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Boys Don't Cry

Chapter Text

If one more person tells me to be strong, I will explode.

Raphael closed his eyes and took a deep breath, letting the sound of people talking in low voices and the string quartet playing somber music in the corner go to white noise in his ears.

If his best friend, Lily, had been here, she would have made him sneak out through the open French doors into the fancy backyard filled with fake Greek statues.

But Lily wasn’t here. She was about two hours down I-95, back in New York, probably thinking it was her fault when it was really Raphael’s.

He should have been there. They should have all been there. New York was where his family had lived. It was where they had died. It was where this reception should be; not in some fancy funeral home in Connecticut, pretending to mourn over empty caskets.

Unfortunately, Raphael was only sixteen, so, despite being the sole heir to a moderate fortune, he had no actual control over anything. For two more years, his fortune and his fate were in the hands of Camille Belcourt.

Don’t-call-me-Aunt Camille.

Raphael could count the number of times he had met the woman on one hand with fingers to spare. His father’s sister was not a pleasant person. She was a stone-cold bitch who’d do anything, sacrifice anyone, to gain money and power. Those were his father’s words, not Raphael’s.

For all their prudence and business savvy, his parents had made a huge mistake with their will. They had never named a guardian for their children in case anything happened to them before the oldest turned 18. Then again, it wouldn’t have mattered if Raphael had been at home that night where he was supposed to be.

He swallowed the lump in his throat and tried to ignore the hot itch building up behind his eyes.

“Raphael!”

The voice cut like a butcher knife in careless hands. Camille snapped her fingers once in his direction and waved him over.

He suppressed a shudder and joined her, flinched when her bony hand landed on his shoulder and dug pointy carmine nails into the sensitive spot at is collarbone.

“This is my nephew, Raphael Santiago,” she said. “I’ll be taking care of him now.”

Raphael cringed. Camille made him sound like a pet or a houseplant that had fallen into her hands because her brother had left on an unexpected trip.

“I’ll try not to be a nuisance,” he muttered under his breath.

“Oh, don’t be silly.” Her nails dug deeper into his shoulder, a warning. “It’s the least I can do.”

The man in front of them smiled in a slippery way that didn’t reach his eyes. The power tie around his thick neck reminded Raphael of the one he had stared at two days ago, sitting across the table from the corporate lawyer who had laid out the provisions of his parents’ estate like a text-to-speech program reading terms of service.

“It must be a relief for him to be able to stay with family,” the man said to Camille in a tone more slippery than his smile. “And how selfless of you, especially so soon after--”

“Oh, I try not to think about it.” Camille waved off her fourth husband’s death like a minor inconvenience. “All that matters now is that I’m here for Raphael. And I promise I’ll continue to be here for Ragnor’s constituents, well, my constituents now, I suppose.”

The rest of the reception passed in a blur. Raphael did what he was told, stood where he was the least visible, and remained silent during the long limousine ride to Camille’s estate while she talked non-stop business and politics into the silver Bluetooth nestled in her ear.

When the enormous oak doors of the main entrance banged shut behind him, Raphael stood in the middle of a gaping foyer with an unfamiliar suitcase full of brand-new clothes at his feet.

“Don’t bother unpacking.” Camille was halfway up the marble staircase, her stiletto heels beating the soft stone like hammer blows. “I’ve enrolled you at Alicante Academy. You’re leaving tomorrow morning.”

Chapter Text

Alicante Academy was an amalgamation of every fancy boarding school shown in movies and on television. The buildings were red brick, the lawns were immaculate Kentucky green, and the uniforms were plagiarized from much older schools in much older countries. The dark gray commemorative plate near the entrance proclaimed the institution’s establishment in 1872.

Raphael found his own way to the Administrative Building, accepted a thick stack of paperwork from the woman behind the counter, and followed a senior student named Underhill along winding, gravel pathways to his designated dorm building.

“That’s the Science Building,” Underhill said, gesturing to a wide, rectangular box with polarized windows. “You’ll be spending at least half your class hours in there, so try to memorize the floor plan as soon as you can.” His long, pale arm swung in the opposite direction. “Gym’s over there: workout room, Olympic pool, and three halls for indoor activities like tennis, basketball, soccer, archery, kendo, what-have-you. Outdoor courts, track and field, and shooting ranges are behind the chapel on the back forty with the horse stables.”

Because of course they have horse stables.

Raphael rolled his eyes. He trailed after Underhill who rattled off more orientation stuff, moving rapidly past three or four other buildings before they arrived at the dormitory.

“This is Blackthorn Hall, your home for the next two years.” 

The building was not what Raphael had expected. It was an old two-story Tudor, whimsical chimneys and all. Triangular gables protruded from the length of the steeply pitched roof, framing diamond-grill casement windows. Craftsman timber on top of old-world masonry.

Raphael wanted to puke. Everything about the place was anathema to him.

“You’ll get used to it,” Underhill said as if he’d read his mind.

His room on the second floor was little more than a shoe box with a twin bed, a desk, and a window.

“We don’t do roommates at Alicante,” Underhill explained, “but that means some of the rooms are pretty small, and naturally, seniors get first choice.”

“It’s fine.”

Raphael wasn’t even lying. He couldn’t care less if they stuck him in a coffin and buried him alive.

“Right-o.” Underhill shot him a funny look, but at least he didn’t pry. “Dinner starts at six. Mess hall’s in the Lightwood Building. Don’t be late.”

The door closed behind him, leaving Raphael alone with his thoughts. He pulled out his phone. No messages. It was 4:48 pm. He didn’t remember what being hungry felt like.

With no interest in anything, and nothing but meaningless time stretching ahead of him, Raphael dropped the suitcase on the bed and walked away.

“Hey, are you the new guy?”

He fled from the unpleasantly chipper voice behind him, and burst through the pressed wood front door with its fake iron hinges, no idea where to go except out.

The gravel pathways extended across the grounds. Raphael followed them for lack of any other kind of direction. The next time he looked up from his feet, he was standing in front of the chapel Underhill had mentioned earlier.

It was a small stone building with stained glass windows, a single steeple, and an old copper weather-vane with a bright green patina at the top of its shingled spire. The door at the entrance was thick, actual wood. Dark brown and weathered, it smelled like moss and furniture polish, and the black iron bar handle was worn to a smooth gray shine where people’s hands had grasped it a million times.

Raphael curled his fingers around the handle and pulled. The door was heavy. It felt solid and real like nothing else had in days.

The church was quiet. His footsteps echoed on the stone floors and the pew creaked in protest when he sat down, halfway between the entrance and the altar. He wasn’t ready to go up there and kneel. He wasn’t ready to talk.

So, he sat quietly and looked at the familiar surroundings and tried to remember all the times his father had taken them to Sunday mass. Raphael didn’t remember the first time, of course, because he’d been going from birth. 

This was the type of church where they should have held the funeral service. Camille hadn’t even allowed them that dignity. Instead, she’d arranged for a non-denominational service at the funeral home in Connecticut, right next to a bland, beige room with empty caskets.

His family’s remains had been cremated within twenty-four hours of arriving at the New York City morgue. A clerical error. Bile rose in Raphael’s throat every time he thought about it. His parents and siblings were dead, burned, gone.

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

He should be with them.

A heavy hand on his shoulder jolted him awake. Raphael had no idea when he had fallen asleep or what time it was. He looked up into the concerned face of the priest who had woken him.

The man was in his thirties. His tight black curls were shorn close to his head and the lower half of his light brown face was covered by a neatly trimmed beard. His bushy brows furrowed, but there was a gentle smile on his wide lips.

“I’m sorry to disturb your sleep, son, but I have to lock up for the night.”

“What time is it?” Raphael asked, wiping the sleep from his eyes.

“Nine-thirty,” the father said.

Raphael’s eyes were wide open. He had slept clear through dinner.  

“I’m afraid it’s past curfew.” The father stepped back, allowing him to scramble out of the pew.

“I’m sorry, Father,” he said honestly. “I have no idea how this happened.”

“It’s all right. We all take comfort in the Lord’s presence.”

“Yeah.” Raphael swallowed uncomfortably, acutely aware that he had never said a word to God the whole time he’d been here.

“Why don’t I take you back to your dorm?” the father offered, motioning toward the door. “I might be able to negotiate some leniency from your Residential Head.”

“I couldn’t…” Raphael didn’t deserve leniency, definitely not at the expense of someone else.

“Nonsense.” The father placed a hand on his shoulder and ushered him out the door. “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t make sure you get back safe.” He paused as if something had just occurred to him. “This is the first time I’ve seen you. You must be a new student. What’s your name?”

“Raphael Santiago, Father.”

“Raphael,” the father repeated his name with a smile. “The healer.” He locked the door to the church behind them and guided Raphael onto the gravel path that led back to the main building complex. “My name is Victor Aldertree. I’m the school chaplain.”

They walked in silence back to Blackthorn House, and Raphael was relieved that Father Aldertree didn’t ask him any questions.

The head of Raphael’s dorm was Iris Rouse, a pale, narrow-faced woman with a long nose, thin lips, and a sharp tongue. She was not impressed by his chaperone.

“I don’t care if he’s out feeding the homeless or converting people to your cause. Curfew is at 9 pm.” Her gaze moved sharply from Father Aldertree to Raphael. “That’s one demerit.”

“Actually,” said Father Aldertree smoothly, “curfew can be extended under special circumstances with permission from a member of the faculty. I have enlisted Raphael to help clean the chapel before closing.”

Raphael snapped his head around to look at Father Aldteree, shame slithering down the nape of his neck. The priest had just lied on his behalf. He opened his mouth to protest, but the father cut him off with a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“Raphael will be needed between the hours of 8:30 and 9:30 pm, Monday through Saturday. Additional hours may be needed on Sundays. I’ll be happy to send you a copy of the permission form.”

Ms. Rouse’s eyes narrowed even further as she looked between the two of them. Raphael wasn’t sure she wouldn’t slam the door in their faces until she stepped aside with a derisive sniff.

“Make sure you do,” she said.

Raphael slipped past her with hunched shoulders and only turned back long enough to throw a grateful look at Father Aldertree who stood on the doorstep as if no evil could touch him.

“Good night, Raphael.”

“Thank you for your kindness, Father.”

The next morning, Raphael dressed in his brand-new uniform for the first time. The arctic green blazer clashed with his dark honey skin tone, and the silver-and-mint striped tie was a backhanded slap in the face of fashion.

His itinerary for the day started with a morning assembly in the auditorium of the Lightwood Building at 7:45 am. He found his way to the building in question by following the map in the school's app and the hundreds of students in arctic green blazers that dragged him along like a churning river.

The swell pushed up a flight of wide stone steps, divided between two sets of glass double-doors, and spilled into a large entrance hall with granite floors and panoramic windows. Raphael let the stream carry him forward, down a long hallway until they all ended up in an auditorium big enough to sit two hundred people with room to spare.

He watched the other students pick seats at random, any rows except the first two directly in front of the stage, and ended up somewhere toward the back, one seat away from the very end of the row close to the sound-proof wall.

The hard plastic seats on either side of him were still empty by the time the teachers climbed the steps onto the stage. Raphael breathed a sigh of relief. He allowed himself to relax and draped his arm over the seat on his left.

A square-jawed woman in her late fifties, presumably Headmistress Imogen Herondale, stepped up to the high-tech podium at the center of the stage and cleared her throat. Her makeup was too dark for her sallow complexion, and the microphone whined at her first attempt to speak into it. She clearly had trouble moderating her voice. 

“Good morning,” she said.

Her next words flew right over Raphael’s head because someone slipped into the seat beside him and, in the same liquid motion, snuggled up against his side.

“Thanks for saving me a seat, cinna-bun. Did I miss anything important?”

The irreverent purr belonged to a lithe boy with golden-brown skin, spiky black hair, and a stunning pair of dark brown cat-eyes.

“Whu-um-huh?” Raphael’s brain was having trouble making coherent words.

“Pleasure to meet you,” purred the cat-eyed boy. “I’m Magnus. Now, hush, we wouldn’t want to miss what I’m sure is going to be a riveting speech by our merciless leader.”

Raphael was too stunned to move when Magnus grabbed his arm, snuggled closer and linked their fingers on his bony shoulder, keeping Raphael trapped in a position that made them look like a couple. 

He tried to pull his arm free. Magnus tightened his grip. His skinny fingers were unnaturally warm and strong, and the edges of several rings bit sharply into Raphael’s skin. He relented.

Up on the stage, Headmistress Herondale had continued her prepared speech, blissfully ignorant of what was happening in the back rows.

“We are here to welcome three new students into our fold: Clarissa Fray, daughter of alumna Jocelyn Fairchild, and Simon Lewis, recipient of the Fairchild scholarship, both from Manhattan, New York, as well as Raphael Santiago from New Haven, Connecticut, whose aunt, Senator Camille Belcourt, has graciously agreed to sponsor our upcoming Fall Formal.”

The students cheered.

“Ow, ease up on the grip, cinna-bun,” Magnus murmured in his ear.

“Miss Fray, Mister Lewis, and Mister Santiago, would you please rise?” the headmistress ordered them with a sweeping motion of her hands.

Raphael unclenched his fingers, and Magnus released him so he could get up. The two other students stood up on the opposite side of the center aisle, closer to the front. The girl was a tiny red-head and the boy a lanky brunet who wouldn’t let go of the girl’s hand even though he was vibrating with anxiety.

“Welcome,” Headmistress Herondale looked at each of them before she turned her predatory gaze to the crowd at large. “Please, ensure that the transition for our newcomers is as smooth as possible and show them that our motto extends not only to flesh and blood but to everyone here at Alicante Academy. Familia Ante Omnia.”  

While the student body dutifully chorused the school motto, Magnus muttered beside him, “Familia anima obruat.”

Raphael had never taken Latin. He could cobble together the official school motto, thanks to being bilingual in English and Spanish, but Magnus’s phrase was a mystery. All he knew for sure was that the enigmatic boy didn’t agree with the idea of putting ‘family before everything’.

Raphael dropped back into his chair and pointedly crossed his arms in front of his chest. Magnus ignored the gesture and leaned closer. Vexed and embarrassed, Raphael stewed in silence while Headmistress Herondale went on and on about the upcoming dance.

“Fall Formal, seriously?” he growled between clenched teeth. “Why not just call it Homecoming like everyone else?”

Magnus chuckled. “Darling, we’re more special than that,” he purred, warm breath tickling the sensitive skin on Raphael’s neck. “We have one of these for every season. Spring Fling, Summer Slummer, Fall Fuckfest, and the Winter Wonderland. Of course, that’s not the official nomenclature.”

Raphael could feel heat climb up his neck and spread on his face like lava. Why did he have to ask? He hooked two fingers behind the Windsor knot in his tie and pulled, suddenly feeling suffocated by the ugly-ass uniform and everything that came with it.

“Awful, aren’t they?” Magnus flipped the length of Raphael’s tie between his index and middle finger. “It’s like they’re trying to get us used to being on a very tight leash.”

Raphael noticed that Magnus wore his tie loose, with a haphazard knot dangling in front of his sternum.

“I hate the colors,” he admitted.

“That’s because they were chosen to flatter their pasty-ass complexions.”

Raphael followed Magnus’s dancing fingers to the two rows right in front of the stage. The seats everyone else had avoided were now taken by a gang of eight, four boys and four girls.

“Who are they?”

Magnus somehow slid even closer and placed his lips right by Raphael’s ear, making him want to crawl out of his skin.

“The blond bad boy at the end of the front row is Jace Herondale. Next to him is Helen Blackthorn, then her special friend Aline Penhallow, and next to her is Isabelle Lightwood. Notice a theme?”

Every family name Magnus had mentioned belonged to a building on campus, and the boy named Jace was probably directly related to the Headmistress. Raphael nodded, and Magnus made a sarcastic little affirmative noise in his throat before he continued.

“Second row features Sebastian Verlac and Jonathan Morgenstern, Lydia Branwell and… Oh. My. If that’s who I think it is, someone grew up tall and hot.” He shook himself. “Sorry. What I meant to say was, I think that’s Alexander Lightwood, back from an extended stay in rehab. Excuse me, Europe.”

Raphael closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The concept of high school royalty wasn’t new to him. Despite that, his previous school was an all-boys Catholic school where guys like Magnus and “special friends” like Helen and Aline simply didn’t exist.

The absence of his best friend Lily hit Raphael like a sucker punch in the ribs. She would have put herself between him and Magnus and provided the snarky quips that Raphael could never come up with on his own. Instead, Raphael swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded dumbly.

Headmistress Herondale’s sharp order of “Dismissed!” unexpectedly saved him from having to try to say something clever.

There was a cacophony of noise as everyone got up from their chairs at the same time and broke into disparate conversations. Raphael wanted to use the opportunity to get away, but Magnus made it impossible, sticking to his side like glitter glue.

“What’s your first class?”

“I don’t know.” Raphael shrugged and pulled out his phone to check. “AP Physics?”

“Bummer. Are you in AP Chem?” Magnus nearly climbed on him to get a peek at the screen. 

“No.”

While Raphael tried to squirm out of his grip, Magnus opened his mouth to say something else but he never got the chance.

“Magnus!”

A sharp female voice barked somewhere behind them. It belonged to a tall black girl who stalked up the gravel path like a soldier. Her eyes were narrowed to the point that all you could see were the thick, long lashes, and the tiny braids in her elaborate up-do rustled with every resolute thump of her heavy boots on the ground.

Magnus froze and held Raphael stiffly to his side. “Don’t move. Pretty sure her vision is based on movement.”

“Where have you been?” The girl stopped right in front of them and made a disgusted noise in her throat. “Ugh, you look like you just crawled out of bed … and not your bed.”

Her nimble fingers flew through Magnus’s hair, fixed his collar, and straightened his tie, all before Magnus had a chance to even raise his hands in protest.

“Catarina, stop fussing,” Magnus whined.

“I will if you stop showing up to morning assembly disheveled and reeking of sex.”

“I do not reek of sex,” Magnus insisted, only to turn wide eyes on Raphael. “Do I?”

Raphael took an involuntary deep breath. He had no idea what sex smelled like, but Magnus smelled like sage and spearmint chewing gum.

“No?”

“Don’t sound so hesitant,” Magnus complained and sniffed at himself. “No, I’m fine.”

“Who’s he?” Catarina asked, pointing a finger at Raphael before she turned her head to muster him like he was trying to join the army.

“Weren’t you paying attention?” Magnus teased. “He’s Raphael Santiago from New Hav—”

“New York,” Raphael interrupted sharply. “I’m Raphael Santiago from Harlem, New York City. My parents were Antonio and Guadalupe Santiago.”

Magnus muttered something under his breath that sounded like, “Prepare to die.”

“What?” Raphael’s vision turned dark.

“Sorry, cinna-bun.” Magnus snickered. “You were having a very ‘Inigo Montoya’ moment there.”

The death of his parents was not the punchline of a joke. Raphael exploded.

“Fuck you!” He roared and pushed Magnus away from him. “They meant everything to me. You might not give a shit about family, asshole, but if you ever – ever – joke about their death again, I will kill you.” His hands were shaking, his heart was pounding, and he could barely see through the darkness blurring his vision.

“Whoa, shit. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Good going, dipshit.” Catarina slapped Magnus upside the head.

“I had no idea.” Magnus flapped his hands in distress. “Honestly, Raphael, I would never have made that joke if I’d known. I swear. Please, let me make it up to you?”

Make it up to him? This wasn’t like Magnus had accidentally spilled a drink on his shirt or stepped on his toes. Raphael hoped the expression on his face managed to convey what he was thinking because words, as always, failed him.

“I get it,” Magnus said, and his quiet voice for once lacked any purr or drawl. He met Raphael’s gaze head on, all playfulness vanished like it had never existed. “I lost my mom when I was nine.”

Raphael knew he was telling the truth. The loss was carved on Magnus’s soft, rounded features, older and more subdued than Raphael’s own pain, but there all the same. He accepted the apology with a stiff nod.

It took Magnus less than five seconds to drop the shroud of glamour back over his face and break out in a brilliant smile.

“I pick him,” he announced, firmly cupping his hands around Raphael’s shoulders.

“Excuse me?” Raphael shook his head, confused.

“Are you sure?” Catarina sounded skeptical. “You just screwed up big time, magpie. Maybe he doesn’t want to be picked.”

Raphael was losing his patience, overwhelmed by Magnus and Catarina’s ability to switch gears so quickly. Lily could have kept up with them, which reminded him that she wasn’t there, which only irritated him more.

“What are you talking about?”

“You, cinna-bun.” Magnus booped the tip of his nose. “Every year since Sophomore, Catarina and I each pick one person whom we take under our wing and raise to the heights of Olympus, using the considerable powers of our popularity and style. This year, I pick you. You’ll be my final project, my pièce de résistance, David to my Michelangelo.”

“I’d rather not.”

“Oh, don’t be a spoilsport. If you don’t let me pick you, they’ll assign Underhill as your student mentor and you will d—” Magnus cut himself off, switched gears again, and continued in a sultry drawl. “You will be so bored you’ll come back begging me to pick you.”

Catarina snickered. “That’s a challenge if I ever heard one.”

Raphael clenched his jaw. “I don’t beg.”

Magnus pouted, furrowed his brows, and widened his eyes in a creepily convincing impression of a cajoling puss-in-boots. Raphael rattled off his father’s favorite expletives under his breath and looked to heaven for patience and guidance.

He was stuck at this school for the foreseeable future without any of his friends. Aside from Father Aldertree, Magnus was the only person who had approached him, and it seemed that despite his overbearing personality, there was a genuine soul underneath it all who at least was able to partially understand what Raphael was going through.

“Fine.”

“Wonderful!” Magnus actually jumped on his heels and clapped his hands. “But first things first, we gotta get you to class. You do not want to be late for AP Physics with Ms. Graymark. That woman is fierce. And let me see your schedule so I can figure out if we have any free periods at the same time.”

Catarina remained behind in the middle of the gravel path. “And what am I supposed to do?”

Magnus looked back over his shoulder. “Find your own pick. Time’s ticking. Only two weeks till FF.” He rolled his hand in an elegant shooing motion. 

Classes were not significantly different from Raphael’s old school. The plethora of individual styles of clothing on his new teachers took some getting used to, but the basic personality types were by and large the same. He made a mental note to steer clear of the I-just-wanna-be-your-pal Econ teacher.

Raphael went through the first part of the day on autopilot, walking into the mess hall around 11:30 am because his schedule said so. He accepted his tray of food without looking at it and picked a solitary spot near the windows.

It turned out he did share the same lunch hour as Magnus and Catarina when they suddenly surrounded him. A loaded food tray clattered down next to his on either side. Magnus dropped onto the chair to Raphael’s left while Cat scraped her chair closer to him on the right.

“I picked someone,” she announced proudly.

“That was quick,” commented Magnus as he reached for his glass of orange juice.

“It was divine intervention, really. A sign from God.” She fluttered her hand and reached around Raphael with cat-like speed to snatch the brownie from Magnus’s tray.

“Hey!” Magnus protested. “I wanted that!”

Raphael pushed his tray closer to him. “You can have mine.”

“Thanks, cinna-bun, you’re the best.” Magnus kissed the air in his direction and snatched the brownie from his tray. “So, who’d you pick?” he asked Catarina with a glare as she shoved Magnus’s brownie into her mouth.

“Phy-mon Loo-iph.”

“Try that again with less than a pound in your mouth.”

Catarina crossed her eyes at Magnus and somehow managed to stick her tongue out without getting brownie everywhere. Then she gulped down the food with a bit of juice and repeated herself more clearly.

“Simon Lewis,” she said. “We have Comp Lit together and he dropped his pencils in front of me.”

Magnus rolled his eyes and even Raphael couldn’t stop himself from raising his brows with a grimace of pity and disbelief.

“You pick the guy who’s trying to upskirt you on his first day?”

“No! That’s the thing.” She bounced with excitement, stifling a cackle. “It was a genuine accident. Like he didn’t drop a pencil, he dropped all his pencils. We’re talking dozens of them. He must be an artist or something. I don’t know. Anyway, he got so flustered, he banged his head on the desk, twice, and the whole time he’s babbling about how he’s not looking up my skirt and he didn’t mean to and I swear he had his eyes legit squeezed shut, trying to fish for his pencils blind. It was so damn cute. How could I not pick him?”

Magnus and Raphael exchanged a look.

Magnus sighed exaggeratedly. “Cat has this thing for lost causes. If they allowed pets here, she’d be the one with a zoo full of strays stashed in her room.”

“Not fair,” Cat grumbled. “Plus, he’s hot, too. Like nerd-hot. I don’t know, it’s something about the way he wears his glasses, maybe? Anyway, he has the biggest brown puppy eyes and I’m pretty sure there’s a toned body under that uniform. I’ll find out when we go shopping.”

Magnus snickered. “The poor boy. Does he even know you picked him yet?”

Cat bit her lip and shoved a fork full of macaroni and cheese in her mouth. She looked altogether too interested in her food for a moment. Raphael knew that expression, had seen it on Lily’s face a million times when she hadn’t thought one of her crazy plans all the way through.

He chuckled. Then he caught himself and quickly sobered up, feeling guilty.

“Hey, that was a real smile.” Of course, Magnus couldn’t just let it go. “Nay, a whole chuckle!”

Raphael sank low in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

Magnus flashed his eyes at Catarina, drawing attention to the thick lines of guy-liner that emphasized their shape.

“So, what? Were you just planning to sneak up behind him, drop a hood over his head, and kidnap him to the mall this weekend?”

“No!” she protested, shoving a few more bites of food in her mouth. “I’ll figure it out,” she mumbled. Her umber cheeks suddenly developed a deep cherry undertone. “God, I’m starving.”

“Here.” Raphael pushed his tray in her direction, putting her out of her misery. “You can have mine. I wasn’t hungry anyway.”

“Thanks, babe,” she said with a genuine smile and pulled his tray in front of her.  

Magnus drummed his fingers against his chin and pursed his lips in a dramatic fashion.

“Oh, I know!” he suddenly exclaimed, a spark of something truly wicked in his eyes. “Invite him to my party tonight. Bring him as your plus one. A couple drinks, a wink, a nudge, maybe a hug against your ample, loving bosom. He’ll be yours before he knows what happened.”

Raphael’s eyes froze in a hard stare as he furrowed his brows at Magnus. He couldn’t understand how Magnus talked so casually about breaking the rules and about Cat’s body. The only bosoms that ever got mentioned at full volume around Raphael’s old school belonged to Jesus Christ or the Holy Virgin.

Cat didn’t seem fazed. Her hand flew around Raphael to smack Magnus in the shoulder and she rolled her eyes.

“You know you’re just jealous you don’t have the same awesome powers my boobs can wield.”

“Oh, honey, you know I do. My powers just happen to be farther due south.” Magnus waggled his brows.

Raphael felt the lava crawl up his neck and all over his face. He brought a hand up against his forehead and reached for his phone with the other. Lunch had to be over soon.

“Don’t be embarrassed, cinna-bun,” Magnus purred in his ear. “You’ll get used to us. Now, tell me, what house are you in? Just so I know where to pick you up tonight.”

Raphael glared through his fingers. “I’m not going to some unsanctioned party. I almost got a demerit last night for staying out past curfew as it is.”

Magnus interlaced his fingers, pulled out the cajoling puss-in-boots eyes, and wheedled. “Please? I promise it’ll be fun, and small, and you won’t get caught.”

“No.” Raphael shook his head firmly.

“But—"

“Don’t push him, magpie,” Cat said sharply. “You heard him say no.”

“Fine.” Magnus sat back with a pout that would have made a five-year-old proud. “Spoilsport.”

“Besides,” Raphael pointed out. “I already have some place I need to be tonight. I’m helping out at the chapel until 9:30.”

“Yeah, right,” Magnus drawled. “Tell me another one, choir boy.”

Raphael’s back stiffened. He had figured that Magnus wasn’t religious, but he still didn’t like the way he had made it sound.

“Wait,” Magnus said the next second. “You’re serious. This is actually a thing for you.”

Suddenly there was a nervous tension in Magnus that hadn’t been there before. He pulled back and sat up straighter, all his flirtatious behavior gone up in smoke.

“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” he said quietly. 

“Why?” Raphael asked with an edge to his voice. “Afraid to be hanging out with a religious nut? Don’t want to be seen with a bible thumper?”

Cat choked on her food.

Magnus stiffened. His slim shoulders tightened and he blinked glittering eyes at Raphael.

“More like I’m not interested to hear I’ll burn in hell when you catch me making out with a guy.”

Raphael narrowed his eyes. “Just because I believe in God, doesn’t mean that I agree with every single one of his followers or what they said. Leviticus was just one of them, and he was wrong about shrimp and mixed fabrics, too.”

Magnus relaxed marginally. “So, we’re good?”

Raphael shrugged. “If you can keep yourself from making fun of me,” he said, glancing in Cat’s direction before he added, “or God.”

Cat looked confused for a second until her eyes widened and she realized what Raphael was referring to.

“You know,” she said, “I kinda meant that. I mean, what are the chances that I’m desperately looking for a person, and then the perfect guy, the new guy, actually sits next to me and drops a whole bunch of pencils right in front of me. There’s got to be some higher power involved in that, right?”

Raphael looked her up and down, trying to gauge how serious she was. Cat swallowed nervously and looked down at her lap. She fiddled with the collar of her perfectly straight uniform and revealed a delicate gold chain around her neck. A tiny gold cross dangled from the end.

“Team Jesus, represent,” she mumbled quickly and shoved the cross back under her shirt. “But don’t make a big deal out of it. Okay?”

He raised one eyebrow, looking at her skeptically, but there was a tiny part of him that felt better. Relieved. Like he wasn’t all alone.

“Okay.”

The second half of the day passed by in a blur of lectures and assignments. Raphael skipped dinner in favor of hiding in his room, not interested in a repeat of listening to Cat and Magnus chatter about the party or Magnus trying to not-so-subtly get Raphael’s dorm info out of him.

At a quarter past eight, Raphael left Blackthorn Hall and made his way to the chapel to meet Father Aldertree. He had no idea what sort of help the father needed at the chapel on a daily basis, but Raphael was happy to have an excuse to spend time at the church. He still wasn’t ready to talk to God, but at least he could show that he hadn’t turned his back.

Chapter Text

Two hours after his extended curfew, Raphael lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, when he heard the quiet squeak of the door opening.

“Raphael?” Magnus’s voice rasped in the darkness. “Are you awake?”

Raphael closed his eyes and debated if he should just pretend to be asleep. What were the chances of Magnus going away if he did? What where the chances of Magnus bouncing onto the bed in a flying leap instead? Raphael didn’t like the odds.

“Yeah,” he said quietly.

“Yes,” Magnus hissed. “I knew it. Get up. I’m busting you out of here.”

“No, Magnus,” Raphael said quietly, sitting up on the bed. “I told you, I’m not going to this stupid par— Holy Mother of God, what are you wearing?”

“Do you like it?” Magnus preened with his arms splayed wide. “It’s one of my favorite shirts.”

“It’s see-through.”

Raphael buried his face in his hands and muttered a quick prayer to the Virgin Mary, asking for forgiveness on Magnus’s behalf.

“Hey, none of that.” Magnus narrowed his eyes and sashayed closer, grabbing Raphael’s hand. “I haven’t done anything worth asking for forgiveness. Yet.” He waggled his brows. “Now, come on. Please.”

He physically dragged Raphael across the bed, leaving him little choice but to move or end up landing on his ass on the floor. Raphael jumped to his feet, pulled his hand from Magnus’s grasp, and stood up to his full height in front of Magnus, bringing them nose to nose.

“Are you really going to drag me to a party dressed like this?”

He pointed angrily at the brand-new red silk pajamas he was wearing, which he loathed with every fiber of his being.

Magnus made a face. “While you do look good in red, this isn’t exactly what I had envisioned.”

“All my clothes are like this now.”

“Why?”

Raphael looked down. He really didn’t want to talk about what had happened to his clothes. Or his family.

“You know what?” Magnus said. “Never mind. I can fix this. Just put on some shoes.”

“Magnus.”

“Please?”

Raphael made a frustrated noise in his throat and dragged his fingers through his hair. He already regretted the words that were going to come out of his mouth next.

“You’re going to get me into so much trouble.”

Magnus smiled like the cat that ate the canary and washed it down with a cup of cream.

“You’ll love every minute of it.”

Raphael shoved his feet into a pair of Italian suede loafers (which he also hated), and followed Magnus quietly out the door.

They tiptoed down the stairs and sneaked out of Blackthorn Hall through the backdoor, into the cold night air. Raphael cursed under his breath.

“It’s freezing out here.”

“Shh. You’ll wake up the dragon. Come on.”

He followed Magnus along a bunch of overgrown hedges, through an immaculately landscaped area to another two-story Tudor behind a set of flower beds.

“Penhallow Hall,” Magnus whispered in his ear before he pulled him through the backdoor and inside.

Magnus’s room was huge. He had real art on the walls, and his bed was a California king with black silk sheets and a tiger print comforter. There was still enough room for a walk-in closet and a maroon fainting couch against the wall.

“Sit.”

Magnus wiggled his skinny fingers at the fainting couch as he closed and locked the door.

Raphael wasn’t sure he felt comfortable with the idea, but he did as he was told. It felt weird to sit, ramrod straight, on the kind of couch that was meant for girls to sprawl on and have their picture taken.

“Okay, so what’s your style?”

Magnus stepped through the open door into the walk-in closet. When he turned on the light, Raphael got his first real look at the monstrous size of the thing and the avalanche of clothes it contained.

“If not silk then what? Leather? Linen? Bit of both? Bad boy, fabulous boy? Oh, please tell me there’s just a tiny bit of a diva in you. I want to put eyeliner on you so bad.”

Magnus was treating the clothes in his closet with complete irreverence, dragging out shirts and pants as if any of them were replaceable at the drop of a hat and not worth more than candy wrappers.

“Oh, you have to try this one.”

He came out of the closet with a dark blue quilted silk jacket. Raphael crinkled his brows with a skeptical frown. He preferred to keep things a bit more understated. On the other hand, it was freezing out there, and the cut looked wide enough to work for his shoulders.

“Fine,” he agreed.

“Yes,” Magnus bounced on his heels and flashed his eyes at him. “Oh, and jeans. What’s your size?”

“Thirty-two,” Raphael answered honestly.

Magnus bit his bottom lip and stared at the middle distance for a moment. “You’ll just have to suck it in for tonight.”

“What the—”

“Sorry, I’m a thirty.”

A pair of black skinny jeans flew at his face. Raphael held them up with an expression of horror and disgust.

“Don’t you have a relaxed cut?”

Magnus rolled his eyes. Another pair of jeans flew out of the closet and into Raphael’s face.

“Thanks.”

Raphael got out of the clingy pajama pants and shoved his legs into the faded black denims.

“And this,” Magnus announced as he came out of the closet with a black, crew-neck T-shirt with holes in strategic places.

“No.”

Magnus’s face fell.

“No holes,” Raphael said firmly.

Magnus made disappointed duck-face, blew air through his lips, and said, “Fine,” in a deflated grumble. 

Then he bounced back into the closet with a wicked gleam in his eyes.

“Nothing see-through either!” Raphael growled after him.

He ended up with a long-sleeve black T-shirt sans holes. It barely stretched enough to fit him, because Magnus was skinnier around the chest. Raphael could feel the hem ride up every time he moved.

Magnus leered. “Now, about that eyeliner.” He bounced his finely shaped brows.

Raphael sighed and dropped his head against the hard frame of the fainting couch.

“Can we not?”

“Not ready to go full gorgeous yet?” Magnus snickered. “That’s okay, I understand. But you’ll let me fix your hair, yes?”

When Raphael cracked his eyes open, Magnus was standing in front of him making grabby fingers in the general direction of his head. He groaned.

“You’re worse than Lily.”

“Oh,” said Magnus, drawing it out into something dirty and uncomfortable. “Who’s that? Girlfriend?”

He bounced off and returned with a tube of hair gel. Wiggled the tube in Raphael’s face. Countered the murderous glare Raphael shot at him with his most disarming puss-in-boots.

“Fine,” Raphael relented.

Magnus was on him like glitter glue, skinny fingers delving into Raphael’s curls and sorting through the mess. He was harsher than Lily, more focused. Lily had always liked to play with Raphael’s hair.

“She’s my best friend,” he said quietly.

Magnus hummed in his throat. “But you love her?”

“Of course, I love her. She’s my best friend.”

Magnus’s fingers stopped in his hair for a moment before they went back to the job. 

“There, all done.”

Raphael took his word for it. There was a mirror on the back of the closet door, but he didn’t really feel like looking at himself.

“Now what?” he asked instead.

“Now, we go party.”

Alicante Academy had two sets of horse stables. The brand-new construction near the chapel had twenty-four individual box stalls, a grazing paddock, and an obstacle course out front. The old stables were half the size and tucked away at the edge of the woods that marked the end of the academy’s property.

“Welcome to Club Chaos!” Magnus announced as he pushed aside the heavy sliding door.

It wasn’t a club by any stretch of the imagination. Someone had strung up Christmas lights along the walls. A bunch of hay bales and old horse blankets had been organized into a seating arrangement in the open area between the two rows of box stalls. The most outstanding feature was the entertainment center. It had a 40-inch flat screen, a top of the line set of blue tooth speakers, and a gaming console with two VR headsets.

Low-key pop music was coming out of the speakers at the moment, filling the silence between stilted conversations.

Cat was off her hay bale and on top of them in a heartbeat.

“What took you so long?” she asked, grabbing them each by one hand and dragging them inside. “I thought you got busted!”

“Fashion emergency,” Magnus explained, resisting her pull long enough to close the sliding door behind them.

“Come on,” she said, “I need you to meet Simon.” Cat squeezed herself between them, threw her arms over their shoulders, drew them in tight, and lowered her voice to barely above a whisper. “And help me pry his eyes off red menace over there.”

Her chin jerked in the direction of the tiny red-head who had stood up during morning assembly. Currently, the girl was trying hard to sidle up to the blond guy Magnus had identified as Jace Herondale. He was too busy setting up one of the VR sets to notice.

Magnus frowned. “Who invited her?”

Cat cringed. “Simon did. I told him it was okay to bring his best friend.”

Raphael felt weird about the whole set up. He hadn’t expected to be confronted directly with what passed for royalty at this school. Not only had Jace Herondale showed up, Raphael had already identified three more members of the eminent eight. He really wasn’t in the mood to deal with any of them.

Cat was still holding them close, one elbow hooked around each of their necks. Raphael glared across the short distance at Magnus.

“I thought you didn’t like them?” he rumbled under his breath.

“I don’t,” said Magnus immediately. “Most of them, anyway. Gotta play nice with the elite, though.”

Raphael could accept that. As long as they didn’t have to talk to them.

“Sorry, cinna-b … Raphael.”

Raphael raised his brows. “What happened to cinna-bun?”

Magnus bit his bottom lip. “Is that still okay?”

Cat rolled her eyes. “Oh, just kiss already.”

She squeezed her arms together, knocking their foreheads into each other. Bright red flashed behind Raphael’s closed eyes. His head stung and his teeth clicked together sharply. When he pulled back, his lips tasted suspiciously like spearmint chap stick.

He rolled his eyes and slipped out of Cat’s stranglehold.

“You had your fun,” he said with a discreet glare. “Now, where’s this Simon guy?”

“Yes,” Magnus agreed, wrapping his arm around Cat’s waist. “Let’s meet this nerdy heart-throb.”

Cat pulled them along to the hay bale she had abandoned a minute ago. On the floor beside it sat a boy with long legs in torn up blue jeans. His brown hair was a bushy mess, and the big glasses on his face really didn’t do him any favors. On the upside, he was wearing a Nirvana T-shirt, so at least he had decent taste in music.

“Simon, these are my babes. Magnus and Raphael. Babes, this is Simon.”

“Yeah, um, hi. Nice to meet you, I guess, babes. I mean, sorry. I probably shouldn’t call you that because you’re not my babes. Does it feel weird when she calls you that? Babes. I never noticed how weird that sounds in plural. Babes.”

Magnus sighed. Raphael cringed. Cat giggled.

“What did you give him?” Magnus asked through his teeth.

“Nothing!” Cat raised both hands in defense. “I swear. He’s just like that. I think it’s adorable.”

Simon scoffed. “Yeah, trust me, it’s not. It’s very much not when you can’t control it. I’m sorry, guys. I should probably just…”

His long arms made an awkward flapping motion and he started to fold up like a lawn chair, trying to get on his feet.

“Oh, no, you don’t.”

Cat immediately released Magnus and planted herself on Simon’s lap, keeping him from going anywhere. She threw her arms around his neck and looked up at Magnus and Raphael with the same military-style scowl she had sported when she had caught up with them after morning assembly.

“Babes, say something nice.”

“I’m not your—”

Magnus’s pointy elbow caught Raphael in the ribs, cutting him off.

“Something nice,” Magnus said grandly, opening his eyes wide. “All joking aside, I do like your shirt. Good music, Nirvana, just a regrettable absence of style and personal hygiene.”

“Not everyone is into glam, Magnus,” Raphael grumbled.

“And what a crying shame that is.” Magnus flashed him a grin. “But I haven’t given up on you yet.”

Raphael groaned and dropped on the ground in front of Simon and Cat.

She still hadn’t moved from his lap. Simon was sitting as stiff as a board, his hands plastered flat to the gritty cement floor. His eyes were open wide in panic and very obviously searching for anywhere to look that wasn’t Cat’s breasts pretty much right below his chin. In his desperation, Simon stared straight into Raphael’s eyes.

When Raphael raised his brows, Simon turned an alarming shade of vermillion and made a small whining noise in his throat.

Raphael chuckled.

“That’s two,” Magnus’s voice purred right in his ear.

Raphael shivered at the hot breath fanning over his neck and recoiled with a glare. Magnus ignored the warning with a Cheshire grin and made himself comfortable right up against Raphael’s side.

“So, tell us about yourself, Lewis.”

Magnus grabbed Raphael’s hand and draped it over his skinny shoulders, linking their fingers. Raphael was beginning to think the boy just had no concept of personal space. Looking over at Cat, still draped across Simon’s lap with her arms wrapped loosely around his neck, Raphael could see why the two got along so well. Glitter glue and shiny craft paper. A devastating combination.

“Oh, um, uh.” Simon stammered, helplessly searching his surroundings. “I’m new here, obviously. I came with Clary.” His eyes moved to the red-head who was still trying and failing to get Jace Herondale’s attention over by the TV. “We’re kind of a package deal. Been best friends ever since we met in kindergarten. She’s great. She’s an artist. She’s going to be famous one day.”

Magnus blew a quick high-low tweet through pursed lips and wiggled his bejeweled fingers in front of Simon.

“I asked about you, sweetie.”

“Yeah, right.” Simon looked very uncomfortable. “I’m just not that interesting, I guess. Um, I’m from Brooklyn. I have a sister in college. I play guitar.”

“There we go!” Cat bounced on his lap. “Are you any good?”

Simon was clearly too busy going into panic mode to answer her question.  

“Can you maybe …” He gulped. “Sit still? Just … Or don’t move so much. Or just maybe not right there ... Or maybe get off my lap, please? If you don’t mind.”

If there was a shade redder than vermillion, Simon’s face was it.

“Oh, Simon,” Cat purred, but she did shift further down his legs and dropped her arms from around his neck. “Does that mean you like me?”

“You’re really, really pretty. And super cool, and way out of my league, anyway. Just, I’m in love with Clary, so can you please stop torturing me, like now-ish?” 

Cat crawled off his lap immediately and settled down on the floor beside him, raising both hands.

“All off, see,” she said. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I’m sorry. It’s just Magnus and I, we’re …” She trailed off and exchanged a look with Magnus who was still nestled up to Raphael’s side like the world’s largest indoor cat. “Snuggly.” 

Raphael closed his eyes and made a resigned noise low in his throat.

“I find it’s easier to just go with it,” he said with a shrug.

Simon floundered a bit, jerking his shoulders and waving his hands as if to indicate he didn’t know what to do with them.

“I don’t,” he said, “I really don’t know how to … Clary’s not that … physical.”

Cat snorted. “Maybe not with you.”

She hooked her arm through Simon’s and snuggled up against his shoulder, careful to keep her breasts away from him.

“Looks like she finally got Jace’s attention,” she said with a narrow-eyed glare in the direction of the TV screen.

Raphael followed her gaze. The red-head was touching Herondale’s arm and he was obviously flexing.

“That’s okay,” Cat said mildly. “She’ll find out. And we’ll find you someone who deserves you.”

“She deserves everything,” Simon said, staring forlorn at Clary and Jace flirting.

Magnus hooked his chin on Raphael’s shoulder and muttered under his breath, “He’s got it bad.”

Raphael agreed with a monotone hum.

“This calls for alcohol,” Magnus announced and jumped to his feet. “Be right back.”

Raphael watched him sashay across the room to the circle of royalty. He stopped in front of a tall guy with sandy-blond hair who was busy sticking his tongue down the throat of the platinum blonde curly girl in his lap.

“Hey, Verlac.” Magnus kicked the heel of the closest combat boot. “Come up for air for a sec. Where’d you stash the booze?”

Verlac twisted his long fingers through the girl’s curly mop and pulled her head aside.

“Second stall, inside the equipment chest,” he snarled. “Where else would I’ve put it?” 

“Just checking,” Magnus shot back with a facetious smile and wiggled his fingers at the two. “As you were.”

The two went back to kissing like they were trying to eat each other’s faces.

Raphael grimaced. Personally, he didn’t see the appeal, but it was pretty clear he was in the minority with that opinion.

Aside from Verlac and his girlfriend, three more couples were engaged in various stages of making out.

There was the pale girl with long dark hair whom Magnus had pointed out during assembly. She was sprawled across the lap of a guy with thick dark dreads and olive-tan arms covered in the early stages of full sleeve tattoos.

Next to them, a platinum-blonde skinny dude was making out with an equally skinny honey-blonde girl.

By the TV, Herondale and the red-head were only getting started. She had to stand on her very tippy toes to even reach him, but Herondale had no problem putting his hands on her butt to give her a boost.

Raphael averted his eyes with a sneer.

Simon looked crushed. He stared at the couple by the TV as if he was watching someone drive over his beloved pet and then put the car in reverse.

“So, you’re from Brooklyn?” Raphael asked loudly, trying to get his attention.

“Huh?” Simon turned slowly to face him, eyes wide and glassy. “Yeah, yeah I guess I am.”

His head was already moving back in the direction of his torment. Raphael rolled his eyes and threw a Hail Mary.

“Ever been to Java Jones?”

“Are you kidding?” Simon’s eyes snapped back to him. “That’s my favorite coffee place. How do you know about that? Do they have Java Jones in Connecticut?”

Raphael scoffed. “I’m actually from New York. Grew up in Manhattan, north of 96th.”

“No way!” Simon lit up from the inside. “Ever get into Shrine?”

“Once or twice,” Raphael admitted.

“I’d kill to play there. They have the best crowd. Okay, maybe not literally kill, but I’d definitely do a lot of shady stuff if it got me a slot.”

“Why don’t you?”

“Dude, I’m sixteen. They’re not going to make an exception to the over-21 rule just to let a teenage nerd live his dream. I was lucky enough to slip through the cracks once.”

Raphael shrugged. “Have you played other venues?”

“A couple coffee shops. The band wasn’t really all that good. Eric just sucks at time management and Maureen ...” Simon flinched, shook his head. “It was complicated. Anyway.”

“Maybe you can play for us some night,” Raphael suggested. “Did you bring your guitar to school?”

“Yeah, of course. I don’t go anywhere without my baby.”

Raphael pinched the bridge of his nose to hide a grin. Of course, Simon would be the type to treat his instrument like a person.

Cat flashed Raphael a grateful smile from beside Simon. Raphael returned it with a smirk of his own. Simon Lewis wasn’t so bad if you got him to talk about something other than that Clary girl.

“Stay away from me, faggot!”

The shout echoed through the stable, getting everyone’s attention.

“What the …”

Simon looked like a spooked animal.

Raphael squared his shoulders and got to his feet, ready to teach a lesson to the stupid asshole who had insulted Magnus.

Except, Jace Herondale was facing off with a tall, dark haired white boy who looked like he belonged in a music video for My Chemical Romance.

The insult had shattered the guy more than any sucker punch could. It was all over his face and in the way his shoulders sagged, like he was trying to make himself smaller. If nobody did anything, he was gonna cry.

Simon’s red-headed friend was standing in the shadows behind Herondale, looking at him wide-eyed and frozen.

“Jace, what the hell?” asked the girl who’d been making out with tattoo guy. She was trying to pull herself out of his embrace as she looked back and forth between Herondale and the emo kid. “Alec, he didn’t mean it.”

Bullshit. Raphael cracked his knuckles.

“You’re just a fucking dick, Jace.”

Catarina’s voice cut like a switchblade through the background noise. She got up, leaning on Simon’s shoulder for a second, and walked right into the center of the drama.

“Stay out of it, Loss,” Herondale barked at her.

“And not even a big one,” she said, ignoring his warning. “Just an insignificant micro-dick not even big enough to cause pleasure or pain.” 

She raised her fist, her crooked pinky a sharper insult than any extended middle finger could hope to be. It reminded Raphael so much of Lily. She knew how to use words to hurt and wasn’t afraid to throw them like knives in someone’s face.

“Like you would know. You’re all tease and no delivery.”

“Just because you’re too afraid to actually care for someone, doesn’t mean you get to spew that shit around.”

She had put herself in front of the emo kid, Alec, all of her five foot eight plus Doc Martens ready to kick Herondale’s ass. “Now get the fuck out of here.”

“It’s not your party, sweetheart,” Herondale drawled, crossing his arms over his chest.

“No,” said Magnus, calmly. “It’s mine, so I get to call who stays and goes.”

He had stepped out from the box stall with a bottle of vodka in one hand and a bottle of white rum in the other. Raphael instinctively moved closer, putting himself between Magnus and Herondale in case there was going to be a fight.

“He called that Alec kid a—”

“I heard him,” Magnus said, pushing the bottle of vodka into Raphael’s hand.

“It’s okay, I’m leaving.” Alec’s voice was barely audible as he tried to slink away or maybe just merge with the wall panels behind him.  

“Oh no, sugar,” said Cat, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. “You got nothing to feel bad about here.”

At the same time, Magnus pulled himself to his full height and swept his free arm out in a wide arc that ended with his index finger pointed at the door.

“You heard my friend. Get the fuck out of here, Herondale.”

The blond stared back at Magnus defiantly. “Stupid faggots.”

Raphael clenched his fist around the vodka bottle and raised a challenging brow at the petite brunette who had pulled herself away from her lover.

Didn’t mean it, huh?

She lowered her gaze with an angry blush on her cheeks.

Magnus gave Herondale one long, unimpressed once-over and shrugged a blasé shoulder.

“Stupid? Is that the best you can do? Please, all the best adjectives have four syllables or more. If you must try to deride me, at least reach for higher prose. Call me insouciant, indecorous, promiscuous, or vainglorious. Never forget though, I am also titillating, scintillating, and devastatingly fabulous. Which, I know has only three syllables, but I feel an exception can be made on account of its very nature, don’t you agree?”

Herondale made a disgusted face, spat on the floor, and stormed off.

Magnus turned to the rest of the group, rum bottle in hand. “If anyone else shares his opinion, leave now.”

The tattoo guy shook his head. His girlfriend had moved over to Alec, talking to him in a low voice. When she put a hand on his shoulder, he shrugged it off and pulled away from her.

Verlac and the platinum-blond guy who Raphael figured to be Morgenstern were already settling back into their respective make-out sessions.

“Nah, man,” said Morgenstern. “We’re good.”

Verlac somehow managed to look down his aquiline nose at Magnus even though he was looking up from the floor.

“I don’t care who you bugger as long as it’s not me.” His head snapped forward from the force of his girlfriend’s smack. “Bloody hell, what?”

“That’s still offensive, you knob.”

“Sorry.”

It was glaringly obvious he was apologizing to her rather than Magnus or Alec.

Magnus ignored them. “Anyone up for drinks and Cards Against Humanity? Cat, can you get the box?”

Raphael relaxed and sat down heavily on the closest bale of hay. He put the vodka bottle down between his feet and looked at Simon on the floor beside him. The guy was pale as a ghost, staring at the spot where Herondale had stormed out, leaving the sliding door wide open in his wake.

“You okay?”

Simon shook his head. “I’m really, really not good with conflict. Like, any kind of conflict in general, but especially the physical kind. I don’t hit people and I don’t think I’d be any good at getting hit. I wasn’t the last time I checked. Getting punched in the stomach makes me barf.”

Raphael cringed. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know. He placed a hand on Simon’s shoulder and gave it a gentle shake.

“You can relax now,” he said. “The asshole’s gone. There’s not going to be a fight.”

Simon tensed under his hand. Raphael was confused until he noticed the red-head by the stable doors, trying to sneak out unnoticed. When Simon made to get up, Raphael instinctively tightened his grip to hold him down.

“Don’t,” he growled quietly. “She’s going after him. If you put yourself in the middle of that, you are going to get punched.”

Simon fought his grip, trying to get up anyway. “I can’t just let her fall for that dick.”

Cat stepped in front of them with one hand on her hip and the other holding the big black box of playing cards. “She won’t be the first and definitely not the last. Some of us need to learn by mistake, and Clary strikes me as that type.”

She plopped herself down on Simon’s other side, grabbed his arm with both hands, and hooked her chin on his shoulder.

“Stay, please?” she coaxed.

Magnus came back with the tattoo guy in tow. Tattoo guy’s girlfriend was trying to coax Alec over.

“Come on, handsome,” Magnus said, pointedly looking at Alec. “You can sit next to me. Us gorgeous boys have to stick together.” He patted the floor next to him.

“Yes, come on, Alec.”

“Izzy, no.”

“Please?”

The brunette, Izzy, grabbed Alec’s hand and pulled him over to the group.

Magnus looked back at the two couples still making out on the bales by the entertainment center.

“You coming?”

Morgenstern didn’t respond. The honey-blonde making out with him extended her middle finger in their general direction.

Curly girl pulled herself off Verlac’s lap and dragged him after her. She had a pixie-face and a smattering of freckles all over her nose and cheeks.

“Come on, I want some of that booze.”

They ended up in a loose circle. Alec was flanked by Magnus on one side and Izzy on the other. Cat and Raphael kept Simon between them. Tattoo guy sprawled cross-legged next to Izzy. Verlac and his girlfriend completed the circle between tattoo guy and Cat.

She handed the open box to Magnus and he pulled out a large stack of white cards.

“Everybody remember the rules?” His fingers handled the cards with the same harsh focus and precision they had given to Raphael’s hair earlier.

Everyone nodded and muttered assent.

“Best answer takes a shot, their choice.” Magnus nodded toward the bottles of vodka and rum and dealt ten white cards in front of each of them.

Raphael cleared his throat and leaned down toward Magnus on his left.

“I don’t really want to get drunk,” he muttered under his breath.

Magnus chuckled. “Listen to Mister Confident over here. You really think your hand is gonna be that good?” He winked. “Seriously, though. If you don’t want to get drunk, just take a small sip if you win.” He looked up at the circle. “Unless, does anyone want to be the stand-in for Raphael?”  

All hands went up except Simon’s.

“Bunch of boozers.” Raphael rolled his eyes. “I can handle it.”

“Okay. First round.” Magnus flipped over the first black card. “Your honor, I plead not guilty to …”

Six rounds later, Raphael had yet to win a hand. He wasn’t too disappointed.

“This is the prime of my life,” Izzy read out loud, “I am young, hot, and full of …”

She picked up the stack of white cards from the middle and read them one at a time.

“The Great Depression; my sex-life; fiery poops; masturbation; silence; poor life choices; warm, velvety Muppet sex?” She shook her head and moved on to the final card. “The primal, ball-slapping sex your parents are having right now?” She gagged and shuddered exaggeratedly. “Ew. Yeah, no. Bleh.”

Morgenstern cackled.

Izzy shook her head. “Poor life choices. Definitely. But masturbation was a close second.” She giggled.

Raphael raised his hand and accepted the black card from Izzy.

“Name your poison, cinna-bun.”

Raphael pointed at the half empty vodka bottle. Magnus unscrewed the lid and moved it over to him but held tight when Raphael tried to take it out of his hand.

“You sure?”

“I’m fine.”

Raphael braced himself for the taste. The last time he’d had alcohol was the night he had gone to the concert with Lily. The night his family had died. He took a healthy swig and chased it down with another one. Then took a third for good measure.

The group hooted and hollered. Raphael tried not to cough as the alcohol burned down his throat like fire and dropped into his empty stomach like a ball of molten lead.

It didn’t take long for the effects to hit him. His head went fuzzy. His body went numb. The room started to tilt at a funny angle. Everything took a lot longer to get to him.

Raphael lost track of the game, throwing down random cards. He won two more rounds.

“When you get right down to it,” Simon repeated the black card before he read the set of responses, “Being a motherfucking box is just blossoming into a beautiful young woman.” He shook his head and went to the next answer. “Eating ass is just the sweet, forbidden meat of the monkey.”

“No,” Izzy shrieked. “It’s supposed to be the other way around.”

Verlac’s girlfriend, Eloise, cackled like a hyena and collapsed into Verlac’s lap.

“Okay…” Simon looked at them skeptically and finished reading the last response.

“When you get right down to it, rock-hard tits and a huge vagina is just twisting my cock and balls into a balloon poodle. Ouch. Okay, yeah. That one gets it for grossest mental image.”

“Yes!” Magnus kissed the air in Simon’s direction and snatched the black card from his fingers.  

Raphael chuckled slowly and let his head roll back against the bale of hay behind him. He didn’t remember sliding to the floor.

“Hey, Raphael. You okay?”

Simon’s face was practically in his face.

Cat’s right, he has the biggest damn puppy eyes.

Raphael giggled. He slung his arm out and patted Simon’s wooly mop of hair.

“Perrito mullido.”

Simon blinked and cleared his throat, ducked his head before he looked back up at Raphael with even bigger puppy eyes.

“I have no idea what that means,” he said. “Does that mean you’re okay?”

“Que buen perrito.”

He scratched Simon behind the ear and petted his hair some more. It was very soft. Could use a good combing, though.

“Is it just me or is he acting like I’m a dog?”

“Cinna-bun?”

Magnus’s voice blew hot breath right in his ear. Raphael shivered and turned his head to look at him.

“Hm, gatito tierno.”

“Okay,” Magnus’s kitty eyes went big and shiny. “He hasn’t had that much to drink, has he?”

Simon shrugged, flapping his hands. He had big hands. “Two shots, three maybe?”

“Raphael?”

Uh-oh. Magnus was using his name and he looked a bit concerned.

“Ay, gatito, no te preocupes, tranquilo. Está bien.”

He reached out to pet Magnus but his aim was a bit off.

“Uh-huh.” Magnus furrowed his brows. “When’s the last time you ate?”

Raphael blew a noisy breath through his lips and tried to remember. He was having trouble. Definitely the last one he remembered was the bag of pretzels on the short flight from New Haven.

“En el avión?” He made a take off motion with his hand.

“On the plane? Raphael, that was almost two days ago!”

Raphael shrugged. He hadn’t been hungry.

“Shit.”

Chapter Text

Simon looked down at his trashed classmate and floundered. This was so not what he’d signed up for when he had agreed to come with Clary to some fancy private boarding school in Bumfuck, New England. He sighed, shoved his glasses up his nose, and looked at Magnus with his best ‘Now what?’ face.

“We have to sober him up,” Magnus stated the obvious.

“Ya think?”

Raphael was still petting his hair, and it was making Simon feel funny in a way he wasn’t sure he wanted to think about too much right now or ever really. Why did the guy have to look like a damn movie star?

Magnus sighed dramatically. “Help me get him on his feet?”

Between the two of them, they pushed and pulled on Raphael until they had him propped up between them. He was still mumbling unintelligible stuff in Spanish. Not that Simon would have understood a word even if Raphael had enunciated as clearly as Simon’s 7th grade Spanish teacher. At least, he was conscious and moving forward on his own, kind of.

“What now?”

“Let’s get him outside,” Magnus said between huffing breaths. “Man, he weighs a ton.”

“It’s not that bad.” Simon rolled his eyes and shifted his grip, pulling Raphael’s arm around his shoulders to take more of his weight. “I’ve schlepped heavier amplifiers.” 

“Remind me to seriously hit on you later.”

Magnus looked at him in a way that made Simon feel like steak dinner. If he had meant to make his pick up line sound sultry, though, it totally hadn’t worked on account of the fact he was huffing like a steam engine.

Simon snickered and shook his head.

“Still in love with Clary, remember?”

Magnus sniffed. “Total waste.”

They maneuvered Raphael out the door and around the corner. Magnus stopped them in front of a hitching rail near the entrance.

“Help me take off his jacket?”

Easier said than done. Raphael was like a semi-liquid, slipping through their hands every time they stopped supporting his weight. It took them forever to wrangle his arms out of the sleeves. Magnus ended up with the jacket in his hands while Simon had both arms full of Raphael.

“Okay,” Magnus said as he stepped away. “One of us is going to have to hold him up and then hold him down, and you kind of volunteered when you turned out to be all super-strong.”

“What are you talking about?”

Simon huffed in irritation as Raphael slid down his front like a sack of potatoes. He hooked his elbows under Raphael’s arms, pulled him back up, and locked his arms around Raphael’s stomach to hold him there.

When Simon finally got the chance to catch up with what Magnus was doing, his eyes widened. He glared at the skinny bastard with every ounce of intimidation he could muster.

“Oh, hell, no. Don’t you dare.”

Part of him wanted to drop Raphael and run, but the guy was barely conscious, and Simon wasn’t that big of an ass.

“Believe me, Simon,” Magnus said as he raised the garden hose in his hands. “I really wish I could say I was sorry about this.”

“I hate you.”

The first blast of ice-cold water hit Raphael straight in the chest and splashed across Simon’s arms.

His reaction was instantaneous.

When Simon had been three or four, his bubbe had owned a cat. One time, he had stood too close when a loud noise had scared the shit out of it. Simon still had the scars from that encounter.

This was a lot like that.

Raphael jumped, whirled around, and dug his fingers into Simon’s shoulders, trying to get away from the frigid water.

As Magnus kept blasting them mercilessly, Raphael shouted his way through probably every entry on Spanish profanity in the urban dictionary.

It was dark, so Simon couldn’t be sure, but if his own chattering teeth were anything to go by, their lips were turning blue.

On the upside, Raphael’s eyes were all the way open again and glaring violent murder at Simon from less than three inches away. Okay, maybe not so much an upside.

“You back with us?” he asked shakily.

Raphael spat out another profanity, pushed his soggy hair back from his forehead, and tried to move away from Simon. His shoes slipped on the muddy ground.

“Assholes,” he hissed through chattering teeth.

“Sorry,” Simon said sincerely, wiping his own dripping face and glasses. “We needed you sober enough to get back to the dorm quietly.”

“Shit.” Raphael groaned and sagged heavily back against Simon’s shoulder. “Still drunk.”

“Yeah, I figured. At least, you’re back to English.”

Magnus turned off the hose and put it away before he sauntered over to them.

“You good?” he asked cautiously.

Simon glared at him, stabilizing Raphael as best he could.

“I think we both hate you right now,” he said calmly, barely controlling his shivering.

“Definitely,” Raphael agreed with a glare at Magnus before he rolled his head to look up at Simon. “Get me back to my room?”

Simon cringed. “If you can tell me how to get there?”

“Hang on,” Magnus said quickly. “I’ll get you blankets, and then I’ll take you both back to your dorms.”

Simon wanted to tell the guy where to shove it, but he was soaked to the bone, freezing to death, and struggling to hold up probably a hundred and fifty pounds of slippery drunk dude by himself.

“Just hurry up,” he snarled through his teeth.

Even tough Simon’s building was technically closer, they staggered along the hedges to Raphael’s dorm first. There was no way Raphael would have made it without Simon’s help. The cold shower had barely put a dent in his intoxicated state.

They maneuvered their way as quietly as possible through the backdoor of Blackthorn Hall and up the stairs.

When Raphael stumbled in the hallway, someone poked their head out the door. Simon nearly had a heart attack, but Magnus didn’t even blink. He simply put a finger to his lips and glared at them. The shadowy figure disappeared back into their room and closed the door.

Magnus waited in the doorway while Simon dropped Raphael on his bed.

He was ready to head back out when a long groan stopped him in his tracks. Simon closed his eyes, pushed his glasses up his nose, and kept moving.

A heavy weight thumped onto the floor behind him. Simon cursed under his breath and turned around.

Raphael was writhing on the floor, his head and arms trapped inside the tight long-sleeve shirt he was struggling to take off.

Magnus tip-toed closer with a gleeful snicker. “My favorite part.”

Simon stopped him with an extended index finger and a forbidding glare that would have made Simon’s mother proud.

“Don’t even.”

He crouched over Raphael and helped him out of his shirt. In the process, Simon ended up touching more of the other boy’s skin than he’d ever intended. He also noticed something that did not bode well for Raphael in the near future.

“Shit, he’s super-hot.”

“You’re telling me?” Magnus purred.

“No,” Simon growled. “I mean he’s burning up.”

Raphael shook his head and mumbled, “I’m freezing.”

“Yeah,” Simon grumbled as he helped him back into bed and under the covers. “I bet you are. You’re probably going to be sick as a dog tomorrow morning.”

“You mean in like four hours?” Magnus quipped unhelpfully from the doorway.

“Shut up.”

Simon took off Raphael’s shoes and socks and chucked them in a corner. Then he floundered. He wasn’t sure he was capable of taking off Raphael’s pants. Not even to remove his soaked jeans in a strictly platonic, care-taking, non-sexy way. He looked over at Magnus, pleading for help.

“He needs to get out of the wet clothes.”

“Don’t look at me,” Magnus teased. “You were the one who insisted I ‘Don’t even’, remember?” He imitated Simon’s earlier threat facetiously.

“I hate you.”

Magnus kissed the air in his direction.

Simon took a deep breath and shook himself. Then he bent over Raphael and shook him by the shoulder.

“Dude,” he said, “take off your pants or I have to do it for you.”

Raphael groaned, but he moved his hands under the blanket. When he started to writhe and kick his legs, Simon reached without looking and grabbed hold of the soggy jeans by his ankles. He tried not to think about what he was doing.

The soaked denim and a pair of soggy boxer briefs landed on the floor with a wet slap.

Simon’s face burned at a million degrees. He was definitely not feeling cold anymore.

“Okay, job’s done. I’m out of here.”

Magnus snickered behind him all the way down the stairs and out the backdoor.

“You are such an asshole,” Simon hissed as quietly as possible as they sneaked along the hedges back to Penhallow Hall.

“I know,” Magnus said, “but that was funny as hell. You should have seen your face.”

When they finally got to his room, Simon almost slammed the door in Magnus’s face. He had enough sense at the last second to close it quietly so they didn’t get busted.

Simon didn’t get much sleep in the next four hours.

At first, his brain was too busy replaying the events of the night, pointing out in minute detail every moment where he had made an ass of himself.

When Cat had sat in his lap and he had started to pop a boner because she had bounced once.

When he had failed to tell people even the simplest things about himself because he had been too busy giving away his pathetic one-sided feelings for Clary.

When Clary had flirted with a homophobic asshole and then the homophobic asshole had made a scene and then Clary had run after him and Simon had done nothing to stop any of it.

When Magnus had hosed him down with ice cold water because Simon hadn’t been smart enough to figure out how to prop Raphael up against the hitching rail so Simon didn’t have to get drenched with him.

When he’d acted like a perv and a prude at the same time about helping Raphael to get out of his wet clothes.

When he’d abandoned Raphael, who was obviously way too drunk and way too sick to be left alone.

Oh, yeah. It’s been a stellar night, Lewis. Great job. You’re a regular fucking hero.

When it was done going over everything that had actually happened, Simon’s brain spent the next couple hours playing “choose your own horror scenario” about what could happen.

In one of them, Clary went after the homophobe, he flipped out on her and beat her to death.

In another one, Raphael threw up in his sleep and choked to death on his own vomit.

Then there was the one where Headmistress Herondale burst into Simon’s room and accused him of being responsible for both Clary’s and Raphael’s death.

Then Raphael woke up, discovered he was naked, and accused Simon of date raping him and leaving him for dead.

By the time Simon shambled into the dining hall for breakfast, he was completely fried. His eyes skittered all over, looking for Raphael. To make sure he was all right. To make sure he didn’t have the wrong idea about last night. Just to … something.

The dining hall was relatively empty at first. Simon noticed that the homophobic asshole showed up alone and sat at a table by himself. He was relieved Clary didn’t show up with him. About ten minutes later, Alec showed up with his sister, Izzy. They picked a table several spaces away from the asshole.

Simon got nervous again when the hall started to empty out closer to 8:00 am and Raphael still hadn’t showed his face. Neither had Magnus or Cat, but they hadn’t gone to bed drunk and coming down with a fever on top of not eating for two days straight.

What the hell kind of idiot drinks pure vodka on an empty stomach?

Simon was so busy worrying and trying to mentally will Raphael to walk through the door that he didn’t notice someone was sitting down opposite him until their tray clattered onto the table.

“We need to talk.”

Simon’s head snapped around to stare at Clary.

“Good morning, Fray” he said pointedly. “Oh, yeah. I’m fine. Thanks for asking. How about you? That was crazy how that asshole just went off on Alec like that, wasn’t it?”

“About that,” Clary said, looking uncomfortable. “It’s more complicated than you think.”

Simon shook his head. He couldn’t believe it. She looked the same. She was still the prettiest girl in the world with her long, fiery hair and beautiful sea-foam green eyes, button nose and soft peach-colored cheeks.

He still didn’t recognize her. The girl who had thrown rocks at Simon’s bullies in Kindergarten was making excuses for a homophobic asshole because …

“What?” Simon snapped. “He’s a good kisser? Just sometimes his tongue moves in the wrong way and toxic shit spews out?”

“No! It’s not that. He really didn’t …” She stumbled over her words and blushed bright red. “He and Alec are best friends. They’re like brothers.”

“Yeah?” Simon rolled his eyes. “With a friend like that, Alec doesn’t need enemies. Clary, he’s a homophobic asshole!”

“He’s not!” Clary yelled. “Jace loves Alec!”

Utensils clattered and several heads turned in their direction.

Simon couldn’t give a shit less.

“Like a brother!” Clary announced loudly. “He loves Alec like a brother.”

Simon snorted. “Should I make room?” He pulled his tray aside. “Do you want to get up on the table and give a passion speech in his defense? I’m sure he’d appreciate it.”

“Simon, why are you being so mean?” Clary’s voice waivered. “I’m trying to talk to you. You’re supposed to be my best friend.”

“Yeah, you know what? You’re supposed to be mine, but you sure didn’t act like it last night.”

“What are you talking about?” Clary asked, tears glistening in her eyes. “It’s not like he insulted you.”

Simon made an aborted noise in his throat. What was he even supposed to say to that?

Clary, his Clary, suddenly didn’t give a crap if someone else got hurt because her beau was the one doing the hurting.

“Who even are you?”

Before she could say anything, Simon grabbed the apple, the granola bar, and the toast from his tray and took off.

He had to ask five people before one of them finally was nice enough to point him in the direction of Blackthorn Hall.

By the time he showed up at Raphael’s door, Simon had ten minutes to get to his first class. The room was empty. Raphael’s wet clothes were gone and so was he. For a moment, Simon panicked, but then he saw the suitcase under the bed.

Wherever he was, Raphael wasn’t gone-gone.

“Hey!” Simon stopped a guy in the hallway. “Where’s Raphael?”

“Who?”

“New kid, about my height, dark curly hair, brown eyes.” Simon realized, so far, he was describing himself. “Face like the lead guy in a telenovela, talks like a mafia boss.”

“Oh, him. He went to the infirmary earlier. Didn’t look so good.”

“Where’s the infirmary?”

“Second left behind the Science Building.”

“Thanks.”

Simon was already back down the hall and on the move.

The infirmary was a separate two-story building that would have been called a clinic where Simon came from. He wasn’t convinced the place didn’t have an operating room for emergency plastic surgery in the basement. The reception desk near the entrance looked like every doctor’s office he’d ever been to.

“Um, hi. I’m looking for a friend. Raphael? Is he here?”

The receptionist looked up from her computer screen and raised curious penciled brows at him.

“Don’t you have classes?”

“Yeah, probably.” Simon waved it off. “I just need to make sure he’s all right.”

“Uh-huh.”

She shot him a look that was so loaded with meaning Simon had no idea what she was trying to communicate.

“Please?” He aimed his very best bar mitzvah smile in her direction.

“What was the name again?”

“Raphael.”

“Last name?”

“Uh …”

Simon blanked. He never blanked. He remembered the name of every person he had ever talked to. He was good at this. Why couldn’t he remember Raphael’s last name?

“Santiago.”

Simon jumped about five feet in the air and landed facing in the opposite direction.

Magnus was standing with his hands on his hips and a sly grin on his face.

“About time you showed up,” he drawled. “Thanks, Agnes. I got this one.”

Simon glared at Magnus as he followed him down the hallway.

“What the hell?”

“What?” said Magnus. “Did you really think I wouldn’t check on him? I went back as soon as curfew lifted at 5:30 am.”

“We’re allowed to do that?”

“I am.” Magnus wiggled his fingers at the food in Simon’s hands. “Did you bring that for him?”

“Yeah.” Simon cringed, wondering what he’d been thinking. “Stupid, I know.”

“No, it’s not.” Magnus smiled. “But I’ll take that.”

Magnus dumped the toast in a trash can as they walked past and then opened up the granola bar and took a bite.

“Hey!”

“Cat’s going to want the apple,” Magnus said.

“That was meant for Raphael.”

“I know, but he’s getting his breakfast intravenous for the time being.”

Simon was confused. He couldn’t figure out how to categorize Magnus because the guy kept acting like a jerk half the time while he did genuinely nice stuff the other half.

“You know, I can’t figure you out,” Simon grumbled. “The way you keep acting, I don’t know if you’re a total jerk or not, but you’re definitely a pretty shitty boyfriend.”

Magnus laughed. He didn’t seem insulted at all. His almond shaped eyes had a challenging gleam in them when he looked back at Simon.

“Are you saying you’d do better?”

Simon could feel the heat climb up his face until it burned at a million degrees. That was totally not what he’d meant and he knew that Magnus knew that.

Magnus snickered as he opened the door to one of the patient rooms and sashayed inside.

“Hey, cinna-bun, look what I brought you.”

Magnus flopped down on the bed next to Raphael and wrapped a possessive arm around his shoulders. Simon noticed that Raphael’s arm on the other side was hooked to an IV bag.

“That was pretty stupid, you know,” he blurted out. “Getting d …” He cut himself off, checked that no one was listening and lowered his voice. “Getting drunk like that when you haven’t eaten anything in two days.”

“I know,” Raphael said.

“Oh, can I have that?”

Simon barely felt it when Cat snatched the apple from his fingers. By the time he turned his head, she was already back in the squishy arm chair in the corner, taking a big bite out of the large green fruit.

“Help yourself,” Simon groused before he turned his attention back to Raphael. “Are you okay?”

Raphael shrugged. “It’s just dehydration.”

“You had a pretty high fever.”

“It’s fine.”

“It’s really not.”

Simon wasn’t sure where all the stubborn anger in him was coming from, but he wasn’t about to let Raphael brush him off. He’d had about enough of not being taken seriously.

They stared each other down.

“Whew. Is it just me or is it getting a little hot in here?”

Magnus’s flippant drawl broke the spell. Simon shook himself out of it and gnashed his teeth. His gaze moved from Raphael to Magnus with his arm around Raphael’s shoulders and then to Cat sprawled across the arm chair, munching on the apple that Simon had brought for Raphael.

Simon’s presence here was worse than pointless.

Of course, Lewis, what did you expect?

“I have to get to class.”

He turned on his heel and got out of there as fast as he could.

When he finally made it to his first class, Simon was thirty minutes late. To his immense relief, the teacher hadn’t locked the door and didn’t make any comment as Simon slid into his seat at the back of the classroom.

He was beginning to think that the school had a lax attendance policy, but his luck ran out as soon as the bell rang.

“Mr. Lewis, please see me for a moment.”

“I’m so sorry I was late,” Simon apologized before he even made it to the teacher’s desk. “A friend of mine ended up in the infirmary and I had to check on him—”

“Be that as it may,” said the teacher, “Alicante Academy has a strict policy on tardiness. A demerit will be added to your record. Since you are new, I should warn you that three demerits will incur a week of detention.”

Simon’s eyes widened. “It won’t happen again.”

“I sincerely hope so.”

Simon had never been threatened with detention before. He wasn’t a trouble maker. He hadn’t even meant to go to the stupid stable party, but Clary had convinced him it was a great way to make new friends.

His mind was reeling as he hurried out of the classroom. He only had five minutes to make it to his next class. As he booked it down the main hallway, he swore a couple of black girls were glowering after him with threatening scowls on their faces.

Simon’s paranoia turned out to be justified when the same two girls cornered him after lunch as soon as he came out of the bathroom.

The shorter girl with a thick mop of dark brown curls hooked her fingers around his left arm while the taller one with long white-blonde hair grabbed his right.

“We need to have a little chat.”

Before Simon knew what was happening, they had marched him to the nearest supply closet and shoved him inside. He almost crashed into the metal shelves and turned around just in time to see the blonde bang the door shut from the outside. Simon was trapped in semi-darkness with the curly-head.

Her eyes looked pitch-black until she reached up and turned on the light inside the closet. Then they were dark brown but no less murderous. When she pulled her thin upper lip into a sneer, Simon half-expected to see fangs. Instead, there was a tiny gap between her two front teeth.

“Listen up, Lewis,” she snarled, rising up on her tip toes to clear the height difference between them and get directly in his face. “I don’t care if your friend is the Princess of Monaco and you got here on the queen’s personal decree, you’re still just a scholarship kid.”

“Yeah, so?” Simon was confused, anxious, and trying very hard not to hyperventilate. He wasn’t good at conflict. Why was everybody around him trying to start one? “And?”

The curly-head actually growled at him. “You can’t be late to class!”

Simon blinked and shook his head in jerky motions. He still didn’t get why this complete stranger was so angry with him for something that was, really, just a minor infraction and would never happen again.

“I know,” he said. “I said I’m sorry. I—”

“Sorry’s not going to cut it around here.”

She pushed him hard in the chest. His back collided sharply with the metal shelves behind him.

“Ow!”

“What you do reflects on all of us.” She grabbed his tie and yanked. “We’re only here because they want to look good. If we screw up, nobody’s going to slap down a million-dollar check or sponsor a new building to smooth over ruffled feathers, do you get that?”

His brows furrowed as the pieces started to come together. This girl was mad because she was scared. She was a scholarship kid, too.

“I get it,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry. Honestly, I didn’t mean to screw things up for anyone.”

“Yeah, well, you did, so don’t do it again.”

She let go of his tie with a sniff and stepped back with her hands on her hips. After a few deep breaths, she looked at him with slightly less murderous intent.

“For most of us, this is the only chance we get to make it somewhere. It sucks, and it makes me sick, but we have to play by their rules and be good little charity cases so that maybe, some day, with a whole lot of luck and a buttload of hard work, we can become them.” She trailed her eyes over him from head to toe and shook her head. “Not that you’d know what that’s like.”

Simon didn’t appreciate the way that felt. Like he was somehow a ‘them’ by association. Like she’d already made up her mind about who and what he was.

“Hey, my mom’s not rich, so don’t look at me like that. You know nothing about me.”

“I know your best friend’s mom has the kind of money that can buy you a full ride to this place just to keep her little princess happy.” 

“We’ve been best friends since Kindergarten. It’s not like any of us have control over who our parents are!”

A weird expression crossed the curly girl’s face and she shifted onto her back foot.

“Look, Lewis,” she said, “I’m not telling you to stop hanging out with her or any of them. I’m just telling you to keep in mind that their freedom doesn’t apply to you. They can break the rules. We can’t. They can screw up as many times as they want to. We can’t.” She stopped, did a double take, and shook her head. “I can’t believe I’m giving you ‘the speech’.”

Simon wasn’t entirely sure what ‘the speech’ was, except it involved a lot of ‘we’ versus ‘they’ and he’d somehow crossed over the line from ‘they’ to ‘we’ and it was confusing as hell.

“Yeah, okay,” he said dumbly. “By the way, how do you know my name?”

She raised her brows at him. “We have history together.”

He flinched, frowned, huffed out a laugh. “I’m pretty sure we don’t.”

She rolled her eyes. “History. Class. With Mr. Rey? The one you were late for, which is why we’re having this little chat right now.”

“Oh. Oh!”  Simon squeezed his eyes shut, feeling like an idiot. “Right.”

She chuckled. “You’re a bit of a goober, aren’t you?”

Simon wasn’t sure if she meant that as an insult or a compliment. He just hoped it wouldn’t stick.

“You never told me your name,” he deflected.

“I’m Maia,” she said. “Unofficial enforcer for the scholarship kids.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I got that part.”

Seeing that Maia had run out of steam, Simon allowed himself to relax a little. He took a look around and shook his head at the ridiculous cliché of their current situation.

“You know, for a place as fancy as this, you’d think they’d have nicer supply closets. This isn’t even as big as the ones in my old school, and that was a public high school in Brooklyn.”

Maia snickered. “That’s because they like to spend their money on flashy things they can show off. I doubt any of them have even looked at the inside of a supply closet like ever.”

Simon waggled his head. Then he stopped. “Wait, so rich kids don’t make out in supply closets?”

Maia rolled her eyes again. “Have you seen their dorm rooms?”

Simon frowned. “Do I even want to know?”

“You’ll find out one way or the other.”

The shrill chime of bells announced the end of lunch break. The door flew open and the tall girl stuck her white-blonde head in. Her heart shaped face was pinched in a mean scowl.

“Are you done with him? We have like five minutes to get to the lab.”

“Crap.”

Maia swung around to glare at him one more time. Simon raised his hands in surrender.

“We’re good,” he said. “Promise.”

After his last class of the day, Simon went back to his dorm room, picked up his gear, and headed to the gym.

When Clary had tried to sell him on going to Alicante together, she had put extra emphasis on the detail that the academy had its own archery club that regularly participated in national competitions. She had literally waggled the brochures in Simon’s face.

Why Clary had thought she needed to convince him on the idea of not saying goodbye was beyond Simon’s comprehension. She could have asked him to go literally to hell with her and his answer would have been nothing short of an enthusiastic “Of course.” 

At least, up until yesterday.

An uncomfortable feeling pinched his gut at the memory of their fight at breakfast. Simon wasn’t so sure the answer would still be the same today.

He shook his head to clear out the morose thought and pulled open the heavy glass door to let himself into one of the three connected buildings that made up the gym.

Simon found the locker rooms first. He changed into a black t-shirt and sweat pants, strapped on his armguard, and followed a succession of signs to the smallest of the three halls. It was still enormous when compared to the gym at his old high school.

Two separate areas had been set up on either end of the spacious room. Bulls-eye targets lined up against one far wall; a cluster of cube-shaped target bags dotted the opposite side.

A small group of guys was milling about, waiting for the instructor. The only girl on the team sat on a bench off to the side, checking over her blood red compound bow.  

Simon's eyes nearly bugged out when he recognized the model. She was fiddling around with several thousand dollars of equipment in her lap.

Suddenly nervous, Simon found an inconspicuous place by the wall and checked out everyone else’s gear. There wasn’t a bow in the place that was worth less than a used car.

Great, I’m going to be the guy with the clunker among the Lamborghinis.  

Not that his five-year-old Hoyt was a clunker, really. It had been a top of the line compound bow when it had come out. Of course, Simon would never have been able to afford it then. He had bought it used a year ago from a reputable place. He’d even invested in a new bowstring and release.

Unfortunately, everyone else had the current year model of the most popular brands.

Everyone except one: a tall, dark-haired guy with an awesome armguard who stood at the edge of the group. That guy’s bow was two years old. Simon knew because two years ago he’d been drooling over that bow on the internet, wishing he could afford it.

Simon couldn’t help it. He was drawn like a bug to the zapper.

“Dude, you got the limited edition X4? I’d do anything to put my hands on that.”

The guy turned around with raised brows and a mildly annoyed expression on his face.

Simon literally screeched to a halt, sneakers squeaking on the gym floor. He had just stated loudly and emphatically that he was willing to do anything in order to touch Alec Lightwood’s equipment.

The leering, cat-calls, and snickering that followed were a given. Some guy even had the bad taste to drawl, “That’s what he said.”

“Oh, grow the fuck up,” Simon snapped back reflexively. His eyes widened. “Shit. I’m not supposed to curse.” He snapped his mouth shut. “Crap.”

Alec stared at him, unblinking.

“I’m sorry. I’m bad …”  Simon pointed at his face. “Filter. People. Mouth. Brain.” He took a deep breath and tried again. “Talking in front of people with a filter between my brain and mouth. I suck at it.”

There, that came out right, right?

Alec was still staring at him. He still hadn’t blinked.

Guess not.

“How are you?” he tried again. “I mean with last night and everything.”

“I was fine,” said Alec. “Until you and your bestie decided to announce my personal business to everyone at breakfast this morning.”

Simon’s eyes went wide. He opened his mouth to apologize, but Alec cut him off before he could say anything.

“So, if you want to do me a favor,” he rumbled, “both of you just stay the hell away from Jace and me.” 

Simon reared back in shock as Alec blew past him and stormed out of the gym to the sound of more jeering and snickering.

The last thing Simon had meant to do was make things worse for the guy who was already down in the dumps because his best friend had turned out to be an asshole.

He wanted to go after Alec, but he wasn’t sure if extra-curriculars counted like regular classes for tardiness, and he was so not ready to deal with another demerit or the wrath of Maia that would inevitably follow.

Out of options, Simon stayed behind and sat down on the opposite end of the bench where the girl was still fiddling with her bow.

“Hi,” he said hesitantly. “I’m Simon.”

“Lydia Branwell,” she said, flipping her tight blonde French braid over her shoulder. “I’m Alec’s girlfriend.”

Simon closed his eyes and pushed up his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose.

Of course, you are.

Chapter Text

Alec burst out of the gym and power-walked across campus to his dorm. He didn’t bother acknowledging anyone who called after him.

He kept his head held high and his face impassive until he was alone in his room with the door firmly closed and locked behind his back. Only then did he allow himself to release a shaking breath and let his face crumple.

As quick as it had happened, he forced it back. He banged the back of his head resolutely against the door until the burning sting drowned out everything else.

Alec had always taken pride in his self-control. Robert and Maryse Lightwood had great expectations of their first-born son, and he usually managed to exceed them.

They had had his life mapped out before he had even started preschool. After Alicante, he would go to Harvard for law and political science and a suitably modest wife. A stint in the military, a couple of kids, a career in politics: the House, the Senate, then maybe the presidency. He would be a respectable moderate for life, not too hawkish but not too dovish, progressive but not too progressive. Church on Sundays. Born in Virginia, buried in DC.

Being gay had not been part of the plan.

Alec had probably been different his whole life. He had known for certain by the time he was twelve. When all of his friends had wanted to be like the superheroes in the movies, Alec had wondered what it would be like to kiss them.

Not long after that, he had found out what his mother would think about that without ever having to ask.

She had walked into the living room while Alec had been binging some teen drama on the big TV. Half-way through the scene, the two male characters on screen had shared a passionate kiss.

His mother had clicked her tongue and made a noise of disgust low in her throat. That was all Alec had needed to know.

He could have lived with it, but things got so much worse two years later.

Right around Alec’s fourteenth birthday, he and Jace had been horsing around in the pool when it had hit him like a brick to the face that Jace wasn’t just his best friend. He was confident and sexy, and Alec wanted to kiss him, and touch him, and do some of the stuff he had only read about in smutty fanfiction because he was too much of a chicken-shit to visit a real gay porn site on the internet.

He somehow had still managed to keep his secret.

No one had questioned Alec’s sudden aversion to swimming pools and contact sports. Archery had been considered a respectable choice since it required focus, precision, and a certain amount of physical strength. Alec had quickly learned to ignore Jace’s oblivious Robin Hood themed jibes about men in tights.

Everything had been under control.

Until Izzy’s 15th birthday party had happened in May, and someone had slipped a pill into Alec’s drink, and he had made a terrible mistake that no amount of wishing or hoping could ever take back.

Alec’s stomach turned. He vaulted himself across the room into the en-suite bathroom, flipped back the toilet seat, and purged whatever he’d managed to choke down for lunch.

He straightened up and flushed the toilet but didn’t bother to put the seat down.

His reflection made him want to punch the mirror above the sink. He didn’t. He gently pried it open, took his toothbrush and toothpaste from the cabinet behind it, and brushed his teeth for exactly two minutes, taking care to scrub his tongue and the back of his teeth.

When he put his toothbrush back, his eyes landed on the orange container of pills next to the bottle of aspirin. His name glared at him in bold letters from the prescription label.

Alec sighed, grabbed the container, and shook out two of the pills. He swallowed them dry, put the half-empty container back on the shelf, and avoided his reflection as he closed the mirror cabinet.

Another one of Alec’s sordid little secrets. He wondered how long it would take before this one was all over school, too.

Of course, it was his own fault that he’d crashed out of the closet last night. If he’d just kept his damn mouth shut, nobody would have ever had to know. Well, nobody but Jace.

Instead, Alec had created a spectacle that had caused the party prince of Alicante to treat him like a pity project for the rest of the night and subsequently had gotten Alec’s unrequited gay feelings announced to all and sundry by the four-eyed dork and the stupid little red-headed slut who had been the reason Alec had tried to talk to Jace in the first place.

All he had meant to do was warn his best friend that the girl was jail bait and not worth the trouble. He hadn’t even been jealous. Much. Until she had started sucking Jace’s face.

Alec grunted in disgust. He left the bathroom, but not before he had put down the toilet seat and washed his hands again.

He stowed away his archery gear and went through his closet for a clean uniform.

It was almost time for dinner. If he didn’t show up, his little sister would just come and pester him until he went anyway. Plus, he was supposed to take the medication with food so it didn’t mess up his stomach.

Twenty minutes later, Alec strode into the mess hall with his head held high. The guy behind the counter handed him a tray of whatever was on the menu for dinner. Alec took it and found the table where Izzy was already waiting for him. Jace was nowhere to be seen.

“Did you take them?” she said quietly as he sat down.

“Quit bugging me,” he muttered back.

“Did you?” she insisted.

“Yes,” he hissed through his teeth.

“Good.”

They didn’t talk after that, but Izzy kept shooting pointed glances at his plate. Alec shoved a fork full of tasteless food into his mouth and made a show of chewing and swallowing it.

A tray dropped next to his on the table.

“Sorry I’m late.”

Lydia sat down next to him, wrapped her hand around the back of his neck, and kissed him firmly on the mouth. Her lips felt like cold rubber against his. When she pulled back with a loud smack, her blue eyes gleamed with defiance. Her smile looked as cold and rubbery as it had felt.

“Hi, honey.”

“Hi,” he echoed numbly.

Behind him, Izzy snorted and mumbled a sarcastic “o-kay” under her breath.

Lydia appeared unfazed. “I’m sorry you missed archery practice. I whooped the new kid’s butt.”

Alec smirked. “I’m sure you did.”

“Oh, and I expect you to take me shopping this weekend. I picked my dress for FF, and we’re not going to have another mismatch disaster like last year. I swear, you are hopeless when it comes to fashion.” She looked around Alec to raise her brows at Izzy. “Men, am I right?”

Alec closed his eyes and sighed.

As far as public relations spin went, Lydia’s machinations were crude but effective. Obviously, he couldn’t be gay if his girlfriend was still kissing him in public, bossing him around about the Fall Formal, and proclaiming his ineptitude at anything related to fashion.

“It won’t matter what I wear,” he said smoothly. “You’re going to be so beautiful I doubt they’ll even notice me.”

“Aw, you’re so sweet.” She pressed another rubbery kiss to his cheek. “But that won’t get you out of shopping.”

As Lydia laid out her plans in detail, Alec’s mind drowned her out. This whole show wasn’t for him. It was for everyone else in the mess hall. As long as he played his part of the dutiful boyfriend, the rumors would go away eventually.

His gaze drifted across the room. He almost laughed at all the faces turning quickly to avoid him. Everyone was trying so hard not to look in his direction while they hung on Lydia’s every word. That was why Alec was surprised when his gaze crossed a pair of eyes that didn’t shy away.

Magnus Bane was staring directly at him from a few tables over. His dark brown eyes were slightly narrowed, the sharp black lines of kohl around them highlighting their feline shape. His glossy lips were pursed in a shrewd smile, calling attention to his prominent cheekbones.

Alec’s shoulders stiffened. He sat up straighter and kept his expression smooth and impassive.

Lydia grabbed his hand and made a show of linking their fingers on top of the table.

Alec didn’t like the feeling in the pit of his stomach when Magnus Bane rolled his eyes, shook his head, and turned away. His hand slipped out of Lydia’s grip on its own accord.

He scrambled to pick up his fork from the other side of his plate to cover up the blunder. Lydia’s subtle glare tried to bore a hole through his temple, but she never even paused in her monologue.

Alec hated himself for it, but his eyes kept going back to Magnus Bane.

Nomen est omen.

The party prince of Alicante was certainly a major nuisance. Alec had had to deal with the fallout of Magnus Bane’s antics in more than one student council meeting over the past two years. Judging by last night’s party, the fact that this was their senior year would not make a difference.

Personally, Alec had done his best to steer clear of Bane and had managed quite admirably. Even though Izzy had strong-armed Alec into attending a few of the prince’s parties, their paths had never actually crossed.

Bane would always be in the middle of an adoring crowd, holding court. Alec would be tucked away in an unobtrusive corner and watch over his little sister until it was time to take her back to her dorm.

Until last night.

Cold dread slithered down Alec’s spine as he remembered the way Jace’s eyes had gleamed when he’d called Alec a faggot and pushed him away.

It made him sick to the stomach, looking back, how he’d cowered behind a girl, unable to do anything but shake like a kicked dog in the face of Jace’s unexpected malice.

To add to Alec’s humiliation, everyone else had come down on his side of the fight. Even Bane’s latest boy-toy had looked ready and more than able to punch Jace’s lights out.

In retrospect, maybe Alec should have expected it. Magnus Bane was openly pansexual. There wasn’t any permutation of sex and gender excluded from his flirtations. In Bane’s own words, the only thing he didn’t do was dull.

At the moment, Bane was engaged in a heated conversation with his perpetual accomplice, Catarina Loss. She looked irritated. Whatever the reason, she clearly thought it was Bane’s fault.

A sudden move of her head locked their gazes. Alec forced himself not to avert his eyes. Catarina pursed her lips and turned her attention back to Bane.

Alec wished he could see the expression on Bane’s face. He wondered if they were talking about him.

A sudden burst of pain on the inside of his forearm made Alec snap to attention. Lydia’s fingernails were digging into his skin.

“For Christ’s sake,” she hissed under her breath. “Stop staring at Bane or do you want everyone to think the rumors are true?”

Her rubbery smile never wavered, but her nails felt like the rounded tips of butter knives driving into his arm.

Alec found he didn’t mind the pain.

“Sorry,” he lied.

For the remainder of dinner, Alec kept his eyes firmly glued to the unappetizing food on his plate. Afterward, he excused himself under the pretense of working on an essay that wasn’t due for three weeks.

He was determined to talk to Jace. Now that their dirty laundry had been aired in public, avoiding each other would only make things worse.

Alec found him by the new horse stables, leaning over the wooden fence that ringed the training paddock. Dressed down to faded blue jeans and a T-shirt, with one heavy boot braced on the lowest beam of the fence, he looked like a real country boy.

Jace could do that, no matter where he was. He slipped into any environment, joined any crowd, with absolute confidence and was perfectly at ease.

Alec had always envied that ability. He was completely out of his depth any time he was confronted with a situation he hadn’t prepared for in advance.

The upcoming conversation was going to be a nightmare. He still hadn’t figured out what to say to Jace. All he knew was that they needed to get on the same page if they ever wanted the rumors to go away.

As Alec walked closer, he realized Jace was watching someone inside the corral. He followed Jace’s gaze and squinted at the person riding the chestnut pony.

Whoever it was had terrible posture. They held the reigns too loosely and kept forgetting to keep their heels down. When the pony jumped into an unsteady canter, the rider’s fiery red braid flew back and thumped down between their shoulders.

Alec sneered. Of course, it’s her.

The urge to yell at Jace was immediate and overwhelming. Alec somehow managed to swallow it down. He pushed his fists into the pockets of his slacks and approached Jace with a neutral expression.

“Can we talk?”

Jace didn’t turn around. The only indication that he had heard Alec was a noticeable hardening of his shoulders. Alec gritted his teeth and tried again.

“I shouldn’t have caused a scene last night. I’m sorry.”

Jace’s head did spin around at that. He scowled. His nostrils flared. His large hands clamped down on the top beam of the fence so hard Alec worried it would break.

“Careful, you’ll catch a splinter.”

“Jesus!” Jace snapped. “What the fuck is it going to take?” He pushed himself away from the fence and prowled toward Alec, eyes flashing. “Stay away from me. Stop trying to ... Don’t you get it?”

Alec stumbled back. “What?”

“What do I have to do? Do I need to fuck her in front of your face? Is that it? Do I need to literally show you how much I like pussy? I mean, you should already know. You’ve only been listening to me tell you in detail about every girl I’ve ever fucked for the last three years.”

“Jace.”

It hurt. It hurt so much he couldn’t breathe, and when Alec finally managed to suck in some air, it went down like liquid fire, burning his eyes.

“Don’t you fucking cry.” Jace pushed him square in the chest.

That did it. Alec flipped. All the rage and all the hurt and everything that had been riding him since Izzy’s birthday party roared up through him and came out in one wild punch.

It struck Jace’s face with a sad wet slap, but Alec was too busy swinging his other fist to care. Jace’s stomach felt like a brick wall before it caved like pudding. He went down with a grunt.

Alec’s knees screamed with the impact, but he dropped right on top of Jace and kept pummeling him, trying to land punches where Jace’s raised arms didn’t protect him.

Somewhere through the adrenaline roaring in his ears Alec thought he heard Jace wheeze, “Yeah, that’s it!”

“Stop!”

The high-pitched voice kept screaming hysterically, but Alec wasn’t listening. He could barely see anything, his vision reduced to the points where his fists impacted.

He hauled back for another punch. Teeny tiny hands with sparkly mint-colored fingernails grabbed his arm.

Alec nearly hurled the girl into the fence before a lifetime of conditioning froze him in place. He kept his body perfectly still. His arm remained tense and ready to strike. He turned his head.

“Let go.”

Clary Fray did the opposite. She tightened her grip on his arm and tried in vain to pull him off Jace.

“Don’t you see he’s letting you hit him!” she screeched.

“Clary, don’t.” Jace’s voice was muffled behind his arms. “Stay out of it.”

“No!” she insisted. “This is stupid. You’re hurt. Making him hate you is not going to solve anything!”

Alec reared back and pushed himself to his feet. His heart was pumping furiously in his chest.

Jace was still lying on the ground, covering his face with his arms.

It didn’t make any sense. Jace was a fighter. He was good at it. He had a damn blue belt in judo.

Yeah, that’s it.

Jace had let Alec hit him. He’d taken all the punches without swinging back even once.

The question rode up Alec’s throat on a wave of acid bile.

“Why?”

Jace lowered his arms and looked up at him with glistening eyes. His beautiful face was screwed up in pain that had nothing to do with the pale red imprint of Alec’s fist on his cheek.

“Because it’s better this way.”

“Better than what?” Alec barked.

“Better than Alpine View.”

Alec’s eyes widened. He stopped breathing and glanced at the girl to see how much she knew. Her doll face was blank with confusion.

“Don’t you dare tell her.” Alec pressed the words through his teeth.

“Tell me what?” she asked immediately.

Alec whipped his head around and glared at her for a long moment. When he turned back, it seemed Jace’s gaze hadn’t left Alec the whole time, waiting for them to lock eyes.

“Never,” he said fiercely. “Alec, I …”

The expression on Jace’s face was too much. Alec shook his head, turned his back, and walked away.

He stormed back into Penhallow Hall with an hour to go until curfew and every intention to be left alone. True to his luck, he didn’t even make it up the stairs.

“Lightwood!”

Alec squared his shoulders and turned around with a neutral expression on his face.

Magnus Bane stood inside the cased archway to the common room. His arms were crossed in front of his chest, one shoulder leaning casually against the wooden frame.

Alec tried to hide his shock behind a polite smile.

“How can I help you, Bane?”

He had no idea why the party prince would go out of his way to talk to him now. Alec hadn’t said a single word to him last night, not even after the embarrassing scene with Jace. Then again, there had been that moment at dinner earlier.

Bane snorted. “I’m not the one who needs help.”

He pushed himself off the doorway and sauntered over, narrow hips swaying as he moved.

Alec’s heart stuttered. His hands felt clammy and his knuckles stung. His throat was too tight to speak.

“That was quite the show at dinner,” Bane purred. “I came to check if …”

Alec barely had time to blink before the guy was right in front of him. Spiky black hair tickled the tip of Alec’s nose as Bane cradled his right fist in both hands. The long, gentle fingers burned hot against his cold skin.

“What the hell happened?” Furious cat eyes rose from Alec’s bashed knuckles to glare at him. “Did that buffoon start another fight? I hope you buried him this time.” 

“I…”

“Come on, I’ll fix you up. I have stuff in my room.”

Alec tried to pull away, but Bane had an iron grip on his wrist and half-dragged him up the stairs. Too baffled to know what to do, Alec let him.

He had known they lived in the same dorm. It was impossible not to know when Alec had to listen to most of Bane’s conquests pass his room on their walk of shame down the hallway the morning after.

Despite the occasional fleeting temptation to see what all the fuss was about, Alec had never actually set eyes on the prince’s lair.

It was pretty much what he had expected: eccentric art cluttering the walls; a needlessly oversized bed with gaudy sheets; and a walk-in closet that looked like Milan Fashion Week had a drunk threesome with Coachella and the Cannes Festival.

“You don’t have a bathroom?”

“Oh, I do.” Bane pushed him down onto a chintzy chaise lounge. “It’s just an architectural brain fart.”

He sashayed his way through a mess of scattered clothes deep into the closet and pulled on a rack of shoes that turned out to be attached to the back of the bathroom door.

“I don’t know what they were thinking,” Bane forced the door open against a small pile of clothes on the floor. “I can only imagine the architect was a hermit with no concept of fashion, because there is no other way this could have happened.”

“Right,” Alec said numbly.

He watched, mesmerized, as Bane flittered around the bright-white room on the other end of his colorful closet, grabbing and discarding bottles and jars and pushing aside multiple palettes of eye makeup. He finally came back out with a rectangular brown plastic bottle, a package of cotton balls, and a box of adhesive bandages.

Bane placed the items on the floor and crouched down in front of Alec’s knees.

“Now, let me see the poor things.”

Alec sat perfectly still and stared like an idiot while Bane dabbed his bloody knuckles with cotton balls soaked in alcohol. He barely felt the sting. He was too distracted by the sensation of elegant, bejeweled fingers around his wrist and the unguarded expression on Bane’s face.

There was no way the guy didn’t know what he was doing, but it certainly looked like he was oblivious. His gorgeous eyes were slightly narrowed, hyper-focused on the job. He didn’t look up or linger in one spot or make any sort of flirtatious commentary. He didn’t even pause before he pursed his lips and blew cool air across Alec’s knuckles.

Alec’s breath hitched.

Bane froze. “Sorry.”

He finally looked up. His expression was that of someone caught in a blunder.

Alec’s gaze got stuck on the glossy pink bottom lip caught between Bane’s teeth. He licked his own lips and wondered what it would feel like if ...

Magnus Bane kissed him.

His mouth was warm and soft and a little bit sticky with gloss. The smell of sage and spearmint surrounded Alec as the solid weight of a warm body dropped onto his thighs and burning hot fingers cradled his jaw as if it were fragile.

Something inside Alec broke.

He grabbed Magnus by the hips and kissed him back. He had no idea what he was doing, but when he slipped his tongue over Magnus’s lips, they parted quickly and a slick, agile tongue coaxed him inside.

The flavor of spearmint and sour candy burst inside Alec’s mouth. Magnus exhaled a happy little moan and rolled his hips forward. The firm pressure against his lap shot a bolt of current up Alec’s spine as the noise reverberated in his chest.

It was everything a first kiss was supposed to be.

It was nothing like Alec’s real first kiss had been.

His eyes snapped open. He clutched Magnus’s shoulders and pushed. His fingers twitched at the surprising amount of muscle in the lean arms. Magnus resisted and, unlike Lydia, he wasn’t easily pushed away. Alec dropped his hands and turned his head to break their lip-lock.

“What’s wrong?”

Magnus’s voice was raspy and he sounded dazed. When Alec forced himself to look, the deep-brown eyes that met his gaze were glassy and unfocused, their pupils blown wide as if Magnus was stoned. His hands still cradled Alec’s jaw, thumbs brushing feather-light over his cheeks.

“I can’t do this,” Alec confessed.

“From my seat, you’re doing amazingly well.”

Magnus rolled his hips again, making both of them suck in a quick breath. Alec exhaled with a frustrated growl.

“No, Magnus. Stop.”

Magnus removed his hands from Alec’s face and shifted back until he was sitting on Alec’s knees, but he didn’t climb off. His elegant brows furrowed over his nose and he was watching Alec far too intensely, as if he was trying to read his mind.

“What’s the problem?”

Alec opened his mouth but nothing came out. He averted his eyes. They landed on the gaudy tiger-striped comforter and black satin sheets. Instantly, Alec wondered how many people Magnus had screwed on those sheets.

No matter how messed up things were right now, Alec was not ready to be a notch on the party prince’s bedpost.

“This isn’t me,” he said firmly. “You’re not adding me to your collection.”

He pushed Magnus off him maybe harder than he had meant to. The guy almost fell on his ass before he jumped to his feet with both hands raised in defense.

“Chill, darling,” Magnus drawled. “No need to act like I’m some bodice-ripper scoundrel trying to take your virginity. You wanted to kiss me.”

“Yeah, and now I don’t.” Alec bolted out of the chaise and beat a hasty retreat. “So, bye.”

He slipped through the door and bolted down the hallway to his own room. He was too chicken-shit to look over his shoulder and see if Magnus had followed him.

Standing with his back against the locked door, Alec’s knees almost buckled. For the second time that day, he banged the back of his head against the wood until the burning sting drowned out everything else.

Everything except the persistent erection trapped in his boxer briefs.

Alec cursed under his breath and yanked down his pants, hoping the sharp discomfort would make the problem go away on its own. It didn’t.

He stripped out of the rest of his clothes, wadded them into a ball, and tossed them in the corner. That lasted all of ten seconds before he picked them back up and put them in the hamper.

Alec stalked into the bathroom and started the shower. Determined to get rid of his problem, he turned the knob all the way to the coldest setting and twisted the shower head to the highest pressure. His wrist burned as the frigid water blasted his skin.

He gritted his teeth and stepped under the spray.

His breath shuddered out of him as the water pelted his head and back. It plastered his hair to his forehead and ran into his open mouth. For a moment, Alec thought about nothing. There were only the sensations of wet and cold and needles burning under his skin, lighting up every nerve in his body.

Alec squeezed his eyes shut, tilted his head back, and let the icy liquid fill his mouth until it spilled over. Among the frosty needle-stings, the rivulets of heat streaming from his eyes and over the corners of his mouth were just another unfiltered sensation.

Afterward, Alec lay naked on top of the sheets and stared blindly at the ceiling, chasing the feeling.

His skin was hot and tight all over. He could feel sweat break out on his chest, under his arms, and between his legs. His erection was back, harder than before.

Alec closed his eyes and slid his hand down, ready to take care of the problem with a few perfunctory strokes.

The moment his hand touched the base of his shaft, the mental image of long, scorching fingers with heavy silver rings flashed through his mind.

His eyes flew open on a sharp breath. Instead of the white ceiling, his brain insisted he was looking at gorgeous brown cat eyes, slightly narrowed with intense focus, staring right through his defenses into his mind.

Alec’s hand moved without conscious thought. He tasted spearmint and sour candy on his tongue, felt the heat of Magnus’s weight press down on his thighs. Rippling tension pooled in his core and trickled like electric current up his spine.

Two short, sharp raps reverberated against the locked door.

“Mr. Lightwood?”

Alec choked. Hand frozen mid-stroke, eyes wide and blind, he forced himself to swallow and took a shallow breath.

Sound casual. “Yeah, I’m here.”

There was no response. There never was. The dorm head was paid to check that everyone was in their room by curfew, not to make conversation.

Alec’s heart pumped furiously. His hand was still wrapped around his dick. He was still hard. His body was thrumming with adrenaline and so close to release he could feel it draw up his balls.

He slapped his free hand over his mouth and kept going. His eyes rolled back as the fantasy returned. The hand across his mouth wasn’t his. It was slender and elegant, with heavy silver rings and manicured black nails. The beautiful golden-brown fingers slipped, pinched his nose between forefinger and thumb, cut off his air mid-breath.

Alec came so hard his hips jolted off the bed and stars exploded behind his eyes.

When he came back around, he was freezing cold and exhausted. The messy aftermath of his climax was all over his stomach, sticking to the hair below his belly button.

“Eurgh.”

Alec lashed out with one arm and grabbed some tissues from the box on his bedside table.

He couldn’t believe he had jerked off to a fantasy of Magnus Bane. He didn’t even like the guy. He was in love with Jace.

A traitorous part of Alec’s brain took sadistic pleasure in pointing out the fact that no dirty or romantic fantasy about Jace had ever made him come that hard.

Screw you, brain.

Alec dumped the dirty tissues in the trashcan under his bedside table, turned off the lights, and crawled back into bed.

He rolled himself up inside the blue plaid comforter his mother had insisted would complement the curtains that she had also picked. The warmth from the thick cotton blanket soaked into him and made his bones feel heavy.

For the first time since May, Alec fell asleep within minutes.

Chapter Text

Golden Valley was a beautiful thing to behold. Its hallowed halls were a holdover from ancient times when big department stores had still been a thing and long before online shopping had existed.

Magnus thrived with the energy of it all from the minute he stepped through the faux-Roman Arch onto the white marble floor tiles. He spread his arms dramatically and absorbed the atmosphere.

“This is where I want to go after I die.”

Beside him, Raphael made a choked noise in his throat.

When Magnus looked over at his quiet new friend, he almost burst out laughing. There was a blank stare in his soulful brown eyes, and his dark brows were deeply furrowed in disbelief. On an unrelated note, those brows could use a good tweezing.

“What’s wrong, cinna-bun? Not a fan of malls?”

Raphael hummed and shrugged one shoulder. “I shop online.”

“But that’s hardly any kind of experience!” Magnus scoffed.

He linked his arm through Raphael’s and walked further into the building, steering them toward the west wing.

“This is going to be great,” he promised. “You’ll see. Cat texted. She’ll meet us by the fountain.”

Raphael rolled his eyes and muttered, “Of course, there’s a fountain.”

“Oh, hush.” Magnus smacked his arm.

Luckily, Raphael relented and let Magnus drag him along. After the night at the party, Magnus was pretty sure his delicious cinna-bun was an immovable object if he truly didn’t want to go somewhere.

“We need to get you some new clothes and definitely a suit for FF. Have you decided who you want to go with yet?” Magnus kept his tone light and teasing. “I hear Isabelle Lightwood is still looking for a date.”

Raphael stopped dead, confirming the immovable object theory.

“I thought we were going together as friends,” he rumbled.

Magnus smiled big. That was exactly what he had wanted to hear. He didn’t think he could juggle Raphael, Cat, Simon, and a plus one all in one night. Especially not when his thoughts had been preoccupied with a certain tall, dark, and handsome guy who plagued his every waking moment and came back for encores in his dreams.

“Just checking,” he said and patted Raphael’s arm. “Now, come on. I’m sure they’re already waiting for us, and you know how Cat gets when we’re late.”

“You,” said Raphael. “She gets that way when you’re late.”

Magnus crinkled his nose and flashed the tip of his tongue. “Same thing.”

Catarina was, in fact, already waiting for them, surveilling the premises with her best military scowl. Magnus would never tell her, but it made her look exactly like her dad who was actually a colonel or something in the Army.

She sat at one of the convenient bistro tables around the fountain. Opposite her, Simon was fidgeting in his chair, one knee bouncing under the table as he tore up a paper napkin between his fingers, spreading confetti everywhere.

Magnus rubber-banded when Raphael stopped dead again.

“You didn’t say he was coming.”

“Must’ve slipped my mind?” Magnus put his cutest face forward, going for maximum cajoling. “Please, just bear with it?”

For the past three days, Magnus had been trying to figure out how to fix the thing that had broken between Simon and Raphael in the hospital room the morning after his party. He still didn’t have the slightest clue what had broken or how it had broken in the first place.

The problem was that Cat thought he knew, and she was putting the blame at his feet, so obviously Magnus had to do everything in his power to make her forgive him. Hence, the shopping trip with guerrilla ambush.

Raphael did not look happy. His whole face closed off and his eyes narrowed just enough that his lower lids bulged slightly. Then his broad shoulders did that tense, hunched up thing that would be unspeakably hot if it wasn’t also a clear indication that he was on edge and ready to hit someone. Preferably not Magnus.

“Please?” Magnus wheedled. “Whatever it is, can’t you just pretend like it didn’t happen for a couple hours? Pretty please with sex and whipped cream?”

Raphael’s expression derailed. It was the best way Magnus could describe it.

On a happy note, his shoulders dropped down to their regular position. Magnus could almost see all those sexy, broad muscles relax under the dark blue quilted silk. Gifting that jacket to Raphael had been one of his more genius decisions.

“Just kidding about the sex,” he purred, “but I desperately need you to try to forgive Simon if you can. For Cat? For me?”

“I’m not…” Raphael trailed off with a scowl.

As Magnus looked at him, waiting for him to continue, the slightest tinge of pink crept up over Raphael’s strong jaw and suffused his pinchable cheeks.

“I’m not mad at him.” Raphael’s voice was so low and quiet it was barely more than a guttural growl.

“Then why are you putting me through this?” Magnus threw his hands up with a frustrated noise. “Do you have any idea what Cat has been doing to me for the past three days? She took my Clandestine Obsession!”

Raphael cringed. “I don’t want to know.”

Magnus huffed. “It’s eyeshadow. Exclusive eyeshadow. My exclusive eyeshadow.” He grabbed Raphael by the arm and pulled. “Now, come on.”

Raphael dutifully trudged along. Magnus walked them both up to the table. Ignoring Cat, he pushed Raphael in front of Simon with a hearty thump between the shoulders for good measure.

“Kiss or don’t, but for heaven’s sake make up already. I want my palette back.”

There was some nervous stuttering on Simon’s part and a murderous glare from Raphael that would get some lucky girl’s panties very wet one day. In the end, they exchanged apologies that made no sense to anyone but them, but it didn’t matter.

Magnus was happy because Cat was happy, and they could all enjoy this shopping trip together the way God, aka Magnus, had intended.

It took thirteen stores and all three levels of the mall to reassemble a complete wardrobe for Raphael. In the meantime, Cat had been trying on about a billion dresses and had found all of them lacking.

Magnus could only agree. It was as if the Gods of Fashion had turned against them and decided to offer nothing but the lamest and most outdated of formal gowns. If he had to see Cat put on one more sweetheart neckline with a princess skirt, he was going to scream bloody murder and buy a chainsaw just so he could destroy the hideous things.

“I don’t know what to do,” she snarled in frustration. “Magpie, this is horrible. I swear if I can’t find a dress in the next store, I’m going naked.”

“Yeah, right,” said Magnus at the same time that Raphael stated firmly, “No, you won’t.” and Simon moaned, “Please, don’t.”

“Then I’ll just wear a tux,” she shot back.

Magnus raised his brows as the idea snaked sexy tendrils into his mind.

“It could work,” he purred.

Simon looked thoughtful and relieved that the idea of ‘naked’ was off the table.

“We still need to get our tuxes anyway,” he said.

Raphael sighed. “Let’s just get this over with.”

They all walked into the tailor shop together. Magnus got the attention of the man behind the counter with a wave of his black credit card and put Catarina front and center.

“Her first. We’re going for early 2000s Janelle Monae with a strong note of 2010s Rhianna. Can you manage?”

The tailor raised his pierced black brow and clicked his tongue as if the mere suggestion he couldn’t manage was a grave insult.

“For sure. Are we thinking silk or velvet?”

“Silk,” said Magnus firmly, hearing Raphael and Cat chorus the thought.

He turned around and found Simon doing his best impression of an awkward ‘Before’ picture in the corner by the belts and suspenders.

“Then him.” Magnus pointed a sharp finger at Simon’s back. “He needs a confidence boost. There’s a gorgeous boy under all that …” He wiggled his fingers, looking for a description that wasn’t too mean. “Blah.”

The tailor leaned to the side and squinted at Simon. His wide russet lips pursed with a skeptical expression.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said.

Magnus glared. “Trust me.”

“What about you two?” the tailor asked, motioning between Magnus and Raphael.

“The works, of course,” Magnus responded smoothly. “Bonus points if you can weave a common theme through all our outfits.”

The tailor looked at the four of them with a long umber index finger pressed to the dimple in his chin. A devious smile emphasized his razor-sharp cheekbones.

“I think I can work with this.”

As the tailor disappeared inside the fitting rooms with Cat in tow, Simon slinked up to Magnus with a concerned look on his face.

“Dude,” he said quietly, “it’s a nice idea, but there’s no way I can afford a suit from this place.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Magnus turned around without missing a beat, flashing his sauciest smile. “It’s on me. Or, I should say, it’s on Daddy-dearest. Let’s see how fast I can spend a million bucks and how long it’ll take before he notices.”

Simon’s eyes almost bugged out of his face. Magnus couldn’t blame him. It was so obvious he was poor, there had been no need for Headmistress Herondale to announce it at morning assembly.

Lucky for Simon, Magnus didn’t care about other people’s money or status. The only thing that mattered to him was whether a person was dull or interesting, trustworthy or a snake.

Simon Lewis was practically a paladin, which made him interesting by default, in a world full of moral wrecks.

Magnus kissed the air in front of Simon’s face and turned to Raphael. “Yours too, cinna-bun. No objections. I already let you pay for your own wardrobe, which set me back on my goal by at least a couple thousand dollars.”

Raphael rolled his eyes again, but he raised his hands in acceptance. “Knock yourself out.”

Simon still looked shell-shocked when the tailor returned from the fitting rooms and dragged him away.

Magnus and Raphael ended up sitting alone – side by side on a replica of a Louis XIV era couch – in the front of the shop. Magnus decided it was a good time to make an embarrassing confession.

“I think I tripped and fell in love with Alexander Lightwood.”

Raphael raised his brows. “The emo kid from the party?”

“He’s not … Yeah, him.”

“Huh.”

Magnus wasn’t sure what he had expected. It had definitely been more than a non-committal noise and otherwise complete lack of reaction. Did Raphael not get that this was a seismic-shift level confession here?

“Does he know?” Raphael asked.

“Probably not.”

Magnus had no idea what Alexander Lightwood knew or didn’t know. They hadn’t even said hello to each other since the guy had stormed out of his room three nights ago.

“I kissed him.”

Raphael didn’t say anything. Magnus chewed on his bottom lip.

“Do you think I should tell him?”

Raphael made an uncomfortable noise in his throat. He seemed bothered, but it wasn’t disgust. Magnus had seen enough of that on other people’s faces to know what it looked like in every shape and color. This was something else.

“I’m so not the guy to ask about this stuff,” Raphael said quietly, scratching his brow with the back of his thumb.

“You know, you should really get those caterpillars under control,” Magnus blurted. “Tweezers are your friend.”

Raphael stared at him until Magnus averted his gaze.

“Just saying.”

They sat quietly for a moment until Raphael took a deep breath and looked at him from under his lashes.

“Do you think you should tell him?”

“I don’t know.” Magnus fluttered his hands. “It’s never been like this before. I can’t get him out of my head.” He huffed out a breath and tried to put things into words. “Have you ever kissed someone and it felt like in the movies?”

His eyes flitted over the fancy tan carpet and Raphael’s shopping bags around their feet. He remembered the full-body shiver that had gone through him when their lips had met and Magnus had slid into Alexander Lightwood’s lap as if he had always belonged there.

Raphael snorted. “No.”

“Yeah,” said Magnus. “It was crazy. I think if he hadn’t run, I would’ve begged him to take me. Like, literally, begged like a romance novel chick.” He chuckled. “I told him I wasn’t some bodice-ripper scoundrel. Clearly, I lied. I’ve been jerking off like a fiend, fantasizing about him, pretty much ever since.”

Raphael looked uncomfortable again. “Too much information.”

“Sorry.”

The door to the fitting rooms opened and the tailor reappeared with Simon and Cat in tow.

Their tuxes didn’t so much match as complement each other. They shared the same fabric – a vibrant blue so dark it seemed black – but where Simon wore a classic design with a black shirt and tie, Cat’s low-cut jacket offered a mouthwatering amount of rich brown cleavage and the wide-legged pants flowed enticingly over the curves of her hips. Her delicate golden cross gleamed in the center of her chest.

“Fuck me running,” drawled Magnus as he jumped out of his seat to gush over them. “You’re both gorgeous. I don’t know who to do first.”

Simon’s face turned an impossible shade of red and an honest to goodness squeak came out of his mouth as he ducked behind Cat.

Magnus cackled like the shameless flirt he was. When his head snapped forward with an unexpected slap, he whirled around to see Raphael glare at him in disapproval.

“Don’t be crude.”

Raphael picked up Cat’s hands and spread them slightly in front of her, looking over her outfit with a critical gaze. The boy definitely knew more about fashion than he let on. Magnus had watched him closely during their shopping spree and had noticed Raphael had his own very sharp eye for style.

“You look beautiful, Catarina.”

Magnus fanned himself. He still hadn’t figured out how Raphael managed to make his voice sound like filthy hot sex while all the rest of him seemed to be completely unaffected.

Raphael turned to Simon and brushed an imaginary piece of lint from the boy’s lapel, sliding his fingers under the edge.

“You dress up nicely,” he commented with a thoughtful curl of his lip.

“Yeah?” Simon’s smile beamed brighter than a 1000-watt bulb. “Thanks!”

“You should do it more often,” Raphael continued, oblivious to the way it affected Simon.

Magnus jumped in to save the situation. “Any time you want to help me burn a hole in my father’s credit card, just text me.”

Simon ducked his head. “That’s okay. I don’t have your number, anyway.”

Magnus rolled his head until his eyes landed on Cat.

“I’ll text it to you,” she assured Simon with a quick kiss in his direction.

The tailor cleared his throat.

“Gentlemen, I believe it is your turn?”

“Yes, please,” drawled Magnus. “I am so ready to put myself into your capable hands.”

The tailor narrowed his dark-brown eyes. “How old are you?”

Magnus clicked his tongue. “Eighteen. Almost.”

The tailor winced. “This way, young man.”

The weekend flew by and before anyone realized it, they were halfway through the week and on the final stretch. The Fall Formal – Fall Fuckfest as Magnus had affectionately dubbed it – was only two days away. He had yet to summon the courage to talk to Alexander Lightwood.

They had no classes together. Magnus never caught him in the hallway or in the common room of their dorm. To exacerbate things further, even when their paths happened to cross on campus or in the mess hall, Lydia Branwell was forever in between them like the world’s stickiest glue-on beard. It frustrated the hell out of Magnus.

When he finally had his chance on Wednesday, he almost missed it. If it hadn’t been for Simon’s uncontrollable habit to overshare, Magnus wouldn’t even have known about it.

According to the paladin of babble, there was a ten-minute window after archery practice where Lydia would take longer to get changed and Alec would sit around by himself, waiting for her.

Magnus let himself into the gym at exactly 5:30 pm, the minute archery practice ended. He hurried to the boys locker room and pressed himself against the wall behind the door. Then he waited.

The door almost smacked Magnus in the face when it opened. He stopped it with one hand and observed quietly as the archers filed out and headed to dinner, oblivious to his presence.

Simon was the only one who turned around and looked for him. Then he flashed a painfully nerdy thumbs up with both hands.

Magnus wiped a hand over his face and pointed straight ahead, silently mouthing, “Go.”

Fortunately, Simon nodded and jogged along, following the other archers out of the gym.

Magnus took a deep breath and straightened up to his full height. Then he swung himself around the door and strode into the locker room.

“Lightwoo-uhngh.”

His flippant greeting died with an undignified moan in his throat because Alexander Lightwood was half-naked, and Magnus had somehow forgotten to mentally prepare himself for that possibility.

Lightwood whipped around and pulled an undershirt over his head, covering up most of his delicious muscles and a surprisingly furry chest with a drool-worthy happy-trail that crossed washboard abs and marked a teasing path into the waistband of his slacks.

Magnus sighed at the loss. “Please, don’t cover up on my account.”

Lightwood pointedly shoved his arms into the white shirt of his school uniform and started to button up.

“What do you want, Bane?”

Magnus pouted. “It’s back to Bane now?”

Lightwood raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t you just call me by my last name?”

“I was just being flippant.”

“While drooling.”

Magnus’s fingers flew to his mouth before he realized it was a joke. He narrowed his eyes and dropped his hand back to his side.

Lightwood … Alexander sighed.

“Why are you here, Magnus?”

His heart made a funny little back-flip inside his chest. He loved the way his name sounded in that voice.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” he said quietly. “I want to know why.”

The answer was a dismissive scoff and the broad expanse of Alexander Lightwood’s back in front of Magnus’s face.

“We never hung out before.”

“We kissed, Alexander.”

That, at least, got Magnus a drooping of wide shoulders and the pale nape of an elegant neck as Alec dropped his dark head.

“Like that means anything to you.”

Magnus didn’t bother to stifle the exasperated noise in his throat.

“How could you possibly know what it means when you won’t talk to me?” He huffed. “For crying out loud, right now, you won’t even look at me.”

Alec spun around with a furious glare. His eyes glittered like cold water in the bright halogen lights of the locker room.

“I have a girlfriend,” he said sharply.

“You have a beard,” Magnus shot back, “and I think it’s time to shave her off. It’s gone out of style.”

“Screw you!”

“I’d love to, but I think your beard would chafe me raw.”

He didn’t mean to hold on to the metaphor; it just sort of happened. What he really wanted to say was a lot scarier than witty barbs about gay clichés. Magnus crossed his arms over his chest and took a steadying breath.

“I like you,” he confessed.

Alec seemed dumbstruck. He was still glaring, but his scowl had slipped and his lips were slightly parted in surprise.

Magnus used the opportunity and pushed through.

“I think you would like me too, and if you just stopped being afraid for just a second and if you give me a chance, I think we could have something. Special.”

He could feel an unfamiliar heat creep up his neck and spread all over his face. Magnus was usually so much smoother than this, but the words weren’t coming easily right now. It felt like he had to drag them out one by one like the perfect clothes from the bottom of an overstuffed drawer.

“Think about it,” he said, “and let me know what you want. Until then, I won’t bother you again.”

Turning around and walking away was the hardest thing Magnus had ever done in his whole entire life. As if the universe had decided to make it just a little bit more extra, he almost ran into Lydia Branwell when they both opened the door at the same time from opposite sides.

Magnus couldn’t help the sneer on his face. He wasn’t surprised when Lydia’s eyes narrowed and her expression twisted into an arrogant scowl.

“Bane,” she spat.

“Branwell,” he aped in the same tone.

They passed each other, and he could have just left, but something inside him – an ugly, terrifying thing with sharp teeth and claws – turned around and smiled coldly.

“He’ll never be yours.”

Lydia paused with her back turned to him. Her immaculate blonde French braid shifted as she glanced dismissively over her shoulder.

“Maybe,” she said, “but at least I’m closer than you’ll ever be.”

He could tell she thought her barb had been a coup de grâce. She obviously had no idea what had happened between Magnus and her so-called boyfriend. His smile widened.

“You might want to confirm that with Alexander.”

Magnus walked out of the gym, high on adrenaline and vindictive satisfaction.

Cat, Raphael, and Simon were already waiting for him when Magnus got to the mess hall for dinner. He plopped down in the empty chair next to Raphael and swapped bits of fruit salad with Cat across the table; hers had too many cocktail cherries and his was mostly pineapple.

“How did it go?” she asked before she dug back into her food.

Magnus cringed. “Worse than a teen drama but better than a telenovela.”

Cat snickered. “So, there’s not going to be a last-minute date swap for FF?”

“Wait, what?” Simon’s whole face screwed up in confusion as he looked back and forth between them. “I thought you were going to talk to him about school stuff. Why would you ask him out? You have a perfectly perfect boyfriend right there!” His arm flailed in Raphael’s direction. “Did you just make me complicit in cheating? I can’t believe you would do this to me.”

Simon was working himself up into a fast fluster. His eyes flickered nervously and his knee was bouncing so hard it shook the whole table. His gaze rolled around to Raphael with a pleading puppy-dog stare.

“I swear, Raphael, I had no idea. If I’d known that’s why he wanted to talk to Lightwood, I would have never said anything. And you!”

Simon rounded on Magnus again and his scowl was filled with so much righteous fury it almost pinched a little. Magnus tried not to laugh.

“How could you?” Simon snarled furiously. “You’re such a—"

“¡Oye, mira, idiota!” Raphael snapped his fingers in front of Simon’s face. “I’m not his boyfriend.”

Simon’s entire body screeched to a halt. Magnus could almost hear the boy’s brain smack against the inside of his forehead.

“You’re not?” He stared past Raphael’s fingers at his face. “But you’re…” He made a helpless motion with his hands, indicating how close Magnus and Raphael tended to be. “He calls you cinna-bun and stuff!”

Magnus snickered. “It’s just a nickname. I could give you one if you like.” He pretended to think about it for a moment. “Dumpling?”

Simon made a revolted noise in the back of his throat.

Magnus cackled until Raphael smacked him in the shoulder. When Magnus looked over, he did not look amused.

“Spoilsport,” Magnus muttered under his breath.

“Anyway,” said Cat. “Now we’re all back on the same page, what exactly happened with you and Lightwood?”

Magnus took a deep breath to fortify himself and shared the blow by blow of their conversation in hushed tones over roasted beef and potatoes.

Two days later, the glorious day of FF dawned with as little fanfare as any other Friday at Alicante Academy. They still had classes in the morning and early afternoon; lunch was no more or less bland than usual; last but not least, three hours was simply not enough time to go from uniform hum-drum to drop-dead couture for the shindig of the quarter.

Magnus scowled at himself in the left half of his bathroom mirror, nearly bumping elbows with Cat beside him as she fought to straighten her hair for the occasion.

“I still think you should have gone with the tiny braids,” he grumbled.

“Sure,” she snarked, dragging the wand along a strand of her hair, “and did you also have a time-turner to give me the extra five hours to make that happen?”

“I know,” Magnus acknowledged with a frustrated growl before he leaned forward and applied another layer of eyeshadow.

A glance out the door through his closet revealed that Raphael and Simon were both still sitting on his chaise lounge, dressed to the nines, bored out of their skulls.

“You could always let me put some makeup on you two,” Magnus suggested with a waggle of his brows.

“No.”

“We’re good.” Simon quickly waved his hands. “Thanks.”

The poor boy’s knee was bouncing at a mile a minute again until Raphael stared at it intently from the corner of his eyes and raised a shapely eyebrow. The bouncing slowed down and eventually stopped as Simon crossed his arms and tried his very best to sit still.

Magnus chuckled under his breath and put on a fresh coat of lip gloss.

Those two were a laugh riot together and they didn’t even know it.

“At least you finally got around to fixing your brows,” he teased Raphael, just to see what would happen.

“What was wrong with them?” Simon asked immediately, turning to stare at Raphael’s brows. “They look fine.” His eyes narrowed behind his thick glasses and he got way too close to Raphael’s face. “Wait, is that ink?”  

Magnus pressed his lips together and tried not to laugh. It was almost impossible. He turned to Cat who was having a hard time keeping a straight face, too. They stuck their tongues out at each other and made faces, trying to make the other crack first.

“It’s brow pencil,” Raphael growled.

Both of them broke at the same time. Cat burst into her real laugh, the one that sounded like a hybrid between a hyena and a sea-lion. Magnus collapsed over the sink, unable to keep it together between those two idiots and Cat’s guffaws.

They eventually managed to finish gussying up and headed to the gym together.

The fake walls between the three separate halls had been removed to create an event space big enough to house the Seaborn Encore luxury liner and all its life boats around it. Instead, the edge of the space was filled with chairs and tables, two full buffets, and a musical stage for the live band and DJ, leaving a massive gaping dancefloor in the center.

Pop music was pumping from large speakers when the four of them entered. Simon held on to Cat’s hand on his elbow for dear life, probably afraid she might run off and throw him to the wolves. Magnus wondered what that said about Simon’s previous friends.

Beside Magnus, Raphael had his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his tuxedo slacks and a skeptical look on his face.

“Why are we doing this again?” he rumbled, barely audible over the music.

“Because it’s fun!” Magnus proclaimed with his brightest smile. “Come on.”

He dragged Raphael to the dancefloor, determined to make him shake his cinna-butt at least once before he found some dark corner to loom in like the gloomy, brooding shadow he pretended to be.

Across the dancefloor, Magnus caught a glimpse of Alexander. He was standing next to Lydia Branwell like a living mannequin, surrounded by the rest of the ‘eminent eight’ as Raphael liked to call them. His tux was a traditional black-and-white affair, the cummerbund and bow-tie matched to Lydia’s dress.

Magnus turned away with a sneer of disgust and shimmied closer to Raphael who was obviously struggling to figure out how to dance with him. Magnus rolled his eyes.

“Just pretend I’m a girl.”

“That doesn’t help.”

Surprisingly, it was Simon who came to the rescue, twirling Catarina in a circle under his hand.

“Dude, just keep it simple and let them spin and wiggle.”

Raphael cocked his head to the side and raised his brows. “And where did you learn that?”

“My sister, Becca,” Simon replied with a smile. “She studies dance.”

Raphael’s eyes rested on Simon for a few seconds, studying his moves as he danced with Cat. Raphael got the hang of it very quickly and things went a lot more smoothly from then on. 

Magnus tried to ignore Alexander, but it proved impossible.

The poor guy was trying so hard to play the model boyfriend, but his poker face kept slipping like a cheap sheet mask. Notably, it slipped whenever his inelegant dance moves led him past Jace Herondale and Clary Fray.

The couple was slow-dancing to fast songs, making googly eyes at each other like the lead characters in a TV drama. Clary – predictably in sweetheart neckline and princess skirt – had eyes for no one but Herondale, who was – infuriatingly handsome in a modern tux – grinning like an infatuated sap.

Lydia Branwell was doing her best impression of a statuesque beauty about to explode, but Alexander seemed oblivious to the ticking time bomb in his arms.

Things were not going to end well. Magnus could just tell. It was as if a gargantuan storm cloud was brewing invisibly overhead somewhere between the steel beams of the ceiling, ready to burst with a thunderous crash and rain down on all of them.

He crashed into a rock-solid obstacle, knocking his gaze back down from the ceiling as his head snapped forward.

“Magnus, what’s wrong?”

The obstacle turned out to be Raphael’s chest.

“Nothing,” Magnus said quickly. “Why would anything be wrong?”

“Because you stepped on my toes, twice.”

“Oh.” He hadn’t even noticed. “Sorry. I think I just need a break. Drinks?”

“Sure.”

That had not sounded convinced. Magnus disappeared into the crowd before Raphael could ask any uncomfortable questions.

He found an inconspicuous spot, far away from the buffet tables, by the door to the equipment room. A surreptitious glance around the area confirmed no chaperones nearby.

Magnus retrieved the silver flask from the inside pocket of his tux, helped himself to a much-needed drink, and slipped the flask back into its hiding place before anyone could notice.

He let his eyes drift across the room, taking in the scenery from his disconnected vantage point. His absence had not gone unnoticed.

Isabelle Lightwood had sidled up to Raphael. Dressed in a slinky black number and with her hair and makeup professionally done, she looked a lot older than fifteen. She also looked like a hungry predator on the prowl, and her chosen prey was his poor unfortunate cinna-bun.

A perverse part of Magnus wanted to see what would happen, but his better angels prevailed. He pushed himself off the wall to move to the rescue.

A loud thumping noise behind him caught his attention. Magnus turned around and stared intently at the door to the equipment room. He glanced at his phone. It was only 8:30 pm. That was awfully early for …

Another heavy thump reverberated through the door, followed by a high-pitched giggle.

Magnus grinned and slowly, carefully, quietly opened the door just wide enough to take a peek.

Should’ve known.

It was Aline Penhallow and Helen Blackthorn. The two of them were tangled up in each other on top of a pile of yoga mats, doing their own interpretation of Downward Facing Dog and the Bridge.

Magnus closed the door and leaned back against it. He took another fortifying swig from his flask, keeping an eye out.

The girls were getting noisy. If they kept at it like that, they were sure to get caught.

Magnus kicked his heel against the door and turned his face closer to it.

“Keep it down. You have five minutes. Then I’m done playing look-out.”

“Sod off, Bane!”

Aline Penhallow’s crystalline voice might have tried to pierce him through the door, but the girls did quiet down after that.

When Magnus turned his attention back to the dancefloor, his brows flew to his hairline.

Raphael was dancing with Cat. Isabelle Lightwood had moved on to Simon.

The two made a surprisingly striking couple – Simon’s nerdy glasses notwithstanding. Magnus really had to talk to the boy about getting contact lenses. It was an unacceptable injustice to hide all that beautiful sunshine behind those ugly windows.

They danced to the Latin pop song blaring out of the speakers as if they had to impress professional judges on the sidelines. There were all sorts of turns and spins and dips. Strictly Ballroom was playing out right in front of everyone’s eyes, and Magnus was insanely, blindly envious because he wanted to dance like that.

“Damn.”

He only had a moment to enjoy the view, because the malevolent cloud that had been looming invisibly in the rafters finally erupted over all of them.

It happened like dominoes. Magnus saw with horrific clarity how each one knocked over the next, but he was helpless to stop the progression.

Clary Fray abandoned Jace Herondale mid-dance and rushed across the dancefloor to step between Simon and Isabelle Lightwood.

Herondale started to go after her, but Alec was right in his face. When Herondale tried to get around him, Alec held him back with a hand on his elbow.

His hand was unceremoniously shoved aside, and Herondale spat something that made Alec’s face twist with rage.

Alec in turn got yanked around by his arm to face Lydia Branwell. She had finally lost her composure and drew Alec into a scene that would make the greatest divas of all time rise for a standing ovation.

Alec barked something back at her, threw his arms up, and gazed furiously around the room as if he was searching for something with which to bludgeon Lydia.

His eyes landed on Magnus. He started to move.

Magnus watched in petrified humiliation as Alexander Lightwood crossed the dancefloor in long, angry strides, coming for him.

“Don’t do it,” he muttered under his breath. “Please, don’t …”

Magnus tried to stop him. He really did. He even took half a step back, but he was literally backed up against a wall.

Alexander Lightwood grabbed his face and kissed him in front of the assembled faculty and students of Alicante Academy. With tongue.

Chapter Text

Raphael felt Cat’s fingers dig into his bicep as they stared incredulously at the scene unfolding right in front of them.

Clary Fray had showed up out of nowhere and pretty much ripped Simon out of Isabelle Lightwood’s arms. Now, she was trying to drag him off, but the Lightwood girl wasn’t having it.

“What the hell is your problem?”

“Leave him alone!”

The redhead clutched Simon’s forearms as if she was trying to pull him up from the edge of a cliff.

Raphael sighed. This was exactly why he usually avoided social functions. The bigger the crowd, the bigger the drama.

He looked at Cat with a quizzical expression, but she just shrugged and mumbled, “Beats me.”

“Clary, what’s wrong?” Simon asked.

Raphael watched them with furrowed brows. He noticed that Simon didn’t push her off him. The way he looked at her with big puppy dog eyes made Raphael want to thwack him across the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. Couldn’t he see how she was manipulating him?

“She’s—” Fray cut herself off, glanced at Isabelle Lightwood, then looked back at Simon like a tortured heroine. “There’s stuff you need to know. Can you please come with me?”

“I’m what?” the brunette asked harshly, dropping into a fighting stance. “I’m a slut? A bitch? You got something to say about me, why don’t you say it to my face?”  

“Fine, have it your way.” Fray let go of Simon and whirled around to face off with her. “You’re a junkie, and I’m not letting you get your claws in him.”

The brunette reared back as if the redhead had physically hit her. It only took a second before she was up in the other girl’s face again. She pushed her hard, bare hands smacking against bare shoulders.

“Take that back!”

“Make me!”

“Clary!” Simon grabbed her by both arms and pulled her back. “That’s enough.”

Raphael almost bellowed “finally” but the word got stuck in his throat when Simon dragged Fray aside and frog-marched her away from them, giving her exactly what she had wanted in the first place.

Things didn’t calm down at all when Jace Herondale joined the scene. The Lightwood girl immediately rounded on him and smacked his arm.

“What the hell did you tell her?”

“I’m sorry! It was just a joke. I didn’t think she’d go off like that.” He motioned after Fray.

Raphael wondered why none of the teachers had interrupted this ridiculous drama yet. He looked around.

The only teacher he spotted was Ms. Graymark from his AP Physics class. There was no way in heaven or hell Raphael would allow that woman to get a bad impression of him.

He was about to suggest to Lightwood and Herondale to take it somewhere private when a commotion caught everyone’s attention.

Someone whooped. Another person wolf-whistled, and a girl in the crowd yelled, “Go Lightwood!”

Raphael froze, feeling heat crawl up his neck, until he realized no one was looking at them. He followed the direction of the gawking rubberneckers.

Up against the back wall, Magnus was making out with Alec Lightwood like they were rehearsing for the climax of a romance movie.

Raphael rolled his eyes, turned around, and walked away.

“Where are you going?” Cat called after him.

“To get some air,” he called back over his shoulder.

He stepped out of the gym into the quiet of chirping crickets and took a deep breath. The night air smelled like ozone and wet grass. Raphael closed his eyes and just decompressed for a minute.

An enormous cloud of white smoke wafted through the air in front of him.

Sebastian Verlac and Jonathan Morgenstern were sprawled on a set of cement stairs leading down into the building, sharing a vape pen between them.

Raphael tried to ignore them and walked in the opposite direction.

“Hey, Santiago!”

He kept walking.

“Santiago!”

He picked up his pace.

“Come on, you snotty spic, don’t pretend like you can’t hear us! Ow!”

“Rude, dude! My aunt’s Hispanic.”

“I thought Verlac was French?”

“My uncle’s wife, you bell-end.”

Raphael closed his eyes and turned around. He opened them again and glared at the two stupid white boys who were obviously stoned out of their gourds.

“What do you want?”

“We were just wondering what you did.”

“What?”

Morgenstern dragged himself up the steps, leaning on the top one with both elbows as he stretched his platinum head to look owlishly at Raphael.

“Your aunt paid for this party, right?”

Raphael scowled. “Yes.”

“So, what did you do?” Morgenstern asked as Verlac crawled up beside him, leaning on his back. “It can’t be too bad, because it’s just a party, but it had to be pretty impressive to pay for a live band and a DJ on top of catering and all the other shit.”

Raphael turned to stone. He stared at the two drugged guys. They summed up everything that was wrong with the world that Camille Belcourt lived in – a world Raphael wanted no part of where everything was about money and favors and where family was an obligation to be dealt with rather than a vital part of your life that made you feel safe and loved.

“I got my whole family killed.”

He turned and walked away. This time, they didn’t call after him.

Raphael wandered aimlessly along the gravel paths for a while. He wanted to go to the chapel, but he knew there was no point. He had helped Father Aldertree close it up early today, before he’d gone back to his room to put on his tux and get ready for FF.

He shoved his hands into the pockets of his slacks and resigned himself to dealing with the rest of the night alone. Magnus had probably already disappeared into some secret corner to make out with Alec Lightwood undisturbed.

His cell phone went off in his pocket. Raphael checked it to find messages coming in one after the other.

Catarina was freaking out.

When Raphael trudged back into the gym, Cat accosted him immediately.

“Raphael, thank God!” She grabbed his arm and dragged him along. “Where have you been? I need you to check the boys locker rooms and the bathrooms. I still can’t find Simon anywhere.”

Raphael’s brows furrowed. “He went off with Clary Fray. I’m sure he’s just acting out some—”

“No,” Cat cut him off, pointing across the dancefloor. “She’s over there, dancing with Herondick.”

“Okay, maybe he just went back to his dorm. I’m sure he’s fine.”

“He’s not,” Cat insisted.

She chewed her lip and dragged Raphael into a quiet corner. She looked up at him, clearly distressed, her dark eyes shining with fear and worry.

Raphael had no idea why she was this worked up. Simon had probably just gotten lost while he was looking for the bathrooms or something equally Simon-esque.

Cat grabbed his hand. Her fingers were cold and clammy.

“I get these feelings sometimes, all right?” she confessed, her free hand fiddling with the cross around her neck. “The last time I saw him, he was back to dancing with Isabelle Lightwood. Look, can you please, please, just check the boys locker room and the bathroom?”

“Of course,” Raphael said calmly, placing a hand on her arm. “Relax. It’s going to be okay. Did you text him?”

“No, I tried sending smoke signals and a carrier pigeon. Of course, I texted him!”

“Sorry,” Raphael said immediately. “I’ll go check now.”

Cat was genuinely worried. Raphael was going to kill Simon if he found him making out in some dark corner.

He pushed open the door to the boys locker room and took a look around. It was quiet and bright, except in the showers. The place was completely empty, which surprised Raphael. He had expected to find a bunch of couples making out in here.

He almost left when he heard a strange noise from the dark area where the showers were.

Raphael investigated, praying sincerely that he didn’t walk in on some horny couple in the middle of having sex.

Simon was sitting hunched over in the corner of the white-tiled room, rocking back and forth, making weird groaning noises, and muttering to himself.

“Simon?”

He barely acknowledged Raphael, jerking once and shaking his head, before he went back to rocking himself and muttering under his breath.

It hit Raphael like a one-two punch. Cat had been right. Simon was not okay.

He got down on all fours and crawled closer, trying to put himself in Simon’s line of vision so he didn’t come out of nowhere.

“Simon, it’s me. Raphael.”

Simon shook his head harder before he looked up, eyes rolling wildly past Raphael. They crossed his gaze and held on for a second before they went right back to going all over the place.

“Shit, fuck. Sorry, fuck. Not good. Bad. Uh-hm. Bad moment. Sorry.”

Simon’s words came out between shallow breaths. He still hadn’t stopped rocking. His hands moved in sharp, jerky motions, scratching at his head, rubbing his legs, flapping like he was trying to shake something off.

“What happened?” Raphael asked quietly.

“Dunno.” Simon looked past him, then at him, then past him again. “Stress? Crowd. People. Clary. Drugs, I think?”

Raphael’s brain got caught on the last part like barbed wire.

“You took drugs?”

He could feel his worry flip over into anger, but it flipped back just as quickly at the tortured look in Simon’s eyes.

“Yeah?”

Simon was still breathing in shallow and sharp wheezes, rocking in place.

Raphael forced himself to stay calm. He took deep breaths. Maybe if he breathed deeply enough, Simon would start to follow his example. He really wanted to punch someone in the face.

“What did you take?” he asked very calmly.

“Dunno.”

Simon shook his head again. His eyes moved all over the place, jerking past Raphael twice before they came back to him. When he smiled, it looked like a grimace.

“Izzy kissed me.”

Raphael could feel his blood begin to boil right under his skin. He had been gone for less than an hour. How on Earth had things spun out of control in that little time? How had Simon gone from arguing with Clary to making out with Isabelle Lightwood to having a drug induced meltdown in the locker room showers?

“That’s nice, Simon,” he said with forced calm, “but I need you to focus.” He placed a gentle hand on Simon’s jittering knee. “Focus, okay? What kind of drugs did you take?”

Simon shook his head like he didn’t understand what Raphael was saying. His knee was still bouncing wildly out of control, eyes going all over the place.

“Dunno.”

Raphael wanted to scream, but he forced himself to keep it together.

“Was it a powder? Crystals? A drink? A pill?”

“Yeah, I dunno. Maybe?” Simon nodded jerkily. “Tasted like pink elephants. Izzy kissed me.”

Raphael growled in frustration. “You’re not making sense. What are you saying?”

“Like this.”

Simon jerked forward, clamped shaking fingers around his cheeks, and kissed him.

His tongue fluttered like a trapped bird inside Raphael’s mouth. Raphael felt like the cartoon character that had accidentally swallowed the bird. He grabbed Simon’s arms tightly and pushed him back.

“Chingada madre!”

“Never!”

Simon ripped his eyes open wide. His pupils dilated and contracted as he stared at Raphael.

Raphael snorted. “You don’t even know what that means.”

“Yeah. Looked it up. Urban dictionary. Did you know Spanish speakers curse like breathing but Portuguese do it sexier? It’s true. Saw it on YouTube.”

Raphael’s patience slipped through his fingers. “What the fuck did you take?”

“Pink elephants?” Simon whined. “I don’t know! Izzy kissed me with it.”

The penny finally dropped. Raphael rolled onto his feet.

“Don’t go!”

Simon’s fingers dug like claws into Raphael’s hand on his knee.

“I’ll be right back,” Raphael promised. “Just stay right here, okay? Don’t move. I’ll come right back for you.”

He needed to find out what the Lightwood whore had slipped to Simon. Then he was going to kill her. Then he would come back and take care of Simon.

“Promise?” Simon tried to stare at him, but his eyes kept drifting away.

“Promise.”

Raphael stormed out of the locker room. His eyes were so laser focused on finding Isabelle Lightwood, he didn’t even see Cat until she caught him around the waist.

“Did you find him?” she asked frantically.

“Yes. He’s going to be fine. I’m handling it.”

Raphael pried her fingers from around his waist and stormed off, headed straight for the brunette bitch dancing by herself behind one of the gigantic subwoofers.

“What did you give him?”

He grabbed her arm and pulled her around to face him. She staggered on her heels, her head rolling languidly as she stared at him in a daze.

“What?”

If he was a different kind of guy, she would already be picking her skinny ass up off the floor.

“What did you give Simon?” he shouted over the blaring music.

She gaped as if Raphael had asked her to do calculus in her head. Then she finally took a deep breath and blew it out noisily through her lips.

“Just molly,” she shouted back, “no big deal.”

“You stupid…” Raphael choked off a half dozen profanities that clamored for priority. “I should call the cops on you.”

His shoulders were so tight, it felt like he was going to snap a tendon. His fist itched.

“Hey!”

Raphael spun around. Jace Herondale was coming his way. Finally, someone he could punch and not feel the least bit bad about it. He lashed out.

His fist got stuck in an iron grip. Herondale painfully twisted his arm around and pushed him face first into the wall. Raphael’s cheek scraped against the spackle as his shoulder screamed in protest.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

"That bitch drugged my friend,” Raphael snarled, struggling against the bastard’s hold.

Herondale let go so suddenly, Raphael almost stumbled back into him.

“Is that true, Izzy? You promised you were done with it. What the hell …”

Raphael didn’t hang around to hear the rest of that statement. He couldn’t care less about their little drama.

He pulled his phone out on the way back to the locker rooms and looked up side effects of MDMA and how to deal with them other than calling 911 and getting everyone in waist deep shit.

Simon was still curled up in the corner of the showers, rocking back and forth.

If the internet was right, the effects of the damn pill might not wear off for another five hours. The urge to kill Isabelle Lightwood and drop her body in a shallow ditch returned with a vengeance.

Raphael got back down on his hands and knees and crawled over to Simon.

“Hey, I’m back.”

Simon’s eyes snapped up, but they didn’t stay focused on him for long. His knee was still bouncing up and down uncontrollably. He was basically in the same bad shape that Raphael had left him in.

“She gave you molly. I think you’re having an anxiety attack.”

“Yeah, no shit,” Simon wheezed. “Could’ve told you that.”

“You’ve had one before?”

Simon rolled his eyes; they were wet. “All the damn time.”

“Okay,” Raphael took a breath, tried to keep his voice calm. “So, maybe you can tell me what to do? What do you need?”

Simon laughed wetly, rolled his eyes again, grimaced. “My room. My mom. Becca.”

“I’m sorry. They’re not here.”

“No shit, Sherlock.”

Simon spluttered, pressed a distressed whine through his throat.

Raphael felt bad for him. He had no idea how to help. He’d never seen anything like this before.

“What would she do? If she was here, what would she do?”

Simon rolled his head back and retreated to some place inside his brain where Raphael couldn’t follow. He started to rock harder.

Raphael was lost, but he was determined not to give up until Simon was better. Unfortunately, it looked like Simon was more likely to explode into a thousand pieces than share what he needed. Raphael was at the end of his wits.

“What if I get you Clary?”

Herondale or not, he would drag the girl over by her hair if she could help Simon.

“No, don’t leave!”

Simon’s hand clawed at his again, nails scraping roughly over Raphael’s wrist, breaking the skin. Raphael gritted his teeth.

“Then tell me what you need.”

Simon closed his eyes. His whole body shook and he talked as if he physically couldn’t get his jaw to unclench.

“She holds me, and pets my hair, and sings to me.”

Raphael froze. “Oh.”

Simon huffed. “Yeah.”

Raphael wasn’t a cuddly person. Aside from his family and Lily, he had never hugged anyone. Even then, it was usually them who had started it. He had no idea how to even go about this. Why couldn’t Magnus or Cat be here with them? They were the snuggly ones.

Simon was still shaking. It looked like he was trying not to meet Raphael’s gaze anymore and having more difficulty with that than when he had been trying to look at him before.

How hard can it be?

Raphael remembered, ages ago, maybe in kindergarten, after he had lost his first soccer game. He’d been inconsolable, and his mother had sat with him for hours with the door firmly shut between them and the world.

His heart lurched into his throat. Raphael exhaled slowly and crawled forward. He turned around and sat next to Simon with his back against the wall. The cold, hard tiles were uncomfortable as hell.

“Okay,” he said quietly.

“What?”

Simon looked at him with puppy eyes as big as dinner plates behind his ugly glasses.

“Come here, puppy.” Raphael held up his arm.

Simon laughed nervously, but he moved closer and slipped down against Raphael’s shoulder.

Raphael cleared his throat. “Just so you know, I can’t sing for shit.”

He put his arm around Simon’s shoulders and combed his fingers through the messy mop of dark hair like his mamá had done for him. It was surprisingly soft and uncannily familiar.

“Have I done this before?”

Simon nodded against his shoulder. “The party. When you were drunk.”

“Oh.” Raphael cringed. “Sorry about that.”

Simon giggled, snorted, and clutched a little too hard at his jacket. Raphael heard the telltale pop and felt the seam under his arm rip.

“Magnus is going to be so mad,” he said thoughtlessly.

“Oh, fuck. Shit. Shit, I’m sorry. Sorry. Fuck.”

“Whoa, it’s fine. It’s fine.” Raphael tightened his arm around Simon and pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “It’s just a stupid suit. Magnus won’t care. He probably has people on speed dial for this kind of thing.”

“Shit, still sorry. They were expensive. Now I’ve ruined both of them.”

“Whatever,” Raphael said resolutely. He resumed combing his fingers through Simon’s hair. “You saw his closet. He doesn’t care. He’ll be happy for the excuse to blow through more of his dad’s money.”

“Yeah, but—”

“Don’t make me sing. I swear I will do it. Your ears will bleed.”

Simon turned his face and snickered into Raphael’s chest. Raphael could feel a long, hot breath soak through his shirt. He hoped that meant Simon was starting to calm down.

“Do it,” Simon muttered. “I dare you.”

He slid down until he was curled up with his head in Raphael’s lap, nose pressed just below Raphael’s belly button.

Raphael switched hands to keep combing his fingers through Simon’s hair. He rested his other arm around Simon’s waist and looked down with narrowed eyes.

Simon latched onto the arm around his waist and held tight. “Do your worst.”

Raphael sucked in a breath and rattled through a rushed, off-key rendition of The Ants Go Marching. He couldn’t even remember all the proper verses, so he made up his own number rhymes until he got to ten and the end.

“Happy now?”

Simon’s mouth twitched with a shaky smirk. “Blissed.”

Raphael continued to comb his fingers through Simon’s hair and kept his arm around his waist until Simon’s grip on him loosened.

“Do you think you’re okay to get up now?”

Simon nodded and pulled himself upright.

After so long, it felt weird to no longer have the weight of Simon’s head on his lap. Raphael brushed his hands over his thighs and cursed the pins and needles as the blood rushed back into his legs.

When Simon offered his hand, he grasped it firmly and pulled himself to his feet.

“You curse a lot,” Simon commented.

“Well, apparently it’s like breathing for Spanish speakers.”

Simon blushed a brilliant shade of vermilion and stared at the floor tiles. “I can’t believe I said that out loud.”

Raphael chuckled. “You’re wrong about the Portuguese, by the way.”

He checked his phone. They had less than an hour before their extended midnight curfew.

“We should probably head straight to the dorms. Come on, let’s get out of here.”

On their way out of the gym, Raphael texted Magnus and Cat to let them know Simon was okay and that they’d catch up at breakfast the next morning.

They walked all the way to Penhallow Hall without Simon saying a single word. Raphael didn’t like it. Under normal circumstances, Simon would be talking like a waterfall about whatever was going through his head at the moment.

“You’re never this quiet. Are you sure you’re okay?”

Simon stopped dead and whirled around. “I’ll be fine. I’ve had to deal with this since I was seven. It’s … Whatever.”

Raphael had no idea why Simon was acting like this.

“Simon, what—"

“Just go. Just leave it.” Simon stormed off and banged the door in his wake.

Raphael stood alone on the flagstone path. He blinked in confusion and turned his face to the sky.

Why does every single school event have to come with so much drama?

Since answers weren’t forthcoming, Raphael turned his eyes back to the path in front of him and followed it back to his own dorm.

Saturday morning dawned bright and early. Raphael took a long hot shower to get rid of all the tension from the previous night. Luckily, his altercation with Herondale hadn’t left any visible marks.

He arrived at the mess hall promptly at 8:00 am. His phone buzzed five minutes later while he was sitting by himself over a raisin bran muffin and a glass of orange juice.

Magnus wasn’t coming for breakfast. Raphael had barely slipped the phone back into his uniform jacket when it buzzed again. Cat wasn’t coming either.

Raphael’s eyes narrowed. He placed his phone on the table in front of him and waited for it. He already knew what would happen next.

His phone remained silent.

Maybe he’d been wrong. He’d always had a bad habit of jumping to conclusions.

Raphael went back to eating his muffin, keeping an eye on his phone, and sporadically checked the doors. Fifteen minutes later, he broke down and sent a quick text message.

You ok? Still coming for breakfast?

The status of the message never changed from received to read.

Raphael kept hoping, but when Simon still hadn’t showed up forty-five minutes later, he was done waiting around.

He went back to his dorm room and lay down on the bed. Clueless what to do with his Saturday morning all by himself, he started to play with his phone. He cleaned out his missed calls and scrolled through his pictures.

With a pang, he realized how much he missed Lily. If he was still in New York, they’d probably be having breakfast together right now or they would still be asleep at her place, recuperating from whatever thing Lily had dragged him to the night before.

Raphael opened his message app and started to type until he realized he was just repeating himself. He stared at the last five messages he had sent to her since he’d left New York.

I miss you.

This sucks.

I want to come home.

It hearts smooch I can’t breath.

I miss you.

She had never responded to any of them. He couldn’t blame her for the one he had sent while he was black-out drunk, but why hadn’t she responded to any of the others?

Raphael squared his jaw and jabbed angrily at the options on the screen. He put the phone to his ear and closed his eyes, listened to the warbling drone of the call signal while he waited for Lily to pick up.

“Hello, Raphael.”

The voice was male and definitely belonged to an old guy. Raphael almost hung up before he realized it was Lily’s father.

“Mr. Chen, hi,” he said, wondering why her dad had picked up her phone. “Is Lily there?”

“I’m sorry, Raphael.”

His heart stopped. That was the first thing the police had said to him when they had picked him up at Lily’s place and told him about his family.

“What happened?” He flew off the bed. “Is she all right? Tell me.”

“She’s fine, Raphael,” Mr. Chen sounded sad but firm. “She just doesn’t want to talk to you anymore. Please, respect that.”

“What?”

Raphael’s heart was pounding in his chest and only slowly beginning to calm down. Lily was okay. She wasn’t dead. She was fine. She just didn’t want to speak to him.

“But, why?”

“I’m sorry, Raphael. Please, respect her wishes. Don’t contact her anymore. Goodbye.”

There was a click and then deafening silence.

Raphael stared at his phone in disbelief.

His best friend had just made her dad tell him to leave her alone. Not just for a little while. For good.

He sat down heavily in the middle of the floor.

Lily didn’t want him anymore. Cat and Magnus were clearly off doing some exclusive best friend thing together. Simon still hadn’t responded to his message.

Raphael sniffed and wiped his wrist under his nose.

“Fine.”

He pulled himself up off the floor and stormed out of his room. There was one place he knew for certain he would always be welcome.

The chapel was quiet when Raphael stepped through the entrance and walked down the center aisle. He stopped in front of the altar, genuflected, and crossed himself before he walked over to the door beside the pulpit.

He knocked twice.

“Come in.”

Raphael stepped into Father Aldertree’s office and closed the door behind him.

“Good morning, Father. I was, um … I know my duties don’t start until tonight, but I was wondering if there’s anything I can do to help?”

The father looked up from his seat behind the desk. It was a sturdy old metal bureau that looked like a World War 2 remnant and was loaded from corner to corner with stacks of paperwork.

“Raphael!” Father Aldertree’s face lit up with a smile. “Ask, and you will receive, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” he quoted Matthew. “This is a wonderful surprise.”

Raphael found himself smiling back. “I get the feeling I picked a good time to come over?”

“Yes, indeed. I just received the call that our charity partners have dropped off the boxes for our current book drive. I could really use an extra pair of hands. Or two, or three.” He turned his face to the window. “Lord, if you’re willing to provide, I won’t say no to a few more.”

Raphael chuckled. “What do you need me to do?”

Father Aldertree explained the long and short of the book drive as they walked from the chapel to the Administrative Building where the boxes were waiting for them.

The goal was to give kids from poor neighborhoods free textbooks. Unfortunately, people were more likely to give money than books, and in the case of those who did donate the actual textbooks you could never be sure what type of unwanted auxiliary material was included between the pages.

“All I need you to do, for right now, is go through the books that we did get and make sure there are no inappropriate pictures or scribbles inside any of them. Also, ensure they have all the pages, and sort them by subject, and write down the titles and how many of each title we have so we can get an accurate picture of what we need to buy.”

Raphael nodded along quietly and followed Father Aldertree through the double glass doors into the building.

The same woman who had given Raphael his admissions paperwork sat behind the counter. She looked up and immediately grew a wide smile.

“I see you found a victim,” she said with a snicker and pointed a long yellow pencil down the hallway. “We got most of them to fit in Conference Room 3. The overflow is in the closet next to it. They’re both unlocked.”

Raphael’s eyes widened. The fact that there was an overflow of books so large that it didn’t fit inside a conference room was not reassuring.

“Thank you so much, Ms. Gray,” said Father Aldertree smoothly. “I appreciate your assistance.”

“Oh, I’m not the one who has to sort through all that. I just had to get Nate to rack‘em and stack‘em.”

Raphael closed his eyes and tried not to let dread overwhelm him. He followed Father Aldertree down the hallway and stopped in front of the door to the conference room.

When the father opened the door and motioned him inside, the first thing Raphael saw was a large oblong table made from red-brown cherry wood surrounded by a dozen modern office chairs with wheels at the bottom.

The second thing he noticed was that the entire space below the table and most of the back wall of the room was jam-packed with large cardboard boxes.

“Here we are,” said Father Aldertree. “You can get pens and notepads from Ms. Gray. Thank you so much, Raphael.”

“Uh-huh.”

Father Aldertree left and closed the door behind him.

Raphael made a helpless noise in his throat. He couldn’t stop staring at the massive number of boxes, all of them presumably filled to the brim with textbooks that needed to be cataloged, leafed through, and sorted according to subject.

There was no way in heaven or hell he was doing this alone.

He squared his shoulders and walked back out of the conference room and past the woman behind the counter.

“I’ll be right back.”

“Sure thing, honey.” Her amused snicker echoed after him.

Raphael crossed the grounds and headed straight to Penhallow Hall.

He was going to knock on Magnus’s door first, one hundred percent convinced that he would find both Magnus and Cat in there. He changed his mind when he walked up to the door and heard total silence from the other side.

Raphael doubled back and walked down the hall and around the corner to Simon’s room. He balled his hand into a fist and banged it on the door just hard enough not to damage the cheap pressed wood.

“Rise and shine.”

Raphael wasn’t sure what made him do it, but when he got no immediate response, he cranked up the fake chipper and even went so far as to use Simon’s pet name.

“Come on, puppy, time to get up!”

The door flew open.

A set of lethal brown eyes glowered at him, unfiltered by their usual thick glasses. Simon’s upper lip twisted with a sneer, baring his crooked incisors less than an inch from Raphael’s face.

 

Raphael’s heart jumped into his throat. He tried to swallow it back down as a heavy hand crashed down onto his shoulder and yanked him inside.

Chapter Text

Simon tried to keep it together. He closed the door behind Raphael, whirled around, and put on the first band shirt his hand grabbed from the clean pile behind his bed. Then he fumbled around until he found his glasses and shoved them onto his face.

Finally, he was able to see properly. Not that that was necessarily a good thing. Not when he was honestly afraid of what he would see on Raphael’s face. Maybe he was better off avoiding that for as long as he could.

He kept his back to Raphael and pretended to straighten up his bed.

“What do you want?” he asked and immediately regretted how cold he sounded.

He didn’t mean to. He was still frazzled from his spectacular meltdown last night and the subsequent sleepless night full of self-recriminations and self-induced nightmares that his brain had inflicted upon him.

“Are you always this charming when you first get up?” Raphael drawled sarcastically. 

Simon cringed and shook his head. “Bad night.”

“Yeah, I remember,” Raphael said. “I was there for some of it.”

Simon scoffed. He had walked right into that one.

“I know,” he ground the words out through his teeth. “It won’t happen again.”

Raphael said nothing.

Simon’s skin crawled as the silence dragged on. He had gone from just pretending to actually straightening his bed and obsessively smoothing out the sheets.

“I think those sheets are as flat as they’re going to get," Raphael said calmly.

Simon stopped sliding his palms over the cotton and started to busy himself with folding the pile of shirts at the foot of his bed. A whiff of soap and sweat hit his nose. He quickly pressed the shirt to his face and sniffed.

Shit. They’re the dirty ones.

Simon kept folding them anyway, keeping his back to Raphael. Maybe if he ignored him long enough, Raphael would just go away and forget that he’d ever been exposed to the unsalvageable wreck that was Simon at his absolute worst.

“Listen,” Raphael said. “I need your help.”

Simon froze.

What on earth could Raphael need Simon’s help with? The guy was totally calm and in control even when he was confronted with a drugged nervous wreck. Even after that wreck stuck his tongue down his throat, Raphael was still perfectly capable of hugging and serenading him through an anxiety attack without losing a shred of his tough guy cool.

There was nothing Raphael couldn’t do, and, as far as Simon was concerned, his presence was only going to make Raphael’s life more difficult.

He dropped his head and snapped the T-shirt through the air before he folded it.

“I’m kinda busy.”

Simon could physically feel Raphael’s glare drill a hole into the back of his skull.

“You owe me.”

Simon hung his head even further and started folding the same shirt again.

“I know,” he whispered.

“Then stop messing with your dirty laundry, put on some pants, and come with me.”

Simon trudged down the gravel pathways behind Raphael with his eyes glued to the ground until they ended up on the stairs in front of the Administrative Building. Then his head snapped up in panic.

“Why are we here?”

Was Raphael going to report him to the school? Did he drag him here to corroborate that Simon was a terrible person who sexually assaulted people when he was high on drugs that made him freak out?

“Charity,” Raphael said curtly. “You’ll see, come on.”

When they stopped by the counter, the receptionist looked up and smiled broadly. The contrast between her bubblegum pink lips and brilliant white teeth made Simon’s eyes hurt.

“Back already?” she chirped. “And you brought another victim. Good.”

“I’m not—”

Raphael’s raised finger in front of his face made Simon shut up.

“Father Aldertree said you would be able to provide pens and notepads?” Raphael said smoothly.

“Sure thing, honey.” She dropped a couple of legal pads and a bunch of ballpoint pens on the counter. “There you go.”

“Thank you,” Raphael said politely before he took the stack and turned to Simon with a grim expression. “Come on.”

Simon followed him down a long hallway to a conference room full of cardboard boxes.

Raphael slapped the stack down on the table, pulled out a chair, and motioned for Simon to take a seat.

Simon didn’t look at him as he trudged around the length of the table and sat down on the opposite side.

“Now what?” he asked, staring at the notepads and pens in front of him.

One of the big cardboard boxes landed with a heavy thump in the middle of the table.

“Welcome to textbook purgatory,” said Raphael. “We’ll be here for the foreseeable future.”

Two hours later, they had gone through two of the bajillion boxes in the room. Simon had almost fainted when Raphael had pointed out there were more of them in a closet next door.

Once Raphael had explained what they needed to do, they hadn’t really spoken to each other.

During the extended silence, Simon had gone from hyper-tense, to relaxed, to bored out of his skull. Pencil-sketch penises and dirty jokes in the margins were only funny the first dozen times or so.

When it finally became too much to take, he broke.

“How did Aldertree sucker you into this?”

“He didn’t. I offered.”

Raphael didn’t even look up from the book he was leafing through, flipping through the pages with intense focus. He stopped, huffed out a laugh, and kept leafing.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, just …” He held up the book to show Simon the cover. “School Spanish. Not the same as the real thing.”

“Yeah.” Simon snickered. “I noticed when you started drunk-talking at the party.”

Raphael disappeared behind the book and kept leafing.

“I said sorry,” he grumbled.

“It was funny.” Simon laughed. “I still haven’t figured out exactly what you said, but you kept—”

He stopped abruptly as the memory slammed into his brain. Raphael had petted his hair. He had combed his fingers through it and said quiet, rumbling words that had made Simon feel funny in a really good way. Just like last night.

The Spanish book landed with a smack on the current pile of cleared books between them.

“What?” Raphael asked.

“Nothing.”

Raphael sighed.

They lapsed back into silence and kept going through the books. Simon was again the first one to crack.

“Why would you do this voluntarily?”

“I told you.” Raphael looked up for just a second. “Charity.”

Simon raised his brows. “Like, the kind with a capital C?”

Raphael rolled his eyes.

Simon wondered if that was how Raphael had defined what had happened the night before. Maybe to him the hugging, and petting, and singing had just been a charity thing. That didn’t make Simon feel any better for some reason.

He didn’t want to be anyone’s charity case. It was bad enough that people saw him like that because of the scholarship from Clary’s mother. He didn’t want Raphael to look at him that way.

“What?” Raphael said sharply.

Simon’s head snapped up. “What?”

Raphael sighed. “You’re thinking so hard I can see smoke coming out of your ears.”

“Yeah, right,” Simon scoffed.

“You’ve also been staring at the same page for a whole minute.”

“Shit.”

“Just ask.”

Simon flipped through the next few pages, barely paying attention to the page numbers or anything scribbled in the margins.

“Last night. Was that charity?”

“No,” Raphael answered immediately. “For last night, I’m taking credit for patience, kindness, diligence, and temperance.”

Simon guffawed. “Blowing humility right out of the water, buddy.”

“Nobody’s perfect.”

Simon finally had the guts to raise his head and look at Raphael directly.

His dark brows were raised and his mouth was curled up in a cheeky smile that made his face look softer than his usual stern scowl.

Simon wanted to slap himself when he realized he was grinning like an idiot. He quickly sobered up and stuck his nose back into the book in his lap.

“So, when did you get into it?”

“Religion?” Raphael confirmed and, when Simon nodded, shrugged his shoulders. “It’s always been part of my life. My father used to take us to church every Sunday. Dress up nice, fight my brothers over the window seats in the back of the car, the whole thing. Then we’d have a big lunch after. Sometimes have the neighbors over. My mamá’s tamales were always the best on the block.”

Simon grinned. “My mom makes the best latkes in our neighborhood. Maybe they can swap recipes when they come visit for parent weekend.”

Raphael’s smile vanished. His expression slipped back into the dark scowl that was on his face most of the time.

Simon felt like a heel without a clue why. He was almost too afraid to ask, but he needed to know so he didn’t do it again.

“Did I say something wrong?”

Raphael kept his eyes on the book in his lap. He mumbled something so low Simon almost didn’t catch it, but the last word punched through.

Dead.

“Shit, Raphael. I’m so sorry.”

Raphael shrugged. “You didn’t know.”

Simon’s stupid brain wanted to ask all the questions. Why, how, when? Were all of them gone or only Raphael’s mom? Like that would make a difference. Then again, it probably would, but not by much.

He bit the inside of his cheeks so hard he started to taste blood. There was no way he would add to the pain that was radiating off of Raphael right now.

“I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do.”

It had slipped out. There was nothing anyone could possibly do, and Simon was well aware of that.

“My dad died when I was seven,” he blurted. “Cancer. Well, heart attack, technically, but mostly cancer.” Simon still had to exhale heavily when he said it out loud. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my mom, too.”

Raphael chuckled.

Simon stopped, flinched, frowned as he stared across the table at Raphael’s sardonic smile. He didn’t see what was so amusing.

Raphael shook his head and leaned forward to drop his book on the cleared pile and grab a new one.

“Looks like you, me, and Magnus can start our own chapter of the club.”

Simon blinked. “What?”

“Dead Parents,” Raphael said blankly. “The club no one wants to be in but everyone joins eventually anyway.”

“Oh.”

He hadn’t known that about Magnus. Simon remembered the vitriolic way the older boy had talked about his father during their shopping trip. That made it kind of obvious that his mother was the one who’d died.

Simon instinctively wondered if Cat had lost someone, too. He quickly pushed the thought aside. He didn’t want to jinx it.

His eyes drifted over the stacks of boxes still waiting to be checked.

“We’re going to be here forever. We’ll starve to death before we ever get through all these.”

Raphael snorted. “Just shut up and do it.” He checked his phone. “We can stop for lunch in an hour and then come back here and work on it until dinner. If we don’t get done today, there’s always tomorrow.”

Simon made a choked noise in his throat. He was not going to sacrifice his whole weekend to sort through textbooks. He might owe Raphael way more than he was comfortable with, but that didn’t mean he was ready to give up all his free time.

Time to call in some favors.

He pulled out his phone and texted Clary.

911 Admin Building. Big project. Bring snacks.

They had finally talked it out last night before Simon had gone off to dance with Izzy and things had spiraled into anxiety and humiliation.

His phone buzzed within seconds.

On my way. Bringing chips n stuff.

Simon breathed a sigh of relief. “Reinforcements are on the way.”

His phone buzzed again.

And Jace.

Simon cringed. He dropped forward and buried his head in his arms with a groan.

“What now?” Raphael growled.

Simon buried his face deeper in his arms and admitted in a low mumble that ‘reinforcements’ included Jace Herondale.

Fingers dove into his hair, snagged his curls, and pulled his head up. Raphael was leaning over the table, glowering down at him.

“Say what?”

Simon cringed again and writhed until Raphael let go of his hair.

“I texted Clary for help, and she’s bringing Jace Herondale.”

“Perfect.” Raphael snarled the word through his teeth in a way that made it blatantly obvious he meant the exact opposite.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” Simon rushed to explain. “Clary and I talked last night. She apologized and stuff. Apparently, he and Alec are like brothers, and Jace figured the best way to help Alec get over his loving feelings was to make him hate Jace instead, because Jace is obviously dumb as a brick and a total dick, but at least he’s not actually a homophobic asshole.”

Raphael groaned obscenities into his palm. Then he dropped his chin and ripped his fingers through his own curls, snagging them at the back of his head.

“That doesn’t change the fact that I almost decked him last night.”

“What?” It was Simon’s turn to glower. “Why?”

Asshole or not, Jace Herondale was still related to the headmistress. Raphael could get in so much trouble for hitting him. Also, violence was never the answer and all that.

Raphael shrugged. If he wasn’t Raphael, Simon would have said he was squirming. He kept staring at the floor.

“I may have threatened his quasi-little sister because she drugged you.”

“You threatened Izzy?”

“She. Drugged. You.”

Raphael’s head whipped around. He met Simon’s flummoxed gape with a glare that came with unspoken subtitles saying Isabelle Lightwood was lucky to be alive.

“Okay,” Simon said, jerking his head in an uncomfortable nod. “Yeah, okay, there’s that.” He cleared his throat. “You didn’t actually, right? Hit him, I mean.”

A creeping shade of red started to darken Raphael’s tan skin, from the base of his neck all the way up to his temples. He clenched his teeth and made a grumpy noise.

Wow, he’s really, really mad.

“No.”

“That’s good.” Simon said quickly, trying to defuse the situation. “Then we’ll be fine. Just apologize—” Raphael made a strangled noise at that, so Simon quickly continued, “Or don’t apologize. We can all just pretend like nothing ever happened. It’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

When Clary showed up with Jace, twenty minutes later, they were holding hands. It hurt, but not as much as Simon had expected. He glared at the other boy anyway.

Of course, Jace didn’t notice because he was too busy scowling at Raphael.

“Santiago,” he said snootily.

“Herondale,” Raphael responded smoothly.

“How’s your face?”

“Fine.”

Simon knew he had missed something. He whipped his head around and looked at Raphael’s face. There was nothing wrong with it. Except, he was turning a distinct shade of angry again.

“Anyway,” Simon said quickly, turning back to the couple. “Thanks for coming.”

They were still holding hands, and Simon noticed that Clary was giving Jace the “clench of caution”. Simon’s jaw stiffened. That was their thing. His and Clary’s. Jace didn’t deserve it.

“You’re gonna need both hands for this,” Simon snapped.

Raphael cleared his throat.

Simon took it as the subtle warning it was and pushed aside his personal issues to get the job done. He quickly explained what they were doing and smiled superciliously at Jace when Clary plopped down in the seat right beside Simon.

Then things got really awkward. Nobody was talking. The only sounds that filled the room were the crinkling of book pages and chip bags or the occasional loud crunch of Clary popping a sandwich cookie from the plastic tray they came in.

Simon wanted to say something, anything so badly, but every time he looked up, Raphael was already staring at him with an unspoken warning.

“I think it’s amazing you’re still here doing this,” Clary finally broke the silence.

It was easy for her. She didn’t have someone silently warning her not to. Even if there was, she’d have probably spoken anyway.

Simon glanced at Raphael.

He is pretty amazing, though.

“I mean,” Clary said, “after last night.”

Her nose crinkled as she furrowed her brows, and her lips did that little pouty thing. Why was she giving Raphael her empathy face? Over something that had happened last night.

She knows.

Simon’s heart immediately started to hammer inside his chest. He couldn’t believe Clary knew about his humiliating meltdown in the showers. How? Raphael would never have told anyone. Had somebody seen them?

“It was nothing,” Raphael said coldly, glaring poisoned, flaming daggers at Jace. “Just a fluke.”

Simon’s eyes narrowed. Of course, it would have been Jace who had followed Raphael after their fight. That’s when he would have…

Clary made a disbelieving noise in her throat. “Your boyfriend kissed Alec in front of the whole school. That’s not a fluke. That’s a shitty boyfriend.”

“Oh!”

Simon laughed. Relief flooded through him, making him maybe a little bit giddy. Clary had no idea what had happened in the showers. She thought Magnus was cheating on Raphael.

“Simon!” she squeaked in outrage. “That’s not funny. Raphael must be heartbroken.”

Simon peeked from behind his hands to see Clary in full compassion mode. She was even reaching across the table toward Raphael to pat his hand. She’d probably lose a finger.

On her other side, Jace looked supremely uncomfortable, hiding his face in a book, pretending he wasn’t involved and just happened to be in the same room.

Simon couldn’t stop laughing. Until a book came flying straight at his face. He barely caught it, mashed between his hands.

“Hey!” he said, sobering up. “Those are for charity.”

“I’ll give you to charity if you don’t knock it off,” Raphael rumbled.

“What’s going on?” Clary asked.

Raphael sighed. “Magnus isn’t my boyfriend. He’s just … Magnus. Whatever he and Alec Lightwood are doing is their business, not mine.”

“Oh.” Clary’s cheeks turned a darker shade of red than her hair as she started to stammer. “I just thought … I mean, you guys are so close and, um, I thought I heard him call you…”

“Yeah.” Simon nodded sagely. “It’s just a nickname. Magnus loves to give people nicknames.”

Simon wrapped his arm around her and patted her shoulder in sympathy. Clary groaned and buried her face in his shoulder, just like old times.

“I feel so dumb,” she whined.

Simon beamed. “Don’t worry. I made the same mistake. Shared humiliation is less by half, right?”

After that, things lightened up a little bit. Simon was relieved to see a more familiar side of his best friend. Her compassion and fierce protective streak were two of the biggest reasons why he had always loved Clary.

They started to talk like old times and it was like nothing had ever changed between them. Getting through the books was a breeze now that there were four of them.

Sometime in the middle of their skipped lunch hour, Simon’s and Raphael’s phone went off at the same time. It was a group message from Cat.

Where r u guys? At lunch w magpie, waiting.

Simon looked up. “Think we should drag them into this?”

“Who?” Clary asked.

“Cat and Magnus,” Simon explained quickly.

Raphael raised his brows and rubbed his chin in contemplation. Simon wondered if he knew how much he looked like a mafia boss when he did that.

“There is still a closet full of books next door.”

Simon grinned. “Let’s make them an offer they can’t refuse.”

Big project. Admin Bldg. Need help.

Simon looked at the table. Their snack stash was getting a little low.

Bring food and drinks.

Magnus and Cat showed up fifteen minutes later, loaded for bear. Cat almost dropped the bags in her hands when she saw who else was there. She jerked her head in Jace’s direction, but her glare was on Simon.

“You’re kidding, right?”

Magnus immediately reached for her arm and shot her a look that Simon couldn’t quite figure out.

“Please stay.”

Simon had never heard Magnus speak that quietly before. He opened his mouth to say something, but Cat stepped in between them and dumped their bags in the middle of the table.

“All right,” she said, “Someone give me the parameters of this project.”

She drew herself to her full height, hands on her hips, and looked expectantly at Simon and Raphael, every inch a military officer.

“Yes, ma’am,” Raphael drawled with a mock salute.

He quickly explained what they needed to do. Magnus and Cat picked seats as far away as possible from Jace and settled down to work.

By the time dinner rolled around, Magnus, Cat, Raphael, and Simon were finishing up the final box from the closet next door. Jace and Clary had excused themselves an hour ago. She had booked riding lessons before she’d known about the project.

Simon never wanted to touch another textbook in his life. Unfortunately, he knew that was a hopeless dream. Come Monday, they would be back, but at least he wouldn’t have to catalog them or check them for scribbles.

“And done.” Cat slapped the last book down on the cleared pile. “We’re out of here.”

“Dinner and a movie?” Magnus gathered the pile from the table and stacked the books neatly back inside the box.

“You bet,” she said softly.

Simon got the feeling he and Raphael weren’t invited until Magnus turned around with a smile.

“You two are coming, right? I’m thinking pizza and James Bond at Club Chaos.”

Raphael huffed. “You guys go ahead and I’ll meet you at the stables. I still have to clean this all up.”

“I’ll help.”

While Cat and Magnus shuffled out the door, Simon got to his feet and started to clean up the mess of food containers and crumbs all over the table. Between Raphael and him, the conference room was back to presentable in no time.

When they walked back to the main entrance, Ms. Gray was still there. She was talking to Father Aldertree, who was leaning on her counter with a charming smile on his face.

Are priests allowed to flirt now?

Aldertree turned around when he heard them come up. Simon waved hello, but hung back a few steps to let Raphael talk to the man alone.

“It’s all done,” Raphael said as he handed over the notepads.

“Excellent work, Raphael.” The chaplain’s voice was filled with pride.

“I didn’t do it alone,” Raphael said, looking over his shoulder at Simon.

“So I heard.”

For some reason, Aldertree’s face took on a sour expression. His lips pursed inside his bushy beard and he frowned sternly.

“You have been spending a lot of time with Mr. Bane recently,” he said. “I don’t think that is a wise idea.”

Simon watched Raphael’s shoulders draw tight and get bigger. He could imagine the look on his face, even if he couldn’t see it with Raphael’s back to him.

“Why is that, father?”

“Nothing good can come of it.” Aldertree sighed. “The boy is lost, Raphael. I fear if you get too close, he will drag you down with him.”

Simon gasped. He couldn’t believe the priest had just said that. Then again, he could totally believe it. That didn’t change the fact that he was wrong. About Magnus and everything.

Raphael tilted his head and Simon could see his fists clench at his sides.

“If he is lost,” Raphael said slowly, stressing the ‘if’, “isn’t it my duty to reach out and try to save him?”

Boom!

Simon rolled back on his heels with a smug smile; it faltered when he realized Aldertree was unimpressed.

“Just be careful,” the chaplain said patronizingly. “Some people can’t be saved.”

Simon lost it. “Some people don’t need saving in the first place because there’s nothing wrong with them.”

His face burned when Raphael turned around with an exasperated stare.

Aldertree narrowed his eyes. “Mr. Lewis, isn’t it?”

Simon’s spine melted, but he still somehow managed to stay upright and look at the chaplain.

“Yeah,” he said, trying to control his breathing.

Shit, shit, fuck. Shit. Maia’s going to kill me if I get another demerit for mouthing off to faculty.

He didn’t notice Raphael had moved until he felt a firm hand around his elbow. Raphael’s fingers were warm and his grip was a little reassuring.

“We have to go now,” Raphael said in that smooth low rumble that tickled something in Simon’s lizard brain, “or we’ll be late for dinner. Goodnight, father.”

“Goodnight, Raphael,” said Aldertree. “Mr. Lewis.”

Raphael marched Simon out of the building and down the steps, never letting go of his elbow. He was also muttering under his breath in Spanish the whole time, probably calling Simon all kinds of bad things.

“Sorry.” Simon fought hard not to spiral. “Sorry. It slipped out.”

“… put a muzzle on you,” Raphael muttered under his breath.

“I don’t think that would help. I could still talk behind a muzzle.”

Raphael glowered at him.

Simon was trying his best not to let his anxiety overwhelm him. Then he realized he hadn’t taken his pill this morning when Raphael had unexpectedly showed up and dragged him out of his room. He’d skipped his lunch dose, too. Now he was about to skip the one for dinner.

He stopped dead and dug his heels in. “I gotta go back to my room.”

“Sure.”

Raphael didn’t ask why. He didn’t let go of Simon’s arm either. He just changed direction and walked them to Penhallow Hall.

Simon could have kissed him. Right now, he was so focused on keeping it together that he probably would have gotten royally lost and freaked out even more.

Back in his room, he grabbed the orange container from the drawer in his nightstand and resisted the urge to take all three doses at once. He’d done that once. It was a mistake that did not bear repeating.

“Okay,” he said after he had swallowed his evening dose and shoved the container back in the drawer.

“Maybe you should keep those with you.” Raphael was looking at him through narrowed eyes. “How often are you supposed to take them?”

Simon looked away. He didn’t want to have them on him. People asked questions when they saw a guy run around with prescription meds. Worse, people tried to buy them off him for a good time.

“It’s fine,” he lied.

“Clearly, it’s not,” Raphael growled back.

“Can we, please, not fight?” Simon closed his eyes, took a shaky breath, and opened them again. “I said I’m fine.”

Twenty minutes, give or take, and he’d be better. He just needed to wait for the meds to kick in and he’d be a little more stable and then they could have whatever pointless conversation Raphael was going to insist on having.

Raphael clenched his teeth and glowered some more, but he didn’t push it.

Simon forced a smile. “Let’s just go. Cat and Magnus probably already started without us.”

Raphael rolled his eyes. “They wouldn’t.”

By the time they got to the stables, Magnus and Cat had arranged bales of hay into a makeshift couch in front of the enormous TV screen and covered them with horse blankets and pillows. Two large square boxes from a nearby pizza place lay on top of another hay bale that served as impromptu coffee table.

“There you are.” Cat looked up over the back of the couch. “Come on, pizza’s getting cold.”

As he stepped around the couch, Simon saw that Magnus was snuggled up beside Cat, her legs curled around his hips while she played with his hair. There was just enough room for one more person next to them.

Simon grabbed a couple of pillows and sat down on the floor in front of the makeshift couch.

“How did you get them to deliver here?” he asked.

Magnus shrugged. “I used to have a thing with the delivery guy.”

Cat snorted. “You sucked his brains out through his dick once and now he’ll do anything in hopes that you’ll do it again.”

“Don’t be crude.”

Raphael glared at her, but he didn’t go as far as slapping her upside the head like he had done to Magnus in the tailor shop. Then he sat down on the couch behind Simon.

“What are we watching?”

“No Time to Die.”

Raphael grunted and leaned over toward the pizza. Simon vaulted forward, bringing the box closer so he could reach.

“Thanks.”

When they all settled in for the movie, Simon shifted to lean back against the couch between Raphael’s legs. He was still low-key struggling with his nerves, but the greasy pizza, and the quiet, plus the predictable cheesiness of a James Bond movie did help.

Sometime around the part where Bond started to make out with his second girl for the movie, Simon felt warm fingers crawl through the curls at the back of his head. He froze and turned at a glacial pace to glance up behind him.

Raphael wasn’t looking at him. He was staring really intently at the TV screen. Simon got the feeling that was on purpose. Raphael’s fingers were still tangled in Simon’s hair. His other arm was braced over the back of the couch behind Magnus. Casual as could be.

Simon turned back around. He could feel the heat roll up his face as he stared at the screen. Bond was still making out, getting hot and heavy with the busty girl whose name Simon couldn’t remember.

The fingers started to move again, gently combing through his hair. He felt Raphael’s legs shift closer around his shoulders. Simon rolled his head back. His knee slowly stopped bouncing, and his leg slid down until it was flat on the floor. His brain calmed down and he could finally focus on the movie.

“Oh, James!” the Bond-girl simpered, going boneless inside Bond’s arms.

Chapter Text

Alec bowed his head and let the scalding hot water of the shower crash down over the back of his neck. He braced both hands on the tiles in front of him and breathed through the sting. The humid air felt like molasses going into his lungs. Liquid heat seared down his spine.

Like the blunt painted fingernails Magnus had dragged down his back when Alec had seized him for the kiss. Alec hadn’t let himself think about it. They had stumbled their way out of the gym before the teachers could get to them and kept going – half-walking, half-running – until they had crashed onto Alec’s bed, still making out.

They had done more than make out. Before Alec had realized what was happening, they’d already blown past second base and his hands had been inside Magnus’s tuxedo slacks, fingers curled around a dick that wasn’t his own for the first time in his life.

Alec shuddered at the memory.

He had no idea how far he would have gone. The way things had ended up, he hadn’t gotten the chance to find out. His phone had gone off before he could.

Alec hadn’t even made a conscious decision to check it. It had buzzed and he had snatched it out of his pocket, right next to where Magnus’s fingers had still been working their magic.

The message had been from Jace, short and to the point: 911 Izzy. Alec’s body had burst into motion before his mind had finished processing it.

He didn’t remember what he had said to Magnus on his way out the door. He remembered with crystal clarity how his heart had stopped when Jace had answered his call and told him Izzy was in the infirmary.

Alec sucked in a sharp breath and twisted the shower knob all the way to the coldest setting. The needle stings changed from fire to ice.

Like the dread that had rolled down Alec’s spine when he’d walked into the infirmary and the nurse on duty had just given him a look.

Izzy had overdosed on MDMA and something else. They hadn’t known what. She hadn’t been conscious to tell them. Just in case, they had pumped her full of Narcan, and something, and something else, to make sure they had covered all the bases.

Alec had spent the next few hours holding his little sister’s hand. She hadn’t been awake to notice until shortly before the clock on the wall had clunked its hands to 7:42 am the next morning.

Jace had been there with him all the way, silent and strong. He had brought Alec coffee and had forced him to eat something from the snack machine. He had placed his hand on Alec’s shoulder, and told him it would be okay, and reminded Alec of all the reasons why he was so desperately, hopelessly in love with Jace in the first place.

Alec smashed the palm of his hand against the diamond shaped shower knob. He got out and toweled off with rough, careless motions.

He had spent most of Saturday dealing with both of their parents. Of course, the school had called to inform them. While Izzy had been blissfully ignorant, recuperating with Jell-O and Euphoria reruns on TV, Alec had fought tooth and nail to keep their parents from pulling her out of Alicante and sticking her in a psychiatric facility.

He had barely managed to convince them that one Lightwood having a history with Alpine View was enough. Dad had almost insisted. As always, mother had had the final say.

Alec whirled around and punched the wall.

After everything, he had tried to talk to Magnus. He had headed to the party king’s lair last night after dinner, determined to put a line under everything that had happened between them. Magnus had never answered the door.

Alec wiped the blood off the tiles and left the bathroom.

This morning, after a night of very little sleep, he had tried to avoid everyone. Unfortunately, Lydia had hunted him down at the outdoor target range. They were done.

He deserved it. They had been together since freshman year. Lydia had always been there for him. As much as he’d let her, anyway.

They moved in the same circles and cared about the same things. Lydia was strong, and smart, and ruthless when she needed to be. She knew how to play the game. A few more years, and she could have taken on Alec’s mother. Beyond everything, Alec knew Lydia genuinely cared about him. They would have been a perfect couple, except Alec had never loved her the way he suspected she wanted him to. He couldn’t.

Alec dressed mechanically in boxer briefs, sweatpants, and a T-shirt.

The rest of the day had passed in a blur. Jace had tried to talk to him, twisting the knife in Alec’s heart a little further. Izzy had been released from the infirmary. She’d promised she was done with drugs. Again. Mother had called in the afternoon, reminding him that drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity with unsavory characters were unacceptable behaviors for a Lightwood. She expected better of him. She had never mentioned the name Magnus Bane. It hadn’t been necessary.

Alec shuffled barefoot across the carpet and left his room. He walked down the hallway in a daze and kept going until he reached the room at the other end of the corridor.

He raised his hand and knocked.

The door opened.

Magnus looked at him. His eyes were sunken. His face was free of makeup.

“What do you want, Alexander?”

The words reverberated through Alec’s skull. Nobody ever asked Alec what he wanted. It was always about what everyone else expected of him. That was all he had ever known. He went where he was told to go and did what he was told to do.

Hell, he had no idea. The only thing he’d ever wanted was something he’d learned pretty much immediately he was not allowed to have.

Alec opened his mouth. He took a breath.

The next thing he knew, he was kissing Magnus Bane, pushing him back into his room, and kicking the door shut behind them.

Scorching fingers slipped under the hem of his shirt and pulled it up over his head. Alec reciprocated by fumbling with the buttons on Magnus’s skin-tight top, popping a few of them in the process.

Magnus shoved his fingers into Alec’s hair and his tongue down Alec’s throat as if they’d been doing this for years. Alec moaned into his mouth.

“Harder,” he muttered against soft, pliant lips.

Magnus nearly ripped the hair from his scalp and sank razor sharp teeth into his bottom lip. Alec moaned louder and picked him up by his ass.

He threw Magnus onto his tasteless sheets and hissed when their hips crashed together, skinny pelvic bones digging into his stomach. Alec buried his nose into the golden-brown neck in front of him and sucked on warm skin that tasted like sage, sweat, and soap.

Magnus’s fingers were gliding down his back, pushing below the waistband of his sweatpants.

“Scratch me,” Alec gasped.

He slid his cheek down a smooth flat chest and nipped at a dark nipple. Felt short, blunt nails trail gently over his ass. Shook his head. Nipped more firmly.

“Harder.”

Ten knifepoints drove into Alec’s ass and cut burning ridges up the length of his back.

“Yes!”

“Alec—”

He swallowed whatever Magnus was going to say. Pushed his tongue back into the soft, wet mouth and tangled it up in something easier than talking. Pulled back far enough to stare into dazed, deep-brown eyes. Took a shuddering breath and went down.

His lips brushed south along a flat chest, flat stomach, dark trail of hair, narrow hips, firm thighs. He overcame the obstacle of button and zipper and pulled down a pair of skinny jeans and garish silk boxers. Mesmerized by the undeniable: hard dick and tight balls; the smell of soap and musk less than an inch from Alec’s nose. No turning back.

“Pull my hair.”

Alec opened his mouth wide and closed it around the head of a dick for the first time in his life. He had no idea what he was doing, but it didn’t matter. Magnus had buried his fingers back in Alec’s hair and was pulling at it, merciless. Alec’s scalp tingled with excruciating sensation.

He licked and sucked, hands roaming aimlessly over increasingly sweaty silk-smooth skin, and rewarded Magnus by forcing him deeper every time the callous fingers pulled Alec’s hair in just the right way.

It didn’t last long enough. Magnus came down his throat, salty-warm sludge spilling over the back of Alec’s tongue, making him gag. He swallowed anyway.

He was hard, senseless, revved-up. Full of emotional crap with nowhere to put it. So, when Magnus pulled him up, Alec went willingly.

The kiss was too gentle, too close to something Alec didn’t want from anyone but Jace. He pulled away and shook his head.

“Fuck me,” he demanded between shallow breaths.

“You’re gonna have to give me a minute,” Magnus rasped with a chuckle.

He rolled them over and pushed Alec down onto his back.

Nimble fingers stretched the elastic of his sweatpants and boxer briefs away from his skin. Cool air made him shiver. Liquid silk closed around Alec’s dick. He bucked his hips and stared blindly at the knockdown textured ceiling. Tried and failed to get lost in the hot, wet suction. Too soft. Too gentle.

“Harder.”

Magnus grabbed both his hands and laced their fingers, holding them in a white-knuckled grip while he sucked Alec’s dick as if it held the secret to immortal life and the only way out was through.

Alec came with a broken sob. He tried not to, but everything came out all at the same time. He felt the tears leak out between his tightly clenched eyes, turned onto his stomach, and buried his face in the pillow under his head.

Magnus had no idea. His hands were still trailing over Alec’s body, leaving stripes of burning heat in their wake.

Good.

Alec didn’t want comfort. He didn’t want sympathy. He wanted everything to go away.

“Fuck me,” he demanded again.

He felt Magnus pull away, felt his own body shift as the mattress dipped with Magnus’s movements. Sensed the cold just before slippery fingers sneaked between his ass-cheeks and traced the rim of his hole.

Hot breath ghosted over the shell of his exposed ear. “Are you sure?”

Alec nodded into the pillow. “Do it.”

It burned. Alec pushed into it. Breathed through the discomfort of scorching fingers spreading him open. Groaned when the fingers retreated and left him hollow and aching.

“Just do it,” he snarled.

“Hang on.”

Magnus was gone and back again. A gentle hand cupped Alec’s shoulder, coaxed him to turn onto his side. Soft hair tickled the nape of his neck. Warm skin pressed against him from his shoulders all the way down to his ankles. A strong arm wrapped around him; long, elegant fingers laced through his. Too gentle. Too sweet.

Alec wanted to make those arms hold him down and force him to take it. If he struggled, would Magnus stop?

Gentle lips brushed over his ear. “Are you sure you’re ready? We don’t have to—"

Damnit!

“Fuck me already!”

The pressure was excruciating. It split him open, tore him apart, made him scream silently into the pillow under his mouth. Alec bit down, tasting bland cotton on his tongue, and tried to breathe through it.

It was everything and everything was too much. Burning pressure crackled like electricity under his skin. It cramped up the pit of his stomach and throbbed at the base of his spine. Alec’s muscles seized up, tight with the effort of holding still. He held his breath.

Magnus kissed his shoulder, tightened his arm around Alec’s and squeezed their laced fingers.

“Breathe.”

Alec exhaled a long, shuddering breath. Nodded.

Magnus moved.

Afterward, they lay side by side with several inches of space between them.

Alec was still curled on his side, staring at a blank spot on the wall.  

“Wow.” Magnus chuckled behind his back.

Alec vaulted out of bed. He picked up his sweatpants and shoved his quivering legs into them, not bothering to look for his underwear. The first shirt he grabbed wasn’t his, so he flung it into a corner.

“Whoa, what the hell?”

Alec didn’t turn around. He didn’t want to see the expression on Magnus’s face.

“I have to go,” he said curtly.

He finally found his shirt and pulled it over his head as quickly as he could.

“Alec, wait!”

He slipped out and closed the door behind him before Magnus could say anything else.

For the next three days, Alec avoided every place where he might run into Magnus. He managed to convince Izzy to have breakfast and dinner an hour later. He moved like a shadow every time he had to leave his room or get back into it. He even skipped archery practice. Of course, it couldn’t last forever.

Magnus ambushed him in the hallway between their dorm rooms on Thursday after dinner.

“Are you ever going to talk to me?”

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

Alec walked past him and continued on toward the safety of his room.

“You’re seriously going to run from me for the rest of the year?”

He was certainly going to give it his best shot. As a matter of fact, he ducked into his room, closed and locked the door behind him.

Alec leaned back against the sturdy wood, breathing a sigh of relief. He did not expect the thunderous, vibrating kick that rattled the whole door and made the back of his head itch.

“This is bullshit, Alec. Open the door!”

He shook his head as if Magnus could see him. Another heavy kick reverberated through the wood into his body.

“Let me in!”

Another kick. Another. And another. Alec squeezed his eyes shut and kept shaking his head.

“Now, Alec!”

If Magnus kept kicking like that, either the door would break or a teacher would take notice and be forced to grow enough of a spine to discipline the party prince of Alicante.

“Alec!”

He wondered what would happen first.

“Alexander, I swear to God!”

Alec whirled around and unlocked the door. He did not go as far as to open it.

The knob turned slowly.

Alec took a few steps back.

The door opened.

Magnus looked at him. His eyes were furious. He wore a ton of makeup.

“You literally left me with my dick hanging out. Twice,” he said, thrusting two silver-ringed fingers into the air, and kicked the door shut behind him.

Alec didn’t know what to say. He swallowed. It went down his throat like gravel.

“What’s the matter with you?” Magnus asked miserably.

His hand was stretched out toward Alec, trying to reach him.

Alec flinched back.

Magnus dropped his hand.

“If you don’t want me,” he said slowly, “why did we have sex?”

Alec shrugged.

“What do you want from me, Alec?” Magnus drove his fingers through his spiky hair and clenched them at the back of his head. “What the fuck do you want?”

Alec choked on his own breath. Shrugged again. Shook his head.

“I don’t know.”

He honestly didn’t. He had tried to be what his parents expected of him. Had thought he could be a model son, a good boyfriend to Lydia, Jace’s best friend, Izzy’s protector.

It turned out he was none of those things, and he had no idea what else to be.

Alec realized he was stuck repeating the same three words when Magnus cut them off with his shoulder. They were hugging like a couple of glee club nerds going overboard on a Shakespeare scene. Alec broke down laughing.

“Screw my life.”

Magnus hugged him tighter. “Now you’re just being over-dramatic. What next, you’re going to drown yourself in a shallow lake?”

Alec laughed harder. The pressure behind his eyes kept building. Magnus had no idea how close he was to the truth. It slipped out.

“Pills, actually. Dad took the guns in the divorce.”

Magnus froze. “Are you serious?”

Alec nodded against his shoulder. Magnus was the first person he had told outside of therapy.

Magnus took a shaky breath, but he didn’t let go of Alec. His arms tightened around Alec’s waist until Alec’s skin got pinched in the fabric of his shirt.

“That’s where I was over the summer.” It turned out, once he started, the rest came out easily. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. “Alpine View. After Izzy found me, our parents shipped me there for therapy. Nobody else knows.”

Except Jace. Always Jace. Why did it have to be Jace?

Magnus huffed. “Everyone’s been saying you went to rehab for drugs.”

Alec smirked. “Well, they’re not totally wrong.”

“That’s not funny!” Magnus said, but they were hugging so tightly, Alec could feel his stomach clench with what Alec was pretty sure was a suppressed laugh.

“It’s a little funny.”

“Shut up. It’s not.”

They just stood there, hugging each other, in the middle of Alec’s room. Magnus never moved an inch. His arms remained tight around Alec’s waist and his cheek was pressed into Alec’s shoulder. It felt too much like comfort. Alec frowned.

“Are you ever going to let me go?”

“Why?” Magnus asked flippantly. “You got something better to do?”

“You’re going to have to eventually. Curfew’s coming up.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time they’ve looked the other way.”

“Are you always this stubborn?”

“Uh-huh.”

Alec had no idea why. It wasn’t like they were friends. They had hooked up twice, and – as Magnus had so succinctly put it – Alec had left him with his dick out both times.

It was still hard to believe that his first time had ended up happening with the biggest slut in Alicante. Rumor had it, the only people Magnus didn’t have sex with were freshmen and faculty.

Alec should be ashamed to be another notch in the party prince’s bedpost. A part of him was; the part that still held on to a shred of hope that maybe Jace could forgive him and somehow, through some twist of fate, love him back.

The rest of Alec remembered how sex and pain made everything go away. When Magnus had made him hurt just enough, there had been no Lydia, no Izzy, no mother, no guilt, no anger, no expectations. Finally, there had even been no Jace. Just sweet oblivion.

Afterward, when everything had come flooding back in, it had scared the shit out of him.

Now that I know.

Alec chuckled.

He nipped at the skinny shoulder under his mouth, raised his head, and brought his lips close to the delicate shell of Magnus’s ear.

“There are better things we could be doing.”

The smooth golden-brown skin of Magnus’s neck broke out in goosebumps. Sharp fingernails dug into the small of Alec’s back, crossing the marks they had left three days ago. Alec relished the burn. Warm breath fanned over Alec’s ear with a wisp of laughter.

“Only if I get to tie you up so you can’t run away again.”

Alec imagined it. Tied to the bed, powerless; long, jewel-studded fingers wrapped tightly around his throat. Gorgeous deep-brown eyes would be the last thing he saw. It sent a shiver through Alec from his scalp to his toes.

“Do it.”

Magnus pulled back.

Alec stiffened, ready to defend himself, but Magnus only moved far enough to place a hand on his cheek. Scorching fingers cradled his jaw like something fragile. Alec closed his eyes.

“Nuh-uh, Alexander. Look at me.”

Alec opened his eyes.

“Do you mean it?” Magnus asked firmly. “Is that what you really want?”

Powerless. Breathless. Oblivion.

“Yes.”

Magnus looked at him for an endless moment. His gorgeous eyes pierced straight into Alec’s brain, probing for all the nasty, dark, and broken things that rattled around in there. Alec hoped he wouldn’t find them.

“Okay.”

Magnus stepped back and locked the door with one hand. His other hand was still touching Alec’s hip as if Alec might change his mind if they lost the connection.

He returned and dug his fingers into Alec’s belt buckle. He forced the stiff leather tongue out of the square bracket and yanked, jerking Alec’s hips toward him.

Alec stood still and closed his eyes again. Let himself feel the tug and slide as Magnus pulled the length of leather through the beltloops. Wondered what it would feel like to have the strap crack across his skin. Leaned toward the jingling metal and the heat of Magnus’s body. Stumbled into thin air and snapped his eyes back open.

Magnus was standing by Alec’s bed, taking off his own belt; it was made of canvas and studded with two rows of grommets all the way around.

“Not ideal,” he commented as he stared at the solid wooden headboard. “Let’s see.”

Alec watched as Magnus forced his hand down the crevice between the headboard and the mattress. He bent the memory foam out of his way and smirked at the slatted frame he found underneath.

“Come, hold this for me?”

Alec moved mechanically and held the mattress out of the way while Magnus pulled each belt through its buckle and looped the long ends around the sturdy wooden plank at the top of the frame.

Magnus stuck his fingers through the improvised shackles and pulled them up straight along the headboard.

“You can drop the mattress now.”

Alec did. The belts landed on top of it with a jingle. He couldn’t stop staring at them even when Magnus turned around and slipped his hands up Alec’s shoulders under the jacket of his school uniform.

“You sure you want this?” Magnus purred, dropping the jacket on the floor. He grabbed Alec’s chin and made him meet the intense glare in those gorgeous eyes. “If you run again, I am done chasing after you.”

“I won’t run,” Alec promised.

If we do this right, I won’t have to.

Alec leaned forward and kissed him. Magnus caught Alec’s bottom lip between his teeth and tugged. The guy was a quick study when he deigned to apply himself. Alec moaned.

Hot fingers brushed against the base of his throat. He almost buckled, but the fingers were only there to loosen his necktie and drag it over his head. Alec groaned at their stupidity.

“We could have used those.”

“No.”

Magnus dropped Alec’s tie on the bedside table and started to unbutton Alec’s shirt from the top down. He leaned closer, flicked his tongue behind Alec’s earlobe, and nipped on the sensitive bit of flesh.

Alec whimpered. “Next time?”

It had slipped out. He blamed the heat of Magnus’s breath and the distracting shiver that had run through him.

Magnus pulled back with a grin and undid the last few buttons of Alec’s uniform shirt.

“Maybe,” he purred.

The shirt landed on top of his jacket. Before Alec could complain about it, his undershirt had joined the pile and Magnus had pushed him to sit down on the bed.

“On your back, arms up. Make sure you’re comfortable.”

Alec toed off his shoes and shifted until he was prone on the mattress with his arms lightly curled above his head. He wondered how many times Magnus had done something like this before. He definitely seemed to know what he was doing. For the most part, anyway.

“What about my pants?”

Magnus raised a single elegant brow and crawled on top of him. His warm weight settled near the top of Alec’s thighs. Then he rolled his hips and shifted forward.

Alec’s head dropped back onto the mattress. If Magnus kept grinding against him like that, there’d be no need to take off his pants.

Scorching fingers furled around Alec’s right wrist, slipped his hand through the leather sling of his belt, and pulled it tight.

“Are they always this hot?” Alec asked.

“Hm?”

Magnus slipped Alec’s other hand through the looped canvas belt and tightened the noose around his wrist.

Alec watched the double prongs slide through the grommets with enough leeway that he could slip his hand free if he wanted to.

“Tighter.”

Magnus paused for a second, but then he slid the prongs back out and pushed them into the next set of grommets, leaving the coarse noose skin-tight around Alec’s wrist.

Satisfied, Alec returned to the question he’d meant to ask.

“Your fingers. They’re scorching hot. Are they always like that?”

Magnus raised both brows and sat back, gyrating his hips in a way that made Alec lose his train of thought.

“I never noticed.” He shrugged. “Probably?”

Alec snorted. He didn’t know what he’d expected. It wasn’t like he ever paid much attention to the temperature of his own hands.

Magnus trailed his eyes over Alec’s body with that intense, unholy focus Alec was quickly learning to fear.

“Damn,” he muttered under his breath, never looking up from Alec’s chest. “You have no idea how much I’ve wanted this.”

Magnus rested his hands flat against the bottom of Alec’s stomach and slid his palms all the way up to the center of Alec’s chest. His fingers combed through the coarse black hair and tugged. He started to knead Alec’s skin like a cat.

“My favorite kind of shag carpet.” He waggled his brows with a grin. “Mine for the shagging.”

Alec’s stomach clenched with a suppressed laugh. It shouldn’t be funny. It wasn’t. It was just the diabolically delighted expression on Magnus’s face.

“You are so wrong,” Alec groaned and turned his face into the crook of his own shoulder.

“Oh, then, baby, I don’t want to be right,” Magnus purred into Alec’s exposed ear and flicked the tip of his tongue against the ridge of the sensitive shell.

Alec clenched his stomach again and refused to let himself take the bait. He didn’t want to have fun. He wanted oblivion.

Magnus wasn’t making it easy. He was still kneading at Alec’s chest like an oversized cat. Alec wished he would stop. He wished he’d make it hurt.

“You don’t have to be so damn gentle,” he grumbled.

Magnus hummed in his throat. He stopped kneading, slid his fingers close to Alec’s nipples, pinched the hair there between his fingers, and pulled.

The sting shot in a straight line to Alec’s dick. His mouth snapped open and his hips bucked.

This. More.

Magnus rode through the motion without ever relaxing his grip.

“I’m starting to realize that,” he said softly, voice contemplative.

He released Alec’s chest hair and twirled his index fingers around Alec’s nipples. The touch was barely there, a featherlight tease. Alec rolled his eyes into the back of his head.

“Just do it.”

He wasn’t all that sensitive and it wasn’t like he’d never suffered through a purple—

“Hah-ngh!”

His throat closed up and his stomach clenched hard as he tried to curl in on himself. He was stopped by Magnus’s weight on his hips and the restraints around his wrists, leather and canvas biting into his skin.

He’d never suffered through having one nipple viciously twisted while the other one was engulfed in wet hot suction and teased with the flickering tip of a tongue.

Alec breathed through the sensations, opened his mouth to demand more, whined low in his throat instead.

Magnus wasn’t letting up. He sank his teeth in and clamped down. Hard.

Alec sucked in a breath. Held it. Trembled all the way down to his toes. Heard nothing but the blood rushing through his ears.

Razor-sharp fingernails clawed into his ribs. Ten pin-points of agony raced like electric current across his skin. He was barely aware of someone calling his name. Too far gone to care. Loathe to let go of the breath he was holding to answer. Snapped like an overtight bow string.

“What?!”

“Mr. Lightwood, please, open the door.”

Reality crashed over Alec’s head like a bucket full of bricks. His eyes flew open and he stared at the ceiling, incapable of saying or doing anything. He couldn’t even move.

The head of their dorm and Alicante’s esteemed history teacher, Mr. Lorenzo Rey, was on the other side of Alec’s door, rattling the knob.

“Mr. Lightwood, unlock your door this instant.”

Magnus shifted.

Alec’s gaze slid toward him like fingers to a burning candle.

Magnus sat up and rolled his shoulders. His posture was rigid. Something shifted in his eyes and made them look cold like frozen earth. His fingers still burned like embers on Alec’s chest.

“Go away.”

Magnus’s voice resonated with authority, not a smidgen of alarm or doubt in it.

The doorknob stopped rattling and Mr. Rey cleared his throat.

“Mr. Bane?”

“Yes.”

Silence.

Hyper-alert and too afraid to breathe, Alec could hear the retreating footsteps of the history teacher echo through the door.

Magnus held all the power. If he told a teacher to get down on their knees and kiss his boots, they would.

Alec shivered.

Magnus smiled. “I told you they’d look the other way.”

He melted on top of Alec; liquid fire soaking into Alec’s skin. Alec gasped it in, gulped it down with Magnus’s tongue in his mouth. Moaned at the white-hot sensation of sharp fingernails scoring along his ribs. Wanted it to consume him until there was nothing left.

“Burn me,” mumbled against silky wet lips.

Magnus ignored him. Kissed him harder. Drove his weight down with enough force to bruise them both.

Alec bucked his hips.

“More.”

Magnus yanked his head back, buried sharp teeth in the junction of his neck and shoulder.

Pain as bright as the sun. So close. Almost. Not enough.

“Put your hand around my throat.”

Scorching, trembling fingers at the base of his throat. Gentle. Too fucking gentle. So impossibly gentle when their hips were grinding each other raw, brutal enough to crush bones. Chasing oblivion. So close, so close.

“Tighter.”

The fingers twitched, but then they barely tightened. Alec could still breathe. Still speak. Not good enough.

“Tighter!”

Finally, the scorching fingers closed around his throat. Burned through his skin. Alec would have breathed a sigh of relief, but they cut off his air.

He smiled. Opened his eyes. Looked up into deep-brown eyes as cold as frozen earth.

“Snap your fingers when I need to stop.”

Snapping was the last thing on Alec’s mind. His lungs burned. His chest was tight. His dick was about to explode.

Those eyes.

“Alec, snap your fingers.” 

Tears leaked out of the corners of Alec’s eyes. His vision was going dark at the edges.

Those gorgeous eyes.

“Damnit, Alexander!”

The fingers disappeared from his throat.

Alec’s body betrayed him. He sucked in air and came so hard he blacked out.

When he came to, Magnus was standing at the door, glowering down at him.

“Fuck you, Lightwood.”

His lean body was so rigid he was shaking. His eyes looked completely black.

“If you’re just trying to kill yourself, I’m not gonna be the fucking bullet.”

Magnus twisted the knob, stormed out, and slammed the door hard enough that it rattled inside the frame.

Alec lay on his bed, cold and shaking. The mess in his pants was rapidly turning cold and sticky, tearing uncomfortably at his pubic hair. His arms were still tethered to the headboard.

He cursed his stupidity until he realized that he could easily loosen the leather belt with a turn of his wrist. His hand slipped out of the loop. He could have freed himself the whole time.

Alec sat up and removed Magnus’s canvas belt from his other wrist and then from the slat under the mattress.

He held it in his hands and stared at it, trying to wrap his brain around what had just happened.

The problem was that his brain wasn’t talking to him at the moment.

Chapter Text

Magnus whirled into his room and banged the door shut behind him. He was still shaking. He fished his phone out of his back pocket and collapsed on top of his bed.

Need u. Messed up. Alec and I are done.

He stared at his phone, willing it to chime with a reply. It was barely 9:30 pm. Cat was definitely still awake. Probably reading fanfic or looking at fan-art online. There was no way she was asleep.

His phone chimed.

Where r u?

He let her know he was in his room, and she promised she was on her way.

When a soft knock tapped against his door twenty minutes later, Magnus froze. Cat wouldn’t have knocked. She would have let herself in.

“Who is it?”

If it was Alec, he wasn’t sure what he would do. Yelling would definitely be involved.

A dull thud banged against the bottom of the door.

“Jesus, magpie! Who do you think it is? Get the door. My hands are full.”

Magnus jumped off the bed and flew to the door. Cat glowered at him in her satin sleep cap and penguin pajamas with a bag of French fries in one hand and a hot fudge sundae in the other. He raised his brows.

“How did you get those?”

“You don’t want to know.”

He had a nasty suspicion his delivery guy devotee had something to do with it.

Magnus took the fries, locked the door behind Cat, and crawled back onto his bed. Cat grabbed a bunch of pillows, and propped herself up against the headboard.

“Talk.”

Magnus told her everything in gory detail while he forced down a handful of salty fries dipped in vanilla ice-cream.

“He would have let me do it.”

It was still impossible to wrap his mind around it. The image of Alec staring up at him with his hand around Alec’s throat was burned inside his mind forever.

“He was supposed to struggle. He was supposed to snap his fucking fingers, and he just … Urgh, you should have seen the look on his face.”

Cat sighed. She set the cup of melted sundae on his bedside table next to the greasy bag of fries and wiped her hands.

“He’s using you.”

“I know!”

His hands were shaking again. He clenched them into fists and pushed his knuckles into the mattress.

Alec was suicidal and he had tried to use Magnus to kill himself. Magnus could honestly say, he had never thought this would happen to him again. His mind was reeling, trying to solve the problem, take control, fix him. He was older now. He could do it. He wouldn’t fail this time.

“But I’m not going to be the bullet. I’m going to save him. I have to. I can’t just abandon him, right?”

Cat was in his face so quickly, he jumped. Her fingers clamped around his wrists.

“No, magpie. Don’t even think about it.”

He didn’t look up. He already knew what she was going to say.

“You can’t fix him,” she said bluntly. “If he’s really messed up, he needs to see a therapist, take pills, maybe even go back to that place where he went for drug rehab and see if they can help him work through it. It’s not on you. You can’t fix him. Not like this. It’s only going to hurt both of you.”

Cat would know. She didn’t bring up his mom. She didn’t need to.

Magnus clenched his jaw and closed his eyes. Stubborn tears burned behind them.

“But I love him.”

“I know, magpie. I know.”

When she tugged on his wrists, he slumped forward and let her pull him into a hug.

He wrapped his arms around her waist, squeezed her tight, and toppled them over with a frustrated growl. Cat’s arms wrapped tightly around his shoulders as he buried his nose between her flannel covered boobs. Magnus took a deep breath and sighed.

Why couldn’t he have fallen in love with Cat?

The one person who was always there for him. His beautiful best friend who loved him unconditionally; who was soft like penguin flannel pajamas and strong like an Army general; who could take charge and straighten out any mess and tell him what he needed to hear even when he didn’t want to hear it; who smelled like French fries and vanilla ice cream and that dreadful lemony scrub she insisted was good for her skin.

Magnus nuzzled the dip at the base of her throat and pressed his lips against it.

Cat rubbed his shoulders.

He slithered further up and rested his forehead against hers. He could feel her brows crease when he rubbed their noses together, but she didn’t pull away. Magnus pressed a chaste kiss to her mouth. Did it again. The third time around, he slipped the tip of his tongue across the seam of her lips.

Cat grabbed him by the scruff of his shirt, and pulled.

“No. Magpie.”

When he sighed and hung his head, her grip loosened and she started to rub his shoulders again.

“I love you,” she said firmly, “and I always will, but I’m not having sex with you.”

Magnus couldn’t help it. He dropped his forehead on her chest and then looked up at her with the most impressive cute face in his arsenal.

“Not even to make me feel better?”

She flicked her finger against his forehead. “That’s what the fries and ice cream was for.”

“I’d be so good.”

“Magnus,” she said, looking exactly like her dad.

“Fine.”

He dropped back down and she kept petting him.

The next few days were hell. Magnus was torn between wanting to fix Alec and trying to stay away from him. Luckily, Cat was by his side whenever possible. Since it was riskier for her to sneak around after curfew, Magnus spent several nights at Carstairs Hall. He barely got any sleep, spooned together in her double bed, but it was better than staring at his own ceiling.

He told Raphael and Simon the abridged and heavily edited version of the story when they confronted him directly at dinner on Tuesday. Apparently, his mastery of obfuscation and diversion had lapsed. Either that, or they were just more perceptive than the average person.

Magnus suspected it had been Raphael who had noticed that something was off, despite the fact that Magnus had given it his best effort to be every bit as bright, glamorous, and ready to celebrate life as he’d ever been.

He hadn’t even cancelled the upcoming party at Club Chaos.

“Screw him,” said Raphael.

“Yeah,” Simon agreed. “Honestly, if he’s just making you miserable and being a total jerk. It’s like in The Godfather. Kay was so in love with Michael, but he was just no good for her. I mean, they ended up getting married, but he was really just using her and it wasn’t healthy for either of them. Tragic stuff.”

Raphael turned and raised an eyebrow at Simon. “What is it with you and the mafia movie references?”

Simon ducked his head and blushed a brilliant shade of carmine. “Nothing.”

Magnus rolled his eyes. “In any case, I’m not some desperate white chick from the ‘40s, and Alexander isn’t some emotionally stunted macho, struggling with his role as the heir to a criminal empire.”

“Isn’t he, though?” blurted Simon. “I mean, maybe not a criminal empire, but Clary said his family is kind of intense. They’re like third generation members of the DC political circle or something like that.”

Inescapably, Magnus’s gaze was drawn across the dining hall to the subject of their conversation.

Alec stared back at him. He shifted his chair back and got up from his seat. He started to move.

Magnus’s breath caught in his throat.

“We’re leaving.”

Cat’s voice was as hard as her grip on his wrist as she pulled Magnus out of his seat. He stumbled after her.

“Magnus!”

It seemed Alec wasn’t deterred. He followed them through the dining hall. Magnus would have groaned at the horrifying cliché of it all if his heart wasn’t too busy twisting itself around his guts.

Cat whirled around and put herself between them, every inch an angry Army officer facing the enemy.

“Leave him alone.”

“I need to talk to him,” Alec said quietly, before he looked over her shoulder straight at Magnus. “Please.”

“No,” Cat said firmly, raising her hand to keep him from stepping closer. “You need to sort out your mess.”

Alec’s eyes flew back to Cat, wide and anxious. His breathing went shallow and his whole body tensed up.

“What?”

“You heard me,” she said calmly. “Sort it out. Until then, stay away from Magnus.”

Magnus couldn’t blink. He waited for Alec to look back at him and for the crushing weight of his betrayal to bury him.

Alec took a step back out of Cat’s reach. He raised his hands in supplication, nodded once, and walked away.

“Come on.” Cat turned around and grabbed his hand again. “Let’s go.”

The next day, Simon showed up late for dinner, bouncing with even more frenetic energy than usual. Raphael was doing his best to keep him contained with intense glares and the not so subtle way he twisted his foot around Simon’s bouncing leg under the table.

“Did you forget again?” he growled cryptically.

“No, it’s not that,” Simon snapped back. “There’s something, um, something I’m supposed to tell Magnus.”

Simon’s eyes flitted nervously from Raphael, to Cat, to Magnus, and back to Cat again.

They all knew Wednesdays and Fridays meant archery practice. Alec must have cornered Simon in the locker rooms.

Magnus’s heart twisted around his guts again. He knew why Caterina was glaring up a storm beside him. He wasn’t sure why Raphael looked ready to commit coldblooded murder.

“What did Alec say?” Magnus asked.

“He wants to meet with you,” Simon blurted, “tonight, at the old stables after curfew.”

Caterina scoffed. “I hope you told him where he can shove it.”

Simon looked uncomfortable and shook his head quickly. “I didn’t know what to say.”

Raphael took a long breath and released it slowly. His glare shifted to stab straight into Magnus’s eyes.

“Why are you glaring at me?” Magnus flashed his hands reflexively. “I didn’t do anything.”

“Do you want to meet with Lightwood tonight?”

Magnus gulped. Suddenly, all the random mafia references that Simon kept dropping made a lot more sense.

“What if I don’t?” He chuckled nervously. “Are you gonna make him go sleep with the fishes?”

“I will make him understand that he can’t go through Simon to get to you.”

Raphael pushed his tray away from him, ready to get up, but Simon’s hand snapped down on his forearm like a spring-loaded shackle.

“Please, don’t.”

Magnus watched, fascinated, as Raphael clenched his fist and Simon dug his fingers harder into Raphael’s forearm. Raphael cleared his throat in a way that was oddly reminiscent of a large animal growling.

“You’re not good at confrontations, remember? I excel at them.”

While Simon fought some kind of internal battle with himself, Magnus noticed that their legs had reversed their positions. It was now Simon’s foot hooked around Raphael’s ankle, keeping him from getting up.

“I don’t need you to do that for me. Just drop it.”

They glared at each other in the same hot and heavy way they had done when Raphael had been in the infirmary for dehydration.

Magnus leaned over to Cat. “Please, don’t take my makeup again.”

“I won’t,” she said calmly. “But I’m sure going to send a nastygram to your ex. This one’s on him.”

The term “ex” wasn’t anywhere near accurate, but it did a repulsive thing to Magnus’s stomach that dislodged his heart.

He did not go to meet Alec that night. He crawled into Cat’s bed about fifteen minutes after curfew and let her hold him while he lapsed in and out of erotic nightmares where he alternately made insufferably vanilla love to Alec or killed him in the middle of passionate kinky sex.

Needless to say, Magnus was not in the mood to party on Friday night. However, he couldn’t just cancel at the last minute. Even if it was only an informal get together of fewer than twenty people at Club Chaos.

Magnus told himself it would be fine. Lydia, Aline, and Helen never showed up anyway, Verlac and Morgenstern would be busy making out with their girlfriends most of the night, and – if the good Lord existed and had any kind of mercy at all – Alexander Lightwood had gotten Cat’s reinforced message and would stay away.

Magnus dared to hope when Isabelle Lightwood showed up without her big brother. She had also found a different townie to make out with for the night. This one was a lanky black guy with sharp features and a smile that reminded Magnus unnervingly of Baron Samedi.

Several drinks later, his mood started to perk up. Simon had pulled out his guitar. Not only could the boy play, he could sing with the voice of an angel who hadn’t so much fallen as he had sauntered vaguely downwards, to quote one of Magnus’s favorite books.

Cat elbowed him in the ribs and pointed at Raphael.

The poor cinna-bun had to be unaware of his facial expression – otherwise, he would have killed everyone in the room and left no witnesses. The look on his face was softer than cashmere and unabashedly fond.

Simon was oblivious because he was playing with his eyes closed.  

Magnus buried his face in Cat’s shoulder to hide his chortling.

They had just started to play dirty charades when Alec showed up. Of course, he walked into the room in the middle of Magnus pantomiming “doing it doggy style” to the group.

“Discovery Channel!” Simon yelled nonsensically.

Everyone was laughing their asses off, ignorant to the detail that Magnus had frozen mid-thrust.

Cat was quick to catch on, though. She whirled around and was out of her seat, intercepting Alec before he could reach Magnus.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Alec’s eyes drifted over Cat’s head, crossed the room, and burned right through Magnus.

Magnus couldn’t move. He couldn’t do anything except stand in front of everyone and stare back at Alexander like an imbecile.

Alec looked away. His shoulders tensed and he moved to step past Cat.

“Get out of my way, Catarina. I can’t deal with you right now.”

Cat wasn’t fazed. She stepped back in front of Alec and placed her hand on his chest.

“This is your last warning, Lightwood. Try it one more time and I swear I’m going to show you a whole new world of pain.”

Alec huffed out a humorless laugh, shook his head with a frustrated glare, and threw his hands up.

“I’m not here for him.” The words clapped like thunder. “Now, get out of my way.”

Alec stepped around her and stormed past all of them. He disappeared into one of the box stalls near the other end of the stable. When he came back out, he was dragging his little sister along by her arm. She looked like a hot mess and was teetering precariously on her stiletto heels.

“Alec-lec me go. Lemme go, Alec. What are you doing? This is so emburr- embarra … Hi ‘m sorry, guys. He’s such a…”

Isabelle didn’t finish her slurred sentence. She keeled over and threw up all over the stable floor.

“Real classy, Izzy,” Morgenstern drawled.

“Shut your mouth,” Alec barked at him before he turned back to his sister. He pulled her hair out of her face and let her wipe her mouth on the sleeve of his shirt. “You’re done.”

“No,” she whined. “Alec, please.”

Magnus couldn’t tear his eyes away from Alec’s face.

His features might as well have been chiseled in stone. He didn’t blink, didn’t flinch, didn’t even scowl or frown or anything. It was a perfect blank mask as Alexander Lightwood shoved his arms under his little sister’s knees and picked her up like an untamed shrew.

When he walked past Magnus with Isabelle squirming in his arms, Magnus noticed for the first time that there were needle marks in the crook of Isabelle Lightwood’s elbow.

Catarina’s hand on his back made him realize he was still staring out the barn doors long after Alec had disappeared.

The weekend was a blur of alcohol and nightmares. Magnus was still halfway between drunk and hungover by the time Monday morning rolled around. He skipped his early classes and stayed in bed.

He was dragging himself across campus to the Lightwood Building for lunch when someone barreled into him and almost knocked him over.

“Magnus! You have to come. Now.”

Simon grabbed him by his jacket and pulled.

“What?”

“It’s Cat and Alec!”

Magnus felt his stomach plummet. His feet started to run on their own.

Simon raced him up the stone stairs and through the glass doors into the marble entrance hall. They arrived just in time to see the crowd disperse.

Mr. Rey, the history teacher, marched Alec and Cat toward them. They both looked rumpled. Alec’s face was made of stone. Cat’s umber complexion had a distinct cherry undertone.  

“What happened?” Magnus asked quickly.

“That is none of your concern, Mr. Bane,” Mr. Rey drawled.

Magnus snapped his head around and glared at the arrogant man with his sad ‘90s ponytail and his cheap knockoff Armani suit.

“I didn’t ask you.”

Rey narrowed his eyes and deliberately turned his head to Cat and Alec. “To the headmistress’s office, now.”

Neither of them looked at Magnus as they walked past him out of the building. He whirled around to Simon.

“Did you see what happened?”

“Yeah? Kinda? Part of it. Maybe. It was crazy. Cat just lost it, dude. She went full Black Widow.”

Too worried to bother deciphering Simon’s code, Magnus grabbed him and shook him by the shoulders.

“Make sense, Simon.”

“She hit him,” Simon blurted. “Punched him, then kicked him. Like Black Widow.”

Magnus’s mind snapped into overdrive. Cat had physically assaulted Alec in front of witnesses. Alicante Academy had a zero-tolerance policy for violence. Rey had been the teacher who had caught her. Magnus had humiliated the man several times in the past couple of weeks alone, including just now.

He took a deep breath and released it slowly.

“Thank you, Simon. You can go now.”

Magnus stepped away from him and pulled out his phone. The screaming headache threatening to tear his brain out through his eyes and ears returned with a vengeance. He was in no condition to make this call, but he had to do it.

He dialed the number and put the phone to his ear. It rang four times before the call connected.

“Magnus? What a coincidence. I was just thinking about you.”

The voice sent a chill down his spine. Magnus straightened his shoulders and rubbed two fingers in circles on his temple.

“Hello, father,” he said quietly.

“To what do I owe the pleas—”

“Let’s not.” Magnus cut him off before he could start their usual dance. “We both know I wouldn’t make this call if I wasn’t desperate.”

“Then what is it you so desperately desire, son?”

His father used the word ‘son’ like a gun to his chest. He’d always hated the way it sounded in that arrogant, drawling tone.

“Cat’s in trouble,” he bit out. “She got into a fight with Alexander Lightwood.”

Magnus closed his eyes and hoped he had been able to make it sound like he wasn’t personally involved.

“Your most recent unproductive indiscretion.”

So much for that.

Magnus’s heart turned to ice in his chest. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. His father knew everything. About everyone. Always.

“Yes. She fought with him because of me. If you don’t intervene, they’ll expel her. I need you to talk to the headmistress.”

The other end of the line went silent.

Magnus gagged on it, but he managed to choke out the word his father expected to hear.

“Please.”

“This will cost you, son.”

“Name your price.”

“I’ll let you know.”

A put-upon sigh filtered down the line and Magnus could vividly imagine the expression on his father’s angular face. His narrow, slanted eyes would be crinkled at the corners as he smiled to himself, knowing he had Magnus in the palm of his hand.

“I presume the headmistress will organize a meeting with the parents. Send me the details.”

Magnus’s ice-heart exploded. “You’re coming here?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Just send me the details and the number for Herondale’s direct line.” His father clicked his tongue. “I detest having to deal with that impertinent woman.”

It was a not so subtle reminder that Magnus would owe a steep price for this intervention.

“I know.”

The line on the other end clicked. His father had disconnected the call without a goodbye.

“Dude, who the hell was that?”

Magnus sucked in a breath and froze, barely stopping himself from jumping. He had not expected Simon to still be around.

“Nobody,” he answered curtly.

“Yeah, right,” Simon quipped with a snort. “That’s why you look like you just vomited a bucket-load of slugs.”

Magnus looked over at the brunette bundle of nerves beside him. Half the time, he was convinced Simon didn’t even know what was coming out of his mouth until someone else reacted to it.

“It was my father.”

“Oh.” Simon’s brows furrowed and his upper lip curled with a grimace. “What’s he gonna do?”

Magnus sighed. “You’ll see.”

When they all met for dinner, Cat was frantic. She tried to explain what had happened, but she was so caught up in apologizing and fretting over being expelled that she was hardly making any sense.

“I lost it. I shouldn’t have lost it. He’s so messed up, and I know he’s messed up, and that thing with his sister, and I didn’t mean to lose it, but I lost it.”

Her eyes flitted all over the room, probably looking for Alec. Magnus followed her gaze and noticed that neither of the Lightwoods had showed up for dinner; nor had Jace Herondale or Clary Fray.

Cat made a distressed noise and grabbed Magnus’s hand.

“I’m sorry, magpie. I’m so sorry. She called both our parents. Right in front of us. His mom is scary.” Cat’s dark eyes went wide as she pressed her other hand to her forehead. “God, my dad’s going to kill me.”

“Calm down, sweetie. It’s going to be okay.”

Magnus had no idea where he was pulling his serenity from, but he held on to it. He squeezed Cat’s hand and rubbed his palm in circles over her back.

“You’ll see, it’ll be all right. It’s all going to be okay.”

“How can you say that?” she screeched.

“Just trust me,” he said with a smile. “It’s going to be just fine.”

After all, he had pretty much sold his soul to make sure that it would be.

He couldn’t even be mad at Cat. If their situations had been reversed, he would have done the same thing. Protective instincts and emotional baggage were nasty demons to fight.    

“When are they supposed to come in?” he asked calmly.

“Tomorrow. 3:00 pm. Alec’s mom. My dad. I’m dead.”

Magnus nodded and pulled out his phone. He texted his father and attached the contact information with Headmistress Herondale’s direct line to the message. The two little check marks showing that the message had been read were the only acknowledgement he received.

The next afternoon at 2:45 pm, Magnus and Simon walked Cat to Herondale’s office. Once Cat had disappeared inside the front room, he and Simon found an inconspicuous place to lurk while they waited for everyone else to show up.

“Where’s cinna-bun?”

“Church-thing,” Simon muttered. “Remember, we talked about it at dinner?”

“Sorry, yeah.”

Magnus honestly had no recollection of it. He’d been too busy trying to keep Catarina from flying apart.

“Oh, shit.”

Simon straightened up and pressed himself against the wall as if he could actually go invisible if he just tried hard enough. Never mind that a lanky brunette in an arctic green blazer stood no chance of blending in with eggshell colored plaster.

“Relax,” Magnus said quietly. “Her dad shows up ten minutes early for everything.”

Cat’s father was dressed in full uniform with a plethora of medals and plastic bits on his chest. The look on his face made Magnus’s knees twitch, ready to drop and do push-ups until his arms gave out.

Magnus closed his eyes and sent every bit of his love and sympathy toward Cat. She would need it.

Next came Alec. He was five minutes early. His school uniform was impeccable. His hair was smoothed down and parted on the left, doing his best impression of John F. Kennedy. Magnus wanted to rip his fingers through it, mess it up, and kiss him until that damn stone mask cracked into a thousand pieces and revealed the real Alec.

Mrs. Lightwood stepped through the door into the headmistress’s office at exactly 3:00 pm. Her hair was the same shade as Alec’s, styled in a flawless French twist. She wore a fashionable black skirt-suit and just enough subtle expensive jewelry to make it clear she could afford anything she wanted. Her heels and purse were unapologetically Gucci.

“Come on.”

Magnus smacked the back of his hand against Simon’s stomach and started sneaking closer to the door. It was the only way they might stand a chance of hearing what was going on inside.

“Are you crazy?”

When Magnus looked back, Simon was still doing his best to merge with the wall. Magnus rolled his eyes and put himself right next to the door. He still couldn’t hear anything.

The door opened.

“Creepy.” Headmistress Herondale’s assistant, Madeleine, stared at Magnus with a mix of pity and repugnance on her pale face. She pointed at the row of chairs next to the closed door into Herondale’s private office. “Your father says to come in and have a seat.” 

Magnus nodded stiffly. If she thought this was creepy, she hadn’t seen anything yet. He sat down in the chair closest to the door.

Madeleine went back to her desk and picked up the phone.

“Yes,” she said, “I will put you through now.” She pushed a couple of buttons.

“What is it, Madeleine?” Imogen Herondale’s grating voice drifted through the door beside Magnus.

“Asmodeus Bane is on the line for you.”

“I’m in a meeting.”

“He says that is precisely why he’s calling, ma’am.”

“Put him through.”

Madeleine pushed a few more buttons. She hung up the phone and looked at Magnus with a blank stare in her hazel eyes.

He smirked. “Creepy, I know.”

His attention snapped back to the door beside him when he heard Herondale’s voice bite out a clipped, “You’re on speaker now, Mr. Bane.”

His father’s voice was as sweet and poisonous as arsenic.

“Thank you, Imogen.” He sighed. “I am joining this meeting because I was asked to clarify that the incident in question was preceded by a private altercation that took place between my son and young Mr. Lightwood, which remained undisclosed at the discretion of Magnus.”

Magnus rolled his eyes, even as his blood went cold. Trust his father to find the most loquacious way to say that Cat had kicked Alec because Alec had hurt Magnus.

“I think it would be in the best interest of everyone involved if we conclude this particular issue as quickly and quietly as possible and return to business as usual. Suspend the girl for a few days if you must, but do not forget she was acting on behalf of my son.”

Magnus dropped his head. His fingers clenched around the edge of his seat.

“There is no need to drag this out into something messy. I understand the Lightwood family have been … struggling recently with public perception for unrelated reasons. By the way, give my best to your daughter, Maryse. I wish her a speedy recovery.”

Magnus felt his stomach churn. His father had perfected the art of thrusting an unexpected dagger precisely between someone’s ribs long before Magnus had been born. That didn’t make it any less shocking to witness.

Maryse Lightwood’s tone foamed as bitter as a mouthful of cyanide.

“Thank you, Asmodeus. I’ll be sure to pass it along.”

“Wonderful,” his father drawled. “Now that this matter has been resolved, I really must get back to business. Have a good day.”

Magnus flew out of his chair and burst out of the office. He ran straight into Simon’s arms in the hallway.

“What the hell happened in there?”

Magnus shook his head and dragged Simon off to the side.

Maryse Lightwood was the first to storm out. Alec was two steps behind her, following her Gucci heels like a beaten dog.

Magnus wanted to scream after him, but he bit his tongue and held on to Simon’s jacket like a lifeline.

Cat stepped out next. Her dad’s heavy hand rested on her shoulder and turned her around as soon as the door had closed behind them.

“At attention, soldier,” he barked.

Cat straightened up immediately, hands at her sides, staring straight ahead with a hard expression.

“I understand you were trying to protect your friend.” Her father’s tone was perfectly calm. His voice still boomed. “But there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and you chose the wrong way.”  

Cat stood perfectly still. Magnus could see tears glistening in her eyes, but she held them back.

“And I don’t give two shits out of a horse’s ass what that man said or that the headmistress let you off the hook. You’re going to spend your winter vacation at home without phone and internet, working and otherwise grounded, do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, General,” Cat said firmly.

“At ease, soldier.”

Cat’s posture drooped into a miserable hunch as she looked up at her dad.

“I’m so sorry, daddy.”

The general grabbed her by the shoulder again. This time, he pulled her into a hug and kissed her forehead.

“Come on,” he said gruffly, “take me out to the parking lot. Your mom sent me with care packages for you and your friends.”

Magnus and Simon watched quietly as Catarina and her dad left. Her dad’s arm remained wrapped firmly around her shoulders. 

A few minutes later, Magnus and Simon stepped out of the Admin building into the cold, humid air. The sky was overcast, but the sun was giving it her best to keep the day nice for a little while longer.

“Again,” Simon said as they walked down the gravel path. “What the hell happened in there?”

Magnus shrugged. “My father called into the meeting. Cat won’t get expelled.”

Simon made an indescribable noise in his throat. “How?”

“It’s what he does.”

“But … I don’t … How?” Simon asked again with flapping hands and twitching brows. “His name’s not even on any of the buildings!”

Magnus laughed. His proclivity for dramatic performance would never allow him to pass up such an excellent opportunity. He bumped Simon’s shoulder and indicated a turn up ahead in the gravel path.

“I’ll show you.”

They followed a serpentine path up a hill. At the top was a round, brick-paved terrace with a wide stone plinth. The terrace overlooked most of the school grounds, and the bronze plaque mounted on the plinth had a detailed map of Alicante Academy.

Magnus pulled Simon close with one arm around his shoulder and swept his other hand in a grand arc across the view in front of them.

“Look, Simba,” he said in his best James Earl Jones impersonation, “everything the light touches … is the property of Asmodeus Inc.”

Simon froze. “Seriously?”

“Uh-huh.”

Magnus pointed at the dedication chiseled along the bottom edge of the bronze plaque and waited for the inevitable fallout.

Simon exhaled a shaky breath. His whole body was vibrating like a tuning fork. Then he raised his chin, nodded to himself, shook his head, shrugged. When he looked at Magnus, his eyes sparkled behind those godawful bottle bottom glasses – they really needed to have that conversation about contact lenses.

Simon grinned and pointed in a random direction. “What about that shadowy place?”

Magnus chuckled. “That’s where he keeps his summer residence.”

“Complete with the bones of his victims and sycophant hyenas that drool at his feet?”

“Without a doubt.”

“Does he ever tell you to ‘be prepared’?”

“All the time.”

The Lion King references kept coming all the way back down the hill. Magnus didn’t think anyone had ever taken the news about who his father was as well as Simon Lewis.

They parted ways in front of Penhallow Hall. Simon had plans to meet up with Raphael after the church-thing. He had offered Magnus to tag along, but Magnus didn’t feel up to it.

He headed to his room to get changed before dinner. He could smell himself, ripe with cold sweat after dealing with his father. He closed the door behind him with a sigh of relief.

Alexander Lightwood was sitting on the foot of his bed.

Magnus closed his eyes, counted to three, and opened them again.

Alec was still there.

As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, Magnus’s room was as pristine as if it had been befallen by an army of cleaning personnel. The bed was made. The floor and the bedside table were free of litter. His closet …

Magnus’s brain performed a record scratch. His closet looked like a glossy picture from one of those “personal organizer” ads that kept harassing him on his phone.

Alexander Lightwood had broken into his room and cleaned the fuck out of it.

Magnus laughed weakly. “Just what…”

Alec’s long dark brows were perfectly smooth. The stone mask was still firmly in place.

“Would you believe me if I said it was an accident?”

Magnus raised his brows. “You accidentally made a clean spot, and then you couldn’t stop?”

Alec said nothing.

Magnus sighed. “What do you want, Alec?”

“I don’t want to die.”

The words dropped between them like a challenge. Magnus swallowed and straightened his back.

“You used me,” he said coldly. “You would’ve let me strangle you to death. I saw it, Alec. Don’t lie.”

“I was careless. It won’t happen again.”

“Damn right, it won’t,” Magnus snapped.

“That’s not what I meant.”

Magnus tried to look everywhere but the stone mask and that insufferable John F. Kennedy hair. Unfortunately, that meant he was looking at his closet. Anger burned like a double shot of vodka in his gut.

“Put it back,” he snarled.

“Pardon?”

Alec flinched. It was just a tiny crack in the façade, but Magnus had seen it.

“My closet. Put it back the way it was, right now.”

“You’re jok—”

“Do it or get out.”

Alec rose stiffly from the bed. His beautiful brows furrowed and the corners of his mouth turned down. There was a stormy look in his eyes.

Magnus controlled his breathing as much as he could. He had to clench his stomach to stop a triumphant snarl when Alec walked into the closet and put his hand on one of the hangers.

“Now, Alexander.”

The hanger left the rod with a jarring click and landed, heavy with a pair of linen slacks, on the closet floor.

“Go on.”

Magnus soaked up every minuscule expression on Alec’s face while he watched: the way his brows furrowed, creating deep wrinkles above the bridge of his nose; the way his eyes narrowed, hiding behind long lashes; the way his nostrils flared; the way the muscle in his jaw twitched when he clenched his teeth. There was a shallow scratch on Alec’s left cheek that hadn’t been there before.

Shirt after shirt, jacket after jacket, pants, and skirts, and shawls hit the floor. Alec pulled them out individually as if he were pulling stitches from an open wound.

When he was done, and the closet had been restored to its original mess and then some, Alec turned around with drooping shoulders and his head bowed, staring at the floor.

Nothing was left of the terrible blank mask except that abominable hair.

Magnus closed the distance between them. He cradled Alec’s jaw in his hand and brushed his thumb below the cut on Alec’s cheek.

“What happened there?”

“Mother slapped me.”

Magnus nodded. Standard parent fare when they ran out of words to scream. He started to pull his hand away, but Alec’s fingers around his wrist stopped him.

“Magnus, please.”

Magnus sighed and rested their foreheads together. Cat’s warning was kicking and screaming inside his head.

He stubbornly brought his other hand up and pushed both of them through Alec’s hair, fingers snaring and tugging at the thick, dark strands. When Alec leaned into it and moaned low in his throat, it bolted through Magnus like an electric shock. He had to clear his throat to speak.

“I can be there for you, and I can…”

He had almost said “love you”. Instead, he pressed a quick kiss to Alec’s mouth and nipped at Alec’s bottom lip with his teeth.

“I can fuck you, but I can’t fix you. No matter how much I want to. Not like this. So, you need to promise me you’ll get help, okay? Real help. From a professional.”

His fingers were still buried in Alec’s hair and he refused to let go until he had that promise.

Alec shrugged and nodded against his forehead.

“Not good enough,” Magnus said stubbornly. “Promise me.”

Alec sighed as if Magnus was asking for the whole world and maybe the moon while he was at it. But he didn’t pull away.

He slung his arms around Magnus’s waist and when his brows crinkled against Magnus’s forehead and his lips finally moved, he said it.

“I promise.”

Chapter Text

When Raphael got back to Blackthorn Hall, Simon was waiting for him in the common room, wearing a groove into the Persian carpet. The moment Raphael cleared his throat, Simon’s head snapped up in his direction and he stopped mid-pace.

“So,” he said without preamble. “Magnus’s dad is apparently the evil emperor from Star Wars.”

Raphael smirked. “Palpatine?”

Simon’s face lit up with his smile. “You know the movies?”

Raphael rolled his eyes. He might not be a card-carrying nerd like Simon, but there was hardly anyone left on the planet who didn’t know the Star Wars ennead.

“What makes him worthy of the title?” he asked instead of dignifying the silly question with an answer.

Simon flopped down on the couch with his legs splayed wide and rubbed his hands over his face.

“Apparently, he owns the whole school and like everyone in it. He made one phone call, and not only did Cat not get expelled for hitting Alec, she didn’t even get punished at all. Except by her dad, who is like ‘General Dad’. Think every hard-ass Army General you’ve ever seen in a movie, amplified by a hundred, and then try to blend that with Morgan Freeman in the old Batman movies and you pretty much get the picture.”

“Ah,” said Raphael as he plopped down on the couch next to Simon.

He was relieved that Cat wouldn’t get expelled. She had been wrong to attack Lightwood, but she was still a friend, and the whole situation was complicated. Expelling her would have done nothing to fix it.

When Simon turned his head, he was still smiling. “How’d the church-thing go?”

“It was good.” Raphael paused. “Just paperwork, mostly. Stuff I had to fill out to volunteer at the nursing home.”

He had also had an unexpected conversation with Father Aldertree about his faith and his plans for the future. Raphael wasn’t sure he wanted to share that yet. He had a lot to think about, and his head wasn’t in the right place for it. Right now, he just wanted to relax and hang out with Simon.

“That’s cool.” Simon nodded. “When do you start?”

“Saturday.”

They would send a shuttle to pick up Raphael and the other volunteers and take them to the nursing home for the afternoon before they dropped everyone back off in time for dinner.

“Cool,” Simon said again. Then he smacked Raphael’s leg. “Hey, are you ready to be crushed at farming?”

“What?”

“The game I told you about, remember?”

Simon slung himself over the arm of the couch and nearly fell off before Raphael grabbed him by the belt to hold him steady. When he came back up, he had a square yellow board game box in one hand.

Raphael sighed. “You were being serious.”

Simon made an offended noise. “I never joke about games.”

They played Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small for the next couple of hours. Simon crushed him all four times.

Raphael was still mildly annoyed by the time they walked into the mess hall for dinner after stopping by Simon’s room so he could put away the game and take his pills.

“Don’t be a sore loser.” Simon bumped his shoulder. “Oh, I know, next time, we’ll play a co-operative one. How do you feel about survival horror? I could get my mom to send my Zombicide stuff, but maybe that’s too much. Maybe Arkham Horror? Oh, I bet you’d love Pandemic. You get to save the world from nasty virus outbreaks.”

Raphael dropped his tray on the table, sat down opposite Magnus and Cat, and looked up with what he hoped was a recognizable plea for help in his eyes.

Simon sat down next to him, started bouncing his leg, and kept going without missing a beat.

“Hey, guys. Raphael and I were just talking about what board games we could play next. Are you interested?”

“That depends,” drawled Magnus. “Are they dirty board games?”

“Not really.” Simon shrugged. “At least, not the ones I own so far. But I could check into it and see what I can come up with.”

Cat snickered. Magnus waggled his brows with a suggestive noise and said, “Tempting.”   

Raphael groaned. Obviously, no one was going to save him. He resigned himself to playing and losing all manner of board games for the foreseeable future.

He hooked his foot around Simon’s ankle to stop him from shaking the whole table and dug into his mac and cheese. 

 

Saturday arrived quicker than expected. The shuttle stopped in the middle of a cracked parking lot in front of a sprawling two-story building. Engraved in a tall stone at the edge of the parking lot were the words Sunny Meadow Retirement Community.

A gray-haired sallow guy in a black suit with rimless glasses and a big clipboard shepherded the group of volunteers into a common room that looked like the waiting area for a doctor’s office.

He introduced himself as Mr. Starkweather and explained their job to them in the exact words that had been used on the paperwork Raphael had read and filled out in Father Aldertree’s office on Tuesday.

Raphael listened quietly. He raised his brows when several hands went up, despite the fact that the instructions were pretty clear and basic. Most of the questions involved getting class credit and how many hours were required.

Mr. Starkweather left them in the common room. A few minutes later, a handful of nurses walked in and separated them into smaller groups to take them to their assigned seniors.  

“Your charge is Rosa,” the nurse said when they were standing alone in front of a closed door on the second floor. “She’s been here longer than I have. Never gets any family visits. We don’t even have any contacts on file.” She sighed. “Anyway, she is in an advanced stage of dementia, which means she won’t be a riveting conversationalist, and if you do come here more than once, don’t expect her to remember you. Mostly, you’re just here to push her wheelchair so she can get out of her room and get some fresh air.”

Raphael nodded. 

The nurse opened the door and motioned for him to go ahead.

The room was barren. There was a hospital bed, a bedside table, and a large wall of smooth white cabinets with small silver locks right next to the door. The only personal piece of furniture was a large oak dresser with a rectangular mirror on top. It was pushed up against the wall perpendicular to the window. The curtains were drawn.

A frail white-haired woman sat hunched in a wheelchair, turned toward the dresser. Above the mirror and to the right, a television was mounted to the wall. A black-and-white movie was on. It didn’t seem like she was actually watching it.

Raphael cleared his throat and stepped closer.

“Hello, Rosa,” he said quietly, stooping on his knees so she could see him better. “My name is—”

“Angel!” Rosa’s wrinkled hands flew to her mouth as she jumped in shock. “My angel!”

“I’m sorry, I—”

She grabbed his hand so fiercely Raphael worried she might break her own fingers. He let her pull him closer and held very still while she touched his face as if she couldn’t believe he was real.

“My angel,” she said again with a trembling smile, tears glistening in her cloudy eyes. “Where have you been?”

The nurse cleared her throat loudly and called out in a pleasant tone, “Rosa!”

Rosa’s head turned toward the sound and she let go of Raphael.

“Oh, Marie. Time for my pills?”

Raphael used the opportunity to step away and put some distance between them. His heart slowed down and he shot a glare at the nurse. A little warning would have been nice.

“Not yet, dear.” While she talked to Rosa, the nurse beckoned him over with two fingers. “I’ll come back when it’s time.”

“Oh, all right.” Rosa nodded. “Do you see? My little angel has come.”

“I see that, Rosa. How nice of him.” As soon as Raphael stood beside Marie, she leaned close and lowered her voice to a dull murmur. “Her angel is her brother. We never got his name out of her, but if that’s what makes her happy, just play along and try not to upset her. Think you can do that?”

Raphael nodded.

“Good,” said Marie, and then she left and closed the door behind her.

Raphael stepped closer again, keeping himself out of Rosa’s reach. She was still looking at him as if he were a miracle happening in front of her.

“How are you feeling today, Rosa?”

“Wonderful,” she said. “Where have you been?”

“School.” He told the truth because he did not want to add on to the lies.

“Oh, wonderful. I always halfed you would be ale to go back. Do you think a lot? Are they kind to you?”

“Yes, Rosa. They’re kind. I’ve made some friends.”

He thought of Simon and Magnus and Cat. He wondered what Rosa would think if she actually met them. Especially Magnus.

Raphael looked around, inevitably drawn to the only personal belongings in the room. He stepped closer to the old oak dresser.

There was only one photograph. It sat in front of a statuette of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by several small folding frames with paintings of saints, a rosary, a boar bristle hairbrush, and some personal trinkets. Raphael picked it up and almost dropped the heavy frame.

The boy in the sepia picture was about fifteen. His eyebrows were thinner and his features were a little softer than Raphael’s, but if you had stuck him in the middle of a family picture, nobody would have doubted he was one of the Santiago boys.

“My angel,” Rosa said behind him. “It’s so wonderful to see you again.”

There was a thick, hard lump in Raphael’s throat. He wondered how Rosa had lost her brother. It must have been a long time ago, judging by the age of the photograph. After all this time, decades later, and she still hung on to the thought of him.

Is that how it’s going to be?  

Seventy years from now, would he be sitting in a wheelchair in some nursing home, all alone, yearning for his dead family?

Raphael decided then and there, he would play along. If he could ease her suffering, even just a little bit, he would do it.

He placed the photograph back on the dresser, walked up to Rosa, and crouched down in front of her. He placed his hands over hers before she could reach for his face again.  

“It’s wonderful to see you, too, Rosa. I thought we could go for a walk. Would you like that?”

Her hazy eyes lit up with joy. “I’d love that, my angel.”

 

When the shuttle dropped Raphael off back at the academy, he didn’t feel hungry, so he skipped dinner in favor of a long walk.

His afternoon with Rosa had been intense.

He had done his best to pretend he was her brother, and she had talked and talked. Sometimes she hadn’t made any sense because the words coming out of her mouth weren’t actual words or they were actual words that made no sense in context.

Raphael had almost stormed off when she had started talking about ‘their’ mother. He hadn’t meant to, but it had hurt so much. Then he had snapped at Rosa, and she had gotten angry. She had accused him of being a bad son for leaving the family.

Rosa had no idea how right she was, but the words had stung all the same. Apologizing hadn’t made him feel any better. Neither had her wrinkled hands patting his cheek.

Raphael marched across the gravel paths in no particular direction. Of course, that wasn’t true, because he knew the paths well enough by now to realize he was heading toward the chapel.

His phone buzzed inside his pocket. He pulled it out and checked the screen. It was a message from Simon.

You back yet?

Raphael winced. Simon, Magnus, and Cat were probably waiting for him in the mess hall. He texted back quickly.

Not hungry. Catch up with u later.

He stuck his phone back in his pocket and kept walking.

The chapel was empty and quiet. Raphael genuflected at the altar and crossed himself before he headed to Father Aldertree’s office and knocked on the door.

“Come in.”

He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. It didn’t come as a surprise that the father’s nose was buried in paperwork from his desk.

“It’s just me, father.”

“Ah, Raphael.” He looked up with a smile. “How was your first day at Shady Meadows?”

Raphael chuckled. “It’s actually Sunny Meadow, father.”

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry.” Father Aldertree pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed the corners of his eyes. “The names blend together after a while.”

“It was good,” Raphael said slowly.

Father Aldertree extended his hand to the visitor chair and Raphael sat down with a sigh.

“It was intense,” he admitted. “The lady I’m helping, she’s all alone. She has no family.”

He did not allow himself to add “like me”. His own situation wasn’t important to the work he was doing.

“I hope my visits will make her feel better. She’s a very sweet lady.”

She was also able to remember a formidable amount of vulgar words when she got angry, but there was no need to mention that in front of Father Aldertree.

The father smiled. “Have you given any more thought to what we discussed on Tuesday?”

Raphael’s stomach fluttered. “A little.”

Truthfully, he hadn’t had a lot of time to think about it. When he was in class, he was too busy keeping up with his coursework, and when he was with Simon or Cat and Magnus, he was usually too distracted to think about anything except what was happening in the moment.

Father Aldertree’s smile didn’t falter. He pushed away the paperwork he had been working on and leaned forward on his desk, linking his fingers.

“I really think you would make an excellent candidate for the seminary.”

Raphael bowed his head and scratched at his wrist. If he let himself think about the idea, it felt weird. Not wrong but odd, like a fictional version of himself.

“I thought the priesthood was a calling? I didn’t, I mean, I haven’t …”

He hadn’t received any clear sign from God that he should join the seminary. He prayed, and he did charity work, and he visited the chapel probably more frequently than anyone aside from Father Aldertree, but that was just because it felt right and because it gave him peace of mind like very little else in his life could.

Father Aldertree snickered. “Did you expect a personal email from God?”

Raphael’s brows furrowed at the joke. Of course, he had not expected anything like a personal email or a burning bush. He had just expected that there was more to being called into the priesthood than a casual conversation with the school chaplain.

“I’m sorry,” Father Aldertree said sincerely. “I think I understand what you mean. You probably thought that there would be some sort of single revelatory moment. The truth is usually more nuanced than that.” 

“How was it for you?” Raphael asked spontaneously. “If that’s okay to ask.”

“It’s all right.” Father Aldertree smiled. “I was prepared to tell you eventually.”

He leaned back in his chair and placed his folded hands on his lap. There was a contemplative look on his face as he turned toward the window.

“I grew up in a small parish in Louisiana about an hour outside of Arcadia – the kind of place where the funeral home is also a furniture store and the local pharmacy is a general store with a wire mesh storage locker behind the counter.”

Raphael nodded. He’d never been to a place like that, but it didn’t take much to imagine.

Father Aldertree smiled. “Needless to say, there wasn’t much to do, and a lot of the kids got in trouble any way they could find it. My mother did not approve. She ensured that I spent most of my free time at church or involved in church sponsored activities.”

A wistful smile crossed Father Aldertree’s face. Raphael wondered what he was seeing in his mind’s eye while he stared at the milk-glass diamond-grill window.

“Which is how I fell in love with the sexton’s daughter. She was bright, beautiful, fearless, and absolutely determined to commit every sin in the book before she turned eighteen.”

Raphael chuckled uncomfortably as he felt heat creep up his face. He could not imagine the man in front of him as a teenager, let alone as a teenager in love with a girl.

Aldertree cleared his throat. “We fell. In every way you could fall. My mother was furious but helpless to do anything. Her father was ready to take me out with his shotgun.” He paused to take a deep breath. “We had gotten her pregnant.”

Raphael almost choked on his own spit. He stared at Father Aldertree as if he was seeing a completely different person in his place. Nothing of the story sounded anything like the man he thought he had come to know over the past few weeks.

“Both of us fifteen, me black and her white, in rural Louisiana.”

Raphael pressed a hand over his mouth to stop himself from uttering the only word that jumped into his mind.

“Her father kicked her out. She did not want the baby. She did not want to marry me. She wanted to run away. My mother…” Aldertree laughed, shaking his head. “I never could look at her the same again. My mother knew of a man in Shreveport. I didn’t ask her how.”

Raphael knew where this story was going, except he had no idea how it could lead Father Aldertree to becoming a priest and then a chaplain at a private school for rich kids in New England.

Aldertree sighed. “I wish I could say that I convinced her otherwise, but she persisted and my mother drove us there. The man would not let us go into the room with her. When she came out, she was pale as a ghost, sweating, and cold. I still remember she was so cold.”

Aldertree clenched his hands, grasping something that was no longer there. Then he rubbed them against the fabric of his habit and clasped his fingers around his knees. When he looked up at Raphael, his eyes gleamed with a hard light.

“She died in the backseat of my mother’s car before we made it back home.”

Raphael had no idea what to say. Grief was not something you could compare like homework or answers to questions on a test.

Aldertree turned back to his desk and braced his folded hands on top of his paperwork.

“She was buried in our local cemetery. Her father made up some story. After everyone else was gone, the priest came to me. He knew. He had to have known. He still looked at me as a human being and he offered a path to forgiveness. No one else did.”

Raphael couldn’t imagine. He tried to visualize Father Aldertree as a wrecked teenager standing in front of a headstone, but it didn’t seem real.

Aldertree sighed. “I spent three more years in that town. I went to church every day. I did every job Father Johnson gave me, and, when he asked me if I wanted to join the seminary, I all but fell on my knees in front of him.”

He looked up and pinned Raphael with his gaze. The expression on his face was raw and more than Raphael could stomach. Raphael dropped his head and stared at the hardwood floor between his feet.

“What I am trying to tell you with this long, sordid story,” Father Aldertree said calmly, “is that it wasn’t one moment that made me want to be a priest. It wasn’t the moment she walked into that room or the moment she died in my arms. It was the days, the many, many days after her funeral, when Father Johnson showed me over and over that the only true love, the only forgiveness I could ever hope for, came from God and no one else. That was what made me commit to spend my life in service to him.”

Raphael swallowed. He still had no idea what to say. What could he say after having something this heavy dropped in his lap?

“You don’t have to say anything right now,” Father Aldertree said as if he could read his mind. “Just think about it. Really think about whether you might be called to serve God. For what little it is worth, I believe you are.”

Raphael nodded. His stomach felt hollow and at the same time heavy with a weight he couldn’t name.

“Do you…” His throat closed up and he swallowed dryly before he tried again. “About closing up tonight?”

Father Aldertree chuckled. “I believe you’ve done enough work for today. Go on. I can close up by myself.”

Raphael nodded and bolted out of his chair. He still couldn’t make himself look Father Aldertree in the face.

“Good night, Raphael.”

“Good night, father.”

He barely managed to get the words out on his way through the door.

When Raphael burst out of the chapel, he all but ran into Simon. Raphael tried to pull himself together.

“How did you know I was here?”

Simon stopped pacing the stretch of gravel in front of the chapel and looked up with both hands shoved deep into the back pockets of his faded jeans. 

“You weren’t in your room. And you’re clearly upset, so...” He shrugged.

“I’m not upset.”

He was. He had been upset ever since he’d come back from the nursing home. His conversation with Father Aldertree hadn’t helped, but he wasn’t about to unload on Simon.

Simon narrowed his eyes behind his glasses and clenched his jaw. One hand came out of his back pocket and he started to count off on his fingers.

“You didn’t show up for dinner. You texted ‘Not hungry’ and you used a minor-case u. You never use ‘u’. You always type out the whole word.” 

Raphael looked down and kept his eyes on the gravel as they walked back toward the main campus. He didn’t want to talk about it. There was no need to burden Simon with his problems. It hit him like a slap upside the head that Simon had already gone out of his routine to come look for him.

“Did you take your pills?”

Simon stopped dead and stared at him. His eyes flashed with anger.

“Have you eaten since breakfast?” he asked pointedly.

Raphael cringed. He hadn’t meant to sound patronizing. He was just worried. He also hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast because the shuttle had picked him up before he had had the chance to eat lunch.  

“There was cake at the nursing home,” he said evasively.

It was the truth. Unfortunately, Rosa and he had started arguing before they had served the cake, so Raphael had only sat and stared at the slice in front of him instead of actually taking a bite.

“Sure, but did you eat any?” Simon asked knowingly.

Damn you, puppy.

“No,” Raphael said through his teeth.

“That’s what I thought,” said Simon, and there was an irritating note of smugness in his voice. “Good thing you have me to take care of you.”

Simon pulled something out of his jacket pocket and pressed it against Raphael’s chest. It was a couple of brownies wrapped in paper napkins.

Raphael chuckled and shook his head. “I’m not really—”

“Eat some or I swear I’ll force-feed you.”

Raphael made a face, but he relented and took a small bite out of one of the sugary-sweet monstrosities. He didn’t have much of a sweet tooth.

“I don’t suppose you’re hiding a bag of chips on you?”

“No,” Simon said, both hands back in his pockets, “but I’ll get you some out of the vending machine if you want.” He skipped on his feet.

Raphael could tell Simon was ready to bounce into a run if Raphael so much as tilted his head in a way that indicated “yes”. There was a part of him – and he would deny it to his dying day – that wanted to snap his fingers and say “fetch”.

He smiled. “That’s okay.”

“You sure?”

Raphael chuckled. “Positive.”

“Only fools are positive.” Simon waggled his brows.

“Stop.” Raphael laughed.

Simon grinned. “You wanna head over to the old stables? Magnus and Cat are probably already out there.”

Raphael shook his head. “No, I think I just want to be alone tonight.”

“Oh.” Simon deflated and hung his head. “Okay.”

“Do you want to come back to my room?”

Simon’s head whipped up.

They stared at each other.

Raphael bit the inside of his cheeks. He had not meant to say that. He did want to be alone. He just wanted to be alone with Simon nearby.

“Never mind. That was—”

“Yeah, I’ll come.”

“Okay.”

They passed the vending machines at the back of the science building on their way to Blackthorn Hall. Simon bought enough salty snack food to survive three days sheltered in place if they had to. Raphael was the one who remembered to buy sodas to go with it.

Raphael’s room being the shoe box that it was, they dumped most of the food on his desk and sat down on his twin bed next to each other with their backs against the wall.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Simon said while they munched on a bag of BBQ chips between them.

“Not really.” Raphael stuck a couple of chips in his mouth and chewed.

“Do you want me to tell you about the bombshell news you missed at dinner?”

Simon’s leg started to jitter. Since it was Simon, it could have been anything. It was probably inconsequential or he would have already told him. Raphael closed his eyes and shook his head against the wall. 

“Not really,” he said again.

Things got very quiet for a minute. There was just the crinkling of the chip bag and the two of them breathing next to each other until Simon suddenly stopped.

“Do you want me to pet your hair and sing for you?”

Raphael froze. He slowly turned his head and opened his eyes.

Simon was vibrating so hard he was back around to sitting still. His eyes were wide open, staring at Raphael from behind his glasses without blinking. His fingers were clamped around his knees tightly enough to bruise himself. He was clearly serious about his offer.

Raphael snorted. He was a grown-ass guy. He wasn’t suffering an anxiety attack. He had just had a really long day, and a lot of really heavy stuff had been dumped on his shoulders, and he missed his family so much there was a physical hole in his stomach that no amount of salty snack food could ever hope to fill.

“Kinda,” was what came out of his mouth.  

Simon nodded like his head was on a spring. He moved the bag out of the way and wiped his chip-dusted hands on his jeans.

Raphael rolled his eyes. He was going to get that crap all over his hair. He moved over and settled between Simon’s legs, back to chest, with his arms hooked around Simon’s raised knees and his own legs dangling over the edge of the bed. At the first sensation of gentle fingers combing through his curls, Raphael leaned his head back onto Simon’s shoulder and closed his eyes.

“What do you want me to sing?”

Simon’s voice was low and gentle, but not so close that it tickled uncomfortably like Magnus’s sometimes did. Raphael could feel himself relax.

“Whatever. I liked that song from the party.”

Simon snickered. “Bigmouth Strikes Again?”

Raphael snorted. “That one, too, but I meant the one you wrote.”

“Oh. Uh. Okay.”

Simon cleared his throat and started to hum, then sing the song he had played at the last party. It was a mellow tune with lyrics about how some feelings were too big or too complicated to talk about and how to look for the things between words.

By the time the song was finished, Raphael was so calm he was nearly falling asleep. Simon’s fingers were still combing through his hair and Simon’s other arm was draped loosely around his chest.

He raised his head from Simon’s shoulder to apologize for falling asleep on him, but the words got stuck because Simon was looking at him funny. Raphael wasn’t sure what the look meant until it was too late.

Simon kissed him.

It felt nothing like in the movies, because things just didn’t work that way for Raphael. He sometimes wished they did. At least, it didn’t feel like a bird trapped inside his mouth this time. Simon was keeping his tongue in check.

Raphael smiled and waited for him to finish.

Simon pulled back and opened his eyes.

“Um.” That was as far as Raphael got.

Simon scrambled away from him as if he had turned into a horror creature from one of Simon’s comics. His eyes were huge behind his glasses, and he was breathing so hard he was going to start hyperventilating.

“Shit! Oh, no. Sorry. So sorry.”

“Simon, wait! Calm down. I—”

Simon didn’t hear him. He kept cursing and bolted out the door.

Raphael snarled at the empty room and banged his fist against the mattress. He added his own litany of curses to the list and checked his phone. They still had some time until curfew.

He pushed himself onto his feet and went after Simon.

Chapter Text

Simon stormed out of Blackthorn Hall and down the flagstone path between dorm buildings as fast as he could go without breaking into a run.

Such a moron, Lewis, what the hell were you thinking?

The way Raphael had looked at him, he’d been about three seconds away from telling Simon … Heaven only knew what, but Simon hadn’t been capable of sticking around to hear it because he’d kissed Raphael and, obviously, Raphael had not wanted to be kissed.

Stupid idiot!

He hadn’t even meant to. He hadn’t even known he was going to until it had happened.

Simon’s stomach twisted. He hiccuped and tried to calm his breathing, but it so wasn’t happening. He was going to work himself into a damn anxiety attack, and the only person who could help him probably hated his guts right now.

Great.

He bolted through the door into Penhallow Hall and up the stairs.

This was so much worse than Clary. He hadn’t ever even kissed Clary. Hell, when had he even stopped being in love with Clary? The last time he’d checked, it had still hurt to look at her just holding hands with Jace. But yeah, he remembered, it hadn’t hurt as much.

Right now, it hurt so bad it burned or maybe that was just his lungs because he wasn’t breathing right.

Simon slammed the door behind him and collapsed on his bed, trying to breathe slowly.

He wasn’t even into guys. Okay, so there had been the occasional man-crush on hot TV characters, but everyone had those, right?

Why did he have to go and kiss Raphael? Twice! And this time without the excuse of drugs and an anxiety attack?

If this cost him his friendship with Raphael, Simon would never, ever, ever forgive himself. Ever.

A knock on the door barely made it through to him until it repeated, louder.

“Simon.” Raphael’s voice was calm as a summer breeze. “Can I please come in?”

Simon rolled his eyes and sucked in a breath to respond.

“You’re not obligated!”

The door snapped open and Raphael was inside. He looked annoyed. He closed the door not quite gently.

“You are not an obligation,” he growled.

“Still,” Simon said between shallow breaths. “Sorry.”

“Stop saying that.”

Raphael came closer and stopped in front of the bed, staring down at him with his hands balled into fists.

Simon cringed and waited for it.

The noise of his desk chair rolling across the floor made him jerk his head around.

Raphael sat down right next to him with his fingers laced together and his hands squeezed between his knees.

“There’s stuff I need to tell you. Do you think you can listen?”

Simon grunted out a humorless laugh. “I’m freaking out, not deaf.”

“Sorry,” Raphael said automatically.

Simon snorted. Why was Raphael apologizing? He hadn’t done anything wrong. It wasn’t his fault he didn’t like Simon back the same way.

“Sorry I kissed you. Twice.”

Raphael chuckled. “The first one didn’t count. You were high and having an anxiety attack.”

Simon threw his arm over his face so he didn’t have to look at Raphael.

“Can we pretend the same for this one?”

“No.”

Simon sniffed. Of course, that would have been too much to hope for.

Raphael sighed. “The reason it didn’t go the way you hoped is because I’m different.”

Simon raised his arm and peeked out at Raphael. He was well versed in different. He was pretty sure he would have noticed if Raphael fit into any of the categories.

“Like how?”

“I don’t, um, feel the same way.”

Simon’s face screwed up as his stomach lurched. He’d known this was coming, but it still hurt to hear it. He hadn’t even known he was feeling that way about Raphael for more than five minutes, and here he was, getting rejected. 

“No shit.”

Raphael pulled his hands from between his knees and clenched them into fists. His glare should have cut the wall above Simon’s head in half.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what?”

Raphael kept glaring at the wall. There was a distinct shade of red creeping up his jaw.

Simon lowered his arm back over his eyes. It was easier not to look angry rejection straight in the face.

“I don’t get ...” Raphael mumbled the last part too quietly for Simon to hear.

“What?”

Raphael sighed. “I’m trying to tell you …”

The next time Simon glanced at him, Raphael was sitting with his arms crossed tightly over his chest and his jaw locked in the same mulish expression he’d put on when Simon had suggested playing a fifth round of Agricola last Tuesday.

“What?” Simon asked again even more sharply.

“Nothing. Forget it.”

Simon huffed. He wished he could. No way he would. He’d just pissed away the closest friendship he’d ever had over a moment of epic stupidity that was probably nothing but his own hormones, or his meds, playing havoc with his brain.

“Fuck.”

He could feel the landslide coming down. This one was going to bury him whole. He did not want Raphael to be around for that.

“Can you please go?” Simon forced the words out. “Please? I want to be alone.”

“Simon—”

“Just go. Go. Now! Get out.”

The chair squeaked and the door closed with a bang.

Simon curled up against the wall, struggling to breathe.

The rest of the night fucked Simon over in all ways but one: it ended with a Sunday morning. Simon knew exactly where Raphael would be between 8:00 am and noon, so he could avoid him.

Simon walked into the mess hall around 8:30 am and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that their usual table had been taken over by a bunch of freshmen.

He caught a glimpse of Clary’s fiery mane at another table and started to head over, but then he saw that she was having breakfast with Jace.

The thought of watching the two be all lovey-dovey made Simon want to barf into his cornflakes before he’d even tried to eat anything. He turned away and looked for somewhere else to sit.

Maia was sitting at a table near the exit with a whole group of people. Across from Maia was her scary white-haired friend. Next to the scary girl sat Verlac’s girlfriend, Eloise, and the honey-blonde girl Morgenstern had made out with at the first party. Toward the end of the table sat two boys. One had a short haircut and a nasty scar on his right cheek. The other one had a wavy mane of dark hair and a smug smile. The seat next to Maia was empty.

Simon hesitated. They hadn’t talked at all since their conversation in the supply closet before FF. He wasn’t sure he wanted to go anywhere near her.

The thought hadn’t fully finished crossing his mind when Maia looked up, narrowed her eyes, and waved him over.

Simon squared his shoulders and stepped up to the table.

“Lewis,” she said and pushed out the chair next to her with the sole of her boot. “Have a seat. I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”

The guy with the long hair snorted.

Eloise giggled and leaned over to her blonde friend next to her. “He’s toast.”

The honey-blonde nodded with a sly grin. “Extra crispy.”

Maia rolled her eyes. “Shut up. It’s not like you don’t want to know what happened.” She looked up at Simon again. “Sit.”

Simon put his tray on the table and sat down with a sigh. They must have caught wind of the squabble between Magnus and Cat at dinner last night.

“It’s really not that big a deal.”

“Seriously?” Maia’s brows flew to her curly hairline. “I thought I’d explained this to you. There are rules. Catarina Loss should have been expelled. Now it looks like she’s not even getting a slap on the wrist, so we want to know what happened.”

“Huh?” Simon’s brain ground to a halt and changed direction. “Oh, the thing in the atrium!”

“Yes, the thing with Alec Lightwood. What did you think I was talking about?”

“I thought you meant the other thing with A—” He snapped his mouth shut. “Never mind.”

Man, he had almost blabbed Alec Lightwood’s private business to the whole school again. Why did this kind of shit have to keep happening to him? Simon was too exhausted and too frazzled and in no way equipped to deal with this kind of stress.

If Magnus and Alec wanted to have a secret relationship, they shouldn’t be texting each other in front of people. Especially not in front of Cat, who clearly still hated Alec’s guts.

“So,” Maia prodded.

Simon sighed. He wasn’t sure how much was okay to tell them.

Six pairs of eyes stared at him expectantly.

Simon cleared his throat and broached the subject carefully.  

“Do any of you know Magnus Bane’s dad?”

A round of expressive groans echoed around the table. Eloise rolled her eyes and the white-haired scary girl dropped her face into her palm. Money exchanged hands between the two boys at the end of the table. 

Maia nodded. “I should have known. Loss is not a scholarship kid, but her daddy sure doesn’t have the kind of money to sponsor a building.” She snickered. “Let me guess, Asmodeus Bane didn’t even show up. He probably sent some lackey with a sternly worded note delivered on a silver platter.”

Simon snickered. “Actually, he called into the meeting with Cat’s dad and Alec’s mom. The whole thing took maybe five minutes. It was creepy.”

Maia nodded sagely. “I told you, the rules don’t apply to them. Especially not Magnus. That’s why I warned you to be careful.”

Simon snorted. “Warned me? More like threatened me within an inch of my life.”

The long-haired guy snickered. “Maia’s never been what you’d call diplomatic.”

“Shut up, Jordan!”

The guy with the scar cleared his throat.

“She’s right, though,” he said in a mellow voice as he glanced at Maia. “We have to be careful not to cross them.”

All of a sudden, Simon wondered where the guy had gotten his scar.

A steel-toed boot drilled into his shin. Simon doubled over in pain and stared open mouthed at the white-haired scary girl across the table from him.

“Quit staring,” she snarled. “It’s rude.”

“No reason to amputate my leg!” Simon snapped, rubbing his shin, before he turned deliberately back to the guy. “Sorry for staring.”

“Whatever.” He brushed a calloused thumb over the scar. “I know it looks grim. The price of sweet success.”

Simon raised his brows. He started to ask the question, but the scary girl was already talking.

“Bat came in first place at the East Coast Grom Tour Championship last year.”

Simon gawked. “What kind of sport makes you shred your face?”

Bat snickered. “Surfing. I flew off the board and hit the rocks just right.”  

“Hardcore. I’m Simon, by the way, not ‘Lewis’.” He glared significantly at Maia.

Bat nodded. “I’m Bat. That’s Jordan.” He jerked his thumb toward the boy next to him before he pointed at each of the girls down the table. “Heidi, Eloise, and Gretel.” He snickered. “And you obviously know Maia.”

Simon wagged his head with a grin. “Oh yeah, we go way back.”

Everyone relaxed and returned to their breakfast. Even the scary girl, Gretel, seemed to warm up after Simon complimented Bat on his surfing skills. Simon got the feeling she had a crush no one was supposed to know about.

He tucked into his cornflakes. They were already going soggy. He should have picked the muffin. Raphael would have offered Simon his, even though they were Raphael’s favorite, which was why Simon had avoided them in the first place. Damnit.

“So.” He wrangled his brain onto a different subject. “What are you guys doing today?”

He still had to think of a way to avoid Raphael once he got out of the chapel at noon clear until curfew at 9:00 pm. He should probably turn off his phone. His mom had said she might call him, though.

“We’re going into town,” Maia answered for the group. “Why? Do you want to tag along and see how the other half lives?”

Simon raised his brows. “I am the other half, remember? Scholarship kid here, too?”

He was surprised to see Eloise and Heidi among the group. He had figured they were rich because they were dating Verlac and Morgenstern from the “eminent eight”.

“Yeah, what’s up with that?” said Heidi. “We’ve never even heard the name Fairchild around here, and now there’s this supposed alumna who pays for her daughter plus one. It’s all very mysterious.”

Eloise rolled her eyes. “You read too many thrillers. She probably got married a couple times and changed her name. For all we know she used to be a Carstairs or a Lovelace, maybe even another Morgenstern.”

Simon didn’t want to know. He hadn’t asked when Clary’s mom had started acting strange, and he still hadn’t asked when she had somehow talked Simon’s mom into allowing him to go to Alicante Academy. Some things were just better left to the adults.

“Anyway,” he said, stressing the word. “I’m up for downtown if it’s okay with you guys?”

The general consensus was agreement. Simon was relieved. It would make things so much easier if he could spend most of the day away from school. He could deal with the occasional uncomfortable moment that might pop up as long as he didn’t forget to take his pills.

“Oh, I just need to stop by my room before we leave. I’ll meet you guys at the gate?”

Maia raised her chin. “We plan on leaving in twenty minutes.”

“I’ll be there.”

They headed into town and pretty much straight to the mall. Unlike his trip with Magnus, Cat, and Raphael, they spent their time mostly window shopping. Heidi and Eloise talked non-stop gossip about other students. With the exception of Izzy Lightwood, Simon had no idea who anyone was.

The prescription bottle kept burning a hole in the inside of his pocket, but Simon did his best to ignore it. There was no way he would skip a dose. Raphael would kill him.

“… band shirts?”

“Huh?”

Maia rolled her eyes. “I asked if you always wear band shirts.”

Simon looked down. He wore a white T-shirt with ‘The Smiths’ written in bold blue across the top, listing the dates and locations from their ‘The Queen is Dead’ tour.

“Bigmouth strikes again,” he muttered to himself before he looked up at Maia. “Yeah, I guess. I’m just really into music.”

Maia’s eyes lit up. “Yeah? What kind?”

Simon shrugged. “A little bit of everything, but mostly alternative and indie stuff you never hear on the radio anymore. I like rock, too. The obvious classics, R.E.M., Nirvana, Smiths, Killers, Beatles, Stones, that sort of stuff. I play guitar.”

“Sweet.” Maia smiled and ambled a little closer to him. “How long have you been playing?”

“Since I was eight. My bubbe bought me my first guitar.”

Maia wrinkled her brows. “What’s a ‘bubby’? Is that like an auntie?”  

“It’s what I call my grandmother. The guitar was a birthday gift that year.”

“Oh, cool.” Maia nodded. “And you’ve been playing ever since?”

“Yeah.”

Simon remembered telling Raphael about all the same things. It was weird how that made it somehow easier to talk to Maia now. She seemed genuinely interested, too. It was something about the way she tilted her head when she listened. Like she honestly enjoyed his company.

“Do you want to go see a movie together?” he blurted.

“Yeah,” she smiled. “I’d like that. Right now?”

Simon nodded. Then he remembered to check the time on his phone. They still had a little over four hours before they needed to be back at school. “Yeah, sure.”

They told the others they were taking off and headed to the movie theater at the back of the mall. When Maia pulled out her wallet at the ticket counter, Simon stopped her.

“It’s okay. My treat.”

She had no idea how much she was helping Simon by hanging out with him today. The least he could do was pay for a movie and some snacks.

The movie was fun and action-packed, the kind of popcorn flick you could get into without thinking too deeply. Of course, half of the science fell apart as soon as you spent half a second remembering how physics actually worked, and the other half was just plain made up gobbledygook.

Simon was still laughing by the time they walked out of the theater.

“Man, Raphael would have a field day with this one.” He held the door for Maia. “I guarantee he would have spent an hour just taking apart the physics of actually getting a car into the stratosphere and back to the ground without breaking anything.”

Maia smiled. “Yeah, that was pretty …” She shrugged and giggled. “You know what? I don’t even care. I loved every moment of it. It was awesome.”

Simon laughed. “Right? I always tell him he takes stuff too seriously. You just gotta go with it. I think he just likes being a grumpy person. Honestly, I have no idea how he and Magnus became friends. It’s probably because Raphael’s insanely hot. He’s got that movie mob boss vibe, like in ten years he’ll be head of the family and then run for your lives everybody. If he gives you the eyebrow, you’ll sleep with the fishes before the day is done.”  

Maia chuckled. “That’s funny.”

“Yeah, I know.” Simon snickered. “I totally thought he was going to beat up Alec before Cat did. Scared me shitless. Thank God, he didn’t. I don’t know what I would have done.”

He stopped walking when he noticed that Maia was no longer beside him.

“Hey, Simon,” she said with an odd look on her face. “Did I get the wrong idea when you asked me to see a movie?”

“Huh?”

Simon blinked. He had no clue what she was talking about.

Maia cleared her throat. “See, I thought we were on a date, but you haven’t stopped talking about Raphael since we got out of the movie theater, so, I feel like I missed something.”

Simon felt like a complete and total idiot. It had never occurred to him that Maia might think they were on a date. He’d never even asked anyone on a date before. He’d only been secretly in love with Clary, and then Maureen had sprung her thing on him, and then the disaster with Raphael last night. His stomach dropped.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I never thought you’d see me that way. I just had a crap night, and I really needed to get out of my head today, and you are so cool and fun to be around when you’re not threatening me, so I just wanted to do something nice. I’m really sorry.”

“It’s cool.” Maia looked disappointed, but then she sucked in a breath and smiled. She cocked her head. “So, how long have you been crushing on that Raphael guy?”

Simon hung his head. “Is it that obvious?”

Maia snickered and crinkled her brows with a compassionate frown. “Yeah, it’s pretty bad.”

Simon threw his hands up in frustration. “I didn’t even know until last night.”

Maia laughed. “Seriously?”

He covered his face with his hands and groaned. “It was so bad.”

“Aww.” Maia wrapped her arm around his shoulders and patted him gently. “Tell Auntie Maia all about it.”

“I kissed him, and he made a face.”

“Ouch.”

Maia turned out to be an excellent listener in all aspects. Simon wasn’t sure Clary could have done a better job if she wasn’t currently off in la-la-land with Jace. By the time their group headed back to the academy, he felt marginally better about the whole crappy situation. He even had a semi-solid plan what to say to Raphael, thanks to Maia.

Simon didn’t realize he had forgotten to turn his phone back on after the movie until he emptied his pockets onto his nightstand.

He had a couple missed calls from his mom and several text messages. He called his mom back first. She answered on the first ring.

“Monkey! Where have you been?”

Her voice sounded strange, like she had been worried he wouldn’t call her back.

“Hey, mom. Sorry I missed your calls. I had my phone turned off.”

She breathed a loud sigh of relief, which had the adverse effect of putting Simon on edge. They hadn’t talked in a couple of weeks, but this was excessive, even for his mom.

“Mom, is everything okay? Did something happen?”

“No, no, monkey. It’s fine. Everything’s fine. I was just concerned because I hadn’t heard from you.”

Simon could feel the funny little flutter in his stomach that was sometimes just pointless paranoia but other times turned out to be totally legitimate, like when Maia and Gretel had shoved him into the supply closet.

“Are you sure?”

“Please, don’t worry. You know how you get.”

Only his mom could blend sympathy and being patronizing in a way that made Simon feel simultaneously deeply loved and totally infuriated. Well, his mom and now Raphael.

“Mo-om,” he grumbled. 

She cleared her throat. “Anyway. Happy Birthday!”

Simon buried his face in his palm. With everything that had been going on, he had totally forgotten his own birthday.

“Thanks.”

“Did you and Clary do something fun together? How is she?”

Simon couldn’t suppress the scoffing noise in his throat. “She’s fine, I guess.”

His mother dove in like a hawk. “Did something happen? Are you guys okay? Do you still like it there? You know you can come home at any time. Just say the word, and I’ll—"

“Mom, it’s fine. We’re fine. I’m fine.” They were seriously wearing out the word ‘fine’ in this conversation. “Clary’s just totally caught up with her new boyfriend, but that’s okay. I’ve been hanging out with Magnus, and Cat, and …”

He didn’t want to talk about Raphael with his mom. It would just end with him spiraling.

Elaine Lewis had an unfair extra sense that let her know whenever her kids had done something wrong and exactly what to say to make them feel crushing guilt. That was why Simon had been conspiring with his big sister, Becca, to keep secrets from their mother for as long as he could remember.

“Maia,” he said instead. “That’s why my phone was off. I took Maia to the movies.”

“Oh,” his mom drawled in a tone that made all of Simon’s warning sensors go off. “That sounds nice. Do you like her? Does she like you? Are you thinking about bringing her home for dinner some time? Is she Jewish by any chance?”

“Mom!”

His mom kept him on the phone until ten minutes before curfew. Simon had just enough time to rush to the bathroom and brush his teeth. When he got back, he stripped down to his boxers, crashed on top of his bed, and checked his text messages.

There were two from his mom, one from Cat, one from Clary, and one from Raphael. He glanced over the ones from his mom and Clary – both wishing him a happy birthday – before he opened the one from Cat.

Missed u at lunch. Need backup w Magnus.

Simon rolled his eyes. He was not about to get in the middle between Magnus and Cat. Clearly, they hadn’t listened when Simon had told them he wasn’t good at dealing with conflict. He texted back with an apology and told her he’d see her at breakfast.

With only Raphael’s message left to look at, Simon’s stomach tied itself in knots. He squeezed his eyes shut and exhaled a long breath, trying to brace himself for the worst.

I’m sorry about last night. Can we please still be friends?

Simon blinked and read over the message again. When he read over it a third time, it still hadn’t changed. Raphael had sent him a text message with pretty much the exact same words that Simon had been planning to say to him when they saw each other for breakfast the next morning.

Simon hiccuped a laugh and muttered to himself, “The hell are you sorry for?”

He started to type the words into his phone when he realized that would be the dumbest thing he could do. You didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and this was a stable full of gift horses.

Yes. Totally. Absolutely. C u at breakfast?

Simon’s heart thumped in his chest as he stared at his phone screen and waited to see if Raphael would read his message and respond.

I’ll be there. 7:00 am.

Breakfast the next morning was next level awkward. Simon had fully expected it to be a little weird, but this was worse than his drunk Aunt Maude proselytizing during Passover Seder.

It had started because Cat and Magnus had chosen to sit at opposite ends of the table with their arms crossed, glaring at each other. Simon had purposely picked a seat right in the middle between them. Then Raphael had showed up, looked at the whole arrangement, and taken the middle seat across from Simon.

Now they were all avoiding eye contact, nobody was talking, and Simon’s cereal was going soggy again because his stomach was too twisted to eat.

When Simon felt a foot slide up against the inside of his sneaker, he all but jumped out of his chair. He pulled back from the table and forced himself to stop his knee from bouncing. He did not look up at Raphael.

Had cereal always been the color of soggy cardboard? That was probably why it tasted like that when it stayed in milk for too long.

A plate made a loud scraping noise as it slid across the table toward him. There was most of a muffin and a granola bar on it.

“Stop getting cereal,” Raphael grumbled.

Simon dragged his gaze up until it was almost level with Raphael’s chin. He grabbed the granola bar and shoved the plate back across the table.

“Stop giving away all your food,” he snarled back.

Nobody said anything else, and Simon bolted out of the mess hall before he’d even finished the granola bar.

He groaned in relief when he saw Maia and Gretel by the lockers near the history classroom.

“Hey,” he called out as soon as he got within earshot. “Do you have a minute? I think I screwed up ... the thing.”

Gretel’s back stiffened and she immediately started to glare at Simon. Maia put a hand on her arm and shook her head.

“Not a school thing,” she said to Gretel before she turned back to Simon with a sympathetic frown. “Already? How?”

“Just … Argh!”

He pulled Maia aside because he did not need Gretel to hear any of this. Her opinion of him did not need to get any lower.

“I was being me, and he was being him, and—"

“Can you put meaningful words to this?” Maia’s brows crinkled as she stared at him.

“I was jittering, and he tried to put his foot around my ankle to stop it, and I freaked out, and then he still offered me his food, which he’s not supposed to do because he constantly forgets to eat, so I snapped at him, and now he’s probably mad at me, and I just don’t know how to act around him anymore.”

“Hm.”

“Hm? What do you mean, ‘hm’?” Simon shook his head and flapped his hands. “That’s not even a word. You’re supposed to be sage Auntie Maia with the good advice. Advise me.”

Maia chuckled, furrowed her brows, and muttered something that sounded a lot like “Goober” under her breath.

“Does he do that kind of stuff a lot?” she asked.

“The food thing?” Simon shrugged. “Yeah. All the time, which is frustrating as hell. He lets Cat and Magnus practically steal everything from his plate and—”

“I meant stuff like hooking his foot around your ankle.”

Simon snapped his mouth shut. He did not want to explain that one. If he explained that one, he would inevitably have to tell Maia about his issues and he’d really rather not. He preferred people not knowing that he was a wreck six out of every seven weekdays.

“Sometimes?” he said vaguely. “Not a lot. I think it just annoys him when I shake the table with my knee.”

“Hm.”

“Stop saying ‘hm’.” Simon glared. “That’s not very meaningful.”

“I’m just wondering,” she said. “Are you sure he doesn’t like you back?”

Simon flinched, shook his head, and glared harder. “He made a face, Maia. I’m pretty sure that’s not supposed to happen when you kiss someone who likes you back.”

“I guess,” she said slowly. “Unless, maybe you had bad breath?” 

Simon made an exasperated noise beyond words. His breath had not smelled bad. They had both eaten BBQ chips, and Raphael hadn’t turned away before the kiss; he’d made a face after.

“Did you?” Maia grimaced.

“No.” Simon shook his head.

“Hm,” said Maia again.

The bell rang and they had to shelve the conversation, but Simon spent pretty much all of history obsessing over how to behave around Raphael going forward. He would have kept doing just that, but his next class was Comp Lit.

Cat was sitting at their shared desk, waiting to pounce. Their eyes made contact as soon as Simon stepped through the classroom door, and her feet were crossed at her ankles, wiggling.

Simon heaved a sigh and resigned himself to ninety minutes of torture.

“Why didn’t you say anything at breakfast?” she hissed as he slid into his seat next to her.

“What was I supposed to say?”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe: Magnus, stop being stupid. Lightwood’s just using you, and if you keep giving in to him, he’s just going to break your big beautiful heart into a million little pieces, and then I’m gonna have to break his face for real.”

Simon huffed a laugh. “Does any of that sound even remotely like something I’d say?”

Cat snarled through her teeth. “Not the point. The point is he won’t hear it from me, but he needs to hear it from someone, so maybe coming from you it’ll surprise him enough to actually make him listen.”

Simon writhed under her glare. He got where Cat was coming from, but he just didn’t see himself getting in the middle of it. His gaze dropped to the desk and he started to fiddle with one of his pencils just to give his hands something better to do than twitch.

“You know I’m no good with conflict,” he said softly.

“I know,” she said quietly, “but I need your help, Si. Magnus needs us. If we don’t do something, he’s going to get hurt so bad. Please?”

The pencil snapped between his fingers. Simon put it aside and grabbed another one.

“I’ll try to talk to him,” he mumbled.

“Thank you so much. You’re the best!”

Cat’s arms wrapped around his shoulders and she planted a big kiss on his cheek. Then she spent the next thirty seconds wiping her lipstick off his face until the teacher showed up.

Today was definitely one of the six out of seven.

Chapter Text

Alec jogged up the stairs into the infirmary. He squared his shoulders and stepped up to the reception desk with a polite smile.

The woman behind the counter raised her penciled brows at him.

“Mr. Lightwood?”

She looked like she wanted to say more but was keeping her tongue in check. Alec suspected it had something to do with the fact that he was here while his sister wasn’t in one of the patient rooms.

“I have an appointment,” he said, keeping his tone placid, “with Dr. Scott.”

The penciled brows climbed even higher into her white-gray bangs. Her fingers flew over the keyboard and she made a small noise in her throat.

“Second floor,” she said. “Room 216.”

“Thank you.”

It felt as if Alec was walking through fire the whole way to the elevators. Part of him still couldn’t believe he had agreed to this. He couldn’t believe he was actually doing it. How would Magnus even know if he didn’t?

He saw a flash of eyes as cold as frozen earth and Magnus rising above him like a magical, mythical creature, compelling absolute obedience.

Magnus would find out.

Alec took deep breaths as the elevator rose to the second floor. He barely glanced at the large sign that pointed him down the right side of the hallway. Instead, he counted the numbers on the rectangular plates next to the nondescript gray doors.

When he reached 216, he knocked. His knuckles had healed. It had taken more effort than it should have to keep them that way.

“Come in.”

The man’s voice was chipper and drawling. It made Alec’s skin crawl. He put his polite smile back on his face and entered the room.

It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. There was a large built-in bookcase on the right, a bank of polarized windows straight ahead, and a gray fabric sofa facing two cream colored leather armchairs across a low coffee table.

“Over here, Mr. Lightwood.”

Alec looked to the left.

The doctor was sitting behind an enormous wooden desk in front of a second built-in bookcase. It was hard to tell how old he was. His pale, angular face was smooth, almost too smooth, and his blond hair highlighted with lighter and darker strands definitely wasn’t natural.

“Hello,” he said in the same chipper drawl. His accent reminded Alec of Sherlock Holmes. “I’m Dr. Scott. You may call me Woolsey if you can do so with a straight face.”

Alec’s brows furrowed. He smoothed them back into a neutral expression.

“Call me Alec.”

Hearing people say “Mr. Lightwood” made him want to look over his shoulder to check if his father had unexpectedly showed up.

“Thank you, Alec.” Dr. Scott leaned back in his chair and made a grand sweeping gesture with one elegant hand. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”

There were two visitor chairs in front of the desk, and then there was the seating arrangement. Alec knew it wasn’t a test. He’d been told. Whatever he chose, it didn’t mean much. He just didn’t know how close he wanted to get to the man.

“I promise not to infer an Oedipus complex if you choose the couch.”

His eyes flew back to Dr. Scott’s face. The corners of the man’s bright green eyes crinkled with an impish smile.

“Or I could sit on the couch,” he said drolly, “flip the script if you will.”

Alec gritted his teeth. He wanted to make a caustic remark about how outdated the doctor’s psychology degree was, but that would be impolite.

“I’m fine.”

He deliberately chose the couch, proving that he was perfectly at ease. Jace would probably have put his feet up on the coffee table. Alec contemplated it, but he could never be that brazen.

Dr. Scott rose from his chair and removed an antiquated black tape recorder from a drawer in his desk. The man strolled over to the seating arrangement, sank into one of the creamy armchairs, and crossed one long, slender leg over the other with a little sigh.

His outfit was strange. A vibrant-green silk shirt peeked out from a long, slim-fitted black jacket with a mandarin collar. He had paired it with matching black slacks that flowed down his legs to the pointed tips of his shiny black shoes.

Alec folded his hands in his lap and tried to appear relaxed, but the seat of the couch was so wide he was forced to either slouch or sit ramrod straight without back support. He shifted and leaned one elbow on the armrest.

This was such a bad idea.

Dr. Scott placed the tape recorder in the middle of the coffee table between them and leaned back in his seat.

“I read in your file that you previously saw a Dr. Monteverde and he prescribed you Paxil, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“Are you still taking the medication?”

“Yes.”

“Any side-effects?”

“No.”

Dr. Scott raised a slim blond brow and smiled.

Alec met the man’s gaze head on and resisted the urge to lick his dry lips.

Dr. Scott sighed. “I am a licensed psychiatrist as well, so if you would like to transfer your case, we can revisit the issue of medication.”

“Thank you.”

Alec kept his answers deliberately short. He didn’t want to give the man anything to sink his teeth into.

Dr. Scott wiggled his fingers toward the tape recorder between them. It reminded Alec of Magnus. The man’s nails were manicured, too, but he wasn’t wearing nail polish.

“I prefer to record sessions,” he said. “Things tend to get lost when I try to keep up with notes, and I sometimes can’t read my own handwriting later.”

Alec shrugged. One way or the other, he was stuck here for the next hour.

“Sure,” he said, “if that thing still works.”

“Oh, it works just fine. I only fear the day they no longer sell the tapes and I’ll be forced to replace this beloved relic.”

Dr. Scott leaned forward and pressed two buttons at the same time. The little gears in the middle of the cassette tape started to spin.

“So, why did you come to see me, Alec?” He smiled, exposing a row of perfectly aligned shiny teeth.

Alec hadn’t thought up a lie. He should have. He’d had days to prepare for this. Now, he was caught with his proverbial pants down because he’d been too busy denying the fact that he was coming here.

“I promised I would.”

“To whom did you make that promise?”

The guy who could order you to kiss his boots and you’d do it.

An image flashed through his mind of Magnus standing nose to nose with Dr. Scott, pale green eyes clashing with deep brown ones.

Alec cleared his throat. “A friend.”

“And why did you make that promise?”

Because in return he’ll tie me up and hurt me and screw me into oblivion whenever I want.

Alec wanted to say it out loud. He ached to see the look on Dr. Scott’s face when he described in excruciating detail the depraved things that Magnus Bane had done to him and would keep doing as long as Alec showed up to this farce once a week.

Instead he shrugged.

Dr. Scott narrowed his eyes and raised one hand to tap the knuckle of his forefinger against his chin.

“Why do you think they asked you to come here?”

Because I got him to strangle me during sex until I came so hard that I passed out, and he didn’t take it well.

Alec chose his words carefully. “I … mentioned my history with mental health issues to him.”

“Is it history?” Dr. Scott’s slim blond brow rose again. It was always the left one.

Alec narrowed his eyes. “I haven’t tried to kill myself since Alpine View.”

Dr. Scott was unfazed. He lowered his hand and draped both of his arms over the sides of the chair, regarding Alec with a pleasant but neutral expression.

“That’s good,” he said. “Have you thought about suicide since then?”

Not in those terms. “No.”

“It’s not uncommon to think about it.”

“I didn’t,” Alec stressed the words.

Dr. Scott shrugged. “If you do think about it, you are welcome to tell me. I will give you my card before you leave. It has my mobile number in case you feel it can’t wait until our next session.”

Alec scowled, but Dr. Scott continued to look at him as if they were just making small talk.

They lapsed into silence. Alec hoped it would remain that way until their time was up. He had sat stoically through an entire seven-course dinner with his family after Izzy’s 15th birthday party. This was peanuts in comparison.

Dr. Scott shifted in his seat.

“Alec?”

By the time Alec dragged his gaze to him, Dr. Scott had braced his chiseled jaw on one hand as if he was waiting to hear the end of a particularly long-winded lecture.

“You are free to spend your time here in silence, but that’s not going to help you.”

“I don’t need help,” Alec said reflexively.

“Oh, really? Then why are you here?”

“Because it’s the only way I can get what I want.”

“Ah.” Dr. Scott said, removing his chin from his hand. “And what is it that you want?”

Jace to love me back. My mother to be okay with me being gay. My father to not have checked out of our family. Izzy to be sober. Max to be alive. Everyone to just go away. Oblivion.

Alec glared. “Depraved, kinky gay sex with the party prince of Alicante.”

Dr. Scott barked out a single laugh of surprise.

Alec was more shocked than Dr. Scott that he’d said it out loud. He felt his heart thump inside his chest and his palms go sweaty. How on Earth had he allowed himself to say that out loud?

“This is confidential, right?” he rushed out. “You can’t tell my parents.”

Dr. Scott unfurled his legs and leaned toward Alec with a reassuring smile.

“Everything you tell me here is confidential. I will not share it with your parents nor with anyone else, unless I believe you are a danger to yourself or others.”

Alec breathed a sigh of relief. He still couldn’t believe he had said it out loud.

“So,” Dr. Scott drawled. “Tell me about this ‘party prince’. Is he the friend who asked you to come here?”

Alec could feel the blush burning his face. Did Dr. Scott know who they were talking about? Was there still anyone who didn’t know that the party prince was Magnus Bane?

“Yes,” he admitted to the swirly mark on the coffee table in front of him.

“And in return he promised to have sex with you?”

“Uh-huh.”

“How does that make you feel?”

Alec looked up from under his lashes with a smirk. “Agreeable?”

Dr. Scott chuckled and relaxed back into his chair with one leg crossed over the other.

“Would you like to tell me how you arrived at this agreement and what exactly it entails?”

“You want to hear the sordid details?”

“I’m not likely to be shocked by anything you tell me.”

Alec didn’t take the bait. He sketched out a rough sequence of events from the first party of the school year to the day of the disciplinary hearing when he and Magnus had reached their agreement. He omitted any unpleasant details of their sexual encounters and Izzy’s drug use. 

Dr. Scott listened with a keen expression.

When Alec was finished, the quiet stretched for a moment.

Then Dr. Scott moved his hand from his jaw and laced his fingers in his lap.

“This arrangement you two have, are you happy with it?”

Alec blinked. He’d never thought about what he and Magnus did in terms of happiness. Happy wasn’t a term that saw a lot of use in the Lightwood family vocabulary.

“It’s fine,” he said quickly before the silence could stretch too long.

Dr. Scott’s brows furrowed and he hummed in his throat.

“Is there anything you would change about it?”

Alec’s stomach clenched. If he could, he’d nix the therapy part of the arrangement and just get on with the kinky part.

Of course, that wasn’t something he would tell Dr. Scott. He was pretty sure therapists didn’t continue to work with people who flat out told them they didn’t care about therapy.

He was one hundred percent sure that Magnus would nix their deal in a heartbeat if he stopped going to therapy. There were plenty of other opportunities for the party prince to get laid.

“I don’t know?”

“Think about it. We can talk about it next time.” Dr. Scott sat up and turned off the recorder. “Thank you, Alec.”

Alec shook himself out of a trance. He hadn’t talked this much in a long time. Even in group therapy at Alpine View, he had kept it short, sweet, and simple; anything to stay under the radar.

This felt different. Maybe it was because it was just him. No one else was around to listen and judge. It was why he accepted Dr. Scott’s business card when he offered it between two long, manicured fingers.

“Thank you,” Alec said distractedly on his way out.

Dr. Scott smiled, his bright green eyes crinkling at the corners.

“See you next week.”

Alec raised his hand in goodbye and closed the door behind him. When he turned around, he froze.

Simon Lewis was standing in front of him, leaning awkwardly against the opposite wall of the corridor. His eyes widened behind his dorky glasses and he flapped his mouth like a fish.

Alec pulled himself to his full height and glared at him.

“Not one word,” he threatened.

Simon shook his head quickly and waved his hands. One of them was shaking an orange prescription container.

“I won’t tell if you won’t tell,” he rambled. “Promise. Nobody needs to know, okay?”

Alec looked at the prescription bottle, wondering what kind of pills they were. Probably something for attention deficit disorder. He snorted.

“Works for me.”

Then he turned and stalked down the corridor to the elevators without looking back.

Twenty minutes later, Alec sat at the dinner table like the devil at Sunday mass. He didn’t want to be there. He wanted to be in Magnus Bane’s room, doing things that would make a whore blush.

Izzy’s hand on his arm nearly made him jump out of his skin.

“Did you take them?” she asked quietly, referring to his anti-depressants.

Alec wanted to scream at her. He could feel it burn a trail up inside him until it almost reached his lips, but he swallowed it down.

“Of course,” he said just as quietly.

He wished Jace was there to be a buffer between them. Jace would know what to say. He would know how to tell Izzy to back off without making her turn around and swallow, or snort, or smoke, or inject whatever drug she was doing this week to punish Alec.

Alec’s eyes inevitably moved three tables over. Jace was sitting next to Clary Fray, their heads so close together they almost touched, smiling at each other. Jace’s smile looked as tacky as the gaudy winged heart tattoo someone had scrawled on his forearm with gel pens.

Alec wanted to punch his fist through the table in front of him. If he hadn’t broken everything between them. If someone hadn’t spiked his drink. If he hadn’t had any alcohol in the first place. If only he hadn’t gone to Izzy’s 15th birthday party.

His eyes snapped over to another table, where Magnus was sitting with his back turned to Alec. Bright green highlights shot through his jet-black hair and Alec knew without having to see it that Magnus was wearing matching dramatic eye-shadow. 

He couldn’t text Magnus until they were both out of the mess hall. The last time Alec had been too careless, Catarina Loss had caught wind of it and caused a scene.

“Alec?” Izzy’s voice was small.

It sounded exactly like the first time he had caught her drinking. She’d been twelve and he’d been fourteen, and their parents had fought in the kitchen. It was the same night they had found out their baby brother was sick and a couple of weeks after Alec had realized he was in love with Jace.

“What, Izzy?”

“Do you still love me?”

She might as well have punched her fist through his chest, grabbed his heart, and ripped it out.

Alec made himself look at her and forced his voice to sound calm and quiet.

“Of course, I do. How can you even ask me that?”

She put her hand on his arm and held on tight. There was a sad wet look in her big dark eyes. She pressed her lips together, smearing her bright red lipstick outside the lines.

“Then promise you won’t leave me.”

Something cold and heavy dropped into Alec’s stomach. He wanted to pry her hand off his arm and hold it up to her face, make her look at the damn needle tracks in the crook of her elbow, and scream at her about who was leaving whom. He didn’t.

He put his game face on and gently placed his hand over hers.

“Promise me you’ll stop taking drugs?”

Izzy’s hand slipped out from under his and she bolted.

Alec couldn’t wait any longer. He got up from the table and pulled out his phone.

Saw Dr. S today. When can I c u?

He sent the message to Magnus and headed out of the dining hall. There was no response for the ten minutes it took to get from the Lightwood Building to Penhallow Hall. Alec considered sending another message when his phone finally buzzed with a reply.

Wait in my room. B there in 15.

Alec smirked and sped up his steps. Another message buzzed in his pocket.

Make it 20. 

Alec’s eyes narrowed. The longer it took, the closer they were getting to curfew. Not that such a thing mattered to Magnus Bane. He typed out a reply on his way up the stairs.

C u there.

The door was unlocked. Alec let himself in and took a look around. The room was in shambles again. His stomach dropped at the sight of the closet.

Having to destroy all the work he had accomplished had physically hurt. He hadn’t just put away Magnus’s clothes, he had managed to come up with the perfect system to keep everything organized. Maybe someday he could convince Magnus to give him permission to do it again.

Maybe after a really good blowjob.

Alec felt heat creep up his face at the thought. All his thoughts about Magnus circled around to sex and pain. It was why he was here. It was why he had agreed to see the shrink. It was why he was taking the risk of having a not-so-secret thing with the guy whose father owned the whole damn school.

Alec took off his jacket and tie and folded them neatly before he placed them on the chaise lounge. He hadn’t taken the time to shower or change out of his uniform between therapy and dinner. He cautiously sniffed under his shirt. It wasn’t bad. With any luck, he would sweat a lot more before he sneaked back to his own room later tonight.

He sat down on the bed and dropped onto his back. The silk sheets were blue this week. They smelled like sage and Magnus. Alec closed his eyes.

He wondered what Magnus would want to do to him tonight.

Alec opened his eyes and tilted his head back until he could see the headboard. It had a thick black leather panel surrounded by a grid of thin metal bars. You could easily attach a couple of belts to those, or their school ties, or even handcuffs.

He could feel himself getting hard just staring at that headboard and imagining all the ways Magnus could tie him up and hurt him.

“I’d offer a penny for your thoughts,” Magnus purred from the doorway, “but I’m pretty sure I can guess.”

Alec pulled himself upright and slid his knees apart, making room for Magnus to step between them. Magnus followed the invitation and slipped his fingers into Alec’s hair. 

“Hi,” he purred.

“Hi,” Alec echoed.

He leaned into the touch, waiting for the fingers to tighten and pull. Instead, soft lips sticky with gloss brushed across his mouth. Alec slipped his tongue out and tried to coax Magnus into deepening the kiss. He practically offered up his bottom lip for a bite.

Magnus ignored the invitation.

Alec scoffed and pulled back. “Okay, what’s the problem?”

Magnus tilted his head and looked at Alec with the intense focus that made Alec want to hide.

“Why do you think there’s a problem?”

Alec’s hackles rose at the tone. It had come a little too close to that arrogant lilt in Dr. Scott’s voice. He did not need to take that crap from Magnus.

“Don’t,” he said, curling his fist around the shiny black silk shirt Magnus had changed into for dinner. “I’m going to the shrink like we agreed. Don’t go back on your promise now.”

Magnus arched an imperious eyebrow, making things worse.

“What did I promise?”

Alec clenched his teeth. There was no way Magnus didn’t know. Why did he have to spell it out?

A scorching finger slid gently under his chin and tilted his face up. Alec purposely kept his gaze low, staring at the silver buckle on Magnus’s belt.

“Tell me, Alexander.”

Alec licked his lips and made himself look up.

The bastard knew exactly what he was asking and he was enjoying himself. Alec recognized the wicked gleam in those deep-brown eyes. He could practically taste the sour candy behind that sticky sweet smile. Magnus was doing this on purpose to torture him.

Alec glared. “I go to therapy. You give me all the depraved, kinky sex my nasty heart desires. That was the promise.”

Magnus’s smile didn’t change. He brushed his thumb over Alec’s chin; the pad barely grazed along the edge of Alec’s bottom lip.

“Define depraved and kinky.”

Alec huffed out a laugh. Of course, Magnus would demand more than a general description. He chewed on the inside of his cheek and tried to figure out what would make Magnus shut up and put out.

“Tie me up. Hurt me. Mess me up ‘til I can’t think straight. Beat me, burn me, do whatever the hell you want with me.” Just make me forget. “Anything you want.”

Magnus shivered. Alec felt the firm stomach tremble against his fist, felt the knees between his legs buckle before they locked. Couldn’t tear his gaze from the gorgeous eyes that shifted to an even darker shade as cold as frozen earth.

Alec tightened his fist and pulled. Magnus swayed forward. Neither of them closed their eyes when their lips crashed together. Magnus finally sank his teeth in and buried his fingers in Alec’s hair. It was almost perfect. Except Magnus pulled away.

“Oh-hm-kay. No.”

Magnus squeezed his eyes shut. When he reopened them, he was looking down at Alec with all the authority he had displayed the night that Mr. Rey had tried to interrupt them.

“Not tonight.”

“Why not?”

Alec knew curfew was coming up. He knew they didn’t have the time or the privacy and probably nothing but their ties and belts to work with. He didn’t care. He grabbed a hold of Magnus’s hips and tried to pull him into his lap. Magnus didn’t budge.

“Alexander. No. Take your hands off me, right now.”

Alec removed his hands and held them up. Magnus smiled and slipped his fingers back into Alec’s hair.

“Thank you,” he purred. Then his tone shifted to something more serious. “If we’re going to do this, we’ll do it right.”

Alec’s brows furrowed. He wasn’t sure what Magnus meant. They’d been doing pretty well so far. Had he missed something?

Magnus tightened his grip, calling Alec’s attention back to him.

“You and I are going to see a professional on Saturday.” Alec opened his mouth to say something, but Magnus stayed him with a glare. “We need to, because, so far, I’m making this up as I go, and that’s not good enough. Got it?”

Alec nodded reluctantly.

When Magnus had said “see a professional” Alec had been about to protest he was already doing that. What more did Magnus need? Then the explanation had left him speechless and incredibly turned on. If Magnus had so far been making it up on the fly, how much better would it be once they got a few tips from a professional?

Magnus smiled. “Good.” He took a step back. Then another. And another. “Now get out of here, so I can jerk off like a fiend before that annoying ‘90s ponytail shows up for bed check.”

Alec gaped. “You’re not serious.”

Magnus glared at him and opened the door. “Deadly.”

Alec sucked in a breath, vaulted off the bed, and stormed past him out the door. He’d made it about halfway down the corridor when Magnus called his name. Alec whipped around.

“What?”

His answer was a tightly knotted wad of silk to the chest. Alec caught it before it could drop to the floor.

Magnus was hanging out of his door, shirtless and smiling.

“To help tide you over,” he drawled. “I’ll keep your jacket.”

“Bastard!”

Alec stormed into his room and locked the door behind him. He unknotted the wad of silk. It was Magnus’s shiny black shirt tightly twisted around Alec’s school tie. That explained how he’d managed to make it solid enough to fly halfway down the corridor.

“Bastard,” Alec said again.

He still stuck his face into the shirt and inhaled until he couldn’t suck any more air into his lungs. Alec knew he shouldn’t. He knew Magnus would use it against him. He jerked off anyway with the scent of Magnus pressed tightly over his nose and mouth.

Saturday took forever to arrive. Alec did his best to be stoic and patient and not take it out on every living person that crossed his path in the meantime.

It didn’t help that Izzy disappeared on him sometime late Friday afternoon. By the time she texted him that she was staying with a friend for the weekend, Alec had been ready to call the police and tear apart every building on the estate to find her.

When Alec showed up at the gate a few minutes before 10:00 am on Saturday morning, Magnus was already there. A black luxury sedan was waiting for them. The driver confirmed the address with Magnus, a place somewhere downtown that Alec was not familiar with.

They drove a good thirty minutes before their rideshare dropped them off in a distinctly working-class part of town. The building in front of them was a three-story brutalist block with tinted windows and grimy safety-glass doors. One of the doors and the window next to it had the words “Pleasure Island” printed in bold red letters across the glass.

Magnus was taking him to a sex shop. Alec groaned. His stomach twisted as he glanced in both directions, checking for prying eyes. The sidewalk was reassuringly empty.

“What the hell are we doing here?”

“I told you we’d see a professional.”

Magnus was unflappable. He grabbed Alec’s hand and dragged him through the door.

The bell jingled like they were entering any old Mom and Pop. Alec kept his gaze glued to the black carpet under his feet. It was surprisingly clean for a sex shop.

Magnus squeezed his fingers and said, “Is Daddy here yet?”

Alec’s head whipped up. Magnus was taking him to see a ‘daddy’?

He had read enough fanfiction – not to mention the stuff he’d caught while Izzy was binging Euphoria – to know all about that particular kink, and it was not happening. He dug his heels in.

Of course, Magnus had no idea because he had stopped to wait for an answer from the guy behind the register.

The guy had a serious collection of tattoos from his neck down, multiple piercings, and a set of gauges in his ears large enough to shove a sharpie through the holes.

“Upstairs,” the guy said, nodding toward someplace behind Alec, “getting ready for a private class.”

“Thanks, Elliot.”

Magnus tugged on Alec’s hand, but Alec didn’t budge. He pulled free from Magnus’s grip.

Magnus turned to him with raised brows. “What’s wrong?”

Alec glared. “I’m not going up there to get ‘taught a lesson’ by some forty-year old guy with a pedo-boner.”

Magnus laughed. His whole face lit up and his eyes crinkled at the corners. He was laughing so hard he was gasping for breath.

“I’m not joking,” Alec snapped.

“I know,” Magnus wheezed, trying to get himself under control. He shook his head and managed to ask, “Euphoria?”

Alec clenched his teeth and nodded stiffly.

Magnus was still snickering, but he took Alec’s hand again and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“I promise that’s not what’s going to happen up there.” He sobered up and his eyes locked onto Alec’s. “Trust me?”

It was a loaded question. Alec had already gone out on a very long and fragile limb with this. Magnus knew things about him that he hadn’t shared with anyone else. He still didn’t know everything. Given enough time, Alec was afraid that might change.

He was more afraid of what would happen if he answered with a no right now.

He nodded stiffly again.

Magnus smiled and pulled him along up a set of cement slab stairs against the side wall of the shop.

The second floor was a cavernous space filled with more BDSM paraphernalia than Alec would expect to find on a porn set. There was also a square area covered with rubber gym mats like the ones Alec remembered from judo class when he was little.

“Magnus!” A clear voice called out from the back of the room.

“Daddy!”

Daddy was a five-foot, ninety pounds East-Asian chick in her twenties with snakebite piercings and gothic eye makeup. She was wrapped head to toe in white silk and leather, and had donned a funky fedora over her jet-black braid.

“Give us a hug.”

Magnus let go of Alec and wrapped her in a tight hug, easily lifting her small frame several inches off the floor. She squealed into Magnus’s neck.

Alec felt an irritating pinch in his gut.

“You’re kidding, right?” he said dead-pan.

Daddy pulled herself out of Magnus’s arms and stepped back, sliding her gaze over Alec as if she was appraising a potential outfit on a mannequin.

Alec squared his shoulders and glared down his nose at her.

A smile stretched her pink lips, pulling the metal rings around the corners of her bottom lip further apart.

“Arrogant,” she purred. “The best ones always are.”

Alec narrowed his eyes. “I’m not—”

“Don’t lie.”

Her tone was abruptly sharp. It reminded him of the way Magnus had told Mr. Rey to go away.

Alec resisted the urge to avert his eyes from her penetrating stare.

“You have to admit,” he said calmly. “You’re not even close to what people think of when they hear the word ‘Daddy’.”

She laughed. It was a sound like ringing church bells dropping six floors onto concrete.

“That’s because people are addicted to clichés. Especially when they’ve only kind of heard about something from someone who heard it from someone else.” She raised her sharply angled brows and rolled her wrist in a dismissive gesture that ended up pointing at Alec. “Or maybe read about it on the internet.”

Alec fought the heat trying to climb up from his neck. This woman was not going to make him blush. He took a deep breath and retreated behind his game face. To his surprise, Magnus reacted immediately.

“Shit, Alec—”

“No, let him.”

Daddy was still staring at him, but now her gaze was focused on his face. Alec stared right back at her and concentrated on the wall inside him. No one could touch him as long as he stayed behind it. He was in control.

“Yeah,” Daddy drawled. “That’s what you meant on the phone, isn’t it?” She tilted her head toward Magnus and purred, “I bet he looks damn fine with JFK hair.”

“He doesn’t.”

Alec slid his gaze over to Magnus. He looked pissed.

Sucks to be you.

Daddy sighed and stepped closer, forcing Alec to either lower his head to keep looking at her or stare straight ahead at the extensive rack of whips and floggers on the far wall. Alec reluctantly bowed his head.

“It’s simple,” she said. “Daddy isn’t about what’s in my pants. It’s about what’s in here.”

He didn’t flinch when she reached up and grazed blunt fingernails across his temple. She had to stretch her arm all the way, but she made it look sinuous and effortless.

“The tiny part of you that is just so tired of always having to think, and plan, and be on top of everything.” Her voice sank into a liquid purr. “Building all these walls just to keep people out.”

Alec’s heart thumped once. He reminded himself that walls were a universal metaphor. He glared through his lashes, determined not to let her affect him.

Her cool fingertips traced a path along the line of his jaw. She smelled like worn leather and sage.

“The hidden corner where you wish you could just give in, just for a little while. Let someone else take over and make it all go away.”

Oblivion.

He remembered Magnus rising above him like a mythical creature; scorching, silver-heavy fingers wrapped tightly around his throat; gorgeous frozen eyes burning into him until everything went dark.

“And it doesn’t matter if that person is Sir or Madam, Master or Mistress.”

Magnus.

“Titles are incidental. Mine is Daddy. Now, walk over to those mats and kneel.”

Alec’s eyes snapped open. He stood up straight and forced his breathing to stay calm and even.

How the hell had she gotten him to close his eyes and lean that far? No way was he going to kneel on those mats.

He raised his head and stared straight ahead at the wall of whips and floggers.

No way. What was she going to do if he refused? Grab one of those toys and beat him into submission?

Alec scoffed.

The nasty part of his brain piped up just long enough to point out he would probably enjoy that.

Daddy didn’t move.

“Do you want my help or not?” she asked calmly. “The class is paid for. No refunds.”

Alec’s eyes flew to Magnus.

Magnus was watching him with a strange expression on his face. His eyes had softened, but there was the hint of a scowl tugging at the corners of his glossy lips.

“It’s your choice, Alexander.”

It was obvious his only choice was to play along, or he could kiss any future kinky sex with Magnus goodbye vanilla-style.

Alec kept his face smooth and strode past Daddy toward the gym mats. His eyes never left Magnus as he sank onto his knees and settled into a comfortable seiza position with his back straight, his knees slightly spread, and his hands on his thighs.

Daddy hummed in approval as she slid her silk clad arm around Magnus’s waist and molded herself to his side.

“Just look at him,” she purred.

Alec clenched his stomach muscles against the pinch in his gut.

Chapter Text

Magnus looked down at Alec kneeling on the thick rubber mats with his stony mask firmly in place. He wanted to slap that lack of expression right off.

“Breathe,” Daddy murmured in his ear. “You can’t go into a session angry. That’s a short-cut to disaster.”

Magnus turned his head to look at her with furrowed brows. He rested his hand against her back and leaned close to murmur in her ear.

“How did you know?”

“I’m very good at reading people.”

Magnus felt her smile against his cheek as he glanced toward Alec. He tried to let go of his anger.

“You don’t happen to have a closet I could make him mess up, do you?” he muttered under his breath.

“No.” Daddy giggled. “But there are other ways to deal with all that.” She rolled her graceful hand around her wrist, her splayed fingers indicating Alec in general.

Magnus hoped she was right. He relaxed into the comforting arm around his hip, wrapped his arm around her tiny waist, and inhaled the spice-and-leather scent that was all Daddy.

“First things first,” she said, raising her voice to a professional tone as she divided her attention between Magnus and Alec. “This is going to be a strictly hands-off class. I could get in heaps of trouble for even talking to you about this since you’re both underage.”

“I turned 18 in September.” Alec’s voice rumbled like thunder.

Daddy raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

Magnus dug his fingers into the soft side of her stomach in a surreptitious warning. He did not want anyone else to lay a hand on Alec. Not even Daddy.

She flicked her tongue over her snakebites and shot Magnus a look that made him lift his fingers away from her.

“Still.” She raised her other hand and patted Magnus on the chest. “This one’s not official until December, so we’re hands-off, and this session is going to show up as yoga class on the credit card statement.” She turned her head and wagged her brows at Alec. “I’m flexible like that.”

Magnus breathed a sigh of relief. He wished he knew how Alec felt, but the damn stony mask on his face was making it impossible to read him.

Daddy cleared her throat. “All right, let’s start with backstory and basics. I need to know where you are before I can tell you where to go, right?”

She let go of Magnus and sauntered over to a wooden torture bench. She hopped up onto the padded table, crossed her ankles, and swung her legs back and forth.

“Make yourselves comfortable,” she said with a vague hand motion.

Magnus took a look around. For a split second he considered the ornate Gothic throne by the St. Andrew’s Cross. Then his gaze shifted back to Alec who was still kneeling stiff as a rod on the gym mats, staring blankly ahead.

Magnus moved. He picked up a surprisingly heavy leg rest from the stack of padded leather pillows against the wall, dropped it behind Alec, and sat down with his knees around Alec’s rigid frame. Alec’s shoulder was rock-hard when Magnus placed his hand on it.

“Relax,” he muttered. “You don’t have to sit like that.”

Alec stayed still for another moment before he shifted. Then he pulled his legs around to sit cross-legged on the mat and leaned back against the cushion between Magnus’s legs.

The back of Alec’s head and all that glorious messy dark hair was right there. Magnus surrendered to the itch in his fingers and dove in.

Alec flinched and looked up over his shoulder, eyes wide in a glare of surprise.

Magnus forced himself to keep his hand exactly where it was. He stared Alec down with a smile.

Alec huffed, turned back around to face Daddy, and pushed his head into Magnus’s hand.

Daddy snickered.

“Great,” she said. “Now, the best way to iron out the details is with a checklist. I’ll give each of you one before you leave, but it’ll take time to fill that out and negotiate your limits, so I just want to get a rough idea right now of what you’ve already done and what you’re looking to do. Who wants to go first?”

Magnus knew Alec wouldn’t say anything, so he took a breath and opened up.

“I’ve tied people up and been tied up. Scratching, biting, some spanking. That one time with the, um…”

If he mentioned his unpleasant experience with a champagne enema during his 16th birthday party in Manhattan, Alec would probably run for the hills and never look back.

“Candles,” he said instead, glaring significantly at Daddy.

She smiled and nodded. “What about you, Alec?”

Alec shrugged. “I like pain.”

Magnus held his breath.

Daddy raised her brows. “Can you be a little more specific?”

Magnus continued to comb through Alec’s hair. He was glad when Alec didn’t pull away.

“I like being tied up, and scratched, and bitten, and pinched.”

Magnus nodded along. He wondered how Alec had figured out he was into that. He felt the sick twist of jealousy in his gut at the thought of Alec doing those things with someone else.

“Having my hair pulled,” Alec added with an audible smirk.

Magnus forced his grip to relax and started combing again.

“I like having fingers around my throat, or a shirt over my mouth, cutting off my air.”

Magnus twitched. “I’m not doing that again.”

Daddy clapped her hands together. “Looks like we found our first hard limit.”

Magnus nodded.

“Why not?” Alec asked sharply, glaring up at him.

“Hold up!”

Daddy’s shout interrupted Magnus before he could say anything. It also pulled Alec’s attention back to her.

“That’s not how we negotiate, Alec.” She braced her hands on the edges of the torture table and leaned forward. “Neither of you ever has to explain why a hard limit is a hard limit. The point is that you both know each other’s limits and respect them.”

Alec looked down as if he’d been smacked across the nose with a newspaper. He crossed his arms.

Daddy smiled, stretching her snakebites wide.

“Which brings us to Safe. Sane. And Consensual. I’m not going to make you chant it, but you will adhere to it, because that’s the only way to play, got it?”

Magnus chuckled and rolled his eyes.

“No, I’m serious.” Daddy stopped swinging her legs and stared at them expectantly. “Both of you. This stuff is fun, but it can go really bad, really fast if you don’t stick to those three. I can tell you horror stories that’ll make you run crying, but you didn’t hire me to scare you, you hired me to teach you, so...”

She hopped off the table, swung around the bench, and pulled an old-fashioned green chalkboard on a rolling wooden frame from behind a fake stone wall.

“Good thing teacher/student never goes out of style.”

Magnus gaped as she literally picked up a piece of chalk and wrote the three words on the board in sweeping, loopy letters. She pointed at the first one.

“Always have a safe word or multiple words to let the top know when to slow down or stop. If you’re playing with gags, make sure you have a safe gesture. Drop a bell, snap your fingers, something like that.”

Magnus tightened his grip on Alec’s hair and pulled his head back to look him in the eyes. Alec glared at him from behind his long, beautiful lashes.

“Magnus!”

He snapped around to Daddy who was pointing the chalk at his face.

“Check-in, sporadically, to make sure whatever you’re doing is still what both of you want to do. If it doesn’t feel right, stop doing it.”

Magnus nodded. That wasn’t the problem.

“Remember, it’s not porn,” Daddy continued. “You’re not acting. There’s no script, no effects, no editing. You have to learn what you can handle and how much is too much.” Her eyes narrowed as she glanced at Alec. “He might not start screaming until it’s way past that, so you’ll have to get good at reading him.”

That was the problem. Magnus remembered staring at Alec’s fingers, waiting for them to snap. He remembered the way his heart had hammered in his chest while he’d counted the seconds and Alec hadn’t done shit.

“But,” she said, pointing her chalk at Alec, “trust is a two-way street. You have to use your safe words and be honest. You can’t depend on Magnus to guess where your head’s at, especially when you’re just starting out.”

Alec’s head dropped forward. He uncrossed his arms and folded his hands over his crossed legs. He nodded.

It was a start. It would take a while for Magnus to believe he meant it. Until he was sure he could trust Alec, they simply wouldn’t get into any heavy stuff.

“Last but not least, consensual sex is sober sex. No sessions when you’re drunk or high.” Daddy glared at Magnus. “It’ll give you stupid ideas, and you will regret it. Best case scenario, there will be embarrassing pictures. Worst case scenario, you’ll end up in the hospital or dead.”

Magnus ducked his head. He knew why she was addressing that one to him. If she had been around for his 16th birthday, she would have stopped things cold before Magnus had ever dropped his pants. She had told him as much when he’d shared the story with her a few months ago.

Daddy dropped the chalk into the small tray at the bottom of the chalkboard and wiped her hands.

“Any questions?”

She patiently answered every question Magnus threw at her, and by the time he and Alec left Pleasure Island, Magnus had added several other charges to his credit card. Most of the purchases were books on safe practices and techniques, but Alec had strong-armed him into buying a set of padded leather restraints.

That was to say, Alec had picked them up with two fingers, raised his brows, and bit down on his bottom lip with a look from behind his ridiculously long eyelashes that had made Magnus want to fuck him six ways into tomorrow right there on the shop floor. 

Magnus couldn’t deny it. He had no pride or shame and very little self-control when it came to Alexander Lightwood.

When they got back to school sometime around noon, he took Alec straight up to his room and locked the door behind them. He barely had the chance to turn around before Alec was on top of him.

His back crashed against the door and Alec’s body pressed up against him, keeping him trapped. Alec’s tongue pried his lips open and thrust into his mouth with the taste of sugary coffee.

Magnus moaned and shoved his hips forward. He wanted to throw his leg up around Alec’s hip and pull him closer. He wanted to trash that unimaginative outfit, worship every part of his breathtaking body, climb on top of him, and ride Alec’s magnificent cock until he couldn’t sit down for a week.

Magnus knew if he tried, Alec would leave.

It wasn’t what Alec wanted from him. What he wanted was kink and pain on the condition that he went to therapy, and Magnus had agreed to give him that.

Magnus closed his teeth around Alec’s bottom lip, buried his fingers in Alec’s hair and pulled in opposite directions.  

Alec moaned in a way that made his cock twitch and his knees go weak. Then he shifted his hips and thrust once. Magnus’s head banged against the door.

“Oh, Jesus, Ale—mph." Magnus whined a strangled moan around Alec’s tongue, ripped his mouth free, and tried to claw together some shred of sanity. “List. List. Check. Please.”

Alec’s rumbling laugh reverberated straight through him. Magnus wanted to feel that sound every day, several times, starting before breakfast clear until he went to bed at night.

“Please,” he tried again. “Let’s do the checklist first.”

Alec raised his face from Magnus’s neck with an exasperated scowl. “Why? We can do that later.”

Magnus closed his eyes and shook his head. He tried to ignore the debilitating turn-on of Alec’s erection pressed against his own.

“No, Alexander. Now.”

“Whatever.” Alec rolled his eyes. “Just check ‘yes’ to everything.”

That pissed Magnus off enough to put a damper on his arousal. If Alec wasn’t willing to take this seriously, Magnus couldn’t trust him, and if that was the case, they weren’t going to do any damn thing at all, no matter how much it killed both of them.

Magnus sucked in a steadying breath, grabbed Alec by the shoulders, and pushed him off with enough force to put some space between them.

“Really?” he said, glaring at the stubborn scowl on Alec’s face. “Sure, why not? Let’s see.”

He fished one of the folded checklists from his back pocket and opened it up. His eyes skimmed over the long column of entries in alphabetical order, searching for the worst offenders.

“Hm. Abrasion, anal sex, anal plugs, small and large.” He raised a challenging brow.

Alec stared back at him with a mulish expression.

Magnus narrowed his eyes. He plowed ahead, forcing his voice into a saccharine drawl.

“Oh, ball stretching, doesn’t that sound nice? Or how about bestiality? Who knew you were that kinky?” His eyes skimmed a little further down the list until he found what he was looking for. “Brown showers… Really, Alec? You’re into feces play?”

Alec’s expression derailed. His eyes bugged out and he looked on the verge of being sick.

“What? No! Give me that.” He snatched the list from Magnus’s fingers.

“Thought so,” Magnus snarled in triumph and pulled out his own checklist.

They ended up sprawled across Magnus’s bed with the checklists and their phones between them. Even Magnus had to look up the occasional term. Others were rather obvious.

“Cock-worship?” Magnus inquired with bouncing brows.

Alec ducked his head and stared intently at his list.

“I’ll do it if you let me organize your closet.”

Magnus laughed so hard his belly ached. When he’d caught his breath, he looked up at Alec with all the solemnity he could muster.

“That’s a 2 for me on the closet thing. I’m willing to let you do it, but it holds no appeal for me.” 

It turned out Alec did have several hard limits and so did Magnus. Anything to do with age play, urine, or feces was right out for both of them. The same applied to anything including animals or other people.

The biggest bone of contention between them was breath play. Alec wanted all of it; Magnus was not willing to budge.

“No,” he said for the umpteenth time as another item on the list rolled around to it. “I can deal with all the other stuff we’ve gone over, but I’m not going to asphyxiate you, or control your breath, or choke you, or hood you, or mummify you, or strangle you, or fucking saran wrap you.”

Alec’s jaw clenched. “I don’t see why it’s such a big deal.”

Magnus glowered. “Drop it, or I’m changing my mind on the gags to a hard no.”

He was still trying to come to grips with just how much Alec was willing to try when neither of them had any real idea what they were signing up for. He just hoped that Alec would keep his promise and be honest and use his safe word when things he thought he could handle turned out to be too much.

“Have you thought about a safe word?”

Alec looked away and shrugged. “Whatever.”

Magnus gritted his teeth. “Alexander.”

“Fine! Give me a minute.”

Magnus watched quietly as Alec leaned back on his elbows and stared at his outstretched legs crossed at the ankles.

He wanted to kiss him so badly, he could taste it. If they were a real couple, he could climb on top of Alec right now, slide forward into his lap until he reached that perfect spot where Magnus fit like he belonged, and they’d make out until someone literally pried them apart. Not that anyone would dare.

“Maryse,” said Alec.

Magnus felt his fantasy crash down on him like his favorite makeup palettes tumbling out of the bathroom cabinet.

“No.”

Alec’s brows flew up. “Excuse me?”

Magnus glowered. “The point of a safe word is to give you an out. That means it has to be something you won’t hesitate to use. There’s no way you would ever say your mother’s name while we have sex.”

Alec narrowed his eyes. “How did you know it’s my mother’s name?”

Magnus smiled. “I know everything.”

Alec shut down harder than a New York City brownout in August.

Magnus didn’t know what he’d done, but it was time to backpaddle and hope the move didn’t blow up in his face even worse.

“I eavesdropped on the meeting with Herondale,” he admitted quickly. “My father used your mother’s first name.”

Alec nodded stiffly, but Magnus noticed that his shoulders started to relax. The stone mask slipped off his face and he made an adorable grumbling noise in his throat.

“I’m not going to say something ridiculous like grapefruit or anything like that.”

Magnus snickered. “I wouldn’t expect you to.” His hand was itching to reach out and caress Alec’s leg, but he held himself back. “We could use the traffic-light system until you think of something?”

Alec tilted his head. “Red-yellow-green?”

Magnus nodded. “Stop, slow down, and good to go.”

Alec grinned. “I thought yellow meant speed up and check the rear-view mirror for cops?”

Magnus lashed out and slapped Alec’s leg with the back of his hand.

Alec snickered.

Magnus smacked him again. Harder.

“Hey!”

He did it again, landing a resounding slap with his flat palm on Alec’s thigh.

“Ow!”

Alec’s eyes went wide with a glare and he pulled away. Magnus went after him and struck him again. Alec writhed, and cursed, and tried to fend him off.

“Stop!”

Magnus didn’t. He cracked his hand across the side of Alec’s hip and glared down at him.

“Color?” he asked sharply.

“Magnus!”

Alec sucked in a breath and stared at him as if he was the incarnation of Shiva.

Magnus checked his temper and switched tactics. Alec had shoveled his own grave by agreeing to try so many things.

Magnus pounced and dug his fingers into Alec’s sides, mercilessly chasing down any possible ticklish spot between Alec’s waist and his armpits.

Alec bucked like a bronco and howled like a wolf, but Magnus had ridden wilder beasts. He was not going to be the first to budge.

“Color?” he barked over Alec’s writhing and cursing.

“G-guh-reen, huh! Ngh!”

Alec wheezed and shook his head, refusing to give in.

Magnus redoubled his efforts, tickling him harder, watching Alec’s face go from white, to pink, to red. He was getting pretty winded himself, clamping down with his thighs to stay on top of Alec. He slipped his hands under and around Alec’s arms when he was trying to protect himself and batted them away when Alec tried to fight him off.

“Color, Alexander!”   

“F-uh-RED!”

Magnus stopped immediately. He pushed his hair out of his face with both hands and looked down at Alec with a triumphant smirk.

“There, now was that so hard?”

Alec was still panting for breath. His face was bright red, the veins on his forehead popping out. His eyes glistened with tears from laughing so hard. His lips were twisted over clenched teeth in an angry wet snarl.

He was the most desirable thing Magnus had ever seen in his life.

“Fuck.”

I love you.

“Magnus?”

Alec’s expression darkened with a suspicious frown. It looked like he was quickly coming to his senses.

Magnus couldn’t afford to get caught. He shook himself out of it and put a smile on his face. No need to dwell on things that couldn’t be changed.

“Now that you’ve learned how to use your safe word,” he drawled, “did you want to try out the new restraints?”

Alec’s expression cleared up in an instant. “Now?”

Magnus snickered and hauled himself out of bed, going for the nondescript black paper bags from Pleasure Island.

Behind him, his phone rang on the mattress, blaring the ominous opening strings of Berlioz’s Witches Sabbath.

Magnus froze.

“It’s your dad,” Alec said flatly.

Magnus took a deep breath, turned around, and grabbed his phone. He looked at Alec and pressed a finger to his lips before he answered it.

“Father.”

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything.” His father’s voice dripped with the sweetness of arsenic.

“No,” Magnus lied, turning his back to Alec. “I just got out of the shower.”

“I’m not surprised you needed one. I am surprised you have developed an interest in yoga. Though, judging by the books you purchased earlier today, it looks like that’s a euphemism for more banal exercises? Please do make sure you don’t invite any … inconveniences.”

Magnus swallowed. In Asmodeus Bane’s glossary, the term ‘inconvenience’ encompassed anything from minor venereal diseases to accidental pregnancies and heavy-handed blackmail.

“Of course,” Magnus said coldly. “Was that the reason you called?”

“No.”

Magnus’s breath stalled. He waited quietly for the other shoe to drop and squash him like a bug under his father’s Italian loafer.

“I called because I have decided on the favor you owe me.”

Magnus narrowed his eyes. He had been expecting this, but that didn’t change the fact that his heart was pounding inside his chest as if he’d just run three miles and done a few laps in the pool right after.

“And?” he pressed the word through his teeth.

“The company is hosting the annual holiday gala at Bane Towers in Manhattan. The date is December 11th. I expect you to be there.”

Magnus rolled his eyes and breathed a small sigh of relief. At least it wasn’t on his birthday. He’d still have to put up with Asmodeus and the high society circus, but it could have been worse.

He expected to hear the click of the call disconnecting, but it seemed Asmodeus wasn’t finished.

“You can bring your latest indiscretion if you absolutely must, but I expect you to officially invite and accompany Ms. Kaelie Whitewillow. I’ll have my assistant send you her details.”

Magnus felt bile churn inside his stomach and rise up his throat. He pressed his lips together. Naturally, his lack of response had absolutely no effect on Asmodeus.

“You will announce your plan to study business and finance and become officially part of the company, and you will certainly play coy about your personal relationship with Ms. Whitewillow. I want them to get the impression that all hope is not lost you might settle down eventually.”

Magnus took shallow breaths and focused his gaze onto the calming scene of Van Gogh’s Cherry Blossoms on the wall above his chaise. He had nothing to say and he knew his father didn’t care to hear anything from him except agreement.

“That’s all,” Asmodeus finished and hung up.

“I see.”

Magnus pretended he was still in conversation. He didn’t need Alec to know just how fucked up his relationship with his father really was.

“Just a sec,” he whispered to Alec with a raised finger and a smile that felt a little too brittle to be convincing.

Alec opened his mouth.

Magnus forced himself to widen his smile and winked. Then he disappeared through his closet into the bathroom as quickly as good decorum would allow.

The bathroom door closed behind him with a quiet click and Magnus sank down to the floor with a long exhalation. His phone clattered onto the tiles next to him.

His father had the worst timing.

Magnus wiped a hand over his face. He took a few deep breaths and tried to put the unpleasant call behind him.

He stood up, checked his reflection in the mirror above the sink, and rolled his eyes at himself. A quick snatch for some toilet paper and a few careful swipes took care of his smudged eyeliner. He freshened up his lip gloss while he was at it.

Magnus was almost back to normal when his phone started to shimmy across the tiles with the buzz of an incoming email. He didn’t need to check it to know it was his father’s assistant sending the information about the Whitewillow girl.

Magnus cursed under his breath, grabbed the phone from the floor, and swiped away the message.

Before he left the bathroom, he straightened himself up, put a brilliant smile on his face, and took a few more deep breaths.

He was going to go in there and be his best self. He had offered Alec to play with the restraints, and Magnus would not allow Asmodeus to ruin that.

When Magnus opened the door and stepped out through the closet, it was to the sight of an empty room.

Alec was gone, his checklist left behind on the bed.

Magnus felt his heart tie around his guts, twist up into his throat, and choke him.

He kicked the clothes at his feet, pounded the sole of his boot against the wall, slammed the bathroom door, and punched his fist blindly into the shoe rack. The mesh caught on his rings. Magnus tore the whole thing down with a snarl. He pried off the rings, nearly ripping off his fingers in the process.

Then he sat down in the middle of the mess and stared at nothing.

Alec didn’t care.

Cat was furious and not talking to Magnus for that exact reason.

Raphael was ‘so not the guy to ask about this stuff’.

Simon would just ramble on about famous doomed movie relationships again, like he’d done when he’d held up Magnus after dinner on Thursday.

Magnus dragged himself off the floor and shuffled over to his bedside table. There was still a bottle of sour candy vodka stashed behind the two omnibus editions of The Sandman. He pulled out Volume I and the half-empty bottle.

Magnus sat down cross-legged against the headboard, spread the massive black book over his lap, opened the bottle, and slipped into the tantalizing comfort of inebriation and dark fantasy.