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Chlorine, Love, and Other Chemicals

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Alec pulled himself out of the pool, muscles aching, and grabbed his towel from his bag as quickly as he could. Winter remained another month or so away, but the iciness of the chlorinated water prevailed over the humidity in the building. He dried himself off in a hurry, eager to get the chill out of his bones. Beside him, Jace tied his own towel around his waist and bent over to shake out his hair, sending drops of water flying.

“Stop that!” Alec complained as he got showered. “You aren’t a dog, you know.”

“Depends on who you ask,” Jace winked.

Alec snorted. “I wouldn’t brag about that, if I were you.”

“Everyone listen up!” Coach Garroway called. Alec grabbed his t-shirt and pulled it on quickly as he and the rest of the team gathered around. “As you all know, classes start Monday, and that means earlier practices start Monday. I expect to see all of you on deck by 5:15 A.M.” The team responded in a sea of nods and groans. “I suggest you be on time, or you’re all going to spend Monday morning swimming purely butterfly sets.” Alec smirked at the threat. He could handle that just fine. Jace went a little pale beside, and Alec’s smirk widened. Coach Garroway met his eyes. “Let me clarify:  butterfly sets that will have even Lightwood over there shitting the bed.”

Alec’s eyes widened and his smirk fell. “Be on time, please,” he said quickly as the rest of the team laughed uneasily at the threat.

“Alright, get out of here,” Garroway said. “Go enjoy your last few days of freedom.”

The team finished changing, throwing on t-shirts and sweats. A few minutes later, Alec and Jace were walking back to their apartment, wet towels draped over their shoulders. An uncharacteristically cool breeze for August in New York tore through the city.

“What time are Iz and Clary coming over?” Jace asked.

“In an hour,” Alec answered as he peeked at the time on his phone. “Just enough time to shower and eat.”

Jace raised an eyebrow. “You know we’re going to be snacking all afternoon anyways, right?”

He did. Clary had been raving to Izzy about some new show on Netflix and insisted they all watch together. The couple was coming over to do just that and binge as much of the show as possible before classes started back up. If Alec knew his sister and her girlfriend--which he absolutely did--then there’d be popcorn and candy and any other snack the girls wanted. Not that he was complaining, of course. Alec was always hungry, and he said as much to his brother. “Swimmer metabolism, remember?”

Jace rolled his eyes. “I would make fun of you but I benefit from that, too.” His stomach growled, just barely loud enough to hear over the street noise. “See?” Jace said and Alec laughed.

Alec disappeared into his room as soon as they entered their shared apartment. Extremely warm showers after practice were a ritual, a necessity to rip the remnants of the cold water from his skin and bones. The heat helped soothe away the soreness in his muscles from particularly grueling sets, too.

He stood under the warm stream much longer than necessary, unable to pull himself away. He still had plenty of time before his sister and Clary arrived, though, he noted as he pulled on an old sweatshirt and some joggers.

Jace was already in the kitchen when he emerged from his room. His brother’s blonde hair was already dried and immaculate. Alec snorted, brushing a piece of his own still wet hair away from his forehead.

“Trying to impress someone?” Alec asked. “Of the two girls coming over, one is our sister and the other is her extremely gay girlfriend.”

Jace raised an eyebrow. “Are you implying our sister isn’t also extremely gay? Because I think Izzy would very strongly disagree with you.”

“I figured the fact that she’s our sister was reason enough to deter you from pursuing anything romantic,” Alec deadpanned.

“Gross, dude,” Jace said, sticking his tongue out. Alec laughed, moving around him to dig through the cabinets for snacks. He settled on a box of Cheez-Its, tearing it open and shoving several in his mouth as someone knocked at the door. Alec set the box down on the counter as Jace opened the door.

“Let’s get this party started!” Izzy said cheerfully as she and Clary came in. “We brought candy and wine.” She held the bottle up over her head as if in victory. Alec huffed a laugh.

“It’s 3 in the afternoon,” Jace pointed out.

“When has that ever stopped you?” Alec asked.

“Maybe I’m maturing,” Jace said indignantly, pouting at the laughs.

“No offense, Jace, but I’ve seen your Tinder profile,” Clary said.

Jace furrowed his eyebrow in confusion. “How?”

“A friend,” she answered with a satisfied grin. “She swiped left, if you were wondering.”

“Now I’ve got to see this,” Izzy said, plopping herself down on the couch. Jace stared at Alec, eyes wide and pleading.

“Don’t look me,” Alec laughed, sitting down next to his sister. “I’m with Iz.”

“Betrayed by my own brother,” Jace bemoaned. “However will I go on.”

“You’re adopted, you’ll survive.”

“Have I ever told you guys I hate you?” Jace asked, but he sat down and pulled his phone out of his pocket.

“Only every single day,” Izzy sang as Clary leaned eagerly over the side of the couch to watch Jace unlock his phone and open the app. Jace stuck his tongue out at both of them.

“Okay,” he said with a sigh, handing the phone to Izzy. “Here’s my bio.” His face had turned red, Alec noticed, and it only appeared to be getting brighter as Izzy read. Her eyes widened almost comically with each new line she read.

“‘I’ll show you my fly if you show me your breast.’ Really?” she asked, voice distorted in a mixture of laughter and genuine disgust.

“Oh my god,” Alec said, rubbing his forehead.

“It’s like a pun!” Jace argued. “Because I’m a swimmer! It’s funny.”

“Keep telling yourself that,” Clary giggled. “Keep going, it gets better.” She paused, forehead and nose scrunching for a moment. “Worse?” she questioned.

“I haven’t heard the rest of it, but I’m assuming worse is more accurate,” Alec told her.

“Oh, worse is definitely more accurate,” Izzy said. “‘Are your pants comfortable? Because I’d really like to get inside them.’ Seriously?” Jace shrugged.

Alec groaned and peered over his sister’s shoulder to read the next line. “‘Let’s play Titanic. I’ll be the iceberg and you can go down,’” he read. “That one added a whole new level of asshole.”

“What? Why?” Jace asked.

“‘And you can go down?’” Alec asked. “You could at least be the one offering to go down. The other way around just sounds douche-y.”

“He says as if the entire profile doesn’t sound douche-y,” Clary muttered under her breath, earning a glare from Jace.

“Okay, fair,” Alec said.

“Oh, don’t forget the last one. It’s my favorite,” Clary said, pointing at the screen.

Izzy raised an eyebrow at her before reading, “‘Do you work for Build-a-Bear? Cause I’d stuff you.’” She stared at Jace and made a gagging noise. “That’s not even funny, that just sounds...I don’t know. Murder-y,” she settled on.

“Definitely murder-y,” Clary nodded.

“Hey, quick question,” Alec said, looking at his brother. “What the fuck?”

Jace raised his hands in defence. “They’re funny!”

“Nope. No, they aren’t. Not one bit,” Clary said.

“Dude, I’m gay and not attracted to women in anyway, at all, whatsoever, and even I know girls don’t go for that kind of shit,” Alec said.

“He’s right,” Izzy said sagely.

“Okay, okay, whatever. Can we watch the show now?” Jace asked in exasperation.

“You know, Alec,” Izzy said, turning to her brother. “I don’t know if I can bear the shame he’s brought upon our family.”

Alec hummed. “I agree, Iz. Something must be done.”

“What do you propose?” Izzy asked.

Alec pretended to think for a moment, scratching absently at the stubble on his chin. “The only way to restore the honor to our family name is to disown him.”

Izzy nodded. “I agree. It’s the only course of action.” She turned back to Jace diplomatically. “Unfortunately, Alec and I have come to the decision that, for your heinous crimes against pick-up lines, dating sites, and women all over New York, we must disown you from our family.”

“You guys are ridiculous,” Jace groaned.

“Sorry, bud,” Clary laughed.

“Can we watch the damn show, now?” Jace complained.

Alec grabbed the remote and pulled up Netflix.

“Your roommate is very demanding, Alec,” Izzy said with a tsk. Alec laughed, barely dodging the pillow Jace tossed at them.

“Who’s your family? Didn’t they teach you any manners?” Alec asked.

“God, I love you guys,” Clary said, climbing over the back of the couch to slide in between Izzy and Jace.

“What show did you guys want to watch again?” Alec asked.

The Good Place, but wait!” Izzy exclaimed, jumping up and disappearing into the kitchen. “We almost forgot the snacks,” she announced as she returned with the candy and bottle of wine she and Clary had brought with them.

“Of course,” Alec said, rolling his eyes a little. “How could we have forgotten.”

“Be nice, or I’ll disown you, too.”

He gasped, hand flying dramatically to his chest. “You’d disown your only brother?”

"I'd still have Max," Izzy said, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I sincerely hate both of you,” Jace muttered from the other end of the couch. “And Clary.”

“What did I do?” Clary half-shouted, half-squeaked.

“You started this,” Jace said with a glare. “Now can we please start the show.” Alec hit play before the bickering could continue.

They made it through about half of the first season, all of them reduced to tears through their laughter in just about every episode. Clary smiled apologetically as she ended the viewing party early.

“Sorry, guys. I have dinner plans with some friends,” she said when Alec and Jace both pouted at her. Izzy walked her to the door and Alec looked away as they said goodbye. It was a simple moment, but Alec still felt like he was intruding somehow. “We can watch more tomorrow and Sunday,” Clary promised, calling over her shoulder as she hurried out the door.

Izzy joined Alec and Jace in the kitchen where they’d brought their wine glasses and trash from the candy. “So, boys,” she said with a light smile. “Wanna order pizza and watch scary movies?”

Alec groaned. “Do they have to be scary? Those movies are never good. At least not the ones you pick, anyways.”

Izzy narrowed her eyes. “Don’t forget, I’ve already disowned one brother today.”

Jace laughed and pulled his phone out of his back pocket. “What kind of pizza do you want, Iz?”

***

Taki’s isn’t particularly busy when Magnus arrives, which is surprising for a Friday night. Granted, Taki’s is more of a hole-in-the-wall than some of the more popular restaurants in New York, but it’s well-loved by the students in the area.

He scanned the restaurant and found Simon and Maia already seated in a booth near the back as the door swung open behind him, letting in a rush of cool breeze. He turned his head to look, spotting Clary as she rushed inside.

“Right on time, Biscuit,” Magnus said cheerfully, patting her shoulder in congratulations. The redhead was notorious among their friend group for her constant tardiness.

She sighed in relief, flashing him a smile. “Oh, good.”

He offered her his arm and she looped hers around it. Together, they walked to their friends’ booth and slid into the seat opposite them.

“Clary Fray? On time?” Simon gasped. “Have we slipped into an alternate reality?”

“Don’t be mean, Lewis,” Clary said, sticking her tongue out at him.

“I, for one, think we should celebrate Biscuit’s successes,” Magnus grinned.

Maia nodded with an air of importance. “Yes, Magnus is right, Simon. If we mock her achievements, she’ll lose all motivation entirely.”

“You guys are the worst, I need a drink,” Clary complained with a small pout that upturned a little when Magnus nudged her gently with his elbow. The waitress came a moment later--Kaelie, a girl Magnus recognized from a class a few semesters ago--and took their orders.

“So what did you two lovebirds do today?” Magnus asked Simon and Maia once Kaelie had taken all of their orders and disappeared back into the kitchen. Simon’s face turned a little pink at the ‘lovebirds,’ but Maia’s mouth molded into a soft smile instantly.

“We went exploring in Central Park,” Maia answered, bumping her shoulder into her boyfriend’s. “Fed some ducks.”

Clary laughed to herself. “One of Izzy’s brothers is deathly afraid of ducks. It’s hilarious.”

“How can someone be afraid of ducks?” Simon asked incredulously.

“Says the guy who ran away screaming from the ducks at that farm we visited in fifth grade,” Clary snorted.

Maia’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh, please tell me more.”

Clary laughed as Simon shot her a glare that Magnus assumed would’ve shot death lasers if it were a physical possibility.

“What about you, Biscuit?” Magnus asked, winking at Simon as he mouthed a silent Thank you. “What were you up to?”

Clary absently looped a strand of hair around her finger. “Izzy and I went over to her brothers’ apartment and watched Netflix.”

“Ooh, what did you watch?” Maia asked.

The Good Place. Neither of her brothers had seen it yet.” Clary brought a hand to her mouth to cover a laugh. “We had to disown one of her brothers today, actually.”

Magnus raised an eyebrow. “Why, exactly?”

“Did he not like the show?” Simon asked. “Because I’ll disown him, too.”

“Simon, you don’t even know him, first of all. You have to be related to someone to disown them,” Maia said, shoving lightly against his arm.

“No, no, I’m pretty sure he liked the show. It was because of his Tinder profile.” Clary shuddered. “Crimes against humanity, honestly.”

“Now I really must know,” Magnus said, leaning closer.

“Just…awful pick up lines. Like, the worst you could possibly imagine,” she said. “One sounded straight up murder-y.”

Maia snorted. “‘Murder-y?’”

Clary raised her hands in defence. “Izzy said it first, don’t look at me.” She shook her head. “He means well, I think? I don’t know. He’s like an asshole but more in an idiot way than in a douchebag way.”

“So what you’re saying,” Maia said, “is that he’s straight?”

“Absolutely, yes,” Clary nodded as she laughed. Kaelie returned a moment later with their food.

“Let me know if you need anything else,” she said, smiling at the table before moving on to another.

Magnus watched with a fond smile as Maia stole a bite from Simon’s place, much to his distress. In retaliation, Simon grabbed a fry from her plate and wiggled his eyebrows at her as he shoved it in his mouth. Maia swatted at his arm, but she was giggling, her eyes gleaming in the dim restaurant.

“Can you two please stop being so adorable?” Clary complained.

“Oh, like you’re one to talk,” Magnus scoffed. “You and Isabelle are unfairly adorable when you’re together. It should be illegal, frankly.” Clary’s cheeks turned as red as her hair and she grinned brightly.

“Don’t mind him,” Maia said. “He’s just single and bitter.”

“More like single and wary of love,” Magnus said, earning pouts and knowing looks from Clary and Maia. He shrugged as his phone buzzed in his jacket pocket. He pulled it out and glanced at the text, unable to stop the loud groan he emitted. He dropped his phone onto the table.

“What’s that about?” Maia asked, eyebrows raised.

Magnus rubbed at his temple. “My new boss,” he explained.

“Wait, when did you get a job?” Simon asked. Maia elbowed him. “Ow!”

“My step-father officially cut me off. Never mind that it shouldn’t even be his money,” Magnus muttered.

Clary placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Magnus. That’s awful.”

He smiled tightly at her. “I’ll survive. My scholarship is covering tuition, at least. Thank god.” He sank back into the booth.

“So where are you working?” Maia asked after a moment of quiet.

Magnus groaned again. “I’m the newest lifeguard at the university pool.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Simon said. “There are definitely worse places to work.” Magnus snorted, remembering the horror stories Simon had told before about the time he worked at a McDonald’s.

“I suppose that’s true,” Magnus sighed. “But my boss is some eighteen year old who’s still in high school.” Maia grimaced. “And,” he added, “I have to work early mornings when the swim team is practicing.”

“Oh! Izzy’s brothers are on the team!” Clary said.

“Can you ask them why swim teams insist on practicing so goddamn early, then?” Magnus asked her. Simon snickered. “Seriously,” he said. “Is there some law that says they have to swim before the sun’s even risen?”

“I’ll make sure to ask them next time I see them,” Clary promised with a laugh.

“Why do they even need lifeguards?” Magnus asked. “They’re a swim team. Surely they know how to swim. Honestly,” he continued, gesturing with his arms. “If they drown in five feet of water, surely that’s just natural selection at work. Who am I to interfere with nature?”

Simon stared at him as if he wasn’t sure whether he should laugh or have Magnus committed, but Clary and Maia’s shoulders were shaking from laughing at his dramatics. Clary buried her face in her hands.

“Just don’t let anyone drown on your first day,” Maia said through her laughter. “That probably wouldn’t go over well.”

“No, I suppose not,” Magnus said rather glumly.

“It’ll be okay,” Clary cooed. “It’s only until you graduate, right?” Magnus nodded. “See? You’ll be free of bosses still in high school and swim team members who you absolutely should not let drown, natural selection or not, in no time,” she said cheerfully.

Maia and Simon nodded. “And we’ll be here with lots of wine whenever you need to get drunk or vent,” Maia told him.

Magnus smiled. “You guys are the best.”

“Just...don’t let anyone drown,” Simon said. “Please.”

Magnus laughed. “No promises,” he said with a wink.

Chapter Text

Alec Lightwood isn’t a man prone to violence. No, he prefers to use his words when he wants to achieve something or tear someone down, if it needed to be done. But a man can only be so strong, and the sound of his alarm going off at 4:15 A.M. is more than enough to drive him to murder--especially if his victim was said alarm clock.

Half-awake, he fantasized throwing it out the window onto the concrete sidewalk below before looming over it with a baseball bat and smashing it until nothing but shards of cheap plastic and bits of wire remained. He wondered if there were police proceedings for such things.

The alarm continued to blare. Alec groaned, slamming his hand down on it to turn it off. He pulled himself out of bed, throwing on a pair of sweatpants and an old t-shirt as he moved through his room. He grabbed his swim bag, which he’d packed the night before, thankfully. He didn’t think he was even close to being awake enough to remember to pack things that morning. You’d think I’d be used to this by now , he thought with a slight grumble. He’d been swimming competitively for over a decade now, and early mornings were par for the course.

Alec slung his bag over his shoulder and made his way into the kitchen. Jace stood at the counter, his own bag thrown on the floor. The lights remained off, the room cast in a comforting darkness--a darkness that he could pretend for a moment meant they could both go back to sleep.

“Here,” Jace said, tossing him a granola bar.

“Thanks.”

“What are brothers for?” Jace said. He winked, shoving the last bite of his granola bar into his mouth and tossing the wrapper in the trash can.

Alec shook his head. “No, we disowned you, remember?”

“Still on that, huh?” Jace sighed.

Alec grinned. His phone buzzed inside his bag and he frowned as he fished it out. His smirk returned when he read the text he’d received.

“What?” Jace asked.

“Izzy texted me,” he answered with a shrug he intended to be nonchalant but failed miserably if Jace’s glare said anything about it.

“About what? It’s 4 in the morning,” Jace said, eyes narrowed.

“Closer to 5 now, actually,” Alec pointed out. “She said she hopes I have a good practice and early morning. You know, like a good, caring little sister.”

Jace’s eyebrows furrowed. “I didn’t get a text from her.”

He really makes this too easy , Alec thought. “That’s because she’s not your little sister. Disowned, remember?” He scoffed. “Really, Jace, I just mentioned it a minute ago. We really need to work on your memory.”

The dark kitchen cast shadows on Jace’s face, but Alec could tell it had gone red as a stoplight. “I hate both of you.” Alec bent over in a fit of laughter. “Why is she even awake this early?” Jace asked over Alec’s laughter. “It’s too early for this,” he glared. “Let’s go.”

Alec let out another laugh and grabbed his bag as Jace headed to the door with his. “Alright, alright. No need to be so pushy.” Jace held the door open for him and glared as he walked past. “God, it’s like you think you’re my brother or something,” he muttered under his breath.

“You know, I could just be super late to practice and make everyone do the butterfly sets today,” Jace challenged.

“Yeah,” Alec called over his shoulder. “You could, but then you’d have to do them, too. And you know Garroway would make it worse on you since you would be the late one.” Jace groaned, the sound loud and easily filling the quiet hallway of their apartment building.

***

The alarm on Magnus’s phone echoed unfairly loud through his bedroom, the notes of some poppy song he’d chosen at random the night before bringing a sense of dread like the sound of a bell in a horror movie. He quickly turned the alarm off before his feelings of grogginess and hatred of early mornings tarnished his opinion of the song.

His hatred was put to better use elsewhere, he decided. His new job, for example. Teenage bosses. The entire swim team.

Magnus rolled onto his back and stared the time on his phone.

4:15 A.M.

He groaned, eyes slipping shut for a minute as he contemplated the consequences of murdering the entire swim team. He could imagine the criminal investigation already, the detectives asking him what his motive could’ve been to murder an entire team. Spite , he thought.

Magnus sat up and began pulling himself from the warm swaths of his bed. He had a feeling spite wouldn’t be a successful or convincing defence in court.

Coffee. That’s what he needed.

He dragged himself into the kitchen and beelined to the coffee maker. He savored the smell of his favorite roast as it started brewing. The scent made the morning instantly more bearable.

His phone buzzed angrily on the counter. It must not like early mornings either , Magnus thought as he glanced at the incoming text.

FROM: Biscuit — Received 4:24 A.M.

--Good luck at work today!
--Also, don’t let anyone drown pls!

Magnus grinned, typing out his response.

TO:  Biscuit — Sent 4:25 A.M.

--Thank you, Biscuit

His coffee finished brewing as he hit send. He moaned slightly at the warm, earthy aroma as he poured it into his thermos. His brow furrowed a moment later as he took a sip, and he reached for his phone again.

TO:  Biscuit — Sent 4:27 A.M.

--Wait, what are you doing awake at this ungodly hour?

She replied almost immediately.

FROM:  Biscuit — Received 4:27 A.M.

--Izzy ;)

Magnus frowned and rolled his eyes fondly as he replied.

TO:  Biscuit — Sent 4:28 A.M.

--Too much information, Biscuit
--But also, damn, get it

FROM:  Biscuit — Received 4:28 A.M.

--Ok ok shut up and go to work

Magnus rolled his eyes again, tucking his wallet and apartment key into his pocket. He sent off a quick Yes ma’am to Clary before slipping his phone into the other pocket, as well. He looked longingly back towards his bedroom door. Bed sounded heavenly. The warm softness of his sheets called out to him like a siren song. He shook his head and forced himself to look away. He needed this job if he wanted to keep that bed.

“I can’t wait to go to bed tonight,” he grumbled to himself as he left the apartment.

The walk to the pool was short, thankfully. The city streets had yet to come alive, most of the city still fast asleep under the blanket of early morning darkness. Is it possible to resent an entire city? , he wondered as he walked up the steps to the building housing the pool and slipped inside.

The lobby was small, with a few hallways leading off to the gym and a health and wellness center. A girl sat at the front desk who looked just about as happy to be awake as Magnus felt.

“Hey, are you Magnus?” someone asked. Magnus turned and saw a guy wearing red swim trunks and a white t-shirt with LIFEGUARD plastered across the front. Magnus nodded. “I’m Cory,” he said. “I’m one of the Pool Ops.”

“Nice to meet you,” Magnus said, following Cory as he headed down the hall towards the pool.

“Usually, you’ll be on shift with me or Ollie,” Cory said as they stepped onto the pool deck. “Joey only comes in during the afternoons since he’s still in high school, but he said he’d try to stop by around six to see how your first day is going.” Magnus hummed in agreement. He didn’t particularly feel the need to be checked up on by some high schooler, but he supposed there was nothing he could do about it.

The air hit them suddenly, humid and thick with the smell of chlorine. It was a familiar smell, one Magnus had once loved when he himself had swam competitively growing up. He’d loved the sport, loved the excitement on his mom’s face whenever he raced. He looked away from the pool.

“This is our office,” Cory said, as he disappeared into a little corner room with windows for walls and filled with a few tables, some chairs, and lots of loose paperwork. A large plastic bin labelled FIRST AID sat in the corner of the room. He gestured to a stack of binders. “This is where you’ll find everything you’ll ever need. Where you’ll sign in to work, where you’ll file reports if someone has to be rescued or if there’s an injury, where you’ll record chemical levels. That sort of stuff,” he explained. He opened the top binder and pointed to where Magnus should sign in.

“Alright,” Magnus said, grabbing a pen and filling out the short form. “Seems easy enough to remember.”

Cory glanced at the clock. It was just after 4:40 A.M. “The team will be here soon. I’m on rotation first, so you can relax for a bit, but let me show you how to check the levels before they get here.”

***

Alec and Jace arrived at the pool, dropping their bags onto the bleachers and joining the growing circle of their teammates. Lydia and Underhill gave him a tired wave as they joined the group.

“Good morning, everyone!” Coach Garroway said, his voice obnoxiously bright for nearly 5 in the morning. If the Teletubbies sun was old enough to talk, Alec was sure Coach Garroway would’ve sounded just like it. Everyone groaned in response before the coach ran through some quick stretches. “500 free, you know the drill,” he called as the group dispersed.

The water hit Alec like a wall and knocked any remaining tendrils of sleep out of him. He resisted the urge to shiver, picking up his pace instead as he swam the warm-up. Thankfully, everyone on the team had arrived at the pool on time, sparing them all from the threatened butterfly sets.

Warm-ups passed quickly, the icy temperature slowly feeling more comfortable as he swam. The sets were grueling today, lots of sprints and hypoxic training that left his limbs aching and his lungs begging for air.

“Alright, everyone. Take a breather and get behind the blocks,” Garroway said as the last person slid into the wall.

“Is my shoulder on fire? I think my shoulder’s on fire,” Jace said next to him, rubbing at the muscle.

“Unfortunately, I think you’re fine,” Alec said, pushing off the wall slightly to float on his back. His gaze drifted to the lifeguard stand. A guy he’d shared a few classes with during their freshman year had been on the stand when practice started-- what was his name? Cody? --but the guards must’ve rotated while they were swimming.

The breath he’d just managed to catch caught in his throat.

It was 5 something in the morning, he’s sleep deprived and out of breath and maybe a bit delirious, but the lifeguard sitting on the chair is without a doubt the most beautiful man Alec’s ever seen. The lifeguard was new, Alec didn’t think he’d ever seen him around the pool before. He wore a sleeveless white shirt with a large red cross across the chest and red trunks-- if you can call them trunks . They were far more form fitting than what most lifeguards wore on the stand, Alec couldn’t stop himself from noticing. He was slouched a bit, clearly tired and not thrilled about the early morning. Same , Alec thought.

“That’s enough rest. Everyone behind the blocks!” Garroway yelled.

“I’m going to drown myself,” Alec breathed as he made his way back to the wall.

Jace stared at him as he pulled himself out of the water. “What?”

“The new lifeguard,” Alec said as they made their way to the back of the line already forming at the blocks. “He’s gorgeous and I’m going to drown myself.”

“Somehow I don’t think nearly dying is going to be as smooth as you think it will,” Jace scoffed.

“Probably, but I’m also smart enough to not take dating advice from you,” Alec said pointedly.

“Who are we not taking dating advice from?” Underhill asked, stepping into line behind them.

“Jace and the world’s worst Tinder profile,” Alec told him.

Lydia groaned from the lane next to them. “Oh god, I’ve seen it.”

Jace glared at them, opening his mouth to reply before Coach Garroway started speaking over them. They all turned to him, Alec and Underhill barely suppressing a laugh.

“You’re all doing two 100 sprints off the block, and then I’ll let you all go easy for the rest of practice. Deal?” Coach Garroway asked. They all nodded in assent. “Alright, then,” he said. “Up first, Underhill and Lightwood.” His gaze locked on Alec. “100 fly.”

Jace slapped his shoulder. “Have fun, pal.”

“Gee, thanks,” Alec said. “Good luck,” he grinned at Underhill.

“Keeping up with you? Yeah, I’ll need it,” Underhill said as they stepped up to the block.

***

Magnus was bored. So, so incredibly bored.

The swim team’s practice was almost finished, just around half an hour left. His shift would end soon after they left, and then he was free .

Sitting on the lifeguard stand while the team practiced felt so tedious. He watched them swim back and forth for what felt like hours, though he knew it was more like twenty minutes. Maybe if he’d been scheduled at another time, it would’ve been more interesting, but the only people here were on the swim team . Magnus felt pretty confident no one would be drowning that morning, with or without his assistance.

At least while Cory had been on the stand, he’d been able to scroll through Twitter. Of course, no one was awake this early unless they lived on the other side of the planet, so all he’d ended up doing was refreshing his feed over and over and over again in hopes of seeing something new and interesting.

Now he couldn’t have his phone on him, though, and his eyes had to stay glued to the water just in case .

Magnus grimaced once or twice when he heard the sets being given out by the coach. Breath training , he thought with an internal groan. Only the sport of swimming could turn breathing into a luxury most can’t afford during races. His lungs ached at the memory of swimming sets like that himself once.

“Everyone behind the blocks!” Magnus heard the coach yell. He watched everyone slowly make their way out of the water. Magnus sat up a little straighter. This should be interesting, at least , he thought.

“Up first, Underhill and Lightwood,” the coach said, singling out two of the swimmers. Magnus watched as two men stepped up to the block, unable to stop the low appreciative hum in the back of his throat. Both of them were attractive-- hell, the entire team is unfairly attractive --but one of them could put Greek gods to shame, Magnus thought, with a body that could’ve been sculpted by Michelangelo himself and bits of dark hair sticking out from underneath his cap and a brooding expression that Magnus can read even through his goggles.

They stepped up to the blocks and took their marks, and Magnus was suddenly very, very grateful for the location of the lifeguard stand.

If he got distracted from staring at the pool for a moment to stare instead at Mr. Greek God’s ass, Cory certainly didn’t need to know.

The coach yelled a quick “go!” and they both lunged off the blocks in perfect dives. A bit of water splashed Magnus and he shook his head, refocusing on the pool.

A twinge of nostalgia pinched through him as he realized they’re racing butterfly. The stroke had always been his favorite, even if it hurt the most out of all of them. Even through the burning muscles, the stroke always felt the strongest, the most fluid to him. A bit like dancing, almost. Plus, it was fun to pretend to be a mermaid every now and then. He remembered pretending to be like Ariel at the pool as a child, much to his mother’s enjoyment and his step-father’s chagrin.

Oh god , Magnus thought, watching the swimmers return to the wall and turn into another 50. Magnus loved butterfly, but racing a 100? In practice ? No, thank you, he thought. Maybe he was just out of shape, but his shoulder twinged with a phantom ache at just the idea.

He felt an odd sense of delight watching his Greek god finish the race first, almost a full body length ahead of his competitor. He’s not quite sure why, though. Magnus doesn’t even know the man, doesn’t even know if he’s Lightwood or Underhill. Oh , he thought suddenly, blinking. Lightwood, like Isabelle . Biscuit had mentioned her brothers were on the team. Dark and brooding Greek god must be one of them. He had a similar face, Magnus realized. Soft features but with a fierce determination.

I hope he’s not the one with the awful Tinder profile , Magnus thought, watching as Cory approached to rotate again.

“How was your first time on the stand? Boring, right?” Cory asked as they traded places.

“Honestly? Yes. But I think I’ll be okay,” Magnus said.

He headed back to the lifeguards’ office and sank into one of the chairs. He spent the rest of his shift balancing his attention between refreshing his Twitter feed and searching the group of swimmers for a glimpse at the Greek god.

Finally, after the team had filed out, Cory gave him the all-clear to head out. “Joey was planning to stop by, but he got held up in traffic and won’t have time to get here before he has to be at school,” he explained. “You’re not missing much.”

Magnus laughed. “Thanks, I’ll see you tomorrow?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m here all this week.”

Magnus pulled his phone out as he ducked out of the building and into the now busy city streets. It was like the entire world had just woken up. Magnus wished he could relate as he sent a quick text off to Maia

TO:  Maia — Sent 7:07 A.M.

--I’m starving. Want to get pancakes?

FROM:  Maia — Received 7:07 A.M.

--YES
--Simon and I will meet you at Java Jones. 45 minutes?

Magnus grinned, replying a quick Perfect. He slid his phone back into his pocket and hurried back towards his apartment so he could shower and get ready for the day. He would need several cups of coffee and probably a nap later, but pancakes could make anything better.

Chapter Text

“Spill,” Izzy said as soon as Alec met her and Clary outside Java Jones. They’d made plans to meet the night before for a post-first-early-morning-practice celebratory breakfast. That, and they needed all the motivation and energy in the form of sugar and caffeine that they could get before the first day of classes. Jace had pouted while they’d made plans, his 8 A.M. class preventing him from joining in the festivities.

His sister looked determined, the teasing curiosity in hers and Clary’s eyes all too apparent. Alec took a step back, raising his arms in defense. “What?”

“Jace texted me,” she said, as if that explained everything.

Alec resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “About what?”

“Your crush.”

“Oh my god,” Alec groaned.

“Come on, guys,” Clary laughed, pulling the door open. “Let’s go sit down and order. We can talk about this inside,” she added when she saw Izzy’s pout. They’d made it before the morning rush, thankfully, and were guided to a booth almost as soon as they walked in.

“Jace told me you were ready to drown for this guy. He must be special,” Izzy teased. “So, who is he?”

Alec rolled his eyes. “I can’t believe he told you.”

“Well, you aren’t brothers anymore,” Clary pointed out, a sarcastic edge to her helpful tone. “He has no reason to keep your confidences.”

“Fuck,” Alec said, hand to his forehead. “You’re right. I’ve found a flaw in this disownment.”

“Just tell us!” Izzy whined.

Alec shrugged. “I don’t even know. He’s new, I think. I’ve never seen him at the pool before.”

Clary sat back, biting at her lower lip. “Huh.”

“What?” Alec asked.

“Nothing,” she said quickly, shaking her head. “I just...I have a friend who just started as a lifeguard this morning,” she explained.

Izzy’s eyes widened. “What are the chances he’s the one?”

Clary opened her mouth, but paused. She looked past Alec’s shoulder and gave an abrupt laugh. “Uh, well...He’s right over there, if that’s him.”

Alec turned and glanced over his shoulder. A small group stood near the front, waiting to be seated and trying not to be squished by the other groups doing the same. Alec recognized one of them as Clary’s friend Simon. There was a girl he didn’t recognize, but he assumed she was Simon’s girlfriend when he noticed their fingers were interlocked. The third person made his heart start beating faster, like he was back at practice in the middle of a particularly exhausting sprint set. His hair was styled, now, spiked up and somehow perfect despite the breeze outside. Alec could only see one side of the guy’s face, but he still noticed the dash of eyeliner and a few other flares of makeup. Probably a dozen rings adorned his fingers, and still more necklaces hung from his neck over a plunging V-neck shirt. Fuck, Alec thought. I’m definitely drowning myself tomorrow.

He turned back to Izzy and Clary, his mouth suddenly dry. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s him.”

***

The humid air at the pool clung to Magnus’s skin as he made his way back to his apartment after his shift. A cold shower would do him good, he’d decided. It might even wake me up, he thought.

He was wrong. So, so wrong.

At least he had coffee and pancakes to look forward to. That promise kept him going as he showered quickly and dressed, blow drying and styling his hair before tackling his makeup last. His phone buzzed as he put the final touches on his eyeliner. Maia and Simon were outside downstairs waiting. Magnus grabbed his phone and keys and went down to meet them.

Maia and Simon met him with a grin. “Hey, how was your first day of work?” Maia asked as they started walking towards Java Jones.

Magnus sighed as he threw his head back.

“That bad?” Simon snorted.

“Early mornings should be illegal,” Magnus said.

“Poor baby,” Maia said with a pout, rubbing Magnus’s shoulder.

“Did you let anyone drown?” Simon asked. “Are we gonna have to bail you out of jail anytime soon?”

Magnus snorted. “I don’t think that’s necessarily how that works, but no. No one drowned,” he assured Simon.

“What’s the swim team like?” Maia asked. “Anyone cute?” She pressed a kiss to Simon’s cheek as he sputtered a bit at the question. “Don’t worry, babe. I’m not asking for me.”

“I know,” Simon defended. “That’s just not a question you really expect to hear your significant other who you’re in a mutually exclusive relationship with ask. But,” he added, turning to Magnus. “Since we’re already going there, any hot guys or gals?” He wiggled his eyebrows.

Magnus and Maia stared.

“Please never say ‘guys and gals’ ever again,” Maia said.

“Is Maia your galfriend?” Magnus asked.

“Why am I friends with you two?” Simon moaned, ducking around a street vendor.

Maia looped her arm around Simon’s shoulder. “Because we’re delightful.”

Magnus nodded, the most somber look he could muster plastered on his face.

“Okay, but really, answer the question,” Maia insisted after some of the red in Simon’s cheeks had diminished.

“It’s difficult for college level varsity swimmers to wear a Speedo and not be incredibly attractive, Maia, don’t be ridiculous,” Magnus scoffed. “Guys or gals,” he directed at Simon.

“Anyone catch your eye?” Maia asked before Simon could protest.

Magnus shrugged. “I don’t know that I’d go that far.”

Simon narrowed his eyes. “Alright, Mr. Nonchalant.”

“Are we back in fourth grade?” Magnus asked Maia, who hid a laugh in her hand.

She nudged him with her elbow. “Answer the question.”

“Fine,” Magnus sighed. “There was one guy that stood out,” he began, trailing off as they reached Java Jones. “They look busy today,” he said, noticing the apparent crowd waiting to be seated.

“Let’s just go in and see how long the wait is,” Simon said. “We can always find an iHop if they’re too busy.”

Magnus hummed as Maia pulled the door open. His eyes scanned over the restaurant, hoping maybe the crowd was just at the door. No luck. His gaze caught on a head of fiery red hair pressed into one of the booths.

“Oh, Biscuit’s here,” he said, nodding in her direction. Clary spotted him and waved. Isabelle was next to her and flashed a smile at him. A head of dark hair sat across from them. The man turned to glance back and Magnus’s eyes widened slightly, his mouth twitching at the corners.

The Greek god, he thought. His suspicions at the pool had been right:  the Greek god must be one of Isabelle’s brothers. Magnus could definitely see the resemblance. The same dark hair and eyes, the same pensive and striking expression. The Lightwoods were blessed with incredible genes, Magnus thought.

“Is that Izzy’s brother?” Maia asked beside him.

“Yeah,” Simon answered.

Magnus tore his gaze away and turned back to his friends, raising an eyebrow. “The one on Tinder?”

Simon snorted. “No, that’s Jace.” He nodded towards the Greek god. “That’s Alec.”

“I’m gonna find out how long the wait is,” Maia said, inching through the crowd. She returned a minute later. “It’s gonna be like, 30 minutes at least, she said.”

“Do you guys want to wait or should we find somewhere else, then?” Magnus asked. A hand tapped against his shoulder. He turned to find Clary smiling at them.

“Hey guys! We can probably squeeze you all into our booth if you want to join us,” Clary said, pointing her thumb over her shoulder.

Magnus turned to Maia and Simon. They both shrugged. “I can deal with being squished if it means we get pancakes faster,” Maia said. Simon nodded in agreement.

“Great!” Clary said. “Come on.”

***

Alec was sure his face had never been as red as it was now with his sister and her girlfriend staring at him with huge grins.

“I can’t believe it’s Magnus,” Izzy said. “We should’ve introduced them ages ago.”

“Calm down, Iz,” Alec said. “I just think he’s attractive, it’s not like we’re going to get married or something. I’ve never even spoken to him.” He shook his head. “I don’t even know if he’s into guys.”

Clary snorted. “He’s a freewheeling bisexual, and those are his words.”

“See, there’s one problem out of the way,” Izzy teased. “Now you just need to talk to him, and then we can talk about those wedding bells.”

Alec shut his eyes, rubbing at his temple. “I’m going to kill Jace later.”

“This place is kind of crowded,” Clary noted after a minute had passed. “They might not be able to get a table.” She bit her lip. “Would you guys mind if I invited them to sit with us? I’m sure we could all fit.”

“I think that’s a great idea,” Izzy said. “I haven’t seen Magnus in forever, anyways. We might have to squeeze a bit, though.” Alec shrugged noncommittally.

“I’ll be right back,” Clary said, standing and bounding towards the front of the café.”

“Don’t worry,” Izzy said, seeing the warning look Alec shot at her. “I won’t say anything, but you deserve to be happy, and if you think he’s cute then you should go for it.”

Alec sighed. He knew his sister meant well, knew she just wanted him to be happy. That didn’t make it any less embarrassing to have his little sister so invested in his nonexistent love life. “Iz—” he cut off, looking up as Clary returned with her friends.

“You guys already know Izzy, but this is her brother Alec,” she introduced. “Alec, you already know Simon, and this is Maia and Magnus.”

Alec gave a half wave and smiled at the three of them. Maia waved with the hand not clasped in Simon’s. Magnus smiled and Alec had to force himself to pull his gaze away before it became awkward.

The booth was tight as the three of them slid in. Alec wasn’t sure if he should curse or thank his luck when Magnus was squeezed into the middle. Right next to him. Their knees were touching. Alec didn’t think he’d be able to focus on a single other thing for the rest of breakfast.

Their waitress chose that moment to return, delivering their plates to Clary, Izzy, and himself. She didn’t seem fazed by the sudden additions to their table, whipping out her notepad to take Magnus, Simon, and Maia’s orders. Alec focused his attention on his pancakes. His stomach growled angrily as he took the first bite. He moaned slightly at the taste. Everyone turned to him, eyebrows raised and his sister hiding a smirk.

“What?” he defended. “It’s been a long morning. I’d like to see you swim a couple miles at five in the morning.”

“Fair,” Clary said, a grimace on her face at even the thought.

“I think I saw you at the pool this morning,” Magnus said beside him. His voice was hushed, just loud enough for him to hear over the café’s noise. “I just started lifeguarding there.”

Alec turned to look at him. He wondered if it was possible to drown in the syrup off his pancakes. Or maybe the gold in Magnus’s eyes. God, that’s cheesy, he groaned internally. He swallowed the bite in his mouth. “Yeah, I am,” he said. “I think I saw you on the stand.”

Magnus smiled. “Yeah, it was my first day. Can I ask you something?”

Alec raised an eyebrow. “Sure?”

“Why does a college level varsity swim team even need lifeguards?” Magnus asked. “I think you all know how to swim just fine.”

Alec laughed, the sound startling from his chest.

“I’m serious!” Magnus insisted. “Also, why do swim teams have to practice at ungodly hours of the morning? Is there some law that you can’t swim during the daytime?” He gasped. “Are you all secretly vampires?”

“Not a fan of mornings, huh?” Alec grinned.

“Not in the slightest,” Magnus said vehemently.

“I was worried he’d let people drown,” Simon said. He’d taken the spot next to Clary across the table. “I hear it didn’t come to that.”

“Well I can’t speak for what happened after practice,” Alec laughed. “But I can confirm no one drowned during.”

“Not for lack of wanting to, I hear,” Izzy said, grinning at Alec. There was a teasing challenge in her eyes. Evil, Alec thought. Pure evil. Magnus raised an eyebrow.

“What can I say?” Alec diverted. “Hypoxic sets would make anyone want to drown.” He pulled out his phone, quickly sending a text.

TO:  Izzy — Sent 8:09 A.M.

--D I S O W N E D

Her phone dinged a few seconds later and she snorted as she read the message.

“I have no idea what ‘hypoxic’ means,” Simon said, “but it sounds like some form of medieval torture.”

“Yes,” Alec and Magnus answered immediately. Alec looked at Magnus in confusion, forehead scrunching up.

“I used to swim competitively when I was younger,” Magnus explained. “Hypoxic sets are actual hell.”

“Why’d you quit swimming?” Alec asked. “If you don’t mind, I mean,” he added, kicking himself mentally a bit when he saw the shift in Magnus’s expression. He couldn’t read it, exactly, but he could tell it was personal.

Magnus shook his head slightly. “No, it’s okay. Just family stuff mostly, and I fell out of it.”

Alec smiled softly, about to reply when their waitress returned with three more plates. The three additions to their table smiled gratefully at her before digging in.

***

Greek gods smell like chlorine and soap, Magnus thought. Not the sandalwood he used himself, but just...soap. No fragrance other than clean. Simple.

Magnus liked it. It suited him.

Alec Lightwood was even more stunning up close, too. Again, a simple sort of beauty that Magnus couldn’t help but appreciate. The man was striking, just like his sister, but where Isabelle was alluring and somewhat extravagant, Alec was brooding and unassuming, yet he was somehow equally as beautiful.

His voice was warm when he spoke, laughing at whatever nonsense Clary and Simon had started rambling about. Magnus already loved the sound.

Get ahold of yourself, Bane, he thought. He hadn’t been this enthralled in a person so quickly since...since Camille. Just thinking the name brought a bitter taste to his mouth and he quickly took another bite of his pancakes to do away with the memory.

None of this mattered. It didn’t, he told himself. He didn’t need potential love interests right now. He needed friends, and Magnus had a feeling that Alec Lightwood was the kind of person who made a great friend. Magnus saw the way Alec’s gaze softened on his sister, on Clary. Even on Simon, slightly. He radiated care and love and support, underneath his quiet demeanor.

An elbow nudged slightly against his side, pulling him out of his rambling thoughts. Alec stared at him, head leaning on the arm he’d propped against the table.

“So what’s your major?” he asked, a refreshingly genuine curiosity on his face.

Magnus smiled. “Psychology. I’m hoping to get my doctorate and go into counseling.”

“Oh,” Alec said, eyes brightening. “I have a minor in psych. I assume you’ve had Dr. Starkweather?”

“Oh my god,” Magnus breathed. “He’s insane. I love him, but he’s just…”

“Yeah,” Alec laughed. “I know exactly what you mean.”

“So what’s your major, then?” Magnus asked.

To say Alec’s face lit up would be an immense understatement. “English,” Alec said. “Writing, specifically, but I have another minor in literature, too.”

“Want to be the next great American author?” Magnus asked.

Alec’s smile is soft and bright. “Something like that,” he says and Magnus can see the dreams behind his eyes. He wants to know more about them.

“Well,” Magnus said. “I hope one day when your novel is a bestseller and taught in all the best schools, I hope you’ll sign my copy.”

“Absolutely,” Alec promised, pink tinting his cheeks.

Magnus glanced at the time on his phone. He frowned. “I have to go,” he told everyone. “I have class in twenty minutes.”

“Can we pretend it’s still summer?” Clary asked.

“You love your classes, and you know it, babe,” Izzy said, kissing her cheek.

“Doesn’t mean I can’t complain,” Clary grumbled.

“Come on, Fray,” Simon said. “We gotta go be adults.”

“Being an adult is no fun,” Magnus winked. “But, it would be bad form to skip class on the first day, so in this case, Simon is right.” He waved at the waitress as she walked passed, and a moment later she brought everyone’s checks.

“I have class, too,” Maia said next to him after they’d paid. “Come on, we can walk together.” She slid out of the booth, grabbing Simon’s hand and pulling him up, too.

Magnus smiled goodbye at Clary and Isabelle as he stood. His gaze landed back on Greek god. “Nice to meet you, Alec,” he said.

“You too,” Alec smiled. “See you around the pool.”

“I hope so,” Magnus said with a wink.

Chapter Text

Magnus didn’t think he’d heard a single thing Dr. Penhallow had said the entire class as he slipped the course syllabus into his bag. In his defense, it was only syllabus day, and it’s not like he hadn’t been hearing the same university policies recited to him every semester for the past three years. Four now, he thought.

He couldn’t help it. He was exhausted, and clearly had not had nearly enough caffeine to make up for the loss of sleep. This job was going to be the death of him.

It didn’t help, of course, that his mind still hadn’t left Java Jones even though he, Maia, and Simon had left the restaurant hours ago. His mind refused to let go of Alec Lightwood. I really am sleep deprived, Magnus thought, if I’m fixating over a complete stranger.

Maybe fixating wasn’t the right word. It’s not as if Magnus had a crush--he barely even knew him. Interested. That sounded more accurate, he reasoned. Entirely more accurate.

His stomach growled as he left the classroom. Magnus sighed. He was starving, and that definitely was not helping his sudden interest in a certain member of the swim team. He just needed some good food and a good night’s sleep, and he’d be back to normal.

He fought back a yawn, deciding he was far too tired to even entertain the thought of cooking. The dining hall was on the way back to his apartment. He would just get dinner in a  to-go box on his way past, curl up in front of some reality TV, and try not to fall asleep until a more reasonable hour. Going to bed before 8 p.m.? he thought. No, he had a reputation to uphold, new job or not.

“Magnus!”

He turned, just as he was about to leave the academic building. Maia and Simon were heading towards him from another hallway, both grinning and clearly thrilled to finally be out of class.

“Fancy meeting you here,” Magnus said, giving them a tired smile. He hadn’t compared his schedule with his friends, but it made sense the three of them would be in the science building for most of the day. All of the psychology and biology related courses were housed there, of course, and the computer science department had been roped into the same building as well.

“We’re on our way to dinner. Want to join us?” Simon asked.

Magnus felt another yawn building, this one refusing to be held back. “Thank you, but I’m probably getting my food to-go tonight. I’m exhausted,” he said. “I’ll walk with you, though.”

“Do you work tomorrow morning, too?” Maia asked as they headed outside. It wasn’t late enough to be dark out yet, but the sky was just starting to catch flame above the tall city buildings. Magnus had a complex relationship with sunsets in the city. The buildings blocked most of the sight, but the colors tended to reflect on the metal and glass of the skyscrapers in a way that made it look as though the city was burning.

“No,” Magnus answered. “Thank god. I don’t think I could survive two days in a row.”

“I don’t think the swimmers would survive, either,” Simon mumbled. Maia snickered.

“Don’t worry, my dear Simon. There will be no drowning. Scout’s honor,” Magnus swore.

Simon narrowed his eyes. “You were never a Boy Scout.” Magnus grinned and raised a finger to his lips.

The dining hall wasn’t busy yet, miraculously. “This is where I leave you,” Magnus said as they swiped in and grabbed a to-go box for himself.

“You’re no fun,” Maia pouted.

Magnus gasped, brining a hand to his chest in offense. “Me? Not fun? You wound me, Maia.” She swatted his arm. “Besides,” he added, “do you see these bags under my eyes? I need all the beauty sleep I can get.”

“A college student--and a senior, at that--looking tired? The horror!” Maia said. “Fine, go home and eat all alone instead of joining two of your best friends in the entire world.”

“Maia, I’m already going home. There’s no need to make the idea any more enticing,” Magnus winked, earning a groan behind him as he left his friends to get in one of the short lines for some General Tso’s chicken.

Soon, he was back out on the New York streets, walking as quickly as he could. The rest of the evening went according to plan:  good food, good reruns of Project Runway, and what felt like the best night’s sleep he’d had in years.

***

Waking up at four in the morning is infinitely worse on the second day in row than on the first. Alec felt groggy and slow, like his body had forgotten what energy even was. He’d made it through practice just fine, the muscle memory taking over, but as soon as he stepped into the shower, the weight of the morning had hit him.

He needed caffeine and lots of it if he was going to make it through yet another day of droning professors reading from their own syllabi. He wondered what his professors would think if he showed up to class with a literal bucket of black coffee. They’d all probably seen much weirder in their classes, Alec reasoned. No one would probably even mention it. Too bad I don’t have a bucket, he thought.

That was how he ended up in his shared kitchen with Jace, already well into his second cup of coffee by the time Jace even emerged from his room dressed with immaculately dried hair.

“It takes you precisely one and a half cups of coffee to style your hair in the morning,” Alec said. “In case you were wondering.”

Jace shook his head. “I don’t know how you can drink that much coffee without any milk or sugar in it,” he said, pouring himself a cup and adding a generous amount of sugar to it.

Alec grimaced, sticking his tongue out and pretending to retch. He gulped down the rest of his own cup, tapping the mug hard against the counter as he set it down like a shot glass.

“Inhuman,” Jace muttered under his breath.

“If anyone’s inhuman in this—” Alec stopped, catching himself right before saying family . He grinned at Jace, who’d raised any eyebrow at his abrupt pause. “In this apartment,” he corrected. “It would be you.”

“You almost said ‘family,’ didn’t you?” Jace asked, grinning as he took a sip of his coffee. Alec shook his head quickly, but Jace clearly wasn’t buying it. “Just admit it, you miss having a brother.”

“No, I still have Max, remember?” Alec said.

Jace sat down at the counter, taking another slow sip of his coffee. “Wait, are me and Max still brothers? How does this work?”

Alec thought for a moment. “I don’t know. He wasn’t here for the disownment, so I guess you two are still brothers.”

“Yes!” Jace cheered. “I got to keep the best sibling. Don’t tell Iz I said that, though.”

Alec set his empty mug in the sink. “Oh, sure. I’ll keep your secret. You know, like how you didn’t tell her about the new lifeguard.” Jace’s mouth opened like he was ready to defend himself, but no argument came out. “No promises,” Alec winked.

“Well, that’s it. I’m a dead man,” Jace said, downing the rest of his coffee. He slid the empty mug across the counter to Alec. “Can you put that in the sink?”

Alec rolled his eyes and did as asked. “I should go, I have class soon,” he said, glancing at the clock. He rolled his neck, assessing how tired he still felt. “I need more caffeine,” he declared, rummaging through the cabinet to find his thermos.

Jace scrunched his nose. “That much caffeine cannot be healthy. You’re going to give yourself a heart attack.”

Alec shrugged, pouring the rest of the pot into his thermos. “If I die by coffee, it would be worth it.”

“Okay, edgelord,” Jace muttered.

Alec laughed, grabbing his backpack and thermos. “See you later, not brother.” He saw Jace flip him off in the periphery of his vision as he left.

***

Magnus felt like a new person when he woke up the next morning. His alarm went off at a much more reasonable hour, though he wasn’t sure if he’d ever thought of 8:30 in the morning as reasonable before now. Oh, how times change , he thought glumly.

He felt refreshed, though, and today was just another syllabus day, anyways. His only two classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays were both in the morning, which meant he would be scheduled to work in the afternoon on those days for the rest of the semester. Of course, losing his afternoon wasn’t ideal, but at least he didn’t have to murderously watch the swim team every single morning. Magnus knew he wouldn’t survive that. And the swimmers probably wouldn’t either, he thought.

Magnus pulled himself out of bed and into the shower. He was eager to get ready for the day, now that he actually had the energy to do so.

Even though he had a relatively easy day ahead and he felt infinitely more alive after a full night’s sleep, Magnus was dreading today. Or rather, he was dreading his first class. History and Systems of Psychology. A requirement of the psychology major and notoriously the dullest course offered by the department. Magnus understood the importance of history, and learning about how past generations viewed behaviors and treated mental illnesses was interesting in theory--if not a little disturbing--but everyone Magnus knew who’d already taken the course described it as “memorization hell.”

The professor was supposed to be good, though, according to Rate My Professor. Maybe he could survive on caffeine and flashcard sets he finds online, he thought as finished getting ready and heading into his kitchen to make some coffee.

Soon, he’d downed his cup of coffee and was out the door on his way to class. The lecture hall was still mostly empty when he arrived, which meant he got his pick of the seats. His eyes scanned over the classroom, looking to see if he recognized anyone.

Magnus blinked, eyes stopping in the middle of the third row. Greek god, we meet again, Magnus thought as he caught sight of a very clearly exhausted and very clearly zoning out Alec Lightwood.

Magnus bit his lip, contemplating whether or not to sit beside him. It’s not as if they were friends. They’d just met the day before, for god’s sake, he thought. But something pulled him in that direction. It’s not as though he didn’t want to sit next to Alec, and besides, they would be seeing a lot of each other this semester between their mutual friends and both of them frequenting the pool.

His feet carried him to the empty seat next to Alec before his brain could continue overthinking.

***

“I take it early mornings are less tolerable two days in a row?”

Alec jumped, the voice to his left entirely unexpected. He turned, finding himself face to face with Magnus, who’d just taken the seat beside him. Alec didn’t know how he hadn’t seen him enter the classroom. He must be more tired than he thought. Absently, he took another sip of his coffee.

“Sorry,” Magnus said, taking in his surprise with a small sheepish grin. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Oh, no,” Alec said quickly. “It’s okay. This is my third cup of coffee.” He raised the cup like he was giving a toast. “I’m probably going to overdose on caffeine. At least, that’s what my sort-of-brother said.”

“The one you disowned?” Magnus asked, eyes amused. Alec’s face twisted in confusion and Magnus breathed a laugh. “Clary mentioned it,” he explained.

“Oh, right,” Alec said. “You guys are friends.”

“Yeah,” Magnus said. “I hear his Tinder profile is a crime against women everywhere.”

Alec snorted. “That’s an understatement.” He took another sip of coffee. “So you had off this morning? I didn’t see you at the pool.” He felt his ears heat up as soon as he said it. Was that too much? Alec worried. They’d only just met yesterday and here he was admitting that he’d looked for him that morning.

“Yes, I did,” Magnus said, not noticing or not mentioning Alec’s blush, to his relief. “I’m working this afternoon. I don’t think I could handle two days in a row. I was beyond exhausted yesterday.”

“I know the feeling,” Alec muttered, taking another long sip of his coffee. He sighed as he drank the last few drops. “There isn’t enough caffeine in the world to wake me up today.”

“You’re in the wrong class, then,” Magnus said under his breath as their professor walked into the room and a slight hush fell over the class. “History and Systems of Psych isn’t known to be the most engaging course. It definitely won’t keep you awake, Alexander.”

Alec blinked. Alexander . No one called him that, not since Isabelle first started speaking and her mouth couldn’t quite form the full extent of his name. She couldn’t pronounce the X either, he remembered. It had been adorable, even if it was a little annoying, and “Alec and her” had evolved into “Alec .”

Magnus raised an eyebrow, a small apologetic smile on his lips. “Sorry, I just assumed its your full name, but if it bothers you—”

“It’s okay,” Alec said quickly, and it was true. No one called him by his full name, it was true--not even his parents, except for if he’d gotten in trouble growing up. He’d thought he hated his full name--hated the feeling of disappointment he’d come to associate with it. But, he liked the way the name sounded when Magnus said it. There wasn’t disappointment there, but something else. Alec didn’t know what, but didn’t mind it. He liked it. “No one else really calls me that, but I don’t mind, if you want to.”

Magnus smiled, something serious in his gaze. “I think it suits you.”

Alec wanted to say something, but he didn’t know what. Magnus, a man he’d known for roughly 24 hours, had left him at a loss for words. It didn’t matter, though. Their professor called the class to attention and handed a student near the front a large stack of the syllabus papers to be passed around.

He smiled back at Magnus instead for a longer moment than he probably should have. “Thank you,” he whispered to him as the stack of syllabus papers reached them and finally turned away to give his attention to the class.

***

Class lasted an eternity. At least, that’s how it felt to Magnus, especially since all he wanted to do was keep talking to Alec. The poor man looked three times as exhausted as Magnus had felt the day before.

Magnus had been surprised to see him in this class. Alec mentioned the day before that he was minoring in psychology, but this course wasn’t required for the minor. Why would he willingly subject himself to this? Magnus wondered. Maybe he just really enjoyed long, dull, and sometimes exceedingly cruel histories, Magnus thought, in which case, he definitely wanted to get to know Alexander Lightwood better.

Alexander . The full name had slipped out of his mouth earlier, without him meaning it to, but Alec hadn’t seemed to mind once he’d gotten past the initial surprise. Magnus worried he’d overstepped, but Alec’s words and shy smile reassured him that it was okay. He’d looked almost like he was in awe , though Magnus wasn’t sure of what exactly. Alec’s cheeks turned pink a second later, though, as he looked away and Magnus decided not to push it.

Alec blushed a lot, Magnus had noticed. Around him, anyways. Maybe he wasn’t used to making new friends with complete strangers. Magnus couldn’t blame him for feeling a little embarrassed or socially awkward. It was a miracle he wasn’t stumbling over awkward small talk himself.

Magnus’s ears had burned when Alec mentioned he hadn’t seen Magnus at the pool that morning. Casually, he’d said it, like it wasn’t a big deal at all that he’d cared enough to look for Magnus. It was refreshing, and Magnus was sure his ears were burning, but it was a pleasant sensation.

“Alright,” the professor said, drawing Magnus’s attention back to the class. “Before I let you all go for the day, I should tell you that this course will be content heavy, which will make the exams that much more daunting.” A few groans echoed around the classroom. “I recommend you form study groups to help stay on top of the information. Trust me, it’ll make things go a lot more smoothly.” The professor slipped a few papers into his bag. “See you all on Thursday.”

Alec sighed beside him, slipping his own syllabus into his bag.

“Off to replenish your caffeine supply?” Magnus asked.

Alec nodded vigorously. “You?”

“Unfortunately, my next class starts in 15 minutes,” Magnus answered with a sigh.

Alec grimaced. “Back to back morning classes? That’s rough.”

“It could be worse,” Magnus shrugged. “And they’re my only two for the day.”

“Oh,” Alec said. “That’s good, at least.” He shifted on his feet, biting at his lip. “Would you--would you want to study together? For this class?” The hand around his thermos tightened his grip, the knuckles going a little white until he seemed to realize and relax.

Magnus grinned. “That would be great, actually.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Why don’t we exchange numbers? That way we can plan when to meet, and it seems like we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other anyways,” he added with a wink.

Alec’s cheeks lit up in a blaze not unlike the city at sunset, but he smiled and held his own phone out.

“So why are you in this course, anyways?” Magnus asked while he entered his number into Alec’s contacts. “It isn’t required for the minor, and I can’t imagine it was at the top of your list of desired classes.”

Alec shrugged. “I only needed one more class to finish the minor, and it was the only one that fit into my schedule. And I like history, so I figured I could survive.”

“Well,” Magnus said as they handed each other back their phones. “I hope you do. Survive, I mean.”

Alec smiled, even the dark circles under his eyes lightening up a bit. “You too, Magnus.”

***

Izzy was already waiting for him at a table when Alec made it to the dining hall early that afternoon for lunch.

“So, how are your classes going?” she asked as soon as he sat down.

“Alright, I guess,” he answered, biting into his sandwich. “Most of them are writing intensives so I’ll be drowning in papers soon enough. Yours?”

“Nothing exciting,” Izzy sighed. “Oh, wait.” Her eyes lit up. “We get to do dissections in one of my classes later this semester.”

Alec stuck his tongue out in disgust. “No, thanks.”

Izzy rolled her eyes. “You and Jace are no fun. I wish Max was here, too. He’d talk about cutting things open with me.”

“On second thought, maybe Jace and I are brothers,” Alec said. “I don’t know what that makes you and Max, though.”

“Fun.”

“Debatable,” Alec said, taking another bite of his sandwich.

“So,” she said a little too casually a few minutes later. “Did you see Magnus at the pool this morning?”

It was Alec’s turn to roll his eyes. “No.” His sister looked disappointed, pouting slightly at the news. He fought the urge to roll his eyes again. “But,” he added, “we do have a class together.”

“Really? What is it?” she asked. Alec couldn’t resist rolling his eyes this time, her voice ridiculously curious.

“History and Systems of Psych.”

Izzy’s nose scrunched up. “Sounds boring.”

“Probably,” he agreed. “But I needed one more for the minor and then I’m done, so…” He took another bite. “Anyways, the professor said we should form study groups, so Magnus and I are study buddies now, I guess.”

“Study buddies, huh?” Izzy asked, wiggling her eyebrows. Alec tossed his napkin at her. “Okay, okay, I’ll change the subject.”

“Why don’t you insist on helping Jace’s love life instead of mine?” Alec complained. “He’s the one who needs help. I’m doing just fine by comparison.” He ran a hand through his probably already messy hair. “At least I’m gracefully single and not tormenting the masses on Tinder.”

Izzy shuddered. “Okay, you’re right. I’ll back off,” she said, raising her hands in surrender. She reached across the table and put her hand on his. “I just want you to be happy, Alec.”

He smiled. “I know, Iz, and I love you. I am happy, I promise.”

“I love you, too, hermano.”

Chapter Text

Magnus was amazed at how quickly he’d fallen into the routine of the semester. Even the early mornings didn’t feel quite so daunting every time his alarm went off (though of course, he still bemoaned the loss of sleep, especially as his professors began handing out more and more assignments).

It wasn’t just that the mornings had become tolerable , though. He almost enjoyed them. He definitely preferred his morning shifts to the ones in the afternoon. During his afternoon shifts, the only people in the water were groups of teenagers just out of school for the day who were just there because they somehow had nothing better to do anywhere else in the city. Sometimes, his shift would stretch a little later into the evenings for high school and year round meets.

The echoes of the announcer and starting beep, the splashing water, and the cheering voices of swimmers and parents were ridiculously loud, but Magnus didn’t mind that so much, even if it did give him a headache. If anything, the sound burrowed its way into his heart and his mind, pulling out memories of his own swim meets, once upon a time:  his mom cheering him on from the side, the exhilarating rush of cold water when he dove in, the giant grin accompanying a heat winner ribbon and the taste of victory.

Not all of the memories were good, though:  the disappointment when he didn’t win his heat or event, his own anger directed at himself when he didn’t drop time like he wanted or worse, gained . How he’d fallen out of swimming in the first place.

No use thinking about that now , Magnus thought, shaking his head as if he could shake off the darker memories. He didn’t want to focus on that now, or ever again if he had anything to say about it.

He only wanted to remember the happier memories from his swim team days. He wanted to remember the way the coaches let them play water polo every Friday if they’d had a meet that week. He wanted to remember his mom telling him she was proud of him after every single race, no matter what place he’d finished in. He wanted to remember the way the smell of chlorine started to feel like a home in itself.

I miss it .

He’s thought it more than once over the past few weeks. The smell of chlorine brought a small smile to his lips, like he’d found an old friend again.

The swim team’s practices were almost always entertaining, too. It certainly helped Magnus stay awake every morning. Something to look forward to as he dragged himself out of the warmth of his bed. By the end of the first week, Magnus had seen many shenanigans between sets and at the end of their practice. One morning, a group of guys on the team had put their caps on over their faces. Magnus wasn’t sure if that counted as a safety hazard he was meant to intervene with (and neither had Cory, who’d simply shrugged, clearly used to the team’s antics). Their coach--Luke, Magnus had learned--merely shook his head. As long as they did the sets, he didn’t seem to mind how ridiculous his team got.

Magnus really, really missed swimming. Not just the team aspect, but all of it. The competition even within your team, the ice cold water that felt like a blessing by the end of practice, the ability to eat tons of carbs without a care in the world.

It’s been so long, though , he thought. He’d seen some of the sets Luke gave his team. There was no way his body was prepared to do that just yet.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t in shape. Magnus went to the gym twice a week, and he ran every evening if he could. He’d also started attending the university offered dance classes the year before with his friend Dot.

Swimming was different, though. Different sets of muscles. Different kinds of strength. An entirely different sort of endurance. Hell, it was the only sport Magnus could think of where the athletes were told not to breathe.

The coach he’d had as a boy used to lecture swimmers that for every missed practice, their bodies would need to work ten times harder to maintain their strength. Of course, Magnus wasn’t sure if that math added up quite right, and more than likely, it was just some motivational crap the coach had picked up somewhere.

He had a feeling the speech might be more accurate now, however. Almost a decade , Magnus thought, his lips pressed in a thin line. There was absolutely no way he was ready to even think about joining the university’s team. It would cut into my work schedule anyways , he thought, and then I wouldn’t have mornings off, either.

No, that wouldn’t do. Having every other morning off was precisely the reason he found his new job so bearable. There had to be another way.

He could simply go to the pool on his own, he thought, making his way through the science building to class. Magnus had been given a free membership to the pool when he’d taken the lifeguarding job. Oh, the perks of waking up ridiculously early , he thought.

That wouldn’t do, though. Swimming by yourself couldn’t possibly be fun, and besides, he needed some kind of accountability. If he was by himself, how could he possibly force himself to work through entire sets? Or even go in the first place, Magnus thought, chewing slightly on the lip still caught between his teeth.

Alec was already in his seat when Magnus arrived. He always got there first, no matter how early Magnus made it to class. Not that it was a competition, per se, but somehow it frustrated Magnus to no end.

“How are you always here before me?” he grumbled, dropping into his unassigned assigned seat next to Alec.

Alec shrugged. “My apartment’s only half a block away.”

“That’s lucky,” Magnus muttered.

They sat in silence for a moment, the din of students entering the classroom and filling the remaining seats surrounding them. Magnus chewed on his lip some more, his hands fiddling loosely with the rings on his fingers.

“How was practice this morning?” Magnus asked quietly.

Alec looked up, his mouth twitching into a small smile. “Good,” he said. “Coach went easy on us this morning, thank god.”

“That’s good,” Magnus said, letting out a nervous breath. “I, uh… I wanted to ask you something.”

Alec raised an eyebrow. “What’s up?”

This is ridiculous, Magnus thought, how nervous he felt. It’s not as if I’m asking him on a date or something . It’s just swimming.

But in that second, Magnus felt himself spiralling into every possible scenario of Alec saying “no.” They really, really don’t know each other all that well, and maybe Alec wouldn’t want to spend time with him like that. They’re already study buddies for this class, maybe that’s enough for Alec. Maybe that’s already too much . Maybe I’m too much , that’s what she always said . Magnus shook his head slightly, trying to dislodge his own insecurities from where they’d burrowed into his thoughts. It shouldn’t matter what she always said, not anymore.

He took a deep breath. “Remember how I mentioned I used to swim?” Alec nodded. “Well, I’ve been thinking that I’d like to get back into it, or at least try to, but I know I’m not anywhere near ready to consider joining a team yet.” Magnus swallowed. His mouth felt very dry and he wished he’d remembered to grab his water bottle on his way out of the apartment. “I was thinking about going to the pool once or twice a week on my own, but…” He trailed off, absently playing with his rings again.

“You need some accountability?” Alec asked.

Magnus exhaled, the sound a nervous and slightly surprised laugh. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.” Alec was smiling at him and somehow the sight was all the courage he needed. “I know you’re at the pool everyday already, and it’s completely fine if you don’t want to, I know you’re probably busy, but would you possibly be interested? In swimming with me, I mean.” He was rambling, Magnus knew. He wanted to grimace, but he settled for pressing his lips together and forcing himself to shut up.

For a few seconds, Alec said nothing. Magnus’s heart thudded in his chest. Get a hold of yourself, Bane , he chastised. The world wouldn’t end if Alec Lightwood didn’t want to swim with him. Or maybe it would, he thought, and then whatever nervousness or embarrassment he was feeling now wouldn’t even matter.

“Okay,” Alec said. Magnus felt his eyes widen before he schooled his expression back into it’s calm mask. “Yeah, I’m in.”

“Really?” Magnus asked. “I don’t want to be a bother—”

Alec shook his head. “Seriously, it’s fine. I don’t mind.” He shrugged. “I’m trying to make a cut time for the National’s meet, and the extra practice could definitely help.”

Magnus’s smile felt huge and he was sure he looked rather goofy, but he didn’t care. “Thank you, Alexander. I really do appreciate it.”

“I’m glad I can help,” Alec smiled. “What days do you want to meet? We could start with once a week and see how things go, and work up to more days if we have time?”

Magnus nodded. “That’s a good idea. I’m free Wednesday afternoons and evenings.”

Alec bit his lower lip, thinking. “That could work. Could we start next week? Jace and I were planning to go to the gym tomorrow afternoon.”

“Of course, Alexander,” Magnus said, pulling out his phone to enter it into his calendar. “Is 4:30 okay?” Alec nodded. “So, is Jace your brother again? Or is he still disowned?” he asked, slipping his phone back into his pocket.

Alec sighed. “I guess he’s my brother.” He narrowed his eyes. “But don’t tell him that. It’s fun to watch him sweat.”

Magnus laughed, his head thrown back in his seat. “I wouldn’t dream of spoiling your fun, darling.”

***

Finally , Alec thought as his phone buzzed. He pulled his earbuds out and glanced at the screen, exhaling in relief when he saw Jace’s name.

He’d headed to the library right after the class he shared with Magnus. He and Izzy had made a habit of eating together, but today she and Clary had other plans, much to his annoyance. It meant he had to wait an extra hour for Jace to get out of class so they could eat lunch together.

Alec was starving. Every time his stomach growled, he swore he could hear echoes .

He slipped his textbook and notebook back into his backpack as quickly as he could. I should’ve brought a snack , he thought. Alec didn’t have the slightest clue how Jace survived every other day like this. Maybe he eats a bigger breakfast .

Jace met him outside the dining hall, raising an eyebrow when Alec rushed past him inside. “You know you could’ve just gotten food on your own if you’re so hungry, right?”

“I don’t like eating alone,” Alec grumbled. “I would’ve gotten it to-go, but it wasn’t worth the walk back to the apartment, either.”

Jace brought his hand to his chest, feigning a wounded expression. “And here I just thought you enjoyed my company.”

They found an empty spot at a table and dropped their bags into the seats to save their spots. A few minutes later, they were back at their seats with their lunches.

“We still on to go to the gym tomorrow?” Jace asked, biting into his sandwich.

“Oh,” Alec said. “Uh, I can still go tomorrow, but after this week I can’t do Wednesdays anymore.”

“Why not?” Jace asked. “Did you add a class? I thought the add/drop period ended already.”

“Not a class,” Alec said. “Just...different exercise plans.”

Jace raised an eyebrow. “Such as?”

Alec coughed and took a sip of water. “You know Magnus? The lifeguard?” he asked.

“The cute lifeguard, you mean?” Jace asked, wiggling his eyebrows.

Alec reached across the table and smacked his arm. But, “Yeah,” he grumbled. “ That lifeguard.”

Jace rubbed his arm, mouthing an “ow,” but he smiled. “So,” he said casually enough that Alec narrowed his eyes in poorly veiled distrust. “Is this like a date?”

Alec leaned back in his chair, throwing his head back in a groan. “No. It is definitely not a date. He said he wants to get back into swimming but he needs some accountability, and I’m trying to make that National’s cut, so I figured the extra practice wouldn’t hurt.”

Jace looked unconvinced, the corners of his mouth still pulled into a teasing smile. “Do you want it to be a date?” he asked.

“I--I don’t know,” Alec said. “Ask me that again in a few weeks when I know him a little better.”

“Will do,” Jace nodded, making a show of pulling out his phone and making a note to himself.

“And you wonder why you’re disowned,” Alec snorted.

“You love me,” Jace said, flashing his best golden boy smile. The smile that could win anyone over, even their father.

“Yeah, but don’t tell anyone that. I have a reputation to uphold.”

“And what’s that?” Jace asked, taking a bite of his lunch. “Grumpy and rude to your siblings?”

“No,” Alec said, shaking his head. “I’m delightful to my siblings. Just ask Izzy and Max.”

Jace scoffed. “I seem to remember you kidnapping Izzy’s favorite doll a few times.”

“I was nine!” Alec defended. “And she’d just forced me to spend the day letting her paint my nails and play dress up. I was in my rights!”

“Whatever you say, man,” Jace shrugged. “So do you want to workout on another day, then?” he asked. “You don’t have to, if you don’t want to. It’s just more fun with someone else, you know?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Alec agreed. “Accountability, and all that. What about the weekend? Or would that cut into your dating life?” he teased with a shit-eating grin.

“Saturdays are fine,” Jace said, glaring. Alec blinked innocently at him, taking a sip of his water. “But I’ll have you know that I do, in fact, have a date this weekend.”

Alec almost spat out his drink, coughing as Jace’s glare returned tenfold. “Really?” he asked incredulously once he’d regained his composure.

“Oh, come on,” Jace said. “It’s not that hard to believe.” Alec pressed his lips together, giving a noncommittal shrug. Jace rolled his eyes. “You’re ridiculous.”

“Okay, okay,” Alec said, waving his hand. “You’re a catch, whatever. Who is she?”

“A friend of Izzy’s,” Jace said. “I guess it’s sort of a blind date.”

Alec grimaced. “Good luck,” he said. “I’m just glad she’s backed off of my dating life.”

“Not once she hears about you and Magnus’s swimming date,” Jace grinned.

“One,” Alec said pointedly, “it’s not a date. Two, we’re barely even friends . I barely know him.”

“So get to know him,” Jace suggested. “Clearly you’re attracted to him. You didn’t contemplate drowning yourself last week for no reason.”

“I plan to,” Alec said. “Get to know him, I mean, not drown myself.” Jace snorted. “As friends , Jace.”

“Fine,” he sighed. “But I call best man at your wedding.”

Alec rolled his eyes. “You’d have to fight Max for it.”

“That kid’s got nothing on me!” Jace said, smirking as he flexed one of his arms.

“Don’t count him out just yet,” Alec warned. “You know the family motto. ‘Break noses and accept the consequences.’ Wouldn’t want him ruining that pretty face of yours.”

Jace blanched. “Yeah, okay, he can have it.” He scooted his chair back, stacking his now empty plate with his used napkins. “You ready to go?”

Alec nodded, grinning. “If only I’d known growing up how easy it is to win an argument with you.”

Jace shook his head. “No, I’d let Max win because he’s smaller than me. We ,” he added, gesturing between the two of them, “are roughly the same size and I know you’re just as strong as me. It would be a fair fight.”

Alec scooted his own chair back and stood, slinging his backpack over his shoulder and picking up his own plate. “Keep telling yourself that,” he said, patting Jace’s arm as he moved past.

Chapter Text

Magnus shouldn’t feel as nervous as he does. He couldn’t help it, though, and hadn’t stopped thinking about it all day. Today was the day. The day he pushed himself back into swimming after quitting all those years ago. The day he finally stepped back into the water for the first time since—

He shook his head, clearing that train of thought from his mind. Today wasn’t about the past, or drowning in memories he’d rather push to the back of his mind. No, today was about not drowning. Literally, he thought, exhaling a short laugh at his own bad joke.

He quickened his pace, walking in the direction of the pool. Alec agreed to meet him there, and given his punctuality to their shared psych class, Magnus had a feeling he was already there.

Magnus fiddled with the hem of his t-shirt as he walked. What if I don’t remember how to swim? he worried. Rationally, he knew that it didn’t work like that, but he kept imagining himself floundering around until Alec or Cory had to save him. Then, he’d be out of a swimming partner--maybe swimming altogether--and possibly out of a job. He couldn’t imagine that being unable to swim himself wouldn’t be a great bullet point on his résumé.

Now you’re just being ridiculous, he told himself. He had a lifeguard certification, for God’s sake. He’d swam a 300 and treaded water for five whole minutes to get that certification. I can swim just fine.

But fine and well were two very different adjectives with two very different connotations.

It certainly wasn’t boosting his confidence that Alec was already a member of the university’s varsity swim team. He’s going to be swimming laps around me, Magnus thought. He couldn’t imagine why Alec had agreed to swim with him at all. What if I’m completely awful and he regrets it?

His phone rang in the pocket of his shorts, making him jump (quite literally) out of his thoughts. He’d forgotten he’d left the ringer on, and that he’d left it on so loud.

Maia’s smiling face appeared on the caller ID. Magnus’s own lips quirked up at the picture. He wondered for a brief second if his friend had heard his spiralling anxious thoughts and was calling to verbally smack him out of it.

“Hello, Maia,” he said, answering the call.

“Hey!” she replied, some static over her cheerful voice. “I know it’s kind of last minute, but Simon and I are going to see a movie in, like, 30 minutes if you want to come with.”

Magnus sighed. “That sounds fun, but I’m meeting Alexander to swim this afternoon. I’m on my way to the pool now.”

“Oh, I forgot that was today,” Maia said. “Well, me and Si will miss you.”

“No, you won’t,” Magnus scoffed. “Now you can hold hands and make out in the back of the theater like high schoolers in peace.”

“You’re right. That sounds much more fun,” she said. “Enough about me and Simon’s date, though." Maia's voice turned teasing. Magnus narrowed his eyes. "Are you excited for yours?”

Magnus coughed, choking on absolutely nothing. He glared at the sidewalk ahead him as Maia laughed in his ear. “It’s not a date,” he insisted.

“It sounds like a date,” Maia said.

“Definitely is not a date, Maia.” He heard more laughing on the other line, and Maia’s muffled voice telling Simon what he’d said.

“Let me talk to him,” Magnus heard Simon’s muffled voice say, followed by the shuffling sound of the phone being passed. “Magnus?” Simon asked, voice much clearer.

“Yes, Simon?”

“Are you,” Simon said slowly, “absolutely certain that this is not a date?”

“Considering I’m the one who made the arrangements in the first place, one hundred percent yes, I am sure this is, in fact, not a date,” Magnus said, rolling his eyes. Honestly, he thought, his friends were ridiculous.

“Okay, okay,” Simon relented. “Maybe this one isn’t a date, but could there possibly one day be a date? Don’t pretend you aren’t attracted to him. You do refer to him as a ‘Greek god,’” he pointed out.

Magnus sighed. “Fine,” he said. “I will admit that I find him attractive. But like I said, this is not a date, and there won’t be any dates. I’m not looking for anything like that at the moment, and I don’t think I’m ready for it, either. I would much rather just stay friends with Alec.”

“Okay, we’ll back off,” Simon said, his voice apologetic. He paused before asking, “but the key phrase is ‘at the moment,’ right?”

“Oh, what do you know,” Magnus said. “I’m at the pool already. I’ve got to go, Simon, bye!” He hung up the phone quickly before Simon could protest. It wasn’t a lie, exactly. He could see the building up ahead, but he still had a little time to talk. He didn’t feel bad, though, as he slipped his phone back into his pocket.

He sighed, feeling his phone vibrate in his pocket.

FROM:  Maia — Received 5:26 PM

--Sorry for pushing. We just want you to be happy.

Magnus reached the steps of the building that housed the pool and typed out a quick response.

TO:  Maia — Sent 5:26 PM

--I know you both mean well
--I just need to figure out that sort of stuff out on my own.

A date, he thought, shaking his head at the sheer ridiculousness of it. He’d meant what he’d said to Simon. Magnus wasn’t ready for anything even close to that. Maybe he never would be, not after Camille, not again.

Magnus knew he was stronger now, knew that the walls he’d built up to protect himself would be left standing for a very, very long time. Closing himself off had been a necessity of survival, and he wasn’t going to destroy the first bit of happiness he’d felt in a really long time. No, Magnus wasn’t going to go looking for love. He was more than content to hide behind fortified castle walls and the support of his friends.

He took a deep breath, trying to dispel the bitter taste in his mouth caused by the memory of Camille. Today wasn’t about her. Nothing in his life was about her, not anymore.

Today was another step in regaining his own identity, his own life. He took another breath and stepped through the doors.

***

Alec refreshed Twitter on his phone for what felt like millionth time. He’d gotten to the pool far earlier than he’d needed to, and he felt mildly out of place just sitting on the bleachers. Weird, he thought, how the pool felt almost like a second home when he was there with his team, but now he felt almost like a stranger.

Or maybe I’m just nervous and overthinking. That’s what Izzy would tell him, he was sure.

There was absolutely nothing to be nervous about, he knew. Swimming was as familiar to him as his own name, and he’d swam alone with Jace plenty of times. He’d even met up with Underhill and Lydia once or twice to get in an extra workout.

He knew it wasn’t the sport that was making him nervous, though. It’s who he was swimming with.

Alec didn’t know why, but he liked Magnus. He wanted Magnus to like him, too. He wanted to be his friend, like there was a magnet drawing him to Magnus. Maybe there is, he thought, mind easily going to Magnus’s alluring and charismatic personality.

Not to mention that he was easily the most attractive man Alec had ever laid eyes on--a sentiment Alec was sure would offend Jace if he were to voice it.

He pushed that out of his mind quickly. Clary had mentioned a bad breakup, and Alec didn’t want to scare Magnus away or make him uncomfortable. He’d consider himself lucky if Magnus even wanted to be his friend. They still hardly knew each other, and Alec hoped that would change soon, but only in whatever capacity and speed Magnus wanted it to.

You’re really getting ahead of yourself, Lightwood, he thought. He heard Izzy’s teasing voice in his head calling him a gay disaster. She wasn’t wrong.

Alec pulled a folded notecard out of his pocket. Magnus had asked if Alec could make a set for their practice, since he was the one with much more recent experience swimming. He glanced back over the set, making sure he hadn’t put anything too difficult. He wanted to make the set relatively mild for the both of them. Magnus hadn’t swam like this in years, and Alec didn’t want to throw him back into the sport with a rough set. Plus, he himself didn’t want to overdo it, what with already swimming every morning for the team, anyways. The extra practice wouldn’t do his fight for a National’s cut time any good if he was overworked and exhausted.

From the corner of his eye, he saw the door to the locker room swing open. He looked up to see Magnus heading towards him. Alec smiled, giving a half wave as he stood.

He’s nervous, too, Alec noticed almost immediately, not missing the way Magnus’s fingers tugged slightly at the edge of his t-shirt. The realization makes him feel instantly better about his own nerves. Magnus returned the smile,

“Hey,” Alec said when he reached him. His voice was breathier than he’d intended and he flushed a little. Maybe Magnus would just think it’s the building’s humidity, Alec thought hopefully.

“Hello, Alexander,” Magnus said with a smile, setting his back down next to Alec’s on the bleachers. It’s strange, Alec thought, seeing Magnus up close without makeup. Of course, he’d seen Magnus without makeup before in the mornings, but never up close. In class, he always wore eyeliner and sometimes lipstick and probably lots of other things Alec didn’t know how to recognize, despite Izzy’s best efforts. It was like a sort of armor Magnus put on, a tiger’s stripes. Magnus was just as striking without makeup, but in an altogether softer way. He looked adorable with his nervous grin.

“So, uh,” Alec said, pulling his gaze back down to the set before Magnus noticed his staring. “I figured we could take it easy today, go at whatever pace you need to. The set shouldn’t be too bad, but we can change things up if it’s too much.”

“I’m sure it will be fine, Alexander,” Magnus smiled, taking a quick look at the set. “Looks perfect, actually.”

“Great,” Alec said, relieved.

“I wanted to thank you, again,” Magnus said. “For agreeing to swim with me. I know you must be busy, and I’m sure you’re already tired enough from morning practices as it is—”

Alec shook his head. “I already told you, it’s not a big deal. I’m happy to help.”

“I know, but—”

“Magnus,” Alec interrupted again. “I wouldn’t have agreed to swim with you if I didn’t want to. I love swimming, and like I said, the extra practice will be a big help trying to get a cut for National’s. And,” he hesitated. “And, I like talking to you. I want to get to know you better.”

Magnus’s cheeks turned pink, from the sentiment or the humidity or both, Alec wasn’t sure. He smiled. “I do, too,” he said. “Like talking to you, I mean, and I want to get to know you better, too.”

Alec’s own cheeks felt red again. “Okay, so uh,” he started, scratching nervously at the back of his neck. “I guess we should get to it?”

Magnus nodded, and they both turned back to their bags. Alec stripped down to his suit, digging through his bag to find his cap and goggles as Magnus did the same.

Oh, now that’s just not fair , Alec thought as Magnus took off his t-shirt and he caught a glimpse of his abs. The universe was not going to go easy on him, he thought. No, the universe was determined to make Alec Lightwood the biggest gay disaster to ever exist.

It’s not like Alec isn’t used to seeing incredible abs. He’d seen quite a few over the years from his own teammates at practices and from various teams at meets. Normally, Alec just ignores them without a problem. It’s hard to be affected by something you’ve seen so often for so long. But god was Alec gay as hell and god was Magnus hot.

He shook his head, uncapping his water bottle and taking a swig to distract himself. Just friends , he told himself. Friends don’t ogle other friends’ god-tier abs.

Alec grabbed his cap, pulling it down over his hair in one quick movement. A few strands escaped on the side and he tucked them underneath the latex, quirking an eyebrow slightly as he noticed Magnus looking at him.

Magnus held out his own cap. “I was wondering if you could help me put it on? It’s been a long time,” he said sheepishly, “and I never quite mastered doing it on my own, anyways.”

“Yeah, of course,” Alec said, taking one end of the cap and easily stretching it around Magnus’s head as he held the other end to his forehead. “Don’t worry, Jace still can’t put it on by himself, either, and he’s been swimming just as long as me.”

Magnus huffed a laugh. “Glad to know I’m not alone, then.”

Alec carried his water bottle and dropped it beside the lane. “Start with a 200 for warm-up?” he suggested, slipping on his goggles.

“Sounds good,” Magnus answered. He dipped his foot into the water, grimacing at what Alec was sure was an icelike temperature.

Alec laughed and jumped, purposefully sending a splash back towards the wall.

“Rude!” Magnus accused, shivering a little from the drops of water that had landed on his mostly bare skin.

“It’s not so bad once you’re in,” Alec grinned. He didn’t wait for Magnus to jump after him, instead pushing off of the wall and into the 200.

***

Alec started swimming, and Magnus was left shivering on the side of pool. He chewed on his lower lip, trying to work up the courage to dive in after Alec.

The moment felt a thousand times more important, more significant than it probably actually was. He’d grimaced when he’d dipped his toes into the water, but the reaction wasn’t solely from the cold, as Alec assumed. It was, partly, though. The water felt like it was on the verge of becoming an iceberg.

But the other part was that he couldn’t get his mind to shut up . The second his foot touched the water, the memories flooded him. I’m being ridiculous , he thought. No, he hadn’t really swam like this in years--hadn’t thought he ever would again--but it wasn’t as though he hadn’t even stepped foot in a pool since. After he quit, he still visited the pool in the summers with friends, and he’d of course had to swim when he first got his lifeguard certification and whenever he renewed it.

He remembered hanging back with some of his teammates, hesitant to get into the cold water. Their sneaky attempts to avoid the cold never worked out for long. Some kids would bite the bullet and pull their friends after them, or splash until they relented. Sometimes their coach would push them in, laughing over their cries of protest and sudden cold.

Alec was halfway across the pool already. Magnus exhaled and pulled his goggles down from his forehead and over his eyes.

Suddenly he was young again, just a little boy, standing on the edge of the pool. His mom was already in the water, arms outstretched for him to jump in as well. Come on, baby, she’d called. The water’s nice. I’ll catch you. The memory left him breathless.

Alec was at the far flags when Magnus looked up again, about to flip turn.

Magnus dove.

He’d forgotten how nice it felt to have the water rushing past you on the first dive. He barely even noticed how cold the water was as he swam. Muscle memory took over quickly and he smiled. He’d forgotten how much he loved swimming, but his body hadn’t.

He took it slow, not wanting to push himself too much just yet. He felt strong, but still a little unsure. He knew his movements were a little choppy, remembering what to do but definitely out of practice.

God, it felt good to be back.

Chapter Text

The pool deck was considerably colder when Magnus pulled himself from the water, but he didn’t mind. The rising goosebumps along his arms felt like victory.

“Are you sure you haven’t swam in years?” Alec asked, already towelling off. “Your form is incredible.”

“Oh, please, Alexander,” Magnus said, pulling is own towel from his bad. “You’ll make me blush.” He was pleasantly surprised to find that his own teasing comment had ignited a pink flame in Alec’s own cheeks. Alec turned back to his bag, trying--and failing--to subtly hide his new hue. Magnus let him, diverting the conversation. “Was it good, though? Muscle memory kind of just...took over.”

Alec stopped trying to hide, his gaze falling on Magnus with a grin. “Yeah, it was. If I’m being honest, I’m a little jealous of your butterfly, and I’m here on scholarship for fly.”

“Really?” Magnus asked. “I didn’t know that.”

“Oh, yeah,” Alec shrugged. “It’s, uh, it’s probably the only reason I’m here.”

Magnus raised an eyebrow. “At this school? Or…?”

Alec’s eyes ducked down, one hand scratching absently at the back of his neck. “Probably school in general. I don’t… I don’t really want to talk about it, at least not now.”

“Of course,” Magnus said quickly. “Forget I asked, really. We don’t have to talk about it.”

Alec flashed him a grateful smile. “Thanks. So, uh, how did it feel being back in the water?” he asked, eager to change the subject, but Magnus could see a genuine curiosity in his expression, too.

Magnus smiled, the grin all-consuming. “Great,” he breathed. “Really great. I knew I missed this, but I don’t think I realized how much until I dove in.” It was true. From the moment the chill of the water had splashed against his skin, Magnus felt relief , like finally catching a glimpse of home after centuries had passed.

Now you’re just being dramatic , he thought to himself, but his smile didn’t waver.

Alec was smiling, too, though his was smaller and far less goofy than Magnus’s probably looked. “I’m glad,” he said. “You should keep swimming. Like I said, your form is great,” Alec said, pausing. His voice was softer when he spoke again, “And it seems like it really means a lot to you.”

“It reminds me of my mom,” Magnus said, before his brain caught up with his mouth. The words just slipped out, and he cursed himself because yes, they were true, but he’d spent the last decade desperately trying not to say them outloud. Let alone think them. “Sorry,” he said quickly. “Uh, speaking of things we don’t want to talk about. I—”

“It’s okay,” Alec cut in, waving his hand. Magnus knew his own demeanor must’ve shifted, since Alec’s was now just a bit more serious, just a bit something like concern. “Family stuff is complicated. I get it.”

Magnus exhaled. “Yeah. Thank you.”

Alec moved to slip on his t-shirt, face hidden within the fabric for a few seconds. He was biting a little at his lip when he resurfaced. “Would you— Izzy and Clary are coming over later tonight for a movie night, and I think Clary invited your friend. What was his name? I think it started with an S?” he asked, nose and forehead scrunched up as he tried to remember.

“Simon?” Magnus suggested, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah! That one,” Alec said. “And his girlfriend? Maia?”

Magnus nodded, amusement turning up the corners of his mouth.

Alec smiled, as if proud of himself for remembering and he barrelled on. “Yeah, so they’re all coming over later, and we’re just gonna watch movies off Netflix or something, and order pizza. Would you wanna join us?”

Magnus hesitated, but he wasn’t quite sure why. He didn’t work in the morning, so it wasn’t like being out late would have its consequences. And even if he did have work in the morning, Alec himself had practice the next morning, anyways. He hardly thought tonight would become an all-nighter or turn into a rager. Alec didn’t seem like the type anyways.

But hanging out with such a large group felt...weird. For so long he’d kept to smaller friend groups. Sure, he had lots of friends, but he only ever saw two or three at a time, preferring the tight knit familial groups he’d established over the years instead. He’d had a family in high school in Ragnor and Catarina, and now in Simon and Maia, and Clary, too.

You’re being ridiculous , he told himself. What else are you going to do all night? Sit in bed watching Project Runway ?

“That sounds fun,” Magnus said before he could talk himself out of it. Even if Project Runway and takeout sounds like heaven on earth .

“Okay, great,” Alec smiled. “I’ll text you the address. I think everyone’s coming over in an hour or so.”

“Perfect,” Magnus said. “I’ll see you then, Alexander.”

***

“Hey,” Jace called from the couch as Alec entered their apartment. The TV was on, the sound of whatever show Jace had been binging recently easily heard.

“Hey,” Alec answered, stepping closer as Jace grabbed for the remote and lowered the volume. Alec dropped onto the couch beside him.

Jace raised an eyebrow. “Not gonna shower?”

“I’ll go in a minute, Mom,” Alec said, earning a soft punch to his shoulder. “Ow,” he groaned theatrically. “I’m telling Iz.”

“I thought I was the child in this family,” Jace rolled his eyes.

“Oh, good. You are self-aware,” Alec said, grinning. “Iz and I were worried.”

“Go shower, idiot.”

“Yeah, yeah, in a minute,” Alec said. “Oh, before I forget. I invited Magnus to come tonight. He’s already friends with most of the people here, so…”

Jace shrugged. “Yeah, that’s fine. How was swimming, by the way? He any good?”

Alec sat up straighter. “Yeah, he is. Really good. Like, obviously he hasn’t swam in a while, and he needs to build up his endurance again, but his form is really good. He’s fast, too, like naturally fast.” He paused, thinking back to the practice. “And his butterfly? I’m almost jealous.”

Jace let out a surprised laugh, cutting off Alec’s rambling. “Sounds like someone has a crush.”

Alec willed his face not to turn bright red, but given the warmth rising in his cheeks, he knew it didn’t work. “On his butterfly?” he asked. “Damn, right.”

“Oh, no. Do I need to worry about my spot on the team?” Jace asked, letting Alec divert the conversation. Thank god , he thought.

Alec’s hand flew to his chest. “Is the great Jace Lightwood worried about his golden boy status?”

“Ha!” Jace cried, pointing at Alec. “So, you admit I’m a Lightwood!”

“That doesn’t have to mean we’re brothers, though,” Alec defended quickly. “You know who has the same last name and he’s definitely not family.”

Jace glared. “Okay but comparing me to him is going a little far.”

“Yeah,” Alec said, quieter. “Yeah, it is.” He chewed on his lower lip, a quiet settling over them both for a moment. “You know we love you, right? Even when we’re teasing you to the ends of the earth?”

“Of course, I do,” Jace said, his voice firm. “I love you guys, too. Why would ask that?”

“I don’t know,” Alec answered, and it was true. He didn’t. “I’ve just been… I’ve been thinking about Dad more lately. Or, today, at least.”

“Why?” Jace asked, and Alec could see the fury behind his brother’s eyes. “What did he do? Has he—”

“No, no,” Alec said quickly. “Nothing like that. Trust me, I don’t think he wants anything to do with me anymore than I want anything to do with him.”

His anger subsided, but now lines appeared in Jace’s forehead as his eyebrows furrowed. “Then why?”

Alec’s lips pressed into a thin line. He took a breath. “It’s the anniversary,” he said quietly.

Jace sat back in surprise, his face softening a little. “That’s...Shit. I didn’t realize. I should have.” He paused, eyes searching Alec’s. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” he said, surprised that it felt like the truth. “Yes, I am. I’ve had a lot going on lately, with school and the team, so I’ve been more distracted from it, but still. That’s why I wanted to work out today, whether it was at the gym with you, or swimming with Magnus. And inviting everyone over tonight,” he explained.

“Does Izzy know? She was pretty adamant about tonight, too,” Jace said.

Alec shrugged. “If she does, she hasn’t said anything about it, but she probably just knows I don’t like talking about it.”

“Then we don’t have to,” Jace said. They were both quiet for another moment, the only sound the now much quieter voices emanating from the TV. Alec’s stomach grumbled a few minutes later, cutting into the quiet and the tension immediately. Alec huffed out a laugh, seeing Jace’s pensive frown morph into a smirk. “Okay, go shower already so we can order that goddamn pizza.”

“Yes, sir,” Alec said, standing and offering a salute.

***

Magnus knew he had the right apartment before he even knocked. Simon’s loud voice carried through the door, clearly heated about something or other with Clary, who Magnus thought he could hear as well.

Isabelle opened the door, grinning widely at him. “Magnus! Alec said he’d invited you, I’m really glad you came,” she said.

He returned her smile. “You’re only saying that because I brought wine,” he said, holding up the bottle of chardonnay.

“No comment,” she laughed. “Come on in!”

The apartment was nice, Magnus thought. Modest, but still slightly larger than his own, though he supposed it might not feel that way to Alec since he shared it with his brother. Magnus was lucky enough to have his apartment to himself, though if lifeguarding didn’t work out, maybe he’d need to look for a roommate as well.

From the door, Magnus could just see into the main living space. The furnishings were simple and dark colors, likely hand-me-downs and thrift store finds, but it was a nice space. A bookshelf sat against the far wall, overflowing with books as Magnus could see a stack on the floor beside it. Alec’s , he thought. He’d have to peruse the titles before the evening was up, Magnus decided. If there was one way to get to know someone, it was to look at their bookshelf and determine their favorites.

“Hey, Magnus!” Clary called from the couch, though all Magnus could see of her was her bright red hair against the dark sofa.

“Biscuit,” Magnus replied cheerfully, stepping into the room. She beamed up at him before returning her gaze to Simon.

The blonde Lightwood he’d only ever seen at the pool entered the room as Clary and Simon resumed their bickering. Magnus didn’t have a clue what on earth they were arguing about, and based on Maia’s eye roll as she waved a hello to him, she didn’t either.

“You can just set that on the coffee table,” the blonde Lightwood said, gesturing to the wine as Clary and Simon resumed their bickering. “I’m Jace, by the way. I don’t think we’ve actually met yet.”

“Ah, yes, of the infamous Tinder profile,” Magnus said. “I’m Magnus.”

Jace sighed and gave Isabelle a pointed look. “Did you have to tell everyone about that?”

“Don’t look at me,” she defended. “Blame Clary and Alec.”

“I have never done anything wrong in my life, ever,” Alec declared, suddenly appearing in the doorway from what Magnus assumed was the kitchen holding a jar of peanut butter. His t-shirt was faded, but Magnus could just read the name of whatever swim meet the shirt must’ve come from. For a brief second he mourned his own meet shirts that had long been deemed too small for him. “Hey, Magnus,” Alec smiled, dipping a spoon Magnus hadn’t noticed in his other hand into the peanut butter. Magnus returned his smile, watching in amusement as Alec enjoyed his snack of peanut butter directly from the jar.

“Ew, what if the rest of us wanted some of that?” Isabelle complained.

“No one’s stopping you from having any,” Alec said, shrugging.

“It’s gross,” she insisted. “Don’t you think it’s gross, Magnus?” She turned to him for help, her eyebrows raised in prompt.

Magnus grinned sheepishly at her. “Sorry, Isabelle, but I do the same thing, actually.”

“Alright!” Alec cheered, holding out a hand for a high five and sticking his tongue out at his sister. Magnus returned the high five, laughing a little at the abject horror on Isabelle’s face. “You want a spoon?” Alec asked. “I’ll get you a spoon.”

“Sure,” Magnus said. “Who am I to turn down the gift of peanut butter?”

“I’d say it tastes better straight from the jar,” Alec said, turning on his heel and disappearing into the kitchen for a moment. He returned with another spoon, holding it out for Magnus to take. “Wouldn’t you say?” he asked, shooting a teasing smile at Izzy.

“Why, yes, Alexander. I would have to agree,” Magnus answered, taking the spoon and scooping out a healthy amount of the peanut butter.

“Ugh,” Izzy groaned. “Did you guys order the pizza yet?”

“Already on its way!” Jace called from the spot he’d claimed on the end of the couch.

Alec’s gaze moved over to the already crowded couch. His forehead scrunched up as he surveyed the living space. “Do we have enough room for everyone over there?”

“Probably not,” Izzy sighed.

“We can pull some chairs out of the kitchen?” Jace suggested.

“Or,” Clary said, sitting up and turning to look at them from the back of the couch. “We could build a pillow fort.”

Izzy smiled. “Attention, everyone, I have an important announcement:  My girlfriend is a genius.”

“Thank you, thank you,” Clary said, flipping her hair over her shoulder.

Magnus looked back in time to catch Alec roll his eyes at their antics, and he had to stifle a laugh. The corner of Alec’s mouth twitched upwards at Magnus’s reaction.

“Fine,” Alec said. “I don’t care, but you’re putting everything back after.”

“Deal,” Izzy said, holding out a pinky. Alec huffed a laugh, rolling his eyes again as he held out his own pinky to link them together. “Also me and Magnus get to sit in the fort,” he added quickly before their fingers unlinked. “If you want to, I mean,” Alec said, looking at Magnus.

“How else am I going to eat all of your peanut butter?” Magnus asked with a wink.

“Fine,” Izzy said, turning and tossing her hair over her shoulder with a dramatic flair that left Magnus feeling a fatherly sort of pride. “Come on, Clary. We’ll just have to make it big enough so everyone can fit.”

Magnus watched in amusement as Biscuit and Isabelle forced everyone off the couch to gather pillows and cushions. Beside him, Alec took another scoop of peanut butter, holding the jar out for Magnus to get some as well.

“I’m glad you came,” Alec said. “Our family is chaotic as hell without friends over, so tonight should be interesting.”

Magnus laughed. “Chaos seems to follow all of us, then.” He dipped his spoon into the peanut butter, scooping out a big chunk.

Alec raised his spoon of peanut butter. “To chaos, then!” he said in cheers, a mock serious expression on his face.

“To chaos,” Magnus said in equal seriousness. They clinked their spoons together and Magnus grinned at the sheer ridiculousness of it.

“If you two are done being weird,” Jace yelled over their friends’ voices, “you could actually help us build the fort.”

“It looks like you have it under control to me,” Alec shrugged.

It was true because a few minutes later, they were all cocooned inside walls of couch cushions and blankets. The only opening faced the TV, which had Netflix already pulled up on the screen.

“This is so comfy,” Izzy sighed. “Good idea, babe.” Clary grinned, pressing a kiss to Izzy’s cheek.

“One of us is gonna have to get out when the pizza gets here,” Jace pointed out. Everyone groaned at the thought, but Magnus heard at least one stomach growl at the mention of pizza and he barely suppressed a snicker.

There was a knock at the door a few minutes later. “Pizza’s here,” Izzy yelled gleefully. “Nose goes!” Everyone’s fingers flew to their noses, and every gaze fell on Alec as he moved the slowest.

Alec sighed. “Fine, fine,” he grumbled, carefully extracting himself from the fort to get the pizza.

***

They’d ended up watching Hercules, all joyfully singing along to the music and absolutely demolishing the pizza. Alec grinned. Today was a good day, he thought. No past demons could take away the nostalgic high of singing along with an animated Greek chorus while inside a pillow fort.

“Does it ever hit you guys that we’re adults?” Clary asked as the credits started rolling. “Like, we’re supposed to be the responsible ones?”

“Are you implying that building pillow forts and watching Disney movies isn’t responsible, Biscuit?” Magnus asked.

“Depends on who you ask,” Alec grumbled.

“I can hear Mom now,” Jace said. His voice took on a higher, teasing pitch. “‘You’ve made a mess of the living room! Be better role models for Max!’”

Alec shook his head. “Sounds more like He-who-will-not-be-named to me.”

“Yeah,” Izzy agreed. “Mom would just stare at us disapprovingly until we put everything back where we found it.”

“And then she’d happily join us for the rest of the movie,” Alec added. He took a bite of the pizza slice still in his hand, listening to Jace and Izzy joke about their mom and reminisce about their many movie nights growing up.

A shoulder bumped against his, and Alec looked up to see Magnus looking at him. “He-who-will-not-be-named?” Magnus asked in a whisper.

Alec opened his mouth, not sure what to say. It’s not like he couldn’t talk about Robert, but that didn’t mean he wanted to, and he certainly didn’t want to subject Magnus to his woeful family history.

“Let’s just say my dad and I aren’t close,” Alec muttered under his breath after a few seconds had passed. Magnus smiled sympathetically and nodded, and Alec felt relieved that Magnus wasn’t pushing the subject. There was a glint in his eyes that told Alec that maybe Magnus understood. Could relate, even. God I hope not , he thought. No one deserves that .

“I have an idea!” Clary said suddenly, drawing Alec’s attention back to the group.

“Oh, god,” Alec groaned.

“Don’t be rude,” she said, tossing a pillow at him that he easily swatted away.

“I don’t know, Fray,” Jace said. “Your ideas are borderline insane.”

“Everyone stop attacking my brilliant girlfriend,” Izzy said, leaning over to kiss Clary’s pout. “Tell us your idea, babe. I’ll make them be nice.” She glared at everyone, a fierceness in her eyes that sent a chill down Alec’s spine. He loved his sister, but god could she be terrifying.

Clary turned to Simon excitedly, her pout forgotten. “Remember in high school when we used to sneak into that public pool around the corner from your house?”

“Of course I do,” Simon said. “How could I forget being terrified of getting caught and freezing cold water?”

“It was fun,” Clary insisted, smacking his arm.

Maia raised an eyebrow and poked Simon’s arm. “You’re telling me that you broke into somewhere?” Simon nodded, his face red and smile sheepish. “Simon Lewis, my boyfriend the Boy Scout, broke into a pool ?” she asked again, her voice incredulous.

“Bet you didn’t know you were dating a badass,” Simon teased. Clary coughed in an attempt to hide her laugh, but lost the fight at the sound of Maia’s laughter. Simon glared as his girlfriend and best friend giggled uncontrollably.

“So your idea is to break into a pool, I’m guessing?” Jace asked once they’d calmed down.

“I’m in,” Izzy said. “Sounds fun.” Jace shrugged and nodded.

“Me too,” Maia said.

Clary and Maia both turned towards Simon expectantly. “Sure, why not. For old time’s sake.” Clary cheered.

“Don’t look at me,” Alec said before Clary could even turn towards him. “I’ve spent enough time at a pool today, and,” he added, glaring at Jace, “ we have practice tomorrow.”

Clary pursed her lips, thinking. “We could go on Friday night instead? Then it won’t matter how late we stay out.”

“Please, Alec,” Izzy whined, shooting him the puppy eyes that always had him doing whatever his little sister wanted.

He sighed. “Fine, I’ll go on Friday.”

“Thank you, hermano,” Izzy smiled, clearly pleased. “What about you, Magnus?”

Alec watched a slow smile spread over Magnus’s face. “Who am I to turn down an adventure?” he asked.

Chapter Text

That Friday night was no good, it turned out. All day, rain soaked the city in a constant downpour and Alec had been lucky enough to see Clary’s sullen frown over dinner when they heard a rumbling of thunder.

“Fine,” she’d grumbled when it was clear the storm wasn’t letting up anytime soon. “We’ll go next week.”

Alec half-hoped they would all just forget about the whole thing. It wasn’t that he didn’t think sneaking into a pool in the middle of the night would be fun, but he’d never been the “break all the rules, consequences be damned” type. His siblings inherited that trait, not him. Even Max was caught cutting class in elementary school to read comics in the boys’ bathroom more than once.

No such luck, though. Every single one of his friends was practically thrumming with anticipation all week. Izzy teased Jace over lunch on Monday about remembering to bring his floaties. Simon rambled excitedly about it when Alec ran into him and Maia at the library. Alec couldn’t tell whether or not Maia was excited. She seemed almost bored with the idea in the way that only a badass, don’t-turn-to-look-at-explosions kind of person could. In the end, he marked her down in the “excited” category.

Honestly, there was only one reason Alec wasn’t backing out in favor of scrolling through Netflix or getting ahead on his readings. Magnus was going.

“I hope it doesn’t rain this week as well,” Magnus had said when he slipped into the seat beside him on Tuesday morning.

Alec had laughed. “I wouldn’t worry. Clary’s been watching the weather forecast religiously. I think she's going to scare all the storms away from New York for the considerable future.”

Magnus had only grinned. “If anyone’s capable of defeating the weather through sheer determination, it’s Biscuit.”

Sure enough, Friday rolled around with clear blue skies and a pleasant wave of heat. Clary and Izzy were both delighted. Sometimes breaking the rules was okay, Alec decided, if it put a smile like that on his sister's face. Besides, it wasn't as if they were planning to steal anything and no one would even find out probably. Just harmless fun in the dead of night. What could go wrong?

“Can you stop freaking out please?” Jace asked, reaching for another pizza roll. “Nothing bad is going to happen.”

Alec glared, hoping the brooding expression would mask his own anxious thoughts. “I’m not freaking out.”

“Sure,” Jace said with a face that said he very much thought Alec was freaking out. “You need to get out more,” he said thoughtfully a moment later. “You know, relax. Stop worrying about rules so much.”

“I get out,” Alec defended, slapping Jace’s hand away when he tried to steal another pizza roll from his plate.

Jace snorted. “Going to the pool doesn’t count, even when you are unadmittedly crushing on the guy you’re swimming with.”

Alec’s face heated up. “I’m not--We’re just friends.”

“Fine, fine,” Jace acquiesced. “But, again, I call best man at the wedding.”

“Whatever,” Alec muttered. A knock at the door thankfully saved him from Jace’s teasing.

“Damn,” Jace said, glancing at the digital clock on the microwave. “It’s 9 already?” He pushed away from the counter to answer the door, swiping Alec’s last pizza roll on his way. Alec glared at him, imagining daggers shooting from his eyes.

They’d made plans to all meet up at Alec and Jace’s apartment before their evening of criminal activity, as Alec liked to call it, but everyone else objected to the title. The plan was to meet at 9, and it seemed some of their friends were there right on time. Alec had a feeling his sister and Clary would be late, both for Clary’s perpetual tardiness and for the fact that Izzy was supposed to be in lab until 9. She’d insisted the instructor never used the full amount of time, though, and swore they would be there on time. No one believed her.

Alec sighed, setting his and Jace’s plates into the sink. Jace was right, he knew. Clary and Simon were taking them to the same pool they’d snuck into as kids, and he trusted Clary when she said she knew the place like the back of her hand. No security cameras, a low fence that they could all easily climb. They even had a certified lifeguard going with them if anything bad happened in the water, not that that was likely anyway.

Voices at the door drew him out of his thoughts and followed Jace out of the kitchen. Magnus, Maia, and Simon stood just inside the doorway, all three of them grinning.

“Hey, guys,” Alec said. Simon and Maia smiled at him and waved.

“Hello, Alexander,” Magnus said, eyes bright as he smiled. He looked eager, Alec thought. Everyone was excited about tonight except for him. Well, no, he thought. That wasn't strictly true. He just wasn’t excited about every part of tonight. Hanging out with his family and friends, that he was looking forward to--especially if Magnus was part of that group. “I brought something for you.”

Alec raised an eyebrow, looking down in surprise as Magnus held something out. “A jar of peanut butter?” he asked, an incredulous smile quirking his mouth.

“Well,” Magnus said, holding the jar up a little higher. “I did eat quite a lot of yours last week, so I thought it only fair to bring a new jar.”

Alec grinned and took the jar. “Come on,” he said, pointing back towards the kitchen with his thumb. “I’ll get the spoons.”

“Weirdos!” Jace called after them as they disappeared into the kitchen.

Alec set the jar down on the counter and pulled two spoons from the drawer. “Here you go,” he said, holding it out.

“Thank you, Alexander,” Magnus smiled. He watched as Alec opened the peanut butter. “Aren’t we off for some misadventures soon? We can save it until later.”

Alec shrugged. “Clary and Iz are probably gonna be late, and Jace ate half my pizza rolls.” Magnus grinned, nodding seriously as if that made complete sense. Alec grinned back, sticking a spoonful of peanut butter into his mouth and wiggling his eyebrows.

***

Clary and Isabelle were, in fact, late. Magnus wasn’t surprised. None of them were.

Before he could open his mouth to tease Clary for her typical tardiness, her eyes met his and narrowed into a glare.

“It wasn’t my fault for once!” she insisted, levelling every last one of them with her glare. Simon snickered behind him, hiding his grin from Clary in Maia’s shoulder. Magnus smiled softly at his friends. He was glad they were so happy, so carefree and in love. They deserved it.

“She’s right,” Izzy apologized. “Lab took forever tonight. Usually we get out early but my partner tonight was practically helpless.”

“Yeah, well, not everyone can be as smart as the brilliant Isabelle Lightwood,” Alec said, wrapping his arm around his sister’s shoulders. The sight warmed Magnus’s heart more than it probably had any right to, but he couldn’t help it. Their family was incredibly adorable.

Magnus watched in amusement as Jace swatted at Alec’s shoulder. “Suck up,” he complained.

Alec shrugged, grinning confidently at his brother. “What can I say? I am the favorite brother.”

Isabelle rolled her eyes, shrugging away from Alec’s arm. “Boys, you know I love both of you, but Max is my favorite brother.” She sauntered away to join Simon and Maia on the couch as Alec’s hand flew dramatically to his chest.

“Max didn’t used to sing you back to sleep after you had a nightmare,” Alec called after her. The image warmed Magnus’s chest even more, a little Alec comforting his baby sister in the middle of the night. Far too cute of an image, he thought with a smile.

“So what’s the plan tonight?” Maia asked over Izzy’s soft laughter. “I thought we aren’t going to the pool until midnight.”

“Yeah, no,” Clary said. “Definitely waiting until midnight.”

Alec shrugged. “What do you guys want to do?”

“Can we please do something outdoors? I’ve been stuck inside all day,” Izzy complained.

Clary’s eyes lit up with an idea. Lord save us all , Magnus thought. “We should go to the park!” It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say Magnus felt immensely relieved that Biscuit’s idea was so innocent.

“Why the park?” Jace asked, an odd apprehension in his voice.

“It’ll be fun!” Clary insisted. “We can walk around, and it’s getting late so there probably won’t be that many people there. Plus, we need to enjoy the warm weather while it lasts.”

“Sounds like fun to me, Biscuit,” Magnus said, earning a pleased smile from his favorite redhead. Everyone else seemed happy with the idea, too, nodding and shrugging a chorus of yes’s.

Jace, on the other hand, seemed adamantly against the idea as he shook his head. “No, come on, let’s find something else to do.”

“What’s wrong with the park?” Simon asked.

“Oh, don’t worry about him,” Izzy said. She moved so she was sitting on her knees and facing Jace over the back of the couch. “You just don’t want to go because you’re worried about running into your arch nemesis.”

Magnus raised an eyebrow as Jace’s face turned beet red.

“No, I just—” Jace started, cut off by a bark of laughter from Alec. Isabelle looked particularly pleased with herself.

“Oh, come on, Jace,” Clary groaned. “The ducks aren’t going to bother you.”

“Wait,” Simon said. “Jace’s arch nemesis is an adorable woodland creature?” His forehead scrunched up for a second in confusion. “Are ducks woodland creatures?”

“I think so?” Izzy answered. “That definitely sounds right.”

“Pretty sure they are, babe,” Maia said.

“I don’t know, guys,” Jace said quickly. “I think we should have an in-depth conversation to figure this one out.”

“About why ducks are the greatest evil you could possibly imagine?” Alec asked. “Yes, I agree.”

Jace’s face turned even more red. He dropped into a chair, groaning in resignation as he put his face in his hands. “You guys are the worst.”

Magnus turned and looked back and forth between Simon and Maia, who looked equally confused as he felt. “Sorry, what exactly are we missing here?”

Alec grinned. “Jace is afraid of ducks.”

“Absolutely terrified,” Izzy added.

“The very definition of a phobia,” Alec said with a nod. “Ever since we were kids.”

“Our parents took us to this farm once to see all the animals and have some family fun,” Izzy explained. “And all of the animals were really nice and calm, and let us pet them and everything.”

“The cows were awesome,” Alec said, a wistful smile on his face.

Izzy rolled her eyes before continuing. “Anyways, there was, like, two or three ducks wandering around by this little pond, and Jace decided he had to pet one of the ducks. The ducks had other plans that absolutely did not involve being pet by annoying little boys.”

“I was not annoying!” Jace defended, but he fell silent again when Isabelle shot him a pointed look. Magnus chuckled.

“Let me guess,” Magnus said. “An army of angry ducks chased blondie around the farm?”

“Scarred him for life,” Alec said. He nodded grimly as he spoke, but his grin was wide.

“It was hilarious,” Izzy said.

“I wish I could’ve seen it,” Magnus laughed.

“Don’t worry,” Alec said. “If he even thinks he sees one, he’ll definitely run away. Possibly screaming.”

“Well, I, for one,” Simon said, “think that we definitely need to go to the park tonight now.” Everyone agreed readily but Jace, whose face was hidden in his hands again.

Clary placed a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, Jace,” she said with a wicked grin. “We’ll protect you.”

Jace sighed and stood, eyes glaring at Alec and Izzy. “Fine, but you know what? I’m disowning you two now.”

“But—” Izzy started to argue, but Jace cut her off with a warlike cry of “Disowned!”

***

Alec almost felt embarrassed as they walked through the streets of New York towards Central Park. Almost.

His friends and family were a bunch of idiots--himself included, probably--but he couldn’t bring himself to mind.

He and Magnus were walking at the back of the group, both apparently content to watch their friends antics rather than join in. There would be plenty of time for that later at the pool. Alec didn't feel the need to torment the streets of New York, too.

A fond smile tugged at his lips as he watched Clary leap onto his sister's back in search of an impromptu piggyback ride. Izzy stumbled a bit, but she didn't lose her balance. Both of them erupted into giggles.

“So tell me, Alexander,” Magnus said next to him. “How much of that was exaggerated, or does blondie truly believe all ducks are bloodthirsty beasts after him?”

Alec laughed. “Oh, no, he fully believes it.” He glanced to the side and caught Magnus's mischievous grin in the dimly lit street.

“Is it awful of me to hope we encounter some feathered friends tonight, then?” he asked.

“Not at all,” Alec assured him. “I guarantee you, everyone else is thinking the same thing.”

Magnus hummed. “What about the rest of the Lightwoods? Any other absurd phobias one should know about?”

“Spiders,” Alec answered gravely, shuddering a little.

Magnus’s eyebrows shot up, and Alec hoped that the angels would take pity on him and make it too dark to see his embarrassed blush. “Like...big ones? Or just in general?” he asked tactfully.

“Any,” Alec muttered. “I don’t--I don’t care how big they are, they’re all monsters and absolutely evil.”

“I don’t know about evil,” Magnus said. “But if we encounter any, I’ll be sure to protect you, Alexander.”

Alec turned his head to peek at his face. Magnus looked amused, eyes crinkling slightly, but he wasn’t laughing. Alec smiled.

“How heroic of you,” Alec teased. “Thank you.”

“Don’t forget, Alexander.” Magnus grinned at him. “I am a lifeguard after all. Heroics are in the job description.”

“Are they really?” Alec asked, furrowing his eyebrows.

Magnus laughed, the sound loud and delighted as their group finally reached the park. Clary and Izzy turned, looking to everyone else for what to do now, or where to go. Magnus raised a finger and pointed. “There’s a playground over in that direction,” he said. “Swing sets, and it’s near the pond.”

“The...pond?” Jace asked, proving to Alec that his brother was absolutely incapable of subtlety.

“To the swings!” Clary yelled, jumping on Izzy’s back again and pointing valiantly in the direction Magnus had pointed out. Simon and Maia ran quickly after them, leaving Magnus and Alec smiling amusedly at a paralyzed Jace. Okay , Alec thought, maybe paralyzed is too harsh .

“I can’t remember the last time I was on a swing set,” Alec said.

“Me neither,” Magnus admitted.

Alec grinned and started walking in the direction their friends had just gone, Magnus beside him. He reached out to slap Jace’s shoulder as he past, grinning wider when he heard Jace sigh and fall in step behind them.

They spent the next couple hours chasing each other around the park and having competitions to see who could get their swing to go the highest. Clary won, though Izzy and Simon both were quick to point out it’s only because of how tiny she is. Jace was determined to do a full flip around the top on his swing. Alec didn’t know if he’d somehow gotten drunk without anyone noticing, or if he’d decided he’d rather die than risk facing a duck.

Maybe both , Alec decided, watching his brother furiously attempt a run-up.

Izzy seemed concerned with their brother’s new mission, too. She watched him for a second longer, her lips pursed. “Okay,” she said suddenly before Jace could hurl his swing into the air again. “We should probably get going soon, if we’re doing this.”

“You can say what this is, babe,” Clary teased. “It’s not like we’re robbing a bank.”

“No,” Alec said under his breath. “Just breaking and entering on city property.” Magnus chuckled beside him and Alec found himself smiling for the millionth time that night.

Maia moved first, standing quickly from where she’d been lounging on a bench and pulling Simon up with her. “Come on, idiots. Let’s go swimming.”

***

The pool was just as Clary had described it, and the lot of them made it inside the fence with no trouble at all. There were no lights on in the pool house, and tall shrubs just inside the fence would hide them from the street. They’d done it.

Everyone was grinning like they’d pulled off a multimillion dollar heist, Magnus thought. He rolled his eyes, even if the feeling was infectious. Exhilarating, even.

He really hadn’t gotten out much in the last several months.

Maybe that would change soon, he thought as he surveyed his newly grown group of friends.

Clary, Isabelle, and Maia were the first in the water, unsurprising to Magnus. The three of them splashed around, seemingly starting a war before all of them were even in the water. The water splashing up at the deck was cold, and Simon looked as though he was teetering on the decision of whether or not the chill was worth the fun.

Jace rushed past Magnus, muttering something about messing up his hair, but he dove into the water anyway. The dive sent a wave of water that hit the girls in a crash. Magnus couldn’t help but laugh at their indignant shreeks after Jace resurfaced.

“You getting in?” Alec asked from across the pool. Magnus looked up and saw he’d already stripped down to the swim trunks he’d been wearing as shorts. His gaze absolutely did not linger on his abs and the shadows cast there by the lights within the pool.

“Of course,” Magnus answered, fingers deftly unbuttoning his own shirt. “I was just enjoying the view first.” Am I flirting? he wondered. He didn’t mean to. He frowned, but Alec’s smile was easy and infectious as he cannonballed into the pool, sending up another splash of water and the cries of his friends.

Magnus’s smile fell. He bit at his lip, an icy feeling spreading through his veins. Magnus always said flirty things like that to his friends, it wasn’t anything new. But Alec’s friendship was new, and what if he misinterpreted and Magnus made him uncomfortable? What if he was just reading too much into it and everything was fine? Alec probably didn’t even think the comment was odd. Everything was fine, Magnus repeated to himself.

But he couldn’t slow his spiralling mind to stop the next string of questions:  What if he meant it? What if he wanted to flirt and for Alec to interpret it that way? What if he had, but Alec didn’t reciprocate? What if he let himself so much as fantasize about possibly opening his heart up again, only to have it crushed?

He shook his head. Get a hold of yourself, Bane . It was just...something he said. Alec didn’t seem to be dwelling on it as he laughed and conspired with Isabelle to dunk Jace under the water.

It was nothing. Magnus was fine. Everything was fine.

He took a deep breath and jumped into the pool, attempting to make the largest splash possible.

Chapter Text

Coach Garroway was going harder on them than usual. He ordered sprint set after sprint set, finally ending practice with four race-pace 50s from the block. Most of the team looked like they were surprised to still be breathing as they towelled off at the end of practice.

“You’d think he’d be going easy on this week,” Underhill grumbled. “What with the meet this Saturday.”

Alec rolled his eyes. “Have you ever known Garroway to go easy on us?”

“He let me stick to kick sets that time I had swimmer’s ear,” Lydia chimed in.

“That’s because you’re not really supposed to even be in the water with swimmer’s ear,” Underhill said, reaching over to flick her ear.

“Gather around, everyone,” their coach called, frowning slightly as they circled up around him. “As you all know, this weekend we’ll be travelling to Atlanta for our first meet of the season. I know there’s a lot of pressure on you kids to qualify for the Nationals meet,” he said, “especially the seniors.” His eyes locked on Alec’s over the rest of the team for a few seconds, and Alec frowned, chewing a little on his bottom lip. “But I want you all to know,” Coach Garroway continued, “that there’s plenty of time to qualify. There will be more meets, this semester and in the spring, for you to get your times down. I want everyone to focus on having a strong meet, and have some fun.”

Alec nodded with the rest of him team, turning to grab his towel from where he’d left it on the bleachers.

Magnus hopped down from the lifeguard stand as Alec passed, rotating with one of his coworkers. “Hey,” Magnus grinned, falling in line beside him as Alec headed towards the locker room. “So that looked brutal.”

Alec groaned. “Yeah, you could say that.”

“Just promise to never inflict that kind of torture on me on Wednesdays,” Magnus said as Alec turned into the little hallway that led to the locker rooms.

“Nope,” Alec called, turning to glance back at Magnus with a cheeky smile. “No promises, Bane.”

The locker room was bubbling with voices. Everyone was talking about the meet and the parties that would surely follow, but he didn’t quite share everyone else’s excitement. He knew it would be a fun trip. The team always had a good time at meets, especially after when they had some spare time to explore whatever city they’d ended up in.

But he was anxious. He knew Coach Garroway was right:  there would be more than enough time for him to qualify at the other meets later this season. He couldn’t shake the need to prove himself, though. He wanted that Nationals cut in the 100 fly, and this was his last year to get it.

Maybe he could talk to Magnus, see if he wanted to practice more than just the once that week. The extra time in the water had to help, right? He just needed to push himself more—

“Alec?” Jace was looking at him, eyebrows furrowed in concern. Alec looked down, realizing he’d been rubbing at his thumb the way he always did when he was frustrated or upset about something. Hard.

He forced his hands to relax. “Yeah?” he asked as casually as he could manage, pretending he hadn’t just been caught.

“You okay, buddy?”

Alec nodded, waving his hand absently. “Yeah, just...later, okay?”

Jace looked at him for another few seconds before nodding. “Okay, yeah. Later.”Alec flashed him a relieved smile and grabbed his bag.

Apparently, ‘later’ meant ‘as soon as we get home’ to his brother. They’d barely made it through the door to their shared apartment before Jace cornered him.

“Okay, spill,” Jace said, the look of concern back on his face. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing really,” Alec sighed. “It’s not a big deal, I’m just...I’m stressed about the meet. You know how I get about times.”

“Is this about the fly cut?” Jace asked. Alec gave a quick nod. “Dude, you have nothing to be stressed over. You’re gonna get it.”

Alec exhaled in a rush and ran his hand through his still-wet hair. “You don’t know that, Jace. This season is my last chance to get the fly cut, and I—”

“Alec,” Jace said sternly, clapping a hand onto Alec’s shoulder. “You heard Coach. This is only the first meet. If you get it this weekend, that’s awesome! But it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. You’ll have more chances, and I have no doubt that you’re gonna get the cut.”

“Yeah, but you know how hard it is to drop time, Jace. Especially when we’re already at this level.”

Jace nodded. “Yes, I do, and I also know how hard you’ve already been working this season. Plus you’ve been swimming extra with Magnus. You want this, and I know you’ll get it.”

“Okay,” Alec said, pulling away from Jace’s arm. “Can we stop with the pep talk now please? I’ll be fine, Jace.”

“Sure,” Jace agreed, “but I have an idea.”

“Oh, god.”

“No, it’s good!” Jace swore. “What if we invite everyone and make a road trip out of it?”

“What?” Alec asked.

“It’ll be fun. We all road trip down to Atlanta together, we get to show off to our friends, and the after party will be so much more fun with people we actually want to get drunk off our asses with,” Jace said, wiggling his eyebrows at that last bit. Alec rolled his eyes. “Oh come on, Alec,” Jace groaned. “Think about it! You could invite Magnus if you wanted.”

“I hate you,” Alec muttered. “But it does sound fun, so…”

Jace grinned like it was Christmas morning. “I’ll text Izzy.”

“You do that,” Alec said. “I’m going to shower.”

By the time Alec emerged from his bedroom again, Izzy had already spread the word to everyone. “Izzy said she and Clary are in,” Jace told him, staring at his phone while eating a bowl of Fruit Loops. “Clary is asking Simon and Maia, and Iz said you should ask Magnus.”

Alec dug around the cabinet for a clean mug, pretending he didn’t hear the suggestive tone in Jace’s voice. “Yeah, sure,” he said absently. “I’ll text him later.”

This time, ‘later’ meant ‘as soon as Jace left the room,’ which fortunately didn’t take very long. He slipped his phone out of his pocket, typing out a quick message explaining the plan and inviting Magnus to come if he’d like. His phone buzzed a few minutes later.

FROM:  Magnus - Received 7:53 A.M.

--I’d love to, but it depends on my work schedule for this weekend. I should be getting it this afternoon, so I’ll let you know!

Alec took a sip of his coffee, feeling the warmth and caffeine spread through him as he typed a response.

TO: Magnus - Sent 7:54 A.M.

--Sounds good

--I hope you can come.

Magnus didn’t reply right away, leaving Alec wondering if maybe that had been too much. He sighed, gulping down the rest of his coffee and distracting himself by searching for the textbooks he’d need that day.

His phone buzzed just as he headed out the door.

FROM:  Magnus - Received 8:06 A.M.

--Me too

Incredible how two little words could turn his entire day around, Alec thought.

***

The morning passed slowly. Too slowly.

I need more caffeine , Magnus thought sullenly as he slipped into the open seat across from Maia and Simon, who’d thankfully arrived early for lunch and already gotten them a booth. Java Jones was always a bit busy this time of day, with students needing an escape from dining hall food or a caffeine boost. Magnus fit into both categories today.

“The aquarium there is amazing,” Maia was saying, her smile wide and animated. “It has one of those glass tunnel rooms so it’s like you’re in the tank with them!”

Simon blanched. “Is that...a good thing?”

“What’s the matter, Simon?” Magnus chuckled. “Not a fan of water?”

“No!” Simon insisted, his voice rising half an octave. “I just don’t like the idea of only a thin sheet of glass between me and a million gallons of water. Or a bunch of sea creatures that probably think I look like lunch.”

“Don’t worry, baby,” Maia cooed. “I’ll protect you.”

“So I take it you both are going to the meet this weekend?” Magnus asked.

Maia nodded enthusiastically, another grin breaking out on her face. “Are you?”

Magnus sighed. “Not sure yet. I have to wait until I see the work schedule for this weekend,” he explained. “It’ll probably work out, though. I haven’t had to work many weekends.”

Maia pouted. “I hope you’re able to come. It’ll be so much fun if all of us are there.”

Simon shook his head. “She just wants to drag as many people as possible to that aquarium.”

“Because it’s amazing!” she insisted. “My parents took me when I was little and I fell in love, okay? They let the penguins walk around the hallways sometimes, Simon. My mom probably still has the video.”

“I bet you were squealing more than the penguins,” Simon said, his smile teasing and soft. Magnus wanted to retch.

He let himself zone out a bit as he looked over the menu, which he was already intimately familiar with anyways. Maia was telling Simon a story about her visit to the aquarium, pausing to laugh at the memories. Magnus loved seeing her so excited. He just wished he could share in the excitement.

He was excited about the trip, but apprehensively so. He wanted to go. A lot.

A weekend away from the stresses of school with his friends sounded like heaven. Magnus’s newly expanded friend group was a delight to be around and absolutely chaotic as hell. Magnus loved every single one of them. He’d only known Alec and Jace for a few short months, but he cared about them, and he felt honored they cared about him, too. Especially Alec, who’d taken the time to help him get back in the water even though he was under no obligation and had hardly even known Magnus when he’d agreed.

He wanted to go for Alec, he realized. At least partly. Alec had mentioned more than a few times now that he was trying to get a qualifying time in the 100 fly. Magnus could see how badly Alec wanted that time. He’d been pushing himself harder when they practiced together on Wednesdays.

Magnus wanted to be there to support him, to see it happen when Alec did get the cut. He knew Alec would. Alec Lightwood was the most determined man Magnus had ever met. If Magnus didn’t know Clary, he’d say Alec was the most determined person in the world.

The other reason he wanted to go was the meet itself. It’d been so long since he’d spent time at a swim meet cheering on friends. He’d worked a few high school and year round meets since he’d started lifeguarding this semester, but it wasn't quite the same. Magnus didn’t want to be up on the stand watching the meet from above. He wanted to be right in the middle of it, the mass of swimmers waiting around on the pool deck waiting for their events, the loud beeps of the starter system followed by the spray of cold water splashing everywhere as a new heat dove in, the roaring cheers coming from every team and every swimmer. Magnus wanted all of it.

But he couldn’t get his hopes up yet, not until his boss sent out the next round of schedules.

The fate of his future was in the hands of a high schooler he’d met maybe three times. Okay, maybe future was a bit dramatic, he conceded, but that weekend was in his future, so he wasn’t so far off.

“Magnus?” Simon asked, waving his hand in front of Magnus’s face and snapping him back to attention. Magnus smiled sheepishly, realizing the waiter had arrived to take their order.

“You okay?” Maia asked after they’d all placed their orders and the waiter disappeared into the kitchen.

“Yeah, sorry,” Magnus said. “I’m just...worried about a test I have later today. No big deal.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. He did have a test. His friends didn’t need to know it was in his easiest course this semester, though. He couldn’t help it if his Psychology of Personality professor made his exams as simple as memorizing the notes handouts.

“I’m sure you’ll do great,” Maia said, smiling. He flashed her a smile in return, spending the rest of their lunch listening to Maia and Simon make plans for the coming weekend.

“I’m going to head out,” Magnus said as soon as they’d all finished eating. “I should probably study a bit more before my exam.”

“Okay,” Maia frowned. “Good luck.”

Magnus smiled and stood, heading to the front to pay before slipping outside and grabbing his phone from his pocket. Have you gotten the schedules yet? , he texted Cory. A few minutes later, the forwarded email finally arrived in his inbox. With a sigh of relief, he opened the attachment and scanned over the schedule.

Magnus’s heart sank.

Of course, of course , he was scheduled for the one weekend he wanted off. Maybe someone could swap shifts with him, he thought hopefully, already pulling up his text thread with Cory.

TO:  Cory - Sent 12:38 P.M.

--Any chance you could take my shift on Saturday?

Cory’s reply was fast and negative, explaining he was going to his sister’s wedding. Magnus frowned and texted a few others, but to no avail. Magnus was absolutely and without a doubt working that weekend.

He dialed Alec’s number before he could think better of it. Alec was probably in class, Magnus cursed himself as the phone started ringing, but if he was, Alec was unphased by the call. He answered almost immediately, and Magnus’s lips quirked up in a half-smile.

“Magnus, hey,” Alec greeted on the other end of the line. “What’s up?”

“Hello, Alexander,” Magnus said. “I got my work schedule for this weekend, and I don’t think I’ll be able to come to Atlanta with all of you.”

“Oh,” Alec said, his voice falling a little flat. “That’s...that’s too bad, but I get it. Work is important.”

“Yeah. I tried to swap shifts with someone, but everyone not already scheduled couldn’t work this weekend either. Or,” Magnus amended, “they didn’t want to, at least.” He sighed. “The trip sounds like a lot of fun, I really wish I could go.”

“Me too,” Alec said quietly. Magnus almost missed it, fingers subconsciously twitching to the volume buttons on the side of his phone as he barely made out the words. “But, hey,” Alec continued, voice back to his normal volume and confidence. “We all understand. Like I said, work is important, plus you’re a lifeguard. So it’s extra important, probably.”

Magnus laughed despite himself. “Probably.”

God ,” Alec scoffed, and Magnus swore he could hear the smile in his voice. “Too busy saving lives to hang out with your friends. I see how it is, Bane.”

“I don’t know, Alexander,” Magnus said, matching Alec’s light and teasing tone. “I think I can make some time for you.”

***

Alec really should’ve been packed by now. He knew it. Jace knew it. Probably even Maia and Simon knew it by now.

Friday morning arrived much faster than he’d anticipated, and he was more than a little behind. Izzy and Clary were going to give him hell for it. That thought alone was enough to get him out of bed and into gear, packing his fastskin into his mostly already packed swim bag, and shoving some clothes and toiletries into a duffel bag his mom had given him when he’d first moved out.

Well, not moved out , he thought, but that didn’t matter right now. What mattered was getting packed and eating something for breakfast before everyone showed up and they had to get on the road. NYC to Atlanta was bound to be a long drive. He made a mental note to pester Jace about why they couldn’t have taken a flight instead.

Next time, he thought, just as he heard someone knocking on their front door. Shit, I am late, Alec cursed, looking around for the sweatshirt he’d left draped over a chair.

Luckily, Alec heard Jace’s footsteps headed towards the door just as he pulled the sweatshirt on over his t-shirt. Jace’s voice was muffled through the walls with his bedroom door closed, but Alec could still hear his surprised greeting.

“Hey, Magnus,” Jace said. “Did you change your mind about coming this weekend?”

Alec grabbed his two bags and hurried out into the living room, doing his best to look casual and put together and not at all like he’d woken up in a frenzy to get packed.

“No,” Magnus was saying. “Unfortunately, no one could trade shifts with me, so I’ll have to sit this adventure out. Literally.”

Jace snorted as Alec dropped his two bags down next to couch. Both he and Magnus turned to look at him at the sound.

“Hey,” Alec greeted, still trying very much to go for a put together appearance. He hoped it was working. His siblings would never let him live it down if he, Alec Lightwood, the planner and overthinker of the Lightwood family, had put off packing until the very last minute.

Jace shut the door behind Magnus as he entered the apartment, and disappeared into the kitchen. Alec heard him rummaging through the cabinets and placing what he imagined was a bowl on the counter, if the sound of cereal falling against ceramic that followed was anything to go by. His own stomach complained that he hadn’t eaten yet, but he ignored it and looked at Magnus instead.

“What are you doing here?” Alec asked.

Magnus’s smile was bright and easy. Alec loved it. “I wanted to come by and wish you luck this weekend, since I can’t be there to cheer you on.”

Alec raised an eyebrow. “Not wishing Jace good luck?”

Magnus only shrugged, eliciting a huff of laughter from Alec. His smile widened at the sound and Alec’s heart absolutely did not flutter at the sight. Friends, Alec reminded himself.

Magnus had his backpack slung over one shoulder, and he deftly reached inside. “I have something for you, too,” he said, pulling a jar of peanut butter out.

Alec couldn’t help but laugh. “You really didn’t have to do that, but thank you,” he said, taking the jar from Magnus’s outstretched hand.

Magnus shrugged again, still smiling. “A parting gift for good luck. And protein is good for swimming, so I thought it would be helpful and a tasty snack.”

“Bold of you to assume that jar will even last the drive to Atlanta,” Jace said, stepping back into the living room with a bowl of what looked to be Lucky Charms.

“He’s right,” Alec nodded.

“Well, I should be going,” Magnus said. “Good luck with the meet, I’m sure you both will do great.”

“Thank you, Magnus,” Alec said, only half aware of Jace waving a quick goodbye with spoon in hand and vanishing back into the kitchen.

“Good luck being trapped in a car with those heathens we call friends, too,” Magnus teased with a wink.

“If I don’t come home with everyone else,” Alec said, “just assume I either exploded instantaneously or bought myself a plane ticket instead.”

“Should I assume the explosion first?”

“Of course,” Alec said seriously. “Every reasonable person would.”

Magnus’s eyes twinkled. Twinkled. Maybe a weekend away would do Alec good. He didn’t need to be noticing these things about a friend. Because that’s all they were. Friends. Alec took a breath, forcing those thoughts out of his head.

“Well,” Magnus said. “I would certainly hate to be anything but reasonable.” He readjusted the backpack on his shoulder and shifted on his feet. “I really should go. Good luck, again.”

“Yeah, thank you,” Alec said. He moved to open the door, finding himself face to face and very close to Magnus.

“Bye, Alexander,” Magnus said softly.

“Bye, Magnus,” Alec said, finding it incredibly difficult not to lower his gaze to Magnus’s lips and only just barely managing to restrain himself. And then Magnus was gone, and Alec shut the door behind him with a soft click. He took a ragged breath and ran a hand through his already messy hair.

He shook his head, stepping into the kitchen to find some food and coffee. Caffeine was exactly what he needed, he thought.

Soon, the apartment was filled with their very excited friends and lots of bags. Even Izzy and Clary had managed to arrive on time. His sister was probably the most excited about the trip, which was saying something since even Maia looked to be bouncing in her seat in anticipation. Alec heard her mentioning something about an aquarium to Clary and the enthusiasm in her voice brought a smile to his face.

“Alright, guys,” he said, “I think we should get this show on the road.”

Chapter Text

They’d arrived late--or early, depending on how you looked at it, Alec supposed--and hardly any other cars were on the highway when they arrived in Atlanta. Their hotel’s receptionist checked them in quickly, giving them a pitying glance when she’d heard exactly how long they’d been on the road and within minutes they’d all been settled into their rooms--Simon with Maia, Clary with Izzy, and Alec and Jace sharing a room with two beds.

Jace immediately collapsed onto the bed closest to the door, fast asleep as soon his head hit the pillow. Alec had wanted nothing more than to do the same, but he took his time, making sure he’d set an alarm for the next morning and that they hadn’t forgotten any bags in the car. Soon, though, he’d been out like a light.

Alec had forgotten to close the room’s thick curtains before falling asleep, though, and the bright morning sun woke him an hour before he’d set the alarm. Rude, Alec thought as he blinked tiredly at the sunlight streaming through the window. He wasn’t awake enough to be sure if he meant the curtains were rude for being open or if the sun was rude for rising in the first place.

He turned over, stretching to grab his phone off its charger. It was just after 9 A.M. He contemplated falling back asleep until his alarm went off around 10, but that would require getting up to shut the curtains, and Alec decided that another hour of sleep wasn’t worth the effort.

He opted to scroll through social media instead, mostly finding the posts he’d missed yesterday while driving. He refreshed his feed, half raising an eyebrow in surprise. Izzy and Clary were already awake, it seemed, and enjoying some breakfast in bed from room service. The photo of the pancakes and french toast they’d posted looked good. Really good, Alec thought with a grimace as his stomach growled loudly. He scrolled away quickly before he started drooling.

His phone buzzed a few moments later. It was a group chat Clary had made for the road trip a few days before they left. What time do we need to be at the pool? Izzy had just asked. He told her the time he and Jace needed to be at the pool for warmups, which gave them all plenty of time to explore Atlanta first.

Alec’s phone buzzed a few more times, a new influx of messages from Maia who was trying to talk Simon into going to the aquarium with her. He rolled his eyes, and couldn’t hold back a huff of laughter when Clary snarkily pointed out that Maia and Simon were in the same room and could actually talk to each other instead.

He rolled his eyes as his phone buzzed a few more times, but instead of checking the messages, he tossed it onto the sheets as he pulled himself from the bed. Jace was still fast asleep in the other bed despite the stream of text messages and the annoyingly bright sunshine, so Alec moved as silently as he could. Slowly, he unzipped his duffel bag in search of the toiletries he’d packed—shampoo, soap, toothbrush and paste—and made his way into the ensuite bathroom.

Alec showered quickly, eager to wash off the road trip from the day before. Plus, the image of his sister’s breakfast was still seared into his mind, and his stomach felt like it was going to eat him instead if he didn’t get some breakfast soon.

The only problem with that was Jace was still sleeping.

Alec knew Jace would never let him hear the end of it for the rest of time if he went to get breakfast without him. Okay, he thought, maybe that’s a stretch. At the very most, Jace wouldn’t let him hear the end of it for the rest of that trip. It would be an even longer car ride home.

Waking Jace was just as daunting, though, and that thought kept him in the shower several minutes longer than necessary.

The knock on the bathroom door startled Alec and he nearly dropped his conditioner. “You almost done in there?” Jace called through the door.

“Yeah,” Alec answered, shutting the water off and relieved he didn’t have to deal with his brother’s apocalyptic reaction to being woken up. He dried himself off and got dressed in the t-shirt and jeans he’d brought with him into the bathroom. Jace brushed past him and shut the door as soon as Alec stepped out. He rolled his eyes.

Apparently the group chat was still going at it. Do they ever shut up? Alec grumbled to himself as his phone buzzed several times where he’d left it on the bed.

Rolling his eyes again, he picked it up, expecting to see a slew of messages from his idiot sister and idiot friends. But, no. The realization came with a smile. It wasn’t the group chat at all. (That wasn’t entirely true. There were, in fact, several more messages there Alec missed while showering.) The newest messages, however, were from someone else entirely. Alec’s smile morphed into a grin.

FROM:  Magnus - Received 9:38 A.M.

--Good morning, Alexander

--Just wanted to wish you luck at the meet today 💙

--Really wish I could be there :(

Alec fought down his grin, insisting to himself the warmth he suddenly felt was just the heat from the shower lingering on his skin, as he typed out his reply.

TO:  Magnus - Sent 9:40 A.M.

--Hey Magnus

--Thank you, that means a lot 💙

--Me too, but I guess I’ll forgive you since you’re being noble and guarding lives

They went back and forth for a few more minutes, the banter coming easily. Just as Alec heard Jace shut off the water in the shower, Magnus texted that he had to leave for work and one last good luck before the meet.

Not long after, Izzy and Clary had arrived and the four of them were off exploring the city. The warmth from his conversation with Magnus lingered, Alec’s mind returning to the blue heart Magnus had sent with his good luck message. And the blue heart he’d sent in return.

He couldn’t explain the feeling in his chest. He hadn’t felt something like this since he was a young teenager, realizing he had a crush on one of his friends and that he was gay all in one fell swoop.

Oh. He froze for the briefest of seconds and continued down the sidewalk with his friends before they could realize something was wrong.

Fuck.

***

Magnus officially hated his job.

He’d been at the pool for well over an hour and so far, only three people had been there, all of whom could swim perfectly well and stuck to the shallow areas anyways. He’d spent more time watching a lane line that wasn’t tightened enough swaying gently in the water than he’d been needed to watch swimmers.

Someone really should tighten that lane line, he thought to himself as the only swimmer currently in the water climbed out. The other guard on duty gestured to him from the lifeguard office, signalling he could get down from the stand until someone else arrived. At the rate their day was going, it would probably be her turn to be on the stand by the time someone else came for a swim.

The other guard—Magnus thought her name was Kate, but they’d already met a few times and he felt awful asking again now—barely looked up as he entered the office, but she raised an eyebrow as he stepped around her to get the wrench.

“The lane lines are loose,” Magnus said in explanation as he grabbed the wrench from where it hung on the wall. It didn’t matter, not really, but it was something to do, if only for a minute. She shrugged noncommittally, clearly not caring as long as she didn’t have to fix it herself.

He took his time walking over to the other end of the pool. He wanted to be at a different pool. He didn’t want to be sitting there watching an empty pool when he could be in Atlanta, watching his friends compete. Well, friend, he thought. He didn’t think he and Jace were there quite yet, but he was Alec’s adopted-yet-disowned brother, so they were cool with each other. Cool with each other? Magnus scoffed at himself. I’m not some teenage douche. I hope, he added a few minutes later.

He wondered how the meet was going, if it had even started yet. It was still early and Magnus had no idea what time everything was supposed to start, plus all the teams had to warm up. It would likely be a while before Alexander and blondie even stepped up to the block.

Magnus wondered which event was first. He only sort of remembered the order of events from when he swam before, but even then, every league and meet was probably different. The college level teams swam events in meets that would’ve been Magnus’s worst nightmare when he first started swimming as a little boy.

He wondered how loud the mass of swimmers and the crowd would be in the chaos. He wondered if the sound would echo in the large room, making it ten times as loud. He wondered if the starter sound would even be loud enough to be heard. He wondered if the water would feel icy against skin made too hot by the humidity and mass of bodies. He wondered if— 

Magnus was fixating. He knew he was, but that didn’t make it any easier to stop.

Most of all, he wondered if Alec would get his cut time in fly.

He hadn’t been able to resist texting Alexander that morning, wishing him luck at the meet. He’d felt... weird about it. Why did he feel weird about it? Wishing someone luck was a perfectly normal thing for friends to do. Not weird at all.

Maybe it was the emoji he’d added, the blue heart. He’d done it on a whim, hardly even thinking about it. Magnus almost didn’t notice it until he’d hit Send. He bit his lip and sent it anyways.

But it wasn’t sending the heart that had made his own start beating harder in his chest. It was receiving one in return.

Maybe it meant nothing. Maybe Alec just wanted to return the sentiment. Maybe Alec knew what Magnus meant— you’re my friend and I care about you —and wanted to say the same. Maybe that wasn’t what Magnus had meant. Maybe it was, but Alec had meant something else. Maybe it meant something Magnus didn’t think he was ready to even think about yet.

Or maybe I’m just fixating again.

That was probably it. Magnus sighed and reached down into the water to tighten the lane line.

He gravitated towards his phone as soon as he was back in the office. No new notifications appeared when he brought the screen to life. No texts with updates on how the meet was going.

His hand rubbed absently at his ear, right along the ridge usually covered by one of his many cuff earrings. When Magnus first started working at the pool, he’d felt bare without his makeup and jewelry. The feeling had subsided somewhat, but on his particularly anxious days, the feeling was almost unbearable. Today happened to be one of those days.

Magnus chewed at his lower lip, worrying it between his teeth. He opened Twitter, refreshing his feed and scrolling through in hopes of finding an update. Aha, he thought, finding a very excited tweet from Isabelle. He grinned as he read the post, pulling open his text thread with Alec.

TO:  Alexander - Sent 1:35 P.M.

--Hey, I saw you got first in fly! Congrats 💙

There’s that blue heart again, he thought. It hadn’t seemed like Alec thought it weird earlier, so it was probably fine, he reasoned with himself. Something akin to butterflies still went on a rampage in his stomach, though.

Magnus frowned when Alec replied a minute later. Nothing more than an “ oh thanks haha, ” which was extremely unlike any previous conversations Magnus had had with Alec. Maybe I’m just reading into things, Magnus thought.

TO:  Alexander - Sent 1:38 P.M.

--How’s the rest of the meet going??

This time, all Magnus got in reply was “ alright I guess. ” The butterflies in Magnus’s stomach turned a bit more feral, replacing the light nervous feeling with a gnawing. He sent another text, asking if everything was okay. 

Alec had never been distant like this before, and yeah, they’d only known each other for a short amount of time, but still. Magnus was worried. 

Alec replied, insisting he was just tired, but it didn’t assuage the gnawing in Magnus’s gut.

A laugh caught Magnus’s attention and his head snapped up. A group of three guys had just walked into the pool area, towels slung over their shoulders as they headed towards a set of bleachers.

The other guard--Magnus really needed to learn her name--sighed. “My turn,” she said, pulling herself out of her chair and leaving the office to climb the stand.

Magnus sighed, just about to busy himself by checking the chemical levels when his phone started buzzing with an incoming call.

“Hello?” he answered, not bothering to glance at the caller ID.

“Magnus!” Clary’s excited voice said. There was a roar of noise, too, but the sound became more muffled after a few seconds. She must’ve been looking for a quiet place to talk at the meet, he thought.

He smiled. “Hi, Biscuit. How’s Atlanta?”

“Amazing,” she answered. “We got in late last night and spent the morning exploring. Maia’s disappointed we didn’t have a lot of time to spend in the aquarium, but everyone’s been having loads of fun. Jace said there’s a party later tonight that everyone’s invited to.” Magnus couldn’t see her, of course, but he just knew she was wiggling her eyebrows. He rolled his eyes fondly.

“Should I be hurt you’re going to a party without me?” he asked.

“You know I’ll be your plus one anytime you want to go out,” Clary said. “Izzy, too.”

“Remind me to take you up that soon. So, uh, how’s the meet going? I saw Alec got first place in fly.”

“Yeah, he did,” Clary said. “He’s a little bummed, though. He didn’t make the cut time for National’s yet. He dropped time, though, and Jace said something about that being harder to do since its yards to meters, whatever that means.”

Magnus laughed. “A meters pool is longer than a yards pool, so it’s a lot harder to drop time going from swimming in yards to meters.”

“Ohh,” she said. “That makes a lot of sense.”

Magnus’s smile fell. “Hey, can I ask you something?”

Clary’s voice turned a lot more serious. “Sure, what’s up?”

“You mentioned Alec was bummed about the cut time, but… I don’t know.” Magnus sighed. “Is he okay? He was being really weird and distant when I texted him earlier, and he said he was just tired, but I don’t know.”

Clary hummed sympathetically. “I wouldn’t worry about it too much. It was probably just the stuff with his time, and he probably really is tired. It was a long drive yesterday, and I’m exhausted from this meet and I’m not even swimming in it.”

“Okay,” Magnus sighed. “You’re probably right.”

“I usually am,” Clary teased. “Just...give him some time. I’m sure he’ll talk to you if it’s something serious.” The roar from when he’d first answered the phone started up again. Clary must’ve been walking towards the pool again. “I should go, Izzy is waving me over.”

“Alright,” Magnus said. “Thank you, Clary, and try not to have too much fun without me tonight.” He pouted even though he knew she couldn’t see it.

“Stop pouting, Bane,” she said. Magnus smirked.

“Should I expect some drunken texts or phone calls this evening, Biscuit?” he asked, voice teasing.

“Of course,” Clary scoffed. “You know I get affectionate when I’m drunk, and I miss you, so.”

“Miss you, too, Biscuit,” Magnus smiled. “Go. Have fun.”

“Talk to you later,” Clary promised before hanging up.

***

Alec sat down hard on the bleachers, dropping his cap and goggles into the open pocket of his swim bag but leaving his towel draped over his neck. Jace smacked his arm lightly, shuffling out of the way as someone slipped into the spot beside him.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, kid.”

Alec lifted his head to see Coach Garroway flashing him a smile that could only be described as fatherly. It felt nice, Alec thought. He didn’t deserve it.

“My time isn—”

“So you didn’t get the cut yet. That’s fine. More than half these guys don’t have a cut time yet,” his coach said, gesturing at the rest of the team milling about around them. He nudged Alec with his elbow and leaned closer, whispering, “More than half of them won’t even come close.”

Alec tried to laugh, but the tightness in his chest only allowed him to exhale. “I know I still have time to get it, I just… I really wanted it.”

Coach Garroway patted his shoulder. “I know you did, Lightwood. But you still have a few more meets to get it, and I know you will.”

“How?”

“For starters, you dropped just over a full second. That’s hard to do at this level,” Coach said, the fatherliness in his voice morphing back into a coach. “Not to mention you dropped all that time going from yards to meters.”

Alec chewed on his lower lip. “That’s true,” he said after a moment.

“Don’t sell yourself short just because you didn’t get the cut. What you did today was still impressive, son,” his coach said, standing and reaching down to pat Alec’s shoulder once more before stepping away to speak to another team’s coach.

His siblings and friends were on Alec not a second later.

“You were amazing, Alec,” Izzy said, not caring if she got wet as she wrapped him in a hug.

“Thanks, Iz.”

“Dude, that was awesome!” Simon said excitedly, smacking Alec on the shoulder and pulling his hand back quickly when he received a glare. “The way you came from behind and out touched him like—like Michael Phelps in the Olympics, and then the guy at the next Olympics who did the same thing to Michael, and—”

“Okay!” Clary said loudly, cutting Simon off and earning a grateful look from Alec. “So I hear there’s a party tonight…”

***

The room was spinning. Or maybe just wobbling a bit, Alec told himself. Not that it mattered whether or not the room was spinning or wobbling. It only mattered that the room was moving and maybe, maybe, Alec had had a few too many shots.

His exhaustion from the long drive the night before and the meet earlier that day wasn’t helping, of course. He’d probably have been half-drunk just from being tired by now anyways. It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t plan on making the room spin. Or wobble, for that matter.

But after his first drink, he couldn’t get the National’s cut out of his head and an endless swirl of thoughts about how he’d never be good enough threatened to drown him right then and there. So he decided to drown them out instead.

Alec didn’t want to get wasted though, but there wasn’t anything else to do about it. What he wanted to do was talk to Magnus, but Magnus was in New York. Magnus was hundreds of miles away and he probably didn’t want to talk to Alec anyway. Not the way Alec wanted to talk to him.

None of this was fair.

It wasn’t fair that Alec was in a cool city with all of his friends and still felt nearly as alone as he had as a teenager. It wasn’t fair that Alec worked his ass off and still wasn’t good enough for National’s. It wasn’t fair that his father was a complete dick who’d fucked him up forever. It wasn’t fair that the one person Alec wanted to talk to right now was all the way in New York and—

Oh.

“Phone,” Alec mumbled, patting around the pocket of his jacket until he found the opening. He tried to pull his phone out neatly, but instead it tumbled out onto the couch next to him and he grabbed at it until it was in his grasp. Unlocking the phone and opening the contact info was remarkably easier.

He pressed “Call.”

The phone picked up after only two rings and Alec relaxed into the couch at the sound of the voice.

“Alexander?”

***

“Alexander? Are you there?”

Magnus couldn’t make out much of anything over the phone line. Just the distant sound of a thumping bass and the cacophony of people’s voices. And, breathing? Magnus thought, just barely making out the soft sound of an inhale and an exhale.

“Magnus,” Alec’s voice finally said, struggling to be heard over the background noise as he slurred. “You answered. I’m so happy.”

“Of course I answered, darling,” Magnus said, frowning and fighting the urge to chew on his lip or bite his nails. “You’re one of my best friends.”

Alec was quiet for a minute and Magnus worried maybe he’d lost him to the crowd. “Can I tell you something?”

Magnus took a breath, settling back against his pillow. “Yeah, of course. Anything, Alexander.”

“You’re really, really pretty,” Alec told him slowly, like he was trying really hard to keep the words straight and not slur them together. “And sparkly.”

He laughed in surprise, the sound both delighted and unsure. “Alexander, are you drunk?”

Alec hummed. “Maybe...the room is either spinning or wobbling. I haven’t decided.”

“Where are you?”

“A party,” Alec answered diligently. Magnus wanted to laugh, but he was too concerned with the state of the room Alec was in—or, at least, Alec’s perception of said room. “With Iz and Jace and Clary, and, um. Oh! Maia and um...Sherwin?”

Now Magnus did laugh. “I think you mean Simon, darling.” Alec fell silent again and this time an icy pit formed in Magnus’s stomach. “Alexander?”

“Why do you do that?”

The words were quiet, so much so that Magnus almost missed them entirely. “Do what?” he asked around the lump in his throat.

“Call me things like that but not mean it like that,” Alec whispered. If Magnus weren’t straining to catch his words, he might’ve missed it entirely.

“I’m not sure I know what you mean,” Magnus said carefully. He didn’t— didn’t he?

Alec made a noise on the other end of the line that was somewhere between a sigh and a groan of pain. “I want you to mean it one way, but you mean it another.” This time his words had an almost whine behind them, but something else, too. Something Magnus couldn’t even begin to pinpoint over the phone in the middle of the night, hundreds of miles apart.

How do you want me to mean it?” Magnus asked, but as he did, he heard a shuffle on the other end like the phone was being passed to someone else. He knew Alec hadn’t heard the question.

“Hello?” This time Isabelle’s voice greeted him in the dark. She sounded considerably more sober.

“Isabelle,” Magnus said, “is Alec alright?”

“Oh, Magnus, hi!” she said. “Yeah, he’ll be okay. He’s a little wasted right now, but me and Jace are gonna make sure he gets back to the hotel to sleep now. It’s really late, I’m sorry if he woke you.”

“No, no,” Magnus brushed off her apologies. “I wasn’t asleep yet anyways, and I don’t mind. Can you ask him to text me in the morning?”

“Yeah, sure!” Izzy agreed. “Okay, well I better go, but I’ll see you once we’re all back in New York!”

“Thanks,” Magnus said. “Night, Isabelle.”

“Night!”

He dropped his phone onto his bed and sat impossibly still in his dark bedroom, unable to ignore the gnawing feeling that something had changed. But what?

Chapter Text

Alec wondered if brains could have earthquakes. The massive kind. The kind of earthquake that started fires, decimated buildings, and left cracks a mile wide in the roads. He wondered if his skull was about to split open and if the pain would kill him before it got that far. He hoped it would.

Slowly, he cracked one eye open, noting blissfully that the room's blackout curtains had been drawn. He heard the shower running and was almost content enough to fall back asleep, but he knew he couldn’t. If Jace was showering, that meant he’d woken up long before him. Which meant Alec was going to be late, and they already had such a long drive ahead of them.

He groaned, slowly prying himself away from the pillow but careful not to move to quickly for the aftershocks spiking through him. Alec rubbed at his eyes and ran a hand through his hair, noticing a bottle of water and a bottle of aspirin he didn’t remember putting there the night before. There was probably a lot about the night before he didn’t remember, to be fair, he thought, if the pain in his head was anything to go by.

He picked up the aspirin and found a note underneath with what he recognized as Izzy’s handwriting telling him to “ take these, dumbass. ” He did, gratefully if not a little chagrined.

Alec grabbed his phone off its charger, making a mental note to thank Izzy later for making sure it was plugged in last night. He squinted against the brightness as the screen came to life and fumbled to lower the brightness as the pain behind his eyes sharpened again. It was going to be a sunglasses and hat kind of day, he thought with a groan.

It was just after 10, Alec saw with some relief. He hadn’t slept nearly as late as he’d thought, and even if anyone was annoyed, he felt he had a pretty good excuse with his hangover.

There was a text from Izzy waiting for him, asking how he was feeling with a winking emoji. Alec groaned, rolling his eyes and replying with the middle finger emoji. His phone buzzed with her reply almost immediately.

FROM:  Izzy - Received 10:13 A.M.

--R U D E

--Magnus wants you to text or call him btw

Alec frowned. Why wouldn’t he just text Alec himself? His eyes widened, remembering Izzy taking the phone from him the night before. The details were fuzzy still and his head pounded, but he remembered Magnus’s voice on the other line. 

He remembered Magnus asking what he meant. 

He remembered what he said.

Fuck, he thought as the shower shut off in the bathroom. 

“Fuck,” he said, dropping the phone onto the bed like it had burned his skin and screwing his eyes shut.

“Hangover that bad?” Jace asked, stepping out of the bathroom with a towel tied around his waist. Alec grunted in response, hoping that was enough for his brother. Jace rummaged through his duffel bag for a moment for a clean t-shirt and shorts before disappearing into the bathroom again.

Gingerly, Alec picked up his phone and opened his call history. He stared at the most recent one, an eight minute call to Magnus. Eight minutes. That was all it had taken for Alec to scare away his best friend, and all because of a stupid crush that would probably go away anyways since he knew Magnus wouldn’t reciprocate. Eight minutes.

Eight minutes to fuck everything up.

***

Alec didn’t text him in the morning. Or late morning. Or early afternoon.

Magnus tried not to worry about it, he really did. He deserved at least a silver medal for the number of times he stopped himself from checking his phone pointlessly. The only reason he wasn’t giving himself gold was the significantly more times he gave in and checked it anyways.

He’d been more or less okay in the morning. He had an early shift, and there were a surprising amount of patrons that morning, so he’d been kept fairly busy. His shift ended, though, and the only thing keeping Magnus from immediately spiralling was knowing that Alec had been shitfaced drunk last night and was probably still sleeping it off. Or he was awake but too hungover to look at his phone. That was definitely a possibility, and something Magnus had unfortunately experienced several times in the last year.

But morning came and went, and nothing.

Magnus chewed his lip, pressing his phone’s home button once again. He stared at the screen as it came to life, willing the notification to magically appear, but to no avail.

Maybe Izzy had been drunk last night, too, he thought hopefully. They had been at a party, and though she’d sounded considerably more sober than Alec, she also sounded really giddy. He remembered Clary gushing to him once about how adorable her girlfriend was when she got drunk. “She’s the happiest drunk I’ve ever met,” Clary had said. Maybe Izzy forgot about their conversation entirely and hadn’t told Alec to text him.

“I should just text him myself,” Magnus murmured. He opened their thread of texts and hesitated, thumbs hovering just over the keyboard. I’m being stupid, he told himself. He sent a quick “hey” before he could lose his nerve. His heart sunk when Alec didn’t answer.

Magnus ran his hand through his hair, forgetting or not caring about how meticulously he’d styled it that morning after he’d gotten off his shift.

TO:  Alec - Sent 12:47 P.M.

--Can you text or call me when you get the chance?

--I know you’re probably driving, I just

--I think we need to talk.

God, Magnus thought as soon as he hit send on the third message. That won’t sound ominous as hell. No response came.

Magnus exhaled slowly, trying to ignore the pit in his stomach. He set his phone on the coffee table, face down, and grabbed the remote instead. He turned on the TV, flipping through the channels without paying them much attention. Instead of the episode of Chopped he’d landed on, all he heard was Alec’s voice from the night before.

I want you to mean it, Alec had said. Magnus had frowned when he did, a sinking feeling in his stomach following the downturned corners of his mouth. 

What do you want me to mean? Magnus had asked in return, but he knew. Something in Alexander’s voice had told him, if he himself couldn’t exactly get the words out. There’d been a vulnerability there that hadn’t been there before. Like something he’d been holding back, something he knew he shouldn’t say because it would only bring him or Magnus or both hurt.

Magnus knew.

Alec liked him. Liked him, liked him. Magnus twisted the ring on his thumb, barking a laugh at how juvenile that sounded, like he was back in second grade debating whether or not Will like liked Tessa or Jem more.

Knowing felt like a bomb was ticking away in his hands, ready to utterly destroy his friendship with Alexander. And it was. Because Alec liked Magnus, and Alec was so, so wonderful, and if Magnus was going to have feelings for someone again, he knew it would be Alec.

But Magnus didn’t have feelings for Alec. He didn’t have feelings for anybody. He couldn’t.

Feelings meant trusting someone and giving them all of yourself. Magnus couldn’t do that, not yet. Maybe not ever. Not after Camille.

And Alec was sweet and kind and smart and funny, and Magnus felt nothing. Yes, he couldn’t deny that he thought his friend was attractive—he referred to him as a Greek god, for god’s sake—but Magnus didn’t like him like that. It wasn’t anything against Alec. He just wasn’t ready to like anyone like that. The thought of even going on a date made him feel flushed and jittery, and his breaths came shallow and quick. Magnus didn’t dis like Alec. He was just overwhelmed and broken goods and he couldn’t subject Alec to that.

And why, why would Alec still want to be his friend when Magnus told him that? Why would Alec ever want to stick around once he knew Magnus had nothing to offer him? Why would anyone?

His phone buzzed angrily against his coffee table, pulling him out of his downward spiral. Magnus rubbed at the bridge of his nose, sighing as he leaned forward to pick up the phone.

Magnus didn’t know if he should be happy or afraid when he saw the contact name. All he knew was that the sight of Alec’s name made his heart stop for a moment and a flood of ice filled his veins. He almost dropped the phone instead of reading the text, unable to shake his sudden apprehension, but instead he steeled himself and unlocked it.

***

Alec leaned against the outer brick wall of the rest stop they’d pulled into a few minutes ago. They were somewhere in North Carolina and the air was cool, but the wall had been warmed by the sun and felt nice through his shirt.

It felt nice finally being out of the car, too. Jace was determined that they make as few stops as possible on the drive home. Finally, through the help of a combined effort whining about the growing claustrophobia and Simon’s apparently small bladder, they’d convinced him it was time for a quick break.

Alec had been driving for the last few hours. He hadn’t minded the long stretches of road. It kept him from thinking about last night and what he’d said. It kept him from thinking about what he would have to say now.

Now he stared down at his text thread with Magnus. Three messages had come in while he was driving, about an hour or so ago. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the third message. I think we need to talk, Magnus had sent.

This was it. Alec had irreparably fucked up. Magnus didn’t like him that way. Of course, he didn’t. Why would he ever be interested in Alec, awful past relationships or otherwise? Magnus was...Magnus. He was magical and ethereal and yet still the realest person Alec had ever met. And Alec was any of those things. Alec was boring, someone you’re friends with because they’re there, not necessarily by choice.

No, Alec knew. Magnus didn’t want him like that. He probably wouldn’t want him in any capacity after this, especially not as a friend. He probably felt uncomfortable and Alec couldn’t blame him. Magnus wouldn’t want to be friends anymore. Why would he now that he knew how much of a mess Alec was?

Alec shook his head, letting the brick scratch his neck and pinching the skin inside his elbow. I’m being stupid, he told himself, and he knew he was right, but what if he wasn’t?

He wasn’t ready to take that risk. He wasn’t ready to lose his best friend over a stupid crush.

TO:  Magnus - Sent 2:03 P.M.

--Hey sorry I was driving for a bit

--Sorry about last night, I was super drunk, so can we just forget about it?

The three dots indicating Magnus was typing popped up almost immediately, like he’d been waiting for Alec to text him all day and Alec felt infinitely worse. Magnus had probably been sitting there anxiously all day and Alec hadn’t even had the courage to text him sooner. Magnus deserved better than that.

Better than him.

FROM:  Magnus - Received 2:04 P.M.

--That’s ok, no worries

--But I think we need to talk about it. What did you want me to mean??

Alec’s heart lurched. He couldn’t do this. Not over text at least, maybe not ever.

TO:  Magnus - Sent 2:04 P.M.

--I told you, I was really drunk

--can we just drop it please?

He looked up as he hit send. His friends were all making their way back to the car. Jace caught his eye and waved insistently. Alec rolled his eyes and pushed away from the wall to rejoin his friends.

“I’m good to drive for a bit longer, if you want,” Alec offered when he reached the car. Jace shrugged and slid into the passenger seat.

Alec’s phone buzzed again as he sat down in the driver’s seat. Without even looking at the notification, he put it on silent and dropped it into the empty cup holder. He pulled out of rest area and merged back onto the highway, relieved and anxious to be going home at the same time.

***

Magnus didn’t hear from Alec when he got home. 

He’d tried texting Alec again, but he’d gotten no response. The swim team didn’t have practice on Monday morning since everyone got in late from the meet, so Magnus didn’t see him then. 

On Monday night, Clary had invited everyone to dinner. Magnus thought maybe he could get Alec alone for a minute to talk, but he hadn’t shown up. Jace said Alec was still feeling a little queasy from his hangover and had opted to stay in. Magnus didn’t know if that was true or not, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that it was him making Alec feel queasy, and not the hangover.

Magnus tried not to worry, though. He really did. He’d just tired from the meet, Magnus told himself. Don’t read into it. But it was impossible not to read into it after Tuesday morning.

Alec didn’t come to class.

The seat beside Magnus remained empty for the entire seventy-five minute lecture. Magnus’s eyes kept drifting over to it, unable to focus on the flaws in Watson’s Little Albert experiment.

If there’s one thing Magnus had learned about Alexander Lightwood in the short time he’d known him, it was that Alec never missed class. Ever. The poor man had shown up to class a month ago with bronchitis and spent the entire lecture trying not to cough.

Alec was avoiding him. Magnus hated it.

He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know if he should text him again, or call him. He didn’t know if they were still going to meet up to swim tomorrow or if Alec was going to bail on him. He didn’t know if Alec would ever want to talk to him, or if he’d lost his best friend just like he thought he would.

He did know one thing. Magnus knew it hurt.

Class ended and Magnus almost didn’t notice. He shoved his things into his backpack and sped out of the room, unsure where he was going until he’d arrived.

He stood outside Alec’s apartment, biting his lip. Magnus knocked.

Jace answered the door, and Magnus cursed his luck as he raised an eyebrow. “Magnus? What’s up?”

“Hey, is Alec here by any chance?” Magnus asked. “I really need to talk to him about something.”

“No, sorry,” Jace said. “He skipped class this morning, but I guess you knew that.” Magnus nodded. “He left, like, twenty minutes ago to go to Java Jones, I think. He’s probably still there.”

Magnus forced a smile and hoped it didn’t look as fake as it felt. “Thanks,” he said, disappearing back down the hallway before Jace could say anything else.

He reached Java Jones before he could formulate what he was even going to say to Alec. The sign loomed over head as he approached, and Magnus took a deep breath before ducking inside. Alec was seated alone near the back, head buried in a book— Pride and Prejudice, Magnus noticed. He distantly remembered Alec mentioning it was his favorite, once.

Magnus sat down across from him without waiting for Alec to notice him. Alec’s eyes were wide when he looked up, startled. He twitched slightly, like his body wanted to run and he was only barely stopping himself from doing so.

“Hi,” Magnus said, breaking the awkward silence. “I know you said you don’t want to talk about it, and I probably don’t either. But I also know that I really care about you, and your friendship means a lot to me, and I don’t want to lose that, so I’m sorry, but I think we really do need to talk about this.”

Magnus expected Alec to get angry. He expected him to turn away or leave or tell him to leave. 

He didn’t expect Alec to exhale and deflate into his seat. He didn’t expect Alec to meet his eyes and say, “Okay.”

 

Chapter Text

Alec was hiding. Not very well, probably, since all of his friends knew Java Jones was one of his go-to’s, but still. Hiding.

He felt like shit, but he couldn’t stay in his apartment. He needed to get out for several reasons, the first of which being that he’d been closed off in his room since they’d gotten back from the swim meet. The second reason was he skipped class and his anxiety was going to swallow him whole. Alec never skipped class. He couldn’t afford to.

Robert Lightwood left no room for mediocrity when it came to school—or anything else, for that matter—when Alec was younger. Anything less than near perfection was unacceptable. Things didn’t change when Alec left home. He needed his grades to not only get into college, but also to afford it. Everything Alec did as a teenager was done in hopes of ensuring a future.

And he just skipped a class. For no reason.

Scratch that, he thought. He did have a reason. Just...a really shitty one. The kind of reason that screams middle school drama.

Alec Lightwood had a crush on Magnus Bane, and he was avoiding him.

Alec tapped the table anxiously with his free hand. In his other, he held his well-worn copy of Pride and Prejudice. It was his favorite and he’d long been in the habit of turning to its yellowing pages when he was upset about something, but not even Jane Austen could make him feel better about this.

His eyes skimmed over the page, trying to focus on the words. Alec sighed, about to give up and get a refill of his coffee, but the screech of the chair across from him as someone pulled it away from the table startled him.

Alec looked up in shock, mouth opening to make an affronted remark as the stranger sat down at his table, to find Magnus staring at him.

Guess I don’t need more coffee, Alec thought as he felt his heart rate speed up.

“Hi,” Magnus said quietly. “I know you said you don’t want to talk about it, and I probably don’t either. But I also know that I really care about you, and your friendship means a lot to me, and I don’t want to lose that, so I’m sorry, but I think we really do need to talk about this.”

Maybe Alec needed that coffee after all. Now his heart wasn’t beating at all.

This didn’t feel real, like Alec was in the middle of one of those anxiety dreams where every possible thing that could go wrong happens and you’re left feeling tense and unsure when you wake up. He felt leaden and lost.

Somehow he nodded. “Okay,” Alec said, trying to ignore the slight thrill that went through him, even now, when he met Magnus’s eyes.

Magnus’s eyes widened at that, as if he hadn’t expected the resigned agreement. Maybe he expected Alec to vanish into smoke and elude him yet again. Maybe he didn’t want to hear this at all.

Alec sighed shakily, running a hand through his hair. He looked away, unable to meet Magnus’s eyes any longer. He stared instead at the small table between them as intensely as if he would have an exam on the stain and grain of wood later. 

“I’m sorry for...avoiding you,” Alec started slowly, piecing his thoughts together as he spoke. That was far more difficult than it should’ve been, but Alec could barely breathe, let alone focus. “That was dumb and immature and I was—I was panicking. And you deserve better than that,” he added, finally raising his eyes again to meet Magnus’s.

Magnus’s mouth was set in a tight line, his forehead scrunched up where his eyebrows furrowed. Alec found it infinitely more adorable than he had any right to. A silence fell between them as Alec studied Magnus, searching for any sign he’d royally fucked up whatever friendship they still had. Not that it mattered, really. Once Alec finished saying everything that needed to be said, why would Magnus ever want to still be his friend?

Magnus looked tired, he realized. He’d done his makeup that morning, as usual, but it lacked the flair Alec had come to associate with Magnus. His hair seemed to fall more naturally, too, without any spikes or swoops or hints of color. He looked…. Vulnerable, Alec settled on. He felt immediately worse.

“So you were avoiding me,” Magnus said finally, exhaling a short laugh that made Alec’s stomach turn. “I thought...but I wasn’t sure, and…” He paused, fiddling with the cuff on his ear. “Can we, um, can we start with that phone call? Because that’s when everything got weird, and I don’t even know why.”

Alec slowly blew air out of nose and nodded. “Yeah,” he said, shutting his eyes. “Yeah, we can talk about it.”

***

Magnus nodded. This was going far better than he’d expected it to. Granted, he really didn’t know what he expected in the first place.

But Alec was here, and he was talking. That was enough.

It felt like relief when Alec first agreed that they needed to talk, but now, though, with the words on the precipice of Alec’s tongue, Magnus suddenly understood Alec’s urge to take flight.

Alec’s eyes drifted to the side of Magnus’s face, where he was playing with his ear cuff again. Magnus bit his lip as he pulled his hand away. It was a nervous habit, one he hardly ever realized he was doing. He put his hands in his lap, instead fiddling with the rings on his fingers. At least that was out of sight.

Alec seemed a little calmer, though, after noticing. Maybe it made him feel better to know he wasn’t the only one freaking out about... whatever this was. Magnus wished he could say the same, but then, Alec had more information than he did.

“I, uh, I am really sorry about that night. I wasn’t lying about being super drunk,” Alec said quietly.

“I know,” Magnus laughed before he could himself, lips quirking up at the memory of how cute his friend sounded when drunk. He frowned again, realizing how inappropriate that response probably was right then. Worst timing, he cursed at himself. 

But the corners of Alec’s mouth turned up, too. Maybe not, then, Magnus amended.

“Yeah,” Alec breathed. “Sorry.” His expression turned more serious again. “I—I said something on the phone. That I wouldn’t have said if I was sober, and it just...it freaked me out, because I didn’t want to freak you out.” 

Magnus swallowed, suddenly wishing he’d gotten something to drink before he’d ambushed Alec. “The thing about what you want me to mean? I still don’t—I don’t know. And you were being kind of weird all day before that, too.”

“That,” Alec nodded. “I know I was being weird. I realized something, um, that morning and I didn’t know what to do with it.” He took a sip of his coffee and his nose scrunched up as if it’d gone cold. His cheeks were a splotchy red, and his fingers started tapping quickling on the table. He didn’t say anything for a while.

“What,” Magnus started, taking a deep breath. “What did you realize?”

“I like you,” Alec said quickly, rushing the words out like he was afraid they would disappear. “As more than a friend.”

Magnus blinked, gaping. He shouldn’t be this surprised about it, given the way Alec had been acting but…somehow this never crossed Magnus’s mind.

Alec stared at him as he continued, expressions of determination and fear warring across his face. “And I know you just got out of a bad relationship, and that you don’t feel the same way.” He shifted in his seat. “And that you probably don’t want to be friends anymore,” Alec continued, more hushed than before, “but you deserved to know.” His eyes dropped to his lap and Magnus’s brain finally caught up with what was happening.

“Wait,” Magnus said louder than he’d meant to. “Wait,” he tried again with a softer voice. “You think I won’t want to be your friend anymore because of this?” It probably wasn’t the part he should be addressing first, but it was the part that made Magnus’s heart beat erratically in his chest. Alec didn’t say anything, but he looked up again, which Magnus considered to be promising. “Alexander,” he said softly, “do you honestly think you mean that little to me?”

Alec turned a new shade of pink that Magnus might’ve found cute or funny in a different situation. “I—I don’t know,” he sputtered.

Magnus leaned forward on the table, his voice hushed and serious. “Alexander, your friendship means the world to me. You’re right about the other stuff,” he said, noticing the way Alec’s shoulders fell just the tiniest bit. “I did get out of a terrible relationship recently, and I’m not ready for anything more with anyone, not just you.” 

Alec gave him a soft, supportive smile. God, even now. I don’t deserve him. 

“You’re my best friend, Alexander,” Magnus continued, ignoring the voice in his head. “And I wouldn’t give that up because of a crush.” He paused, frowning. “Unless...unless you didn’t want to be friends anymore?”

Alec shook his head vehemently. “Of course I still want to be your friend,” he said, as if the very question was ridiculous. “You mean a lot to me, too, and I don’t want to lose you. Especially not over this.”

Relief coursed through Magnus’s veins, but he still felt sick to his stomach. He owed Alec better than this. He owed him the truth.

***

He said it. He said the words.

I like you.

It felt like something had been lifted off of his chest, the weight and worry finally gone. Mostly, anyways. Alec expected Magnus to bolt as soon as he’d said it, that Magnus would realize Alec was needy and clingy and that he didn’t like him back, even as a friend.

But Alec should have known better because Magnus’s reassurances that he’s not going anywhere were quick and sure, and Alec felt more relieved than he did after taking his last final of the semester.

He didn’t fuck everything up. He wanted to go shout it to the world.

Magnus cleared his throat across the table, looking down. “I, um, I have something to tell you, too.”

“Oh,” Alec said dumbly. “What is it?”

Magnus’s gold eyes met his. “I want to tell you about her.”

His voice was quiet and tight and Alec’s heart dropped into his stomach. “You don’t have to,” Alec said slowly.

Magnus shook his head. “I want to. I trust you.” He looked around the café and brought a hand up to his ear, fiddling with the cuff again. “I don’t...I don’t think I can do this here. Can we go to my apartment?”

Alec nodded, standing. “Yeah, whatever you need.” Magnus smiled gratefully at him, but it didn’t reach his eyes. Alec’s stomach churned as he watched Magnus push back his own chair and they stepped out onto the sidewalk.

Alec thought the walk would be silent and tense, but it was the exact opposite. It was like every little thing they’d wanted to tell each other in the past few days was tumbling from their lips in an unstoppable tide. Alec had never felt so free, and when he peeked over at Magnus from the corner of his eye, he saw his smile had turned more genuine.

This should be hard for him. All those rom-coms Izzy made him watch over the years always made it seem like having feelings for your best friend was something painful. Like the characters’ very souls were being ripped out of them.

But somehow, Magnus made it easy. Everything was easier when Alec was with Magnus.

Alec exhaled and pushed the small voice whispering that maybe this was more than a simple crush to the back of his mind, returning Magnus’s smile.

All he could think as Magnus led him into his apartment was that it was nice. It wasn’t that the place was big. No, the apartment was almost as tiny as Alec’s, and only appeared to be a one bedroom.

But everything else about the place was just...so Magnus. That was the only way Alec could think to describe it. The furniture looked second-hand, but it was antique and tasteful. An entire wall was filled with books that Alec’s eyes kept finding across the room. Alec could see through to the kitchen. It was small, but it had a decent view through the single window over the sink.

“You have a nice place,” Alec said as Magnus gestured for him to sit on the couch.

Magnus sat down next to him, dropping heavily onto the couch. The smile that had been on his face while they’d walked had vanished once again. “Thank you,” he said. He looked so small sitting there, like he was trying to draw into himself and disappear with his smile.

Alec frowned and reached out to place a hand on Magnus’s shoulder. “Hey, seriously. You don’t have to tell me anything,” he said softly.

Magnus met his eyes and gave him a tight-lipped smile. “I know, Alexander,” he sighed. “I want to, though. I’ll be okay, I just...I don’t talk about it a lot.”

Alec nodded, not saying anything. The silence filled the space around them, neither of them eager or ready to fill it. Alec moved his hand from Magnus’s shoulder and into his own lap, waiting patiently until Magnus was ready.

“I’m not going to bore you with the entire tragic backstory,” Magnus said after taking a ragged breath. “At least, not yet,” he added with a choked laugh.

“I’ll listen to anything you want to share,” Alec murmured. Magnus shot him another grateful smile.

“I don’t want you think everything about Camille was horrible,” he said quickly, “because she wasn’t. I mean, she—she hurt me a lot, she did.” Magnus took a deep breath. “But she saved me once, too.” He ran a ringed hand through his unstyled hair. “I was in a really dark place, and she found me and helped me out of it. She saved me,” he repeated.

Alec pinched at the skin between his thumb and pointer finger. “I’m glad that she did,” he said, suddenly drowning in the sinking feeling he knows the exact dark place Magnus had been.

“Me too,” Magnus whispered, looking at Alec with shining eyes. “But, um,” he sniffed, “she became controlling, and maybe I was being a little clingy, I don’t know, but it wasn’t... It wasn’t good.”

Alec shook his head, seeing red as Magnus tried to place the blame on himself. He hoped he never met Camille for her own sake.

“One day I was supposed to meet her for lunch, and I went to pick her up,” Magnus said quietly, his face and voice set grimly. He looked gray, Alec thought. Like all the color and liveliness Alec had come to associate with Magnus had seeped out of him at the mere thought of Camille. “And I would walk into her place all the time without knocking, so I didn’t think anything of it. I just...I just went in.”

“What,” Alec started, his mouth suddenly dry, “what happened?”

Magnus was silent for another long moment. Alec wanted to reach out and wrap his arms around him, but he didn’t know if it would be welcome. He stayed frozen on his side of the couch. “I caught her with someone else.”

Alec sucked in a breath and Magnus looked up at the sound.

He shook his head. “I’m okay now. Really I am. It just...it sucked for a while. I thought she was the one person who really cared about me, but I was just a game to her. I wasn’t enough.”

“I’m so sorry, Magnus,” Alec breathed. “You didn’t deserve that. She didn’t deserve you.” Magnus let out a wet laugh, the sound ragged and breaking Alec’s heart. “I’m serious, Magnus. It...it sounds like she was abusive, at least emotionally, and no one deserves that.”

There must’ve been something serious in his voice, something heavy, because Magnus looked up at him with a question in his eyes. “Alexander,” he said slowly.

Alec shook his head. “I’m not going to get into that,” he said, “because today’s been...a lot, already.” Magnus huffed a laugh at the understatement and the corner of Alec’s mouth curved upwards. “I just...I want you to know, I know what it’s like, and it’s not good or—or fair, or anything you deserved, at all.”

“Thank you, Alexander,” Magnus whispered.

Alec exhaled slowly. “And I also want you to know,” he said with a soft conviction, “that I never want to do anything that would make you uncomfortable, or push you to do something you don’t want to.”

“Alexander, I—”

“No, I just…” Alec pulled absently at the hem of his shirt. “I need you to know that I will never pressure you into anything, or intentionally do something to hurt you. I just—I care about you, Magnus, and I want you to be happy and safe and comfortable. So,” he said, meeting Magnus’s eyes and trying to convey just how much he meant all of this, “if you only ever want to be friends, I need you to know that I’m okay with that. I respect that and I respect you.”

Magnus’s eyes were shining again as he smiling at Alec. “Thank you, Alexander. You—you have no idea how much that means to me.”

"Of course," Alec smiled. 

"Can I, um, can I hug you?" Magnus asked hesitantly. "Or would it be…"

"Weird?" Alec guessed. "No, it's okay."

"Okay," Magnus whispered, scooting closer and wrapping his arms around Alec. Alec slid his arms around Magnus's back, squeezing just as hard. “Thank you,” he whispered again.

“You don’t have to thank me,” Alec said as they pulled apart a few minutes later, his heart thumping in his chest. The smile Magnus gave him in response was wider, more genuine, and Alec felt relieved at the sight. “I should probably go,” he said reluctantly. “I have class soon and I already skipped one today, so…”

Magnus nodded, standing to lead Alec to the door. “Are we still on to swim tomorrow?” His voice was quiet. Timid, even.

“Yeah, of course,” Alec answered. “I am if you are.”

“Great,” Magnus said, his smile finally reaching his eyes.

Alec left feeling lighter than he had since Atlanta, but still a nagging thought lingered at the back of his mind. When he got out of class, he needed to find his brother.

***

“Hey, man,” Jace said in greeting as Alec closed their apartment door behind him, finally out of class. He may as well have skipped that one, too, because he’d barely paid any attention at all. “Did Magnus find you earlier?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Alec said. “He did.” He dropped his backpack next to the couch and sat down heavily next to Jace.

Jace raised an eyebrow. “What’s up?”

Alec stared down at his hands. “I told Magnus I like him.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah,” Alec exhaled.

“What happened?” Jace asked.

Alec shook his head. “Nothing, really. Exactly what I expected. He told me his last relationship was awful and emotionally abusive and that he’s not ready for anything more with me. Or anyone else.”

“Shit,” Jace said.

“Some of what he was saying,” Alec said quietly, “it reminded me of some of the shit that happened with Dad.”

“I really...I just,” Alec took a deep breath, willing the tears in his eyes not to spill over. He’d cried enough for one day. “I don’t think I’ve ever told you how much it meant to me that you stood up to Dad for me.”

Jace frowned. “You don’t have to, Alec. I love you and I wasn’t going to let him tear you apart like that.”

“Yeah, but...you didn’t have to,” he said quietly, gaze falling to the floor.

“What are you talking about, Alec? Of course, I did,” Jace argued. “He had no right to say those things to you, or to treat you like that. And none of it was true, all that shit he said to you,” he added, voice raising in anger. “It was just his sick need to tear you down and try to make you into what he wanted you to be. It wasn’t fair, and you didn’t deserve it.”

“I know that,” Alec said, shaking his head. “I just mean…”

“What?” Jace asked, voice softening.

You didn’t have to stand up to him,” Alec said. “You were always the perfect son. It was like, you could do no wrong in his eyes. You were the golden child. You’re athletic. You’re straight.” He took a deep breath, barrelling on before Jace could interrupt. “ You never would’ve been in his line of fire, but you put yourself there. For me. So, thank you for being the brother I needed. That I still need.” He took another shaky breath. “Thank you for being the best brother I could’ve asked for.” Jace stared at him a moment, his own eyes watering at Alec’s words. Silently, he pulled Alec into a hug, one Alec gratefully returned. 

“Wait a minute,” Jace said after a few minutes, pulling out of the embrace. “You said I’m your brother!” He looked victorious.

Alec rolled his eyes and laughed, the sound wet and a little rough around the edges. “Don’t ruin the moment.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Jace grinned. “I’m just so happy to officially have a brother again.”

“I’m telling Max you forgot about him,” Alec said, his smile real for the first time since he’d left Magnus earlier that afternoon. 

“Don’t you dare,” Jace gasped, narrowing his eyes. “You know what I meant!”

“Do I?” Alec teased, scrunching up his nose.

“Maybe I’ll disown you,” Jace threatened.

Alec gasped, bringing a hand to his chest. “After I just spent twenty minutes rambling about what a great brother you are?”

“You’re the worst.”

“Yeah, but you love me,” Alec said. Jace rolled his eyes, but the fondness in his brother’s smile was unmistakable.

Chapter Text

Magnus waved to him from the stand when Alec pulled himself out of the water at the end of practice. Alec waved back and smiled, relieved at the simple gesture. 

Things between them had been surprisingly and pleasantly normal for the last few weeks. They’d seen each other several times since the afternoon they’d spent in Java Jones and Magnus’s apartment. Since Alec risked everything to tell Magnus how he felt. Since Magnus basically rejected him in the nicest, most understandable way possible.

Alec couldn’t believe how great Magnus had been about everything. After he’d left Magnus’s, he expected things between them to be awkward for a while—a few days, at least—but it had been exactly the opposite. Magnus still texted him random memes at 1 A.M. and swam with him on Wednesday afternoons and smiled when he saw Alec in their psych class. He still waved at Alec from the guard stand. He’d even brought a small jar of peanut butter the first time he saw Alec after their conversation. A peace offering, Magnus had joked, though both of them knew they didn’t need it.

They would be okay. Their friendship would be okay. 

And that had to be enough.

Alec dug through his bag for a towel. Jace shot him a sympathetic look as he grabbed his own and nodded towards Magnus. “How are things…?”

“Good, actually,” Alec said, pausing to scrub his towel over his wet hair. “We’re friends.”

“Are you okay with that?” Jace asked. It felt like the millionth time Jace had asked that exact question, not to mention to million more times Izzy had done so, too. Alec wanted to roll his eyes, but he knew his brother was sincere in his worry. Izzy, too. He couldn’t blame them for caring, even if the looks of concern and constant attempts to talk about his feelings did get annoying.

“Yeah,” Alec shrugged instead. “I have to be. I will be.”

Jace frowned and Alec braced himself for an argument, or another well-intentioned supportive comment that actually drove him up the wall, but instead he nodded and said nothing else. Alec smiled gratefully, attention drifting over to Coach Garroway, who looked ready to make an announcement.

Their coach cleared his throat and everyone looked up expectantly. “I just wanted to wish you all good luck on your midterms this week.” Coach rolled his eyes as a collective groan broke out among the team at the mention of midterms. Alec huffed a laugh at the sound, but he couldn’t ignore his own sudden onset of dread. “I know it’s going to be a stressful week, so I wanted to give you all some good news,” Coach continued. “As you know, we only have one more meet this semester. Don’t worry about National’s cuts,” he said, eyes finding Alec in the crowd who immediately ducked his head. “You’ll still have meets next semester to qualify. The good news is that we’re going to Stanford for this meet. Everyone gets a few days in the California sunshine.”

Jace grinned, nudging Alec with his elbow. “We’re taking a flight this time.”

“Oh, god, yeah,” Alec blanched.

***

Day one of midterms left Magnus physically and mentally exhausted. He’d spent a majority of Monday holed up in the library, leaving only to go to classes and take his one exam of the day. Tuesday was looking better, with no exams scheduled for those classes until Thursday. 

He felt like a new man stepping out of his apartment that morning. Or at least, a man who had the privilege of procrastinating until later that afternoon. In class, Alec had looked as dead as Magnus felt, and rushed out as soon as class ended, muttering something about a study group and that he’d see Magnus tomorrow.

He’d been in such a hurry that he left behind his coffee cup. Magnus had smirked and picked it up, spotting Alec circling back for it in a rush.

“Thanks,” he’d said breathlessly before taking off again, leaving Magnus laughing to himself in the hallway.

Now he was on his way to a study group of his own. Magnus spotted Clary’s flash of red hair at a table near the back of the library and made his way towards her. He saw Maia was sat next to her as he got closer, and slipped into the empty chair across from them.

“Hey,” Clary said, her voice lacking its usual enthusiasm.

Magnus snorted. “Midterms is killing everyone, huh?”

Maia, who hadn’t yet looked up from the notes she was scribbling, draped her upper body over the table and groaned.

“Uh,” Magnus said, “maybe I shouldn’t study with you guys. I want to retain the will to live.”

“This isn’t even finals,” Maia said, her voice muffled by her arms. She sat up and looked at Magnus with tired eyes. “Can we talk about literally anything else for a minute?”

“Oh!” Clary said, suddenly much more alert. Magnus chuckled to himself as she slapped her hands on the table and sat straighter. “Izzy told me where the next meet is.”

Maia tilted her neck in interest. “Road trip part two?”

Clary shook her head. “Alec and Jace haven’t said anything yet, but we’re trying to convince them. It would definitely be flights this time around, though.”

“Where is it?” Maia asked.

Clary grinned and shook her head again. “No, guess.” Magnus rolled his eyes, but he smiled.

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll give you a hint,” Clary said generously. “It’s somewhere warm.”

Maia groaned. “Tell me where!” she said impatiently.

Magnus smirked. He’d heard the swim coach the other morning talking about the meet, and he couldn’t help but find it amusing as Clary dragged out the information.

“Stanford,” Clary said finally, clearly excited.

Maia’s eyes grew wide and she broke out in a grin. “California?” she asked. She sounded like a kid being handed a puppy, or Alec being handed peanut butter. “Oh, they better fuckin’ let us come.”

Magnus snorted, but he said, “I sure hope they do.” Clary raised a suggestive eyebrow at him and Magnus rolled his eyes. “I missed out on the first road trip,” he explained.

Clary looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. Magnus could feel the weight of her gaze, what she was thinking, and it took everything in him not to squirm away. “How are things?” she asked vaguely after a minute of silence.

“Things are good,” Magnus answered just as vaguely.

“With Alec?”

“Sure.” Magnus pulled a textbook out of his backpack. “Let’s get back to studying, shall we?” he said, trying to not-so-subtly change the subject.

“In a minute,” Clary said, waving her hand. “Talk to us. What’s going on there?”

He looked to Maia for help, but she gave him a pointed stare and a nod as if to say go on. Magnus sighed. “Fine. He told me he has a crush on me.”

Both Clary and Maia’s eyes widened dramatically. It would have been comical in another circumstance, Magnus thought. Right now he wanted to sink into the floor and avoid this conversation. The truth was, he and Alec were fine. Alec had accepted what Magnus said. He hadn’t pushed. He hadn’t crossed any lines. He had been completely respectful of Magnus’s boundaries and wishes. Alec was amazing, and Magnus felt terrible.

Clary watched him, her eyes concerned as she carefully asked, “What did you say?”

Magnus sighed, raking a hand through his hair that he’d spent at least half an hour styling that morning. Midterm week was exhausting, and while he would be far comfier in sweats and with his hair ungelled, he needed that armor more than ever. “That I didn’t feel the same way.”

Maia and Clary were silent for a moment, looking between each other. Magnus rolled his eyes. “And is that true?” Maia asked softly.

Magnus frowned. “Yes. At least, I think it is.”

“Think?” Clary asked.

“I just,” Magnus started. He sighed and tried again. “I don’t know, okay? I don’t know what I’m feeling. I’m just not...I’m not ready. For anything, with anyone.” Clary was looking at him with sad eyes, but he barrelled on. “I can’t open my heart up like that again, and I definitely can’t risk it with him.”

Maia reached out and set her hand on Magnus’s where it rested on the table. “What do you mean?” she asked softly.

Magnus closed his eyes and just breathed. After a minute that felt infinite and too short all at once, Maia squeezed his hand gently. He opened his eyes. “He’s my friend,” Magnus said quietly. “And I really care about him, as my friend, and I don’t want to fuck that up.” He took a ragged breath and played absently with his necklace with his free hand. “This feels like the first really good thing that’s happened to me in a while, and I don’t want to lose that.”

Maia looked at Clary before nodding at him. “You know we support you, no matter what.”

Clary nodded, smiling softly at him. “We do,” she agreed. “I need you to know, Magnus, I understand why you feel this way, and I respect that. But Alec obviously cares about you a lot, and I think you care about him, too. I just don’t want you to miss out on something great because of that bitch.”

Magnus snorted, rolling his eyes, but the sentiment was overwhelming. “Okay,” he said. “Before I start crying in the middle of the library, can we please actually study now?”

Maia groaned. “I thought the point was to not want to cry.”

Magnus laughed, squeezing Maia’s hand where they were still joined on the table. “Be strong, Maia, be strong.”

***

Thursday rolled around much too quickly, but Alec was ready. He hoped. 

Studying had been a challenge. This class was an information dump, and Alec just hoped he’d learned enough of it to stay afloat. The only saving grace was that the midterm was only worth half of what the final was. He just needed to get through this exam and hope he’d be okay when the final rolled around.

“Hi,” Magnus said tiredly as he sat heavily in the seat next to Alec.

“Hey,” Alec said, searching through his notes for the section on John B. Watson just to go over it one more time. He found it and skimmed over the bullet points, eyes raking over the page before sighing and shutting his notebook. He shoved it away from his on the desk.

“I see you’re about as ready as I am, then,” Magnus murmured. Alec looked over at him, noticing the slight dark circles under Magnus’s eyes and the makeup that was done just the slightest bit more subtly than usual. 

Alec groaned in answer, making Magnus laugh. The sound made him feel instantly better about the impending doom of their exam, if only a little bit.

Magnus gave him a small smile. “I need to find the will to live again, so do you wanna get lunch after this? Assuming we both survive, of course.”

“Sure,” Alec said as their professor walked into the room. “Here we go,” he muttered under his breath, slipping his notebook back into his backpack.

An hour later, they were sat opposite each other in a corner of the dining hall. It was packed with students that looked equally as tired and ready for the freedom the weekend would soon bring. Alec sighed into his coffee as he took a sip, needing the caffeine enough to overlook the subpar taste of dining hall coffee.

Magnus raised an eyebrow at him. “You have an actual problem with caffeine.”

“I think I get a free pass this week,” Alec said, shrugging and taking another long sip. This time, he couldn’t help but scrunch his nose at the taste.

“At least get good coffee, for God’s sake,” Magnus said, rolling his eyes.

Alec shook his head. “Can’t. The only truly good coffee is at this café near where my mom lives.” Magnus’s eyebrows shot up in disbelief or question, but Alec shook his head again. “I can’t explain it. It’s like...it’s like heaven. Actual heaven. Angels sing and everything.”

Magnus hummed. “I’ll have to try it someday.”

Alec nodded gravely. “I think I love their coffee more than I love peanut butter.” Magnus gasped, hand flying to his chest. “Shut up,” Alec grumbled, rolling his eyes.

“So,” Magnus said, still grinning. “I heard you have another meet coming up.”

“Yeah,” Alec nodded. “Stanford. Izzy and Clary are trying to bully us into inviting everyone again.”

“Oh, no. How dare she force you to make fun memories with your friends?”

“You didn’t have to sit in a car with them all for, like, thirteen hours,” Alec pointed out.

“Alright,” Magnus acquiesced. “You have a point. But Biscuit said you’re planning to fly this time anyways, so more likely than not, we wouldn’t even end up next to each other on the flight.”

“That’s true,” Alec admitted, biting at his lip. “Wait, did you say we? Do you want to come, too?”

Magnus smiled sheepishly. “Well, I didn’t get to go on the first trip. It’s not fair everyone gets to have fun but me.”

Alec nodded like he’d made up his mind. “Okay. I guess we’re doing it, then.”

“Really?” Magnus asked, surprised by his sudden reversal before he remembered and it made all the sense in the world. “You don’t have to—”

“No, I want to,” Alec interrupted. “Pretty sure Jace does, too, anyway. We were mostly just giving Iz and Clary a hard time. It’ll be more fun if you guys are there.” He laughed. “Also, I think Maia might have murdered us if we said no.”

Magnus laughed, remembering her determination in the library. “Are you going to give them the good news at that party Clary and Izzy are throwing tomorrow?”

Alec’s face twisted up in an expression Magnus couldn’t quite read. It was somewhere between fear and disgust, he thought, furrowing his eyebrows. “The cookie decorating party? I’m not going. I prefer to avoid food poisoning.”

“What?” Magnus asked, barking out a laugh.

Alec leaned forward on the table, speaking in a hushed, almost conspiratorial voice. “Okay, I don’t know what you know about Clary’s cooking, but neither of them are good at it. They’re terrible. Izzy’s was always bad, so me and Jace were hopeful when she started dating Clary, but it’s just as bad.”

“I’m sure it’s not that bad,” Magnus scoffed. “How hard is it to make cookies?”

“Famous last words,” Alec muttered.

“Well you can’t leave me to suffer that fate alone, then,” Magnus insisted. “You should come.”

Alec sighed, slouching a little in his seat. “Fine. But I’m not eating any of the cookies.”

“More for me, then,” Magnus said in a sing-song voice.

“Not a good thing,” Alec insisted.

***

Jace held the bags while Alec knocked on the door to Izzy’s apartment. It taken some convincing to get Jace to go with him to the cookie decorating party, or as they more familiarly knew it ‘the cookie death party.’

“I’m not eating the cookies,” Jace had said stubbornly, and Alec almost laughed at how alike they were.

“You don’t have to,” Alec had told him, promising a plan to get them through the evening without food poisoning or completely ruined taste buds. Maybe I am being too hard on Iz, he’d briefly thought, but then he remembered the time Izzy tried to make chocolate eclairs because they were Mom’s favorite. He shuddered. “We can buy our own cookies and eat those instead.”

So Jace had agreed, and there they were with bags of Chips Ahoy, the cheaper Walmart version of Thin Mints, and some sugar cookies from the bakery. Alec had insisted on the sugar cookies so they could at least do some of the decorating, too. Jace had rolled his eyes but agreed.

“See, Izzy?” Clary called over her shoulder when she opened the door. “I told you they’d really come.”

“Not without reinforcements,” Jace said, holding up the back as they stepped inside. Simon and Magnus were already there, leaning against the counter as Simon rambled on about some new movie, but Alec didn’t catch the title.

Alec had to hand it to his sister as they set the bags down on the kitchen counter. The kitchen smelled good, like a sugary wonderland. Maybe her cooking had improved, and the backup cookies wouldn’t be needed at all. But still, this was Izzy he was talking about. He wasn’t going to try those cookies until some other guinea pig had taken the hit first.

Izzy glared at them and the bags. “Really? You brought your own cookies?”

“O ye of little faith,” Magnus teased.

Alec shook his head at him. “No opinion until you’ve actually tried their cooking,” he said to Magnus, turning to look at Izzy. “Sorry, Iz, but this was the only way to convince him to come,” he added, pointing sideways at Jace.

“Gotta be prepared,” Jace shrugged.

Izzy rolled her eyes as the oven beeped. “Whatever. First batch of cookies are done, guys!” The kitchen turned into a flurry of activity as Clary pulled the cookies from the oven and Izzy grabbed all the decorating supplies. Alec eyed the tray suspiciously. The cookies didn’t look burned. In fact, they were the perfect shade of golden brown. And they smelled good, too. Not too sweet or too bland, but just right. Smell and taste usually went hand in hand, Alec knew, but he knew better than to trust his sister’s cooking.

He and Jace watched silently as everyone else decorated their cookies. Clary’s turned out amazing, much to everyone’s annoyance. “Art major,” Simon muttered as he looked forlornly at his own messy design. Clary smacked his arm.

Izzy’s was over the top with frosting and sprinkles covering every bare inch. He shared his sister’s sweet tooth, but he made a noise at the sheer amount of sugar she’d loaded her cookie with.

Magnus’s was simple but beautiful. Alec didn’t know how a cookie could be beautiful, but that was the only word he could think to describe it. The cookie was decorated with blue icing, with accents of gold swirled into it. Alec made a mental note to ask his sister where the hell she even found gold icing.

“Okay,” Alec said once everyone seemed satisfied with their cookies. “Moment of truth.” He raised his eyebrows at Izzy in a challenge.

Magnus and Simon bit into their cookies and everyone was quiet. Alec studied Magnus’s face, looking for some indication on whether or not his sister had finally learned to cook something edible.

His eyes widened and he coughed. “They’re, um...good,” Magnus finally choked out. Alec smirked as Magnus mouthed ‘help’ in his direction. He gestured at the bag of store-bought cookies and raised an eyebrow. Alec snorted, shoving the bag in his direction.

Simon was filling a cup with water, which he downed quickly, gasping for breath when he finished. Jace erupted into laughter next to Alec, and Alec couldn’t help but join in when he saw the look on Izzy’s face.

“I don’t know what you’re problem is, guys,” Clary said as she finished off her own cookie. “I think they’re great, babe.”

“Oh my god,” Alec said, staring at Clary. “Marry her, he said, grinned as the two of them turned bright red.

Chapter Text

Magnus knew swim meets were seldom quiet, but the noise surrounding him now was like nothing he’d ever experienced before. He loved it. (The headache, not so much.) He sat squished into the bleachers with his friends, watching the teams warm up.

“They might drown before the meet even starts,” Simon said, frowning down at the pool. He was joking, Magnus knew, but looking at the crowded lanes and swimmers ducking under each other, he wondered if there might be an actual risk.

“As long as I still get to go to the beach,” Maia said, earning an affronted gasp from Isabelle, who was seated next to her. Maia let out a small squeal as Izzy nudged her with her elbow.

“Those are my brothers you’re talking about,” Izzy said.

“Wasn’t blondie disowned?” Maia asked.

Izzy flipped a loose lock of hair behind her shoulder and let out a sigh. “Not anymore. Alec let him back into the family.”

“Weak,” Clary muttered under her breath. Magnus laughed, coughing a little to cover the sound when Isabelle turned to glare at him.

“Seriously, though,” Simon interrupted. “How the fuck is anyone swimming?”

“Pure luck,” Magnus answered. “It’s like the grandmother in Mulan, when she walks across the street blindfolded.”

Magnus watched the rest of warmups in silence, not paying attention to his friends’ continued bickering. It looked like hell in the water with the overcrowded lanes, but Magnus found himself wishing he was down there. He imagined how good the cold water would feel against his skin warmed from the humidity of the building. He imagined muscles burning slightly as he did his best to swim despite the mass of people.

He imagined swimming again. Not just once or twice a week at the pool with Alec, but swimming swimming. Joining a team again.

He made a mental note to look into Masters teams back home as the announcer signalled its time for the next round of warmups. Even in the throng of people, his eyes immediately found Alec as he pulled himself from the pool. Jace was right behind him, and Magnus watched as they snaked their way through the crowd to the stairs.

As they got closer, Magnus smiled at the way most of Alec’s hair stuck up weird from being in the cap while a few strands had somehow gotten plastered to his forehead. It’s adorable, he thought, suddenly feeling the urge to reach out and brush it away as Alec and Jace rejoined them on the bleachers.

Magnus blinked. That’s weird , he thought, but then Alec looked up at him and gave him a half-smile. 

Oh. 

That was new.

***

Alec can’t shake his nervous energy. He’d hoped to work some of it out during warmups, but the lanes were too crowded to do any real swimming other than bobbing and weaving around the other swimmers. 

His skin itched to get back in the water. (That, or he just really needed some lotion.)

He and Jace had just gotten back to the bleachers where their friends were sat, toweling off and trying to regain the warmth stolen by the water. Alec took a swig from his water bottle, catching Magnus looking over at him. Alec flashed a half-smile, the only thing he felt like he could manage right then.

His mind was preoccupied with cut times and splits. Coach kept telling them—telling him —that there would be more meets to qualify, but Alec needed to get it today. He needed to know he could do it.

His heart raced and he shifted uncomfortably on the hard bleacher seat.

Magnus stood, stretching. “I’m gonna go find concessions,” he said. “I’m starving.”

“Wait, I’ll go with you,” Alec said, throwing on his t-shirt. He needed to move, even if it was just a short walk down the hallway. Anything to make his heart stop beating erratically in his chest.

“You okay?” Magnus asked once they were out in the hallway. It was so much quieter, and Alec’s ears felt muffled like they did after concerts.

Alec expelled a slow breath, running a hand through his wet hair. “Yeah, just...nervous about the cut, I guess.”

Magnus smiled softly at him, grabbing his arm. “Come on,” he said, pulling Alec down another hallway, this one empty. “I know the cut is important to you, Alexander, but it doesn’t mean you’re any less of a swimmer if you don’t get it.”

Alec closed his eyes. “I know that, but I just...I need to do this.” He forced air in and out of his lungs before forcing himself to meet Magnus’s eyes, too. “I’m here on scholarship but I haven’t made the National’s team since freshmen year. I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve to be here if I can’t qualify.”

“Alec,” Magnus breathed, and it wasn’t until Magnus squeezed his forearm that Alec realized his hand was still there. He frowned at the realization, but he didn’t pull away. Magnus, however, seemed to notice at the exact same second as Alec. He pulled his hand away, shoving it into his pocket.

“We should go find concessions,” Alec said, turning back towards the main hallway. “My event is close to the start.”

“Yeah, sure,” Magnus nodded. “But, Alexander,” he said, waiting until Alec turned to continue. “You do deserve to be here. You’re an amazing swimmer, times be damned, and you’re so dedicated. You deserve all of this.”

Alec gave him another half-smile, lips moving of their own volition. “Thanks.” He nodded his head back towards the hall. “Come on, I want food.”

“When don’t you?” Magnus snorted. “Can I tell you something?” he said as they walked down the hall side by side.

“Anything,” Alec said.

Magnus grinned at him. “I think you’re gonna get the cut.”

Alec breathed out a laugh. “What makes you so sure?”

“I’ve met you.”

Alec smiled fully that time, face breaking out in a ridiculous grin. Maybe Magnus was right, he thought. I can do this.

***

Alec did it. He fucking did it.

They all watched from the stands, screaming down at the water as Jace watched the board displaying times.

Alec had spotted them from behind the block before his heat and waved up at them, and then he was on the block, immediately focused. Magnus thought it was hot. He also thought he needed to slap himself.

He couldn’t do this right now. Not after he’d literally rejected Alec only a couple of weeks ago. It’s just this trip, Magnus thought, but he knew logically that wasn’t true. 

Something had been building in him for a while now. He didn’t know what changed, but something had because suddenly he looked at Alec differently. Suddenly Alec’s smile was Magnus’s favorite sight, or maybe it had been for a while and he’d just refused to acknowledge it.

“That’s a really good split,” Jace had exclaimed as they watched, drawing Magnus out of his thoughts. Alec was still leading the race, almost an entire body length in front of the next swimmer. Alec and Jace’s teammates were on their feet screaming, and Magnus could see the coach on the pool deck doing the same.

Alec led the race with strong, sure strokes. He finished hard into the wall and they all erupted into cheers for his win. Jace watched the timing board, muttering “c’mon” under his breath until the numbers appeared.

“He got it!” Jace yelled. Izzy and Clary yelled again, jumping up and down in their excitement. Simon and Maia grinned, though whether they were happy for Alec or just thoroughly entertained by his siblings, Magnus couldn’t tell.

While his friends celebrated, Magnus stared at Alec in the water. He couldn’t really make out his face from that high up, but he’d taken off his cap and his mop of dark, wet hair was clearly visible. Alec was staring up at the board, too.

Magnus expected him to celebrate. Maybe splash at the water like he’d seen the Olympic swimmers do on television. But Alec just stared.

The referee blew the whistle and all the swimmers pulled themselves out of the water so the next heat could start. Magnus followed Alec as he made his way towards the stairs. He was intercepted by his coach, stopping just close enough that Magnus could see the huge smile on Alec’s face.

Magnus knew his own face mirrored Alec’s.

Alec finally made his way back up to them, grinning from ear to ear as Jace and Izzy both wrapped him in a hug.

“Congrats, man,” Jace said, patting Alec’s shoulder as he pulled back from the embrace.

“You were amazing,” Izzy gushed.

“Thanks, Iz,” Alec said, returning her hug. His eyes met Magnus’s over the top of his sister’s head. 

“Told you you’d get it,” Magnus said, grinning.

Alec shook his head, still grinning as he pulled away from his sister and moved to sit in the empty seat next to Magnus. “I can’t believe I did it.”

Magnus nudged his shoulder. “Nope, no doing that. Of course you did it, you’re incredible.”

“I don’t know about that,” Alec muttered, looking down. His cheeks were burning red, and Magnus knew it wasn’t from the exertion of the race.

“I do,” Magnus said.

Alec’s eyes flitted up to meet his. “Thank you,” he said softly, just loud enough to be heard over the echoing din of the meet.

Magnus shook his head. “For what? I didn’t do anything.”

“Yeah, you did,” Alec said. “You believed in me.”

“Pretty sure I’m not the only one,” Magnus said, nodding in the direction of Izzy and Jace.

Alec shrugged. He didn’t look away from Magnus, and Magnus’s heart felt like he was the one who’d just won his race and gotten a cut time.

“You’re welcome,” Magnus said softly.

***

Alec rode the high of his first race for the entire meet. He still couldn’t believe it, but it seemed he was the only one.

Coach Garroway had stopped him on his way to his friends. He’s smiled and Alec’s chest had ached for how proud his coach looked. “Good job, Lightwood,” Coach had said, patting his arm.

Alec had mumbled his thanks, unsure if the blush he could feel in his cheeks was from his coach’s almost fatherly pride or the race itself. Jace and Izzy were quick to congratulate him, practically pouncing on him as soon as he’d made his way back up to the bleachers. 

And Magnus.

Magnus had looked so sure and proud when he’d grinned at Alec. “Told you you’d get it,” he’d said, and Alec didn’t know how he’d ever doubted it.

Now the meet was drawing to a close, and details for the party later were being spread around from team to team. Alec just wanted to go back to the hotel and sleep for three years, but Izzy and Clary were both thrumming with excitement. Maia kept mentioning the ocean, too, not even attempting to be subtle.

It seemed Alec had a long afternoon in front of him, and an even longer night.

“I’m starving,” Magnus announced as they all stepped outside into the early afternoon sunlight. Alec’s stomach growled loudly. Magnus looked over with a surprised laugh. “I guess you are, too?”

“Shut up,” Alec grumbled.

“Was that directed at Magnus or your stomach?” Clary asked. Alec stuck his tongue out at her.

“He’s just grumpy ‘cause he’s starving,” Jace said. “And he probably needs a nap. I know I do.”

“Yeah, yeah, you can nap before the party,” Maia said. “I vote we find a restaurant near the beach.”

“As long as we get food, I don’t care,” Alec said. He fell in next to Magnus as they walked down the sidewalk towards the hotel to drop their bags before finding a restaurant.

“Would it cheer you up if I told you I have a jar of peanut butter in my room?” Magnus asked, bumping his shoulder with Alec’s.

“You do?”

“Of course,” Magnus scoffed. “I brought it so we could celebrate when you qualified.”

When.

His heart fluttered in his chest. Another grin took over his face as Alec shook his head. “You really believed in me, huh?”

“Well,” Magnus teased, “I figured it could work as comfort food if you didn’t get it, too. But, yeah. I did. I do.”

Magnus smiled at him and it made Alec’s heart ache. He smiled back before staring straight ahead. “I’m glad you came. This time, I mean,” Alec said, stumbling over his words a little for the rush in his ears.

“I am, too, Alexander.”

Chapter Text

Magnus couldn’t remember ever having so much fun in his life, and they weren’t even at the party yet. 

After they’d left the pool earlier that afternoon, their day had been packed, full of adventures and snacks—all after a quick nap for Jace and Alec, who looked like he might’ve committed murder if he hadn’t gotten some sleep soon.

The first thing they did when they left the hotel was find somewhere to eat. Alec and Jace’s stomachs were both louder than the traffic as they waited outside for their Uber, and Clary’s wasn’t far behind them. Isabelle laughed, earning a glare from her girlfriend.

“If we don’t eat soon,” Clary started to threaten right as their Uber pulled up. They piled in, and a few minutes later, they pulled up to a Japanese restaurant that had had Magnus’s mouth watering for sushi the moment they’d first perused the menu online in the hotel room. 

Magnus ordered the fatty tuna, something he had been practically daydreaming about since he saw it on the menu. He’d almost felt bad about how much he enjoyed it as Maia dragged them to the beach, hoping to spot some wildlife.

“I love the ocean,” Maia had said almost as dreamily as a cartoon-character.

“We’re on the bay, babe,” Simon pointed out and kept needing to point out, much to everyone’s amusement.

Now they were on their way to the party, having ubered back to the hotel for another quick nap when they still had time. They were going to a small house just off campus and not too far from the hotel, so they’d decided to walk there.

Jace, Isabelle, and Clary led the group, poking fun at each other as they went. Clary and Izzy swung their clasped hands between them as they walked, and Magnus smiled at the sight.

His own hand twitched, like it longed to take hold of Alec’s, but that was ridiculous. He and Alec were friends. That was all, and Magnus knew it was for the best. Probably. Besides, he reasoned, Alec’s hands were shoved into the pocket of his denim jacket. 

Simon and Maia were behind them, walking much slower as Maia stopped them both to take in every single second of the city.

“You know,” Magnus said, breaking the easy silence between himself and Alec, “this will be my first official swim party.”

The corner of Alec’s mouth quirked up into a smile. “Yeah? You haven’t really been missing anything.”

Magnus shrugged. “I’m all into parties, though,” he said. “I’ve got to cross them all off my list.”

“You have a party bucket list?” Alec asked, his voice somewhere along the border of amused and incredulous.

“Why not?” Magnus answered.

“I think I have some catching up to do, then,” Alec said. “I’ve only ever been to swim parties.”

Magnus laughed. “I’m not surprised. But like you said, you haven’t really been missing anything.”

“No?”

“No,” Magnus confirmed, shaking his head. “I’d rather hang out with you than go to parties any day.”

“Oh,” Alec said quietly. 

Magnus could feel his gaze, but he stared ahead at the glow of Clary’s red hair in the streetlights. He could feel his own cheeks heating up and was thankful for the dark streets.

“Me too,” Alec said, just as quietly as before.

Magnus’s heart burst into butterflies and a shock ran through him. He took a deep breath, smiling and winking to mask the electric current running through him. “Luckily for us, we get to do both tonight.”

Alec grinned at him, and in the streetlights, Magnus swore he saw the same electric current in his smile.

***

Alec needed to slow down. A thrumming warmth had long since threaded its way into his veins, a combination of the bass reverberating through the speakers and the seemingly endless supply of vodka lemonade in his red cup. He’d never considered himself much of a drinker, but he understood the appeal so long as he never had to actually taste the alcohol.

A loud cheer caught Alec’s attention over the near deafening sound of music and voices in the crowd. He turned towards the noise, torn between grinning wildly and rolling his eyes at the sight of Jace on top of the table being used for beer pong. His shirt had come off, and Izzy stood below him, tugging on Jace’s hand and trying to get him off the table. Jace ignored her, singing along loudly to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off.

“Is he always like this?” a voice asked loudly in Alec’s ear.

He jumped, finding Magnus suddenly beside him. “Oh, hi. It’s you,” Alec said a little too loudly, even for how loud the party was around them.

Magnus didn’t seem to mind, though. The cup in his hand was clear, and Alec stared at the bright blue liquid inside, glowing from the multi-colored lights filling the room. The lights caught the glitter around Magnus’s eyelid, sparkling and reminding Alec just how pretty his best friend was.

Best friend. That’s what Magnus was, nothing else.

“He is,” Alec said, suddenly remembering the question. “When he’s drunk, at least.”

Magnus smiled and took a long sip of his drink, swaying gently to the music. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you drunk, Alexander.”

Alec closed his eyes, tilting his head slightly. “You will soon,” he said, raising his cup. He opened his eyes when he felt something tap his cup. Magnus had clinked theirs together in a silent cheers. Alec grinned back at him. 

Magnus looked vibrant, awash in the red and pink lights. Alec swayed, not with the music but with the beat of his own heart.

“Wanna dance?” Magnus asked.

Alec frowned. “I can’t dance.”

Magnus laughed and pointed with his cup at Jace, who was still stood on top of the table. “Neither can he, but that’s not stopping him.” He laughed again when Alec grimaced. “Not convincing enough?”

“Jace’s example will never be convincing,” Alec agreed. “Especially not his dancing.”

“Blondie aside,” Magnus said, waving the hand holding his cup and somehow not spilling a single drop, “what can I do to convince you?” He’d taken a step closer without Alec realizing. Alec felt dizzy, and he knew it had nothing to do with how much he’d already had to drink.

Alec took another sip of his vodka lemonade to hide the probably much too obvious longing in his face. “Don’t complain when I step on your toes,” Alec answered finally, when he’d gotten his breathing and heart rate mostly under control.

“Scout’s honor,” Magnus grinned, backing into the crowd so Alec had no choice but to follow him.

Alec didn’t have much of a choice regardless. He’d follow Magnus anywhere. Even into a mass of sweaty strangers dancing to music Alec didn’t recognize.

***

Dancing always made Magnus feel a little more giddy, a little more drunk. Dancing with Alec, it seemed, made him feel a lot more of a lot of things.

He couldn’t stop smiling, his grin so wide and so permanent that his cheeks had long since started to hurt. Magnus didn’t mind, though. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so genuinely happy, so full of hope and light.

Alec’s smile mirrored his own, though it had started out more shy as Magnus first lured him onto the dance floor. He’d opened up, now, letting himself move with the music.

Magnus did the same, feeling the music like it was moving through his body. Maybe he’d just had too much to drink, but everything felt so fluid and wonderful. Magnus always loved dancing. He remembered his mother teaching him steps in their tiny living room before she’d gotten sick. The memory made him both warm and ice cold at the same time. He finished off his drink.

Alec mumbled something, then, his cheeks rosy from the lights and his drink. Magnus only made out the end of whatever Alec had said:  “Beautiful.”

Magnus’s heart stuttered to the beat of the thumping bass. “What did you say?” he asked.

Alec gestured loosely with his arm, his smile lopsided. “Your dancing is beautiful,” he said louder.

“Thank you, Alexander,” Magnus said, twirling around and bowing dramatically. He thought he heard Alec giggling at his theatrics, but then the world was spinning just a little and all his attention went to staying upright. A hand caught Magnus’s elbow and a moment later he found himself pressed up against Alec’s chest.

“Whoa,” Alec said. “I got you.”

Magnus was swooning, or maybe he’d just had too much to drink. He found he didn’t particularly care which one was true.

Maybe it was the trip, or the adrenaline from being at the meet, or the party, or the fifth plastic cup of jungle juice, but Magnus knew something he hadn’t before. He liked Alec. He liked him a lot.

And Magnus was an idiot.

“We should sit down,” Alec said loudly over the music. He guided Magnus through the crowd of dancing bodies and into another room. The room was small. There was a futon against the furthest wall, and a desk and some bookshelves. No one else was inside.

Alec left the door open and half-guided, half-carried Magnus to the futon. “I’m gonna find us some water,” he mumbled, voice louder than necessary for their new, much quieter environment.

“No,” Magnus said, grabbing Alec’s arm before he could walk away. “Stay.”

Alec froze, which was impressive given the way he was half hunched over the futon. And Magnus. “Okay,” he said, practically falling onto the space next to Magnus. Alec smiled, looking at him through half-lidded eyes. His eyelashes looked stark against his cheeks in the low light.

A fluttering warmth filled Magnus’s stomach and he knew it wasn’t because he was drunk.

***

“Why do they call it fatty tuna?” Alec heard himself saying. He couldn’t remember why exactly they’d started talking about fatty tuna. All he knew was that the name was ridiculously offensive.

Magnus just laughed, shaking his head. “I don’t think the fish mind, Alexander,” he murmured.

“How do you know?” Alec asked pointedly, one arm waving his comment away. “Have you asked one of the tunas?”

Magnus’s face grew serious, considering it. “No, I haven’t. I’ll be sure to ask my sushi before I eat it next time.”

Alec sat back, appeased. “Good.”

Magnus smiled at him, not in a you’re ridiculous kind of way, but something else entirely. A please keep talking sort of way. 

So Alec did, sitting up again and saying the first thing that came to mind. “I have another food question. I have another one.” Magnus raised an eyebrow. “People always say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but is that true? Like really true?”

Magnus laughed again, throwing his head back so it rested on the back of the futon as he relaxed further into the seat. “It’s healthy. Apples are healthy.”

“But the saying isn’t that apples are healthy!” Alec insisted, watching Magnus’s grin widen. He looked so happy, Alec thought. So carefree and stunning. Alec’s heart thumped in time with the bass of a song he recognized from one of Jace’s workout playlists. “I’m really glad you came,” Alec said before he was even aware he was thinking them.

“Me too,” Magnus said, curling his legs half underneath him. He gasped softly, as though realizing something, and Alec leaned forward almost unconsciously. “You were so fast,” Magnus exclaimed in a breathy whisper.

Alec knew he was blushing, but he hoped the flush from all the drinks was enough to mask it. “Stop it,” Alec groaned. “I don’t wanna talk about swimming.”

Magnus smirked. “What do you wanna do then?”

Dance with you. Hold your hand. Kiss you. He didn’t say any of those things. Instead, he shrugged.

“You’re too far away,” Magnus complained, reaching out towards Alec across the futon. “Come over here.”

Without a second thought, Alec scooted closer until they were almost cuddled together. His phone buzzed in his pocket, but he didn’t pull it out to look. How could he possibly when he was that close to Magnus? Nothing could ever draw his attention away.

It was almost too much, sitting close to Magnus like that with the world just the right amount of muffled from all the drinks and the loud music reverberating through the house, the floor, him. Their shoulders brushed and Alec wanted to lean into the touch. He wanted to shuffle even closer, close enough to drown in Magnus’s scent:  sandalwood and sweat and vodka. It was far more alluring than it had any right to be. Dizzying, even.

Magnus took another sip from his drink, which Alec had forgotten he was still holding. When he pulled the cup away from his lips, a drop of his drink escaped onto his lower lip. His tongue darted out to catch it.

Alec couldn’t look away. He didn’t want to. He wanted to kiss Magnus.

He leaned forward again, just a little as his phone buzzed angrily in his pocket again. A thrill ran through him as Magnus shifted towards him, too, and the phone was forgotten.

***

“You’re too far away,” Magnus complained. He held out a hand towards Alec, wiggling his fingers like he was casting a spell to draw him closer. Really he just hoped Alec would take it, would interlace their fingers, would squeeze it gently. I’m fucked, Magnus thought, rather proud of himself when he didn’t say it out loud. “Come over here,” he whined instead.

Alec did, scooting across the couch between one breath and the next. Magnus smiled a pleased smile.

They were sitting close now. Very close. Magnus could smell the chlorine lingering on Alec's skin despite the shower he'd had at the hotel earlier in the day. There was another scent, too. Something sun-warmed and happy. Magnus wanted to breathe in deep and inhale it. He wanted to feel it deep in his bones, live it.

He took a long sip of his drink, finishing it to distract himself. He distracted himself from how Alec sat so close, Magnus could feel his warmth against his side. He distracted himself from the fact that it would be so, so easy to reach out and take Alec's hand. 

Or cup Alec's cheek.

Or kiss Alec.

Magnus leaned forward without meaning to, as if drawn toward Alec like a magnet. Maybe he was imagining it, or maybe he’d had too much to drink and now the entire room was shifting, but Alec leaned forward, too.

Alec looked hesitant and sure all at the same time, like he was terrified of breaking some spell and Magnus would disappear from the couch, the party, existence. His eyes kept darting down to Magnus’s lips, and he was leaning impossibly closer—still not touching—and Magnus decided that simply wouldn’t do.

Magnus leaned in. His fingers brushed lightly against Alec’s forearm, bracing himself as their lips met. It was slow, clumsy and unsure, and then it wasn’t. It was everything Magnus hadn’t known he wanted. It was everything Magnus was too scared to admit he wanted. 

He pressed into Alec, let Alec press into him. And then Alec was gone—his mouth, his weight, his warmth—and instantly Magnus mourned the loss. 

Magnus opened his eyes, already pouting in his confusion. Alec stood a foot away from the futon, staring at Magnus with wide eyes and running a shaking hand through his hair.

“S-sorry,” Alec mumbled. Magnus barely heard him over the Rhianna song playing in the main room. Alec turned and stalked quickly out of the room, gone before Magnus could say anything.

He stood, head swimming a bit from his drink and his confusion and his hurt. Alec left. Alec didn’t want to kiss him. Magnus twisted the rings on his right hand. Of course Alec didn’t want to kiss him. Not after Magnus had rejected him. Magnus had ruined things before they ever even began.

“Magnus?”

Magnus looked up at the sound of his name, finding Isabelle staring at him through the open doorway. “Hey,” he said, trying to sound cheerful. She frowned and he knew it hadn’t worked.

“We’ve been looking for you and Alec all night,” she said. She looked around the room before staring at Magnus like he was a science experiment she was working on. “Where is Alec, anyway?”

Magnus shook his head. “He left.”

Izzy frowned, her eyebrows furrowed together. “He left? That doesn’t sound like Alec. Did something happ—”

“I kissed him,” Magnus whispered. “I kissed him and he left.”