”

Magnus abruptly frowned. “It’s probably best if I’m not there. I’m—”

“Don’t apologize,” Alec cut in. “I know you’d be there if you could.”

Magnus’ brows stitched together and he began to run his pointer finger over the ring on his thumb.

Alec was beginning to hate the moment when he could see Magnus’ defenses going up. He just wanted to see Magnus happy. “It’s too bad you can’t come, because, you know…. Max will really miss you.”

“Max will? Interesting.”

“Well, and maybe Clary and Izzy. And Simon. He seems to kind of have a crush on you.”

Magnus huffed. “I am irresistible. But apparently not missed by all.”

“Maybe I’ll miss you a bit too,” Alec allowed.

Magnus took a sip of his drink, the edges of his mouth in a restrained smile.

When Magnus set his glass down again, Alec added, “Okay, maybe a lot.”

The corners of Magnus’ eyes crinkled and his lips parted with a low chuckle as he gazed at Alec.

There.

There was the smile Alec had waiting for.

And, yes, that smile had been exactly what he’d needed, but with that out of the way, now all he needed was to kiss Magnus again. Maybe two or three times. Or just never stop. Ever. That sounded like the best course of action.

That couldn’t happen yet, but it would be soon. He was much more sure of that then he’d been last night.

Alec ran his hand over his beard and stood. As much as he wanted to stay here all night, there were other people he had to talk to. And if he didn’t walk away then soon would become now. “Have you seen Aline or Helen?”

“I did earlier. But they may have slipped out already. This isn’t really their scene—”

“Alec?” Imogen said as she approached the table.

Alec stepped forward and kissed Imogen’s cheek. “Thank you for coming tonight.”

“Is it time to speak of that championship yet?”

Alec shook his head. “It’s the first game of the second round tomorrow. We’re only allowed to talk about that.”

Imogen took both his hands in hers. “I won’t jinx you. I just wanted to let you know that you have the full support of IE in whatever comes next.” Alec gaped, looking to Magnus immediately. Imogen noticed and added, “Magnus does too. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”

As Imogen walked away, Alec turned to Magnus. “Does that mean what I think it means?”

Magnus nodded. “Call me as soon as you get home, Alexander. I’ll tell you all about it. We need to celebrate every small success.”

 

****

 

Magnus kicked off his shoes at the door, threw his jacket over one of the bar stools, and made his way into his bedroom. He was exhausted, but there was no way he’d sleep until he’d talked to Alec. He settled against his headboard, laid his cell on his stomach, and closed his eyes.

He’d excused himself from the party before Alec, so he didn’t know how long it would take for Alec to escape from the adoring masses, let alone make it home. But Magnus’ heart raced when he heard the trill of Facetime within minutes. He picked up the call immediately.

“Home so soon?” he asked Alec.

Alec was walking through his apartment, a wide smile on his face. “I left right after you did. Lydia was having fun with Clary, Jace, Will, Jem, and Tessa but I was done. Those kinds of events take a lot out of me.”

“You can play sixty minutes of one of the fastest-moving sports on the planet—in one of the most difficult positions—but a party wears you out?”

Alec was nodding. “Yep.”

Magnus laughed. “Did you enjoy yourself, though?”

“Hang on. I have to hang up this jacket.”

“I’m more than happy to watch you undress.”

Alec rolled his eyes. “Just give me a minute.”

Alec set his phone down and all Magnus could see was a white ceiling.

How extraordinarily disappointing.

“You can still tell me about your evening while you strip,” Magnus teased.

The sound of Alec chuckling came over the line. “I actually did have a good time.” The picture on the screen went into motion, then Alec was holding his cell again. He still had his dress shirt on and his hair was spiked up at odd angles—as if he’d been dragging his fingers through it. “I wish I could’ve spent more time, you know, with you. But I—” Alec shook his head. “I don’t know how else to say it, but I felt like you were kind of there with me all night. With this bracelet…. I don’t know. Having it…helped. Thank you.”

Since Alec didn’t wear any jewelry, Magnus had been unsure how Alec would view that gift. He preened. “I’m glad it helped.”

The picture blurred and when Alec came back into focus Magnus could see that he was sitting against a wall of pillows. “You helped, Magnus. You always seem to know exactly what to do. So tell me—what happened with Imogen?”

Magnus took a breath. “Short version—we discussed all the details of Morgenstern and your plan to come out. She saw the pictures and we discussed next steps. Just as she said to you tonight, she supports you and I completely. She asked if we were involved with each other. I told her we hadn’t had sex.”

Alec’s eyebrows lifted. “You talked about our sex life with Imogen Herondale?”

Our sex life. Magnus restrained a smile. “It was the most honest answer I could give that didn’t require a follow up question. There are other things we’ve done that are better left between the two of us.”

“Right.”

A blush was crawling up Alec’s cheeks that made Magnus want to add a litany of new activities to their sex life. “Anyway, I’m sure she’s working her own agenda here, but I trust her when says that we have her support. Dot said the same thing.”

Alec furrowed his brow. “Dot?”

“Dorothea Rollins—”

“From Gallant,” Alec finished. “She came up to me tonight and was much friendlier than I expected.”

“You have another advocate in your corner. Two very powerful ones at this point.”

Alec blew out a long breath. “Those are more than small successes, Magnus.”

“I’ll continue working for there to be more. The only thing you need to focus on right now is hockey. It’s time to get superstitious.”

“Speaking of—” Alec looked off screen and shook his head, smiling. “The soap….” Alec bit at his lip. “You realize what your other gift tonight…implied. Right?”

He was quite aware of what it implied. “Whatever do you mean, darling?”

Alec refocused on him. A distinct playfulness in his eyes. “You gave me the soap I used in your shower,” he deadpanned.

“I fail to see where the implication comes in,” Magnus said coyly.

“I have a game tomorrow, Magnus.”

“I’m aware.”

“And you know the full extent of how I….”—Alec paused. Fingers toying at the buttons of his shirt, thumb grazing his chest hair—“prepare.”

Magnus arched an eyebrow at Alec’s open flirting.

He’d seen this side of Alec the morning after they’d slept in the same bed. And despite the clear implication of his gift, this was a subject Magnus hadn’t been prepared to discuss at all. But he was more than willing to stand at full attention for whatever Alec wanted to discuss.

How far would Alec take this?

“Your beard doesn’t look like it needs a trim, Alexander.”

“That wasn’t what I was implying.” Alec ran a hand over his beard. Licked his lips. Magnus tracked every movement hungrily. “When I get into my shower tomorrow morning and use that soap you know exactly what I’m going to be thinking about.”

“Do I?” Magnus pressed. He couldn’t imagine Alec giving him an actual answer.

Alec grinned and Magnus recognized that look—Alec had ensnared him. Magnus had assumed he was guiding Alec into new territory, but Alec had been baiting him.

Alec’s voice dropped low. “I’m going to be thinking about your lips on me. About what it felt like to have my hands on your skin.”

A shiver slinked down Magnus’ spine and all notions of him teasing Alec flew out of his head.

Where had this stunningly uninhibited side of Alec come from? And what feats did Magnus have to perform to coax it to the surface more often?

Magnus swallowed thickly. “I think I’m understanding the implications now.”

“I don’t think you are,” Alec said. He ran his hand over his chest, down his stomach, and out of sight of the camera….

“Alexander.” His voice was rough. “Are you touching yourself?”

Alec chuckled—all wickedness and satisfaction. “Superstitions, Magnus. I won’t be getting off until tomorrow.”

“A travesty,” Magnus said, regaining a modicum of his composure. He locked his eyes with Alec’s. “Otherwise, I could help you out now.”

“You could give me something to…look forward to.” Alec dropped his chin and looked up at Magnus through his lashes. “I mean, you do have to get undressed for bed, right?”

Magnus momentarily forgot how to breathe.

He wasn’t shy about his body or about his ability to turn his lovers into writhing messes. But having someone watching him and him not being able to touch the other person at all…. This was new. This was Alexander.

And Alec knew very well that Magnus wouldn’t say no to him. “Something for you to think about tomorrow?”

Alec bit at his lip—his hazel eyes gone dark—and nodded.

 

****

 

If this was the way Magnus looked at him when they were just talking—not even touching—then Alec was beginning to think he may not survive having sex with Magnus Bane.

“How much do you want to see?” Magnus asked. Unapologetic. Confident.

Alec could hold his own in the bedroom, but—just like when they were on the dance floor—Magnus was on a completely different level.

“Fuck, Magnus.” Alec squeezed his eyes shut. Every inch of him. Alec wanted to see it all. But…. He opened his eyes and gritted out, “I think it’s better if you keep things above the waist.”

Magnus smirked. “So chaste.”

“Very sure there’s nothing chaste about this.”

Magnus went into motion, and when Alec could see him again Magnus was on his knees on his bed. His eyes were locked to the phone that had to be situated against his pillows now. “You’re not going to get off at all right now?”

Shit.

That sentence delivered from Magnus’ red lips was sinful temptation.

Alec licked his own lips and shook his head. He needed the release on game day. “Not until tomorrow. I, uh…. I have a rock solid stand for my phone now, though.”

Magnus smirked. “How about a button for a button?” Magnus put his fingers to his shirt and arched an eyebrow. “I’ll show you mine, you show me yours?”

“You saw me nearly naked in large-scale, full detail tonight.”

Magnus tipped his head. “Humor me with the live version.”

That first photo shoot. LA. Magnus had seen him in almost nothing two times before they’d even kissed. “You’ve seen that already too.”

“Please, Alexander,” Magnus purred. He undid the first button.

“This is crossing another line, Magnus,” Alec said, even as his fingers went to his own shirt.

Magnus circled his agile fingers around another button and popped it open. “I don’t even know what a line is.”

Alec’s heart was racing. He huffed out a laugh. “Clearly.”

“Come on, Alexander,” Magnus taunted him. “I’m at two and you’re at none. And I know how much you love to win.”

Alec undid two buttons and immediately went for the third.

Magnus released one more, then slid his hands up his chest, fingers circling around the back of his neck.

“Leave your necklaces on,” Alec rasped, undoing the last of his buttons and letting his shirt fall open. He ran his hand over his chest hair. Fuck. He wanted Magnus over him, those necklaces trailing over his skin as Magnus moved up his body. “I…like those.”

Magnus grinned, fingers entwining with the chains. “You like them?”

“I like the way they look on you.”

Magnus hummed and went back to unfastening the last of his buttons. His shirt billowed open and before Alec even had time to appreciate how gorgeous that view was, Magnus was shrugging the shirt off his shoulders and dropping it with one hand off the side of the bed.

Alec’s synapses fired all at once.

He couldn’t decide which part of Magnus he wanted to fixate on more. His eyes raked over lean muscle, smooth chest, dark nipples. Those necklaces dancing across Magnus’ skin…. His heart pounded as he took in the very obvious below-the-belt evidence that if Alec had been in the same room as him that Magnus would’ve been up for much more than just a striptease.

He knew what it felt like to have his body against Magnus’, but could only imagine what it would actually be like to be under him, to be skin to skin, Magnus grabbing onto his hips—

Magnus popped the top button of his suit pants, slid his hand under his waistband, and every ounce of blood in Alec’s body shot to his groin.

Alec sucked in a breath, his hips pumping up, and sent his phone tumbling forward, smacking against his stomach. The moment broken by his own over-eagerness, Alec choked out a laugh and picked his cell up, covering his face with his hand. “Oh my god. Shit. I think we better stop there.”

“You’re sure?”

Alec peeked between his fingers.

Magnus hand was trailing over the patch of skin just above his waistband.

“No,” Alec groaned. He dropped his hand to his chest, his heartbeat still racing under his fingertips. “But yes.”

“Very well. Another time then?”

Magnus set his hands on his hips and that position broadened his shoulders, made his biceps stand out, and fuck. Alec had had no idea that those muscles were hiding under Magnus’ expertly styled exterior.

He let his eyes linger. “Soon.”

Magnus leaned forward with a smirk and picked up his phone. “Sleep well tonight, Alexander.”

Alec dropped his head onto the pillows behind him in frustration. “I’m going to set my alarm for really, really early.”

“Enjoy your early morning shower. Text me before the game.”

“I will. On, uh, both counts—” Alec cleared his throat. Now that things were cooling down, of course that’s when his inhibitions would start to flare up. “I’m going to stop talking now. Night, Magnus.”

Magnus blew a kiss at the screen. “Goodnight, my future goaltender of the year.”

Chapter Text

Magnus set his phone down on the coffee shop table and glared at it. He paused for the slightest fraction of a second, then picked it up again. His finger hovered above the home button, itching to light up the screen.

“Your desperation is showing, Bane,” he muttered to himself.

There were other things he could’ve been thinking about besides Alec. But he was having difficulty distracting himself from any other thoughts besides where, and how, Alec had started today—game day. Giving Alec that bar of soap had been an attempt to brighten Alec’s life, but Magnus hadn’t realized it would lead to his own death.

Images of how handsome and confident Alec had looked at the Gallant event—and how vulnerable, yet strong, he’d looked laying on his bed as he undressed for Magnus—were running in a never-ending loop through his brain. Especially because the photos Clary had so magnanimously sent last night of Alec in his suit were right at his fingertips.

“I am desperate, and I don’t care,” he stated proudly, and lit up his screen.

He could’ve scrolled through any of the social media apps on his phone to peruse the Gallant campaign photos that were currently setting the internet ablaze, but he preferred these three pictures. These photos were private. A glimpse into the Alec Lightwood only Magnus and a handful of other people knew.

A shy Alec, covering his face.

A laughing Alec, the creases at the corners of his lips deepening.

And finally, what would have looked like a stoic faced Alec except for a gleam of playfulness in his hazel eyes.

The top two buttons were undone on his dress shirt showing just a hint of chest hair, and the silver bracelet Magnus had given him circled Alec’s wrist. Magnus studied the image, feeling a smirk spread across his own face at the inappropriate thoughts that skittered through his head.

Courtesy of the very stimulating Facetime session with Alec last night, he could imagine undressing Alec, situating himself between Alec’s legs, grasping on to Alec’s wrists and holding them above his head…. As he rubbed his face all over Alec’s chest until Alec was shaking beneath him with laughter. It was a playful, undignified fantasy that went immediately to the top of Magnus’ to-do list.

The list of things he wanted to experience with Alec was getting very long…and excruciatingly detailed.

“Am I interrupting you?” Izzy said as she appeared at the table.

Magnus jumped and hastily flipped his phone over before he was caught ogling.

“Good morning, sunshine,” he greeted as he stood.

He leaned in to kiss her cheeks and Izzy squeezed him between her arms instead, forcing a shocked breath out of his lungs and a genuine smile to his lips.

“FYI,” Izzy said as she stepped back, hands anchored on his arms affectionately, “the Lightwoods like to hug.”

“Noted. But you don’t need to muss your flawless hair on my account.”

Izzy ran her fingers through the loosely curled waves and tossed them over her shoulder with a grin. “Messy hair just means you’ve been doing something fun.”

Magnus’ lips tugged down. “Oh, darling. I wish this meeting was meant to be fun.”

“Anytime I get to see you is good, but I know what you mean. Want to just get to it?”

Magnus motioned for her to take the seat across from him. “First things first. Would you care for coffee or a croissant?”

“Coffee would be great. With cream and a lot of sugar, por favor.”

Magnus went to the counter to order, and returned with a plate of croissants to accompany the coffee.

Izzy picked up his phone to move it out of the way, a soft laugh passing over her lips when she saw what was on his screen.

“He looked great last night, didn’t he?” Izzy said as she handed his phone back to him.

Magnus spared a glance at the picture before clicking his screen dark. “He did.”

“All of the interview footage is great too—especially the one where the reporter told him about the goalie of the year nomination. Although he told me that he was completely freaked out when he first started talking to the reporter because she had asked him to comment on a breaking news story, and the Alicante rep there couldn’t reach me—”

Magnus’ breath caught as he realized what Izzy was saying. “Alec thought he was going to be outed? I wasn’t aware that had happened.”

Izzy blew into her cup of coffee as she nodded. “I wasn’t either until I talked to him this morning. But it didn’t seem like a big deal to him.” Another smile graced her lips. “He was in a really good mood for it being so early when I called. Usually he’s much surlier in the mornings.... That demeanor change wouldn’t have anything to do with you, would it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Magnus said with all coyness.

The corner of Izzy’s lips tipped into a smirk. “Uh-huh. Anyway, back to the plan…. I’ve called in a few favors and should get a heads up if Sebastian tries to release anything anonymously, but obviously there aren’t any guarantees. I have official statements from Alec and Imogen Herondale in the case of a forced outing. I could really use one from someone at Gallant as well. As high level as you can get.”

Magnus picked up one of the croissants and broke it into two pieces, swiping jam on the inside of each. “I have a meeting with Dot—their CMO—in Dallas later this week.”

“See what you can do,” Izzy said as she set down her cup. “You also need to talk to Alec about having a conversation with either his coach, or someone from the front office. I could reach out to their PR department directly, but if we’re getting ahead of this the right way then someone high-level with the Angels needs to know what’s going on.”

This strategy was one that worried Magnus. “Alec coming out to anyone in the Angels’ organization could harm his next contract.”

Any bad press will have a negative effect on negotiations. If he is outed, we don’t want the Angels to be caught completely unaware—that would be even worse. Notifying someone in management—whoever Alec trusts the most—needs to be done.”

“I’ll talk to him about it,” Magnus agreed. He pointed to the glass jar on the plate. “Their homemade jam is extravagant. If you like strawberries, you should try some.”

Izzy arched an eyebrow. “I thought you weren’t supposed to put anything on a croissant?”

“One of my exes shared that view. Now I make a point to slather on as much jam as I can and hope that somewhere she is experiencing a sensation akin to someone walking over her future grave.”

Izzy grinned and dipped her knife into the jar. “Speaking of ex-girlfriends, we’re seeding articles now about an amicable break up between Lydia and Alec. They’ve never officially stated they’re dating, but we need her to exit out of his love life definitively and in a respectful way.”

He still hadn’t met Lydia face-to-face, but that Alec respected her was enough for Magnus. “We need to protect her and her reputation as well.”

“Exactly. Normally a hockey player’s relationship status wouldn’t be news at all, but Alec is getting more attention with the playoffs, his goalie of the year nomination, and Gallant’s campaign going viral. That he’s going to be single actually plays well into the campaign.”

Magnus frowned before he could filter his reaction.

Izzy rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean.”

“Alec is still very much single,” Magnus said, that declaration cutting at him more than he wanted to admit. “He and I aren’t officially anything.”

“Give me a fucking break, Magnus. The two of you are unbelievably frustrating. You know that, right?” Izzy took a bite of her croissant and elegantly slumped as if she was melting into the chair. “Oh my god, this jam is incredible.”

Magnus smiled. “I am an expert on revenge condiments. Now, tell me about the organization You Can Play. I saw the name in your plan but I don’t recognize it.”

“It was formed years ago as an LGBTQ athlete organization working with straight allies. Alec has always supported them—it’s officially part of the league—but we need to start gradually upping his involvement as part of his re-branding. They have a clinic happening in Pittsburgh that I’ve signed him up for while he’s out there this week. If we could get at least one more Angels player there with him, it would be best.”

“I’m sure Jace would agree to do it.”

“Probably.” Izzy shrugged. “But I don’t have any ties to him or his agency.”

Magnus furrowed his brow. “What do you mean? Jace is Alexander’s best friend.”

“Jace is Alec’s best friend and he’s been around since I was a kid, but it was always in the context of hockey. Which means lots of time together on the ice and on the road, but never really at home. Alec has always kept those two parts of his life very separate to protect himself. I don’t actually know Jace that well.”

Hockey and his family were the two most important things to Alec. To think that Alec had purposefully kept them separate to maintain a secret he never should have had to keep at all…? It was heartbreaking.

“If Alec asks him, he’ll say yes,” Magnus said around the ache building in his chest. He swallowed and pursed his lips, the taste of what he was about to ask already leaving a bitterness in his mouth. “Isabelle, I need your professional opinion on what our chances are of Morgenstern actually taking Alec’s sexual orientation public.”

Izzy set her croissant down and pushed the plate away, leaning forward. “Let’s break this down. Sebastian is focused on two things: his money and getting clients to return to his firm. Alec has visibility—which is growing every day—and Sebastian has leverage over Alec. You have influence on Alec. Just how much is something Sebastian is guessing on, but he’s making a pretty accurate assumption. And now Sebastian has leverage over you.”

Magnus thought that through. “That is a painfully accurate summary.”

“I don’t know if you and Alec talked about this, but I can’t see him giving in. I just can’t. I know it’s a decision that both of you have to make, but if you ask him to comply with what Sebastian is demanding I think Alec will walk away from you too.”

“Isabelle,” Magnus said in a quiet voice. “I realize you and I are still learning about each other outside of our professional responsibilities—and the last conversation we had about this was under stressful circumstances—but I won’t give in to him either. That’s why I’m asking you for your professional opinion on pushing the limits with him, or giving a flat out refusal.”

Izzy straightened in her seat. “You want to know how much time you have and what Sebastian may do if you won’t cooperate?”

Magnus nodded.

“Okay. Worst case scenario is that Sebastian drops the story into major media outlets without warning. IE and the Angels will take a major PR hit. Alec’s life will be overturned, and so will yours. The biggest consequences will be for you and Alec—and we’re talking potentially career-ending repercussions for both of you.”

Magnus’ stomach churned. “I am not a fan of that option.”

“But”—Izzy paused, a small smile changing the set of her features—“if Sebastian does that, he’s also outing himself.”

“What do you mean?”

Izzy leaned forward, settling her hands around Magnus’ forearm. Her excitement was palpable. “You have the photos he gave you. Emails with date and time stamps. Witnesses that can corroborate his presence in IE’s building—”

Magnus sucked in a surprised breath. Why hadn’t he thought of this already? “And security records as well.”

Izzy nodded emphatically. “You and Alec could file charges against him for blackmail or extortion and there would be a good chance he’d be convicted of something. Whether or not he would serve any time is up for debate, but his firm would likely crumble with him.”

“You have my undivided and rapt attention. Go on.”

“Sebastian has to know that you have some leverage over him. He’s too smart not to realize that he was leaving that trail. Which means he’s banking—literally—on both of you being too scared of the consequences to make any other kind of choice. He gains something if you agree, remains neutral if you don’t push it, and loses if you give him a flat out refusal and decide to go the cops.”

“He’s volatile. I agree with you that he’s intelligent and knows what he’s doing, but he also has a temper. I witnessed only a hint of it when he came to see me, but it was enough. We’re not talking about a stable man here.”

“Has he tried to contact you again?”

Magnus shook his head.

Izzy tipped her chin up, back straightening. “Then my professional opinion is not to do anything at all right now. We have defensive and offensive plans in place and it doesn’t make sense for Sebastian to fuck with Alec when his star is on the rise. We ride it out for now, and don’t force his hand. We wait for Sebastian to make his next move.”

“While Alec lives every day in fear?” Magnus couldn’t accept that. “There has to be something else we can do.”

Izzy clasped her coffee cup with both hands and took a drink, gaze boldly locking to Magnus’ eyes. Magnus was immediately suspicious.

The Lightwood siblings were so different, despite their shared upbringing. When Alec was deciding how much of the truth he was going to tell Magnus, he would scan Magnus’ face, lips parted—as if he was playing out every possible conversation in his head without saying one word.

Izzy wasn’t testing out any scenarios in her head, though. She simply wasn’t going to offer Magnus anything.

Magnus narrowed his eyes. “Isabelle. What aren’t you telling me?”

“I don’t know what—”

“Isabelle,” Magnus repeated.

Izzy pursed her lips. “There is something else we’re doing. But Alec can’t know about it. Not yet.”

“I haven’t lied to him yet and I won’t start now,” Magnus asserted. “I’m asking you to respect that.”

“I figured. Which is why Max and I were going to keep it between the two of us.”

Magnus arched an eyebrow at the mention of Max. When Izzy had said “we” he’d assumed that meant her and her colleagues at Alicante. “Perhaps it’s better if you stop talking here.”

“Just…trust me. We’ve got his back, Magnus.”

“I have no doubt of that. I’m more worried about the risks to you and Max.”

Izzy scoffed. “There is no risk great enough to keep Max and me from protecting our brother.”

Magnus frowned. “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”

“It will be fine, mijo,” Izzy dismissed. Before Magnus could protest, Izzy had set down her cup and was reaching for her purse. “So, I was thinking about going by the arena to talk to Alec. A business meeting to go over some of this stuff since he refuses to leave the arena once he’s there on game day. You want to join me?”

Izzy was becoming very skilled, very fast, in knowing exactly how to distract Magnus. Merely the thought of seeing Alec in person appreciably brightened the outlook for Magnus’ day.

“There’s nothing I’d love more.”

 

****

 

Alec hunched over the table in the arena cafeteria and tried to force as much food down his throat as fast as he could. He was supposed to be fueling himself with calories for tonight’s game, but the flavorless vegetables and grilled chicken on his plate weren’t exactly increasing his appetite. That he couldn’t talk to Jace—who was sitting across the table from him—with his mouth full was a benefit, at least. Especially since all Jace wanted to do was talk about Magnus.

Specifically, Magnus and sex.

“You really haven’t”—Jace jabbed his fork into the air in a stabbing motion that made Alec sympathetic for all of Jace’s past, current, and future sexual partners—“you know?”

Heat infused Alec’s cheeks, but he merely shook his head and kept chewing.

Jace glared at him. “So you didn’t take my advice.”

Alec rolled his eyes.

“Okay, since you’re not interested in listening to me, I know you two have talked about hooking up…. But maybe you holding back means you shouldn’t. Just because you’re attracted to him doesn’t mean you have to act on it.”

Really? Jace giving him advice on holding back?

Alec lifted one eyebrow in response.

Jace huffed out a laugh. “Point taken.” He was still staring at Alec, though. Clearly he planned on waiting on an audible response.

Alec swallowed his bland food and gave in. Apparently Jace wasn’t going to let this subject drop. He set his fork down and took a swig of water before answering. “Sex isn’t the only thing I want from him. I actually like spending time with him. I like him as a person.”

That just seemed to confuse Jace more. Jace pushed at the potatoes on his plate, his brow scrunched and hair flopping over his eyes. “How do you know when it’s supposed to be more? I mean, you ever think that with all of this shit going on that maybe the two of you aren’t meant to be anything but friends?”

Alec had wondered the same thing. His entire world had been turned upside down since he’d met Magnus, but he had to believe it would all be for a good reason. Soon. In the meantime, it felt like the tight control he’d had on every aspect of his life was slipping out of his grasp. As if his life had been distinctly defined before—as solid and immutably unchanging as bedrock—only for him to clench so tightly to it that he was discovering that rock was sandstone not granite and the tighter he tried to hold on the more it crumbled.

Alec stabbed his fork into the chicken breast on his plate. “Maybe it’s not ‘meant to be.’ But I wasn’t meant to be a professional hockey player either, right?” Alec chuckled and sat back, stretching his legs under the table. “You remember how bad I was in the beginning?”

Jace snorted. “Oh yeah.”

“But I fell in love with the game and I worked hard. I sacrificed to be better. And Magnus….” Alec peeked over his shoulder to make sure they were still alone. “I’m falling in love with him, Jace.”

It was the first time he’d said those words out loud, and as soon as they passed through his lips he realized just how true they were. He stared at Jace, his stomach tumbling with the thought. Warmth licking through his veins as his heart pounded. “Holy shit. I really am falling in love with him.”

Jace sat back in his chair, smirking. “And you still haven’t…?”

“Nope,” Alec said, lips popping around the word.

“But you both want to, right?”

“Oh yeah,” Alec groaned unhappily.

“I don’t get you, bro. But if he’s that important to you, then I’m with you.” Jace dropped his fork on his plate as he studied Alec. “Couldn’t you just fire him as your agent? That would solve one part of this mess.”

It was one possible path. One that Alec refused to give serious consideration. He sat up and went back to dicing his chicken and vegetables into miniscule pieces. He wasn’t hungry anymore, but he had to get it all in. It was just one of many things he was doing lately because he had to, not because he wanted to.

“I’m the biggest client he has,” Alec explained. “I fire him and everything he’s worked for in the last two months goes away.”

Jace shifted in his chair, eyes darting away from Alec long enough for Alec to know Jace was either going to lie to him or confess something.

“What?” He speared more food and waved the fork at Jace. “What’s that look?”

“About that….” Jace sat back and crossed his arms. “You’re not going to be his biggest client much longer. I’m signing with IE. With Magnus.”

That…. Alec hadn’t seen that development coming at all. He froze with his food partway to his mouth. “What?”

Jace sighed and leaned forward again. “I went and talked to Magnus a few weeks back—after that day he came to see you here. My agent is useless, and Magnus has done a lot for you in a short time. I want someone good like him. I told Magnus I didn’t want him to say anything to you until I’d made a final decision and had a chance to tell you myself. But, yeah, it’s final now. Magnus is meeting with my current agency this week to broker the transfer.”

“You’re serious?”

Jace nodded.

Alec chuckled. “Finally, you’re following me somewhere instead of me following you.”

“Whatever,” Jace dismissed. “IE has been good for you and I want in on that.”

Magnus has been good for me,” Alec clarified. He wouldn’t have his contract with Gallant if it wasn’t for Magnus. Magnus was built to be an agent. He was great at his job….

A job that Magnus was putting at risk by choosing Alec.

Alec dropped his fork on his plate with a clank. He definitely couldn’t eat anymore today. “All of this shit that’s going on, though? His career is just as much on the line as mine is. I could fire him. Magnus even said that he’s willing to sacrifice his career for me. But you know what? I need him in this negotiation with the Angels. No one will be able to handle them the way he will. And if Magnus and I are together, he can’t be my agent anymore.”

“So no…?” Jace made a crude gesture with his hands.

“No.”

“And no…?” Jace mimed another much lewder motion.

Alec felt a blush crawling up his cheeks even as the thought of being in a position like that with Magnus sent a shot of heat low in his belly.

“I’ve kissed him…but that’s it. Fuck. I do need to get laid. By him.” Alec pushed his plate away and scrubbed his hands over his hair. He needed to change the subject. “So what about you and Lydia? Or you and Clary? What’s going on with that?”

“That’s—” A redness began to appear on Jace’s cheeks that caught Alec off guard. “Things are confusing with all of that right now, alright? Can we not talk about it?”

Alec opened his mouth to respond then Kadir popped his head in the door. “Lightwood. Wayland. You have guests.”

 

****

 

Magnus fiddled with his cufflinks. There was a frown embedded into his face that he was very sure looked much like what Alec’s permanent facial expression had been when they first met.

Standing next to him in the player’s parking lot, Izzy started laughing.

Magnus grimaced even farther. “What exactly is there to laugh about right now?”

“You’re nervous! I never thought I would see the great Magnus Bane be nervous over seeing a guy.”

“A. Alexander is not merely a guy. B. We’re out in the open here. I think I have a right to be on edge about any time Alec and I are in a public place together for now. And three, I am…anticipatory.”

“It will be fine, Magnus.”

“You’re saying that a lot for things that could distinctly not be fine.”

Izzy rolled her eyes and huffed.

The door from the arena to the parking lot burst open and Jace sauntered out, flicking his golden hair off his forehead as he stepped into the sun. Alec was right behind him—wearing track pants that sat low in his hips and one of the tightly fitting tanks he seemed to favor when he was off the ice. Magnus’ fingers twitched with the immediate, overwhelming need to touch. He couldn’t help but think about Alec waking up in Magnus’ bed in a similar outfit. About what laid beneath that thin material. People all over the world knew just as well as Magnus what Alec looked like under those clothes, but no one else had the privilege of Alec undressing himself at their request.

As if that thought wasn’t enough to decimate Magnus, the smile that stretched across Alec’s face when he caught eyes with Magnus was catastrophic.

Izzy nudged him. “See? More than fine.”

Magnus swallowed, choked out a cough in an elegant response. He was distinctly not fine. Having Alec in this close of proximity was becoming dangerous for his health.

Izzy was laughing even harder when Alec hugged her, but Alec must have been used to sudden outbursts of laughter from his sister because he merely smiled and focused on Magnus. “Hey.”

Magnus heart lurched. As is it was leaping out of his chest in a desperate attempt to be closer to Alec.

If Alec could set Magnus off-kilter just by walking and saying one word, then Magnus had to bring out the heavy artillery. Magnus sniffed and ran his eyes over Alec unabashedly. “You look very…clean, Alexander.”

Bright red spots popped up on Alec’s cheeks, but he held Magnus’ gaze. “I took two showers this morning.”

Magnus wheezed.

“You okay there, bro?” Jace asked as he clapped Magnus on the back.

“Fine,” Magnus croaked out.

Izzy hooked her arm through his, a wide, radiant smile on her lips.

Alec ran a hand over his beard then widened his stance—all brash confidence, even with the blush staining his cheeks. “Anyway, Izzy, you know Jace. And you two”—Alec waved a hand between Jace and Magnus, the sun glinting off the silver bracelet on Alec’s wrist—“you know each other better than I thought.”

“I told him I was signing with you,” Jace explained.

“You’re signing with Magnus?” Izzy asked.

Magnus covered Izzy’s hand with his. “Of course he is, sunshine. He wanted the best.”

Jace laughed. “I’m not the only one apparently who wants—”

Magnus whipped his head around as the sounds of people shouting came from the entrance to the player’s lot. There was a charcoal gray Bentley at the guard’s station and the driver was draped out the window, a finger pointed at the guard.

Izzy leaned forward, looking around Magnus, and Jace and Alec turned with the sound.

Izzy tensed next to him. “Is that—?”

“Mom.” Alec’s jaw tightened and he took off in a jog for the security gate. But instead of approaching the car, Alec waved over the other security guard inside the lot to talk to him.

Jace ran his fingers through his hair and crossed his arms, taking a step closer to Izzy. “I haven’t seen Maryse in probably ten years.”

“Count yourself lucky,” Izzy said through clenched teeth.

Magnus shifted uncomfortably. “Should I….”

Izzy shook her head. “No, wait to see what Alec wants to do.”

Alec had his hands on his hips as he talked, glancing every few words at the scene that was unfolding outside the lot. Maryse had gotten out of her car and was standing on the other side of the fence, arms crossed on her chest, glaring at Alec as the guard outside the gate tried to convince her to get back into her car.

Even if Magnus had had neutral feelings about the Lightwood matriarch, his instinct to protect Alec and Izzy would’ve kicked in with the rising tension. But as it stood, Magnus didn’t want her anywhere near any of her kids. He was sure no good could come of her being here.

Magnus watched as Alec nodded, then gripped the security guard’s shoulder—a tight smile on Alec’s face—and the guard waved at the man outside the gate to let her in.

“Shit,” Izzy muttered and let go of Magnus to smooth her hands down her skirt.

Alec met Maryse’s car as it slid into the lot, jaw clenching as he talked to her through the open window then gestured to an open spot.

Izzy’s shoulders snapped back and her features went hard. Magnus had seen Izzy enough in professional situations to know that the warm woman he knew could put on a detached persona when she needed to, but this wasn’t her professional facade. Izzy’s jaw was grinding, her cheekbones sculpted in sharp relief. She was restrained fury.

“How long has it been since you last saw her?” Magnus asked Izzy.

“Three years—when I picked Max up for his sixteenth birthday. She didn’t even show for Max’s high school graduation.” Izzy’s eyes were shiny with unshed tears. “Or my wedding.”

“And Alexander?”

“He’s seen her because of Max, but I don’t think he’s talked to her since the night my parents confronted him about Raj.”

Magnus fisted his hand and glanced at Jace. Without a word, he and Jace moved to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Izzy.

Alec didn’t wait for Maryse to get out of her car. He turned his back on her and started walking toward their group. Whether Alec realized it or not, he was forcing Maryse to meet him on his terms. Magnus was proud.

“Did she say anything?” Izzy asked as Alec got closer.

Alec’s face was drawn. “Just that we needed to talk.”

“You don’t have to talk to her,” Magnus said.

“If I don’t she’ll make even more of a scene and I can’t—” Alec looked around the lot. Most of the spaces were still empty since the players weren’t due to officially arrive until closer to game time. Magnus glanced at his cell and realized the players could start arriving at any time, though.

“You can’t have that happen here,” Magnus finished for him.

Alec met his eyes and Magnus saw fear there. Fear of being exposed. Fear Morgenstern had placed there.

“I’m not going anywhere, Alexander,” he said quietly.

Alec took a step closer to Magnus, his chest rising with a deep inhale as he gave Magnus a clipped nod.

Maryse had gotten out of her car and was stomping her way over—arms at her side, hands balled into fists, and her back ramrod straight. She didn’t even glance at her daughter before she started in on Alec. “What have you done, Alec?”

Alec stared her down, his jaw set. “You’re going to have to be more specific than that. There’s a whole hell of a lot of things I’ve done since I last saw you.”

“I received a call this morning from a friend. He told me you’re planning on making your…lifestyle public.”

Magnus cringed.

Alec stood taller, clasping his hands behind his back. “So what if I am? My life isn’t your business anymore.”

“You’ve lost your way. And it’s a parent’s job to ensure their child is on the right path.”

Magnus could see Alec’s retort on his lips. But it was one Alec wouldn’t dare say out loud here—It’s a parent’s job to disown me because I’m gay?

“I’ve made my own path without your help,” Alec spat out. “I really don’t need it now.”

“Without me?” Maryse laughed, and the sound made Magnus’ skin prickle with dread. “Who do you think made sure you had an agent when you needed one the most?”

Alec paled, visibly shrinking as if all his confidence had been sucked out of his body. “You were the one who sent Hodge Starkweather to me?”

“He’s an old friend from school. Do you really think any other agent would’ve been interested in you otherwise?” Maryse sneered. It was an ugly half-smile of teeth and self-satisfaction as she glanced at Magnus. “Except for this one, apparently.”

Alec’s eyes darted to Magnus. “Where did you hear that?”

Maryse leveled a steely gaze on Alec. “Valentine Morgenstern is also an old friend of mine.”

Izzy made an audible noise as she sucked in a shocked breath.

Alec took a step forward, towering over his mother, every muscle in his body taut as a bowstring. “Your ‘old friends’ stole over four million dollars from me. And Valentine’s son is now threatening all of your kids, not just me!”

“Is that what you think is happening here?” Maryse tilted her head, arrogance rolling off her. “Valentine and his son are protecting you from yourself. I told Valentine years ago what you think you are, and he’s protecting your money out of loyalty to me. Every single dollar of it is safe in an off-shore account, but now you won’t have access to it again until you agree to stop this…foolishness.”

“You are insane.” Alec barked out a derisive laugh, his voice going cold. “We’re done.”

Maryse examined Magnus with a callous gaze that made Magnus shrink with apprehension. “Is he even here legally? Don’t fool yourself—he’s using you. I won’t allow you to risk your career for this— this whore.”

All oxygen vacated Magnus’ lungs in a rushed exhale, his insides twisting as if she’d physically assaulted him.

Izzy’s hand flew up immediately, but Alec gripped her wrist. “Don’t, Izzy. It’s what she wants.”

Before Magnus could regain enough breath to defend himself, Alec strode forward—putting himself between Maryse and the rest of them. A wall of ice-hardened muscle and steely resolve. “I won’t allow you to speak about Magnus that way. Get out.”

Magnus glanced nervously at Jace. His mismatched eyes were focused on something behind Maryse, looking toward the street.

An electric panic itched at Magnus’ skin as the gate to the lot clanged open for players arriving for the game. He felt utterly powerless to stop this. All he wanted to do was protect Alec and Izzy. But it was because of him, because of his past, that Maryse was here at all. He didn’t want to walk away from Alec or give up the friendship he was building with both Izzy and Max, but that seemingly innocent flame that had sparked to life in LA was now an inferno, threatening to consume them all. And Magnus wasn’t the water to bring it back under control, he was the gasoline.

“I think it’s time for you to leave, Maryse,” Jace said coolly, stepping forward to Alec’s side.

Maryse ignored the cars sliding past her. “It’s my and your father’s duty to protect the Lightwood name. There are other methods we can use to force your hand.”

Izzy broke away from Alec’s grip and surged forward. “The only reason the Lightwood name has any honor is because of Alec.”

Maryse’s eyes slid off Alec and evaluated Izzy with a grimace. “You still haven’t grasped what honor looks like.”

Magnus startled at that. He’d expected Maryse to be callous to Alec, but not to Izzy as well.

“Get. Out,” Alec repeated with more force. He waved the guard over, calling out, “Make sure she leaves and is never allowed inside here or the arena again.”

“Come on, Maryse,” Jace said. He put an arm between Alec and Maryse, silently urging her to step back. “Let’s do this quietly.”

Maryse glared at her children then whipped around without another word, Jace following her. Alec was watching their retreating forms, but Magnus was studying Alec carefully.

He couldn’t comfort Alec here. Couldn’t say anything that would tip off Alec to the players that were now out of their cars and milling around watching.

Magnus didn’t just feel powerless, he was. And he hated it.

“Alexander….” he tried.

Alec faced Magnus, his lips tugged into a deep frown. “Not right now. I— I can’t.”

Magnus winced at the defeat-laced pain in Alec’s voice.

“Go back inside,” Magnus urged in a quiet voice so they wouldn’t be overheard. “The game tonight is far more important than her.”

Alec looked at him then—really looked—taking a step toward Magnus that was simultaneously too close and yet not close enough. “You are more important than her or the game.”

The quiet force behind Alec’s words was like a physical embrace. Magnus shivered despite the warmth of the sun, could only bring himself to nod in response.

Alec surveyed another line of cars entering the lot. “But I can’t right now. Shit.”

“I know,” Magnus managed to get out around the tightening in his chest. “Go, Alec.”

Alec hesitated for a beat longer, then raked his hand over his beard and swore under his breath as he retreated toward the arena door.

Izzy settled her hand on Magnus’ arm, peering up at him. “I’ve got him, Magnus.”

Magnus watched Izzy catch up to Alec, circling her arm around his waist, then Alec leaning into her, kissing the top of her head.

Izzy was allowed to comfort her brother.

Allowed to pass through that door with Alec without question.

Magnus wasn’t.

The bang of the arena door shutting behind Alec was like the decisive clap of a judge’s gavel, punctuating punishment for something that shouldn’t have been a crime at all.

The callous truth of the sound chilled Magnus to the bone.

 

****

 

Alec broke away from Izzy as they entered the arena, storming ahead of her. He was furious at his mother. In disbelief that she not only knew Valentine Morgenstern, but considered him a friend. Enraged that she was working with Valentine to trap Alec into a living lie.

She had insulted Izzy, put Max’s future at risk, and vindictively torn into Magnus. It didn’t even matter what she was trying to do to Alec right now, that she was hurting the people he loved made her actions unforgivable. Just like Sebastian, it didn’t matter how much she threatened him, he would never give in to that…callous, heartless, cruel—

Fuck!

He had no idea how to fight. Where to begin. How to solve this or how to protect Izzy, Max, and Magnus. His mother had always wanted him to be a soldier and now here he was, ready for battle, yet unarmed and completely unprepared.

His teammates were going to be relying on him tonight to shut his personal life out of his thoughts and focus only on the game, but he had no idea how he was going to accomplish even that.

He was defenseless when it was supposed to be his job—as a goalie, as a big brother, fuck, as a potential boyfriend—to defend.

“Alec, stop,” Izzy finally called out. She raced after him and grabbed his arm. “We have to talk about this.”

“I really don’t want to talk about it, Izzy.” Alec glanced at the players walking past them in the hallway. “And here is definitely not the place.”

“You may not want to,” Izzy chided him in a whisper, “but there are people out there who are talking about you right now. Working to fuck you and Magnus over.”

Magnus.

Alec’s stomach rolled at the realization of just how much he’d fucked up. He’d known it would only cause pain if he dragged Magnus into his life when he wasn’t out, but he’d had no idea it would be like this. He’d seen Magnus cringing as his mom shot auditory bullets at Magnus. Alec had tried to shield him and take the brunt of the attack, but Magnus had been wounded in the crossfire. That much Alec knew without a doubt.

He was furious at himself for not being able to protect Magnus.

“Alec,” Izzy insisted, bringing his attention back to her. “We have to talk about this.”

“Fine,” he gritted out.

Alec looked down one of the side hallways then motioned for Izzy to follow him. He opened the door to an equipment room and Izzy followed him inside.

Once the door was shut he braced his feet and crossed his arms. “I’m here. Let’s talk about mom.”

“Mom? I don’t give a shit about mom. We left Magnus out there.”

Alec tensed, his voice dropping into a near growl. “You think I’m okay with that? I didn’t have a choice and you know that. You’re the one who told me I needed to stay away from him!”

Izzy was immediately in his face, jabbing a finger at his chest. “Don’t attack me when all I’ve done is defend you. I don’t deserve your anger.”

Shit.

Alec took a step back and held up his hands. “I’m sorry.”

Izzy planted her hands on her hips. “You better be.”

“I know we left Magnus out there, Iz, and I—” Alec slashed his hand through the air and started to pace. “I hate everything about this…. But I don’t know what to do to fix any of it.”

“You want to know what I think?”

Alec bit at his lip and nodded.

“The first thing you need to do is call Magnus. Make sure you’re both on the same page.”

Alec dismissed that thought completely as he continued to pace. “What do you mean? Of course we’re on the same page.”

“Are you sure about that?” Izzy challenged. “Have you really talked about what you want to do with Sebastian? And now our mother is threatening you too? Jesus, Alec. I know you’re all about deflecting shit, but come on. If you and Magnus are going to have any shot at all, then you need to know where he’s coming from.”

Alec stilled at that. Did she know something he didn’t? “You think he doesn’t want the same things I do?”

“Alec,” Izzy drew out in a near whine. “I’m not the one you need to answer that. Call him. Ahora. Take Simon’s office—it will be safe to talk there.”

Alec sucked in a deep breath. At least he had something to do instead of being helpless. Just the thought of hearing Magnus’ voice made him calmer.

“Okay.”

Izzy held out her arms and Alec wrapped her in a hug, resting his cheek on her hair.

“I love you, mi hermano. And I’m beginning to love Magnus too. I just want the two of you to be happy.”

“Me too, Iz. All of that.”

Izzy squeezed him tighter at that.

It wasn’t the outright admission he’d given to Jace today, but it was close enough. Every step he took towards acknowledging Magnus’ role in his life was an important piece of accepting all of who he was.

“If he asks,” Izzy said, “you can tell him that even after what our mom said I haven’t changed my mind.”

Alec drew back. “What does that mean—that you haven’t changed your mind?”

“Magnus and I had breakfast this morning. We discussed Sebastian and the details of your coming out plan. What just happened out there doesn’t change anything about what I think you should do.”

“And that is?”

Izzy shook her head fondly. “Just talk to Magnus, you stubborn idiot.”

Alec had to chuckle. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I got it.”

Alec held the door open for her and when they reached the main corridor, Izzy turned to the right instead of heading toward Simon’s office.

“Aren’t you coming in to see Simon?” he asked.

“I have to go home and get ready for the game, then pick up Max.” Izzy grinned. “Plus Simon has his own pre-game rituals. He has to get in the zone too.”

For the second time in minutes, and despite the tension that lingered, Alec had to laugh again. “Love you, mi hermana,” he called out.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she responded with a smile. “I got it.”

Alec waved to her then tracked through the hallways to the zamboni room. Both of the doors were shut, so Alec knocked, glancing at the time on his phone. He had less than thirty minutes before he had to be in the locker room to start getting dressed.

Simon swung the door open and beamed. “Alec! You never come by on game day! What’s up?”

“Can I come in?”

Simon pushed his glasses up with the wrench he had in his hand. “Yeah, of course. You could’ve just walked in, I wouldn’t mind.”

He stepped back and Alec entered, surveying the room. Simon was right. Alec never came down this way when he was in the arena. His brother-in-law was one of the kindest people he knew—kind, but weird—and Alec didn’t spend nearly enough time with just him.

“So really—” Simon pressed as he shut the door. “Is everything okay?”

Alec huffed. “Define ‘okay.’”

Simon’s brow furrowed. “You look like you need to sit down.”

Alec slumped into the desk chair and reclined back, closing his eyes and running his hands over his face. There was a series of clicks and pops, each one like a taser to his already fried nerves. When he opened his eyes again, Simon was perched on the edge of the desk, his wrench abandoned for a Voltron toy that he was clicking together.

He was about to snap at Simon about the sound when he realized exactly what Simon was holding. “You took it out of the box?”

Simon shrugged. “I told Tessa I was willing to test it to see if helped you win. And it does look kind of badass sitting on a shelf. Plus, now I can play with it. I totally don’t pretend the zamboni is one of the lions. Activate interlock! Dynotherms connected! Infracells up! Mega thrusters are go!”

Alec laughed.

Simon was so kind. And so weird.

“Thanks, Si.”

Simon’s face lit up. “You’re welcome. You want to tell me what’s up now?”

“I need to talk to Magnus and out there—” He furrowed his brow. “It isn’t— Do you mind if I call him in here?”

“Go right ahead. I’m just doing some prep stuff. I’ll mostly be in with the zamboni—that I definitely haven’t named The Blue Lion—but I may have to come in here to get tools.”

“It’s okay,” Alec reassured him. “I trust you.”

It was like Alec had handed a mint-in-box Voltron to Simon.

Simon beamed. “That means a lot to me, Alec.”

Come to think of it, that was exactly what Alec needed to do. Buy Simon every mint-in-box vintage Voltron toy he could afford. His brother-in-law deserved it.

“Anyway, I need to talk to Magnus because there’s some new…stuff that happened with my mom.”

“No offense, but your mom scares the hell out of me. I only met her, like, twice, and that was enough for a lifetime.”

“I take absolutely no offense from that,” Alec said seriously. “Anyway, I don’t mind if you listen in, but could you do me a favor and give me a heads up if anyone else comes in while I’m talking to Magnus?”

“Yeah, of course. Make yourself at home. As Izzy would say, mi casa es su casa.”

Simon clapped Alec on the shoulder and set Voltron back on the shelf then picked up his wrench again and left Alec to it.

Alec dug his cell out of his pocket, texted Jace to let him know where he was, and hit the button to Facetime Magnus. It was only a few short seconds before Magnus picked up.

“Alexander.”

His name on Magnus’ lips never failed to leave Alec a bit breathless.

“Hey. I was hoping you had time to talk.”

The picture blurred then refocused on Magnus sitting on a set of stairs and putting his earbuds in. “I always have time for you.”

Guilt churned in Alec’s gut. Even after the ugliness Magnus had just been subjected to, Magnus was still treating him the same, looking at him with the same adoration.

How had Alec gotten so lucky?

“I meant what I said, Magnus—you’re way more important to me than her or this game.”

Magnus seemed to be considering that. He gazed at Alec as if he was memorizing every inch of Alec’s appearance. Alec didn’t know what it was that Magnus saw that made him break into a smile, but there Magnus was on his cell screen—a confident smirk on his lips when he finally responded. “I’m beginning to think you may be a bit enamored with me, Alexander.”

“More than a bit,” he admitted without hesitation. It was one of the only things he was unequivocally sure of right now. “After today and just everything— I can’t believe you’re sticking around for any of it. For me.”

Magnus’ fingers went to his ear cuff. “I may be more than a bit enamored with you as well.”

Alec knew the grin on his face was dopey and patently obvious, but he was powerless to stop it.

Magnus cleared his throat. “I’m assuming you didn’t call from Simon’s office just to talk about how besotted we apparently are we each other.”

“I wish I was.” Alec rested his feet on the edge of the couch, slouching into the chair and settling the phone on his legs so he could adjust the bracelet on his wrist. “Izzy cornered me after all of…that and reminded me that we haven’t really talked about any of it. I’d like to hear what you’re thinking about how we should handle all of this. We’ve spoken since Sebastian’s threat— A lot— But more about other…stuff. Not that.”

There was an opening for an innuendo there, but Magnus just nodded. “Your sister’s professional opinion is that we don’t do anything.”

Simon popped his head in the room and pointed at the toolbox next to the desk. Alec waved him in.

“She said to tell you that she hasn’t changed her mind,” Alec said, continuing to talk to Magnus. “Despite mom’s threats.”

“I haven’t changed my mind either.”

“So what do you want to do?” Alec asked. “Izzy didn’t tell me.”

“Nothing,” Magus said simply. “We don’t provoke him, but we don’t give an answer. We don’t respond at all until we’re forced to—and even then, I don’t think we should agree to any of his terms. There’s likely to be consequences, but I will never be okay with what he’s asking us to do.”

We.

Us.

Those words were all Alec had needed to hear.

Alec breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. Then we’re on the same page.”

“Of course we are, darling,” Magnus said as if it was the only possible answer.

Simon craned his neck so Magnus could see him on the screen. “Hey, Magnus!”

“Simon,” Magnus said warmly. “I shall miss your dulcet serenades tonight.”

“Thanks for lying to make me smile. It’ll be weird tonight without you and Clary here.”

Alec looked at Simon. “Why isn’t Clary coming to the game?”

But Magnus answered instead. “Tessa said there wasn’t any positive correlation with Clary being in the arena, so Clary offered to keep me company for the evening. Her mother will be joining us as well.”

“Say hi to Jocelyn for me, okay?” Simon asked.

“Naturally,” Magnus obliged.

Simon waved and headed back into the zamboni room.

“Have you met Jocelyn, Alexander?”

Alec nodded. “At Izzy’s wedding. But that’s it. I’ve been on the road or with the team anytime she was over at Izzy’s for dinner.”

“I’ll have to properly introduce you. I met her before Clary, and Jocelyn embraced me as family from the very beginning. I’m quite sure she would welcome you with open arms as well.”

Clary talked about her mom a lot—an artist who always had paint under her fingernails and a smile on her lips, even when she had a brush clamped between her teeth. That she was fiercely protective of the people she loved. Magnus’ description of her fit with all of that. It was the way a mother should be.

The guilt and the anger welled up again. Alec had to squeeze his eyes shut before anything threatened to spill out. “My mother, Magnus— What she said about you…. I’m so sorry.”

“You have nothing to apologize for.”

Alec opened his eyes and all he saw on Magnus’ face was…understanding. Compassion.

“She may have given birth to you and your siblings, but it’s clear that you, Isabelle, and Max are who you are because of each other, not her.”

“Still—”

“No arguments, Alexander,” Magnus cut in softly. “You’re not responsible for her or her vitriol. You didn’t just stand up for Isabelle and me, you stood between her and us. That couldn’t have been easy.”

It hadn’t been.

This was his mother—the woman who was supposed to love him unconditionally. She’d never been that type of a mother, but until today there had been a part of him that hoped that maybe she would miss Alec’s presence in her life. That maybe she would change because a relationship with her children was more important than her image. He knew now that would never be the case.

He was just as hurt as he was angry.

“It wasn’t,” he admitted out loud, because he could say these things to Magnus. He could admit to being wounded and know that Magnus wouldn’t think less of him.

“There aren’t many people who have ever done that for me,” Magnus said with a sad smile. “Thank you.”

Alec’s heart clenched painfully. “Anything for you, Magnus.”

It was a sentiment he’d heard out of Magnus’ lips—different words, but with the same intent—and now he understood the depth of what it really meant.

There was no doubt. Alec would do anything for this man.

Magnus inhaled a stuttering breath, his eyes locked to Alec, and Alec swore he could see the exact moment that Magnus made the choice to believe what Alec was saying to him.

“I hate to continuing talking about this, Alexander, but how credible is the threat from your mother? I had no idea she was connected to Valentine.”

That truth made Alec physically sick. “I didn’t either. You know what she does for a living, right?”

“One of the bios in Hodge’s files mentioned that both her and your father are attorneys.”

Alec blew out a long breath. “She’s not just a lawyer. She’s career Army—one of the high-level JAGs. I don’t know what she meant exactly by other ways they could force my hand…but if anyone has the connections and power to fuck with me, then it’s her.”

Magnus grimaced. “Do you mean ‘they’ as in Valentine and her, or her and your father?”

“I don’t know that either.” That admission bothered him more than he expected. “My father is serving his fifth term in the prosecutor’s office. He’ll be up for re-election next year, and me outing myself won’t fit with his conservative, family values image either. So ‘they’ could mean any combination of my parents, Valentine, and Sebastian.”

“You know….”

Alec startled. He hadn’t even realized Simon was back in the office until he’d started speaking.

Simon crouched down next to the chair so Magnus could see him too. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on here, but it sounds like it’s time to douse the vampires with holy water at high noon.”

Alec wasn’t following Simon’s logic train, but that wasn’t anything new.

“What?” Alec scoffed.

“Your parents? And the Morgensterns? Ok so, they’re powerful—nearly indestructible and hard to metaphorically kill, right? But like vampires, it will only take a bit of light to send them scurrying underground in fear. And direct sun will obliterate them.”

Alec froze as he looked at Simon in disbelief.

“Seriously? Haven’t you ever seen the Blade movies?” Simon continued. “I mean, he only had, like, an ultraviolet flashlight and that did the trick…. But all joking aside guys, shining one powerful light onto their shady activities could incinerate them all.”

“Holy shit,” Alec breathed out.

Was Simon saying that all they had to do was expose the Morgenstern’s and his parents to one truth they couldn’t escape from?

It couldn’t be that simple.

Could it?

 

****

 

Magnus took in the scene on his phone screen, feeling just as surprised as Alec looked. Apparently the zamboni rockstar was also highly attuned to intricacies of the human condition. Well, that was a plot twist.

“He has a valid point, Alexander. Simon’s metaphorical sun is one thing they fear more than anything else—the truth.”

Simon grinned as he gave Magnus two thumbs up and stood again, disappearing from view.

Alec’s gaze slid back to Magnus, his lips still parted and brows scrunched together. “So how do we use that to our advantage?”

Whatever Izzy and Max were working on could be part of the solution, but Izzy was right—Alec couldn’t be weighed down with those considerations right now. “Isabelle and I will continue to work on that. As I said last night when we talked after the event, your only focus at the moment should be hockey.”

Alec’s cheeks tinged pink, but because of their last Facetime session Magnus recognized the flirtatious intent on Alec’s face before Alec even spoke. “I vaguely remember you saying something like that…. But there are a whole lot of other things that I remember much more clearly from last night.”

Magnus unsuccessfully attempted to hold back a smirk. “I do enjoy Facetime much more when you’re in your bed, Alexander.”

“I’m still in the room!” Simon yelled from somewhere off-screen.

Magnus chuckled. “I should probably let you go now. You need to get dressed for the game.”

Simon’s face appeared in the corner of the screen again. “Bye, Magnus.”

“Protect my goalie’s masculine knees tonight, Simon.”

Simon saluted him. “Will do.”

When Simon was gone again, Magnus capitalized on the quiet moment to gaze at Alec.

His shoulders were back, elbows planted on the arms of the chair, biceps in cut definition. His fingers were fiddling with the silver bracelet on his wrist, and lips reddened from biting at them nervously as they’d talked. His hair was mussed and his beard neatly trimmed—as it always was on game day.

They were less than an hour away from the puck dropping on the Angels first game of the second round of the playoffs. Alec was going into this game as a goaltender of the year nominee—an accolade and yet more pressure to bear. The threat of injury and the potential for defeat loomed before every game, and the stakes would only continue to escalate.

Alec was fighting for his team’s survival in the playoffs…. Fighting to live his truth…. Fighting for Magnus.

Magnus desperately wanted to be there every step of the way with him, and it pained him that he couldn’t be there with Alec to wish him luck on the ice tonight.

“Take care of yourself tonight, Alexander.”

It wasn’t the exact words he wanted to say, but for right now it would have to be enough.

“You too, Magnus. Promise me I’ll see you soon?”

That was one promise Magnus wouldn’t hesitate to make. “As soon as I can.”

 

****

 

Alec clicked off the call with Magnus and took a deep breath. He wasn’t as furious anymore, wasn’t feeling the cut of his mother’s betrayal as deeply. Just speaking with Magnus had managed to calm him down and comfort him.

How anyone could see something vile or unnatural in the connection he had with Magnus was beyond him.

It was his mother who didn’t understand love—not him.

The arena upstairs was coming alive, the pounding of footsteps and echoes of voices thundering above his head. The scent of overpriced greasy food drifted down the hallway. The temperature was dropping as the buildings massive coolers worked to maintain the perfect temperature for the ice. All of it was just as familiar as Magnus’ voice. Just as soothing.

Alec could feel himself shifting into his pre-game headspace.

There was a knock on the door in the zamboni room and Alec heard Simon moving around, then tools clattering to the ground and muffled swearing, all followed by the sound of a door opening.

“Lightwood in here?”

Alec recognized the voice and got up to head for the adjoining room.

“Raphael. Santiago. Raphael Santiago. Raph—” Simon cut off his own jumbled blubbering of Raphael’s name and looked over his shoulder at Alec. “That’s my wife Izzy’s brother Alec. Lightwood. Izzy and Alec Lightwood. Why do I keep saying names? I drive the zamboni. That’s a nice jacket. Am I still talking?”

Alec lifted a brow at the spectacle unfolding in front of him.

“It’s Raphael Santiago,” Simon supplied, his voice cracking when it went an octave too high. Simon coughed and stepped back. “You, uh, want to come in?”

“No,” Raphael responded immediately. He tugged at his lapels and eyed Simon suspiciously.

“I know Raphael, Simon,” Alec deadpanned. “We’ve been playing together for the last year.” Alec crossed the room and clapped Simon on the back. “Thanks for letting me use your office.”

“Yeah, no problem. Anytime. I mean, any of you, not just Alec. He’s my brother-in-law ‘cause I’m married. To his sister. But really, any of you can come here. It’s like one big extended hockey family, right?”

Raphael looked up at Alec. “Does he ever stop talking?”

Alec shrugged. “It’s part of his charm. I’ll see you later, Si.”

“Good luck tonight, Alec. And Raphael— Mr. Santiago,” Simon called out. As the door began to shut Alec heard Simon mumbling. “Holy shit, Raphael Santiago.”

Alec chuckled. “Apparently my brother-in-law is a fan of yours.”

“You expected it to be someone else, Lightwood?”

Alec rolled his eyes. “So not that I’m unhappy to see you, but what the hell are you doing looking for me here?”

“Coach, Wayland, and I were talking about the Penguins’ center in his office when Wayland realized what time it was, and that he still had to run up to will-call to drop off a ticket.” Raphael adjusted his cuffs. “He knew he’d have his ass handed to him if he told Coach to fetch. So instead, you got me, mi amigo.”

“Jace is aware that I’m a big boy, right? And that I can tell time on my own?”

“He said you were nervous.”

“I’m not.”

Raphael studied Alec with a calculated gaze. “You ready to stop pucks with your face?”

“Yep.”

Raphael cocked his head and one eyebrow. “You don’t look nervous to me.”

Alec laughed.

There was the booming of footsteps and Alec looked up to Jace barreling down the hallway at him. He yanked Alec to a stop. “You doing okay, buddy?” Jace asked.

Raphael just shook his head in exasperation and walked away.

“Not really,” Alec answered honestly. “But the game? I’m good.”

“You sure about that?”

“Yeah.”

Jace searched his face. “You really are, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I am. Now can I dress, Captain?”

Jace clapped him on the back and they walked into the locker room.

Alec immediately lost himself in the time-consuming ritual of getting his equipment on. First, the under layer of sweat wicking garments followed by socks, jock, shorts, skates, leg pads, body armor, and last, his jersey. He’d followed the same pre-game routine for more than half his life.

There was over a hundred years of hockey tradition and the New York Blazing Angels had been a team for half of that time. Three generations of players had worn this team name on their jerseys and the owner was still the same one since the first time the Angels had hit the ice.

Alec held his mask in his hands, staring at the painted design that wrapped around the edges. The same traditional, generic design he’d worn all three years as an Angel. Following tradition—as both a hockey player and a first-born son—was what was expected of him.

He set his mask down and removed the bracelet from his wrist, running his fingertips over the artistic detail.

Traditional ideals versus modern.

Meticulously unpersonalized versus intimate.

He couldn’t think about how to reconcile any of that when his head had to be fully in the game…. But that’s exactly where his head needed to be. His teammates were counting on him. There were fans who had waited fifty years to see the Angels get to this point.

He placed the bracelet in his bag and put on his mask.

 

****

 

Magnus pushed the sleeves of Alec’s sweatshirt up his arms and stirred the pasta sauce simmering on the stove. Clary leaned against him and he wrapped his free arm around her waist.

“I caught up on the Puck Me group earlier. I can’t believe Tessa is at another show.”

“Unlike me, she loves Broadway. We’re all doing our part.” He looked down at his sweatshirt, then twirled his hand over her freshly dyed tresses. “And your hair looks just as fabulous as usual.”

“It’s been too long since we had a chance to do this,” Clary said. “I know I see you almost every day, but spending time out of the office—it’s different.”

“It is,” Magnus acknowledged with as much of a smile as he could muster.

He wasn’t okay with not being at the game tonight, despite that Alec and he had agreed that they shouldn’t do anything to provoke Morgenstern—and now Maryse. But since he couldn’t be inside the arena, he was grateful Clary had offered to keep him company. It would’ve been terribly depressing to watch the game alone. And really, he couldn’t ask for better company—it had been too long since he and Clary had spent time with each other outside of work. He wasn’t okay—still thrown by the feeling that there was so much more he needed to be doing than watching a game or making dinner—but he didn’t know what to do.

Magnus tipped his head toward the TV where the coverage was still in pre-game commentary. “Thank you for offering to stay here with me tonight, since I can’t be there.”

“Of course, babes.” She popped onto her tiptoes and planted a kiss on his cheek. She picked up her glass of wine and cradled it in her hands, turning to lean on the counter so she could face him. “Do you want to talk about what happened with Maryse?”

He really didn’t, but, “I don’t even know the woman and yet she has so much hate for me.”

“Magnus, that wasn’t about you.”

“I know that,” he replied much too quickly.

“But it doesn’t make it easier to hear,” Clary supplied. She got it. She always did.

“I’m too accustomed to people judging me before they know who I am. It’s never stopped me from being the freewheeling bisexual I am.” Magnus winked at her, attempting to lighten the mood.

Clary’s responding smile was…thin.

Unsettled by the sudden change in her demeanor, Magnus set down the spoon and focused on her. “What is it, biscuit?”

Clary swirled the wine in her glass, staring into the crimson liquid with her brows stitched together. “There’s something I need to talk to you about and I—” Clary jumped when there was a knock at the door, splashing wine onto Alec’s sweatshirt. “Shit! Oh my god. I’m so sorry!”

Magnus didn’t even glance at what damage had been done. Clary was on the verge of tears and it was only in her most lost and frustrated moments that she allowed herself to be that vulnerable.

“It’s just a few drops,” Magnus reassured her. “Welcome your mother in and I’ll refill your glass.”

“Are you sure—?”

“It’s fine, biscuit. I promise.” He leaned down and kissed her forehead. “We’ll talk later, okay?”

Clary nodded, then handed her glass to him and walked for the door. Magnus set her glass down and refilled it, then proceeded to dab at the sweatshirt with a damp kitchen cloth. By the time Clary was opening the door, the set of her shoulders had changed, but Magnus was just as wary.

“Hi, mom,” she greeted Jocelyn with a brightness that managed to sound nearly carefree.

Magnus set the towel aside and decided to let Clary take the lead. If she wanted to forget about whatever she needed to talk about for now, then Magnus would do the same. Maybe they both needed to disconnect for one night.

Magnus opened his arms wide. “Jocelyn, my dear. And what is that decadent scent coming from the dish in your talented hands?”

Jocelyn grinned as Clary took the glassware from her mom. “My chicken cacciatore.”

“Simon is going to be so mad that you made chicken cacciatore and he isn’t here,” Clary said, placing it on the counter.

Magnus hugged Jocelyn tightly, holding on until she was chuckling softly.

“Simon requested that I offer salutations to you from him. Should we freeze some of your comfort food masterpiece for him?” Magnus asked, drawing back to look at her. “He seems adept at dealing with ice.”

“No need to bother—he likes it best the next day anyway. And I already saved some for him, don’t worry.” Jocelyn’s hands were on his biceps, kind eyes taking all of him in. “Magnus, it’s been too long.”

“I was just saying that to him,” Clary called out from the kitchen.

Magnus grinned. “My company seems to be much more in demand than it ever has been.”

“Of course it is,” Jocelyn said sincerely and took a worn canvas bag off her shoulder. “Now, let’s get to the good stuff. I brought more bottles of wine. Time for me to hear what you’ve been up to.”

“My life has been…eventful as of late.”

“Including me just spilling red wine all over him.” Clary winced. “Hand over your sweatshirt, Magnus, and I’ll work at getting that stain out.”

“Absolutely not,” Magnus immediately answered. “This doesn’t come off until the game is over.”

Jocelyn’s mouth fell open. “You know, I didn’t believe Clary when she told me you were actually going to games, let alone making an evening of watching one on TV. When did you become a hockey fan?”

Magnus looked to Clary and she merely smirked as she sipped at her refilled glass. So Jocelyn wasn’t aware of just how deeply enamored Magnus was with one very athletic and brooding hockey player.

“Apparently I was missing something in my life that I wasn’t aware I was missing at all.” He grasped Jocelyn’s hand and pulled her toward the kitchen. “Come have a seat. It will take me less than one game to make you fall in love with it too.”

 

****

 

The Penguins were a team that was offensively focused. Fast and aggressive, but without the brutish demeanor of the Devils.

Alec was prepared for their star center—Chuck Freeman. He was one of the leading scorers in the league and a future Hall of Famer in the making. When both teams first lines landed on the ice together, the puck was a blur. Both Freeman and Santiago were speed demons.

The Angels had played the Penguins many times during the regular season, but this was like playing a whole new team. The Penguins took to the ice at a breakneck pace that forced Garroway to shorten the shifts in order to preserve everyone’s energy.

The Penguins had won their first round in four games—instead of the seven it had taken the Angels—and the extra days of rest and practice that it had afforded the Penguins was showing. If the Angels were going to have any chance at winning tonight’s game, they would have to slow the pace of the game without racking up penalties.

The crowd was whipped into a frenzy, a sea of white in Alec’s peripheral vision. The Penguins were black dots against the blinding white of the Angels home uniforms.

From Alec’s vantage point, it was like being one piece in a manic game of chess.

The memory that thought evoked slammed into him, catching him completely off guard.

Chess was a game his mother had taught him as a child because it taught offense and defense. And those who could anticipate their opponents’ action many moves ahead were at a distinct advantage. She’d taught it to him because it was, in her view, a game educated people played. A sign of greater intelligence. And a lesson on strategy that would someday benefit her son who would become a soldier like her. She’d never made it a secret that she was ashamed he’d used those skills in a lowbrow game like hockey.

Alec tried to push thoughts of his mother aside. Forget every lesson she’d tried to teach him. There wasn’t time for Alec to think. He had to trust his instincts. Rely on his experience.

Alec glanced at the double zeroes on the scoreboard—a testament to how well he and the Angels were holding on despite not being in control of the game. His mother would be appalled that he considered “holding on” any measure of success.

He grimaced, the force of her disapproval slamming into him like a puck to the chest.

He now had twenty-eight year running streak of disappointing his mother.

And that streak wouldn’t end tonight—no matter how well he played.

 

****

 

“How do you even keep track of where the puck is?” Jocelyn asked. She tucked her foot under her leg and sat sideways on the couch facing Magnus with both eyebrows raised.

“It took me more than a few games before I was able to,” Magnus admitted as he glanced at the TV.

The game was still scoreless, and the pace was so fast that taking his eyes off the screen for even one second meant he could miss a big play. But the first period was almost over, so Magnus tried to disengage from his worry over the score—over the tension in Alec’s movements that hadn’t been present in the last game—and be a welcoming host.

A car commercial filled the screen and Magnus turned his full attention to Jocelyn. “I’m still confounded by the ways they use their skates, their sticks, and their bodies to maneuver the puck where it needs to go. I can’t even stand on skates. Remember how embarrassing I was the night you dragged me to Rockefeller Center last Christmas, Clary?”

“You were pretty bad,” Clary answered distractedly.

Jocelyn peered over her shoulder to where Clary was leaned against the kitchen counter, her phone in her hands as she typed a message with a furrowed brow.

Clary’s phone chirped and she looked up. “Can I use your office, Magnus?”

While Magnus believed he was doing a passable job of stuffing his swirling emotional turmoil into a black void of denial for the night, Clary was not.

“Of course, biscuit.”

Jocelyn watched her daughter go with a sad smile on her face.

“You know what it is that’s bothering her,” Magnus observed.

“Clary tells me everything.”

It was a simple statement of fact. A bond forged through history and mutual trust.

“I hope you know that wasn’t an attempt to pry information out of you,” Magnus said with all sincerity. “It makes me feel better to know she has someone to talk to.”

“I know.” Jocelyn glanced toward the closed office door, then turned and set her wine glass down. “Now that she’s gone, though, I am going to attempt to pry some information out of you. She’s open with me about her life, but very guarded when it comes to her friends. I can tell there’s something she worried about with you, and it’s obvious there’s something weighing on you tonight.”

Perhaps he wasn’t doing as good a job as he thought he was. But he didn’t maintain his protective facade in the same way when he was around people he trusted. And the people who knew him well could see through those faux-barriers anyway. Magnus paused as he considered how much to say. He knew he could trust Jocelyn, but Alec didn’t know her at all….

Magnus drew his knees up and circled his hands around his legs. “I’m involved with someone who isn’t out—and not by his own choice at this point. It’s…challenging on all fronts, except between the two of us. Seeing myself committed to only him, and him being just as committed to me…. It’s never been like this before for me. He’s a good man in a tough situation….”

Magnus broke his gaze from Jocelyn and watched the replays of the first period flashing on the screen as the commentators droned on. To anyone else, there was little indication in the way Alec was playing that anything had gone wrong today, but Magnus saw the difference. Knew he was partially to blame for Alec’s tension. “My past is only complicating things for him.”

“Magnus, how much has Clary told you about her father?”

The question caught Magnus off guard.

“Not much,” Magnus managed to reply. He didn’t make it a habit to seek out information he wasn’t willing to offer in return, and there was no one in Magnus’ life that he’d shared the details of just how brutal his own stepfather had been. “All she’s told me is that you fell in love with someone you shouldn’t have.”

“Clary’s father was ruthless,” Jocelyn responded. “But I didn’t know that until it was too late. I’m still ashamed of things I did when I was with him, and yet I wouldn’t change one moment of it because it all led to Clary.” Jocelyn leaned forward, placing her hand on Magnus’ leg. “Our pasts shape us, but they don’t define who we are now.”

“That is a cliché sentiment, Jocelyn,” Magnus chided kindly. “You’re an artist. I know you can do better.”

The corner of Jocelyn’s mouth tipped into a half-smile. “It’s only cliché because it has to be repeated over and over again for stubborn people like us to really understand it. You’re a good man, Magnus—one of the best men I’ve ever known. I’d bet that this man sees the same thing in you.”

Anything for you, Magnus.

Magnus could still hear Alec’s voice in his head. It was a simple phrase that could be taken as a platitude, but from Alec—the man who was willing to sacrifice everything for the people he loved—it was a declaration. Perilously close to a promise. All of Alec’s words and actions pointed in the same direction. That he valued Magnus for the man he was right now. The message was so consistent and so heartfelt that it was becoming impossible for Magnus to deny that Alec felt just as strongly for Magnus as Magnus did for him.

Unfortunately, that didn’t bring Magnus any peace.

Just like with Izzy and Max putting themselves at risk for Alec, he worried how far Alec was willing to go for him. Just how much pressure Alec could bear before the weight of Magnus’ issues was too much for him to carry.

Magnus was terrified that he would be the reason Alec would break. “I don’t know that I deserve loyalty from him. Or from any of you, for that matter.”

“Magnus, the group of people you surround yourself is giving and loyal—and that isn’t an accident. You’ve built yourself a family. A family I’m proud to be part of. Your career is the same—you started with one lowly client, and look at what you’ve made.”

As hard as it was to see past his own shortcomings, he wouldn’t give Jocelyn space to indulge her own. She’d been the first client to put their career in his hands, and Magnus was still honored that she’d chosen him. “You were never lowly, Jocelyn. I’ve been lucky to be associated with such high-caliber talent from the very beginning.”

“Don’t mistake luck for hard work. There’s a difference between choice and chance. Action and passivity. When you take control and act you are always successful.”

He had worked hard to get where he was—both in his career and his personal life. Jocelyn was right. If he and Alec were going to be successful together then it was going to take the same level of dedication and time.

Magnus let that thought settle in. “He says my past doesn’t matter to him, only who I am today.”

“Then listen to him,” Jocelyn said, giving no room for argument. She took a sip from her glass and went back to watching the game. “You still haven’t told me how you got interested in hockey.”

“The man I’m involved with is very much…into hockey as well,” Magnus allowed.

Jocelyn raised an eyebrow but didn’t ask anything else.

Clary’s high-pitched giggling filled the room as she walked out of the office and passed her phone to her mom. “Someone wants to say hi.”

Jocelyn grinned as she looked at the screen. “Hello, Simon.”

Magnus couldn’t see the screen, but Simon’s voice was clear through the speakerphone. “Clary says you have something special for me? Something made with chicken…and love?”

“Stop by the house tomorrow—I have a dish sitting in the refrigerator for you. And say hello to Izzy for me when you get home.”

“You can say hello yourself actually.”

“Hi, Mrs. Fray,” Izzy said. “You remember my brother Max.”

“What’s up, Mrs. Fray?”

Jocelyn’s brow furrowed, then she was chuckling. “Of course I remember you, Max. Sorry, I was just confused there for a second trying to figure out why both of you would be at the game. I forgot your older brother plays for the Angels.”

Clary snorted and glanced at Magnus, smiling. Magnus kept his features locked down as Jocelyn narrowed her eyes, looking between them.

“Thanks for keeping Simon company for me tonight, by the way,” Clary hurriedly interjected.

“Well, he is my husband.” Izzy laughed. “And it was either here, or up in the cheap seats, since Alec gave his tickets to a family he met on the High Line this morning.”

Magnus’ heart swelled to painfully affectionate levels at that news.

“Where’s Magnus, Clary?” Max’s voice came over the line. “You’re at his place, right?”

“Yeah, hang on. I’ll hand you over to him next.”

“Bye, Mrs. Fray,” Max said.

“Nice to see you again,” Izzy called out.

Jocelyn waved at the screen then handed Clary her phone. “I’m going to use the restroom.”

Clary skipped over to Magnus and held it out for him. On the screen, Izzy and Max were pressed against each other on the couch in Simon’s office. “Good evening, Lightwoods.”

“We miss you, Magnus,” Izzy said, pouting.

“Yeah—when the hell are you allowed to come to games again?” Max said. “All of my jokes are too sophisticated for these guys to understand.”

“That penguin one was just gross,” Simon said from somewhere off-screen. “Totally uncalled for.”

“Magnus would have laughed,” Max protested, stumbling a bit as he tried to stand.

“Excuse my younger brother. Max decided to drink your share of beer too, since he’s done with finals,” Izzy explained.

Just last night Alec had joked that Max and Izzy would miss Magnus not being at the game. He’d had no idea he would miss them just as much.

Magnus motioned for Clary to join him, and Clary sat on the couch next to Magnus, curling into his side.

“Come home to us,” Max begged, as he dropped onto the couch again, opening a fresh beer. “Simon’s lair is a cold, unforgiving landscape of soiled Playboy magazines and fifty gallon drums of lube. What do they need all that lubricant for anyway?”

“Those magazines aren’t mine!” Simon yelled.

Max leaned in, whispering. “Notice he didn’t deny the lube.”

“Annnnnd you’re cut off,” Izzy said as she plucked the can out of Max’s hands. Max just grumbled and got off the couch again.

There was the distinct sound of a can being popped open, then, “Fine! I’ll just sit over here by myself on this gigantic barrel marked ‘gear lubricant’ and contemplate what it’s really used for since the zamboni is electric.”

“More room for me.” Izzy raised a middle finger—at Max, Magnus had to presume—then laid her head on the armrest and stretched out. Her features softened when she focused on Magnus again. “I’m glad you and Alec talked. He seemed much better when I texted him before the game.”

“He’s not quite himself, but he’s playing well tonight,” Magnus acknowledged, his eyes snapping up as Jocelyn joined them on the couch again.

Izzy sighed. “I’ll give Alec a hug for both of you after the game, okay?”

Jocelyn’s brow furrowed for only a blink of an eye, then she was attempting to cover up the shocked “o” of her lips with her wine glass.

Well, that cat had come screeching out of the bag.

“Please do,” Magnus said.

Clary blew a kiss at the screen before they hung up then set her phone aside. She laid her head on his shoulder, sighing. “I wish you could be there, babes.”

Magnus slung his arm over Clary’s shoulders. “Me too, biscuit.”

Jocelyn just glanced at Magnus’ sweatshirt and smiled.

 

****

 

The intermission between the first two periods passed at the same whirlwind pace the game had, with Garroway barking out corrections and making adjustments to the lines. Alec, like everyone else, was drenched in sweat. It was a twenty-minute break to recalibrate their attack. Twenty minutes to rest their bodies, to refuel.

It wasn’t enough time.

The Penguins roared out of the tunnel into the second period and the Angels were left scrambling after the puck again instead of getting ahead of it. In response, the Angels treaded closer to that line of brutal defensive play and desperation.

The shots on goal came faster, hitting him with more force and from more challenging angles. The Penguins had studied him and knew exactly where his weaknesses were. But Alec was even more aware of his failings than they were.

He stopped every shot that likely would’ve been a goal in the regular season.

Jace, though—still slower due to his injury in the first round—began to hit harder since he couldn’t outskate the Penguins. Alec watched warily as Jace pushed at Freeman when he could, then Velasquez joined in—a far too satisfied smirk plastered on his face as he toyed with the Penguins’ center. This wasn’t how the Angels would get any points on the board, but Alec could see Freeman’s tight control slipping.

It took until halfway through the second period—and a relentless push from Velasquez—for Freeman to finally break when the Penguins’ star forward slammed into Bat stick first, sending Bat careening to the ice. The ref’s whistle stopped play completely and Bat was back on his skates in one fluid movement, yelling at Freeman as the refs held him back.

The high-sticking call was obvious—and would send Freeman to the sin bin no matter what—but the length of the penalty depended on whether Freeman had injured Bat. Freeman skated for the box as Bat made his way to the boards by the home bench, Kadir checking out Bat’s face as the ref stood by.

“No blood. We’ve got two instead of five,” Alec overheard Jace say to Pangborn.

That meant a two-minute power play where the Angels would have a one-man advantage on the ice. In a game that had been fast paced and nearly penalty free, this could be the momentum swing the Angels needed to get a point on the board.

When play restarted, the Angels took the puck into Penguins territory and it stayed there. The Penguins goalie may have been a rookie, but he was good. He deflected every shot sent toward the net, no matter how hard the Angels pressed in. They couldn’t convert on the best scoring opportunity they’d had so far.

There were only seconds left on the power play when the Penguins finally gained control of the puck and brought it into the Angels defensive zone. Alec crouched down as play moved toward him.

In his peripheral vision, he saw Freeman bursting out of the penalty box, skating hard down the wings for the goal. It was only by chance that Alec caught the movement at all, since the Penguins defenseman was on the opposite side of the ice with the puck, skating past the faceoff circle, heading for the back of the net.

His training told him to stick close to the post and protect the bottom corner, but Alec’s instincts were pinging. He’d been in situations like this before.

In his mind’s eye he could see his mother across the chessboard from him, drilling into him the importance of time-tested strategy and protecting your queen against the likeliest of attacks first. Alec hadn’t questioned her then—it wasn’t his place and it wasn’t in him to disappoint her.

But he wasn’t that boy anymore.

Alec couldn’t let go of the thought that they were drawing his attention one way while setting up a sneak attack from the other side of the ice. They weren’t going for a backdoor shot on goal, the defenseman was going to pass to Freeman in the wings—hoping to catch Alec off guard and get a shot in over his shoulder.

“Watch left! Watch left!” Alec yelled to his defensemen.

He had less than a second to decide how to position himself and he went against everything his mother had taught him, pushing aside tradition and odds in favor of protecting against the unlikely shot. But instead of passing to Freeman, as Alec’s defensive strategy had banked on, the defenseman circled the net and slid to a stop, ice fanning out from his skates as he shoveled the puck past the post and into the back of the net.

Alec pushed up, harsh breaths see-sawing out of his mouth.

One to zero.

He’d been deflecting shots all night by the opposing team, and yet his real weakness was still himself.

 

****

 

“No, no, no, NO,” Clary chanted at the screen. “Alec never lets a shot like that in.”

Magnus bit at his nail, marring the manicure he’d gotten before breakfast with Izzy. “It was like he was expecting the puck to come from somewhere else entirely.”

“Maybe he’s just tired,” Jocelyn tried. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to wear all that gear and keep in that position for so long.”

“Maybe,” Magnus replied.

But he knew better.

Just as surely as Magnus was battling to see past his own failures today—fighting to uncover what his next move should be, and anxious that he was going to make the wrong decision—Alec had carried those same demons with him onto the ice tonight.

They were in the same war, on the same battlefield with a shared enemy, and yet they had no definitive plan of attack. They were reacting—on the defensive instead of the offensive.

And it was tearing both of them down.

Both teams gathered at center ice, waiting for the puck to drop and restart play, but Magnus couldn’t take his eyes off Alec. There was a restlessness to Alec’s stance that Magnus hadn’t seen in Alec before. Even in the disastrous first game of the last round, Alec hadn’t looked so…twitchy. Like he was uncertain about how he should hold himself.

Magnus pushed to his feet and began to pace. He could feel the nervous energy coming off of Alec as strongly as if he was on the ice with Alec.

But he wasn’t in the arena at all. Wasn’t allowed to be.

Magnus clenched his teeth and watched the puck drop. But before he could take a full breath, an Angels’ defensemen found an opening and slipped the puck past the Penguins goalie, tying the game.

The arena erupted and Clary surged to her feet, gripping Magnus’ arms and jumping up and down.

“Did that just happen?” Jocelyn said in disbelief. “Did they just score?”

“So exciting, right?” Clary gushed.

Magnus found he was smiling in response to the wide grin on Jocelyn’s face. Jocelyn was just as glued to the screen as he and Clary.

Magnus’ anxiety ticked down a notch.

He reminded himself that life was just as unpredictable as hockey. Everything could shift in your favor in the span of one breath.

When you take control and act you are always successful, Jocelyn had said to him.

If he and Alec were going to make it through this, they had to find a way to take control back.

They couldn’t be separated. Couldn’t be divided.

They had to find a way to take action.

Together.

 

****

 

Alec lifted his cage and squirted water in his mouth as the refs set up for a faceoff on the other end of the ice.

There were only minutes left in the third period and neither team had been able to gain enough of an advantage to break the tie score. Alec’s knee wasn’t hurting as much as it usually would at this point in a game, but he didn’t know how much of that was training and how much was sheer adrenaline. All the extra conditioning he’d been doing lately was definitely keeping him from flagging overall, though. Maybe running from his problems wasn’t nearly as bad as they made it out to be.

Alec dropped into his crouch as the ref put the puck into play again. Freeman snagged the puck on the faceoff and rotated around, slipping past the Angels’ defenseman and immediately barreling toward the goal. Alec had faced Freeman on a breakaway in the regular season and he adjusted his movements to protect the net, anticipating where the Penguins center would take his shot. Freeman drew his stick back and Velasquez slammed into him from behind, the refs’ whistles bringing play to a stop. Velasquez jumped over the boards and Garroway started barking at him immediately, but the damage had already been done.

“Fuck,” Alec bit out.

Velasquez’s taunting had crossed a definitive line. His carelessness meant the Penguins were going to be given a chance to go one-on-one with Alec in a penalty shot. Freeman against Alec. The ice quickly cleared of all the other players.

Garroway and the goalie coach could analyze past games, and Alec could study tape of every player until his eyes shriveled, but the penalty shot was dangerous—especially with a player as fast as Freeman. Alec had to read Freeman’s movements, try to protect as much of the net as he could, and hope that he would be smarter and faster than Freeman.

As soon as Freeman started forward, Alec’s instincts were pinging that the Penguins’ center would take a shot to the left side of the net. But history told him Freeman would go right—that Freeman was quick on his feet and would take a last second turn to the right, shooting the puck above Alec’s blocker, instead of his mitt. Every player in the league knew the five hole was Alec’s weak spot, but that was only during active play. Statistically, in a one-on-one situation a player’s best chance against Alec was going for one of the top corners.

Alec started to defend right, even though he couldn’t tamp down the feeling that Freeman was changing it up. But he’d gone against his training earlier and made the wrong call because of it. He’d made a mistake that had cost his team a goal. He’d let his fucked up issues with his mother influence how he played. And the war in his head over whether to trust his instincts or history was happening again.

He was wavering, unsure, when he should’ve been acting.

At the last second, just as Alec had anticipated, Freeman deked left, flicking the puck off the ice. Alec swiped his mitt up and felt the puck graze the edges of it, but after spending more than half his life on the ice he knew that he’d been a fraction of a second too late. He’d hesitated too long.

Alec’s stomach sank as the red light lit up, and the Penguins took a two to one lead.

 

****

 

Clary and Jocelyn groaned in unison while Magnus ground his teeth together.

There was less than five minutes left in the third and the game had been an almost evenly matched battle from the beginning. Magnus paced as the clock ticked down, flinching every time the puck went flying at Alec.

Whatever headspace Alec was in, it wasn’t the right one.

“I can’t even watch this,” Clary said. “It’s too stressful.”

Magnus couldn’t take his eyes off the screen.

The Angels were in full-on attack mode now, pushing toward the Penguins goal, each shift lasting mere seconds before a fresh batch of players were hitting the ice on both sides. Magnus watched the clock warily—time ticking down. All the Angels needed was one goal to take the game into overtime. But it didn’t matter how hard the Angels pressed in, the Penguins were always there, not leaving any room for the Angels to take a real shot on goal.

“Ten seconds,” Clary said as Jace took control of the puck, his arm firing back and whipping the puck at the goal.

It hit the post, ricocheted forward to Pangborn, who slapped it back toward the goal. The goalie dropped down to deflect it as the final buzzer echoed through the arena.

The Penguins piled on each other in celebration at center ice and the Angels retreated down the tunnel.

Magnus swore under his breath.

The Penguins had taken the first game of the series.

 

****

 

“You want a ride home?” Jace asked as they headed for the player’s lot. He flipped his keys in his hand while he held the arena door open for Alec. “I picked up my new baby from the dealer today.”

Alec shook his head, brushing past Jace. “Thanks, but I need to keep my knee moving until I can ice it at home.”

“Hey,” Jace said, stopping Alec with a hand to Alec’s arm. “The game tonight was tough on all of us, but you had extra pressure going in. You still played really well, bro. Your save percentage tonight was higher than most of the other goalies in the regular season. Proud of you.”

Alec frowned. He was in a shit mood and there wasn’t a pep talk or statistic that could pull him out of it. “We’re not in the regular season anymore, Jace. It wasn’t good enough. I’m not one of those other goalies.”

Jace grinned, just as undeterred by Alec’s grumpiness as usual, and clapped him on the back. “You’re right. In less than two months you’ll be our goaltender of the year.”

“You know we don’t talk about that stuff,” Alec reminded him gruffly. He slid his baseball cap on and glowered.

“Sure you don’t want a ride?” Jace tipped his head toward a jet black, two-door Maserati. “She’s almost as stunning as me, right?”

“She’s not really my type.” Alec pulled Jace into a one-armed hug then tracked backwards, heading for the gate. “Let’s focus on conditioning tomorrow, okay?”

Jace hit the button to unlock his car. “Yeah. Take it easy tonight. We’ll push hard tomorrow.”

Alec waved to the other players lingering in the lot and exited through the gate.

No one had blamed him for that final puck making it in—except Alec himself. He hadn’t trusted his instincts, had been too caught up in his own internal battle.

This was exactly what Jace had meant when he’d said at Pandemonium that Alec’s personal life bled onto the ice. Alec had to find a way shut the noise out, like Garroway had asked him to do months ago. He had to be impenetrable.

Despite the late hour, the streets around the arena were still packed. That he could be anonymous in the midst of so many people—many of them sporting Angels gear—was one of the things he loved about New York. He took an easy pace, going with the flow of crowd as not to draw attention to himself, slowly moving down streets to bring him closer to home. A few blocks later the lingering frustration from the game finally started to drop away, so he situated his bag across his chest and plugged his headphones in to call Magnus.

“Good evening, Alexander.”

Alec took a deep breath, letting the sound of Magnus’ voice ease him.

He smiled even though Magnus couldn’t see him. He couldn’t have kept it in, even though he was bone weary and emotionally wrecked after today.

“Evening, Magnus.”

“It sounds like you’re walking home.”

He’d told Jace that he needed to keep his knee moving, but that wasn’t the whole truth. “I needed the air.”

Magnus was quiet for a moment. “Clary and Jocelyn are gone. Do you want me to come over?”

There was almost nothing Alec wanted more, except, “Max is spending the night at my place. And even if he wasn’t, I’m— Exhausted really doesn’t begin to cover it. I may just collapse face first in my entryway and sleep there.”

Magnus hummed. “Tell me what you do need then.”

Magnus never asked about the game after it was over, he always allowed Alec to take the lead. That consideration didn’t escape Alec’s notice, and may have just made him fall a bit more for Magnus. “I don’t want to talk about hockey, or Sebastian, or my parents. Anything but those….”

Alec fell silent, fiddling with the cord to his earbuds. He didn’t want to try to make conversation or think at all. He just wanted to hear Magnus’ voice. “I don’t know. Could you just…talk? Maybe tell me something about you? You seem like the type of person who has a lot of stories.”

Magnus chuckled softly. “I do have quite a few. What do you want to know?”

Alec said the first thing that came to mind. “I don’t know anything about your friends besides Clary, Will, Jem, and Tessa, but you’ve mentioned going out with Ragnor and Cat a few times. Want to tell me about them?”

“Ragnor is insufferable,” Magnus started, the exasperation in his voice was laced with fondness. “He’s a grouchy college professor whom I adore with everything I am, but only tell him so when I’m drunk…. Which happens more than I’d like to admit. He tells me ‘no’ and all I want to do is the opposite. He knows this, and therefore is the most dangerous of instigators. Catarina is a nurse. She is far too good for this world, and yet exactly who this world needs more of. She was volunteering at the public health clinic I went to when I first came to New York, and Ragnor was already a friend of hers. We all fell in together as if it was always meant to be. We’ve known each other almost twenty years now.”

“You said when you first came to New York….” Alec hesitated. “If you want to— Do you think you could tell me about Indonesia? I just— I was thinking about growing up with Izzy and Max the other day, and, I don’t know. I just wanted to hear more about you. Growing up. And if there was anything…happy?”

“When I told you that you can ask anything of me, I meant that. There’s no topic in my life off-limits to you.”

Alec nodded, then remembered that Magnus couldn’t see him. “If you’re okay with it, then, yeah, I’d really like to hear more.”

Alec heard what sounded like the clack of ice against glass. He could picture Magnus swirling his drink as he contemplated what he was going to say.

“The first thing I think of when I remember Indonesia is the sweltering, yet delicious heat….” Magnus chuckled on the other end of the line. “Delightfully infused with the noxious fumes of rickety motorcycles, of course. If you’d believe it, I actually harbored quite the resentment toward footwear when I was younger. So much so that I usually went barefoot. That was until of course, I met this shoemaker who must have had a foot fetish, because his shoes were both gorgeous and pure heaven to walk in. I was twelve the first time I looked at a girl and wanted to kiss her. It was—oh, probably about a day later or so—the first time I looked at a boy and thought the same thing. I lived in the orphanage at that time.”

“Then you had some good times there?”

“I did. I was a hellion”—Alec grinned at the pride he heard in Magnus’ voice— “I learned how to make the right connections to get what I wanted at a very young age. Actually, it was those connections that made it possible for me to leave Indonesia.”

Alec let that all sink in as he waited for the light to turn so he could cross over 5th Avenue. “Is there anything you really miss?”

“The food,” Magnus answered immediately. “I do my best, but there’s nothing like fresh spices from the market or meals prepared in pots and pans that have been used for the same dish for decades. If it interests you, I’d love to cook some of my favorite Indonesian foods for you someday.”

Alec exhaled, felt more of the stress of the day fall away. It was so much easier to focus on what really mattered in his life with Magnus’ voice in his ear. “I’d like that. And to meet Ragnor and Cat. Throw Tessa, Will, and Jem in there and we’ll do a whole night that’s all about Magnus.”

“You know exactly how to woo me,” Magnus praised.

Alec chuckled, then scratched at his beard. His nerves started to take over. Everything with Magnus felt so much bigger than the ordinary ideas swirling through Alec’s head, but— “You know…. I’d like to take you on an actual date.”

“Are you asking me out, Alexander?”

Alec smiled. “I am.”

“You may want to wait until you meet Ragnor before you make that offer.”

“I’ve subjected you to Max. I think it’s about time you got even.”

Magnus chuckled lowly at that. “I would love for you to take me out.”

Magnus went quiet and Alec felt a tugging in his chest. It was a foreign sensation, demanding. He thought he’d known what love felt like when he was with Raj, but this….

If Alec hadn’t been half-dead on his feet and Max wasn’t waiting for him, there would’ve been a good chance of him just bypassing his place and going straight to Magnus’ loft—damn the consequences.

“Soon,” Alec insisted.

“It can’t come soon enough,” Magnus responded immediately.

Alec turned the final corner before reaching his building and paused before he went inside. “Thanks for walking me home.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there tonight, Alexander.”

Alec flipped his phone in his hand, trying to think of the right way to reply. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference to have Magnus in the arena tonight, but Alec’s gut was telling him it would have. He felt stronger when he had Magnus at his side, more sure of himself.... But saying that out loud would only feed Magnus’ own guilt. Magnus didn’t need or deserve that. “Don’t apologize. Really. It was okay.”

“It wasn’t,” Magnus acknowledged as if he knew what Alec was thinking. “But it will be.”

Alec pushed inside the lobby and ducked inside the elevator, hitting the button for his floor. “I can’t make any promises. I’ve been a little short on luck lately.”

“Oh, Alexander.”

Alec wished he could see Magnus’ face, but he heard the plea in Magnus’s voice. The elevator doors slid shut and Alec leaned against the wall. “Yes, Magnus?”

“We don’t need luck. We have each other.”

A distinct warmth chased away the cold dread Alec had been carrying with him since the confrontation with his mother.

“I like the sound of that,” Alec admitted.

“Good. Then we’ll make it our truth.”

Alec smiled as he unlocked his front door, waving at Max who was already sprawled on the couch. “I’m home now and Max is here—” Max mouthed Magnus’ name and Alec nodded to confirm it was Magnus on the other end of the line. “I’ll text you when I wake up, okay?”

Max put the back of his hand to his forehead, clutched a hand over his heart, and pretended to faint.

Alec rolled his eyes at his brother.

“It’s not a game day,” Magnus’ smooth voice came over the line, “but I’m sure I can help you find a way to make your morning just as…satisfying.”

Alec felt his cheeks heating. “I— Uh. I look forward to it. To that.”

Max lifted his head and glared at Alec. “Oh my god. Is he talking dirty to you? No phone sex while I’m in the room.”

Alec snorted and ignored his brother. “Have a good night, Magnus.”

Magnus was laughing softly on the other end of the line. “Sleep well, my angel.”

 

****

 

Magnus tried to hold back his grin as he rode up the elevator to his office floor, flipping through his texts with Alec that morning.

He’d been barely awake, but his first thoughts had been about Alec, of course. Before he’d really thought about what he was doing, he’d snapped off a picture of himself—still lying in bed, his makeup smeared because he’d fallen asleep with his cell still in his hand after Alec had called him—and texted it to Alec.

The reply had been immediate. Fuck

Magnus had laughed until he’d smeared his makeup even more.

Then a second message from Alec had appeared. How do you manage to look so fucking good in the morning?

Magnus had typed back, It’s a talent

You’re so…Magnus, even at 6am. Wtf? Stop being so hot

Then a picture of Alec had popped up, an exaggerated frown on his face, hair askew, creases still in his face from sleeping….

Magnus had wanted nothing more than to wake up every morning to a grumpy Alec. Isabelle warned me that you’re a bit surly in the mornings, but this is the first time I’ve seen even a hint of that

Just unfair that I’m here and you’re there. There had been a pause, then, I’d like to wake up next to you again

Magnus had been much too happy with that request. I do believe you were ON me, not next to me

A line of three dots had appeared, followed by, Can do that too

Magnus had stared at the screen after that. His reply had taken longer than usual because of the unexpected heat blasting through his veins. Well then. I’m officially awake

:) I’m headed to practice soon. Text you after?

I’ll be preparing for my business trip, Magnus had typed back. Please do, my bearded warrior. Glad I could coax one smiley out of you

:(

You’re laughing, aren’t you?

Maybe. I can’t anymore tho. My whole body aches from the game

If you were here I could help with that

I repeat. Fuck

Magnus was only going to be gone three days and there had been a time when he’d gone weeks without seeing Alec in person, but…. Is it too much for me to say I haven’t left NY yet and I already miss you?

What if I said yes?

He enjoyed this teasing side of Alec very, very much. Ah. So you’ll miss me too

Stop being cute

I am NOT cute, Magnus had protested.

You are *winking emoji*

Magnus’ reply had been swift, :(

Okay, I’m definitely laughing now

Go put on your knife shoes, my ice prince

Ttyl Magnus

Magnus broke himself out of his reverie and stepped off the elevator, pocketing his cell. He quirked an eyebrow as he walked down the hallway at the floral shop that had apparently popped up outside his office while he’d been at lunch.

Magnus couldn’t see his highly-competent assistant over the spray of sunflowers and daisies lining the edge of her desk, so he peered around them. “Good afternoon, Ms. Fray.”

He eyed the card still attached to one of the bouquets but Clary swiped it off, secreting it away in her purse as she smirked at him. “You have a guest waiting for you in your office, Mr. Bane.”

Magnus lifted his eyes to Clary warily. “Due to recent events, you can understand why that statement invokes a Pavlovian response from me. Is my terror justified?”

“It’s Max. Pretty sure there’s nothing to be terrified about with Max.”

Magnus scoffed. “You haven’t spent nearly enough time with the junior Lightwood then.”

“Just go in and see him.” Clary lips tugged down. “Honestly? He looks like he could use a hug.”

Magnus mirrored Clary’s frown and proceeded into his office. “To what do I owe the honor of your presence, Max?”

Max was slumped into the couch on one side of Magnus’ office. Indeed, he looked very much like he needed a hug. Despite Izzy’s contention that the Lightwoods loved hugs, he didn’t think he was quite there in his relationship with Max yet. Magnus clicked his office door closed.

Max held up a canvas bag, bottles clinking together with the gesture. “I came to do your nails.”

Magnus stopped short. “You what?”

“I—” Max’s brow furrowed, then he was shaking his head, a small smile tugging at his lips. “I haven’t seen you in person since the last game and…a lot has happened since then.”

“You channeled your brother for a moment there,” Magnus noted as he sat down next to Max.

Max’s smile faltered, a cracking of Max’s seemingly impenetrable confidence. “I’ve spent a lot of time in his head the last thirty-six hours, and I need to get out of it for a bit. And mine.”

Magnus exhaled. There was work to be done—calls to make, and meetings to set. But Max…. Max’s happiness was swiftly becoming as important to Magnus as Alec’s. Magnus fluttered his fingers, holding them out to Max. “Which hand would you like first?”

“Either.” Max lifted his eyes to Magnus. “You sure this is okay?”

“I’m always up for an impromptu costume change,” Magnus reassured him. “And the last manicure you gave me was divine.”

The set of Max’s shoulders eased and he went to work, scouring through the bottles and holding them up next to Magnus’ outfit. While Max considered which color to choose, Magnus took the polish remover and cotton balls Max had brought with him and began to swipe away the coat of polish he’d wrecked during the stress of last night’s game. Normally he wouldn’t have left his apartment with his nails in such a state, but he’d wasted away the morning texting with Alec instead of maintaining his normal beauty regiment. A sacrifice that had been well worth it, in his opinion, and one that was being rectified now anyway—while also helping Max. A win-win all around. He and the Lightwoods needed more of that.

Once Magnus had unearthed his natural nails and Max had two bottles sitting on the couch next to him, Max gently grasped Magnus’ left hand and began to paint. Minutes went by with neither of them saying anything. This was the longest Magnus had been in a room with Max and not heard one sarcastic, flippant, or unabashedly sexual remark fall from Max’s lips. It was a new side of the youngest Lightwood that Magnus assumed Max didn’t allow to come to the surface very often.

Magnus cleared his throat and decided to delve into the reason behind Max’s surprise visit. “Would you like to share with me why you’re really here, Max?”

Max kept his focus on Magnus’ nails when he answered, jaw clenching. “My mother doesn’t speak for Izzy, Alec, or me.”

There was anger and hurt mixed in Max’s voice that twisted Magnus’ gut. “I know.”

“What she said about you—”

“Wasn’t about me at all,” Magnus cut in. “Alexander and Isabelle are the ones who didn’t deserve to hear any of it.”

“The last time I saw you, I told you to be careful…. I didn’t expect any of this.”

“None of us did.” Magnus tried to smile in a way that could show how grateful he was. Max may have visited with the intent to support and comfort Magnus—but perhaps showing up here was to bolster Max’s own well-being, too.

There was no extricating himself from the Lightwood siblings now—he was just as ingrained in their lives as they were in his—and Magnus found that made him…happy. “Your color choice is impeccable.”

Max smirked. “Well, yeah.”

“Now there’s the Max Lightwood I know.” Magnus inspected the hand that Max had finished. “Isabelle hinted that there’s something the two of you are working on to help Alexander.”

Max scoffed. “Don’t ask me what it is. It’s better if you have plausible deniability if the cops come knocking at your door.”

“I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”

Max didn’t even look up, he just grinned.

Well, apparently there was no dissuading this Lightwood either. They were an unusually loyal bunch.

“Knowing Alexander, he probably tells you how much you and your sister mean to him every day, but I want you to know that I feel the same. Please be careful.”

Max chuckled and shook his head gently. “You are so far gone for him.”

A slow smile spread across Magnus’ face. “Perhaps.”

Max sat back, brush in one hand, the other sweeping his hair off his forehead. “Alec? Really? I mean, he may be a chiseled ice god who’s wealthy, smart, and yet genuinely humble, but what does he really have going for him?”

“I suppose when you put it like that….”

Max rolled his eyes. “He’s annoyingly perfect.”

“Annoyingly perfect for me,” Magnus clarified.

Max pretended to gag. “I’m going to choke on all this fluff if I stay here any longer.” He swiped the brush over the last nail and twisted the cap back on the bottle, surveying his work. “What do you think?”

It was better than most of the manicures he paid for. “Same time next—”

Three rapid taps sounded against the door. Since Clary hadn’t pinged him on his intercom, that meant there could only be one person standing on the other side.

Magnus held up a freshly painted nail to Max. “Hold that thought.” He delicately opened the door, protecting his still-drying nails. “Imogen. Another surprise guest. Please come in.”

“Good afternoon, Magnus.” Imogen strode in, either because she knew he wasn’t with a client or because she didn’t care who he was with. Maybe both.

“Imogen, this is Max Lightwood—Alec’s brother. Max, this is Imogen Herondale, the CEO of Idris Entertainment.”

Max stood and extended his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Herondale.”

Imogen shook his hand. She was neither cold nor warm. “Likewise.”

“Thank you for your time, Magnus,” Max said, picking up his bag. “I’ll have Clary walk me down.”

When Max was gone and the door was shut again, Magnus turned to his boss. “Well, Imogen. What can I do for you today?”

She sniffed the air, one eyebrow carefully raised. “I assume Max Lightwood isn’t a potential client.”

Magnus knew what she was really insinuating. “Nothing has changed between Alec and me.”

“While that may be the case, the status of your relationship with Alec wasn’t the entirety of our discussion.” Imogen crossed her arms. “You are even more emotionally invested in Alec than your other clients—or your other clients’ families. You have my support, Magnus, but that doesn’t mean you have carte blanche. As I stated previously, I’ll be closely managing your work with him for the foreseeable future. To that end, I’ve booked both of us tickets to Dallas—leaving tonight instead of tomorrow—so we can strategize about our meeting with Dorothea Rollins.” Imogen locked eyes with him, her authority undeniable. “My car will pick you up from your apartment in an hour.”

 

****

 

Alec dropped his duffel bag to the floor of his apartment and groaned. His whole body ached and he was starving.

With each step into his apartment he stripped another piece of clothing off, leaving a trail behind him as he went for the kitchen instead of the bathroom like he usually would.

He’d showered at the arena for the express reason of getting food into him as fast as he could, but he was overheated from practice and the walk home. His body was worn down but still jumpy with lingering adrenaline. Last night’s game had been harder on him than he’d anticipated. More of a battle than any of them had expected. But practice had been exactly what they all needed. There was little that brought a team together more than shared pain.

And, shit, he was hurting.

But it was the good kind of hurt. The kind that came from sweat and hard work. The kind that reminded him that, yes, he had limits, but if he worked hard enough he could stretch himself past those outer boundaries. He’d driven himself to the edges of his limits today, as had everyone else. There was no chance of the Angels slowing their opponents down, so they were going to have to play at the Penguins’ speed. Faster than that if they wanted to take the next game. Tomorrow night was a must-win if they were going to win the whole series. It was going to be a struggle to last even five games at this pace.

Alec was pushing himself to have a successful game, but pushing even harder to deflect thoughts of the demons that were stalking him. It had been three days since Sebastian Morgenstern had shown up in Magnus’ office. Less than a day since his mother had stormed the arena parking lot. Days filled with reassurances from Magnus and his siblings, all of them working to defend him. Days when Alec should’ve been thinking of only good things—hockey, his siblings, his friends, and Magnus—but the worry about his future kept slipping through and forcing its way to the front of his thoughts.

He flipped through his apps—opening up the intense playlist he’d had on repeat throughout practice—and connected his phone to the speaker system running through his apartment. Food, rest, and finding a way to either quiet his brain or overpower it with a louder noise—that’s what he needed tonight to prep himself for tomorrow’s game.

“Food first,” he said to himself and set to work making dinner.

The music volume dropped down and Alec’s cell beeped with a reply from Magnus to the text Alec had sent him after practice.

Change of plans

Alec worried his lip between his teeth.

All okay? He hit send.

The music quieted as another text came in.

In Imogen’s car right now. I’ll call in a few hours when we can talk

It was a more abrupt answer than usual—and mysteriously vague—but Imogen was likely sitting next to Magnus.

Alec kept his reply to a succinct K and turned back to the stove.

His music started up again and Alec cracked his neck. It was the perfect weather for a quiet dinner on the rooftop garden, but if Alec let any silence settle in, he knew where his thoughts would go.

He opened his fridge and surveyed the contents, analyzing what he could throw together now and what would take time to cook. He had leftovers from the vegetarian café down the road that he snatched out to snack on, then set to actually taking the time to cook himself a real meal instead of just stuffing himself with random items from his fridge.

He turned the volume up on his speakers and let the crashing music envelop him.

Facetime pinged on his phone, cutting the driving music off completely, and Alec jumped. He looked to his cell in surprise—realizing over an hour had passed since he’d gotten home. He was still in his boxers and was at a time critical time of throwing ingredients together in the pan, but he always answered when Max called.

He propped his phone against the knife block and picked up the call. “Hey, Max. What’s up?”

“I’m totally checking in on you,” Max said with a grin. He was twirling a pen between his fingers, sitting at the desk in his apartment. “Went to visit Magnus earlier and thought I’d see if you looked as sexually frustrated as he does.”

Alec scoffed, but had to know. “And?”

“You do.” Max leaned back in his desk chair, chewing on the end of the pen. “What are you doing?”

“Listening to Linkin Park and making dinner.” He’d lost himself in the process of cooking. He was surprisingly calm for as amped as he’d been just an hour ago. He waved the spatula in the direction of the stove. “It’s this chicken thing with bacon and a craft beer sauce, with rosemary potatoes and balsamic glazed brussel sprouts on the side.”

Max quirked an eyebrow. “Any kale in there?”

Alec stirred the sauce to make sure it didn’t burn. “Crispy kale in the brussel sprouts, yeah.”

“And you’re making all of this wearing only boxer briefs? While listening to the angst-ridden catalog of Linkin Park?”

“Technically, I have the song Numb on repeat.” There were…reasons this had been his perpetual song choice today. And the boxers? Well, he didn’t really have a good reason for not having put his clothes back on once he’d cooled down, but this was his apartment. “I just got home from practice. Why?”

“Hard rock, kale, and manly sweat. I didn’t even know emo-hipster-jock was a thing. But wow, here you are.”

Alec flipped Max off.

That only made Max’s smile bigger. “I’m buying you a beanie to complete the look. And some eyeliner.”

“I look great in eyeliner,” Alec contended.

“Magnus tell you that?”

Alec felt a blush creeping up his neck and deflected. “Pretty sure you and Izzy were the first people to ever tell me that.”

“Then it must be true.”

Alec chuckled fondly. “You have a reason for calling? Besides tormenting me, little brother?”

“Do I need one?”

“Nope. Just asking.” Alec’s head snapped up the sound of a heavy knock on his front door. “Gotta let you go, Max. The doorman’s probably bringing up a package. I need to put some clothes on.”

“Later,” Max said, and disconnected the call.

Alec turned down the volume of his music and cut the heat on the stove, then backtracked through the living room, picking up his t-shirt and shorts and slipping both on. He opened the door—to a hallway packed with NYC’s finest.

Alec’s jaw dropped.

What the hell were cops doing at his front door?

One of the uniformed officers stepped forward. “Mr. Lightwood? We have a warrant to search your residence.”

Alec gripped the door, eyes skipping over every distantly blank face staring coldly back at him. “For what?”

“It’s all addressed in the warrant.” The officer handed a piece of paper over to Alec. “Do we have your permission to enter?”

Alec reached for the warrant with shaking hands. “Do you need it?”

“No,” the officer answered with a sneer.

“Jesus, Nate,” another cop, this one in suit, said. He looked up at Alec. “Call your lawyer. We can wait in the hallway until he gets here.”

Alec didn’t even know if he had a lawyer anymore. Hodge had always handled that and Magnus had been dealing with his legal matters since the switch. He scanned over the warrant, anger taking hold when he saw what they were looking for. “You think I’m working with Valentine Morgenstern?”

The cop in the suit sniffed. “We don’t think anything, Mr. Lightwood. We’re just here to execute this search warrant.”

Alec gritted his teeth, left the door open and tracked back to the kitchen to grab his cell. He dialed Magnus and the call went immediately to voicemail. Alec swore and tried again, getting the same result.

“Shit,” he mumbled and ran his fingers through his hair. What the hell was he supposed to do here? Alec’s eyes widened. “Lydia.”

He put his back to the open door when Lydia picked up.

“Hey, Lightwood,” she greeted him.

Alec swallowed. “Lydia, I have cops at my door with a search warrant. I can’t get ahold of Magnus.”

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” she said without hesitation. “When you hang up with me text me Magnus’ number. I’ll call him while I’m on my way. Are they in your apartment yet?”

He glanced at the hallway, keeping his voice low. “Not yet. They said they’d wait for my lawyer but I don’t know who that is.”

“They can wait outside your apartment. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Thanks,” Alec muttered. He resisted the urge to slam the door in their faces and sat down on the couch, reading over the warrant. After he’d read it through another two times—his anger flaring every time he saw the names Valentine Morgenstern and Hodge Starkweather—he snapped off a picture and sent it to Magnus. Minutes passed and there still wasn’t a reply, the message left unread. Alec’s knee bounced at a frenetic rate, and his lip was beginning to hurt from how much he was gnawing at it.

He heard movement in the hallway and looked up to find Lydia pushing through the group of cops and into his apartment. The steely-eyed gaze she had on the police softened the second she had her back to them and was focused on him.

Alec stood, handing the warrant over. “Thanks for coming so fast.”

“I was at home working up the nerve to call and ask someone out. This is less painful.” Lydia’s eyes danced over the piece of paper. “And total bullshit. What the fuck is this?”

Alec shook his head. “I don’t know. And I haven’t been able to get ahold of Magnus.”

“I can’t reach him either, his cell must be off.” Lydia’s eyes snapped up to him. “I can act as your attorney and make sure they’re sticking within the parameters of the warrant.”

“You draft contracts for NBC,” he whispered.

“They don’t need to know that.” Lydia waved the cops in. “Come on in, gentlemen.”

Alec’s stomach rolled as the police entered and started rifling through his drawers. “This has to be the work of my mom or dad.”

Lydia’s features sharpened in anger. “Your parents?”

“My mom showed up at the arena yesterday. I’ll fill you in later.”

“Whoever’s behind it—it’s a scare tactic, for sure. I’ll get ahold of Izzy while they’re working, make sure this doesn’t pop up in the media.” Lydia put her hand on his arm and peered up at him. “You don’t have to be here. Go to Izzy’s, or even Max’s place. Hell, I’ll give you my keys if you need a place to go.”

“Yeah, okay. I don’t want to be— Shit. Call me when they’re done here, okay? I’ll find a place.”

Lydia nodded and Alec went for the door, grabbing his duffel bag.

The uniformed cop who had been a dick to Alec from the beginning was stationed at the door and he grabbed Alec’s arm stopping him. “We can’t allow you to take anything from here until we’ve completed the search.”

“This is my gear.”

Lydia was at his side in a second. “And doesn’t fall under the specifications of the search warrant. You don’t have to let them search it, Alec.”

Alec shook his head, defiant. “I don’t have anything to hide.”

Alec unzipped his bag and the officer waved over the cop in the suit. Alec dropped the bag to the ground and the man bent down, searching through the contents then zipping it back up.

He handed it over to Alec. “Good luck tomorrow, Mr. Lightwood. The city is rooting for you.”

Alec bit down on his tongue to keep in a scathing reply and stalked out of the apartment, unsteady on his feet.

He stepped onto the sidewalk and knew there was only one person he needed to talk to. But he had no idea where Magnus was right now and why he wasn’t answering….

Clary.

She would now exactly where he was—why the hell hadn’t he thought of calling her half an hour ago?

He hit her number, and before Clary could even finish greeting him, Alec had impatiently bit out, “Do you know where he is?”

“Magnus?”

“Yes, Clary. Magnus. I can’t get ahold of him.”

“He’s on a plane with Imogen right now. She showed up at his office suddenly and said that he had less than an hour to pack.”

“Shit.” Magnus’ business trip. That had been the change of plans Magnus had alluded to. “When does he land?”

“An hour or two. Alec, what’s going on?”

Alec looked up at his building, stomach churning. His apartment had been taken over by NYC cops. It was the night before a must-win game and Alec was so far outside his pre-game headspace that he didn’t know if he’d be able to find it before tomorrow night.

And Magnus wasn’t here.

He glanced across the road and noted a man with a camera standing in a stoop, his lens pointed in Alec’s direction. Was someone hired by Sebastian watching Alec right now? Fuck.

Alec was going to be sick.

“It’s bad,” he finally answered Clary. “That’s for sure.”

 

****

 

Magnus swiped his phone out of airplane mode the moment the wheels of the plane touched down in Dallas. Instead of the usual trickle of missed phone calls and texts, a flood of notifications filled his screen. Dozens of missed calls, voicemails, and texts from Alec, Izzy, Clary, and an unknown number.

Panic coursed through Magnus. He immediately hit the button to call Alec, he didn’t want to waste any time trying to scroll through the messages.

“Magnus.” Alec’s voice broke around his name when he picked up.

Magnus’ throat tightened. Only then did Magnus realize the mistake he’d made by calling Alec back without finding some privacy first.

Magnus was sitting next to Imogen, her ever-aware presence within feet of him. She wasn’t looking directly at him, but he knew she was listening.

Magnus fixed his gaze out the airplane window, trying not to draw her attention to how truly vulnerable he was in the moment simply because of how Alec sounded. Attention invited scrutiny—questions that delved past surface appearance. Magnus couldn’t handle that level of examination from his boss right now. The parameters of his relationship with Alec were a wall of paper instead of plaster—a flimsy façade at this point.

If Imogen pressed Magnus for more details, she would break through to something far different than what Magnus was contending.

“We just landed in Dallas,” he said with much more calm than he felt.

“Clary told me. I thought you were leaving tomorrow?”

Magnus spared a glance at Imogen. She was out of her seat now, gathering her carry-on and purse. He had to be careful what he said out loud. “That was the plan.”

Imogen’s cool gaze slid over him with that reply.

On the phone, Alec sighed. “When are you getting back?”

Magnus didn’t flinch away from Imogen. “Later this week. I’m in LA next. Could you hold for a moment, please?” Magnus put his cell to his chest and addressed his boss. “Please don’t let me keep you waiting, Imogen. I need to take this.”

Imogen nodded brusquely. “I’ll meet you at baggage claim.”

Magnus waited for Imogen to deplane then put his cell back to his ear. “What’s going on? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Magnus. It’s fine.”

From the cascade of messages still pinging on his phone and the tone of Alec’s voice, whatever was happening was distinctly not fine. “Alexander. Tell me what’s going on.”

“I think my parents just tried to force my hand. A show of power.”

What had been panic mere seconds ago morphed into anger. “What did they do to you? Where are you?”

“I’m at the bar by my apartment. The police are currently searching my place for any documents that could tie me to being a co-conspirator of Hodge or Valentine.”

Magnus sneered. “That’s ridiculous.”

“I know that, and you know that, but—” Alec sucked in a breath. “They drove me out of my home, Magnus. I’m running out of safe spaces.”

Magnus’ fingers twitched with the need to do something. He solved problems as an agent—it was job. He took a deep breath to focus. Imogen was right—he was uniquely, immutably tied to Alec in a way that none of his other clients were, or ever would be. There were things he would offer to Alec that he would to no one else in his life. “My apartment is safe, and it is always open to you. Go to my building and call me when you get there. I’ll have the doorman let you into my loft.”

“Okay.” Alec blew out a long breath. “Yeah. I can do that.”

“I need to make some calls now. Will you be okay if I let you go?”

A pained laugh hit Magnus’ ear. “No, but I’ll deal.”

Magnus gathered his things and headed for the terminal. “Call me when you get to my place. It doesn’t matter where I am, or who I’m on the phone with, I’ll answer.”

“Okay.”

“We’ll get through this,” he reassured Alec.

“Together, right?”

Alec sounded so…small.

Magnus wanted nothing more than to turn back around and board the next plane for New York. But he was in Dallas for Alec, working to strengthen support for his fight ahead. They might have been separated by distance, but they weren’t divided.

“Yes, Alexander. Together.”

 

****

 

Alec thanked the doorman and dropped his bag on Magnus’ floor. He snicked the locks into place and felt his every muscle in his body ease. He was safe here.

Even though Magnus was half a continent away, Alec still felt his presence. Grounding Alec through the bracelet on his wrist. Protecting Alec with the safety of this loft. Supporting Alec, from the other end of his cell phone. Because they were in this—together.

Alec put the phone back to his ear, listening to Magnus speak to someone else in the background. Magnus’ tone was all business. That clarity of purpose and unassailable self-confidence had rankled Alec in the beginning, but now it reminded Alec of just how far they’d come. Most people were only allowed to see the brusque, professional side of Magnus—very few knew the giving, kind man Alec had fallen for.

“Are you still there?” Magnus asked as he came back on the line.

“I’m inside now,” Alec verified as he looked around the loft. “Is Chairman here?”

“He stays with Catarina when I’m away.”

“You know…. If you ever need it, I could watch him too.”

“You are much too beloved by him. He’d probably never come home to me.”

Alec smiled at the affection in Magnus’ voice. “Probably.”

There was a beat of silence, then, “You’re still standing in the entryway, aren’t you, Alexander?”

Alec shifted on his feet and laughed nervously. “Yeah.”

“My home is yours. For my peace of mind, if not yours, please make yourself comfortable.”

Alec kicked off his shoes, setting them next to his bag, and dropped onto the couch, sighing. “I’m sitting.”

“Good. I’m in my hotel room now and don’t have to meet Imogen for another hour. Do you want to hang up and Facetime?”

“You need to see my face, don’t you?”

“I do.”

Alec needed that too. “I’ll call you back in a minute.”

Alec hung up and looked at his screen. His phone had already connected to Magnus’ wifi. It was such a small thing, and yet comforting. This place was familiar.

Safe.

He was just beginning to understand how vital that concept was in his life.

He tapped the screen to Facetime Magnus and the call was answered with the view of a ceiling. “Hey. Where are you?”

Magnus’ face appeared, leaning over the screen, hair falling over his forehead, and a smile on his lips that made Alec’s stomach flutter. “I’m here. Just needed both hands to check the room for any signs of bed bugs.”

Alec snickered. “Definitely don’t want you bringing any of those home.”

Magnus tucked his hair behind his ear, his smile growing exponentially. Alec wasn’t sure what had prompted that and he didn’t feel the need to press. Seeing Magnus’ smile had chased away the last of his anxiety.

The screen blurred for a moment, then Alec could see Magnus perched on the edge of a chair by a window, with downtown Dallas sprawled out in the background. “I’ve spoken with both Isabelle and Lydia—Alicante is ensuring this doesn’t hit the media and, as expected, the police didn’t take anything from your apartment. They told Lydia it was a warrant that was rushed through—approved by some judge who will sign just about anything when he’s about to leave on vacation. We haven’t managed to tie the warrant request back to either of your parents, so far.”

It didn’t matter to Alec if there wasn’t any solid proof, he had no doubt it was their doing. “It was them. Lydia said it was a scare tactic.”

“Without a doubt. Did you receive the email from Isabelle with the coming out plan?”

His sister had sent that through yesterday, but he’d put off reading it. He couldn’t delay it anymore, though. “Yeah, I got it, just haven’t reviewed it yet.”

“Read it all over. Both Imogen and I approve of the plan she’s laid out. Talking to someone in the Angels’ organization needs to go to the top of your list. Think about who it should be, and if you want me there, I’ll be there.”

“I know you will.”

Magnus’ features softened and he sank into the chair. “So. How are you?”

Alec frowned before responding. “Whatever my parents were trying to do, I’m not scared. I’m—” Alec looked away from the screen, struggling to come up with the right combination of words to convey what he was feeling. When he looked at his cell again, Magnus’ eyebrows were stitched together with worry. “I don’t even know what to call it. I’m beyond rage, Magnus. I was sure before about what we needed to do…. And I understand what Izzy is saying about not provoking them—that all makes sense. But— I can’t sit back anymore. I have to fight back somehow. Even if it’s in small ways.”

“I’m listening. Like what?”

Alec huffed and got to his feet, pacing. “Me…being here? I’m not supposed to be anywhere that could tie me publicly to you.”

“And yet, you always seem to find your way there,” Magnus said with a distinct smile.

“Because it’s where I want to be,” Alec said. He’d said that before, but this time it felt more…permanent.

He’d been watching to see if anyone had followed him to Brooklyn, and he hadn’t seen anything to raise his suspicions. But even if he had, it wouldn’t have stopped him.

This was exactly where he wanted to be.

Magnus arched an eyebrow. “Neither of us is good with being passive.”

“That’s an understatement.” Alec chuckled and dropped on to one of the bar stools. There was a pile of necklaces on the counter, as if Magnus had shed them in a hurry while he was packing. Alec began to pick through them, untangling the chains and smoothing them into neat lines.

There was one Alec’s fingers kept going back to—a longer gold chain. It was so finely crafted that it was soft under his fingertips, and there were two small, circular pendants hanging from opposite sides instead of the center.

Alec threaded it through his fingers and held it up. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear this necklace.”

Magnus smirked, a small laugh passing over his lips. “That, Alexander, isn’t a necklace—it’s a belly chain. I wore it under your sweatshirt in game seven.”

Alec blinked.

Looked at the belly chain.

Looked at Magnus.

He swallowed. Roughly.

“Shit. Um—” He could imagine now that those pendants sat at Magnus’ hip bones, a line of gold cutting across bronze skin, accentuating the defined muscles of Magnus’ stomach. Could imagine dropping to his knees, kissing along that line. His hands closing around Magnus’ hips, fingers sliding under the chain, as he worked his way lower…. Alec closed his eyes. “Fuck.”

“Yes, Alexander?”

Alec took a deep breath and dared to look Magnus in the eye again. “You had this on when we were at the bar that night?”

Magnus smiled coyly. “I did.”

Alec shook his head. “Tomorrow is game day, Magnus. So I need to not think about any of this right now.” He set the chain down. Deliberately licked his lips. “Tomorrow morning, though….”

Magnus pouted. “That was unfair.”

Alec’s responding laugh felt as carefree as it sounded.

Magnus’ fingers teased the collar of his shirt. “Are you sure you don’t want a repeat performance of the last time it was just the two of us on Facetime?”

“That almost killed me,” Alec said honestly, tracking the movement of Magnus’ fingers. “If it happened again, I think I might actually die.”

“Ah. La petite mort.”

Alec cocked his head and squinted one eye. “I know what that means. And you speaking French isn’t exactly helping me to say no.”

Magnus ran a finger over his bottom lip. “Why say no when you can say yes?”

Alec groaned, hand running over his face in frustration. “Superstitions, Magnus—”

Magnus pulled his lip between his teeth then smirked. “I won’t tease you anymore, Alexander. I’ll let you go so you can settle in, I know it’s been a challenging day.”

It had been. But this…. This was worth it all. “No. Don’t go yet. I just— I just want to talk to you more.”

“Honestly? I’d settle for hugging you right now.”

Such an innocent action…. Like holding hands. But even those simple actions sent heat pouring through his veins.

“I wouldn’t say no to that.” Alec cleared his throat, tried to rein the conversation into something that would keep Magnus on the phone longer without torturing both of them. “Are you sure this is okay? Me being here?”

“Quite frankly, Alexander, I was distraught when my housecleaner came through and my sheets no longer smelled like you. Then Clary spilled wine on your sweatshirt and I had to wash it.” Magnus swirled his hands around in a graceful flourish. “Please feel free to roll around a bit on both while you’re there.”

Alec felt a blush popping up on his cheeks.

“Have you eaten?” Magnus asked.

Alec shook his head. “The cops came before I could.”

“Help yourself to whatever is in the kitchen. Or if you don’t want to cook, I have an account at the diner on the corner. They’ll deliver for me.”

Alec nodded. “Thanks.”

“Far be it from me to deny your angelic body the nutrients it needs to stay in such heavenly condition.”

Alec rolled his eyes. “Stop being cute.”

Magnus pursed his lips, eyes flashing a challenge. “I’m not cute. Perhaps you’d like to discuss just how low that belly chain sits on my hips?”

“Fuck.” Alec scrubbed a hand over his lips and beard as he let his eyes roam over Magnus. He watched as Magnus popped one shirt button open. Alec’s heart began to race. “If I don’t give in you’re going to start stripping, aren’t you?”

Magnus bit at his lip and undid another button.

“Magnus,” Alec warned.

Another flash of skin appeared, this time accompanied with a low, sexily devious chuckle from Magnus.

“Fine! You’re not cute.”

“I’m glad we’ve reached an agreement.”

Alec’s fingers itched with the overwhelming need to touch. “When do I get to see you again? In person?”

“I’ll be back in town late on Thursday.”

“Shit. I’ll be in Pittsburgh then. We fly home after the game on Friday.”

Magnus seemed to be considering that. “Saturday, then?”

“Maybe Friday night. Really late.”

“I’ll be waiting.” Magnus replied. “Now. Go get some food, sleep well tonight, utilize all of my showerheads to their fullest extent in the morning. I’ll be watching your game tomorrow from the hotel.”

“I’ll blow a kiss to the cameras for you,” Alec teased.

“I’d like to kiss you again in person, Alexander.”

Alec’s gaze dipped to Magnus’ lips. “The next time you see me you can.”

Magnus grinned.

“Goodnight, Magnus. Thank you for letting me stay here.”

“Anything for you.” Magnus blew a kiss at the screen and hung up.

Alec held his cell in his hands, staring at his home screen as he fought the urge to call Magnus back. How was it possible that he already missed Magnus?

He stood and unzipped his duffel, dropping his cell into the bag and going for a change of clothes to sleep in. His hand grazed his mask as he rifled through the bag, stopping him cold….

He was spending the night in Magnus’ home. He was surrounded by Magnus here. But when he went to the arena tomorrow, the only trace of Magnus being a part of his life would be texts on his phone and the bracelet on the wrist. He was breaking down the barriers between his personal life and hockey piece by piece, but it wasn’t enough.

He could still have part of his connection to Magnus with him even if Magnus couldn’t be in the arena.

Alec set his mask on the floor and picked up his phone to call Clary.

“Where are you?” she answered, her voice shaking.

“I’m okay, Clary. I’m at Magnus’ loft—going to stay here for the night.”

“You sure that’s a good idea?”

Alec laughed. “Probably not. But right now, it’s exactly what I need.”

“Okay then….” Clary cleared her throat. “Is there something I can do for you, Alec? I mean, you don’t usually call me unless—”

“Unless there’s a reason,” Alec finished. Shit. Just like with Simon, Alec needed to start paying better attention to the people he loved. “I know. I’m sorry. I— I should go.”

“Alec.” Clary sighed. “It’s okay. I’m here. Just tell me what it is.”

He couldn’t hide anymore. Couldn’t be passive.

He wanted every part of him to be represented on the ice with him tomorrow. And Clary could help him do that.

Alec sat down on the floor with a thump and studied his meticulously unpersonalized mask. “You taking on any art commissions right now?”

 

****

 

Dallas had become a favorite city for Magnus to visit in recent years. It wasn’t quite as progressive as Austin, but southerners knew how to dress for even the simplest of occasions. Magnus had specifically picked out a black and silver brocade jacket for the lunch with Dot—pairing it with a bright pink shirt with ruffles, fitted black pants, and shiny wing tip shoes. In New York, this outfit would’ve been considered garish. In Dallas, he was only one of many men who wore pink with sublime elegance.

It had taken him hours this morning to get dressed and do his makeup and hair, but he easily fit into the crowd here, while Imogen—in her surely expensive, but depressingly dour black pantsuit—did not.

That didn’t keep Imogen from eyeing him and every other fashionably dressed man with wariness. Magnus hoped that wasn’t a harbinger of the conversation to come. He’d done his best to prepare Imogen for their meeting with Dot, but there were details of Dot’s life that weren’t Magnus’ to share.

The maître d stepped up to them, leather bound menus in hand. “Welcome, Mrs. Herondale and Mr. Bane. Please follow me.”

Magnus swept his hand, inviting her to go first, and he followed Imogen and the maître d as they wound through the tables.

Dot caught eyes with Magnus as they crossed the restaurant, a reserved smile on her lips. She stood when they approached the table and shook Imogen’s outstretched hand. “It’s nice to see you again, Imogen.”

“Thank you for taking the time to meet with us, Dorothea.”

“Dot, please. Magnus has informed me of the recent events involving Alec, but I’d like for this to be more of a social call and building of bridges than an official meeting.”

“Of course,” Imogen replied.

“Magnus, my love,” Dot said warmly.

Magnus leaned down and kissed both of Dot’s cheeks.

Imogen studied their greeting, then sat in the chair the maître d was still holding for her. “Is now when I get to learn more about how you two know each other?”

“Dot and I have known each other for a number of years,” Magnus said, standing next to his chair. He would leave it to Dot how much more detail would go into that story.

Dot took her seat again, and Magnus sat down across from her.

“Magnus might be a gentleman now,” Dot replied. “But it’s only because of my husband that he knows it’s proper to wait for a lady to be seated first.”

Magnus restrained a laugh. Dot was a woman, but she was certainly not a lady. Magnus happened to know for a fact that her husband would agree with him. Dot glanced at him with mirth, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking.

Imogen brought her shoulders back and settled her napkin on her lap. “I know you said you want to make this a social call, but before we do that, I want to reassure you that IE will continue to handle Alec Lightwood’s contract with professionalism while keeping Gallant’s business interests at the forefront.”

Dot matched Imogen’s posture and met her eyes. “My husband is trans. It is a fact that he is open about now, but I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like if someone had tried to out him when he was struggling to be proud of the amazing man he is. This may be all business for you, Imogen, but the attack on LGBTQ people is quite personal to many of us.” There was no condescension in her tone, no judgment. “You don’t need to reassure me—your actions in support of Alec tell me everything I need to know about the professionalism of IE. That you have Magnus handling this process only solidifies my faith in the firm since I trust him implicitly. He is a wise man and a valuable advisor—which I’m sure you already use to your advantage.”

Imogen narrowed her eyes for only a fraction of a second before she was answering. “Magnus is one of IE’s strongest assets.”

Although they were discussing him as if he wasn’t in the room, let alone at the same table, Magnus couldn’t be offended. These were two of the most powerful women Magnus knew. Listening to their calculated word choices—weaving around each other like an intricate political dance—was fascinating.

Her point obviously made, Dot smiled serenely. “So, with that said, what can I do to help you?”

“I’ve written a statement as CEO of IE supporting Alec that will go public if needed. I”—Imogen paused and looked to Magnus—“We would like Gallant to do the same.”

“I’ll draft a statement for our own CEO to sign tomorrow.” Dot clasped her hands on the table and finally turned to Magnus. “Please let Alec know he has Gallant’s official support.”

Magnus nodded. “I will.”

This was not the route Imogen had envisioned for the meeting in their strategy session last night, but they had still arrived at the Imogen’s desired destination. Magnus considered that a success for all parties.

“I look forward to working with you, Magnus, and the entire staff of IE for years to come,” Dot added.

Imogen nodded and eased into her chair. “I do as well.”

“Good.” Dot picked up her menu. “Now, for the sake of bridge building…. We’re in Texas—let’s see who can eat the most steak.”

 

****

 

Despite the text Alec had just gotten from Magnus that Gallant was behind him one hundred percent, Alec’s palms were sweating.

He wanted to be known for being a good goalie, not for any of the shit that was going on in his life right now. If he didn’t find a way to take control back, then someone was going to rip it even farther away from him.

Alec flipped his phone in his hand, deciding whether or not to text Magnus and tell him that he was currently in coach’s office, when Garroway stalked in. He eyed Alec. “Is this an open door conversation or closed?”

Alec set his phone aside and sat up in his chair, elbows braced on the armrests and hands clasped together. “Closed, Coach.”

Garroway shut both of his office doors and headed behind his desk. He tilted back in his seat and steepled his fingers. “Alright, Lightwood. Talk to me.”

“I’m—” Alec took a deep breath. “I’m gay, Coach.” Garroway opened his mouth to respond and Alec held up his hand to stop him. “And I never thought I would be saying this, but that’s probably going to be the easiest part of this conversation.”

Garroway leaned forward. “Go ahead.”

“There’s someone who’s threatening to out me. Blackmailing me…or extortion? I’m not clear on what exactly it is. Anyway, he has pictures that make certain implications, and the media will have a field day if they get ahold of them.”

Garroway lifted an eyebrow. “Graphic pictures?”

“Not at all,” Alec rushed out. At least there was one thing going for him in this. “Actually, they’re pretty tame. If you want to see what I mean, I can make sure you get copies—I don’t have anything to hide.”

“Besides that you’re gay.”

His coach didn’t stumble over the word gay one bit, or sound as if he was making any judgments about Alec because of it. Alec’s anxiety slinked down a notch.

“Not even that, really. Not anymore at least. Before this all happened, I’d already been in talks with my agency about a gradual coming out.”

“I see.” Garroway drummed his fingers on his knee. “So, what does this person want from you?”

“He’s demanding I stay in the closet while he uses my…presence in the media to benefit his business.”

Garroway winced.

“And there’s more,” Alec said apologetically.

“Jesus, Alec.”

Alec could only nod. He shared that sentiment. “I’m sure you saw the incident report with my mother from a few days ago.”

“I did,” Garroway confirmed. “I figured that’s what you wanted to talk about.”

“Yeah, well, she’s friends with the person blackmailing me, and wants to force me to do what he’s asking. I even had a search warrant served on my apartment last night—”

Garroway’s face clouded.

“They didn’t find anything, because there was nothing to find,” Alec said quickly. But his coach looked less than convinced. “My PR agency has ensured it won’t show up in the media because the cops didn’t find anything, but their scare tactics are getting uglier, and I need you to know all of this in case we can’t control it.”

“What were the cops looking for—exactly?”

Alec cleared his throat. “Documents that would prove I’m a co-conspirator with the assholes who stole my money.”

“I was here when you got that call,” Garroway said, jabbing his finger on the desk to punctuate every word. “You had no idea what was going on.”

“Which is exactly why there wasn’t anything for them to find,” Alec made sure to point out.

“Okay,” Garroway allowed, sitting back. “I’m with you.”

Alec scratched at the back of his head. “But here’s the hard part….”

“None of that was the hard part?” Garroway said, his eye wide in disbelief. “Are you trying to give me a stroke, Lightwood?”

He’d played for Luke Garroway for three years now. While he wouldn’t call their relationship anything close to a friendship, he respected and admired Garroway for the leader he was. He trusted Garroway. He could only hope that some of that trust was mutual.

Alec leaned forward, fingers going to his bracelet. “I’m here to ask you to keep all of this from the front office, Coach.”

Garroway lifted both of his eyebrows. “You’re serious?”

“I know what I’m asking of you, Coach. Hockey is my focus despite all of this. I want to win. And I want to keep playing for the Angels. But….”

Garroway hummed. “But your contract is coming up for renewal in about a month.”

“All of this will affect my negotiations if the front office hears anything.” Alec pulled his shoulders back, tried to appear more confident then he felt. “I can put you in touch with people at IE and Alicante Public Relations so you can see all of their planning for yourself. I’m just— I’m asking you to trust me.”

“I can’t keep this from the General Manager—”

“Coach—” Alec started to cut in.

Garroway held up his hand. “For long. I can’t keep this from him for long. But if anything happens before I talk to him, there’s very little I’m going to be able to do for you.”

It was the best answer he could’ve expected under the circumstances. “Yeah. Okay. Got it.”

Garroway leaned forward, forearms on his desk. “Alec. That you are playing some of the best hockey of your career is what matters to me the most. I’d like to see you on my ice next season too. Tell me how you want to handle coming out to the team when the time comes and I’ll have your back.”

Alec inhaled. Steeled himself. “Actually, Coach? I’d like the first line to know immediately. We’re talking about the players least likely to be traded after this year—the team leaders. I’m accountable to you and them. And all of us have to be able to trust each other completely on the ice.”

“You want to talk to them today?”

“Now, actually.” Alec bounced his knee, his nerves taking over. “If we have time.”

“Are you sure this won’t break their trust instead?”

“I’m not,” Alec answered honestly. He’d already run through every scenario he could come up with in his head, and, “Jace already knows and he’s behind me one hundred percent. Santiago…. I don’t think he’ll care either way. Pangborn I’m betting will be the same way. Velasquez is the only one I question.”

“He’s not the sensitive type. And he’s got a temper.”

Alec nodded.

“We’re only hours away from game two. Why do you want to press this now?”

Coming out to any of the players hadn’t been part of the plan Izzy had laid out, but he hadn’t been able to push the thought out of his head since he’d woken up in Magnus’ bed—alone.

“Because there’s someone I’m involved with and I can’t deny his importance in my life—no matter what the consequences are. The blackmail, my parents…. I can let all of that shit go on the ice if he’s at my side. He and hockey are the most important things to me right now. I’m fighting for my pride as a gay man and an Angel, Coach. It’s not an either-or scenario for me—it’s both.”

Garroway scratched his nails across his jaw as he studied Alec. “Hard to say no when my goalie is telling me exactly what he needs in order to play even better than he already is.”

Alec smiled. Shrugged.

“What about Meliorn? You want him in here?”

“That fifth slot on the first line has been up for grabs all season. I’ll leave that one up to you. If you think he’s going to be sticking around, then include him.”

“Give me five minutes.” Garroway got to his feet and threw the door to the locker room open, bellowing as he walked out. “Wayland, in here now.”

Alec stood, clasped his hands behind his back and began to pace. Now that he’d gotten through talking to Garroway, this was the part he was most nervous about.

Jace came through the door and closed it behind him. “Hey—coach sent me in. Is this what I think it is?”

Alec shook his head. “Not the whole team. Just Coach and the first line.”

“You and Garroway already talked then?”

“Yeah.” Alec exhaled. “It was good.”

Jace clamped a hand on his shoulder. “That’s great, buddy.”

“I’m just—” Alec crossed his arms. “I’m nervous about them. Should I be doing this? Like right now?”

“Do you want to?”

“I’ve got to take back control somehow. This is one way I know how.”

“Nothing is more important than your happiness, bro.”

“Except for hockey?” Alec asked with a raised eyebrow.

Jace chuckled. “Right, except for hockey.”

There was a knock on the door, then Pangborn peeked his head inside. “Coach said he needed a minute?”

Jace waved him in.

“Either of you know what this is about?”

Alec didn’t have long to try and figure out how to answer that question because the door was opening wide and Coach, Santiago, and Velasquez were crowding in too.

Garroway closed the door and sat on the edge of his desk. Alec stood off to the side, his back to the wall and his arms still crossed, with Jace next to him. Pangborn and Velasquez dove into the two seats in front of Garroway’s desk and Santiago stood across from Alec—a bored expression on his face.

Getting called into the coach’s office wasn’t usually a good thing, but players knew it was better than being called up to the front office. Alec scanned the faces of his teammates and his coach, stifling the panic building in his chest. He was imploding the carefully constructed barriers he’d built between his professional and personal lives. It was necessary. Terrifying.

“Before anything is said,” Garroway started, “I need you all to understand that I expect the same high level of respect I always see with you five. Alec, lead us off.”

Alec struggled to come up with the right words, then decided fuck it. There was no right way to preface this.

“I’m gay.”

He let that sentence sit there as his heartbeat thundered in his ears. There was no going back now. Five sets of eyes stared back at him. No one said anything.

Jace bristled as the silence dragged on. He ground his jaw together. “If any of you has a problem with that, I’ll deal with it right now.”

Pangborn was the first to react. He put his hands up. “Whoa, no problem here. Just trying to work out why it matters for us to hear this.”

Alec nodded. Okay, that reaction he could work with. “I’m not out, but it won’t be long before I am. And there’s a chance someone may try to forcibly out me.”

Pangborn recoiled. “What the fuck, Lightwood?”

“Yeah, pretty much…that,” Alec replied. It was an accurate summary of the entire situation. “Whether or not that actually happens, though, I’m going to come out publicly. Before that, I needed you to know that yes, I’m gay and I’m a hockey player. The Angels aren’t just the team I play for. I believe in our ability as a team to take this season all the way to finals, and my focus is being the best goalie for the Angels and the strongest teammate I can be to all of you.”

Bat swore under his breath and looked to Garroway. “No one else on the team knows?”

“And they won’t for now,” Garroway replied definitively. “When and how Alec decides to do that is his choice. Let me make this really fucking clear—this doesn’t get discussed with anyone else—anyone. Not your momma, your girlfriend of the day, or your hairdresser. No one says a word until Alec says go.”

Bat pointed a finger between Alec and Jace. “Are you two…?”

Jace glared at Bat. “Alec is my brother. Don’t be the asshole you are, Velasquez.”

Bat rushed to his feet and Jace took a step closer to him, defiant.

“Respect, gentlemen,” Garroway growled in warning.

Alec tensed as Bat got in Jace’s face. Bat’s fists were clenched. “I’m guessing you’ve known about this for years? Well, I’m just hearing this. Can I take a few fucking minutes to think about what this means for us as a team?”

Alec stepped forward, putting a hand on Jace’s shoulder. “He’s right, Jace.”

Jace eyed Bat for a second longer then nodded and stalked away.

Alec met Bat’s eyes. “Look, I know this isn’t optimal timing, but like I said, I may not have a choice on how this goes down. I needed you to hear this from me instead of a breaking news story. I just want to be known for being a good player, but because of who I am all the time—not just off the ice—I’m going to be known for being a gay player. It is going to affect the team as a whole.”

Bat exhaled heavily and took a step back.

Alec looked to Raphael. “What do you have to say, Santiago?”

“You stop more pucks than you let in. You’ve been gay all along, so I’m assuming that skill set isn’t going to change by saying this out loud.”

“I thought Raphael was the most likely to be gay,” Pangborn said. “He dresses well and never picks up any puck bunnies.”

Raphael tipped his head, unperturbed. “That, papá, is called class.”

Jace chuckled and Alec couldn’t help but smile.

Alec turned back to Bat. “Velasquez?”

“We’re okay on the…gay thing, I guess, but I’m wary on how this is going to affect the rest of our season.”

“I’m with you on that,” Alec conceded.

Garroway stood tall. “You’re the lead on this, Lightwood, so why don’t you tell us what comes next?”

“I’m, uh, I’m doing a goaltender clinic when we’re in Pittsburgh for You Can Play, and I’ll be stepping up my involvement with them over the next month.” He turned to his captain and best friend. “I’d like for you to go with me, Jace.”

“Yeah, Alec. Of course.”

Pangborn’s head swiveled around as he shared a look with Bat then Raphael. Bat gave a clipped nod and Raphael shrugged.

Pangborn met Alec’s eyes. “How do we sign up too?”

 

****

 

Night of Game Two

Series Tally - Penguins lead one game to none

 

“A statement from Gallant should come through my email over the next day or two,” Magnus said to Clary on the other end of the line, as he sipped at his scotch. “Make sure it gets to Isabelle immediately.”

“I will,” Clary agreed. “Are you watching the game?”

“Imogen flew back an hour ago, so I’m currently imbibing at the hotel bar waiting for it to start. Are you at the arena?”

“Just got here. I was running a bit late.”

Magnus’ phone vibrated and he glanced at his notifications.

“Hang on, Clary,” he said as he put the phone back to his ear. “Alec is texting me. I’ll call you back.”

“No it’s fine—I kind of want to stay on the line. I’ll wait.”

“Okay.”

Magnus opened the message from Alec.

Talked to Coach and the first line today. They all know

Magnus gaped, felt himself paling.

Alec had come out to his coach and other Angels’ players? He took a swig of his drink and texted back, Is everything okay?

It’s good. Don’t worry. I’ll tell you all about it later. I have to go but text Clary. Tell her I wanted you to see the thing

Magnus stared at his screen in disbelief then frantically typed back, The thing? Alexander. You just came out in your workplace and you’re more worried about me seeing a THING????

I have to go, Magnus :) Twenty thousand people and playoffs and all. We’ll talk after the game

He could picture Alec smiling as he sent off that message. So Magnus replied, :(

That was followed by a swift, *winking emoji*

Well, then. Apparently Alec was freshly out, gay man who was teasing his shell-shocked non-lover via text. Magnus couldn’t deny that Alec really did seem good, so he gave in. Good luck tonight, Alexander

I don’t need it. I’ve got you :)

Magnus’ heart tripped up at that. He smiled and put his cell back to his ear. “Alec said that he wants you to show me ‘the thing.’ If he’s sexting with me through you, then he and I are going to need to have a conversation.”

Clary laughed. “Nothing like that, babes. I’m forwarding the pic now. It’s the new addition to Alec’s helmet. There’s a circular piece that protects the back of his head, and he’s wearing a new design tonight.”

His cell vibrated and Magnus opened the text from Clary. The formerly drab piece of equipment was now a dramatic work of art, all bold lines and bright color. The centerpiece was the Angels sword—blade set afire—striking down the middle of outstretched golden wings.

Magnus inhaled sharply as he enlarged the picture, taking in the details of the fire coming off the sword. “Are those rainbow flames?”

It was subtle and yet unmistakable.

“Do you like it?” Clary asked hesitantly. “I had to go a bit faster on the design than I would’ve liked. And he hasn’t really settled on a vision for the rest of it yet….”

“You designed this?”

“Alec asked me to. It’s, um— The shape of the feathers on the wings is actually the same as the bracelet you gave him.”

Magnus’ heart clenched. On the TV above the bar, the Angels had just taken to the ice. Alec was in goal, going through his usual pre-game ritual of cutting his skates through the ice in the crease. He knew that somewhere in the arena, Max and Izzy were doing the exact same thing.

“Was the inclusion of that detail creative license on your part, or a request?”

“I think you already know that answer,” Clary said.

There was no more freefall to be had, Magnus had crashed face first into love.

Magnus let the warmth of that realization settle in as one by one, the players on the first line skated up to Alec and cuffed him on the neck, banging their helmets against his mask. It was a pre-game ritual Magnus had never seen before, but could guess exactly what it meant.

Magnus spoke through the pride swelling in his chest. “Biscuit?”

There was a distinct smile in Clary’s voice. “Yes, Magnus?”

He remembered Clary perched on the edge of his desk two months ago as she’d begged Magnus to take Alec on as a client.

I promise you’ll love him.

Magnus could barely get his voice past the tightening in his throat. “You were right about this Lightwood sibling too.”

 

****

 

Alec glanced at the game clock and took a deep breath.

It was already the second period and neither team had been able to put a point on the board so far. The styles of the two teams were so similar that they were trading shot for shot, play for play. The pace was just as furious as it had been in the last game, but this time, the Angels were better prepared for it.

There had been a point in the first round where everything had clicked for the team. They’d been back and forth since then, but tonight when the first line was on the ice together, their play was flawless. They were playing as one.

And for the first time in Alec’s career, he had taken to the ice as one man. All of who he was. Gay. A goalie. And proud.

He accepted the weight of his gear for what it was—safety—and deflected every shot sent his way, the taps of sticks to his pads from the first line was all the reassurance he needed that they were with him in this.

He’d always believed he needed to drain himself for the game—leave everything on the ice—but now he realized….

When he played as his true self, he had more to give than could ever be taken away.

 

****

 

“You don’t look like the hockey type, but I haven’t seen your eyes leave that screen all night,” the bartender said as she placed her elbows on the bar to lean down across from Magnus.

Magnus sipped at his scotch and only took his eyes off the screen when there was a break in play. The woman was stunning. A flash of skin where her shirt was unbuttoned just before the line of impropriety was breached—this was a five-star hotel, after all—yet hinted at what was only a few finger snaps away. She had dark hair and soulful eyes.

She was just his type.

“Enlighten me,” he responded. “What does a hockey type look like?”

She tucked her jet-black braids behind her ear and leaned in closer. “In my experience? Not nearly as well-dressed as you.”

Magnus arched an eyebrow. “Are you flirting with me, darling?”

“Definitely,” the woman said, all brash confidence.

“Two months ago I would’ve welcomed much more than flirting—you are a gorgeous woman who deserves to be appreciated.”

Her generous lips ticked up into a smile. “But?”

“But now I have a man at home who is very much the hockey type. And I don’t spend much time fretting over his wardrobe choices since what’s underneath is much more appealing.”

“You’re a lucky man.”

Magnus glanced at the TV again. Alec was in perfect form. Strong on his skates and sure of his movements.

He’d said it to Alec first and Alec had repeated it in the text just before this game—I don’t need luck. I have you.

But Magnus couldn’t deny that there had been something in the universe spinning in his favor to place Alec into his life. Fate, karma, luck…. Whatever name he gave it, or didn’t, his life was better because Alec was part of it.

He set his glass down and met her eyes again. “I am.”

 

****

 

Alec stood in the net, surveying the chessboard in front of him. He didn’t know why it had taken him a game and a half to realize this, but he could see it all so clearly now. He’d been focusing on the wrong team.

Seeking out which Penguins’ weaknesses to exploit would be a matter of identifying his own teams’ weaknesses.

Freeman and Santiago’s speed. Jace and the left winger who skated with just as much abandon. Velasquez’s barely contained temper butting up against a bruising Penguins’ defenseman. Pangborn’s tightly controlled defense of the net and the D-man who guarded over the Penguins’ goal with the protectiveness of a bodyguard. Even their goalie played with a similar style as Alec. Alec knew what to do to keep his own teammates’ shots out of goal, so he started to pay more attention to the way the Penguins’ goalie defended.

It took only minutes for Alec to uncover an opening.

Tied zero-zero at the second intermission, Alec pulled Raphael aside before they headed to the locker room.

Raphael wiped the sweat of his brown. “¿Que pasa?”

“Their goalie drops his right knee first when protecting against low shots coming from the left. It’s barely there, but there’s a difference. If you’re fast enough, you can take advantage of that.”

Raphael tugged off his glove, scowling. “If I’m fast enough?”

Alec smirked and headed for the tunnel. “I guess we’ll have to see.”

The atmosphere of the locker room was completely different than it had been during the first game. The entire team was focused on Garroway as he ran through the plan of attack for the third period. They were all tired and sweat-soaked, but twenty minutes later they rushed out of the tunnel with the same energy as the Penguins.

Within minutes of being back out on the rink, Santiago snagged the puck and Alec held his breath. Santiago blurred around the D-men, holding back until the moment the Penguins’ goalie started to drop into a butterfly before he whipped his stick back and drove the puck through the goalie’s five hole.

Across the ice Santiago raised both hands, the lights on the scoreboard flashed, the Angels celebration song blared out of the speakers, and fans pounded the boards.

Santiago skated up to him, a wry smile on his lips. “That fast enough for you, Lightwood?”

Alec shrugged and glanced up at the scoreboard. Zero-one. “I don’t know. I think I may need to see you do it again.”

 

****

 

Magnus grinned as Raphael was piled on when he put the puck into the net for the third time that period.

The Angels were up zero to three, and there was only two minutes left in the game.

“Your team is killing it, Magnus,” the bartender, Kiara, said as she filled a glass with ice.

“Of course they are, Kiara. They’re going to make it all the way to finals.”

Kiara placed the scotch in front of him. “On the house for the man who may have just made me a hockey type.”

Magnus smiled and sat back, for once savoring the last minutes of the game instead of being a nervous wreck.

When the final buzzer sounded, Alec whipped off his mask, a world-bending grin lighting up his face. He’d come to out to his teammates, and had his second shutout of the post-season. Magnus was smiling just as hard as Alec.

“Damn,” Kiara breathed out. “These Angels may have actual heavenly blood. Those players of yours are fine.”

Magnus lifted his glass to Kiara, but he couldn’t take his eyes off Alec. He looked triumphant. Carefree. Unabashedly sexy. “I couldn’t agree with you more.”

 

****

 

Alec laughed at the picture Magnus had sent him and settled into his seat on the team bus. Jace leaned over and peeked at the picture of Magnus—a drink in his hand, with a woman with kiss-pursed lips almost at Magnus’ cheeks, her fingers in the shape of an A. The text below said, Spreading the gospel of the Blazing Angels in Texas

“Our agent’s got game.” Jace knocked his shoulder against Alec’s and Alec chuffed.

Won’t be able to talk tonight, he typed back to Magnus. We’re already on our way to Pittsburgh. Coach wanted us to get some extra time on the ice there tomorrow

Magnus’ reply was immediate. Call me when you get time to yourself. I want to hear everything about today

There was a pause then the dots popping up indicating that Magnus was typing more.

Love the new design

Alec grinned. Thanks :) It was all Clary

It is bold. That is all you

Bold wasn’t a word that Alec would have ever associated with himself. But maybe being with Magnus made him more like that.

The design finally feels like me, he sent back. I finally feel like me

I’m proud of you, Alexander

He was proud of himself, but hearing that from Magnus meant everything to him. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow

Travel safely, my angelic savior of vulnerable nets

Alec chuckled. You too

 

****

 

Magnus scanned the departures board at the Dallas airport to verify his flight to LA was still on time. Tearing his eyes away from his cell phone had been nearly impossible since Alec had only been able to text him so far today and Magnus was waiting for his call. Impatiently.

He turned away from the board and headed for his airline’s lounge when his cell rang. It wasn’t who he’d been hoping to hear from, but still a welcome distraction.

“Tessa,” he greeted as he picked up the call.

“I take it you’re not a plane yet,” Tessa said.

“Not quite yet. How did you know I’m traveling today?”

“I was just texting with Alec.”

“Hang on.” Magnus entered the lounge and pulled up his membership card on his phone, flashing it to gain entrance. He put his cell back to his ear. “Ah yes, the man with more ice-related responsibilities than Jack Frost.”

Tessa was quiet for a moment. “What?”

“Not important. How may I assist you?”

“There’s actually something we need to discuss…in regards to Alec’s superstitions.”

Magnus furrowed his brow. “You sound hesitant, Tessa. Did you already speak to Alec about this?”

“I didn’t. Here’s the thing, Magnus. I stumbled across a connection this morning that might make things more difficult for you, so I wanted to give you the chance to decide what to do with it before it was brought to his attention.”

Magnus dropped into a seat next to the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the terminal. “Go ahead.”

“When Alec is playing at home and he spends the night at your place, he wins. When he doesn’t, he loses. They’ve played six games in the playoffs at home. Four nights not with you—four losses. Two nights at your place—”

A chill passed down Magnus’ spine. “Two wins. And what exactly am I supposed to do with this information?”

“You don’t have to do anything with it.”

“I can’t keep it from Alec. His superstitions are important to him.”

“I figured that would be your answer.”

Magnus stared out the windows, unsure how to respond.

“Anyway, I have to go,” Tessa said before he could find the right words. “I’m heading into rehearsal now.”

“Have a good day, Tessa.”

Magnus pushed up and got a cup of coffee, stopping by the bar for a drop—or ten—of Bailey’s. He settled into his seat again and opened up his email—actively avoiding all thoughts of what Tessa’s discovery would mean for Alec and him.

Just when he’d started to fall into a rhythm with his daily business, Alec’s name popped up on his screen.

“Done with practice?” Magnus greeted Alec.

“Yeah. For the day.”

There was a hesitancy to Alec’s tone that gave Magnus pause. “What is it, Alexander?”

“I swear….” Alec sighed. “I don’t know. It’s like I’m seeing the world in a whole different way than I did yesterday.”

“Welcome to life with the closet door open,” Magnus said, trying to smooth the tension he could hear in Alec’s voice.

Alec laughed uneasily. “It’s just— I’m learning to take risks. And I know I have to stop letting fear rule me. I have to trust that I know what’s best for me. I’m doing this all one step at a time, so carefully, because that’s who I am. Change terrifies me and all I’ve been doing lately is changing. And—”

Alec went silent and Magnus waited him out, the bitterness of the coffee churning in his stomach.

“I can’t do this anymore, Magnus.”

Magnus’ heart thudded. Alec wasn’t saying that he was done with Magnus…. Was he?

“Do what?” Magnus asked, icy fear skittering through his veins.

“I don’t know. Any of it. All of it.”

Magnus gripped his phone tighter. “What do you need, Alexander? Just tell me and I’ll do everything in my power to make it happen.”

“I want—”

“No,” he cut in. “Not what you want. What do you need?”

There was the sound of a chair creaking, then irregular breaths in his ear—as if Alec was on the other end of the line running every possible answer through his lips, but refusing to attach any words to them until they were the right ones.

Then, “I need you here with me, Magnus.”

It had been a week of surprises and revelations, but nothing could’ve prepared Magnus for Alec answering that question with as much confidence—sheer, unapologetic boldness—as he did.

Magnus had feared that maybe Alec had reached his breaking point. That Alec had grown tired of Magnus’s presence complicating his life, but no….

Alec was asking for more from him.

Magnus looked at the departure board clicking off flights to places all over the world. If he cancelled this afternoon’s meeting, he would have almost twenty-four hours before he needed to be back in LA for the meeting with Jace’s agent. Between the ticket change fee and a new last minute fare, he was going to be out thousands.

He would’ve emptied his bank account.

“I’ll call you when I land in Pittsburgh, Alexander.”

Chapter Text

Alec was frozen in place by Magnus’ response that he was coming to Pittsburgh.

He opened his mouth to reply, but all coherent thought had been wiped from his brain. He hadn’t called Magnus with the intention of asking Magnus to come see him, yet those were the words that had come out of his mouth. And Magnus had responded to that far-flung request by saying he was willing to fly across the country—to Alec—simply because Alec has asked him to.

“You— I don’t—” Alec sputtered into the phone. “You— You’re serious?”

Magnus laughed softly. “It’s what you need, right?”

Alec bent forward in the hotel desk chair, facing his battered duffel bag filled with gear, and propped his elbows on his knees as he gave that question the serious consideration it deserved.

Ten minutes ago, he’d returned from practice with his teammates to find the hotel restaurant and lobby packed with families who’d made the trip from New York to support their boyfriends, husbands, and fathers. An ache had ripped through him, right in the middle of the lobby, watching his teammates surrounded by their loved ones, sharing hugs and laughs together.

The realization that he couldn’t have that comfort, that reassurance, because of his current situation was…painful.

He’d called Magnus because he’d wanted to be reassured that he wasn’t in this alone. That someone else was fighting with him through all of the bullshit he faced. He’d just wanted to hear Magnus’ voice.

Then Magnus had asked Alec what he needed. Not what Alec desired, what was necessary. And what should have been an easy question to answer had thrown Alec into an emotional tailspin. What did he need? Physically he was fine. He’d get food and rest in the next couple hours, and despite the ever-looming threat of Sebastian Morgenstern, he wasn’t in any immediate danger. But mentally…. Everything felt different since coming out to his coach and teammates.

He wanted reminders of home, to be confident in his play tomorrow, and to be proud of the small steps he’d taken in the last few days….

But what he needed?

When Alec dug to the heart of it—when he thought about the thread of commonality woven into his life over the last two months—his answer to what he needed was obvious.

Magnus was a part of all of those things. So all he really needed was Magnus.

It was a selfish request, but answering Magnus with his truth was important. “Yeah. It is.”

“Then I’ll be there,” Magnus said without hesitation.

Alec was floored. Ecstatic, really. But….

He spared a glance at the hotel clock and sighed. “Having you here…. It is what I need. But here’s the thing….”

“Yes?”

Alec ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. “I have an eleven pm curfew. It’s a game night, and we’re on the road. Coach is always strict about us being back in our hotel rooms by a certain time, and with the faith he’s put in me in the last few days…. I want you here—I need you here—but I’m only going to have hours if you do come. I don’t want you to push your life aside for a few hours with me.”

“Alexander?”

Alec swore he could hear a smile on Magnus’ lips. “Yes, Magnus?”

“I need to get off the phone now so I can book a flight taking off immediately.”

Alec chuckled. “Okay.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Alec hung up with Magnus—a thrumming sense of expectation making his heart pound—leaned back in the desk chair and thought about what came next. He was going to need help to pull this off. But Jace was hopeless when it came to romance. Lydia would be willing to talk it through with him, but he’d asked enough of her lately. Max would probably just tell him to stock up on condoms and lube. He couldn’t go to Clary—he didn’t know how much Magus had shared with her, and Magnus was her boss. Simon…? Alec chuckled. Just no. And Izzy…. She couldn’t know that Magnus was coming to see him. Not yet.

Alec started to scroll through his contacts and froze at a name at the top of the list, hitting the button to dial. This was a contact Magnus himself had given him. Someone Magnus had said that he trusted implicitly.

“This is Anna,” the woman on the other end of the line answered.

“Hey, Anna. It’s Alec Lightwood. We met in LA…. I was with Magnus Bane?”

“Greetings, Alec,” Anna said with a warmth he hadn’t anticipated. “How may I help you?”

Alec pushed up from the chair, needing to move. “You don’t happen to have any contacts in Pittsburgh, do you?”

“I have an employee there you can trust.”

“Good.” He walked toward the windows, his entire body relaxing. “That’s good.”

“How discreet do you need to be?”

Alec pulled his shoulders back, looked out over the downtown through his window and thought about how to answer that.

He’d been to Pittsburgh many times before, but—just like everything else today—it looked…different. Filled with possibilities instead of yet another city where he’d sequestered himself behind a locked hotel door because he’d thought it was safer.

“It’s not discretion as much as it is…privacy. I need you to help get Magnus to me.”

“We can arrange transportation from the airport for him,” Anna said without hesitation. “Will his destination be your hotel or somewhere else?”

“Actually, I’d like to take him out. But I don’t know how to make that happen. Or where.” Alec stitched his eyebrows together. This was the part he hated. He had to remind himself that this was temporary, that he wouldn’t be hiding his relationship with Magnus forever. It wasn’t right, but it wasn’t permanent. “We can’t be seen in public together right now, and my hotel definitely isn’t an option.”

“My colleague Rosa will contact you with private dining recommendations. Will he also be needing overnight accommodations?”

“I don’t know for sure what his flight schedule is yet, so let’s book something just in case. But it shouldn’t be the Omni. That’s where the team is staying.”

“We can handle that. Could you hold for a moment, please?”

“Yeah, of course,” Alec obliged.

He heard Anna speaking to someone—as if she’d pulled the phone away from her mouth—in a language Alec didn’t know, then there was a rustling, and the sound of Anna’s voice coming over the line clearly again. “Do you have any guidelines on budget?”

“No. Whatever it takes to make this happen. Just tell me how much the best options are going to cost and I’ll pay it. And obviously, whatever your fee is…. I’ll pay that too.” Alec laughed nervously. “I don’t know how all of this works.”

“We can settle that later. I’ll make sure you have final approval on everything before any reservations are placed. Can we contact you at this number?”

“Yeah, texts would be best. I have an event I’m leaving for soon, but I’ll be able to answer messages during breaks.”

“Understood. Is there anything else I can do for you, Alec?”

“No. I don’t think so—” Alec pivoted on his heel, surveying his room as he thought about what he’d need for tonight. He didn’t want to show up empty-handed. “You know what? Yes. I’ll text you a screenshot. Let me know if your person here can find it before Magnus arrives.”

“We’ll take care of everything, Alec.” Anna’s voice gentled. “Go enjoy your event.”

Alec smiled. “I will. Thanks, Anna.”

He hung up and glanced at the clock on his cell. It was just after one. The You Can Play goaltender clinic started in less than an hour. And just a few hours after that, Magnus would be here.

Welcome to life with the closet door open, Magnus had said to him.

He had no personal context, no past experience, to frame the trajectory of where his life went from here. No biases to skew his expectations either. With his closet door merely cracked open, he had only hints of what the path ahead of him would look like.

But if the view was this good now, he couldn’t wait until he could step fully out.

 

****

 

Text me your flight number when you’re booked

Magnus read the text from Alec and replied with a screenshot of his e-ticket. Couldn’t get on a nonstop flight, so I’m arriving at 7pm. Leaving for LA again at 9am tomorrow morning. Where should I meet you?

The text bubbles popped up as Magnus made his way to his gate. Car will be waiting for you. Don’t worry about anything. I’ve got it all covered

Magnus arched an eyebrow at that. He glanced up just long enough to make sure the path in front of him was clear, then typed back, I thought logistics was my forte?

All he received in response was, :)

Well. That text was decidedly vague. And…flirtatious? What exactly do you have planned for me, Alexander?

Seconds later Alec’s reply came through, Just sit back and relax. I’m in control.

Magnus slammed into a man standing in the walkway, fumbling his phone. The man grunted and eyed Magnus.

“My apologies,” Magnus said, patting the man on the shoulder. “He’s in control. I, however, am most certainly not.”

Magnus left the bewildered man in his wake and glanced at his phone again. During his accidental jostle, he’d typed out a random string of letters in the reply box. He re-read Alec’s text, confirming it said what he thought. When the implications behind it hadn’t changed by Magnus’ third viewing, Magnus swallowed and hit send on the gibberish reply. It was scarily accurate for how he was feeling.

Alec’s reply didn’t help. I’ll take that as a good thing :)

Magnus took a deep breath. For once, he had someone else who wanted to take care of him. Someone who was making plans for him—for them. Someone whom Magnus trusted. Alec had told him to relax, so he tried to internalize that command. But by the time he’d passed by his gate, twice, he’d decided there was no way he’d be able to remain calm with what was likely waiting for him in Pittsburgh.

He’d seen enough Angels’ games to fully understand how Alec carried himself when he was in control.

He clicked on his camera and set it to the front so he could check his makeup and hair, realizing quickly that he appeared just as harried as he felt. He saw a near mirror image of the night in LA when he’d stood in his hotel bathroom and told himself that he absolutely wasn’t going to fuck Alec, and he certainly wasn’t going to fall in love with him….

Magnus sighed.

Well, that second part was already out of the running.

And now there was the connection that Tessa had discovered. And the fact that Magnus was currently waiting to board a flight to spend time, alone, with Alec….

If that first line wasn’t crossed tonight, then how were they going to handle being in the same apartment without any physical contact? What was he going to tell Imogen? How was he going to make it to the negotiation table for Alec?

What was he doing?

Magnus groaned and opened his messages, texting the one person who would give it to him straight—since his entire thought process was as not-straight as it could get.

Ragnor, he typed to, well, Ragnor. Help. Alexander.

The response was nearly immediate, I am in the middle of a lecture

Magnus rolled his eyes. Don’t lie to dissuade me. It’s unattractive

A minute went by, then a picture came through—of a lecture hall filled with students.

Magnus was unimpressed. It appeared Ragnor was working overtime to put him off. That could’ve been saved in your photos, he typed back.

Another minute passed before his phone pinged with a video notification. Magnus arched an eyebrow and hit play. Now the camera was in motion, and so were the students, a sea of confused faces greeting in half-hearted chorus, “Hello, Magnus,” then the camera panned to Ragnor’s smug face.

Magnus huffed. Exactly how many green jackets do you own?

I won’t be satisfied until you are cursing my fashion sense on your deathbed

No fatalities needed. We’re already there, he insisted. What the hell are you doing texting me if you really are in the middle of a class?

Two minutes went by this time, then another video of the same lecture hall—focus still on the confused students—and Ragnor’s voice saying, “Magnus would like to know why I am texting him back during class. Does anyone want to make a supposition?” A girl in the front row raised her hand slowly. “Because every thought coming out of our mouths today is unoriginal?” The camera panned back to Ragnor, one eyebrow crooked in a very self-satisfying manner.

Magnus had to laugh. The next generation of thought leaders is in your hands, Ragnor

Magnus expected a snarky response, but instead received from Ragnor, Have you admitted to yourself that you are in love with Alec yet?

Magnus gaped. What?

If there’s hope for you, then maybe there’s hope for them

Magnus scowled. Yes. I have

Then go fuck him already and stop bothering me. I have impressionable minds to mould

Magnus texted back a middle finger emoji.

He had a bad habit of doing exactly the opposite of whatever Ragnor advised, and he hadn’t listened to Ragnor when he’d insisted Magnus would eventually fall in love with Alec.

This, though…?

Perhaps it was time to take Ragnor’s advice into consideration.

Magnus sighed and queued to board the plane when his zone was called. He’d arrive with his expectations firmly in check and see what evolved in the few hours they had together.

“Alexander is in control,” he whispered to himself.

His skin prickled with anticipation.

 

****

 

Alec skated backwards, a line of three teenage goalies on one side of him, and two on the other. “Being a strong skater is the most important aspect of being a good goalie.”

One of the tallest goalies—Cortez—nodded, fumbling on his skates when he tried to look at Alec. Alec didn’t verbally correct his stance or reach out to make sure Cortez didn’t fall to the ice. All of the kids in the clinic were just as awkward as he’d been then, just as fresh and excited about the game. As inconceivable as it was to Alec, they were nervous about being on the same ice as him. He’d been much older the first time he’d met a professional goalie, and he remembered being unable to form a coherent sentence or stop from blushing—but he still couldn’t process anyone reacting that way around him. He didn’t need to make them feel more self-conscious than they already were. Like him, they already knew their weaknesses. He didn’t need to pinpoint the obvious for them.

Truthfully, there was a hell of a lot more he could learn from them than he could teach them.

Unlike Alec, all of these kids were out—something Alec hadn’t even dreamed of at their age. There were rainbows, triangles, parents wearing ally buttons, and the rink was circled with multi-colored flags that Alec would have to ask Magnus the meaning of later. All of the coaches and volunteers wore sweatshirts with the You Can Play logo emblazoned on the front, leaving no doubt what all of the kids here had in common. Despite that, this clinic wasn’t about their orientation or gender identity. They just wanted a safe place to play.

Alec would do everything he could to give that to them—here and in the years to come.

Cortez righted himself and shook off his misstep with only a faint stain on his cheeks. “Coach says that moving on the ice has to be second nature.”

“He’s giving you solid advice,” Alec replied. “As goalies, we have to react without taking time to think about our feet. I spent a lot of time on the ice with Jace outside of practice to become a better skater.”

Cutting an effortless line in the ice in front of Alec, Jace grinned. “You still have a lot to learn.”

Alec chuffed.

“I’m thinking we should put the pads on Wayland and see how he holds up in the net,” Pangborn interjected, earning chuckles from the kids.

They’d divided off at the beginning of the clinic. Santiago and Velasquez were down at the other end of the rink working with a second group of kids and the Penguins’ goalie—whom Alec hadn’t expected to see at all here today—while Pangborn was paired up with Jace and him. Just like during a game, the three Angels had found their groove fast, but it had taken thirty minutes into the clinic to get the kids to talk to them, let alone laugh. At least they were making progress now.

The coach’s whistle blew and all heads snapped in his direction. “Cortez, Smith, Jones, and McMillan—you’re over here with Pangborn working on defensive communication. March, you’ve got fifteen with Lightwood and Wayland.”

The other four goalies skated off and Alec faced the one still at his side. “Marcus, right?”

Marcus nodded, gaze bouncing between Alec and Jace, eyes wide.

There was little Alec could do to set him at ease. And when it really came down to it, all of these goalies had signed up for this clinic because they wanted to be better. He thought about what he would’ve wanted to hear from a pro when he was around Marcus’ age. “You have our undivided attention for fifteen minutes. So tell me what you think you need to work on.”

“Um, yeah. I have all these…weak spots? Can’t seem to cover enough of the net no matter how I hold myself.”

Alec nodded. “How old are you?”

“Fourteen.”

Half of Alec’s age, and yet Alec could clearly remember he’d had the same frustration. “Look at me—I’m six foot three. When I have all my gear on I take up a good percentage of the net. You have a few more years of growing to do. You’ll get there.”

Marcus hiked up an eyebrow. He looked less than convinced. “What if I don’t?”

“I don’t follow.”

“What if I don’t get much taller? Not everyone can look like…you. Like a pro is supposed to look.”

Alec sputtered.

He heard barely a breath of laughter from Jace, then Jace was leaning in to talk to Marcus. “Want to know a secret about Alec?”

Marcus spared a glance at Alec. Alec crossed his arms—as best as he could with the gloves on—and glared at Jace.

“I don’t know, man,” Marcus said. “He looks…perturbed.”

Jace cackled at that, and Alec could barely hold on to his scowl.

“He always looks that way,” Jace said, undeterred. “Anyway, he was like a baby deer on the ice when he was your age. From what I’ve seen so far, you’re way better than he was—”

“Jace,” Alec groaned.

Marcus stifled a laugh with his mitt.

One of Jace’s dimples popped out as he grinned. “He was all gangly limbs and oversized teeth when I first met him.”

“At least I still have all my original teeth,” Alec protested.

“A puck to the mouth is a rite of passage!”

“One I’m glad I never had to go through.” Alec turned to Marcus. “They say goalies are a little unstable, but at least we chose a mask with a cage.”

Marcus grinned as he shrugged.

Jace scoffed and continued. “Anyway, Alec grew into his gear and he worked hard—harder than any other player I’ve ever skated with. He wasn’t working to be a professional player when the scouts came looking—he wanted to be better for himself. He played because he loved it.”

Alec smiled at Jace’s description of him. “Still do.”

“Me too,” Marcus replied softly.

Alec clapped him on the shoulder. “Then you start with that as your foundation. Look at it this way—how tall you end up being is never something that’s going to be under your control, that's just who you are. Focus on strengthening the things you can control. You can practice your footwork so your reaction time is faster. You can spend extra time in the net perfecting your technique, and extra time in the gym building your strength. None of us can eliminate all limitations, but we can change how we react to them. That applies just as much on the ice as it does out there.” Alec tipped his chin up. “Why don’t I put my gear on and we can work on stance and reading offensive player movements? We can trade places taking shots in net.”

Marcus glanced nervously as Jace. “Against him?”

“He’s not as good as he thinks he is.”

“I’m better,” Jace proclaimed.

“We’ll see about that, Wayland,” Alec threw over his shoulder as he skated for the bench. On the way he passed by Pangborn and the group of four teens around him—riveted to his every word. Emil’s back was to him, but Alec could hear what he was saying.

“Our goalie knows how to guide us from the net. It’s a gift in this league and for every player on our team. He’s the only player on the ice for the entire game, which means we rely on him in a very different way than any other player. It’s his job to talk to us, and he’s excellent at it. Exceptional goalies like Lightwood give us direction in the middle of a chaotic game, and it can make the difference between winning and losing. If there’s one thing I want you to take away today, it’s to be like Lightwood on that—communicate from the net.”

Alec felt a blush crawling up his cheeks as he flipped over the boards to where he’d stashed his duffel bag packed with gear.

Surveying the ice from the bench wasn’t a view he was used to, so Alec took a few seconds to study the rink and take in the enormity of him being here. There was a part of him that wished Magnus could have been here to see it too. To see his reaction. But an even bigger part of him was proud he was doing this as Alec, not Magnus’ Alexander—completely for himself.

He dug through his bag and picked out through his gear, choosing what he’d need to stay safe in practice instead of getting fully dressed. Just as he was picking up his mask, he caught the ping of a text coming in from Rosa.

Apologies, Alec. We can’t locate this anywhere in Pittsburgh or close enough to have one brought in before tonight

It had been a far-fetched request, and Alec had known that, which is why he’d done a Google search earlier for a backup plan. He took a screenshot of his browser page and sent it off to Rosa. What about going here?

Her reply came through within seconds, We can make that happen. Your dinner reservations are set as well. A private room

At least that was settled. He and Rosa had been trading texts up until Alec had started the clinic, and where Magnus would spend the night had been the most difficult part of planning.

And the loft?, he typed back.

Booked as well. I’m picking up the keys now

Alec smiled. Perfect. Thank you

He dropped his cell into his bag, noting that it was less than three hours before Magnus landed, and tried to stifle the fluttering in his stomach as he settled his mask over his head.

When he got back out to ice, Jace was taking shots on goal and coaching Marcus through an offensive player’s different approaches to the goal.

Marcus was scowling.

“What’s up?” Alec asked as he put his stick on top of the net and readjusted his mitt.

Marcus tipped his chin up at Jace. “He’s holding back.”

Of course Jace was—the kid was fourteen. Alec picked up his stick and put his back to Jace. “You want him to really take a shot?”

“Well, yeah.”

Alec smirked. He liked this kid. “Then let me give you a hint, goalie to goalie. Where Jace is aiming for looks completely unpredictable—but it’s not. Did you see how his eyes are different colors? And see how the darker spot stands out? Focus on his darker eye instead of the puck—he glances where he’s going to shoot. I could never use that kind of a strategy in a game—things are moving much too fast—but in practice, it irks Jace to no end that I can head him off.”

Marcus nodded. “Got it.”

Alec clapped him on the back and called out to Jace. “He wants the full Wayland experience.”

Jace raised an eyebrow. A non-verbal question of just how much power he was supposed to put into his shot.

“The man wants to be challenged,” Alec replied. “You going to back down?”

“This is going to be interesting,” he heard Pangborn say, and realized everyone was watching Jace and Marcus now.

Alec backed up to the corner as Jace picked up a puck at center ice and took off for the net at full speed. Marcus set up, keeping his eyes on Jace. His stance was too tight and there was a hell of a lot of net left unprotected because he was so much smaller than Alec, but Marcus had an unerring focus that Alec hadn’t been able to maintain at that age. Jace deked left, letting the puck go—in a shot that was on par with the power he put in for practice—and Alec was sure the puck was going in. But Marcus was already in motion and the puck glanced off his blocker and clattered to the ice as the other kids roared.

Alec couldn’t help but be really, really fucking proud.

Jace’s jaw dropped. “Holy— Did he just…?”

Alec skated up and knocked his stick against Marcus’ pads. “Nice save.”

“Nice coaching,” Marcus said with a grin.

The kids rotated around, and after the one-on-one sessions were over Alec ended up coaching next to one goal, the Penguins’ goalie next to the other, with Jace and Emil playing against Raphael and Bat. All of the shots on goal had an ease to them that bolstered the goalies’ confidences, but the four Angels managed to hit each other just as hard as they usually would. Then the kids, players, coaches, and parents all piled together for a photo shoot that wouldn’t have one serious picture.

Alec’s face hurt from laughing.

At the end of it all, Alec couldn’t believe three hours had passed that quickly. He dropped onto the bench next to Marcus and removed his mask, setting it between them. Marcus grinned at him, but Alec could see him eyeing Alec’s mask.

“You can pick it up if you want,” Alec reassured him. “I don’t have any superstitions about that.”

Marcus lifted the mask in both his hands with reverence, twisting it around. “This part is different than the rest.”

“Yeah, I’m redesigning the whole thing. Not sure what the rest of it will look like yet, but wearing this first part in the playoffs was important to me.”

It wasn’t quite outing himself, but as damn close as he could get for now. Someday he hoped to do another one of these clinics—maybe as the league’s first out player. Someday he hoped that he could tell Marcus just how well he understood the challenges he faced.

He wanted to make the path for an LGBTQ athlete very different than the one he’d had to struggle through.

“I like it.” Marcus traced a finger over the flames, the corner of his lips ticking up. “It’s badass.”

“Thanks. My friend Clary took my vision and ran with it. One day you’ll get to design your own. I’m sure of it.”

Marcus handed the mask back to Alec. “I might be a bit more sure of that now too.”

“The league will be lucky to have you…in about seven years,” Alec said with all seriousness. “Have to finish college first.”

Marcus laughed. “Yes, sir.”

Marcus bumped Alec’s outstretched fist and retreated to the home locker room with the rest of the goalies. The Angels’ first line headed for the guest locker room, but Alec held back until the Penguins’ goalie had crossed over the boards.

“Alec Lightwood,” he said, offering his hand.

The Penguins’ goalie set his mask under his arm and shook Alec’s hand. “Victor Aldertree.”

“Didn’t have anyone else from your team who could make it out today?”

Victor gave a lop-sided grin that was all charm. “Just me. Most of the guys have families and friends in the area, but since I was called up just before the playoffs, my family is still back in New York.”

Alec nodded with understanding. That was the life of a pro at the beginning of his career. Alec had been traded three times in the first two years. He’d pretty much lived out of hotels for the first four years after going pro.

“I was hoping we’d have a chance to talk, actually,” Victor said as he walked with Alec down the tunnel. “This doesn’t usually happen with teams playing against each other—especially when there’s the rivalry like our teams have. Anyway, I’m kind of star struck. I grew up in New York and the Angels were always my team until…well—” Victor smoothed a hand over his Penguins’ jersey and Alec laughed. Who issued your paycheck could turn loyalties fast. “But anyway, it’s cool to meet you and really fucking cool to be playing on the same ice as you in the playoffs.”

As hard as it was for Alec to hear praise from fans, having another pro do the same was more uncomfortable—even if Victor was a rookie. Alec cleared his throat. “From what I’ve seen, you earned your place there.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t have two shutouts in the post season.”

“I’d say good luck with that, but you know….” Alec scratched at his beard as he smirked, coming to a stop at the locker room door. “It was cool of you to show up today.”

“I owe a hell of a lot more to hockey than I can ever repay.” Victor leaned in. “Plus, these kids remind me why I love the game, know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Anyway, it was nice to meet the man behind the mask.” Victor hitched his duffel up his shoulder and shook Alec’s hand again. “I’ll see you from the other side of the rink tomorrow. No offense, but I’m hoping you won’t have another shutout.”

Victor waved and headed for the exit.

Alec laughed and called out after him. “We’ll see.” He leaned against the door and took in his teammates packing up their stuff. “Well, Santiago? Worth your time?”

Raphael tugged at the cuffs of his dress shirt. “You owe me, Lightwood.”

Alec chuckled. Any other answer would’ve weirded him out. “I’ll get a suit for you from Tom Ford the next time they call me up.”

“Two,” Raphael countered, eyes narrowed.

“Deal.”

Raphael gave a satisfied smile as he passed by Alec.

Pangborn was laughing already as he trailed behind Raphael. “This was worth it just to see Wayland get stopped by a fourteen year old.”

“Definitely,” Bat said and knocked Jace on the shoulder. “See you all at practice tomorrow.”

Jace seemed to be waiting for the other three to clear out before he spoke. “Want to do dinner at the hotel, or go out?”

“Actually, I’m—” Alec stepped inside the locker room and closed the door behind him. “I’m not staying in tonight.”

Jace’s eyebrows practically hit the ceiling. “What?”

“Magnus is headed into town.”

“Holy shit. Finally! You have condoms?”

Alec’s cheeks heated. “Shut up, Jace.”

“Lube? I don’t know how all of that works, but good quality lube always eases things along for both parties.”

“Oh my god,” Alec groaned. “If I’d wanted that advice I would’ve called Max.”

Jace’s dimples popped out. “Speaking of your siblings, I texted Izzy some pics from today to post on your Instagram and Twitter.”

“How do you have Izzy’s cell? And what? I don’t have Twitter.”

“We talked after the last game, traded numbers. Me and Max too.” Jace scrolled through his cell and handed it over to Alec. “And yes, you definitely do have a Twitter account. Almost three hundred thousand followers since the Gallant campaign hit.”

Alec scanned through the page, flicking past dozens of pics and messages that he could barely decipher. “There are posts on here from me?”

“They’re called tweets and yeah, apparently Izzy’s been helping you out.”

Alec poked around the app, trying to figure out how to get to Jace’s profile. “This is your account, right? How many followers do you have?”

“That’s not important,” Jace said with scowl and swiped his cell out of Alec’s hand.

“I have more than you, don’t I?”

“If you can figure out how to use it, then you can see for yourself.” Jace cocked one eyebrow. “But I think you have more important things to do tonight.”

Alec couldn’t stifle his own smile. “Definitely.”

 

****

 

Magnus passed through the security doors into the baggage claim area of the Pittsburgh airport to find two women—one in an all-black uniform holding an iPad that read his name, and the other with black hair twisted artfully off her neck, stunning red lips, and a peach, v-neck dress.

Well, Alec had certainly made a striking choice for chauffeur services. “I am the requested Mr. Bane.”

Buenas noches, Mr. Bane,” the woman in the dress said. “I’m Rosa and this is Carter—she will be your driver. Anna sends her love.”

A striking choice indeed. Apparently, Alec had sought out the assistance of one of the most well connected women Magnus knew. What exactly did Alec have planned?

“Please, call me Magnus.” He shook both their hands. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both.”

“We already collected your bag,” Rosa said gesturing to the Tumi suitcase behind her that Magnus hadn’t noticed. “Your car is outside.”

“Thank you.” He swept his hand for Carter to lead them away, bracelets clinking with the movement, then fell in step with Rosa. “So, you work with Anna?”

“I’m her concierge in Pittsburgh.”

“And where exactly is our destination?”

Rosa smiled. “I’ve been asked to keep that a secret.”

“Very well,” Magnus allowed. He fingered his ear cuff. “Am I allowed to know how long we’ll be in the car?”

“Approximately thirty minutes.”

Carter placed his suitcase into the trunk of a black car of the same make and model as the ones Anna used in LA, and Rosa opened the door for him.

Shit. He was really doing this. He was on the ground in a city where he shouldn’t be at all, heading to see a man who he wasn’t supposed to have contact with outside of professional responsibilities. Yet, he couldn’t conceive of having made a different decision.

Magnus took a deep breath and got in. “Please, Rosa. Come sit with me. I’d love company for the trip to our covert destination. I don’t know what mental state I’ll arrive in if I’m left to entertain myself after spending the day on a plane with only my thoughts for company.”

“Of course.” Rosa gracefully slid into the car next to him. “I’ve already notified Alec that you’re on your way.”

Magnus fiddled with his rings as the car slid into motion. “You are just as thorough as Anna.”

“Thank you.” Rosa leaned forward and picked up a glass. “Would you like a drink? Alec suggested you like whiskey neat.”

“I do. Please.”

Rosa poured a glass for him, and one for herself that she took a courteous sip out of. A kindness not to leave him drinking alone when it was apparent he could use something to smooth his ragged edges. Magnus lifted his glass to her then took a deep drink. The whiskey burned a delicious path down his throat and warmed his belly, but it wasn’t nearly enough to soothe his jangled nerves.

Magnus fidgeted, peered out the window, and put voice to the fear and disquiet setting him on edge. “Have you ever done something that is completely inadvisable, and yet, there was no other choice you’d make?”

He felt Rosa shift, then heard her take a quiet sip of her drink before she answered. “Have you ever been to Pittsburgh before, Magnus?”

Magnus tore his eyes away from the passing scenery and looked to her. “A stopover for a flight or two, but I’ve never properly visited.”

“You likely know of Pittsburgh as a steel town, then. It was the only knowledge I had of the city before my parents emigrated from Ecuador. I expected soot and filth, and a landscape scarred with the towers of factories pumping out black smoke. But when we arrived, we drove into the valley and I saw the river and trees. Historical buildings with gorgeous architecture. I came to learn the history of this city quickly—it enthralled me—and its journey from ash-covered downtown to world class urban center was one that caught my attention, even at a young age.”

“Why is that?”

“I am a romantic at heart,” Rosa said with a quiet laugh. “I assume you know the name Mellon?”

“The Mellon family is intricately woven in this city’s history, from what I understand.”

“Very much so. It is Mr. RK Mellon’s involvement in Pittsburgh’s renaissance that most historians focus on, but it was another Mellon who was responsible for Mr. Mellon’s drive to clean up the city. He was one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world and one day his wife, Constance—a naturalist who rode horses every day and led family camping trips—told him that if he didn’t clean up the city, then there was no way she could live here with him.”

Magnus gazed out at the pristine downtown on the other side of the river. “Your city is beautiful.”

“It is amazing what lengths a person will go to for love.”

Magnus smiled. “Indeed, it is.”

The sun tracked a slow arc to the west, still hours away from nightfall, but as they passed under a grove of trees, the headlights of the car flashed on, illuminating a sign reading “Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens” as Carter pulled into the entrance.

This wasn’t a restaurant or a hotel—as he’d thought they may end up in for the hours they did have….

Alec was taking him out.

On a date.

Magnus set aside his glass and pulled out his lipgloss from his carry-on. He turned on his cell to act as a mirror, and realized he hadn’t switched it off airplane mode. As soon as he reconnected to the network, two texts popped up.

From Alec, Can’t wait to see you :)

And….

From Imogen, My evening freed up tomorrow. Let’s talk after your meeting with Jace’s agent

Magnus frowned.

Imogen would have his head if she ever found out he’d come here. She could drop Alec as a client. Ruin Magnus’ career…. Magnus’ stomach plummeted as he gripped his phone tight.

What was he doing here?

“Magnus? Please, allow me,” Rosa said quietly, snapping him back to the present. She reached into a pocket to pull out a mirror she held up for Magnus as the car came to a stop.

Magnus responded with an affirmative to Imogen, then applied a thin layer of gloss and ran his fingers through his hair. His reflection wasn’t doing any favors for his nerves. His eyes were wide, a deep frown embedded on his face.

“Unless someone has enough of a government clearance to check flight logs, they won’t know you’re here,” Rosa reassured him. “Anna took the liberty of checking you into the hotel room you reserved in LA.”

He shouldn’t have been surprised, but…. “How did she know?”

“As you stated, Anna is thorough.” Rosa gestured up a set of stairs. “He’s right through those main doors. I’ll be in the car if you need anything. Alec already has all my contact information. Enjoy your evening, Magnus.”

Magnus nodded to her and got out of the car, smoothing shaking hands down his lapels.

He took the stairs one at a time toward the all-glass building, keeping himself moving forward when all he wanted to do was flee. It’d been years since the last time he was nervous for a date. But he knew why he’d come here. This was Alexander.

He’d always say yes when Alec asked anything of him.

Before he opened the door he adjusted his suit again. He put his fingers to the handle…and couldn’t find the strength of will to just push it open.

Why was he so nervous?

“It’s just Alexander,” he muttered under his breath.

That made his heart pound even harder.

Magnus steeled himself and made his way inside, immediately enveloped by the heat of a tropical forest. He breathed deeply, inhaling the humid air and turning to take in the greenery surrounding him, when his eyes finally landed on Alec.

Alec was sitting on a bench off to the side, leaning forward, elbows on his knees and hands clasped together. Watching Magnus with a knowing smile on his face.

All of the questions about what this would mean for them, and his worry about whether he’d made the right decision by choosing to come here, just…dropped away.

“Good evening, Alexander,” Magnus said, his voice steady.

Alec stood and crossed the atrium. He was dressed in a simple white dress shirt, the top two buttons undone. He wore black suit pants that accentuated all the right places. His hair was combed back instead of the usual mess from running his fingers through it.

Magnus’ heart sped with each step closer that Alec came to him.

Alec leaned down, grasping Magnus’ arms, and placed a soft kiss on Magnus’ cheek. “Hey.”

With Alec’s lips almost to his ear, warm breath on his cheek, and the brush of Alec’s beard against his skin, Magnus shivered. “Could you see me through the door?”

“Yeah.”

There was a distinct smile on Alec’s lips.

“I don’t know why I was so nervous,” he admitted.

“You’re here now. That’s all that matters.”

Magnus breathed him in, the scent of Alec’s cologne familiar. Soothing.

“I am here.” Magnus remained where he was and set his palms on Alec’s chest, Alec’s heartbeat thrumming under his fingers. “Now, what are you going to do with me?”

Alec seemed to recognize the gravity in Magnus’ tone instead of his usual flirtatiousness. A previously unvoiced fear of rejection welling up inside Magnus unexpectedly.

Alec cupped Magnus’ jaw and tipped his chin up, brushing a chaste kiss to Magnus’ forehead. “Anything. Everything. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re here.”

Magnus closed his eyes and dragged Alec closer, burying his face into Alec’s neck and enveloping him in a hug. Alec’s strong arms wrapped around him, holding tight.

“This alone was worth the trip,” he mumbled against Alec’s skin.

Alec’s laugh began in his chest and echoed through the glass atrium, chasing Magnus’ insecurities away.

Magnus smiled and drew back. “I’ve probably already ruined my makeup.”

“Just smudged your lipgloss.” Alec set his hands on Magnus’ jaw and swiped a thumb at the corner of Magnus’ lips. “I have a way of destroying your flawless aesthetic.”

Magnus turned his head and placed a kiss on Alec’s hand. “Still worth it.”

“Come on. Let me show you around.” Alec entwined his fingers with Magnus’ and pulled him deeper into the building. “You like it here?”

Magnus definitely wasn’t looking at the tropical forest around him when he replied. “Breathtaking.”

A tinge bloomed on Alec’s cheeks that could’ve been blamed on the heat of the room, but Magnus knew better.

“I had another idea for tonight, but—” Alec shrugged and continued to lead them down the path. “This ended up being even more perfect. I’ve been thinking a lot about Indonesia since you told me about it—about your home—and I wanted to give you a piece of it since you seem to miss it. Anyway….” Alec stopped, scratching at his beard with one hand and squeezed Magnus’ hand to turn him toward the forest. “I couldn’t bring a moon orchid to you, so I figured I’d bring you to it.”

The delicate white flowers in front of them were one of Indonesia’s national flowers. One Magnus remembered well from his childhood. The sight stirred memories that Magnus had long tucked away. Good memories. Alec couldn’t have known that, but that Alec had put thought into this, wanting to bring Magnus closer to a piece of his homeland…. It was devastatingly romantic in a way that Magnus wasn’t used to being romanced.

Magnus swallowed around the ache in his throat and tugged at Alec’s hand. “You just wanted to sequester me somewhere warm enough where I’d start to shed clothing.”

Alec grinned down at him. “It is a side benefit.”

“Thank you, Alexander,” Magnus said with all seriousness. He lifted Alec’s hand and kissed the back of it. “I haven’t seen one of these in person in many, many years.”

“You’re welcome.”

Magnus wanted to really kiss him in that moment, in the breaths that fell between them as the not-so-silent silence of the forest hummed around them. But Alec seemed to be taking this slow. Like an actual date and not a rush to bed, as so many of Magnus’ more recent encounters had been. He was more than happy to oblige.

Magnus let go of Alec’s hand and sat on the bench across from the orchids. “Now, tell me how the clinic went today.”

“It was…humbling,” Alec answered as he dropped down next to Magnus. “I had way more advantages than most of those kids, and they are so much braver than I am. They’re desperate for pros to look up to.”

Magnus gazed at Alec, in complete disbelief that this man couldn’t see his own worth. “They already have one.”

Alec sat up straighter, his hand tracing the silver bracelet around his wrist, and shot Magnus a shy smile. “Not quite, but I’m getting there.”

“You want to tell me what happened with your coach?”

“What happened, or why?”

“Both. All of it. I want to hear every word, every thought, every reaction.”

Alec audibly exhaled. “It was good.”

Magnus waited for Alec to say more, but when he didn’t Magnus rolled his eyes. “We need to work on your storytelling abilities, Alexander.”

Alec laughed, then shrugged. “I don’t know…. I guess I woke up in your apartment yesterday morning and you weren’t there, and I thought it had been painful before waking up with you, but this— This was….” Alec scrunched his eyebrows together. “I couldn’t stand the thought of walking into the arena and pretending like my day hadn’t been hell, and my night hadn’t been made better because of you. So yeah, you and Izzy had asked me to talk to someone in the Angels organization anyway, and Jace already knows, and I—” Alec cut himself off with a frown.

“You what?” Magnus guided gently. This was possibly the most words he’d ever heard come out of Alec’s mouth at one time. He was rapt.

Alec lips thinned with concentration. “I realized something. I wasn’t shutting the noise out when I took to the ice, I was shutting everything out. Trying to separate myself from everything that didn’t happen in the arena, or maybe divide myself in half? Either way, it’s not realistic, and it’s not healthy. I was trying to pick out the elements of myself that fit with hockey and keep those, then ignore the ones that I thought didn’t fit. But it doesn’t work that way. I want to carry all of who I am onto that ice.” Alec took a deep breath. “My drive to be better isn’t just as a goalie—it’s as a man too. My passion for hockey is just that—passion….” Alec leveled his hazel eyes on Magnus. “That includes you, Magnus.”

Alec’s gaze flickered to Magnus’ lips, and Magnus held back, giving Alec the space to lead this wherever he wanted.

Alec worried his lip, his shoulder hunching again when Magnus didn’t say anything. “Was that too much?”

“Not at all,” Magnus reassured him. “Your honesty is never too much.”

He pushed a lock of Alec’s hair off his forehead, then traced his fingers over the line of Alec’s jaw. Alec leaned into him, closing his eyes and resting his forehead against Magnus’. Having Alec this close to him, this real and vulnerable, undid him.

How was it possible he’d only kissed this man once and was so far gone for him?

“How are you really doing?” Magnus asked quietly. He threaded his fingers through the hair at Alec’s nape. “After everything with your mother and Morgenstern…. This week has been hell.”

“I’m calm. I feel like I’m going into battle—like I do when I’m on the ice.” Alec circled his hand around Magnus’ wrist and held on. “What about you?”

“I’m content to be here,” he answered. “But admittedly on the verge of stripping down to nothing due to the humidity.”

Alec chuckled and pushed back from Magnus, threading their hands together again. “Are you hungry?

“Famished. What do you have planned?”

Alec stood. “I said I wanted to take you out, so we’re going out.”

“Alexander,” Magnus pleaded, holding fast so Alec would look at him. “I appreciate that, more than you can know, but this destination was perfect. You can’t put yourself at risk— I can’t allow that.”

“I’m not putting myself at risk, Magnus. We can go out and be safe. I’m in control, remember?”

Magnus sighed. “It’s not as if that’s the only thing I’ve been thinking about since you sent that text.”

Alec chuckled. “Let’s go.”

Magnus nodded and allowed Alec to pull him up. He stole one more look at the moon orchid, breathed in the familiar scent that spoke of a time decades in the past, and held tighter to Alec. Now that they were in the same space again, and Magnus was allowed to touch Alec, he never wanted to let go. But as they were walking out the front door—into the waning light, in a very public space—Magnus’ protective instincts kicked in, and he dropped his hand from Alec’s.

Alec stopped immediately, one foot on the stair below him and one on the landing, looking back at Magnus with a question in his eyes.

Magnus frowned. “I know the risk is small here, and you’ve taken precautions, but….”

Alec held out his hand. “Trust me.”

There was no one in the world he trusted more. Magnus took Alec’s outstretched hand and followed Alec down the steps. The warm, calloused hand in his own grounded him. Alec’s grip was gentle, but solid and confident—very much like the man himself.

Alec’s smile widened as they approached the car. “Rosa, I assume? It’s nice to meet you in person.”

Rosa greeted him warmly. “Likewise, Alec. Are you headed to dinner now?”

“Please.”

Rosa opened the door and Alec gestured for Magnus to go first.

“This drive will be less than ten minutes, Magnus,” Rosa said in a playful tone.

“As long as the backseat is comfortable, the drive can take all night,” Magnus responded with a wink.

“Oh my god, Magnus,” Alec groaned, a badly disguised laugh escaping in the same breath. “Get in the car.”

Magnus huffed into the seat and bounced on it once. “Sturdy, even if not terribly supportive.”

Alec blushed as he ducked inside and sat down next to Magnus. He peered over his shoulder. “Thank you, Rosa.”

She smirked and closed the back door behind him. Magnus couldn’t help it—he leaned forward and pecked Alec on the cheek. “That color is absolutely captivating on you, Alexander.”

“You—”Alec shook his head slowly, a grin pulling at his lips. “You are too damn charming.”

Magnus adored this flustered side of Alec just as much as his confident swagger. “You’re welcome.”

Alec grabbed his hand—as if reaching for Magnus was second nature to him now—and Alec focused his gaze out the window, going quiet as they drove away. Magnus didn’t fill the silence. Felt no need to. With others he considered it his duty to keep the conversation alive with witty repartee—to entertain—but when it was solely he and Alec, Magnus could just exist.

And be perfectly content in the moment.

 

****

 

Alec held tight to Magnus, the ability to say words—any of them, let alone the right ones—completely escaping him.

For once he was out in the world, holding the hand of a man he deeply cared for. A man whose confidence could only be matched by Alec’s incorrigible younger brother. A man who’d been nervous to see him.

Alec turned to the window to hide the smile spreading across his face.

Magnus looked amazing. But that hadn’t been a surprise—he always did. His pin-stripe suit was fitted snug to his frame. A lavender shirt under his jacket, a vest of the same pin stripe, a bold bright pink and purple tie, and a twist of thin gold necklaces that Alec could only see hints of when Magnus moved.

Walking across that atrium to Magnus, Alec had been confident. In control.

It was clear that Magnus wanted him.

But it was in the moments of tenderness—Magnus impetuously embracing him, Magnus asking him how he was and caring about the answer, Magnus playfully kissing him on the cheek—when Alec let his ironclad need for control fall away…. And Magnus still desired him.

With Magnus, Alec didn’t need to have all the answers. He could falter in his decisions, fumble over his words.

Or he could stand tall. Assert what he wanted.

Magnus accepted him both ways.

It was a gift that Alec added to his mental tally of their unofficial contest. He didn’t know if Magnus was even paying attention to that number anymore, but it was important for Alec to recognize it in some way.

The car crossed over the river, heading toward the downtown, tires rumbling over uneven pavement. Alec squeezed Magnus’ hand tighter.

Magnus’ acceptance was a greater gift than anything tangible Alec could ever give back.

 

****

 

“And where are we, exactly?” Magnus dared to ask Alec when the car came to a stop and Carter opened the door this time.

Alec grinned. “The Pittsburgh location of the club you took me to in LA.”

Safety and the ability to go out. Of course.

Magnus nodded his approval. “Excellent choice, Alexander.”

Alec positively beamed and Magnus’ heart flipped. He was becoming more familiar with the acrobatics of his internal organs in response to Alec’s presence, but he didn’t think he’d ever be accustomed to how much Alec affected him.

He followed Alec out of the car—enjoying that view immensely—and smoothed his hair as he stood. “How did you manage to procure a membership on such short notice?”

“It’s mine,” Rosa offered as she met them at the curb. “This club has been in operation since 1922 in this exact building, but with not nearly as much diversity represented in its membership as the city itself. Pittsburgh needed a pansexual Latinx member to shake things up a bit. If you’ll please follow me?”

“Thank you for taking us under your protective wing, darling.”

De nada.” Rosa led them to an elevator set aside from the others, swiped a key card when they entered, and tapped the button for the fifth floor.

The doors opened directly into a private room with darkly stained wood walls and a massive fireplace—logs crackling, chasing the chill out of the old room. There was no overhead illumination, with dim lamps and flickering candles bathing the room in warm light. A wooden bar was set next to the fireplace. A table with formal place settings for two in front of it. And a black leather couch nestled over a soft rug in the corner. Magnus took it all in, admiring the craftsmanship infused in every detail, and when he rotated around to see Alec’s reaction, found that Alec’s gaze was only on him.

While Alec had been quiet in the car, introspective even, the sheer desire in Alec’s gaze left Magnus more than a little breathless.

Magnus winked at him and began to unbutton his suit jacket.

“Controls for the lights and room temperature are here. The bar is fully stocked.” Rosa tapped a finger on an antique phone situated on the bar. “You just have to lift this phone for food service, or if you need anything else.”

Alec’s hands were stuffed into his pockets, and he rocked back on his heels, eyes leaving Magnus for only a second as he responded to her. “I’ll text you when we’re ready to go again.”

“Have a good evening, gentlemen,” Rosa said, and the elevator doors slid quietly closed behind her.

“When we’re ready to go again?” Magnus questioned. “What other destination could you possibly have planned for tonight?”

The only response he received was a wry twist of Alec’s lips.

Magnus shrugged his jacket off his shoulders and hung it from the chair at the bar. “You certainly are in control, Alexander, aren’t you?”

Alec’s heated gaze slid over him like a physical touch. “Drink?”

Magnus resisted the urge to tackle Alec to the leather couch, and instead gave a demure nod of assent.

“Take a look at the menu,” Alec said as he circled behind the bar and slid a leather portfolio toward Magnus. “Rosa sent it over to me earlier. Said we can order off it, or if there’s anything else you want they’ll make it.”

Magnus lifted an eyebrow. “Anything?”

“I probably shouldn’t have said that,” Alec said with a laugh. “Now all you want to do is test that theory, right?”

“It certainly is tempting.”

Magnus’ gaze skimmed over Alec. But not nearly as tempting as the view of Alec unbuttoning his cuffs and rolling up his sleeves to reveal muscled forearms. The bracelet Magnus had given him slid down Alec’s wrist as he poured them tumblers of whiskey. Magnus was parched, but whiskey wouldn’t come close to quenching his thirst. Especially with the way Alec kept looking at Magnus through his lashes. His bottom lip reddened from working it between his teeth.

Magnus took a deep breath and sat down at the bar in favor of catapulting himself over it to crash into Alec’s arms.

Alec set a glass down in front of Magnus. “I can’t do anything too wild. Night before a game and all.”

Magnus scoffed. “I believe that asking me to fly across the country to spend less than four hours with you—when we’re explicitly banned from being near each other outside of professional responsibilities—may constitute as doing something wild.”

Alec planted one hand on the bar, his biceps bulging out obscenely as he lifted his glass to his lips. “You think?”

Magnus swallowed to slake the dryness in his throat. Loosened his tie just a touch. Apparently he should’ve been paying attention to their gracious hostess’ instructions about the temperature controls instead of eye-fucking Alec.

Alec undid a button at the top of his dress shirt, cracked his neck, and smirked. He laid his forearms on the bar so he was looking Magnus directly in the eye. “This may not be the most normal first date, but I’ve definitely imagined wilder scenarios that involve you and me.”

Well, then. That was confirmed. Alec’s flirtatious side was unquestionably making an appearance.

Magnus arched an eyebrow. “Do tell.”

“I’m not short on…ideas about how we can spend the rest of the night.”

Magnus heart skittered and he leaned forward so they were only inches away. “And how do I come into play with those ideas, Alexander?”

The corner of Alec’s lips tipped up, tongue darting out to wet his lips. He lifted his drink to his mouth and took a sip before answering. “You really want to hear this?”

There was nothing he wanted to hear more than sinful fantasies falling from Alec’s lips.

“Yes.”

“Maybe I don’t want to share,” Alec said playfully.

“You don’t have to hold anything back from me,” Magnus said with all seriousness.

“Maybe I want you to experience it all first-hand.” Alec’s heated gaze raked over Magnus. “When it happens.”

“When?” Magnus was enamored with Alec’s brazenness. “Not if?”

“Definitely when.”

“You are”—Magnus twirled his fingers in the air, rings catching the low light, and Alec tracked the movement of his hand—“supremely confident.”

Alec’s eyes danced with mirth. “I think I have reason to be.”

“If I remember correctly—and I’m very sure I do—you told me that the next time I saw you in person, I could kiss you.”

“I did,” Alec admitted. He pulled his bottom lip between his teeth, then rose back to standing, features wiped of any hit of a tease. “I thought you were hungry, though.”

That was an opening for a very awful line from an adult film. I realize we’re in a private room with seductive ambience, numerous surfaces to work off of, and unlimited access to alcohol, but…. Have you no shame, Alexander?”

Alec’s responding laugh was completely unguarded. A sound of uncomplicated joy that Magnus was both privileged to witness and proud to invoke.

Alec set his glass down and walked around the bar. “We’ve got a couple hours left, Magnus. Plenty of time to eat.” Alec leaned across Magnus to reach for the menu, breath ghosting by Magnus’s cheek. “Take a look at the menu—”

Magnus couldn’t hold back one more second. He fisted his hand in Alec’s shirt and pulled him down into a kiss.

Alec laughed against his lips, and in the next breath was sliding his tongue into Magnus’ mouth with a low moan.

He’d traversed across the country, on two planes, to spend four hours with a man he wasn’t supposed to like, let alone love.

Magnus was willing to go to any lengths for one more kiss.

 

****

 

It felt like months—not days—since Alec had last been able to do this.

Alec threaded his fingers under Magnus’ necklaces and around Magnus’ neck, tilting his head to mold his mouth to Magnus’ and move with him. Magnus’ lipgloss was slick against his mouth, a tantalizing sweetness on his tongue.

Magnus’ hands slid down Alec’s back and around his waist, crushing their bodies together. Magnus rolled his hips and Alec pushed back, thrusting them together as Alec licked and sucked every hint of gloss off Magnus’ lips.

Magnus nearly dragged Alec onto his lap, hands palming Alec’s ass. Alec could barely breathe as he left Magnus’ lips to seek out the expanse of skin on Magnus’ jaw and down his neck. Magnus’ breath was hot against his cheek, and a pleasant chill raced up Alec’s spine.

“We don’t have to do anything here,” Alec murmured against Magnus’ neck. He took Magnus’ skin between his teeth and Magnus’ breath caught. He couldn’t resist nipping at the same spot again to elicit the same reaction, Magnus’ heartbeat thundering under his lips. Alec slid a hand down Magnus’ chest, exploring the hard muscle hidden beneath too many layers of clothes. Fuck. He needed more. “The logistics of a hotel got complicated, so I rented you a loft on the south side, by the river. Underground parking and a private elevator….”

“Did you?”

Alec placed a soft kiss at the base of Magnus’ neck and drew back so he could look at him. “I know what I want, Magnus, but I don’t— Shit. I want you, but I also want you as my agent.”

Magnus’ hands went to Alec’s hips, holding Alec in place. “All I told Imogen was that we hadn’t had sex.”

“Which is way too true,” Alec grumbled.

Magnus’ lips were a brilliant red as he smiled. His cheeks a matching shade that Alec had never seen on him before.

Alec ran his fingers over Magnus’ cheek, along that intoxicating blush, and kissed the line of Magnus’ jaw. “So the question becomes—how far can we take this where you don’t have to lie to Imogen?”

“Not far enough.”

“Fuck,” Alec breathed out.

Magnus turned his head and captured Alec’s lips into another languid kiss, Magnus’ fingers digging into his hips. Alec lost himself in the softness of Magnus’ mouth. He could stay just like this for the hours they had left.

But Magnus was pulling away from him too soon, eyebrows furrowing together. “I also told Imogen there was nothing formalized between us.”

Alec’s lips ticked up. “This is casual.”

Magnus’ green-gold eyes were intent. “It’s not, and you know that.”

Alec’s heart thudded. He closed his eyes and breathed Magnus in.

He knew.

But to hear that coming from Magnus…?

He pushed away from Magnus, yet couldn’t let go of him completely. He took Magnus’ hand in his, marveling that he’d spent the last five minutes fused to Magnus’ body, but holding Magnus’ hand seemed so much more…intimate.

He wanted to be with Magnus—in all meanings of the word. He was drawn to him, craved his presence. He was in love with him, and Magnus had nearly admitted the same out loud just now…. But their circumstances hadn’t changed.

Magnus was still his agent.

Sebastian was still a threat. As was Alec’s mother.

Alec still wasn’t out.

Was he pushing whatever this was between them too far tonight?

Alec huffed down in the chair next to Magnus. “How much longer until you sit down with the Angels’ front office?”

“Less than a month.”

“Okay.” Alec nodded. “I can wait.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“No,” Alec said with a laugh. “But if that’s what it takes to keep you as my agent and not fuck this—us—up, then I’ll deal.” He squeezed Magnus’ hand and let go. “Dinner then?”

Alec didn’t wait for an answer. He perused the menu, not really seeing anything on it, but needing something to distract himself so he wasn’t pushing Magnus further than he wanted to go. Further than they should.

Magnus curled his fingers into the hair at Alec’s nape. “I’ll have dinner with you on one condition.”

Alec sucked in a breath, trying to get his body not to react to the sheer bliss of Magnus’ fingers trailing over the back of his neck. “And what is that?”

“That we leave enough time for dessert.”

Alec looked to Magnus—at the devious upturn of his lips—and knew that what Magnus was asking for wouldn’t be found on this menu. “That was an awful porno line.”

Magnus’ smile was too satisfied. “Did it work?”

“Way too well.” Alec scrubbed at his beard. “Okay. Honestly? I know things haven’t really changed— Or shit, maybe they’ve gotten worse? But you…? You’re the one thing in my life I don’t question. I don’t want to wait for all these…pieces I have no control over to click into place when I already have the one that fits right here.”

Magnus hand traced a feather-light touch around Alec’s neck and down the open v of his shirt. “I don’t either.”

Fuck. Alec took a slow breath in and let it out through his lips, trying to tamp down the desire that lit up with that three-word confession. A private dining room in an exclusive club—while suitably secluded—wasn’t an appropriate setting for what he wanted to happen next. And really, what kind of date was he when Magnus had said he was famished almost an hour ago now?

“But you are hungry?” Alec asked again.

Magnus bit at his lip and toyed with the button on Alec’s shirt.

“For food, Magnus.”

Magnus patted Alec’s chest and sat back. “I suppose it is necessary for life.”

Alec nodded and went back to surveying the menu.

He felt Magnus’ body moving closer, then Magnus’ shoulder and biceps brushing against his. “Alexander?”

Alec took a deep breath. Fuck one month, he wouldn’t make it through one meal. “Yes?”

“Are you looking at this menu trying to figure out what will take the least amount of time to prepare?”

Alec laughed lowly. That was exactly what he was doing. But maybe there was another option….

“What would you choose off of here,” Alec asked. “Regardless of how long it took?”

Magnus dragged a polished nail across the menu. “The coq au vin sounds divine.”

Alec lifted the white phone off its cradle and someone in the kitchen picked up immediately.

“How can we help you, sir?”

“I’d like to place our order now, please.”

“Of course. Please, go ahead.”

“Two plates of coq au vin, one with no butter on the potatoes”—Magnus scoffed and Alec had to hold back a laugh—“the other with a lot of butter. Two salads with oil and vinegar and whatever other dressing the chef considers the best—on the side, please.” Magnus nodded approvingly. “And we’ll need all of that to go.”

“We’ll call when it’s ready, sir.”

“Thank you.”

“To go?” Magnus questioned as Alec hung up the phone.

Alec just smiled and dug his cell out of his pocket, putting it to his ear.

“Is everything okay, Alec?” Rosa answered.

“Everything is fine,” he reassured her. “I just placed an order for food, but we’re ready to head to the loft. Could Carter drop us off and bring back the food when it’s ready?”

“I’ll contact the kitchen so they can notify me when it’s ready.”

“Thanks. We’ll be down in ten minutes.”

“The car will be waiting at the elevator,” Rosa replied.

Alec hung up to find Magnus staring at him. “Ten minutes? Why not now?”

“We should give the kitchen time to start working,” Alec said with as serious of an expression as he could. “It’s only polite.”

Magnus elegantly arched one eyebrow in question.

“Fine,” Alec relented, hands curling into the edges of Magnus’ vest to drag him closer. “I don’t think I’ve kissed you enough yet.”

 

****

 

Magnus fiddled with the lock to the door, but it was nearly impossible to get his fingers to work with Alec’s lips on his neck. There were other, much more important things his hands needed to be doing right now.

“Alexander? You are distracting me.”

Magnus could feel the smile on Alec’s lips as he answered with a breathy, “Good.”

“We should at least attempt to make it—” Magnus inhaled a sharp breath as Alec nipped at his neck. It had taken Alec mere minutes to find the spot on Magnus’ neck that left him weak in the knees, and Alec was using that discovery to his full benefit.

“Did you say make out?” Alec teased.

Magnus bit back a smirk and peered at Alec over his shoulder. “You rented this opulent loft overlooking the river and the downtown lights, and we’re going to end up naked in the hallway.”

Alec’s eyes sparkled. “Is there a problem?”

Magnus was barely able to get a “no” past his lips before Alec’s mouth was on him again and Alec was twisting Magnus around so they were face-to-face, Alec pushing Magnus against the door. Alec plucked the keys out of Magnus’ hand, not breaking the kiss as he slid the key into the lock with ease.

“Show off,” Magnus mumbled against his lips.

Alec pushed the door open and placed his palm on Magnus’ back, urging them both inside. “Just…goal driven.”

“Bringing your work home with you, I see.”

“I won’t be deflecting any shots tonight,” Alec said. He set his palm on Magnus’ chest, thumb toying with his necklaces. “Believe me.”

Magnus cocked his head, smirking. “Even backdoor?”

Alec laughed as he kicked the door shut. “You using hockey slang to talk about sex is way hotter than it should be.”

“Are you going to penalize me?” Magnus goaded him. “Put me in the sin bin?”

Alec gave a lop-sided smile that was all devilish charm, then placed a soft kiss at the corner of Magnus’ lips. “Only if I get to join you in there.”

Magnus brushed his cheek against Alec’s. Savored the sound of Alec’s heavy breaths in his ear. Magnus urged Alec’s head to the side with his cheek and kissed down the length of Alec’s neck. “But goalies don’t go in the box.”

He let go of Alec and took a step back, retreating coyly from Alec’s brash confidence, and inelegantly bumping into the kitchen island.

Alec lowered his chin and gazed at Magnus. “First time for everything.”

Alec closed the distance between them, and pressed Magnus against the kitchen counter with his entire body. Magnus canted his hips up, teasing at the sizable bulge in Alec’s pants, drawing an indecent moan from Alec’s throat. Magnus dove in for another kiss, lapping his tongue against Alec’s in a luxurious slide.

Alec’s hands fingered the top button of Magnus’ vest. “Why do you still have so many clothes on?”

“Please feel free to dispose me of all my earthly garments.” Magnus dragged his finger down Alec’s spine, and Alec breath stuttered, muscles rippling. “And I’ll do the same for you.”

Alec dove in for another kiss. There was barely enough room between them for Alec to work, but Magnus wasn’t letting him go. The tightness of his vest fell away, and Alec’s fingertips brushed his neck, loosening his tie and letting it slip to the floor.

Alec pulled back, hand lifting Magnus’ jaw. “Chin up.”

Magnus complied, allowing Alec to undo the top buttons. Alec’s brow was stitched together with stubborn focus. Then Alec’s hands were on Magnus’ shoulders, pushing the vest off. Alec’s hands trailed over Magnus’ biceps and down his sides, fingers skimming his hips as he untucked Magnus’ shirt.

“No more three piece suits when you come see me,” Alec said as he slid his hands under Magnus’ shirt and grasped onto Magnus’ hips.

“I have a reputation to uphold,” Magnus half-protested. It was nearly impossible to feign annoyance with Alec’s hands on him.

Alec’s fingers delved under Magnus’ waistband. “And exactly what kind of reputation would that be? Because I thought for sure you’d be the type to go without underwear at all.”

Magnus grinned at that. “Normally, I would be. But I always wear an extra layer of protection while flying.”

Alec pushed his hips against Magnus’. “Don’t want to show off for a TSA agent, huh?”

If the size of what Alec was caressing against him was any indication, Magnus wasn’t the only one who had something to show off. Magnus smirked.

“The list of people who get to see me in my full glory is exclusive.” Magnus paused to consider the validity of that claim. “Unless I’m drunk. But those are stories for Cat and Ragnor to tell you.”

Alec narrowed one eye. “Stories? As in plural?”

“Perhaps it isn’t as exclusive of an audience as I’d like to think.”

Alec’s hands slid up his back, pulling Magnus closer. “But only one now, right?”

“That is a bold question from a man who stated earlier that this is casual.” His voice was much rougher, much more unsure, than he would’ve liked.

Alec didn’t give him a moment to overthink it, though. “It’s not casual, Magnus, and you know it.”

After Alec had pulled away when Magnus had said those same words, Magnus had wondered…. But he shouldn’t have been surprised.

Alec touched him with a reverence none of his other lovers ever had.

Magnus let out a sigh of relief before he could hold it back, and Alec leaned down, kissing him softly. A kiss that was almost too much—too intimate, and too familiar—with the words he didn’t have the courage to say to Alec out loud sitting on his tongue.

There would be time for all of that later, though. For now, he wanted as much of Alec as Alec was willing to give him.

“Since there actually is a bed here,” Alec tipped his head toward the bedroom. “You, uh, want to move in that direction?”

“Aren’t we going to be interrupted by a food delivery?”

“I asked Rosa to leave the food outside the door.” Alec shrugged. “Unless…you’d rather wait?”

“I think we’ve waited long enough.”

“Thank fuck,” Alec said with a laugh that made Magnus’ skin tingle with eagerness. “Come on.”

Alec held out his hand and Magnus took it without hesitation.

They were only steps inside the bedroom before Alec was pulling Magnus into him. Into a kiss that was the awkwardness and perfection of all smiles and laughter for heartbeat, and two, then Alec’s hands were under Magnus’ shirt, the palms on the small of Magnus’ back crushing them together. Alec deepened the kiss and Magnus had no choice but to yield—wouldn’t have protested even if he could—as Alec fit his thigh between Magnus’ legs and brought them impossibly closer together. Magnus grasped on to Alec’s neck and teased his tongue against Alec’s, breathing him in.

This.

Fuck. This connection to Alec was everything he needed. Everything he craved and couldn’t live without. He wanted Alec’s arms wrapped around him, Alec’s body moving with his. He couldn’t breathe when Alec was near him—let alone this close—but this air, shared between them, was the only thing he needed to survive. It was a mad thought—impractical and passionate, everything he and Alec were together—and the only belief Magnus needed to know this—that they—were right.

Alec drew back, hands fumbling for purchase on Magnus’ shirt as he laughed. “For as many buttons as you leave usually leave undone, this shirt is actual torture.”

“Says the man who has barely an inch of skin showing,” Magnus retorted. He popped another button of Alec’s shirt open and brought his lips to the divot of Alec’s neck, softly sucking at the skin before he thought better of it. “I don’t want to leave any marks on you that will be visible tomorrow.”

Alec had his hand at the back of Magnus’ neck, holding him tight. “Anything below the neck will be covered by my gear. And I’m always the last in the showers.”

“That”—Magnus drew Alec’s skin between his teeth—“sounds like an invitation.”

“More like…” Alec tilted his head back. “Shit, Magnus. I’m begging.”

Magnus kissed the reddening spot once more, then settled his hand on Alec’s chest as he gazed into Alec’s blown-out hazel eyes. If Magnus didn’t slow this down a few notches, neither of them would make it to naked before it was over. “The wait has been worth it so far. Let’s…take this slowly—one button at a time.”

Alec scrunched his brow together, an endearing frustration tugging his lips into a determined line. “Yeah.” Alec took a deep breath and met Magnus’ eyes. “Yeah, I can do that for you.”

Magnus was surprised to find his own hands shaking as he reached for the next button of Alec’s shirt.

“Hey,” Alec said quietly, covering Magnus’ hands with his. “Nothing to be nervous about. It’s just you and me.”

Magnus’ heart ached with exquisite desperation as Alec took Magnus’ hands in his, placing a kiss on each finger as he slowly removed each of Magnus’ rings.

Magnus was…overwhelmed. He was never this needy, never this eager to draw sex out and make every second count. He knew that no matter what happened, he’d leave here tonight satisfied, but Alec…? He’d never held this much desire to make his partner feel as treasured as Alec made him feel.

This was more than getting off. This was about being here together.

Alec dropped the rings on a dresser by the bed and pulled Magnus close again. His hands worked down the line of Magnus’ shirt, fingers merely grazing as if he was memorizing every inch of skin that was revealed. Magnus let Alec take his time, unbuttoning Alec’s shirt with the same deliberate slowness, even though his entire body was begging for more. Now.

Cool air hit Magnus’ chest as Alec undid the last of the buttons, then Alec’s hands were sliding up Magnus’ chest and over his shoulders, pushing the fabric away. Alec’s lips went to Magnus’ neck again, Magnus inhaling a shuddering breath as his shirt fell to the floor.

They were chest-to-chest now—skin against skin, the coolness of Magnus’ necklaces warming between them—and Alec held onto him, surrounding Magnus in his protective embrace. Alec peppered a line of kisses over Magnus’ shoulder and dug his nails into Magnus’ back.

“Exactly how…prepared are you for this, Alexander?” Magnus tested.

Alec smiled against his skin. “Jace didn’t have any condoms, but he refused to let me leave without taking a travel packet of lube. It’s in my pocket.”

“You have one button to go then, Alexander,” Magnus whispered as he kissed the slope of Alec’s biceps.

Alec’s fingers dragged down Magnus’ back, dipped around Magnus’ hips, and Magnus held his breath as Alec’s hands finally found the button on Magnus’ pants and undid it, dropping Magnus’ pants to the floor.

Alec palmed his ass, kneading the muscle in strong hands and thrusting them together. Magnus couldn’t stop the moan that came from deep in his chest. He rocked against Alec then pushed the shirt off Alec’s shoulders. Alec let go just long enough to let his shirt fall away before he was wrapping Magnus up again and tumbling them into the bed, into a laughing tangle of limbs.

Magnus couldn’t touch enough of Alec. He wanted, needed, to touch Alec everywhere at once. He wanted to learn every slope of muscle, drag his lips over every inch of skin. To lavish just as much adoration over Alec as Alec was showing him. To burn this moment so deep into his memory that it would be sealed away at a cellular level so he could carry it forever.

He dove in for another breath-stealing kiss and lay out on top of Alec, rubbing his body against Alec’s. Magnus still had his underwear on and due to their fall he hadn’t gotten to Alec’s pants yet. The sensation of his cock riding against Alec’s with those barriers between them made his heart thunder in his ears.

Magnus sucked Alec’s lip between his teeth, then kissed a line down Alec’s neck and drew his hips back, unabashedly rocking himself against the leg Alec still had between his own.

Alec circled his hands around Magnus’ hips as Magnus languidly stroked himself against Alec’s thigh.

Alec’s fingers dipped below the waistband. “You want to take these off?”

“Impatient?”

Alec skimmed his hand over Magnus’ stomach, fingertips grazing Magnus’ cock. “Want you, Magnus. Need to know how you feel.”

Magnus shivered from the low timbre of Alec’s voice.

He arched, brushing his cock against Alec’s hand. “Touch me, Alexander.”

The feather-light sensation of Alec’s fingertips grew insistent as Alec pushed his briefs down and began to stroke him. The heat and friction of Alec’s sure grip on him had Magnus’ thoughts scrambling, and his back bowing into Alec’s touch. Alec’s hand was finally on him, but it was Alec’s heavy-lidded gaze that made Magnus feel like he was on fire. Magnus’ breath caught, eyes fluttering shut. Alec circled his hand around Magnus’ cock and gripped him tightly.

Magnus leaned back, giving Alec more room to work. He dragged his fingers down Alec’s chest, appreciating the chillbumps that pebbled over Alec’s skin where his fingers trailed.

“Fuck,” Alec gritted out. “I thought you were beautiful before. But you, like this….” Alec slid his hand up Magnus’ chest. “I want to see you come with my hands on you.”

Magnus was helpless to do anything but whimper at that.

“I’ve been thinking about this since the night you stripped for me. Want to feel those necklaces on my skin. Want you to hold me down—”

Magnus gripped Alec’s wrist, pushing Alec’s arm over his head. “Like this?”

“Fuck,” Alec exhaled, sliding the head of his dick against Magnus’ stomach.

Alec’s grip loosened on Magnus’ cock as Magnus draped himself over Alec and locked his lips to Alec’s neck. Magnus worked lower, taking Alec’s nipple between his lips, teeth nipping at the sensitive flesh. Alec gasped and Magnus went for the button on Alec’s pants, popping it open.

They’d already careened way past the line of professionalism and a client-agent relationship, but this night wasn’t about lines or crossing boundaries. They both needed this night. Needed this connection. Needed each other. Magnus hadn’t had a relationship of any kind since Camille, and he knew already that one night with Alec wouldn’t be enough. Not two, not an entire years worth…. He was letting Alec past his carefully constructed walls, inviting him inside…to stay.

Magnus thrust up against Alec’s groin, another low moan escaping Alec’s lips. Magnus wanted to spend every second they had tonight, and for years to come, drawing that sound out of Alec over and over again.

Alec began to push his own pants down and Magnus settled a hand on Alec’s, stopping him. He needed to see Alec spread out for him.

Magnus arched against Alec’s body, losing himself in the drag of smooth skin on the roughness of Alec’s chest and down his muscled torso. He settled between Alec’s legs and mouthed at the cotton of Alec’s briefs, hot breath teasing at the thin barrier between them.

Alec’s hips arched off the bed and Magnus circled his hands around to Alec’s ass, fingers sliding below Alec’s waistband, dragging Alec’s pants down until Magnus’ hands were digging into the muscles. He licked up Alec’s cloth-covered dick, teeth catching on the waistband and pulling Alec’s briefs just far enough down that his cock slipped out.

Alec fisted his hands in the sheets, breath ragged, as Magnus hungrily took the sight of all of Alec in. A drop of pre-cum beaded on the tip of Alec’s cock and Magnus swiped it away with his tongue as a litany of swear words passed through Alec’s lips.

Magnus licked his lips, taking in the taste of Alec—fuck, this man was beyond sinful addiction—and let go of Alec’s ass, sliding his hands over Alec’s hips.

Magnus stood and Alec groaned, Alec’s hand circling the base of his own cock. Alec was biting his lip, staring at Magnus through his lashes.

A wicked smile pulled at Magnus’ lips. “Problem, my angel?”

“Yeah. Your hands aren’t on me,” Alec breathed out.

Magnus rested one knee on the bed and leaned over Alec, keeping their bodies from touching. He kissed Alec’s lips once, then drew back only a fraction so he could work his mouth up Alec’s jaw until he was drawing Alec’s earlobe between his teeth. “Patience, Alexander.”

Magnus slid his hand down Alec’s chest as he went for the lube in Alec’s pocket. Alec’s abs twitched under Magnus’ touch, and Alec drew in a sharp inhale as Magnus palmed the packet and stood at the end of the bed. There was a flush on Alec’s cheeks, his chest was heaving, hair askew from Magnus running his hands through it, and a defined, glistening red mark at the base of Alec’s throat. He wanted to leave marks like that all over Alec’s body.

Alec still had his hand around his cock and Magnus took that sight in with a heat that raced through his body, burning brighter than wildfire. This was a view no one else in the world got. And a view Magnus wanted to keep to himself for as long as Alec would have him.

Fuck. He needed to have his own hand where Alec’s was, to worship every inch of Alec’s body with his fingers and lips, but first….

Magnus teased at the edges of his underwear, only the head of his cock jutting out. “Would you like for me to take these off?”

Alec leaned back on one elbow and circled his hand over the top of his dick, a sly smile on his kiss-swollen lips. “Gentleman’s choice, Mr. Bane.”

Magnus quirked an eyebrow at that. Couldn’t take his eyes off Alec lying there, legs spread as he worked himself over. “What if the gentleman wants to see you naked, Mr. Lightwood?”

Alec sat up and moved to the edge of the bed, just far enough to drop his last two pieces of clothing to the floor. And that view…. Magnus’ ached with a hunger that had nothing to do with their delayed meal.

“I’ve shown you mine, you show me yours. Someone once made a similar deal with me.” Alec bit at his lip and beckoned for Magnus. “So why don’t you let me take those off?”

Magnus stepped between the v of Alec’s open legs and Alec placed a soft kiss on each hipbone, fingers delving below the waistband and shedding Magnus’ briefs in a slow, deliberate slide of calloused fingers across Magnus’ skin.

Alec kissed up his thighs, his beard leaving a delicious sting in its wake that made Magnus shiver and his hips pump up, seeking the heat of Alec’s mouth on him. “You’re killing me, Alexander.”

Alec chuckled and licked a swipe up Magnus’ balls, nose brushing against Magnus’ length in a sinful caress that had Magnus struggling for breath.

“Now who’s impatient?” Alec teased, then enveloped Magnus’ cock in his mouth without warning.

Magnus let loose an involuntary string of swear words and threaded his fingers through Alec’s hair, thrusting his cock deeper into Alec’s mouth. Alec took all of him in with a rumbling moan. Alec’s powerful hands slid up the back of Magnus’ thighs, cupping Magnus’ ass and digging his fingers in.

Magnus couldn’t think. Couldn’t breathe. Each swipe of Alec’s tongue sent shockwaves through his body that threatened to bring Magnus to his knees.

Alec gripped him tighter, held him up and rocked Magnus’ hips forward, Alec’s mouth pulling him closer and closer to the edge. Magnus clamped his eyes shut, couldn’t watch Alec’s lips spread wide around his dick or he was going to come. He drew back and his cock slipped out of Alec’s mouth with a wet pop.

Magnus pushed at Alec’s shoulder, guiding him to the bed. Alec spread his legs and Magnus draped himself over Alec with deliberate slowness. He ground down on Alec, rutting against him.

“I’ve taken a liking to this ‘in control’ side of you, Alexander,” he whispered in Alec’s ear. He popped the lube open and trickled it along Alec’s length. “But now I’m ready for you to lose control.”

Magnus took both of their cocks in his hand and stroked them together, Alec’s hips pumping up as he threw his head back.

“Just like that,” Magnus said roughly, biting his lip to keep from saying every lewd thought that passed through his head.

Alec pumped into his hand, breath hitching, and Magnus braced himself so he could stroke them both off. With each slick twist of his hand over their cocks, Alec let loose a moan that spurred Magnus on, until Alec was writhing beneath him, color high on his cheeks, gasping for breath.

Magnus leaned down to take Alec’s nipple in his mouth and Alec gasped.

“Fuck yes. Just like that, Magnus.”

His name on Alec’s lips sent a shot of desire through Magnus’ body that left him struggling for breath.

Alec shuddered, his fingers digging into Magnus’ thighs. The sounds of Alec’s ragged breathing and the slick suck of Magnus rubbing them off echoed in Magnus’ ears. The cords of Alec’s neck went tight, jaw clenching, as the roll of his hips became more erratic and he came, spilling over Magnus’ hand. Alec’s back bowed, tongue darting out to wet his lips, and Magnus could only think of what it had looked like to see his cock in Alec’s mouth before he was letting go too. His eyes clamped shut, toes curled, and Alec’s hand was warm around his balls, amplifying Magnus’ release until he was sure he was about to black out.

Magnus struggled to hold himself up, still hovering over Alec’s body, panting, sweating. His hand was a mess, his skin. He was wrecked.

And Alec…?

Alec looked just as debauched.

It was stunning.

“Let me clean you up,” Magnus offered as he gazed down at Alec, his breathing nowhere near under control.

Alec looked up at Magnus, grinning. “Kiss me first?”

Alec pulled him down—Magnus’ skin was overly sensitive, yet he still craved Alec’s touch—and Alec’s lips found his. A slow kiss of sated smiles.

“We’re making a mess of the bed I have to sleep in, Alexander.”

“Complaining?”

Magnus shook his head. Quite the contrary. “Loving the thought.”

Alec smiled against his lips.

Magnus kissed Alec’s jaw and down his neck, nipping at the red mark there before he reluctantly pulled away. “I’ll be right back.”

He trailed his lips down Alec’s chest then got up, heading for the bathroom. The mirror confirmed what he already knew—his hair was a mess, his necklaces tangled, and his makeup smeared. He looked as blissed out as he felt in every cell of his body. He cleaned himself with the warming water and waited it for it to be hot before soaking a washcloth for Alec.

He took in every inch of Alec as he entered the bedroom—the gleam of sweat on his skin, his hair sticking up in all directions, the ruby sheen of his lips. He crawled onto the bed—recognizing with complete and utter satisfaction that Alec’s smile mirrored his own—and set to cleaning Alec up as Alec watched him through lowered lashes. He trailed kisses with each swipe of the cloth, earning sharpened, quick breaths from Alec with each press of his lips to Alec’s skin. When he was done he tossed the washcloth into the laundry basket and sat down at Alec’s side.

“You know,” Magnus mused, running a finger down Alec’s side. “I was under the impression that you never came the night before a game.”

Alec smirked. “Some superstitions are meant to be broken. And I’ve picked up a few new ones since meeting you.”

He’d noticed. Magnus touched the bracelet on Alec’s wrist. “Do you wear this all the time?”

Alec urged Magnus down next to him, kissing Magnus’ head when Magnus was curled up next to him. “I only take it off for games.”

Magnus rested his chin on Alec’s chest and gazed up at him.

Fuck, he was so in love with Alec it hurt.

With the intensity with which Alec was looking at him now—and had been all night—he had to believe Alec’s thoughts were straying close to that line as well.

“You have to be starving by now,” Alec said.

“It was worth the wait.” Magnus kissed Alec’s chest. “I’ll go get the food. Stay here.”

Magnus stood and swiped Alec’s shirt off the floor, shrugging it over his shoulders and rolling up the sleeves. “I suppose, at the very least, I should cover up the parts reserved only for you. Just in case I run into any neighbors in the hallway.”

Alec’s beard wasn’t thick enough to cover the blush that followed.

Magnus was intrigued. “That is one of the least lewd things I’ve said tonight. Why this brilliant shade of pink?”

“Nothing,” Alec said in a rush.

Magnus quirked an eyebrow.

“You wearing my clothes is way too fucking hot,” Alec relented, sitting up. “Come here.”

Alec fisted his hands in the shirt when Magnus was close enough, and dragged Magnus to him, crushing their lips together again.

“Okay, you can go now,” Alec said when he pulled back. Magnus started to stand again, but Alec was already yanking him back into another kiss, laughing. “Okay, now.”

Magnus couldn’t resist giving Alec one more chaste kiss before he stood.

Just as promised, the food was outside the door—as was his suitcase and jacket. Both of which he’d completely forgotten about in the rush to get here. Magnus swiped up everything and maneuvered his way back into the bedroom. Alec had stripped off the duvet and was wearing only his boxer briefs, sitting up, waiting for Magnus.

And that was a view that would have sold every bottle of overpriced vitamin water Gallant could pump out, but Magnus was more than happy to keep it to himself.

Magnus dropped his suitcase and jacket at the end of the bed, set the food down on the sheets, and crawled onto the bed next to Alec.

Rosa had thought of everything. There was silverware and a bottle of wine, with an opener. Two plastic glasses, and cloth napkins that Magnus laid out across the sheets. Alec started unpacking the food quietly, stealing glances every now and then at Magnus.

Dinner was divine—if a bit messy to be eating in bed—but not nearly as divine as the Angel who kept one part of his body always touching Magnus as they ate quietly. It should have been a perfect moment, but as the minutes ticked by, Alec’s brow began to furrow.

“Thinking about the game tomorrow?” Magnus tried.

Alec shook his head. Didn’t say anything else.

“About us?” Magnus pressed.

Alec nodded and took a drink from his cup.

Magnus set down his fork and tried to tamp down the worry that made his stomach clench. “What about?”

“Tonight was…. Fuck.” Alec frowned. “Tonight was great, Magnus. What I’ve been waiting for for so long, and I want more….”

Magnus knew what word came next. “But?”

Alec lifted his eyes to Magnus. “But what does this mean for our working relationship?”

Magnus released a relieved sigh. That worry he could work with. “Even with tonight’s events, I’m confident in my ability to be able to do my job. I want to remain your agent for now so I can help protect you. But that decision is ultimately up to you, Alexander.”

“I trust you,” Alec said adamantly. “I don’t want anyone else.”

“Okay,” Magnus agreed without hesitation.

Alec set his wine on the nightstand. “But what if Imogen asks?”

How he planned to handle his boss was something he’d been thinking about since stepping foot on the plane in Texas. But now, he found, the answer was easy.

“Someone once told me I say a lot, but give nothing away. That skill may come in useful.”

Alec’s frown deepened. “You’re going to lie to her.”

Yes, he was. There was no other choice now. “I’m going to protect you—whatever that takes.”

“Magnus—”

“It’s okay, Alexander. I made my choice the second I let you in my door that first night we spent together.”

“I’m worried—”

Magnus silenced him with a soft kiss. “None of that in here.” They’d have plenty of time to worry later. Magnus gestured between them. “This is all that matters right now.”

“Okay.”

Alec entwined their fingers together, lifting Magnus’ hand to kiss the back.

“Do you know what the beauty of queer sex is?” Magnus asked with a smug smile.

Alec returned the smirk. “I think I have a few ideas.”

Magnus grinned. If tonight had proved anything, it was that Alec definitely wasn’t short on ideas. “What we just did wouldn’t technically be considered sex by many straight people since there wasn’t any penetration.”

“I, uh….” Alec scratched the back of his neck with his free hand. “That. I’d like to try that, eventually, too.”

“We can do all of it. Every idea you’ve had swirling in your head.”

Alec bit at his lip. “Which head?”

Magnus couldn’t hold back laughter. “I enjoy this side of you very much.”

Alec wiped his hands with the napkin and glanced at the clock. “It’s after ten. I need to get dressed and get back to the hotel.”

Magnus hated hockey and curfews in that moment. He hated time. All he wanted to do was fall into bed with Alec next to him. To wake up next to him.

But tonight wouldn’t be that night.

“Let me dress and ride with you to the hotel. I want to take every moment I can with you.”

 

****

 

Alec gripped Magnus’ hand tighter and led him through the elevator door into the underground parking lot. Rosa and Carter were waiting by the car, hovering over Rosa’s phone. Alec frowned. He was doing too much of that in the last few minutes for a night that had been even more than he’d expected.

“Something wrong?” he asked as they approached the car.

Rosa held up her phone to show them the picture on her screen. “There’s currently a group of fans waiting outside the Omni.”

Alec couldn’t make sense of the sheer number of people in the photo. “What the hell are all those people doing there?”

“They’re there for you,” Rosa said. She clicked off the picture and looked at Alec. “One of your fans saw you leaving the hotel tonight and put the info out on Twitter. They’ve been waiting for you to get back.”

He glanced at Magnus—his heart thumping madly—and Magnus squeezed his hand.

“You’re sure it was a fan?” Alec asked. He couldn’t filter the fear out of his voice.

“As far as I can tell, it was.” Rosa stitched her eyebrows together, her eyes bouncing between he and Magnus. “Is there a problem?”

Alec shook his head. Only time would tell if it actually was a fan, or if someone else was using the fans to try to out Alec.

“What is security doing to mitigate the risk?” Magnus asked, his professional tone kicking in.

“Security can only keep them off hotel property,” Rosa answered, “but any public spaces like sidewalks or alleys are fair game unless the city steps in. I’ve been advised to take Alec to the back entrance of the hotel. There’s people there too, but they’ve assured me they have enough staff to handle Alec’s arrival.”

Alec knew what that meant. “So there’s a good chance if Magnus comes with me, they’ll see him?”

Rosa nodded.

Magnus put on a smile that Alec knew was forced. “I suppose this is where I say goodnight, then.”

Alec took a deep breath and looked to Rosa. “Could you give us a minute?”

Rosa nodded, climbing into the front seat, while Carter turned her back to them and waited by the car.

This wasn’t how he’d intended to leave Magnus tonight. He didn’t want to leave him at all.

Alec sighed. “We say goodnight to each other too much.”

“Which would be fine, if it was followed hours later by good morning,” Magnus said. “We’ll do that soon. Don’t worry.”

Alec leaned down, putting his forehead to Magnus’, resting his hand at the small of Magnus’ back to pull him close.

“Go, Alexander. You can’t be late.”

Alec placed one last kiss on Magnus’ lips. “I’ll see you back in New York.”

Carter held the door open and Alec slipped inside, unable to take his eyes off Magnus until he disappeared into the elevator. When the door was shut, he dropped his head against the headrest and closed his eyes, sighing.

He and Raj had spent most of their time off campus in Alec’s car, seeking private places just to get off. They’d never really gone out.

This was the only real date he’d ever gone on.

And it had to end like this.

He thought about sending Magnus something, tried to figure out what the right gift would be to say I’m sorry I’m such a fucking coward. Something that would say I love you, because Alec was too terrified to say those words out loud.

How could he risk putting those words out there at all in this situation?

Alec had pushed them to this point. He’d been the one to show up at Magnus’ door, asking for their relationship to change. He’d been the one to ask Magnus to come here. It was because of him that they’d had to be hidden away tonight where no one would see them together. He wasn’t out and it was affecting Magnus.

His closet door was open now, but he’d dragged Magnus inside.

Alec’s stomach rolled.

“Rosa?” She twisted around in the front seat, and Alec leaned forward. “Can you make sure that Magnus gets croissants and jam tomorrow morning before he goes to the airport? And a cup of green tea, with honey and lemon.” He smiled, but knew it was as thin and vulnerable as he felt. “With a shot of whiskey on the side, please.”

“Of course. I’ll have Carter bring him to one of my favorite bakeries on the way to the airport, they’ll take good care of him.”

Alec swallowed against the ache in his chest. It wasn’t nearly enough of an effort, but it was a start. “Thank you.”

De nada.” Rosa tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “What can I do for you?”

Alec ran his fingers through his hair. He knew it wasn’t possible, but…. “Any way to avoid the fans completely?”

“You don’t have to stop and talk to any of the fans if you don’t want to, but there are going to be pictures of you. We can’t stop that.”

Alec nodded. He wasn’t in the headspace for this, but he could get there. “It’s okay. I’ll talk to them. Sign a few autographs.”

“I’ll let security know.” Rosa cleared her throat, eyes dipping discretely lower. “You may want to button up too.”

Alec glanced down, realizing the top buttons on his shirt were undone and knew—without being able to see the mark—exactly what that showed off. “Fuck.” Rosa was restraining a smile, and Alec let out a nervous chuckle. “This is not the way I expected the night to end.”

Rosa shook her head, mumbling under her breath. “Twitter es de los más gacho.”

It was slightly different wording than Izzy would use, but Alec got the gist. He huffed and buttoned his shirt all the way. “Fucking Twitter is right.”

 

****

 

Magnus scowled and dropped onto the bed, now stripped of all its linens.

He’d known he wouldn’t be able to spend the night with Alec, but it didn’t change how much he still wanted Alec here.

By now, Alec would be arriving at the hotel. His stomach clenched as he thought about Alec heading into a stressful situation alone.

Magnus wanted to be there with Alec. He wanted to not have to hide. But here he was, across town from Alec, in some stranger’s loft. Doing laundry because the protective side of him said there couldn’t be any sign of Alec being here tonight. Stuffing away containers of food and half-drunk wine glasses and dropping them down the garbage chute so there was no chance of anyone piecing together that there had been two people eating dinner.

He’d just had sex with the man he was in love with, and he was systematically erasing the night as if it had never happened.

Magnus sagged onto the mattress and reached for his phone from the nightstand. Perhaps the situation wouldn’t seem as dismal if someone could put it in perspective for him. The list of people whom he both trusted and were aware of the delicate situation with Alec was pitifully short.

If Ragnor deemed to answer Magnus’ call, he would be too pragmatic and ornery. Catarina would likely pick up right away, but be too empathetic and compassionate. Clary would be able to listen to him, and could straddle the line between his polar opposite friends, but Magnus was her boss and had obfuscated where he was going today.

Alec didn’t want Izzy to know Magnus had come here until Alec could talk to her himself, so that ruled out both her and Max. Tessa was a possibility, but she was so embedded in the dynamics of Alec’s superstitions that she likely wasn’t the right choice either. Jocelyn would listen. But she would have advice—she always did. Magnus wasn’t seeking someone to tell him what he did or didn’t need to do. He scrolled through his contacts, reaching nearly the bottom of the list….

Was he seriously considering calling Simon?

Magnus tossed his cell phone to the bed, putting his head in his hands.

If he was going to sulk alone, he may as well do it in a hot shower. Maybe then he’d be able to sleep. He pushed off the bed and rummaged through his suitcase for his toiletry bag, coming across the copy of Tarasov’s book that Magnus had carried with him for weeks now. He’d been reading it slowly, trying to understand how Tarasov’s words had shaped who Alec was today. He swore under his breath, closed the suitcase and headed for the bathroom.

He froze halfway there when it hit him….

Will and Jem. Two men who slid in and out of their own self-imposed closets on a daily basis, because the world wasn’t always a kind place to those who loved more than one person.

Will’s personality was much too similar to his own for Magnus to gain any new insight from him.

But Jem…?

He’d never been as close to Jem as he was to Will, but that was mostly because Jem never imposed himself on anyone. Then there was the fact that he and Jem were both bisexual men, who now had a shared experience. Jem had been desperately in love with both Tessa and Will the first time the three of them had fallen into bed together—to be fair, Will had been too—but Jem had been out and Will hadn’t been.

Magnus glanced at the clock. Despite the late hour, he guessed he’d find Jem still awake. He picked up his phone again. Do you have time to talk? I need a sounding board

On par with what I’m doing right now. Give me a minute

That meant Jem was in the studio, as usual. Likely with Will. They were musical collaborators. Partners. Just not the kind anyone outside of their inner circle thought. And it had taken them years to come to the right balance for that to work.

Why hadn’t he thought of that before this?

Magnus settled onto the couch just as Jem was calling him. “I thought I’d find you awake,” Magnus greeted him.

“I should’ve been asleep an hour ago,” Jem grumbled. “Then Will jumped out of bed like a madman and threw my violin at me. I had no choice but to first protect Tessa’s face, second my instrument, then follow him.”

Magnus could picture that scene way too easily. “It sounds like a normal evening to me.”

Jem laughed. “Unfortunately so. Tessa’s curled up on the couch in the studio now. She had the evening off and wanted a quiet night in with the three of us, but then, well…. Will happened. The new couch we got for her seems to be good, though. Somehow, she’s sleeping soundly regardless of Will’s determination to prove the piano is most definitely a percussion instrument.”

Magnus chuckled. “The two of you take good care of her.”

“Tessa has many men watching over her—including you—and she needs none of us. We’re lucky she keeps us around.”

“Agreed.”

Jem was quiet for a moment, then, “It’s good to hear your voice, Magnus.”

Coming from someone else, the change of topic could have been a platitude or a veiled guilt trip. But this was Jem’s unobtrusive way of shifting the direction of the conversation to Magnus’ control.

Magnus curled his legs under him. “I didn’t seek to distract you, or derail any magical composition you and Will are bringing to life, but since it appears I’ve already done both, I’ll get to the reason for my call.”

“Will would probably say something about your existence in and of itself being a distraction to the world, but I have much stronger powers of concentration. Please. Go ahead.”

“Alec and I had sex tonight. For the first time.”

Magnus stared out the windows at the downtown lights as he waited for Jem to piece together everything Magnus had implied with those two simple sentences.

“He’s still not out, right?”

“He’s not,” Magnus confirmed. “I’m currently in a rented apartment across town from him, because the team has a strict curfew on nights before games. I don’t fly out until the morning, but I won’t see him again until we’re both back in New York.”

“You miss him already,” Jem stated.

“I do.”

“And yet, you’re hurt.”

He didn’t want to be, but the truth was, “I am.”

“Tell me about him,” Jem said in a voice scratched with the pain of old memories. “About what you miss.”

Magnus inhaled a shuddering breath. He remembered Tessa talking about the nights when Will would take off, too proud to admit he was scared. About how she would hold Jem, and remind him of all the things Will did that showed how much he loved them both. How those reminders helped to bridge the gap they’d attempted to blindly jump when they moved from friends to lovers.

How Tessa had worked to convince Jem that Will needed the time separate from Jem because his world had been inverted—but that didn’t mean Will loved him any less.

“Will is still clattering away on the piano,” Jem said after a moment. “So I probably have all night, even if you just want to sit in silence.”

“No,” Magnus answered. He could have quiet on his own. He’d sought out Jem because he needed someone not who could just listen, but could also understand. He was hurting, but that pain stemmed from a mere fraction of the time he’d spent with Alec tonight. There was so much good between he and Alec, and that’s what he needed to remember tonight. “I’d love to tell you about Alexander.”

 

****

 

Alec’s cell pinged with a text from Jace as they turned the corner toward the hotel. On your way back yet? You saw what’s happening right?

Yeah, he typed back. Looks like a lot of people in the pictures. How is it really?

Emil and Bat are at the front with a few of the younger guys. Having way too much fun. Back entrance doesn’t look too bad from up here

Alec furrowed his brow. An impromptu fan event like that was usually Jace’s scene. Why aren’t you down there?

Self preservation

Great. Good job keeping me calm, Captain

You know coach wouldn’t allow it to happen if it really was out of control

Alec hadn’t even thought of that. His nervousness ticked down a notch.

The car came to a stop, the distinctive three towers of the Omni and a group of at least twenty people closing in around him. He could do this. He’d dealt with much bigger crowds before.

Alec took a deep breath and glanced at this cell. “I only have ten minutes to curfew.”

Rosa nodded. “We’ll limit the time you’re out there. Stay here until I open the door.”

Rosa met hotel security, leaning in to speak to them so no one else could hear. The staff cleared as much of a path as they could and Rosa confidently strode up to his door.

Alec ran his hand through his hair one more time and emerged. He grabbed the first photograph offered to him—realizing too late that he didn’t even have a pen, but then Rosa was at his side again, pressing a Sharpie into his hand. Every flash that went off made him wonder what the lens was capturing. What details of how he’d spent his night that he may be giving away that he didn’t even realize were there.

Whether or not one of these people had been sent here by Sebastian.

But he didn’t even have time for his worry to take hold. He was only outside for a few minutes before hotel security was announcing Alec was done and pushing him toward the door.

Alec glanced over his shoulder seeking out Rosa, but she was already getting into the car. So the first thing he did when he was in the quiet of a hotel storeroom was to send off a text to Rosa to thank her. The head of security introduced himself, and Alec spent another few minutes signing autographs for the entire team as a thank you before he made his way to the elevators. Of course, Garroway was waiting in the lobby.

Garroway glanced at his watch. “You want to join the other guys out front before I drag them back in here?”

Alec couldn’t tell whether Garroway was serious or giving him shit. Didn’t matter either way, though. “No thank you, Coach. I’m, uh— I’m done for the night.”

Garroway narrowed his eyes, the hint of a smirk on his lips and his voice dropping low, authoritative. “Get some sleep, Lightwood.”

Alec nodded. “Night, Coach.”

Alec took the elevators up and trudged into his hotel room to find Jace pacing, his phone in his hand. “Alec is back. I’ll text you tomorrow, okay?”

The speakerphone was muffled as Jace turned away from him, but Alec thought he heard a familiar voice saying goodbye.

Alec kicked off his shoes. “Lydia?”

Jace’s lips were tugged down as he turned toward Alec again. “Yeah…. And Clary. They went out after their kickboxing class.”

There was a part of him that knew he should be worried about making sure Jace hadn’t slipped up and told Clary where he’d been tonight, but there was only so much he could worry about. “Everything good with them?”

“Um, yeah.” He dumped his cell on the bed and plopped down next to it. “How was your night?”

Alec surveyed their hotel room, a sense of surrealism passing through him. The TV was running, Jace’s side of the room was a disaster of room service trays, clothes and a rumpled bed, while Alec’s half was clean, organized, pristine. Everything was just like any other night on the road before a game, except it wasn’t.

Alec unbuttoned his dress shirt and went for his suitcase. He could only think of one way to summarize the past four hours. “The best and worst night of my life.”

“Everything good with you and Magnus?”

Alec smiled sadly, then brought his features under control as he peered over his shoulder at Jace. “He’s…. He’s amazing.”

Alec needed to take a shower, but he couldn’t bear to think about washing the scent of Magnus’ cologne off him.

There was so little he had to hold onto to prove that tonight had been real.

He stripped his shirt off and tossed it in the corner instead of hanging it up, then dropped his suit pants into a heap on the floor and kicked them out of the way. He was making a mess of his life, why not his surroundings too?

Jace nodded. “But?”

“But I left him in some random loft across town like he’s a dirty secret,” Alec bit out. He tugged at the hair at the back of his neck. “I’m going to fuck this up, Jace. I already am.”

Jace clenched his jaw as he got to his feet. “Did he say something to you?”

Alec shook his head, unsurprised at Jace’s protective reaction, but wanting to protect Magnus with just as much force. “No. Of course not. He’s willing to do whatever it takes.”

Jace’s brotherly rage calmed down immediately.

“Good. Then let him.” Jace sauntered over to Alec’s shirt and pants, picking them up, and placing them on two hangers that he offered to Alec.

Alec accepted the hangers from Jace’s hands, unsure what to say.

“So, um….” Jace’s signature smirk stretched across his face as he gestured in the direction of Alec’s chest. “You got laid, huh?”

Alec’s cheeks went supernova. A lot of the night was still a blur that he was trying to process, but that was one thing he knew for sure. The thought of just how good the night had been, up until thirty minutes ago, brought a grin to his face that he knew Jace would pounce on as confirmation.

“I would give you a high five, but since there’s glitter in your beard I’m pretty sure I know where your hands have been.”

“Shut up, Jace,” Alec groaned. He tracked around him to hang his clothes in the closet.

“Personally, I can’t wait to see how this improves your game tomorrow. You know, since you finally took my advice.”

Alec huffed out a gruff ‘good night’ to Jace and sprawled out on his bed, burying his head under a pillow.

Screw taking a shower. Even if he couldn’t spend the night with Magnus, maybe this way he’d still wake up with glitter on his sheets.

 

****

 

Magnus woke suddenly to someone pounding on the door and was barely able to blink his eyes open. He’d ended up talking to Jem much longer than he’d intended to. At least the end result had been him being able to fall into a deep, restful sleep—he squinted at the alarm clock next to the bed—which was now being interrupted at an ungodly hour. The rude, insistent knock echoed through the loft again.

Magnus yanked on a pair of pants and threw the door open to find a sweaty Angels’ left-winger in the hallway, smirking.

Magnus glared as ferociously as he could at Jace for the early hour. “In the interest of preserving our blossoming business relationship, I won’t raise my voice. A courtesy you may want to return by succinctly explaining to me why you’re attempting to bludgeon down my door before even the sun has the gall to rise.”

“I can’t fucking believe I’m awake at this time either,” Jace replied. “Brush your teeth, get dressed fast, pack your stuff, and come with me.”

“Exactly where are you absconding me to?”

Jace hitched a thumb over his shoulder. “Back to my hotel.”

“Mr. Wayland,” Magnus huffed. “I realize that the events of last night—and my current state of undress—may give the impression that I cater in special ways to top clients, but that is certainly not the case.”

Jace rolled his eyes. “Give it a rest, Magnus. You’re about to be my agent and you’re Alec’s too. Showing up at our hotel for a meeting before we go to the arena wouldn’t be unusual.”

Magnus paused. Took in what Jace was saying. “Did Alexander ask you to come here?”

“Alec is still asleep. He hated that you were here and he couldn’t stay with you.”

But if Alec was still asleep, “How did you know where I was?”

“Alec should really change the passcode on his phone to something other than ‘Bane.’”

Magnus didn’t bother to hide his affection for that revelation. “Give me five minutes.”

He didn’t like being rushed in the mornings, but seeing Alec one last time would be worth it. He couldn’t move past the hurt that accompanied the circumstances he and Alec had to operate under, but Jem had reminded him that all of this was temporary. That they needed time apart to work through their emotions, as well as time together to remind each other that the pain meant there was something worth fighting for.

Of course he wanted to see Alec. He missed him.

He held the door open just long enough for Jace to enter the loft, then darted for the bathroom.

“Are there any surfaces in here that are safe for me to sit on?” Jace yelled from the main room.

Magnus paused in the middle of washing his face to give the cheeky answer Jace was begging for. “I believe one of the dining room chairs was left untouched, but I can’t recall which one.”

Jace stood looking out the windows, his arms crossed, when Magnus emerged five minutes later. Magnus bit back a smile—after all, Jace had come here of his own free will and for the benefit of he and Alec. “Are you ready?”

Jace faced him. “I got us an Uber back to the hotel. It’s downstairs already.”

Their Uber was a nearly ancient gold Prius that smelled of Camel cigarettes and years of perspiration, driven by man named Dexter that Magnus eyed suspiciously, but Magnus couldn’t find the will to complain out loud. Jace, playing the part of incognito sports star to a tee, pulled his cap low over his eyes and spent the entire ride scrolling through his phone. Magnus couldn’t even complain about that.

Jace was taking him to see Alexander.

They crossed over the river and into the downtown with almost no other cars on the road. The scene in front of the hotel was vastly different than the picture Rosa had showed them last night. Despite the entrance and lobby being free of anyone else besides a desk clerk, Magnus pulled Jace aside as they neared the elevators. “You’re sure this okay?”

“Even if it wasn’t, I’d still be doing it.” Jace jabbed the button to call the elevator. “But yeah, you’re fine.”

Magnus waited for the doors to close before he spoke again. “How was he last night?”

Jace crossed his arms and kept his gaze on the numbers ticking up as the elevator ascended. “I brought you here, didn’t I?”

That…. That wasn’t an answer at all. Magnus scowled.

“Neither you nor Alexander are morning people,” Magnus observed.

“Nope,” Jace popped out, and exited the elevator when the doors opened. Magnus had no choice but to follow…. And ponder if Alec would have any warmer of a greeting.

Jace slipped a key card out of his pocket, and held the door open for Magnus. But before Magnus could really get inside, Jace stopped him. “I’m going to take a shower. Just—” Jace leveled him with an exasperated gaze. “Try not to make a lot of noise, okay?”

Magnus merely smiled serenely.

“Whatever,” Jace dismissed, disappearing into the bathroom.

Magnus shut the door with a quiet click, left his suitcase by the closet, and made his way into the room. Alec was enshrouded by the hotel duvet, one leg kicked out of the sheets, only his face visible with the blanket swirled around his shoulders, a pillow half-covering his head.

Magnus crouched down by the side of the bed, his heart fluttering at the, frankly, adorable sight.

Alec looked so…peaceful. Magnus couldn’t bear to wake him up.

As if he knew Magnus was there, Alec’s eyes fluttered open, a slow smile spreading across his face as he took in Magnus. “Hey.”

Magnus sat down on the floor and rested his back on Jace’s bed. “Good morning, Alexander.”

“I like the sound of that much more than goodnight,” Alec mumbled sleepily, the last few words jumbled with a yawn.

“This morning would be much more delightful if I was naked as it appears you are.”

Alec lifted the edge of the comforter, providing Magnus with more than a hint of how little clothing Alec slept in. “Crawl in.”

Magnus stood, removed his suit jacket and shoes, and climbed into bed with Alec. He settled his back against Alec’s chest and Alec dropped an arm over him, dragging him closer.

Alec buried his head into the crook of Magnus’ neck and planted a soft kiss on his skin. “This is better.”

Magnus entwined his fingers with Alec’s and relaxed into Alec’s hold on him. “It is.”

“You have time to have breakfast with me?”

“I always have time for you, Alexander.”

Alec tightened his hold on Magnus, nearly crushing all of the oxygen out of Magnus’ lungs, but even if he’d had the lung capacity he wouldn’t have protested.

Then Alec was urging Magnus onto his back as Alec propped himself over Magnus. Alec’s lips pulled into a slow smile. “Hey.”

“You said that already,” Magnus noted.

“I know, but I was still half-asleep. Wasn’t sure if I was dreaming.”

“So you’re saying I make a regular appearance in your dreams?”

“You are way too witty for it being….”—Alec glanced at the clock—“Shit. It’s not even six am.”

“A fact I am well aware of. Both the time and the fact that you haven’t kissed me yet.”

“I haven’t even brushed my teeth.”

Magnus smirked. “Lucky for you, I know exactly where your mouth was last night.”

A delicate blush fell over Alec’s cheeks and he leaned down to kiss Magnus—once, and with just a hint of open lips—that made Magnus’ head spin in a lovely way. The lingering hurt of spending last night alone dispersed a bit more.

“Not that I’m complaining, at all,” Alec said, “but how did you get in here?”

“Your partner in crime tracked me down and made me an offer I couldn’t have denied. He’s in the shower—”

Magnus’ reply was cut short by a screeching thump of music.

“What the hell is that?” Alec groaned, falling back to the bed and covering his head with the duvet.

Magnus turned his head and found Alec’s cell—charging on the hotel nightstand. Magnus broke out into a guffaw when he realized the song was GDFR and Alec’s phone was definitely the source. “Your cell. This is your ringtone?”

“What? No,” Alec grumbled, peeking his head and one hand out of the covers. “Give it to me.”

By the time Magnus had handed it over the music had stopped.

Alec took the phone and jabbed at the screen. “That was Jace calling. What the fuck?”

Magnus held back a laugh this time. Barely. “Are you quite sure your phone is secure?”

“My fucking ringtone is set to this song,” Alec griped, then must have realized what Magnus had just said, because his eyes went wide. “Jace.”

“Apparently, you need to change your passcode to something other than a quite uncommon last name.”

A brilliant red raised on Alec’s cheeks, and the song started again. Alec picked up the call on speakerphone. “You’re an asshole.”

“I’m coming out of the bathroom in two minutes,” Jace said on the other end of the line. “Stop whatever you’re doing.”

“Magnus is still fully clothed.”

“That doesn’t change anything about my request.”

Alec huffed. “We were just talking about ordering breakfast, Jace.”

“Order me the usual, then.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Alec disconnected the call and sighed.

Alec was endearingly annoyed, and Jace’s song choice had been flawlessly appropriate. Magnus was thoroughly enjoying the start to his day, despite the early hour.

Magnus gestured to the red mark at the base of Alec’s throat. “So…. It’s going down for real?”

But Alec wasn’t looking at him. His brow was scrunched together in concentration as he punctuated jabs of his finger to the screen with more sighs.

“Shit. I’m too tired to decide what to change this to.” Alec handed his cell to Magnus. “Help, please.”

Magnus resisted the urge to make as equally memorable of a song choice, and set Alec’s ringer to the default instead—noting with complete glee that Alec’s background picture was of he, Max, and Alec at the bar the night after the Angels’ first round win.

“There you go,” Magnus said, setting Alec’s cell on the nightstand again. “You’ve been de-Flo Rida-fied.”

Alec chuckled then. “Thank you. Now, what do you want?”

“You.”

Alec gave a lop-sided smile. “For breakfast, Magnus.”

Magnus skimmed his hand down Alec’s side. “Sausage? But I suppose that’s not on your game day diet until shower time.”

Alec rolled his eyes. “I’m getting a vegetarian omelet.”

“Make it two.”

Alec slid out of bed and crossed the room to the hotel phone. Magnus leered at the view of Alec in his boxer briefs—hand on one hip, the other holding the phone, his biceps bulging, as he spoke to the kitchen in a morning rough voice that had all of Magnus’ nerves on high alert in an instant.

Jace experimentally poked his head out the bathroom door, and immediately caught where Magnus’ gaze was. “Shit. I knew I didn’t stay in there long enough.”

Magnus gave him an overly dramatic eye roll, and got out of Alec’s bed. “Do you mind if I use the bathroom? I was a bit rushed this morning.”

“All yours.”

He stole one more glance at Alec as he grabbed his suitcase. While he could appreciate Alec’s physicality, Alec’s unguarded contentment at having Magnus here chased the rest of the hurt away.

This wouldn’t be an easy path for either of them—and it was inevitable that there was more pain to come—but his conversation with Jem had only solidified one thing.

Alec was most definitely worth fighting for.

 

****

 

Alec pulled on his sweatpants and glanced at the bathroom door to make sure it was still closed before facing Jace. “Thank you.”

Jace pointed an accusing finger at him. “You called me an asshole.”

“Which you totally deserved,” Alec retorted. He opened up his texts and sent off a message to Rosa to let her know she and Carter didn’t need to pick Magnus up, then refocused on Jace. “I’m guessing since I didn’t already have that song on my phone that I’m also going to have a charge from iTunes on my credit card next month?”

“Yep,” Jace said with no shame. “You needed to expand your musical horizons, anyway.”

Alec took an Angels t-shirt out of his suitcase and pulled it on. “Sick of Linkin Park?”

“I’m beginning to think you have a thing for Chester Bennington.”

Alec shook his head. “Mike Shinoda.”

Jace snorted, dropping into the desk chair. “That makes so much sense.”

Magnus had said he had a preference for dark hair and soulful eyes. Despite Alec’s long ago dismissed crush on Jace, Alec’s preferences skewed in that direction too. He may not have liked Magnus when he’d first met him, but he’d still recognized how attractive he was.

Alec sat down on the end of Jace’s bed. “You know the first time I met Magnus I was at that cologne photo shoot—and I hated him so much that all I could think about was you on the blue line shooting pucks at his too-pretty face?”

“That’s fucked up, bro,” Jace replied.

Alec couldn’t argue that. “I was such an idiot.”

“You were going through a tough time,” Jace allowed.

“Still am.” Alec furrowed his brow. “It’s just…different now.”

He’d taken his support system for granted then. Been too detached from the world around him. Too detached from himself.

Accepting Magnus into his life had changed all of that.

Jace grabbed his cell off the desk and twisted it in his hands. “You and Magnus…. It’s good.”

“Is that a question?”

“Nope.”

Alec smiled. He didn’t need Jace’s approval, yet it meant everything to him. “Yeah. It is good.”

There was a knock on the door and Jace stood, cuffing Alec on the side of the head as he walked by. “Then I’ll help you not fuck it up.”

Alec scoffed as Jace let room service in.

Jace pushed the cart into the room and Alec stood to pull it the rest of the way inside. Jace signed off on the bill and flipped the security lock between the jamb and door, leaving the door cracked open. It was the same ritual every morning they were on the road. Jace wanted to make sure that everyone on the team knew they could come talk to him if they wanted to.

But to Alec, that open door always signaled the end of being able to say whatever he wanted to Jace.

Magnus may have been here, but from this point on Alec would be focused on hockey. He cracked his neck and flipped the coffee cups, pouring the steaming liquid into all three.

Black for Jace.

Black with sugar for him.

And that third cup, only three-quarters full so Alec could fit in all the cream and sugar Magnus loved.

“Breakfast is here, Magnus,” Jace said as he passed by the bathroom. He swiped his coffee cup off the cart and dropped into this seat again. “So tell me your thoughts on getting past Aldertree.”

There were three plates on the room service cart. Magnus was in his hotel room. And Jace was talking strategy just like it was any other morning before a game.

It wasn’t fully integrating the two halves of his life, but it was closer, at least.

Alec smiled and picked up his cup.

Maybe, just maybe, he was starting to see more than hints of what his future would look like.

 

****

 

Magnus checked over his eye makeup one more time, then zipped up his suitcase and headed into the room.

Jace was at the desk hunched over a plate, and Alec was seated at the end of Jace’s bed. Magnus sat down next to him and Alec pulled the cover off Magnus’ plate as he continued to talk to Jace about strategy for the game.

Alec didn’t make any overtly flirtatious moves, and Magnus respected the boundaries he was setting up. Both Alec and Jace drew him into the conversation, explaining slang or plays so Magnus wasn’t as nearly as lost as he would be otherwise. Magnus was content to let the leaders of the Angels start their day the way they saw fit. It was a glimpse into Alec’s daily life that most agents, and no fans, ever saw.

Just as they were finishing up breakfast, and Alec was refilling Magnus’ cup of coffee, there was a knock at the door.

“Door’s open,” Jace called out.

Coach Garroway pushed inside, dressed in head to toe Angels’ warmup gear—similar to what he’d been wearing the first time Magnus had shown up at the Angels’ arena.

“Coach, this is Magnus Bane,” Jace introduced, getting to his feet. “Alec’s agent and, as of later today, he’ll be mine too.”

Magnus stood to shake Garroway’s hand, and could feel Alec coming to stand next to him. “We met at the arena.”

Coach Garroway shifted on his feet. “Actually, you know Jocelyn Fray, right?”

That was a name Magnus hadn’t expected to hear today, let alone coming from the mouth of a professional hockey coach. He glanced at Alec before answering. Alec looked as surprised as him. “I do. I assume from your intonation that you do as well.”

“We actually met. I mean you and I— Quite a few years ago now, at one of Jocelyn’s first shows.”

“My apologies for not remembering. Are you a friend of hers?”

Garroway frowned. “It’s— No.” He abruptly turned on his heel. “I need you both in the lobby in five. We’re heading over to the practice rink first. Good to see you again, Magnus.”

“Likewise.”

Jace threw his napkin on the tray and grabbed his duffel. “I’ll meet you downstairs, Alec. Good luck today, Magnus.”

“I don’t need it,” Magnus said with complete confidence.

Jace clapped him on the back. “I know you don’t.”

Once the door was shut behind Jace, Magnus turned and pulled Alec into his arms, kissing him softly.

“I’ll see you Friday night, right?” Alec asked.

Magnus nodded. He would be counting down the hours. “I’ll leave the door open for you.”

 

****

 

Alec took a swig of water and picked up his cell, taking a break from practice while Kyle spent some time in the net. Magnus’ flight had left an hour ago and he wouldn’t be back on the ground for another three hours or so, but Alec had seen notifications popping up on his lock screen from where his bag was behind the bench.

It had been days since he’d last checked in on the Puck Me group, but apparently almost everyone was online right now, the stream of notifications continuing to light up his screen. Curiosity got the better of him and Alec opened the app to catch up. He scrolled through the older messages and found where the discussion had started just a few minutes ago.

 

frayedknot: So who else just became one of Alec’s three hundred thousand Twitter followers?

lightwoodsaves: I can’t believe Alec stole my username

thislightwoodscores: *I* stole your username, Max. He needed something more marketable

lightwoodsaves: You owe me royalties!

thislightwoodscores: I’ll pay you in beer

lightwoodsaves: Done

badumtess: Alec, you on? I have rehearsals tonight so I can’t go see a play, but I’ll technically be on Broadway. I’m contemplating whether that’s enough or if I should get Will and Jem tickets to a show

 

He didn’t have any comment on his apparent rabid Twitter following, but Tessa deserved an answer.

 

mustacheyouaquestion: I’m here. You know this better than I do. I trust whatever you decide

 

Alec watched as discussion picked up, arguing both points and making plans for the night. Then….

 

badumtess: Wait, where’s Magnus in all of this? He always has opinions

 

“Lightwood, back out here in five,” Coach called from the other side of the ice.

Alec tipped up his chin to acknowledge his coach and typed out a quick reply.

 

mustacheyouaquestion: He’s on a plane

frayedknot: What? He should already be in LA…

 

Shit.

 

badumtess: He was at the airport when I talked to him yesterday. About to board his flight

frayedknot: I haven’t talked to him since then either. Alec, where is he?

 

Alec stared at his screen, trying to figure out how to answer that.

 

frayedknot: You know that it shows that you’re still online, right Alec?

lightwoodsaves: Oh shit. Technology fail, big brother

 

Fuck.

 

thislightwoodscores: I’m calling you now, Alec

hanyolo: Heads up. Izzy has her Black Widow stilettos on today

 

Alec clicked his screen off and threw his phone into his bag. He’d eventually have to answer to Izzy, but it didn’t matter if he talked to her now or later. He was screwed.

Alec felt a slow grin pulling at his lips at the thought. He was screwed. Had been screwed. Looked forward to much more screwing in the future.

It didn’t matter how much Izzy yelled at him. Asking Magnus to come here had been exactly what he needed. Izzy was going to have to find some way to deal with the reality that he and Magnus were together.

Because that wasn’t changing anytime soon.

 

****

 

Magnus sat in the lobby of Talented Entertainers & Athletes and tried not to look as uncomfortable as he was. Upon landing in LA, he’d received a text from Alec warning him that Izzy knew he’d been in Pittsburgh. And while he didn’t expect repercussions from that development that he couldn’t manage, it had left him on edge. Waiting a rude, inordinate amount of time to be escorted up to Jace’s agent’s office wasn’t helping.

He’d spent four hours in a torturous plane seat in coach because of his last-minute ticket change, one hour in another suspect Prius Uber with a ride as bone-jarring as a horse carriage, and now thirty minutes on a white plastic bench that he supposed was meant to complement their modern décor, but just made his ass hurt.

What the hell kind of name was Talented Entertainers & Athletes, anyway? Did they call themselves TEA? Or perhaps a very hipster TE&A with the ampersand freely flowing through the letters to showcase their creativity?

No wonder Jace wanted to leave this agency.

Magnus sniffed. Sneered. Crossed his legs and uncrossed them. Was about to storm the front desk and demand to be seen when a man with the overly orange skin of a spray tan approached him, sweat dripping down his forehead.

“Magnus Bane?”

Magnus had done his homework, this was definitely not Jace’s agent. “I am Magnus Bane.”

“I’m Ronald, TE&A’s legal counsel.” Ronald handed over his business card—complete with unnecessarily flowery punctuation—and gestured across the lobby. “Sorry to keep you waiting for so long. Let’s talk in a conference room.”

Magnus followed Ronald, his frustration sliding into wariness when they passed by the front desk and the people darting through the sea of cubicles were a frazzled mess.

Ronald waved him into a room and closed the door behind them, puffing into a chair.

Magnus hadn’t been invited to sit, but Ronald hadn’t offered a hand to shake either. Apparently their welcome committee needed a few lessons in grace and manners. Magnus twirled around the chair across from Ronald and took a seat anyway.

“I’ll get right to the point,” Ronald said, swiping his sleeve across his upper lip. “Jeremiah is no longer with the agency.”

Well, that put the disarray outside is slightly more cogent context. Occasionally agencies went through a mass turnover, especially if the agency was making a shift in priorities. “I assume this wasn’t a planned departure.”

Ronald sat back and sighed. “We were hoping this…scandal wasn’t going to hit the press, but it showed up on TMZ this morning. Now it’s being broadcast all over that he’d been having an affair with one of his married clients.”

Magnus blanched. Swallowed around the immediate lump in his throat.

“That is…unfortunate,” he scratched out.

Two days ago there could have been allegations leveled against Magnus for doing nearly the same thing with Alec—and he would’ve been able to deny them. He could’ve sat across from Imogen and looked her in the eye as he dispelled all rumor with the truth.

Now he couldn’t.

Just how much of a scandal was TE&A facing with this?

“Unfortunate?” Ronald blew out a gust of air as he chortled. “This is a clusterfuck.”

Magnus’ heart thumped, hands going cold and damp.

“Anyway,” Ronald continued, unaware of Magnus’ turmoil, “from what I know from his assistant, you were negotiating a move for Jace Wayland. I reviewed Mr. Wayland’s contract and there wasn’t anything we could do to keep him if he didn’t want to stay with us before this. But now? Our reputation is about to take a big hit. I’m assuming you came prepared to offer us something for the switch.”

Magnus struggled to adjust his thought process back to the reason for the meeting. He couldn’t think about Alec right now, he was here for Jace.

Jace Wayland. Alec’s best friend. A man who’d shown up at his door this morning to secret Magnus to their hotel because Magnus and Alec…. Alec wasn’t married, and yet, by the strict definition of the word, they were having an affair.

“I did,” Magnus finally managed, reaching with shaking hands for the file of papers he’d brought with him.

But Ronald waved them away. “I’ll accept whatever it is. We’ve got enough to worry about with current clients. This is going to be a public relations mess. I’m sorry you had to fly all the way out here for nothing.”

Magnus pushed the file across the table, ready to get this meeting over with. He had to get out of here. “If you can review and sign these documents for me, this trip will have been worth it.”

His head was swimming. Was this really happening?

“That shouldn’t be a problem.” Ronald opened the file, scanning over the first few pages. “I get the feeling this won’t be the last contract I’m signing over the next few days. A city full of fucking beautiful people, and this guy had to stick his dick in the wrong one.”

Magnus cringed at the man’s crudeness. He tried to swallow down the question sitting like a lump in his throat, but it was past his lips before he could stop it. “Was it a man or a woman? His client?”

“Woman, thank god. The entertainment industry may be able to handle a gay scandal, but sports?” Ronald punctuated his exasperation with a rather repulsive snort.

“Too much testosterone,” Magnus replied without thought. His voice sounded like it had come from someone else’s lips. It was too calm. Too detached.

“Politics and sports—the last safe havens for straight, white men in power.” Ronald surveyed Magnus. “No offense.”

A flood of adrenaline shot through Magnus’ veins. Anger took hold and snapped him back to full awareness. Magnus bristled. “Could I see those papers again?”

Ronald slid the file back to him and Magnus opened it, shredding each page one by one—the sound of each tear more satisfying than the last.

“What are you doing?” Ronald blubbered.

“You said it yourself,” Magnus callously bit out. “There’s nothing you can do to keep Jace Wayland with your agency. We won’t be paying you anything for the transfer.”

“But…. We had a gentleman’s agreement!”

Magnus stood, leaving the shredded papers on the table. “I believe it takes two gentlemen to make such a pact. I’ll see myself out.”

Magnus was trembling by the time he hit the lobby, barely able to keep his feet moving forward as he pushed through the doors and into the scorching sun and smog. He stumbled his way to a coffee shop on the corner and dropped onto one of the outdoor chairs, pulling out his phone. It took only one Google search for Magnus’ screen to be filled with articles.

Jace’s former agents’ career was over. TE&A was being slammed in the trade press. The female tennis star had already pulled out of her next tournament citing health reasons, and lost two of her major endorsements due to the morality clause….

This wasn’t like he and Alec, Magnus tried to convince himself. The woman was married. Everything he read pointed to it truly being an illicit affair and not a relationship.

But he and Alec weren’t exactly in any kind of formalized relationship, either.

And a gay man at the top of his sport being outed?

He’d intellectually known the ramifications of he and Alec becoming involved with each other. Had discussed the worst case scenario with Isabelle. With Alec himself. But seeing the destruction unfolding in front of him in real-time was…terrifying.

No, this scenario wasn’t anything like he and Alec.

If they were discovered, the fallout would be exponentially worse.

 

****

 

Night of Game Three

(Series tally - tied at once game each)

 

Magnus was on a plane heading back to New York, so their usual pre-game texts had been short and well before the game started. None of his family was in the arena. Yet Alec took to the ice with a smile on his lips when his game face was usually a grimace.

Santiago had had the honor of leading the team onto the ice tonight, but it was a crapshoot who it would be for the next game, because Garroway was sporting what could only be called a perma-grin.

The first line matched the furious pace of the Penguins and upped the ante by making their offensive push look almost effortless. All of the Angels had a lightness to their play tonight that reminded Alec of winter pick-up games on frozen ponds. Of the sheer, adrenaline-powered joy of hitting the ice with your best friends after school.

With less than a minute left in the second period, Jace skated past him, dimples in full effect. “Going for another shutout, huh?”

Alec couldn’t even chastise Jace for saying that out loud—the scoreboard spoke for itself. The Angels were up three to zero with one period left to play.

Jace winked at him. “You look like you took a load off last night.”

Alec chuckled and shook his head.

He’d gotten an earful from Izzy for Magnus flying into town, and Jace was giving him shit every chance he got, but Alec didn’t care.

He was playing flawlessly tonight, and maybe, just maybe, that had something to do with Magnus Bane.

 

****

 

Magnus reclined in his first class seat and tried to get comfortable.

He used plane flights as an opportunity to unplug. Most of the flights he took now offered wi-fi, but he left even his Kindle at home, favoring the company of a book in his hands or music in his ears.

His phone always remained on airplane mode when he was in the air. It was a line he drew to disconnect from the unrelenting demands of his job. To maintain his sanity. But tonight….

Tonight, he was in the air while Alec was playing.

He shut down the voice in the back of his head that told him there were other reasons he wanted to be online besides the game—that it was the worst of ideas to open that door—and connected to the wi-fi.

He checked on the score of the game, running through the stats and watching clips of major plays—which buffered more than they actually played due to the slow connection. Satisfied that the Angels had this game in hand, Magnus’ finger hovered over the button to reactivate airplane mode. Instead, he opened up his browser and refreshed the search from earlier in the day.

It had only been a few hours since he’d left TE&A’s headquarters, and the news had gotten significantly worse.

All of the firm’s agents were now being scrutinized, with rumors swirling about multiple ethics violations at the highest levels. Of a CEO who was aware of the transgressions and had attempted to cover them up. The agency was imploding. Self-destructing. If TE&A folded because of this, it would mean the loss of hundreds of jobs, and severe harm to every one of their clients, not just the one embroiled in this scandal.

All because—as Ronald had so vulgarly stated—an agent had stuck his dick in the wrong person.

Magnus winced even as those words flitted through his head.

Alec wasn’t wrong. What Magnus felt for Alec wasn’t wrong. He’d never experienced something that felt so right.

But not everyone would see it that way.

Magnus scrolled through his texts, bypassing the thread with Alec, and opened up his last message to Imogen—sent just before he’d met Alec at the Conservatory. It had been twenty-four hours since that text and Magnus’ world had shifted irreparably.

On the plane home, he typed. Jace is now part of IE. I rescinded our offer of a percentage of Jace’s next contract

Imogen’s reply came through within a minute. Good. I already have a team working on outreach to TE&A’s other clients who may be looking for new representation.

Imogen was a shark, and there was the distinct taste of blood in the water.

Magnus’ stomach rolled. He typed out the response that he knew was expected. What can I do to help?

I’ll call you tomorrow, she responded.

Magnus waited for another message to come through. Dread slinking across his skin, standing the hair of his arms on end.

Even if she didn’t know where he’d been last night, or how he’d spent his time, Imogen was well aware that there was the possibility of a relationship with Alec. And while she’d offered her support, she wouldn’t allow her company to crumble for one man. Or one client.

That she wasn’t giving him another assignment—when she’d been so focused on him bringing new clients to IE—was troubling.

No other messages came through.

Magnus closed his eyes and slumped into his seat.

He’d thought that the day Sebastian had threatened Alec had been a crossroads, but it had been merely a warning sign of the danger ahead.

All of the choices he’d made up to this point had led him closer to Alec, yet at odds with his promise never to break Alec’s trust—to protect him. He couldn’t pretend anymore that those two tracks were, or ever would be, the same path.

The roads he was so precipitously traversing were diverging. He was approaching the point where he’d have to commit to one or the other—a decision to make. No matter which scenario he envisioned, he only saw pain.

He didn’t know which path he’d choose.

 

****

 

“Ready to admit I was right, bro?” Jace said with a triumphant smile when the final buzzer sounded on a four to zero win.

“Nope,” Alec taunted. He flipped up the cage on his mask and skated for the tunnel with Jace at his side.

Jace smirked, then brought them to a stop, waiting for the rest of the team to flow around them and to the locker room. “I sense a new superstition in the making.”

Alec took a minute to look around the arena. The fans were exiting in a frustrated hush, but Alec was hyped. “I’m not the only one who has a say in that.”

Jace knocked his helmet against Alec’s mask, cupping him on the back of the neck. “Seriously? I don’t think Magnus is going to have any issues with it.”

Alec couldn’t restrain his grin. “We’ll see.”

The Angels were now ahead in the series by one game.

If spending time with Magnus helped him play this well, then date night was about to become his new favorite superstition.

 

****

 

Magnus opened the door to his apartment and mustered as much of a smile as he could for Catarina. “Good evening, Cat and cat.”

Chairman was on his back, nestled between Catarina’s legs as she scratched his belly. “No matter how many times I hear it, that joke still isn’t witty, Magnus.”

Magnus huffed and pushed his suitcase in the general direction of his bedroom. He’d worry about unpacking later. Or being any kind of a responsible adult at all. Right now, he needed a shower. Comfortable pants. And a drink. But not necessarily in that order.

“How much did you spoil him this time?” Magnus asked over his shoulder as he went for the bar.

“The Chairman loves sea bass,” Catarina cooed.

Magnus scoffed. Filled a glass with scotch. “Of course he does.”

Catarina was quiet for a moment, then, “I think Alec left you present when he was staying here.”

Magnus steadied himself with a hand on the counter, laying his forehead against the cabinet. He’d spent the last four hours trying not to think of Alec, and had therefore spent the last four hours thinking solely about Alec. The Angels had won their game. Alec had his second shutout in a row, his third of the post-season. A picture from Jace had been the first thing to pop up on Magnus’ phone when he’d arrived in New York.

Alec with his arm around Jace’s shoulder. His smile stretched wide, crinkles at the corners of his eyes. His dress shirt pulling away just enough to give a hint of the red mark at his throat.

Making our agent’s job easy, the text below it read.

He heard Catarina moving around behind him. “Magnus?”

Magnus answered the question she hadn’t really asked. “It’s been a particularly taxing week.”

He brought the glass to his lips, but the biting scent of alcohol made his stomach roll even more. He wouldn’t find his answer in a glass, no matter how much he wanted to.

Magnus dumped the contents into the sink and joined Catarina at the island. Alec’s sweatshirt was neatly folded atop the granite, an envelope lying on top.

Magnus studiously ignored the reminder of Alec’s presence in his apartment. “Anything else of note I missed?”

“Not really. Here’s your mail and your newspaper.” Catarina laughed softly. “I didn’t know anyone still read actual newspapers.”

Magnus turned the paper over in his hands. It was bound with a red rubber band, with the Post’s signature bold type headline emblazoned across the front.

“I didn’t either,” Magnus replied. “I subscribe to the online edition, not a physical paper.”

“Well, this was in front of your door when I got here tonight.”

Magnus frowned and unrolled the paper, finding a bright yellow sticky note embedded between the pages. He flipped to the marked page and froze when he saw the picture of Alec…. Outside Magnus’ apartment building.

 

Between the Pipes in Brooklyn?

 

There are rumors Alec Lightwood, the up-and-coming goaltender for the New York Blazing Angels, will soon be back on the market. He was spotted entering a Brooklyn apartment building the night before the Angels’ last home game, and didn’t leave until the morning. Alec arrived with Manhattan socialite and NBC lawyer Lydia Branwell at the Gallant Launch Event less than a week ago, but with Alec’s overnight relocation from Gramercy to Brooklyn, it looks like the stunning power couple may be on the outs….

 

Magnus swallowed the bile rising in his throat. He quickly slumped onto the barstool before his knees gave out.

“What’s wrong?” Catarina asked quietly.

Magnus laid the paper out for Catarina to read and picked up his cell.

Magnus had expected his next conversation with Izzy would be stilted and slightly uncomfortable, but not…this.

“Magnus. Thank fuck,” Izzy answered. “I couldn’t remember when you landed.”

Magnus ran his hand over his face. Watched Catarina’s features drop as she read. “Isabelle, please tell me this article in the Post was your doing.”

“No. It wasn’t. I’ve been scrambling since it came out, trying to pinpoint the source.”

“We both know who it was….” Magnus’ stomach churned. Lurched. “Sebastian is making his play.”

Izzy sighed. “I think you’re right. The story seems to be contained to only the Post for now, but I’m on high alert.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow so we can regroup, Isabelle.”

“Get some sleep.”

Magnus clicked off the call and dropped his cell to the counter.

There was no way he’d sleep tonight.

Catarina closed the newspaper and dumped it into the recycling. “Do you want to talk about what’s going on?”

Magnus’ throat constricted. “No.”

Magnus stared at Alec’s sweatshirt on the counter. The sweatshirt he’d asked Alec to wear so it would smell like him again. Everything had been so much easier only days ago. An innuendo, a witty retort. Harmless flirtation.

Magnus pulled the sweatshirt closer.

“Magnus,” Catarina warned, “you have that look in your eyes. Don’t do anything stupid.”

Magnus picked up the envelope, opening the note from Alec.

 

I did some pushups in this. Hope it helps.

- Alec

 

By all accounts, that note should have left him with a lovesick grin on his face. Blissful. But all he could think about was Alec asleep in a Pittsburgh hotel room, wrapped up in a duvet. Completely at peace. His eyes opening to take in Magnus, a slow smile stretching across his face.

All he was doing was bringing harm to Alec.

Magnus lifted his eyes to Catarina. “I’m not going to do anything stupid. I’m going to protect him, Cat. Whatever that takes.”

Catarina’s brow furrowed. “And what about you?”

Magnus didn’t have an answer for that yet. “Thank you for watching over the Chairman.”

Catarina shook her head, locs swinging. He could tell there was more she wanted to say to him, but she held her ground for only a moment longer, then swept around the kitchen island and kissed him on the cheek. “I’m here when you need me. Take care of yourself, Magnus.”

The door latched behind Catarina, then the sound of her turning her key in the lock, shutting him inside alone.

He left the sweatshirt on the counter and trudged into his bedroom, falling onto his bed as sheer exhaustion overtook him. Magnus realized his mistake seconds too late.

His sheets smelled like Alec.

Magnus curled up, and clamped his eyes shut, trying to push back the pressure building behind his eyeballs.

He was failing Alec at every turn, how was he possibly supposed to take care of himself?

 

****

 

Night of Game Four

(Series tally - Angels lead two games to one)

 

Alec sat on the bench in the visitor’s locker room, his knee bouncing as he scrolled through his cell before getting fully dressed.

He’d received the usual good luck texts from Clary and Simon—complete with pictures and absurd messages. Max’s text was subdued, and the only one he’d sent Alec today at all. He’d expected that from Izzy—and it was exactly what he’d gotten from her too—since she still seemed to be pissed about Alec asking Magnus to come to Pittsburgh.

The relative silence of Alec’s cell phone was eating at him.

Magnus had been busy all day, wrapped up in phone calls and contract negotiations, so they’d only texted each other a few times, and he hadn’t talked to Magnus at all. There had been days like this before with both of them consumed by work, but coming on the heels of the night they’d spent together….

Alec couldn’t help but be worried.

He grimaced and looked up at Jace. “Have you talked to Magnus?”

Jace pulled his jersey off the hanger and yanked it over his head. Eyes not meeting Alec’s. “He texted me to say my new contract with IE will be ready to sign next week.”

Alec scratched at his beard. Tried to put a name to the tightness growing in his chest “That’s good.”

“What? He didn’t send a pre-game message to you?”

That wasn’t the problem. “No, he did. He always does.”

“Okay. So?” Jace asked, annoyance lacing his tone.

Alec opened up the string of messages with Magnus and handed his phone to Jace. He didn’t need to see the text to have all six words memorized—You’ll be brilliant in goal tonight

Jace squinted at the screen, then raised a dubious eye at Alec. “What’s wrong with this?”

“It’s not”—Alec struggled to think of the right word—“Magnus.”

“He’s just busy, bro,” Jace said, tossing the phone back to Alec.

Alec twisted his cell in his hands. “I guess.”

Jace started to turn away, then stopped, running both his hands through his hair. “Shit. Fuck. I wasn’t going to do this—” Jace stood hitched a thumb over his shoulder. “Follow me.”

Alec began to protest but Jace shut that down quick with a look.

“Just…. Follow me.”

Alec hiked up his sleeves, staying by Jace’s side as they tracked down the hallway and into one of the empty meeting rooms. Alec closed the door carefully behind them.

Jace fisted his hand, and stalked away from Alec, his lips drawn thin.

Alec’s stomach clenched. “What the fuck is going on, Jace?”

Jace faced Alec and crossed his arms. “I knew you wouldn’t catch this news unless someone told it to you. I was hoping to hold onto it for, well, forever, quite honestly. My old agent was fired—for having an affair with one of his clients, a pro tennis player. I saw it on ESPN this morning before you woke up and called Magnus. Apparently, Magnus was in the building yesterday when it was hitting the press.”

Alec winced.

Shit.

He’d wondered why Jace had kept the TV off all morning, but he’d thought everything had been fine. They were riding the high from the win the night before. They’d had breakfast and discussed strategy. Jace had been glued to his phone more than usual, but Alec had figured that had to do with whatever was going on with him and Lydia….

But he’d been waiting to hear from Magnus.

“You talked to him?” Alec scratched out.

“I’ve been texting with Izzy and Magnus all day. Magnus is doing everything he can to protect you. It’s his job”—Jace arched an eyebrow—“what you pay him for, remember? Same with Izzy. They’ve got your back.”

Alec saw red immediately. “You think I’m worried about me?”

“You should be, Alec. This woman’s career is already taking a huge hit.” The volume of Jace’s voice increased with each word. “And she’s not gay.”

Alec ground his teeth together. “Why didn’t Magnus tell me this?”

Jace pointed a finger at him. “Are you fucking serious? You’re freaked right now, Alec. I know you. I can see that you’re already deciding what you think you did wrong, or what you should have done different. None of us said anything to you because all you should be thinking about is tonight’s game. The most useful thing you can do right now is to be fucking impenetrable on the ice.”

Alec clenched his jaw and sneered. “Why? Because nothing is more important than hockey, right?”

Jace’s eyes hardened as he stepped up to Alec. “Because all of us think that nothing is more important than you, you asshole.”

Fuck.

Alec set his hands on his hips and ran a hand through his hair.

He took a step back from Jace, sucking in a ragged breath. “Sorry.”

Jace’s features immediately softened. “And I’m sorry you had to hear this right before the game. But they’ve got this under control. Magnus isn’t as ‘Magnus’ today because he’s using his connections and brain power to take care of you, his client, right now.”

The numb spot in Alec’s hand flared, the edges of where he still had sensation sparking. Alec shook out his hand and put his fingers to his bracelet instead of working at that spot.

Maybe he should’ve been worried about himself, but all he could think about was how Magnus was handling this.

Alec looked to Jace. “Is he okay?”

“How the hell would I know?” Jace tipped his chin up, a hint of a smile touching his lips. “I need a dictionary app to keep up with him most days.”

Alec chuffed.

“It doesn’t matter if he is or isn’t okay,” Jace contended. “Let him deal with this as a professional right now, and not as your boyfriend.”

Alec startled at the word. “He’s not—”

Jace cut him off with an indignant snort. “Don’t even try. You trust him, right?”

That wasn’t a question. “Of course I do.”

“Then let him do his job. This is what you signed up for, bro. If you want him as your agent you’re going to have to learn how to draw a line between the office and bedroom. All you need to do is not suck in the net tonight. It’s the one thing Magnus said he needs from you to make his job easier.”

“He didn’t say that to you,” Alec argued.

“Whatever,” Jace dismissed. “Close enough.”

It reminded him of Clary insisting that Alec had been paraphrasing what Magnus had said to him after the negotiation with Gallant. Now he knew Magnus well enough that he could hear the way Magnus would say something in his head.

It wasn’t just Magnus’ word choice that he recognized, though—he knew Magnus. Enough to understand that Jace was right. Magnus wasn’t being his usual flirtatious self because he was busy being the hyper-intelligent, hard-nosed agent Alec knew he also was. The very, very least Alec could do to help him was not buckle under the pressure.

“Okay.” Alec released a huge breath. Locked eyes with Jace. “All I need to do is focus on the game. They’re taking care of the rest.”

Jace nodded. “Exactly.”

He was going into tonight with a two shutout streak and the Penguins would be coming at him just as hard as they had for the last three games.

After the game ended, they’d be flying back to New York, and he already had plans to go to Magnus’ loft. He could be Magnus’ boyfriend when he got to New York, and not his client.

But before that, both he and Magnus had their own jobs to do. Regardless of how Magnus had worded it, the one thing he’d asked for was for Alec to be perfect in the net.

Alec swallowed thickly.

He’d keep every puck out of the net tonight.

 

****

 

Magnus stared at his cell.

His last text to Alec was…uninspired. Withdrawn. But he couldn’t leave that pre-game ritual unfulfilled.

The minutes were ticking by before the game started, and Magnus hadn’t received a reply. Alec always replied before games since the first time he’d broken his superstition for Magnus.

But before he could overthink why he hadn’t heard from Alec—and let the idea take hold that maybe it was better this way—there was a knock at his door.

He’d already begged out of going out to the bar with Simon, Clary, and Max—citing he had work he had to catch up on from traveling. He knew Izzy was still at her office, both of them had been in constant communication today. So he had no idea who could be waiting for him on the other side of that door.

With any luck, it would be Sebastian Morgenstern so he could rip out his throat. He hadn’t done his nails today, and blood red was a strikingly appropriate color for his current mood.

But it was a hoodie-adorned Lightwood who Magnus found on the other side.

Magnus retracted his metaphorical nails, but only partially. He wasn’t up for playing who-can-spit-or-swallow-the-most-double-entendres tonight.

Magnus crossed his arms and leaned against the jamb. “You Lightwoods have a habit of showing up at my door unannounced.”

Max didn’t appear to be deterred by Magnus’ unwelcoming greeting. “Figured since you’ve been talking to Izzy all day that I’d be your Lightwood fix for the night.” Max shrugged. “Plus, I had to meet my new neighbor.”

Magnus quirked a very inquisitive eyebrow at that.

Max held up a set of keys. “I just rented the apartment next to yours.”

It took Magnus seconds to piece together what Max was telling him. “Tessa told you about the correlation between where Alexander spends the night before home games and winning.”

Max placed a hand on the jamb, leaning in to Magnus. “How do you think Tessa knew what nights Alec had spent here?”

It hadn’t crossed his mind, but it should have. Yet another detail Magnus hadn’t paid enough attention to that had brought an unsolicited surprise.

Magnus stuffed that failure into his bursting well of badly repressed self-recrimination. He held his ground against the Lightwood that was in his personal space—it was good practice for later that night.

“You don’t care about Alec’s superstitions,” Magnus said pointedly, surveying Max’s well-worn Angels hoodie.

“I care about everything that matters to Alec,” Max stated, as if it wasn’t the most vulnerable and revealing of declarations. He brushed past Magnus and into the apartment. “So, what do you have to drink?”

Max plopped down on a barstool, removing his shoes.

Magnus narrowed his eyes at Max making himself at home. “Don’t you have drinks at your new place?”

“Depends. You have a house warming present for me?”

Magnus slammed the door behind him, his frustration amping up. “If it’s that easy to buy you off, then you can take my whole bar with you now. I’d prefer to be alone tonight.”

Max chuckled, the carefree sound grating at Magnus’ nerves. “Yep. That’s what I figured. Which is exactly why I’m here.”

“Well then come on in, Max,” Magnus said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Please, take off your shoes and get comfortable.”

Max clapped Magnus on the back as he passed by, heading for the couch. “Thanks, neighbor.”

Max sank into the cushions, shimmying his ass until it appeared he’d found just the right groove. Magnus glared at him. He wanted to throw him out, steal the keys for the apartment next door, and force Max to abandon this last ditch effort that would only make their lives more complicated.

He couldn’t have Max here while he was trying to figure out how he was going to handle Alec arriving in New York tonight.

Magnus sighed.

Max wasn’t the right target for his anger or frustration at all. Having Max here…. It made Magnus vulnerable. Weak. He cared for all of the Lightwood siblings, not just Alec.

“Max—” he bega