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It Had To Be You

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Moving out day in college – June 1985 University of Illinois

"Now, how do you know my sister, Isabelle, again?"

"Drama club and PRIDE, the alternative publication. You know... how the cool kids roll," quipped a velvety sounding voice, his face half hidden by a curtain of wavy, dark longish bangs.

Laughing quietly, the mysterious Asian guy lit a cigarette and took a few puffs as he leaned against the beater of a car next to them. A large hiking bag, similar to one used for backpacking travels, lay at his feet, along with a guitar case. A gorgeous, petite blonde girl was standing next to him, looking at him adoringly.  The guy's demeanor -- coupled with the black MC jacket and skinny jeans with holes at the knees and frayed hems tucked neatly into ankle high leather boots with metal studs -- made for a simmering, almost-dangerous vibe.

His hair was cut in the style of the late Jim Morrison of the Doors – and his face was wearing a similar pout.

In fact, between his posture and the simmering pout he wore with his intense smoldering brown almond  shaped eyes with gold glints in them – the suave Asian guy was breathtaking, just breathtaking.

The gaze unnerved Alec. It was as if the guy was looking directly into his soul. He smirked, as if aware of the effect he was having on Alec.

Also, Alec was trying not to cringe, or to say anything, about the guy leaning against his car.  It was old -- definitely a beater so he shouldn't care about things like that. Still though, it was his car, and there was something called being respectful of other people's things.

However, at that moment, he decided he could just let it go for now.

Alec quickly put on his best aloof look as to appear unaffected.  Do not react, Alec thought.  This guy wants you to react.

He eyed the stranger surreptitiously -- the person he had graciously volunteered, at Isabelle's request, to help drive back to New York, as the guy's car had been totaled a few months back.

"Uh, I'm not a fan of cigarettes in the car," Alec said bluntly. 

"Exactly why I'm having one now and not on the road," the guy said nonchalantly, taking another drag. Then he held out his hand.

"Magnus. Magnus Bane." The words rolled off the tongue like music floating on a breeze.

Alec looked at the hand, there were rings adorning three of those fingers, which were elegant and slim. He had never thought that rings would look good on a guy's hand.

Until now... but he was not about to admit to it.

And no, he was not going to admit that the voice sounded quite nice.  People just didn't think those things -- especially not men toward men, he could remember his father saying.

Alec took his hand and shook it. Nice firm grip, he thought. 

"Alec Lightwood," he said.

He eyed the blonde currently snuggling in the guy's arms. "Not fond of clingers either."

"She's not coming with us," he said easily.

The blonde looked up at the guy, pouting. "Aren't you going to miss me?" she asked in a kittenish voice.

The guy smiled, looking down at her. "Of course I will, shmoopie-kins. I love you," he said sweetly.

"Well I love you more," she said, melting into his arms.  He leaned in and they were suddenly kissing like the world would end in the next 10 minutes.

Alec rolled his eyes. "Uh, guys, I'm still here," he said, annoyed. 

Under his breath, he muttered audibly, "Ugh, heteros."

"Ah, excuse me?" The guy had stopped making out with the girl, and had given her a three fingered wave as she waved goodbye.  Alec found that the guy was looking at him intently.

 "Did you just say something?" Magnus asked, raking an eyebrow.

"Uh, no," Alec said quickly.  Ugh, he really needed to be better about doing that...

The guy laughed softly, again.  He flipped his hair out of his eyes, and suddenly Alec was staring into a pair of magnetic, soft brown eyes with a playful glint in them. Which belonged to who was probably one of the most beautiful men he had ever seen. 

"No, not hetero.  I'm bi -- the best of both worlds," he purred, throwing him a wink.

Alec suddenly felt flustered.

"Bi--?" He had not considered that.  Thus far, he had only known people to identify as either gay or straight. The latter of which he had been actively trying to be during these last four years...

"Yes, we relatively came into our own, recently," the guy said, shrugging.  "You know, labels and shit. Although come to think of it, I don't think we are completely represented yet, unlike the gay and lesbian communities. It will get there before long, I'm sure. Personally I don't care for labels though.  After all, we are who we are, right? So labels shouldn't really matter.  But it's rather cute to be tossed in a category I suppose..."

His tone was light, sarcastic edged with an underlying sense of knowing.

Alec just stared at him, almost feeling envious.  How it must feel to be that free, that confident, he thought.

"So anyway, do you want to drive first, or should I?" Magnus asked.

Alec narrowed his eyes. "Didn't you total your own car?" he asked. "I don't mind driving."

Magnus pressed his lips into a thin line, clearly upset.

"The other guy barreled into me!" he protested. "I am a good driver. Ask your sister, I've dropped her off plenty of times from drama club."

"Hm okay," Alec said, relenting. "Sorry about that."

The guy waved it off. "Already forgotten," he said smoothly. "So should we get going?" He picked up his hiking bag and his guitar case. 

"Ah sure," Alec said. "Give me a moment." 

Alec went around his car to open up the trunk.  There was plenty of room, especially after folding down the backseats.  Alec only had a large bag and a suitcase in the trunk.  He gestured for Magnus to hand over his bag and guitar.  Magnus stretched out the arm with the heavy bag, and Alec took it.  After putting that in the trunk, he turned again and held out his hand for the guitar.

Magnus pulled his arm back. "This is my baby," he said. "I'll put it in myself."

Alec shrugged. "Suit yourself. It wasn't like I was going to just throw it in, you know."

Magnus nodded. "I didn't think that at all," he replied smoothly.  He stepped forward, ducked into the trunk and gingerly placed the guitar case in between two bags so it was nestled closely between them. "That's so it doesn't get jostled around too much.  Can't be too cautious with an instrument, you know."

Alec nodded. "Understood," he said.

They both went around to the front and got into the car.  Alec was to drive first shift. 

"Got everything?" he asked. "I thought we would drive until dinner time, and then we would stop for a bite. How does that sound?"

"Sounds good," the guy replied. "Oh, wait, I should carry my personal things with me." The guy immediately slung himself in the space between both bucket seats, rummaging in his backpack.  “Now where’s my eyeliner,” he muttered. “And my wallet… didn’t I put those in the front of the bag… hmm.”

Alec turned to say something to Magnus, but came face to face with the firmest shaped ass – made even more sexy clad in dark jeans -- he had ever laid his eyes on.  What was even worse was that Magnus was shifting his weight back and forth as he searched for his items, making his ass wiggle a bit toward Alec’s face.

Well, hello, his brain registered.

Stop it! Alec thought, furrowing his brows and scowling.  He rolled his eyes.

“Shouldn’t you have taken those out earlier?” he asked curtly.

Magnus suddenly lifted his head from rummaging to look at him.

“Boy, are you always this annoying?” he huffed. “Sheesh, you are the most uptight guy I have ever met!  Insufferable!”

“You’re no picnic yourself,” Alec muttered. “So? Are you done? We need to get going soon, to keep time.”

“I’m done. Are you happy now?” Magnus scoffed. 

He bounced back into his bucket seat and put the seat belt over his shoulder, his wallet and eyeliner/shadow combo set in hand. Damn what was wrong with this Lightwood guy?  His sister Isabelle was so damn cool and laid back.  This guy, though… Boy, he could tell the next 19 hours were going to be fun…

“Quite,” Alec responded dryly.  He rolled his eyes as he started the engine. 

He prayed they wouldn’t end up killing each other before they got to New York. 

….

The sun was just starting to set over the horizon, turning the skies slightly pink and orange, when they pulled into the parking lot of the truck stop. It wasn’t a place that Alec would normally pull over at, but he had been driving for awhile now, and he was starting to get bleary-eyed.  Next to him, Magnus was sagging against him, nearly in his lap - to his extreme annoyance.  His eyes were closed, and  his mouth was half open as he snored. Alec frowned.

He’s sure a deep sleeper, Alec thought wryly.  A quarter mile earlier, he had been leaning against the window, slack-jawed and asleep. Then he had fallen in this direction and never moved again.  Dead to the freaking world…

He shoved at him lightly. “Magnus, Magnus. Wake up.  We are going to stop for a bit to eat.  Magnus,” he said, urging Magnus awake.

Magnus opened up his eyes, looking confused.  “What, wha? Oh, okay. Right,” he sputtered. Then he looked and realized where he was. He immediately shifted his body up and away from Alec. “Oh,” he said dumbly, “Sorry about that.” 

He swiped his arm quickly across his mouth, in case he had drooled during his sleep. Wow, he had not expected to knock out like that. But the passing scenery had been super boring, and he must have eventually drifted off…

“Shall we go?” Alec asked, starting to get out of the car. Magnus quickly followed suit, taking his motorcycle jacket out of the car and shrugging it off his shoulders.

They walked into the truck stop, where they were gestured to sit anywhere.  They settled into a booth and opened up their menus. 

One of the waiters came over after a few minutes.

“So, what will it be?” said the waiter.

“Hmm, I will have the Monte Cristo sandwich deluxe with a Coke,” Alec said, closing the menu.

“Ok,” the waiter said, scribbling furiously.

“And you?” The waiter turned to Magnus.

“I’ll take a bacon cheddar burger, medium rare,” Magnus said.  The waiter started to write his order down, and then Magnus put his hand on his forearm. Surprised, the waiter looked up at Magnus, who was now smiling sweetly at him.

“Please make sure it’s pink in the middle, close to red, or else I might send it back,” Magnus continued, looking at him from under his eyelashes. “Fries crispy at the edges. With gravy on the side please.  I’ll also have a chocolate milkshake, please. I know we will get our food exactly how we asked.  I bet you’re really good at giving orders to the line cooks…” 

Magnus smiled brightly at the waiter.

“S-Sure,” the waiter stuttered, blinking. There was an edge of pink across his cheeks.  He took both their menus. “Thank you.”

“No, thank you,” Magnus said magnanimously. 

Now the waiter’s flush had turned a deeper red. Muttering something, he walked away quickly.

Magnus turned to see Alec staring at him, slack-jawed but with a hint of annoyance in his face.

“What?” Magnus asked. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Alec rolled his eyes. “Seriously, did you have to do that?” he asked sardonically.

“What do you mean?” Magnus asked, confused.

“THAT,” Alec said, using his hands to describe what he just witnessed, complete with eyelash batting.

“I was only trying to get the order that I want. I hate overdone burgers,” Magnus explained.

Geez, why was this guy making it such a big deal? He liked things the way he liked things!  And hey, if flirting would help it along, then why not?

“Hmm, okay,” Alec muttered, sitting back and looking out at the parking lot.  Then he turned back and caught Magnus looking at him carefully.

“Um, yes?" Alec asked, questioningly.  He felt really self-conscious. This guy was nervy.  He had never met anyone who was this direct.  And it was making him feel on edge...

Magnus’s face broke into a small smile.

“You’re really good looking you know. I just noticed this by the way, not before,” Magnus stated, without any pretenses in his voice.

Suddenly, Alec felt super warm. “Uh, thanks?” he said slowly, not knowing how to react. 

He had been hit on during college but he generally hadn’t had the time to date. Nor was he completely comfortable with who he was, exactly. He had tried, and it was now better than it had been freshman year -- but it was still a process.

“Your personality certainly leaves much to be desired and it detracted from your looks,”  Magnus was saying. “But looks, you certainly have in abundance, Alexander.”

“It’s Alec,” Alec said automatically.

“Alexander suits you better,” Magnus said blithely.

Alec did a double take. “Wait -- did you just give me an backhanded compliment?” he sputtered. The nerve of this guy!

Magnus held up both hands. “Wow, talk about a delayed reaction! Hold on darling, don’t get your khakis into a bunch. I wasn’t asking you to sleep with me, I was just making an observation,” he said.

“W-What?” Alec asked again.  This guy!!

“Although I’m sure you would be decent in bed. And not that I would turn down the opportunity if it presented itself... You know what they say about the repressed ones…” Magnus mused, his thoughts now elsewhere.

His eyes lingered on Alec, starting to rove down his body.

Alec shuddered at the implication of it.

“i can't believe this,” Alec said indignantly. “Weren't you with that blonde before?"

Magnus shrugged. "We're no longer in the same area code, so..."

Alec just glared at him.

"Anyway -- no. Eww. None of that, you and me. There will  be no talk of sleeping or any type of activity like that.  Get your mind out of the gutter.”

“Aw, c'mon," Magnus teased.  "Where's your sense of adventure? I'm pretty fun, once you get to know me.  In all right ways.  Also, everyone is always checking each other out, especially if they are exceptionally attractive, I might add.  Anyway it would go double for me, need I remind you. Girls as well as guys.  I swing both ways. Bi, remember?” Magnus said.

“How could I forget?” Alec groaned.

Magnus hummed. "So, what about it, blue eyes?" he said in a sexy voice. "You... and me? Two gorgeous guys, it would be hot! Surely you're feeling it too..."

He clucked his tongue suggestively. 

“Didn't you hear what I said before?” Alec was aghast. This guy was so persistent!

Despite his annoyance, he couldn't help flushing. 

“No, no, no, no, and NO.  Friends.  That's it!” Alec insisted.

“Ah, friends,” Magnus said gallantly. “Why, of course.” 

Just then the same waiter came with their drinks.  Magnus threw the waiter a wink, causing the waiter to flush, yet again, and earning a huge eyeroll from Alec.

“Perfect timing,” Magnus said smoothly. He raised his milkshake toward Alec. “Ok then. Since you are being difficult right now, then I say let’s toast – to being friends." 

He then smiled a genuine smile, flashing Alec a set of very bright, white teeth.

Alec tried not to think about how nice that smile looked, or how it just made Magnus look even more gorgeous than before.  He raised his glass of Coke, clinking it against Magnus’s glass.

“Friends,” Alec echoed. 

….

The trip toward New York was not without banter, most of it argumentative. Magnus was very outspoken on things, especially when it came to gay and bisexual rights and representation, and some of it made Alec bristle inwardly.  Alec was more of an observer, and not as vocal, so a lot stemmed from that. 

He actually thought Magnus made a lot of good points, but he kept his mouth shut, due to his embarrassing lack of knowledge or insight on the subject. It was tough to contribute to the conversation when he himself was still trying to figure himself out.

But after awhile, Magnus just couldn't keep from spouting innuendo after innuendo, and he had started flirted shamelessly again.  

"Stop it," Alec grumbled.  Magnus just kept sticking his tongue out at him.  God he was insufferable with that!  He was just not going to let it rest.

"You know you love me already," Magnus teased.  Alec just sighed.

Before long, they were both standing right outside Alec’s car, parked along Bleecker Street right around New York University.  It seemed like a nice enough block, and it was interesting how Broadway was alll bustling, and busy but once you walked down 1-2 block it was these large apartment buildings, a small shopping complex, and then West Broadway, full of mom and pop shops adn boutiques, set in brownstones no more than 3 stories tall.  Magnus’s new apartment was just a few avenues away, but he was excited and wanted to take in the sights of his new neighborhood. So he asked Alec to drop him off a few blocks early, so he could walk the rest of the way.

"Anyway, so I guess we should exchange numbers, just for reference,” Alec said. "I mean, you do know Isabelle, so we will probably run into one another again, right?"

Oh? Magnus looked at Alec. Hmm he was a strange one. Unpredictable.

But okay…He took out a little notepad with a pen attached to it.

“You always carry that?” Alec asked curiously, as Magnus handed him both.

“I did write for the newsletter, remember?” Magnus reminded him.  “Can’t be too prepared in case there’s something worthy of a story.”

Alec nodded. “Makes sense,” he said, as he jotted down his digits. 

He passed the notebook back to Magnus. Magnus scribbled down his digits, ripped off the page, and handed it to Alec.  Their fingers brushed in passing, and Alec felt a semi-warm jolt through his system.  Huh? he thought.  

“Thanks,” he mumbled, suddenly looking anywhere but at Magnus.

If Magnus had realized how he had affected Alec, he did not make any sign that he was aware of it. “No problem, Alec,” he said pleasantly. “Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you. Don’t be a stranger.”

He stuck out his hand toward him.

Alec took his hand and shook it. “Yea, you too,” he said. 

Magnus gave a three fingered wave before walking further down, making a left at West Broadway.  Alec just looked after him, still bemused by the person who was Magnus Bane – with whom he had just shared a 19 hour car ride. 

And that’s that, he thought, shrugging as he got back into his car.  He needed to drive to Brooklyn, where his rental apartment was located.  Who knows if he would ever see Magnus Bane again.  But, yea he was sure interesting. 

Well, his brain thought wryly, Good thing that may be the last time you ever see him.  If he even had an inkling that he had affected you this much, you’d probably never hear the end of it.

Yup, Alec thought, answering his own question. He shook his head, turned on the ignition, and started driving toward Brooklyn.

As it was, both ended up way too busy with interviews, and then first job orientations to even think about a possible meetup. 

Then within a few months, there would be no conceivable way these two would ever have a planned meetup – Magnus ended up losing that little notebook with Alec’s number on it.

And Alec – well, Alec just plain lost that slip of paper with Magnus’s number on it somewhere in his new apartment.

Oh well, so much for that...

...or was it?

Chapter Text

Three years later – March 1988 Dallas BBQ by Astor Square

“Alec, it’s your birthday, a happy, happy birthday.  It’s a happy, happy birthday to you!” 

The chorus of waiters singing and clapping their hands as they surrounded the table where he sat only made Alec groan more as he covered his face with his hands in embarrassment. 

Next to him, his sister Isabelle, brother Jace Wayland, his girlfriend Clary Fray, and her too talkative friend Simon Lewis all wore shit-eating grins.

"Got you!" Clary yelled, as she and Simon highfived one another.   

Alec rolled his eyes.

Those two were so annoyingly alike.  They were also best friends, which made perfect sense. He wondered how Jace put up with both of them. 

At least he only saw them during group meetups; Jace had to see Simon all the time because Clary always insisted on bringing him along to outings with the two of them.

Now, turning to his sister, Isabelle, who was thisclose to cracking the hell up, Alec hissed, “You know I hate these things.” 

He had endured a crazy day at work with annoying coworkers from other departments, and he was still in his work attire, a button-down dress shirt with slacks.  He was not too comfortable in his work getup, but Isabelle had insisted on dragging him out for dinner immediately after. 

And now this!

“Surprised you, didn’t I?” Isabelle looked smug, her dark eyes knowing. “At least it's here at a restaurant, and I didn’t order a male stripper to jump out of a cake.”

Alec’s eyes grew wide.  “We will have none of that,” he muttered, his cheeks pink. 

Looking up, he forced a toothy smile onto his face as the waiters glowed around him, the head waiter holding a tiramisu with candles on it.

“Thank you,” he managed, hoping that would make them take their leave.

Sure enough, they did.

“Are you really mad at me?” Isabelle asked, suddenly sounding worried.  She gave him a big doe-eyed look and pout. “See, I even ordered your favorite, tiramisu!”

At that, Alec had to laugh.  “Okay, okay Izzy,” he said, laughing. “I forgive you…”

“If it isn’t Isabelle Lightwood!  My dear, it’s been ages.  How ARE you?”

The smooth, musical voice jarred Alec out of his current state of emotions and brought a whole slew of different emotions.  That voice, it sounded so familiar ---

Alec’s eyes widened as a sense of familiar annoyance, thought long gone, reared its head again.

Oh god, he knew who it was ---

He turned, and looked directly into the eyes of a smirking Magnus Bane.  The guy whom he had given a ride back to New York City after graduation three years ago. 

Isabelle’s friend. 

The guy, whose intense brown eyes with golden glints, lined with kohl, were now staring at him intensely, curiously, even though he had addressed Isabelle.

He was in a magenta button-down with the collar turned up and three buttons undone. A well fitted dark denim jacket was slung on his lithe frame, with artfully ripped skinny jeans in the same color. But it was his hair that stood out.  Now shorter at the ends, he had it in a dark mohawk style, with the sides of his head shaved, and a few tails in the back, dyed in red and blue. A diamond stud glimmered in his right earlobe.

Different, yet still lethal…

Alec gulped.  

Isabelle scoffed. “Oh c’mon, Magnus, we just met up for lunch two weeks ago, in between your client storyboard meetings,” she deadpanned. 

The man threw his head back and laughed, the sound coming out like clear bells.

“I’m just kidding, darling,” Magnus said, his eyes never leaving Alec’s face.

“A little birdie screamed that it was someone’s birthday, while my friends and I were getting wasted over there.”  He pointed vaguely to the far end of the restaurant. “And I knew I had to come over.”

“So, happy birthday, Alexander,” he drawled.   

Isabelle raised an eyebrow. “No one calls him Alexander,” she said in amazement.

Alec flushed.

“By the way,” Magnus continued, wagging his finger in his face, “you never called me after we parted ways that day.”  His tone now sounded light yet with a tinge of mock accusation.

“You never called me either!” Alec shot back without thinking.  Then he flushed again. Oh god, he just sounded like he had been waiting at the phone for Magnus all this time, hadn’t he?  Shit, he thought.

Magnus just stared at him.  And then his expression changed to one of sheepishness.  He laughed awkwardly. “Yea, well, about that – I lost that notebook somewhere and your number as well. Then I changed phone numbers, so it wouldn’t have worked anyway,” he said.

Magnus was apologizing?  Wow, that was new, Alec thought. 

Oh great, now confusion swirled through his brain.

Who was this guy, again?

“Well,” Alec managed after an awkward silence filled the air,” I guess it happens to the best of us, eh?”

The two men laughed a little bit. Isabelle watched their exchange, with a smirk forming on her lips.

"Wait  -- you two carpooled back after college...that's right!" she realized. 

She looked at both of them intently. "So it had been that memorable?  Even after three years?  Now this is interesting," she mused.

The two guys looked at each other, both with almost identical scowls on their faces.

The next few words nearly came out simultaneously from both of them.

"Memorable?  Yea, right," Alec muttered, recalling the conversations they had during that trip.

"Hrmpf. More like annoying," Magnus sputtered. Ugh, so Alec actually hadn't changed that much.

Figures, he thought wryly.

Isabelle just observed the two, her brows furrowing in contemplation. 

Suddenly she had pushed in between the two, rolling her eyes in exasperation. Stupefied, both men looked at her. 

“Here!” she said resolutely.  Taking out her wallet, she took out two business cards, practically shoving one in each of their faces.  

“Alec, take this. This is Magnus’s business card,” she said, as a still stupified Alec just stared at the card in his face. "He’s a Senior Graphic Designer at Ogilvy.”  

Magnus looked thoughtfully at the card being presented to him. “This is Alec’s business card. He works as a copy editor at Simon and Schuster,” Isabelle stated. 

Looking proud of herself, she just stood there, waiting for the men to take the cards from her.

The two men looked at one another, shrugged, and then took their respective cards.  They seemed to share identical looks with one another, and then with Isabelle.

 Uhh, what just happened?

“You’re welcome,” Isabelle smirked. “Now, go make plans to hang out or something and catch up.”

Magnus’s eyes widened. 

Alec started to flush a bright red as he hissed, “Isabelle!” yet again. 

There was now a longer silence between them.

Then Magnus laughed awkwardly.

“Well, Alexander, I guess now we have each other’s numbers.  Maybe we will actually stay in touch this time, eh?  Or at the very least, I don’t think we can get away with anything otherwise.  Your sister is quite the persistent one," he joked.

“Yea, you know it, bud,” Isabelle teased, nudging Magnus in the ribs, making him wince as she laughed.

Alec had to smile at that exchange. 

He lifted his eyes and met Magnus’s cheerful gaze.

“Sure thing,” he said.

****

“Alexander! You should come by Pandemonium sometime – I bartend there on some Saturdays, it would be great to see you!”

Alec played his voicemail yet again, listening to the smooth voice speak over the machine.

It had been three weeks since that run-in at Dallas BBQ when he had seen Magnus again.

He knew about Pandemonium – it was a new club in the Tribeca area which had opened just a few weeks ago.  While renowned for the global DJs that it had been able to attract to play there, it was also known for attracting a large LGBT crowd. 

He had heard about it at work from Raj, a coworker whom had been recently persistent in approaching  him in the kitchen/lounge over the past two weeks.  

It seemed like whenever Alec went to heat up his lunch, Raj would be there.  Smiling widely, clad in his polo shirts and neatly pressed slacks and a sweater tied over his shoulders.  He was otherwise friendly though, and Alec had no reason to think he had ulterior motives. 

So he had stood there, allowing Raj to make small talk with him, while he nodded and ahhed from time to time.

Well, at least Raj wasn’t lecherous – just a tad clueless at reading body language.  And he wasn’t too bad on the eyes, either.

He was harmless, for the most part.         

Incidentally, Alec had recently told himself he needed to get out there -- to explore what it meant to be a single gay man in New York City.

Finally, he had acknowledged to himself that, yes, he was gay, and he was going to finally brave the scene. He had already been here three years, and did not have much to show for it.

New York was a huge city and it had a lot to offer.

“Hey,” Raj had said casually one day, as he had playfully backed Alec into a corner of the kitchen/lounge work. “A bunch of us are going to Pandemonium this Saturday night to check it out.  Wasn’t sure if that was your scene or not, but it would be cool to see you there.” 

His brown eyes had roved over Alec’s face and body, lingering on his lips, and Alec had inhaled sharply. 

Stop it, he thought to himself, people check out people all the time.  No need to be uncomfortable.

He forced a grin on his face. “That…sounds fun.  Maybe I will,” he managed. 

Raj’s face brightened. “Oh, great!  Well, I hope that you do, then,” he said.

His hand went to Alec’s forearm and lingered there, before sliding it down to his hand.  Then he mouthed, “Bye,” before turning and leaving.

Alec had just stood there, still a little flustered about what just took place – that he was actually considering going out into the scene. 

His next thought was frantic: “What do I wear??!”

And now, this voicemail from Magnus.  Hmm, he hadn’t known Magnus was moonlighting as a bartender at the place he had been thinking of checking out.

“Well,” Alec said aloud, “Guess I get to kill two birds with one stone, don’t I?” 

It would be nice to know a friendly face as he navigated an environment like that.

But yes, the outfit…

One night later, Isabelle was in his apartment, throwing everything out of the closet.

“You got nothing! Sheesh, we need to go shopping!” she exclaimed. “Meet me after work Friday!”

Alec had groaned.  But had gone with her anyway. 

A whirlwind trip through Macy’s Herald Square, then on the subway down to the Village, they had ended up in Canal Jean, a popular spot in the neighborhood for both punk and bohemians alike, that sold both new and vintage offbeat clothing, perfect for a night out. It was also one of Isabelle’s favorite spots downtown.

“A velvet blazer? Really?” Alec protested as Isabelle held up a dark blue blazer against Alec’s frame.

“YES! This is going to look great on you, and so stylish! Live a little! Also these black leather pants! And this pair of slim dark wash jeans with ripped seams!” Isabelle squealed.  Soon, a pair of John Lennon-esque sunglasses and a mesh cutout shirt in black were thrown at him also.

“Isabelle! I’m not a stripper,” Alec complained, trying to push the mesh cutout shirt back at her.

Isabelle rolled her eyes. “Seriously?  C’mon live a little. Try it on!” Isabelle said, pushing him, with his hands full of merchandise, into one of the dressing rooms.

Alec walked out a short time later, feeling really self-conscious. 

With the mesh cutout shirt on, some skin was exposed and he felt naked.  He was very glad for the sunglasses, so no one could recognize him.

“See, big brother, you look great!” Isabelle squealed, giving him a hug. “Someone’s surely going to buy you a drink! Now all you need is a little makeup and we need to fix that hair. My god it's so flat right now it's atrocious –”

“Um what? No makeup, Izzy,” Alec said warningly. 

“Just a little, to bring out your eyes,” Isabelle said. “The club’s going to be dark, we need to accentuate your eyes somehow.  All the club kids do it!  Magnus does it…”

“Well, Magnus is a different thing altogether,” Alec muttered. 

Somehow Magnus could pull things like that off, even in broad daylight, and it would seem normal on him.  Alec would feel like a freak. Anyway, he may be tiptoeing into the scene, but makeup he certainly was not ready for…

“Okay, change out, I think we should get all of these.  And can we now go to Unique Boutique that’s up the avenue?” Isabelle asked. “I’m looking for a new hat.”

“Sure,” Alec said.  He couldn’t help smiling at his overly enthused sister.  She laughed and dragged him out of the store.

Half an hour later, they had come out of Unique Boutique with a few hats for Isabelle, including a black hat for Alec, and two pairs of steel toe Doc Martens, a lace-up work boot for Isabelle, a pair of regular style shoes for Alec.

“You know, Alec,” Isabelle said, “I’ve heard that if someone steps too hard on your foot, you won’t even feel it because of the steel toes. They look great, right?”

Alec had to admit that they did look good.

“Okay, great. So glad we are done with shopping,” Alec said, relieved. “Are we up for food, next?”

Isabelle beamed. “You read my mind!  I can always eat. Yaffa Café?” she asked. This was her favorite spot to hang out in the area.

“Sounds good to me,” Alec laughed. They linked arms and continued walking down the avenue.

Chapter Text

Saturday night – Pandemonium

“Alec! You are looking good, doll,” Raj said appreciatively, removing his sunglasses slightly to look at Alec from head to toe.  He was surrounded by other types around him who were talking animatedly.

“Uh, thanks,” Alec said awkwardly.

Raj had seen him walking toward Pandemonium from across the street, and had enthusiastically waved him over. 

Alec had managed a small smile as he walked toward Raj. 

Next to him, a group of 5-6 well-dressed guys, looking like they were yuppies from Wall Street (friends of Raj’s, he assumed,) turned briefly in his direction, raked their eyebrows as in, ”Who’s that?” toward Raj.

Raj had said something, they had then smiled and nodded at Alec.  Alec had nodded back at both, before he ended up in front of Raj.

“Do you come here often?” Alec asked Raj hesitantly. This was so new to him, going to a club.

Raj laughed. “Only every weekend with these party animals.  But the people are super cool though.  Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.  By the way, I suspect there will be guys buying you drinks.  I better keep a close eye on you."

"This dark blue blazer does wonders for your eyes,” he added, his voice lowering in appreciation as he looked directly at Alec.

Oh. Alec had forgotten to put on his sunglasses, which were perched above his head. “Thanks,” he said, fidgeting slightly.  He looked around. “Uhh, aren't other coworkers supposed to be coming?”

Raj shrugged. “Who  knows?” he said lightly. “I did extend the invitation. But you know people. Some say they will come, and then they don’t. Others don’t.  I’m glad you made it, though,” he said warmly.

Both arms reached out to hold Alec’s forearms at arm’s length.

Alec tried not to cringe.  He was not used to being touched, even superficially.

Relax, Alec thought, annoyed with himself.  Is that why you don’t have that many friends outside of your family and some acquaintances?  Loosen up, Lightwood, he thought.

“Ooh, check out the cool mesh cutout shirt,” Raj gushed, “Very nice. Skin and all.  But it doesn’t really seem your regular style.  Unless you’ve been holding out on something, eh, Alec?” Raj leered at him, his eyes not leaving Alec’s chest.

Great, now Alec really felt naked, especially with the way Raj was looking at him.

“Uh, my sister,” he said awkwardly. “She chose it for me.  She thought it would go with the outfit.”

“That it does, that it does.  Wonderful with the leather pants too. Didn’t take you to be a bad boy,” Raj said, smiling widely.

I am? Alec thought, confused.  Then he shrugged. It was just for tonight, anyway. Clubbing. 

He took a deep breath, and smiled at Raj.

“The line’s moving. C’mon hottie, let’s go,” Raj said smoothly, hooking his arm through Alec’s and pulling him forward. The group of yuppie guys followed suit as well.

Eventually they passed the bouncer, and strode into Pandemonium.  A strobe light hit Alec’s eyes, and he shut his eyes quickly. Right, the sunglasses.  He quickly slid them on.  

Raj turned just then to look at him. “Ooh, sassy, I like those,” he said, smiling. “Let’s go to the main bar.”

He turned briefly to acknowledge his friends, and they all followed.   

It seemed like a different colored light lit up on the dark floor as they walked. Stars, alit from some projector, adorned the ceiling of the club, occasionally going through the colors of the rainbow, from red to purple.

Bodies grinding up against one another, couples kissing, people sitting in groups talking and drinking were everywhere.  People of all orientations and persuasion were together.  The music was very loud and Alec resisted the urge to plug his fingers in his ears. The air was a bit stifling from all the body heat emanating from all the people. But Alec didn’t want to take his blazer off just yet. His mesh cutout shirt was sleeveless, and it would just make him feel too exposed.              

They approached the bar. The very fit bartender, dressed in a sleeveless vest showcasing his muscular golden arms, black leather pants, and a dark mohawk tipped in red was facing away from them as he was mixing a drink.

“Be right with you, folks,” a very smooth voice drawled.  And very familiar.  Deja-vu struck Alec yet again.

“Magnus,” he uttered. 

Immediately the bartender finished mixing his drink, whirling around with the shaker in hand.

“Alexander?” he said hesitantly, and then looked at him more intently. 

Feeling self-conscious, Alec removed his sunglasses.

Magnus’s face broke into a big smile. “Alexander!  You came!”

Alec’s cheeks reddened. “Well, thought it was about time I checked this place out,” he said.

“Wait, you have an IN with this place?” Raj’s voice suddenly interrupted their conversation.

“And whoa, what do we have here?  Damn the bartenders are getting hotter every time I come here. Are you new? You are fiiiine. You blow my mind, baby,”  

He winked at Magnus, now leering at Magnus’s golden muscular arms, the exposed chest that showed through his vest.  His gaze lingered upon Magnus’s kohl lined eyes, gold stars adorning the right side of his face by his cheekbones, and glossy lips.

Without taking his eyes off Raj, Magnus said sardonically, “Boy, Alec. Not 5 minutes yet inside the club, and your guy is already making a great impression on you by flirting with me, eh?”

Alec sputtered. “No, no. He’s not my guy.  He’s a coworker.  He did invite me to come. But I also got your voicemail, and I forgot to let you know I would be coming by to see you,” he said.  “Sorry about that.”

At that, Magnus’s expression softened, and a small smile appeared on his face.

“Yea, Alec’s a great sport.  Trying to show him a good time tonight,” said Raj enthusiastically, as he slung an arm over Alec.  Alec almost flinched but managed to hold down. “How about two Long Island Ice Teas?  Magnus, is that right??”

Magnus nodded.

“Yea, it’s Magnus. Coming right up,” he said, his eyes meeting Alec with a questionable look for one second before turning to mix their drinks.  Before long, he passed the drinks over to them, and Raj gave over the money, along with a $10 tip.

“Thanks, boss man,” he said pleasantly.

Magnus nodded, giving Alec and Raj another look, before turning and going to the throng of clubbers which had collected at the far end of the bar.

“Down the hatch,” Raj said, giving Alec one of the drinks. Alec accepted it.

“Thanks,” Alec said.  They both tipped back their glasses.  Alec winced. It had been a lot stronger than he had expected.

“Ooh, looks like the bartender hooked us up!  I bet that’s because you knew him! I lucked out tonight!” Raj bubbled.  

Alec smiled and was about to say something, but then Raj’s lips were on his cheek, ending in a loud smack.  

Alec recoiled, shocked for a second at Raj’s initiative.  Then he forced himself to relax. Just a spontaneous peck on the cheek, Alec.  No ulterior motive…well at least Alec hoped there wasn’t. 

It felt weird, and not a good weird…

Alec took some mental notes to stay about a foot away from Raj for the rest of the night.

Raj was grinning as he took another drink. Then he turned to his yuppie friends, whooped, starting a round of yelling and jumping around in time to the blaring music.

Alec shuddered. This was going to be a long night…

“C’mon, Alec!” Raj cheered. “You need to catch up with the rest of us!” He held out a drink to him.

Alec, a bit tipsy after having 3 drinks, eyed it suspiciously.  “What is that?” he asked warily.

“Malibu Bay Breeze, a frou frou type of drink. Don’t worry, lightweight, you’re good,” Raj teased, as he tossed back his vodka on the rocks with the other.

“Hmm, okay,” Alec relented as he took the drink from Raj.  He downed it.  Hmm sweet, a bit heavy on the liquor though. However, not bad…

“Yea, you’re right,” he admitted. “Pretty good.”

“See?” Raj cheered. “Let’s get you another one.”

Before Alec knew what was going on, another Bay Breeze was tossed into his hand. Raj grinned at him, and then turned back to his buddies. 

Alec started getting restless after a while.  He still had his full mixed drink. 

He remembered Magnus was still working the bar.  He turned, craning his neck over the crowd two feet in front of him to see if he could see Magnus.  But there was another bartender tending to the patrons. 

Eh? Alec thought.  Had he gotten off shift already and left? Alec felt slightly let down, but didn’t know why.

As he started to turn back to his immediate group, the unmistakable red tips on black hair in the crowd a few feet to the right of him caught his eye. He kept his eyes on the figure, who was dancing really close to an attractive Asian guy, dressed in a police cap, sunglasses, silver vest and silver vinyl pants. 

As the couple turned in his direction, Alec’s breath caught. It was indeed Magnus, grinding against the guy, before the guy leaned in and kissed Magnus passionately.  Ah, that’s where he went…

Alec turned away, focusing back on the group he was with. 

There was now a new guy amongst them, someone tall, blond, and dressed in a gold glittery shirt with a large collar.  And he was standing very close to Raj, giggling as he whispered something in Raj’s ear.  Raj was giggling back, and they were both drinking martinis. 

Raj caught Alec’s eye, and motioned for him to come closer.  Alec did, feeling a bit self-conscious and out of place.

“Hey,” Raj half-slurred. “Me and Shane, here – isn’t he cute? – we are going to go out back for a bit.  You’ll be okay, here right?  Don’t worry, my friends are all around, you’re good.”

“Uh, sure Raj,” Alec said.  He turned to Shane. “Have a good time.”  Both Shane and Raj looked blissful as they waved a good bye and walked off. 

Alec looked around, at the yuppie guys around him, who obviously were not giving him a second glance, then at the crowd of couples and people dancing with abandon.  He looked down at his drink and suddenly felt like the room was spinning just the tiniest bit. 

Yea, he was really getting buzzed now. 

Well, then, why not get a little more so?  He thought.  Might as well cut loose, right? 

Feeling determined, he downed his mixed drink in one shot. He shrugged off his velvet blazer, leaving it on one of the seats.

Taking a deep breath, and with a few steps, Alec threw himself onto the crowded dance floor…

….

The crowd was stifling, bodies close to one another, music pumping.  The strobe lights shining everywhere was starting to make his vision blur.  But still Alec tried to keep up, dancing and determined to have a good time.

Alec was so very glad he had decided to abandon his velvet blazer because he would have suffocated wearing it onto the dance floor.  As it was, he was already starting to sweat, even in his sleeveless mesh cutout shirt.  And he could feel the added heat from the bodies gyrating and sweating all around him.

There was not much room to dance, and it felt like he was literally being moved by the crowd instead of him dancing on his own…

Suddenly there was a grinning face in front of him.  Green eyes, blond hair.  Dressed in a white collared shirt with the top button undone, tie askew and half undone.

Alec was way more buzzed than before now, and everything was starting to come in and out, blurring…

“Having a good time?” the stranger asked him loudly, attempting to make conversation.  There was heavy alcohol on his breath.

“ ‘M alright,” Alec yelled back, trying to keep up with the crowd.  He turned away from the guy.

“Hey,” the guy continued, putting a hand to Alec’s chin and turning it back toward him, ”What brings you out here, gorgeous. You looking for something?” he asked, dancing a little closer.

“Uh, no, just dancing,” Alec muttered, attempting to dance a little further away, at least what could be allowed given the packed dance floor.

The guy didn’t seem deterred.

“Well, I think I know what you are looking for,” the guy said in a suggestive tone of voice.

Alec was so buzzed by this time, he failed to read the underlying tone in his voice.  The guy’s face blurred in front of him… Suddenly, his arms were grabbed on both sides, and something was pressing against his body and his face so tightly, he almost couldn’t breathe. 

His vision blurred, as did his head… It took a while for him to realize that the guy was actively kissing him, his tongue practically down his throat, one hand under the back of his mesh shirt, and the other clutching tightly at his ass as the guy slotted himself right between his legs.

And Alec was inadvertently returning the kiss! 

OH MY GOD… Alec was horrified.  He tried to shove the guy away.  

“Sorry,” he gasped. “I didn’t want that.  I didn’t mean –”

“Oh, now you are being a tease, eh?  Well you sure kissed like you meant it,” the guy said in a more dangerous tone of voice.

He grabbed at Alec’s body again, crushing his mouth onto his, tongue in his mouth, and now his hands were all over him, groping, front, back, everywhere. Alec wrenched his mouth away from his, and attempted to struggle out of his grip.

“Hey, get off me!” Alec attempted to yell. 

This only seemed to encourage the guy, as his grip had tightened on Alec. His mouth had traveled to Alec’s neck and he was sucking hard and alternately biting at his neck while rutting against Alec. Alec could feel the guy’s hardness rubbing on him, and the feeling made him sick to his stomach. 

There was a lull in the music just then, as the DJ was ready to do something amazing, and a hush went over the crowd, just as Alec yelled, ”Get off me!” yet again, trying to push the guy off his neck and body.

Suddenly there were strong arms securely gripping Alec’s torso, nearly throwing him backwards, out of the guy’s grasp. 

Alec was so dazed – who had been that strong to be able to lift his tall frame, like that??  Taking a few very unsteady steps back, he fell back into a plush seat in the VIP area, which was close to the floor. 

As he refocused onto the scene, loud yelling and a very familiar voice yelling back made it to his ears.  He suddenly saw the back of his savior, who had pulled him away from the guy.

Red tipped dark mohawk guy...

Magnus!  

Wait -- Magnus??!

Who was now in a yelling match with the guy, who was yelling back. “Hey! Why you trying to ruin my good time?  He wanted every bit of it!” the guy protested. 

“Not from where I saw,” Magnus stated firmly in a voice exuding authority. "He said NO. The whole club heard it. Everyone but you."

"And he's my friend, so you better lay off, or I'm calling security," Magnus added, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. 

"Okay, okay. Who wants such a tease, anyway," the guy snarled, as he turned and walked away. 

Magnus stood there, motionless, as he watched the guy leave the floor. Then he turned to face Alec, who still seemed a bit shaken up while sitting in the plush seat. His hair was a bit roughed up, there were two purple bruises on the side of his neck and slight teeth marks, and his top looked a bit disheveled. 

Magnus felt a rush of sympathy for Alec. Wow, this must've been overwhelming for him...

He walked over to Alec, who was looking despondently on the ground.

Then he bent down so he was eye level with Alec. "Hey," he said softly. "Alexander. Are you okay?"

That seemed to jar Alec out of his trance. "Uh, I guess so," he mumbled. "Ugh, not one of my finer moments. My fault..."

"No," Magnus said firmly. "Nothing about that was your fault. The guy took advantage of you, period. Did he hurt you anywhere?"

The look on Magnus's face and the concern in Magnus's eyes unnerved Alec.

He shook his head.

"No, not physically, anyway. He did bite me on the neck a few times though, which was not enjoyable in the least. How do people get the idea that is something even remotely arousing?" he said, flabbergasted.

"Weeeellll," Magnus said, his cheeks flushing, "Sometimes things get carried away in the heat of passion. Still though, there needs to be consent." 

Wait, so did that mean that Magnus liked to do those things? Alec didn't know what to do with that piece of information...

He  was still buzzed, but now thoughts of another nature started filling his head...

"Want me to take you home? At the very least, I can make sure you enter the front door of your apartment building," he said.

"I'm all the way in Brooklyn though." Alec said. "That's so far..."

"Doesn't matter. That's it, I'm coming with you," Magnus stated firmly. "Hmm, you came with a jacket right? Dark blue blazer, right?"

Alec pointed half-heartedly at the area where they had first been at. Magnus put his finger in front of Alec's face. "Hold on, I'll be right back," he said, as he turned to walk to the area.

He came back quickly, dark blue velvet blazer in hand. "Alright, put this on. I'm going to just say bye to someone," Magnus said.

Alec nodded, taking the blazer from him and shrugging it on. A few feet away he saw Magnus go up to the guy in the police cap -- the handsome guy he had been dancing with. They exchanged some words, the guy smiled, gave him a quick kiss, and Magnus beamed like the sun. 

Alec turned away, feeling as if he had been intruding on a private moment.

Suddenly Magnus was back in front of him.

"Sorry, I was just telling Imasu you needed my help. He was cool about it. Shall we?" he asked gently, sticking out his hand.

Alec took his hand and allowed himself to be pulled to a standing position.

"I'm alright," he said slowly, even as the buzzed feeling was staring to go away, and the beginnings of a headache was coming on. "Let's go."

 

Chapter Text

Brooklyn, in front of Alec’s apartment building – a while later

“Keep the change,” Magnus said to the cab driver, as he tossed some bills over to him.

“C’mon, Alec,” he whispered, “We’re at your place.”

He threw open the cab door.

Next to him, Alec shifted and squirmed in his seat.  He had fallen asleep on the ride back.

“Eh?” Alec said, confused, opening one bleary eye.  For a second he felt disoriented.  He peered at the window.  It was still dark out, but there was already a select few birds chirping away.

His head was thumping against his skull like nobody’s business…he hated having headaches like this!

But anyway, why was he in a cab right now? 

The events from the night played out in his head again.

Oh, right... 

Magnus Bane, the crazy guy from college whom he had shared that road trip with back home --and now the obviously built and super strong bartender by night, advertising creative by day -- had volunteered to accompany him back home to Brooklyn in a cab.

His eyes focused on the cab driver counting the money.

Alec groaned. “Magnus, you paid? Noooo,” he whined, starting to fumble in his pocket. “At least allow me –” 

“Shush! We aren’t going to argue about this now, let’s just get inside.  You can get it next time,” Magnus interjected with a voice that was firm but not unkind. 

Alec gulped and stopped talking.  Ugh, his head was pounding like crazy…

“Thank you,” Magnus said formally to the cab driver as he helped Alec get out of the cab. 

The cab driver grunted assent, Magnus shut the door of the cab, and it sped away.

“Are you awake enough to walk, Alexander?” Magnus asked.  

Alec nodded, wincing as he did so.  Ugh, his head!

“What apartment are you in?” Magnus asked.

“Lemme find my keys,” Alec muttered.

He went into his pockets. After a short while, he located his keychain.  Turning to Magnus, he found Magnus’s palm outstretched.  Alec placed the keys in his hands.

“Do you mind? Apartment 4E,” he muttered through a haze.

Magnus nodded. “ I figured you would be slightly hungover and barely functional,” he said.

“Yea,” Alec muttered. His head just wouldn’t stop spinning.  “Ugh, need water and aspirin right now…”

“No worries. Here,” Magnus said as he put an arm around Alec, supporting him and ushering him slowly into the elevator. 

After the elevator reached the floor, they slowly ambled together to his apartment. Magnus quickly got the door open, and Alec practically stumbled in.

“Careful,” Magnus admonished. “Hmm, you want to sit on the couch, or lie on the bed?  You’re looking like you are about to crash, actually.  I vote bed.”

Alec was not about to argue with that. He allowed Magnus to drag him to his bedroom. 

“Sit,” Magnus said, once they were by the bed.  Alec did as he was told.  Magnus bent down and started taking off Alec’s shoes.

“What are you doing?” Alec asked, confused. “I can take off my own –”

“Didn’t want you to keel over doing it yourself,” Magnus explained, not looking up, already on to the 2nd shoe.  

“Your t-shirts are in the drawer?  You might want to get out of that mesh shirt, I don’t think you want to sleep in that, right? It’s a bit tight and it would probably start riding up your back…”

“Ugh, no,” Alec grunted, agreeing. “Top drawer, just grab one of the t-shirts or tanks. And that blue pair of basketball shorts.”

Magnus went over, opened the drawer, and took out a short sleeve black tee, along with the blue basketball shorts.  He threw them both at Alec.

“Here, change into this. You can at least manage that while sitting, right? Or do you need help?” he asked in all seriousness.

Alec scoffed, despite his current condition. “Like I can’t,” he huffed. 

Magnus just stood by, while Alec attempted to take off his mesh shirt.  But somehow an arm or an elbow kept getting caught somewhere…and after 5 minutes, he was still unable to completely take it off. 

Magnus just bit his lip in mirth, trying not to laugh.

“Damn this is too tight,” Alec complained.

“You know,” Magnus said, strolling over and having successfully held back his laughter, “This material can get kinda tight after a night clubbing.  The sweat, you know?  Do you want me to help him do this?”

Alec sighed. “I guess,” he said morosely.

“Yea, just a little help,” Magnus stated, as he carefully peeled off the tight shirt from Alec’s torso and arms.  Hmm the view right now was not half bad…Magnus suddenly realized he had been staring for a while, the shirt still in his hands.

“Uh, Magnus?” Alec asked, confused.  Magnus snapped out of it, embarrassed. What was he doing? He was here to help his friend, not to ogle someone’s build.

Even if it looked nice. 

He turned away, putting the shirt down, feeling a flush creep up the back of his neck.   

Chastising himself, he picked up the black t-shirt.

“Oh yes,” Magnus said, a bit flustered. “Here.” He helped to put the black t-shirt on Alec.  “There, that must feel better, right?”

“Yea, it does,” Alec agreed.

"I'm sure I can manage the pants on my own," he added, basketball shorts in hand. Magnus nodded quickly, turning away as Alec finished changing himself. 

Ugh, it was still hard for Alec to do on his own, and especially in the condition he was in, but he didn't want to suffer any further embarrassment...

“Let me get you some water and aspirin too. Where do you keep the aspirin?” Magnus asked.

“Upper cabinet in the kitchen by the sink,” Alec muttered.

“I’ll be right back,” Magnus said, as he stepped out of the room.

Alec, still in a daze, watched Magnus as he walked out of the room.  A small smile tugged at  his lips. 

This has certainly been an interesting night thus far…

….

“So, you and that guy.  Imasu, was it?” Alec ventured uncertainly, recalling the handsome guy Magnus was with at the club with the police cap and silver outfit. 

He had looked so perfect with Magnus – they were both stylish, and obviously comfortable in a clubbing environment. Their chemistry had seemed off the charts as well…

After Magnus had come back from the kitchen with the water and aspirin, within a short time Alec had started feeling more coherent.  Well, he still wasn’t a hundred percent but at least the throbbing headache was gone.  

They had talked for a bit, about Raj  -- who was harmless but still considered a bit ‘off’ -- inviting him out, about the guy’s unwanted advances on the dance floor, and about clubbing in general. 

Then Alec’s thoughts had gone to Imasu, and he had asked that question.

At that, Magnus beamed, similar to how he had reacted at the club.  He looked so happy, so radiant. 

Alec suddenly felt a sense of longing.  He wanted something like that. Three years in the city, and all of a sudden, he felt so alone.

“Yea, Imasu. He’s an interesting character, alright,” Magnus mused, his eyes getting all dreamy.

Imasu Morales was certainly something. 

While Magnus was still not really in the mood for any sort of relationship since work was intense, Imasu had been the forward one, coming up to him.

He smiled as he recollected events. “When I started training as a bartender about a month ago at Pandemonium, he was trying every which way to get my attention to serve him and his friends.  Then he ordered VIP service, and somehow he kept calling for drinks all night long.  He later said it was an excuse to see my pretty face.”

He chuckled. “I don’t normally fall for lines like that, of course,” he huffed. But his eyes were twinkling.  “He was just so charming, and he was like “I live for the moment.  And this moment is saying, “Go after the bartender, take a chance. So, I’m here and I’m listening to my heart. We could last just tonight, we could last longer than this, I’m totally open to it.  Well, that is, if you are.”  Then he turned those eyes on me, and I was absolutely gone.”

Magnus grimaced slightly. 

“Mind you, I am so not proud of it,” he said.” I usually hold my own, but you probably recall that.”

Magnus suddenly giggled and then covered his mouth. “I forgot how crazy that whole thing was,” he said, laughing.

Alec regarded him silently for a moment before responding.

“You seem like you really like him,” he said.

“Do I?” Magnus asked, seeming like he was talking partly to himself. “Well, it is casual, it’s not supposed to be anything more.  Luckily, I am in the mindset that I don’t want it to be anything more. But I am happy when I’m with him.”

Something tugged at Alec’s memory. “So whatever happened to that chick you were seeing in college. That blonde chick?  Right before we left the university grounds?” he asked.

Magnus looked confused for a moment, and then something clicked.

“Oh my god, you mean Stacy?” he stated, his voice sounding surprised. 

Alec grinned. “Wow she finally has a name,” he teased. “I hadn’t been sure if you were on any sort of name basis at the time. You guys just seemed like you two were connected at the hip.  Or at the mouth like you guys needed each other for air --  if my memory serves me correctly...”

“Haha, very funny,” Magnus grunted, shoo-shooing Alec with his hand. But he still looked a bit taken aback. He had not thought about her in a while…

“Wow,” he said, still sounding mind-blown. “Well, it’s been eons.  She lives in California, so she went back there. I mean we called occasionally and I was going to go visit at some point. But those plans fell through…and then I guess life and job superseded all of that.  I’ve never been good with long distance.  I actually haven’t dated anyone seriously since then.  Just casual and stuff,” he said. 

"Life happens, eh? Work and all? Sure seems like time flies by a lot faster after college. Can’t believe it’s been three years. Like in a blink of an eye..." Alec’s voice broke into his thoughts.  His voice sounded incredulous, as if he was still trying to figure out how so much time had elapsed since then.  

"Funny how so much has stayed the same, yet others have changed," he murmured. His eyes met Magnus's, and held his gaze just then

Blinking, Magnus focused on the dark-haired guy in front of him.  His face seemed open, his blue eyes empathetic, and his smile comforting.  

These were strange times indeed.  Just the fact that they were sitting together, just like this, without any animosity...

Magnus cleared his throat. 

“Yea,” he said softly. “It certainly does seem that way.”

****

Alec and Magnus had continued to talk for a while. Then Magnus found himself looking at his watch.

“Hmm, it’s about 5am right now, you should get some sleep. It is a Sunday today so I’m sure you want to relax. I mean, you have gone through a lot today,” he said.  He looked briefly toward the window.  It was still dark outside, but twilight looked to be approaching.

“I suppose,” Alec said, grimacing.  The events of earlier this morning (last night?) still gave him chills.

“You must have things to do today.  You really didn’t need to come all the way here to take me home.  I greatly appreciate it though,” he said softly.

Magnus’s face looked like he was circling through various emotions just then.

“Wow, I think that was the first time you’ve addressed me normally, instead of being curt or seeming annoyed.  This is a breakthrough!”  Magnus joked.

Now he felt really unnerved --  by Alec Lightwood, for the very first time in all his interactions with him. 

For once, he wasn't sure how to proceed with this guy.

Alec rolled his eyes.

“Oh c’mon, I’m not that much of a monster. Besides you took me out of a bad situation last night.  I need to thank you for that.  I was shocked at how strong you were,” he said.

“Karate, and I go to the gym 3x a week,” Magnus stated proudly. “Looks like it all paid off. Anyway, friends protect friends, right?”

Friends…

“So, are we that right now, friends?” Alec asked hestitantly.  It seemed a bit soon, being that they had just reconnected on some level after three years. 

Somehow, deja-vu seemed to set in again, and the apartment seemed to disappear.

 In Alec’s head, they were both back at the truck stop, then at the edge of NYU– three years ago – where they had first parted ways after that car ride. 

They had lost contact with one another shortly after that.

Magnus’s eyes crinkled as he smiled.

“We can be whatever we want to be,” he assured Alec. “There are different types of friendships. Who knows, maybe after I leave today, we will go our separate ways again, doomed to meet every couple of years, but then be able to catch up where we just left off.  Or, we can make a conscious attempt to stay in touch, and even do regular things that friends do when they enjoy one another’s company.”

Magnus’s eyes lingered on Alec’s face, and Alec inhaled sharply.  The look of concern in his eyes was so genuine and open, he suddenly felt like he didn’t want to lose that. 

At least not right now.

“Well,” Alec said dryly, trying to keep any sort of emotion from revealing itself, “it does seem like there’s been a turnaround in how we talk to one another.  I mean, we aren’t snarking at each other, and it seems like we can stand each other’s company without all the stuff from our first meetup.”

They both knew what they were talking about – the banter, the flirting, Magnus trying to make a pass at Alec…

Magnus laughed awkwardly.

“Well, can’t blame a guy for trying,” he said lightly. “I was younger and more spontaneous, I suppose.” 

He grimaced.

“Back in the day, it certainly helped to break the ice, even jokingly.  Still, I have really been trying to develop friendships, as those are the things that really last, not torrid love affairs.  That’s not the stuff I need right now,” Magnus added.

“So,” he said, in a more decisive tone of voice, seeming as if he had made peace with something in his mind. “Friends. Yes, we can be that – friends. If that is what you want.”

Alec smiled his first genuine smile since returning home.

“Yea,” he said gruffly. “I guess we can try that.”

“So, as your friend, now,” Magnus stated in a teasing tone. “Are you okay here on your own, or did you want me to stay for a little bit longer?”

“Oh,” Alec said flustered. “I really couldn’t ask you to do that.” Wouldn’t that be a little too much to expect from someone who was a new friend?

“C’mon, Alexander,” Magnus drawled, rolling his eyes. “We do have history, you know.”

“Yea, that car ride,” Alec stated.

“And last night.  Or this morning I should say.  And this big talk we just had,” Magnus reminded him.

Oh, right, Alec thought, his hand absentmindedly going to his neck, remembering what had been inflicted upon him.  He winced.

Magnus looked at him carefully. 

“Here, why don’t you get some rest in bed,” he said. “I’ll go sit out on the couch. I’ll be here if you should need me. Maybe we can go out for coffee somewhere in the neighborhood once we are more fully rested?  Then whatever else you want to do or not do?”

Alec looked at him. “You would do that for me?” he asked incredulously.

Magnus smiled. “Sure.  Besides, I’m sure Isabelle would want to know that her brother is in safe hands,” he said.

Alec smiled at that.  Right, Magnus and Isabelle were close. How had that thought not occurred to him in the last three years – all the time that they had not contacted one another? How was it that neither of them had thought to use Isabelle as a point of contact?

Well his sister had certainly rectified that at the restaurant by passing their business cards to the other, that’s for sure.

He’d think up a way to make it up to her, especially since she was so going to freak out after he told her what happened at Pandemonium last night.   

Alec groaned.  He wasn’t looking forward to that.

Then he had a thought.  “Hey, Magnus,” he said.

“Yes?” he asked.

“If Isabelle should call and I’m asleep, feel free to tell her what happened.  I know she’s dying to hear about the night, since she did take me shopping.  She will probably freak out as the night hadn’t turned out so well, but you were there, and you had rescued me, so she will probably be alright.  Perhaps she would have a lesser reaction if you were the one to tell the tale – how you saved her brother from a crazy situation,” he said.

He smiled. “You would probably have her undying gratitude for life,” Alec attempted to joke. “Maybe you can even call in a few favors, or things.”

Magnus seemed to ponder that for a moment. “Sure, Alec, I don’t mind handling that, if she does call,” he said.

Magnus then leaned over toward Alec and took his hand briefly. 

Alec flinched, then told himself to relax.  This wasn’t a threat; Magnus was just being comforting.

Nevertheless, his hand was warm in his, and there were slight tingles where the pads of his fingers were touching his skin. 

Suddenly all his senses were in overdrive. 

Chill, buddy! he thought, slightly alarmed at how his body was reacting.  Don’t let him see how crazy you are getting right now…

Taking a deep breath, Alec glanced at Magnus.  He didn’t pull his hand away.  It was turning into a nice, warm tingly sensation, though.

Magnus kept his gaze on Alec.

 “You know, Alec,” he said softly. “There’s nothing to feel weird about, or ashamed about – what happened last night.  Some people are just douchebags, they are selfish and entitled and they don’t care what the other person wants. They are just there to take.  Sometimes we don't make the best decisions, or we are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we just get caught up in the situation.  Even when we are at our most careful.  Anyway, Isabelle really cares about you. You know that.  She would worry, of course. But she would never judge you.  Please don’t let your fear of that keep you from telling her what happened.  Having family support is so important in general.  I will still help if you want me to, but just seriously think about whether you would be able to tell her yourself,” he said.

Alec looked at Magnus for a moment, and slowly nodded. 

Magnus let out a relieved sigh, rubbed a few slow comforting circles into the soft part of Alec’s palm, and then let go. He sure hoped that Alec would follow his advice.

Then he grinned. “By the way,” he said softly, “Your sister has excellent taste in clothes.  She should work in fashion or something.  I swear, that outfit looked great on you.”

“It did?” Alec asked, flabbergasted. He suddenly felt shy.  “Uh, thanks.”

“Seriously, it did.  You certainly looked like you were ready to take on the town,” Magnus said. “Well, I mean before Mr. Burly Hands got you in his clutches…”

Alec groaned, putting his hands over his face. “Please don’t refer to that guy in that way ever again. That was horrible…”

“And in the future, if you ever go clubbing again, I may just need to be your wingman of sorts.  Just in case,” Magnus said seriously. “Well, that is, if you ever even set foot in a club again. At least go during the nights that I’m there…”

“That’s a thought,” Alec agreed.

Magnus suddenly had an impish look on his face. “Hey, if we become really close friends, hypothetically, maybe you will even let me put some eyeliner and gloss on you, you have great eyes for it –”

“Don’t push it,” Alec stated, putting up a hand.

Magnus smiled ruefully. “I had to try,” he said, his eyes crinkling.

Chapter Text

3 months later

Central Park Reservoir 1988

It was a gorgeous sunny Saturday in June, perfect for a jog on a cool summer day. Which was what Isabelle was doing, light on her feet. 

She loved breathing in the wondrous, crisp air of an early morning in Central Park.  She wore her new hot pink Puma jogging sneakers with bright yellow trim on her feet, which allowed her to jog for hours without her feet hurting.  She felt so alive out here amidst all the other early joggers, her heart pumping with adrenaline.

But today, she was not just a runner. She was also a trainer – well, sorta.

“Alexander Gideon Lightwood!” she yelled, switching up her direction so now she was jogging backwards. She craned her neck to look for her brother, who was far, far behind.  Finally she saw him – he had just appeared around the turn a quarter mile down. 

Even from this distance, he looked like he was huffing and puffing, his face red with effort, his t-shirt marred with sweat in front, and barely hanging on.

Rolling her eyes in amusement, she jogged back effortlessly to where he was on the path.

“Hiiii big brother!” Isabelle said cheerily, bouncing on her Pumas.

“People actually do this for fun? Remind me why I agreed to this? And how are you so awake right now??!” Alec huffed, gritting his teeth as he stopped, bending down at the waist.

He took two or three deep breaths.  All he knew was that his lungs were burning, and it was waaaay too early for anyone to be getting up at this time.

He would normally still be in bed, dead to the world, especially on a Saturday morning.

But at dinner two nights ago, Isabelle had gone on and on and on about how summer was around the corner, and everyone needed to be in shape for swimsuit weather.  Jace and Clary had agreed unanimously, while Alec had just grunted – what did he care for these type of things, they lived in the city, and rarely even got to go to the beach.

Then Magnus, who had been invited by Isabelle to join them – and of course he had brought Imasu, who he was now seeing as opposed to just ‘hooking up’ with – had wholeheartedly agreed with her.

“Well, Alexander,” he had drawled. “It’s not just about going to the beach.  With the summer months, means the jackets come off, and on goes the tank tops, shorts, and all that skin. You need to feel good and look good.”

Imasu, whose head was snuggled in the crook of Magnus’s neck, had enthusiastically piped up, “Yea, I can’t wait to see all that skin splayed out for display, especially in Sheep Meadows and Central Park.  Best viewing and pickup spots for miles around,” he laughed kittenishly.

That had made Magnus turn to him, his brows raised in mock outrage.

“Oh, and you would know this, because…?” he had said, looking at Imasu under lowered lashes.

Imasu had smiled, putting his fingers under Magnus’s chin and looking directly into his eyes.

“Oh, it’s just a thing single people do. But of course I don’t do that, because I have you now, babe,” he had said, leaning forward to kiss Magnus softly on the lips.

Magnus had grinned brightly.

Isabelle’s snort had brought both of them back to the present.

“C’mon guys, we are still at dinner. Can we lighten up on that a bit?” she had joked.  “Anyway, we were trying to persuade Alec here to take up jogging with me at 6am this Saturday!”

“Saturday??!” Alec had nearly screeched.  “That’s not even a workday. People actually get up early for fun?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Alexander,” Magnus had interjected, teasingly. “I do it once in a while.  It actually kickstarts the day.”

Imasu had snorted. “Yea, go have fun, masochists.  I wouldn’t be caught out there so early, even if I was paid a million dollars,” he claimed.

Magnus had swatted Imasu on the hand playfully. “Oh geez, Imasu, that’s certainly the type of motivation that Alexander needs to hear, right now. We’re supposed to be convincing him!” he had said.

Leaning away from Imasu, Magnus had stretched his upper body sideways and leaned his head so he was lying on his arm on the table, looking up at Alec with a puppy dog expression in his eyes. “You should try it, since your sister is offering to help.  I’ll go if you go. What do you say? Friends support each other, right?” he had stated in a low musical voice, his eyes twinkling.

Alec had looked at him, snorted, and rolled his eyes.

He was convinced that this friendship business was somewhat akin to a reciprocal game of bribery at times.

More than once in the past 3 months since their friendship had officially begun, he had somehow been convinced to do things that he would normally not have done, with the promise of doing other things in the future that he enjoyed, or for favors, or for food…

Going to wine tastings because Magnus begged him to, going to Forbidden Planet because Magnus adored collecting comic books and building anime models, going to cafes for "fancy" coffee in the Village or Little Italy  – or at least that’s what Alec called those fluffy concoctions  – Alec saw nothing wrong with just having coffee straight up black...

But Magnus adored his frothy cappuccinos or double espressos with almond biscotti as well as the pastry shops throughout the city.

And once a week there would be either a Yaffa dinner meet-up or a Veniero's dessert meet-up.

But he didn't mind those, as he loved both places.

And deep down, in that place where Alec would not have dared to admit to anyone, he kinda did like Magnus asking him to do these things.  He was certainly becoming more social, and he could see why people would want to be out and about.

He would always end up having a good time, even as he would grumble while doing them.

“I’m sure it would make your sister very happy to see you this Saturday.  And think about it, instead of sleeping in on a Saturday, I’ll make it a point of waking up early and coming out to see your pretty face,” Magnus had teased.

Alec huffed. “Oh yea?” he had shot back, even as a flush was creeping up the back of his neck.

So that’s how he had found himself at the Central Park Reservoir, about to die of the burning in his lungs from being completely out of shape.

“Man,” Isabelle said, giggling upon seeing her brother all out of breath, “You are so not cut out for this.”

“I never said I was,” Alec complained.

"So why did you agree to it?" Isabelle asked innocently.

Alec blinked. "I was a little curious about it, especially since some of you do it on the regular," he admitted.

Actually he couldn't honestly remember the real reason why he had agreed to it. He was definitely not a morning person. This was almost like torture to him.

"Well, fancy seeing you here, Alexander. I have to give you credit for showing up," a sweet sounding drawl said. "Kudos. And hey, Isabelle, looking vibrant as usual, dear."

Alec quickly straightened up at the voice. "Hey, Magnus," he said.

He tried not to stare at Magnus's outfit but it was impossible not to.

Magnus was wearing a sleeveless royal blue hoodie which showcased his muscular arms, and bicycle shorts which accentuated his muscular lower half with royal blue sneakers.

His hair was undone, just long dark bangs that he casually swept to the side and tucked behind one ear. Stylish sports sunglasses completed the look.

Magnus looked flawless. Alec looked away quickly, suddenly feeling all bummy in his t-shirt and shorts.

"Hey, Magnus, why do you always have to look so good. Imasu might get jealous that you're out here all by yourself," Isabelle teased, smirking.

"Imasu doesn't worry," Magnus teased. "We are still very much casual, and we want to stay that way."

He strode over to Alec, who was now sitting on the steps next to the running path. "Besides, I'm here for moral support, right, Alexander?" he said. "Isn't that right, darling?"

Alec laughed. Magnus never failed to cheer him up, even when he used his overdramatic lingo at times. "Yup," Alec said. "Help me up?"

Magnus pulled Alec to his feet in one smooth motion. Alec was again secretly impressed at how strong Magnus was...

Isabelle looked impressed. "Wow, Magnus, you are probably the only one who could encourage him to try jogging," she stated.

She looked from Magnus to Alec, a slow smile emerging on her face.

It's crazy that she hadn’t realized it before! Isabelle thought, surprised.

But she would dwell on that later...

"Hey, we should get started! Let's do markers, we need to hit every marker 3x on this part before we leave this morning. We can take our time. I'll go first," she yelled, as she started jogging, backwards, dramatically waving good bye to the two men.

Alec groaned as he watched his sister jog away effortlessly.

"I showed up today, wasn't that good enough?" he whined.

"Well just do your best. I'll keep pace with you, don't worry about it," Magnus said easily.

Alec smiled. "You'd do that for me?" he asked.

Magnus shrugged. "Sure, what are friends for?" he said lightly. "Shall we?"

He gestured dramatically for Alec to go ahead.

Alec nodded, and they both started jogging, trying to chase after Isabelle.

...

"Hey Alec," Isabelle said, sliding into the booth next to him.

They had finished jogging and  were now in a corner coffee shop near Central Park West having breakfast. Magnus had excused himself to make a phone call after his beeper had gone off.

Alec had looked at his sister curiously.

"What's up, Izzy?" he asked.

Isabelle smiled like the cat who ate the canary.

"Magnus and you... You guys have sure been hanging out a lot in the past few months. Is there something you two want to tell me?" she asked.

She looked at Alec. "You know you can tell me anything, right, big bro?" she said in an empathetic tone of voice.

“What?” Alec was flabbergasted. "What are you implying?" he asked incredulously. "I mean, we hang out. Sure, I know we were kinda at odds before. But you know what happened at Pandemonium. And since then, we’ve gotten to know each other better as friends."

"Friends," Isabelle repeated, in that know-it-all little sister voice that suggested that she knew a lot more than what she was revealing.

"Besides, he's with Imasu. Not that that would change anything," Alec protested, suddenly feeling like he needed to be defensive.

He wasn't sure why he felt that way.

"They're only casually together. That means he's still available," Isabelle said confidently. "So in case you haven't noticed, Hint Hint..." She giggled.

Alec didn't know what to say to that.  Or why he was flushing again.

He said the first thing that came to his mind, hoping to change the subject.

"And in fact," Alec said, hoping to squash this sudden interest of Isabelle's about him and Magnus, "Magnus has been trying to help me adjust to the scene. He actually set me up with someone in two weeks."

He saw his sister's eyebrows raise up in surprise, before she changed her expression and smiled warmly.

"Aww that's so nice of him to help you out with that," she said.

Then her eyes brightened.

"So who is this guy, have you two already met before, or is this a blind date? I want to know!" she squealed, before giving Alec one of her super tight hugs. Alec's eyes widened.

"Hope I haven't missed much," Magnus said smoothly, strolling back to the booth and plopping into the empty seat across from the siblings. "Sorry about that."

"So, Magnus, you set Alec up with someone?" Isabelle said excitedly.

"Yup! A friend of a friend who works as a freelance photographer. He's quite charming and gregarious, and loves to read. I thought he and Alec might hit it off,” Magnus said.

Magnus turned to Alec. "So you looking forward to tomorrow night?" he asked.

"Sure," Alec said, "I guess so. You said he's a nice guy right? I trust you.”

Magnus clutched at his chest, feigning shock.

“Wow, did you just say that you trust me? Are you the same guy that drove me back to New York three years ago?  What happened to you?” he asked, his voice hitting a high pitch in dramatic fashion.

Alec rolled his eyes. “Oh c’mon, I wasn’t that bad,” he protested.

“I don’t know,” Isabelle laughed. “That totally sounds on point.  You have come a long way, Alec.”

Magnus and Isabelle started cracking up, while Alec threw them a mock glare.  Then he shrugged and started laughing along with them.

**************

A week later

“Alec, you seriously haven’t perfected the art of shopping yet?” Magnus exclaimed, looking over at him from where he was sitting.  “How have we been friends for 3 months, and my flair for fashion has not rubbed off on you yet? Sheesh, I must be losing my touch.”

Alec groaned. “Do you always need to be this dramatic? I just like to be comfortable,” he complained, looking down at his faded t-shirt and jeans.  His black blazer, which he grudgingly wore for work, was now slung on the back of the wooden chaise lounge chair he was sitting on. 

Alec’s outfit was a definite contrast to what Magnus was wearing today – pointed collar silvery button down shirt, with tank top underneath, and tight dark wash jeans that clung to his lower region, almost like a second skin.  Not that anyone was actively noticing.... 

“And now you’re sounding like Izzy!” Alec complained, looking away, flushing. He inhaled sharply. “So are you going to help me or not, I need clothes for my date.”

They were in the Seaport, down by Pier 17, hanging out on the wooden patio on the 3rd level of the mall, right outside of the food courts. As it overlooked the East River and Brooklyn Bridge, it was a favorite spot for New Yorkers to hang out, either sitting on the wooden chaises or just walking around, looking out at the boats skipping by, or watching the birds and seagulls flying through the sky.

Today was a gorgeous day for doing any or all of that…

“Well, I did ask you to meet me here, didn’t I?” Magnus protested mildly. “Don’t worry, we’ve got time. The mall closes at 9pm, and there’s still some good light right now since we both got the afternoon off.  Right now, you’re disturbing my sunbathing.  As a New Yorker, I hardly get time or a place to do that,” Magnus said with a straight face.

Magnus sat up and took off his shirt, now only clad in his black tank top, with his golden muscular arms on display.  Alec looked away quickly.  Magnus really needed to alert him in advance before doing that.

He himself still had a complex with exposing any amount of skin in public – well that night at Pandemonium being an exception, but in his own defense, he had been drunk and had not been thinking clearly.

He did envy Magnus that ability to do so, though.  He watched as his friend took off the sunglasses from the top of his head and placed it back on his eyes, lying back on the wooden chaise lounge with a satisfied sigh, and without a care in the world.

Alec sat back, just observing the rest of the shoppers hanging out and walking around.  He did notice Magnus being checked out, sometimes blatantly by more than a few people, their gaze seeming to linger on his arms and the perfectly chiseled high cheekbones, jaw line, and sharp nose of his face.   Never did anyone bestow that type of attention on Alec in quite that way – and Alec was glad for it.  It just wasn’t his thing, by any means.

And besides, there was nothing about Alec really that would grab that type of attention anyway.

Isabelle of course begged to differ, but that was his sister, so that didn’t even count.  And Magnus, of course.  Who kept joking with him, giving him compliments about his eyes, his skin, that anyone would be lucky to be with him – yea, Magnus was just so incredibly good about that, trying to bolster up his self-image.

After all, that’s what friends did for one another, right?

"Hey, fancy bumping into you here, Alec.  Early day off from work? And oh, Magnus -- hi, apparently you are here as well..."

The familiar voice made Alec look up, shading his eyes from the sun that was shining down on his face. 

It was Imasu, with his gold highlighted undercut, wearing mirrored shades, and lightly applied gloss on his pouty lips. He reached up to adjust his sunglasses, peering over the top at first Alec, then Magnus.  For some reason Alec felt like he was being scrutinized by Imasu. But he didn't know why.

Next to him, Magnus had simultaneously sat up, his sunglasses slipping down his nose as he did so, a surprised yet happy look on his face. 

"Imasu, how wonderful to see you, darling!" Magnus exclaimed, getting up quickly.

He leaned in to kiss Imasu, but Imasu had started to talk again, and their encounter turned awkward, with Magnus's lips hitting the outside edge of Imasu's mouth.  Magnus's face took on a confused expression, before quickly putting a smile on his face.

"No wonder why you weren't in the office when I called before," Imasu stated, his voice sounding a bit stiff.  "Third time this month," he murmured under his breath. He was still looking at Alec, but quickly turned to Magnus. 

Alec looked at Imasu and Magnus just standing there. He noted some tension, and felt slightly uncomfortable.

"Sorry," Magnus apologized hastily. "Alec has a date in a week, and he called, asking if I could help him with shopping.  Coincidentally, our summer Fridays are on the same schedule, so here we are. I didn't know you were off as well.  I would have invited you to come along too."  Magnus put a hand on Imasu's arm, looking contrite.

Alec made an executive decision at that moment. He got up from his seat. 

"Hey, Magnus, you should spend the afternoon with Imasu.  We can go shopping another time.  It's such a nice day, go have some drinks or something, you guys.  It's all good," he said quickly, flashing Imasu a smile.

Magnus looked at him. "Are you sure, Alexander?" he asked.

Alec smiled. "It's not a problem," he said.

Imasu smiled. "Thanks, Alec.  Nice to see you again," he said.

Alec nodded. "Same," he said, as he turned to walk away.

He was stopped momentarily as a hand grabbed his.  Turning, he realized it had been Magnus who had done this. "Call me, okay?  I definitely want to go shopping with you.  Maybe Sunday?  We could grab brunch?" Magnus asked. 

Alec felt like he was being put on the spot. "I’m not sure," he said hastily. "I'll let you know."

"Okay," Magnus said, an odd look coming into his eyes.  Alec realized that Magnus still had not let go of his hand. 

Alec quickly relinquished his hand, which was starting to feel warm. He felt like he really needed to leave as soon as possible now.

"Well, I gotta go. Enjoy yourselves, you two. Bye!" he said quickly, as he turned and made a beeline for the stairs going back down to the pier.

He turned back briefly, and saw Imasu and Magnus sitting together, heads leaned in toward one another, oblivious to the rest of the world.

He smiled, and then continued down the steps, two at a time.

Chapter Text

August 1988

“I’m so going to beat you this time, Magnus!” Alec said happily, grabbing the Nintendo controller, and plopping himself down on the beanbag chair next to Magnus. 

They were in Magnus’s apartment as usual, at 10am on a Sunday. 

Every Sunday, Alec would hop on an early train from Brooklyn and head over to Magnus’s for a day in the city. They would go out for brunch, then go walking around the neighborhood, or hit up Forbidden Planet comic book store, and Flatiron. 

Or they would just laze around the apartment until they felt like getting up, and then they would go get something to eat at some point.

Either way, Alec enjoyed Sundays immensely.

Despite the long commute into the city, Alec did not mind it at all. Brooklyn didn’t really offer much in terms of things to do. And he found himself getting bored rather easily whenever he was there.

In front of them, the CRT screen on the TV flickered, and the words “Double Dragon” came on the screen.

“I still can’t believe you scored a copy of this game!  Tower Records and GameStop were still freaking sold out for the last week when I checked last! And it’s been released for two months already!” Alec exclaimed.

Magnus snorted and rolled his eyes, but he was smiling.

“Well, those people don’t have connections. And your best friend just happens to!” he huffed, brushing imaginary dust off his shoulder.

Imasu, the guy he was seeing, was somehow incredibly resourceful and had gotten Magnus an advance copy of the popular sold-out game. Then again, having family who worked at Nintendo certainly did have its perks.

That company was a rising star – it practically exploded in 1986 in the United States, and all its games were selling out like hotcakes.

“What would you ever do without me?” Magnus teased. “Fashion consultant, food consultant, social ladder climbing consultant, dating guru, and now the bringer of rare and precious things! You can’t live without me, Alexander.”  He said all those words with a dramatic flourish, bowing mockingly to Alec, before delivering a sharp nudge in the ribs.

Alec yelped, jumping away from him.  He gave Magnus a mock glare, before coming back to his spot next to him.

“Yea, how did I ever get sooo lucky,” Alec sarcastically said, looking over at Magnus and rolling his eyes.  “And please stop doing that, now you’re getting too much like Izzy.  I get injured enough around her, I don’t need you doing it too.”

Magnus stuck his tongue out at him, which earned him another eye roll from Alec.

They both were quiet for a second as they started up the game.  It was a fighting game played by 2 players, and they were waiting for the initial stage to start up.

“I still can’t believe you live in the Village, so close to everything!” Alec bubbled.

His place in Brooklyn was okay but the neighborhood, as with all areas in Brooklyn, was nondescript. The rent couldn’t be beat, or the view of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Promenade, but where he lived, it was still underdeveloped and a bit shoddy at best.

But, it was peaceful and crime-free, so at least there was that.

Honestly, though, nothing held the allure that Manhattan did.  Through Magnus, because he lived in the area, he had learned to love all the quaint side streets that the West Village had to offer. Magnus had picked his neighborhood accordingly.  Magnus was definitely the city type.

Alec was also starting to become more aware of the gay community and things around him, the more he hung out with Magnus and in his neighborhood.

Christopher Street was right nearby and practically in the hub of the West Village – a bustling area that was known for the gay community.  After all, it was no coincidence that Stonewall Inn was a few short blocks away, that had ignited the movement in general. Alec was still blown away at their proximity to such a historical spot…

And he’d suffered more than his share of flushes and self-consciousness as Magnus and he would browse the little stores lining the side streets in this area.  Once as a joke, Isabelle dragged them both into the Pink Pussycat Boutique, long known for being one of the kinkiest sex shops in the area. 

Alec’s cheeks were flaming even before they had been pulled in.  That storefront display of a mannequin with leather accessories, and especially with the lack of coverage in the mannequin’s private area, had been – quite interesting to say the least…

“Oh c’mon Alec, lighten up. It’s the freaking late 80’s for god’s sake,” Isabelle had needled him, throwing a packaged sex toy in his face. 

Alec remembered catching it and looking down – hell, people actually used these in the privacy of their own home??  Egad that was just way too much to visualize.

Behind them, Magnus had only smiled, as he perused a few items on his own. “Hmm leather chaps and handcuffs, eh? Hmm, tempting, but no thanks, not my style,” he murmured, using the most even sounding voice he could muster.

Alec had turned to gape at him, and Magnus suddenly couldn’t keep in his laugh. Soon they both had been reduced to a fit of giggles in the store, with Isabelle looking at both of them as if they had grown a second head.

“Oh my god, behave, you guys,” she admonished, but couldn’t help breaking into a grin herself.

“But yea, good call on bringing us here,” Magnus said. “Alec will need to know all his options once he starts to properly date.” He threw a glare over at Alec, who narrowed his eyes and folded his arms against his chest.

“What?” he protested, feeling all self-conscious.

Magnus turned to Isabelle. “Your darling brother, and my best friend, just refuses to date.  Please tell him he needs to get off his high horse.  There are plenty of cool cats in the city but he just doesn’t want to consider anyone!” he proclaimed, huffing and sighing in mock annoyance.

Isabelle turned to look at Alec. “Big brother!” she wailed. “C’mon, you can’t be sitting home, how are you going to meet anyone?”

“Contrary to popular belief, not everyone needs an active personal life,” Alec protested. “I’m happy with what I have.” He didn’t know why everyone was making a big deal.  Besides Magnus, he still didn’t really like people in general. 

Living in New York, it really put him on edge at times whenever he did go out, since there was just so many people outside in small spaces at any given time of day or night.  But he just put on his headphones, blasted the music, and prayed that no one would get on his nerves when commuting to work or walking about. 

Yea, with that, he could keep on wishing. Somehow, he had run into almost every type of creep on alternating days. He sighed. It was hard to avoid this, especially living in a congested place like New York.

But, he realized with a sigh, Magnus and Isabelle were right about the social part.  If you stayed home, you wouldn’t get to meet new people, let alone the ONE.  And he was here in New York to stay, for better or for worse.  So he needed to get with the program.

“Magnus,” he said, “I did try. C’mon. It’s not as if I did not go out with all those people you tried to set me up with.  I just didn’t sync with them.  Not that much in common.”

Alec’s thoughts flew to the first guy that Magnus had set him up with, back in June.

That guy had been late meeting him at the restaurant Magnus had arranged for them – late by almost an hour.  He had claimed that he had been so busy that the date had escaped his notice. 

“Jonathon… He’s a bit absentminded, but he’s a freelance photographer with a zillion things going on at once. He thinks out of the box, and he’s always on the go.  But he’s very intellectual and loves reading, so you two have that in common,” Magnus gushed. 

Alec relented, if only because he needed to get out there, one way or another.

“And how did you first meet him?” he ventured to ask.

Magnus averted his eyes a little when responding.

“Uh, we met one day when I was at Barnes & Noble during the first year I was here.  He actually tried to hit on me, but I was not interested. Then we ran into one another again when he got picked for one of our campaigns.  Then he hit on me again, and I was like, Fuck it, let’s go out for drinks. And he was a nice guy, but the chemistry wasn’t there. But we still do chat from time to time, just friends. But casually so!” he said, all in a rush.

“Well, okay,” Alec said, with a bit of uncertainty. “As long as you vouch for him, it’s cool.”

Well, at that moment, when Alec was standing in front of Cornelia’s, waiting for Jonathon 45 minutes past the time that had been arranged, he got extremely annoyed. 

He hated people who were late. Nervously, he fiddled with the collar and sleeves of the new silver sateen shirt that Magnus had convinced him to buy during the shopping trip they had gone on, just so Alec would look decent for the date.  Smoothing down the front of his casual gray slacks and giving himself a quick look in the storefront window, ruffling his dark hair slightly where some stray strands were sticking up as to not disturb the gelled style,.

Alec decided that he didn’t look too bad today. 

Nevertheless, he was still minus one date.

Alec started feeling super self-conscious, just standing in front of the restaurant.  Several happy couples had already breezed by, and the host had come out periodically to check if everyone from the reservation had arrived.  The host had actually offered to seat him at the table until Jonathon arrived.

But Alec had demurred. The last thing he wanted was for him to sit there, alone, as other people came in. It would have been glaringly obvious that he was still waiting on his date. 

Who may or may not have stood him up.

His cheeks flamed with embarrassment. 

When Jonathon finally did show up, full of breathy apologies that he had just simply forgotten, Alec acknowledged him, with a smile and a nod, and motioned him into the restaurant.

Jonathon wasn’t bad looking at all, with wavy brown hair and green eyes. Alec thought right then and there that he would give him a chance, despite the setbacks.

Well, that was before Alec sat at the table, trying to endure one of the most boring hour and a half in his life. The food was good, at least. But Jonathon was a talker and never even let him get a word in edgewise.  Not that he would have known what to say. 

The conversation pretty much just centered on Jonathan and his assignments, and he really did seem like he liked to hear himself talk.  When they got around to books, Alec thought that finally they would reach some middle ground.  But instead they argued and argued. Their tastes couldn’t have been more different.  Jonathan also ordered two expensive bottles of wine – which he drank on his own.

In the end, he claimed he had left his credit cards at home, so Alec had to front most of the bill, as well as escort a now very tipsy Jonathon all the way back to his apartment on the upper West Side because he was unable to walk straight after having that much wine. 

When Alec finally brought him up to his apartment and was helping to open the door for him, apparently in Jonathon’s drunk mind, Alec must have agreed to go home with him. 

Because the next thing Alec knew, once he opened the door to Jonathan’s apartment, Jonathon had pretty much body slammed him against the wall, and he found himself being slobbered over, a tongue down his throat, teeth clashing against teeth and alcohol breath, and Jonathon’s body weight fully on his as eager hands were grabbing his ass. 

Alec, frantic as well as furious, pushed him off with all his might but refrained from yelling when Jonathon just mumbled, “Sorry,” and, “Oh my god, the room is spinning. I need to go throw up.” 

Alec jumped into action, pushing aside any resentment, and quickly guided him to the bathroom, where Jonathon proceeded to puke his guts out.  Alec ended up sitting right outside the bathroom, his knees to his chest and plugging in his ears with his fingers. He could almost feel his dinner about to come up as well, if he listened to those retching sounds for even a second longer. 

Oh god, he thought to himself, was this real life?  How was he in this situation right now?  Ugh…

While waiting for Jonathon to stop throwing up, his brain went back and forth about whether he should kill Magnus, his so-called friend, for setting up this date for him or not. On one hand, Magnus could take the ribbing.  Then again, Magnus’s date with Jonathon had been eons ago, and maybe this guy was just not what Magnus remembered.

Despite the situation, Alec couldn’t help the small smile that came upon his face.  Magnus was only looking out for him, he was a good friend.  He couldn’t help knowing so many acquaintances, even if some of them were self-indulgent jerks…

Just then Jonathon had stopped retching, so Alec got up from where he was sitting and helped him into the bedroom. After Jonathan fell asleep almost immediately, Alec let himself out of the apartment and walked out of the building onto the street.

Stopping by a pay phone, he dialed the number that he knew by heart.

“Hello?” Magnus’s voice came on the line. “Who is this –”

“It’s Alec,” he said hurriedly into the receiver. 

“Alexander?” Magnus said, confused. “Aren’t you on your date with –”

“Yea, well, plans changed. I was on that date, but things took a turn for the worst.  Long story short, I was just fighting off a drunken, slobbering octopus –”

He could hear Magnus’s shocked inhale of breath, and then a disappointed sigh. “Oh my god,” Magnus breathed. “Are you okay?”

Alec nodded jerkily as he said into the phone, “Yea, Im cool. But I was just wondering if I could maybe swing by? I’m not really in the mindset to go home right now, and I really don’t want to be alone, with what I just went through. Is that cool?”

“Don’t even think twice about it, of course you can come over –”

“Are you sure?  I mean, are you alone?”  Alec knew that Magnus sometimes had people stay over with him. He wouldn’t want to bother anything that was going on.

“Imasu is here, but we were drinking and he passed out earlier, so he’s in the bedroom. Please don’t worry about it.  Besides he knows we are best friends, and you need me right now,” Magnus said firmly. “I insist.”

Alec sighed. It would be nice to see Magnus right now.  He did need him.

“Alright,” Alec said, relenting. “But as soon as I get there, just continue doing whatever you were going to do tonight.  You don’t need to accommodate me – I’ll just sleep on the beanbags or the couch and use that throw blanket you have. Not a problem.”

“Deal,” Magnus said cheerfully. “Although you can’t say no if I just want to give you some TLC due to what you endured tonight.”

Alec felt himself flushing at Magnus’s words. “Nah, no need for that,” Alec murmured into the phone. Then he cleared his throat and spoke with his regular voice again, “Anyway, thanks again. I owe you, buddy,” he said.

“See you soon,” Magnus said. Alec hung up, and walked out of the phone booth. Raising his hand, he started trying to flag down a yellow cab. 

Alec came back to the present, blinking as Magnus yelled with triumph as his character beat Alec’s in Double Dragon.

“Oh my god, that was just WAY too easy.  Are you taking it easy on me?” Magnus asked, almost accusingly.

“No, no, you deserved the win,” Alec said. “I got distracted – lost in thought. Just remembering the first time I stayed over, after that Jonathon debacle.”

“And don’t tell me,” Magnus huffed sarcastically. “You are never going to let me live that now, right?” His eyes were twinkling, with a smirk on his face.

”Actually,” Alec said truthfully, “I was thinking that I was quite thankful I had some place to go to that night.  I wasn’t in the right headspace. So yea, man. I appreciate you.”

Magnus blinked.

“Wow, this is a bit early for such a deep admission like that,” he deadpanned. “Wow, I wasn’t prepared for that. I haven’t even had my coffee yet.”

“Yea, sorry, I wasn’t expecting to get all mushy on you this morning either when I got on the train this morning to come over here,” Alec joked.

Magnus smiled. “No need to be sorry. What are best friends for? Come here,” he said soothingly as he drew Alec in for a big hug. 

Alec closed his eyes as he accepted the hug. 

Always so warm and secure, Magnus’s hugs were the best.

Exactly. Best friends. Alec was feeling so grateful at that moment to have Magnus as a best friend.

They disentangled from one another after a few minutes, now both smiling sheepishly. 

“Actually, eff this game,” Magnus said. “If I’m going to get coffee now, I feel like brunch. How about you?”

Alec whooped. “I was hoping you would say that. Double Dragon will be here when we get back!” he said happily.  Then he frowned. “But this means we need to be grown up again.  Ugh.”

He groaned.

Magnus laughed. “Well, we are 25 now, we are adults.  But we can always be young at heart, right?” he said, winking.

It never failed to make Alec laugh. “Right,” he agreed.

“Well, for unlimited mimosas, anyway, we need to be at least decently dressed, and our 25 year old selves,” Magnus reminded him.

Another groan came out from Alec. “What?  We don’t get to just go in regular clothing and jeans?” he complained, looking down at his worn shirt.

“C’mon, we should at least look presentable. A nice shirt at least,” Magnus said, dragging him down the hallway toward his room. “Okay, let’s go to my closet, as usual.  You’re not a lost cause, yet. Alexander. Just stick with me.  One day, one day, you’ll remember all these things.” 

Now standing in front of his closet, he started lifting out hangers with shirts.

Alec sighed, but a smile had crept onto his face.  Oh, Magnus, he thought affectionately.

 

Chapter Text

Early December 1988

Corner Billiards (East 11th Street & 4th Avenue), which was Magnus and Alec’s usual meet-up spot after work on Thursdays, was bustling with people right now, as their Happy Hour Thursdays was the big draw to the people in this neighborhood.

Cheery Christmas songs floated out from speakers in every corner of the pool hall, with lights and decorations adorning the ceilings and windows.

The gang had made plans to meet up at the pool hall after work today instead of their usual haunts – with Isabelle, Simon, Clary, Jace, with Imasu following a bit later on, since he had a team meeting that afternoon.  They were going to talk about plans for the holidays, along with who was going to host their soon-to-be annual Ugly Sweater Party and where it was going to be, while bonding over nachos, drinks, and friendly pool games.

Alec groaned when the idea of the Ugly Sweater Party was brought up.

“Seriously?” he whined. “Now we need to go out and spend 20 bucks on one of those hideous sweaters we will never ever wear again – except at the following year’s ugly sweater party?”

Clary, spritely with her flaming red hair in a side ponytail and glitter eyeshadow,  and totally reminding Alec today of some super hyper cheerleader-type (the horror!) -- was the one who came up with the idea of the Ugly Sweater party in the first place.

Grinning at Alec, she shot finger guns at him and said, “Oh, c’mon Alec. It’s all in fun, and it could be a cool tradition for years and years to come for all of us. Just a way to get into the Christmas spirit!”

“Wait…you did not just shoot finger guns at me…” His eyes widened. 

Of all the things…

Next to her, Jace shrugged helplessly.  There was not much he could do about his girlfriend when she got enthusiastic about something….

Alec looked at Clary incredulously.  So it would be a cool tradition, for years and years and years?

They were going to be friends for that long? 

As Simon bounced around the table to give Clary a jumping air high five, Alec looked at them like they were aliens.

“What are you cheering for, Simon?” Alec snarked, now irritated. “You’re Jewish!”

A brief flash of hurt crossed Simon’s face, to Alec’s surprise.  Uh oh…

“I know I’m Jewish!  I still want to come though.  I love parties,” Simon said, pouting.  He seemed a bit deflated now.

Isabelle gave Alec a pleading look. 

Alec sighed. 

“I’m sorry, Simon. Of course you’re included,” he said, trying to sound more cheerful.

Simon’s eyes brightened at that, and Isabelle gave Alec a thumbs up.  

Alec watched Isabelle walk over to Simon and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Simon positively glowed after that. 

Alec had to smile. Isabelle and Simon just started seeing each other recently, to Alec’s amusement and chagrin – so he needed to behave.  Eh, it wasn’t as if he was completely against Simon.  The guy was nice, maybe just a little too nice, a lot too talkative, and clingy. But he really did seem to care about Isabelle. And Isabelle definitely liked him too. 

Alec made a mental note to be nicer to the guy.  After all, Christmas was coming up soon.

He realized Clary was still looking at him, with a pleading look on her face.

He sighed again.

“Okay,” Alec said, relenting.  “Ugly Sweater Party’s a go, I suppose.”

Clary had whooped, Jace smiled, Isabelle had cheered, and Simon came over to impulsively hug Alec – who looked like he would rather be elsewhere.

At least Magnus glanced over at him sympathetically.

Later that week, Magnus dragged Alec on a shopping trip with both him and Imasu one evening after work. After extensive shopping, they all bought their ugly Xmas sweaters. Alec was also convinced – rather heavily by Magnus – to buy a new teal button-down shirt, after Magnus asked him to try it on. 
He ended up buying it because Magnus said it “brought out the blue in his eyes.” 

Alec flushed at his words as he tried on the shirt.  And for all the grumping he did as he looked in the mirror, he grudgingly admitted that he liked it too.

So Alec had worn that teal blue button down today to work on Thursday.

He ended up getting so many compliments on it, that he felt like he was wearing a perpetual flush on his cheeks all day. 

When he had met up with Magnus at the pool hall after work, Magnus’s eyes had lit up at the sight of him wearing the new shirt; his eyes lit up even further when Alec admitted that everyone had noticed and told him he had good taste in clothing.

“See? What did I tell you?” Magnus chided him lightly.

Alec had flushed yet again. “Let’s get a table,” he said, deflecting from the topic.  They quickly got a table and were soon racking up the balls and shooting to warm up. Soon, the waitress had come back to take their orders. 

Both hadn’t wasted any time, and ordered two drinks apiece.

Now they were zipping through their games, as both were at similar skill level, and enjoying a nice buzz of adrenaline along with the alcohol buzz. 

They were currently on their fourth game.  As usual, they were baiting each other, tossing out clichés and all types of shit-talking. 

Well, Magnus was doing more of that, anyway.  Magnus seemed to have a few lines for every situation.  Alec would try, but he never seemed to be able to beat Magnus at this game.

“If you look around a pool hall and you don’t know who is being hustled, then it’s probably you.”

Alec just stared, wide-eyed, as Magnus delivered those lines, his eyes never leaving Alec’s face, as he expertly jumped the 4 ball, over his 9 ball, right into the corner pocket. 

Now, normally that type of line, with Magnus’s uncanny way of delivering them, would have made Alec roll his eyes and huff a sarcastic comeback line. 

Yea, sober Alec would have totally done that. 

Key word being sober.

But as it was, they were already two drinks in, and Alec was feeling slightly tipsy. 

The good type of tipsy, where one’s inhibitions might or might not be left by the wayside. 

Here he was, staring at the way Magnus stretched his body and arm, clad in distressed black denim which hung on his lithe frame almost like a second skin, over the green felt while positioning his shot.  Then with one fell swoop, his arm had swung with something akin to feline grace.  He grinned when he made the shot.

Turning back to Alec, still stretched across the table, he delivered one long lashed wink of his heavily kohl lined eyes at him.  Alec blinked, and a noise arose from the back of his throat.

Then Magnus proceeded to sink the next two balls, and would have surely kept on going… But now he stopped, after missing one due to a miscalculated bank shot.

“Oh well, that’s that,” he said, shrugging. ““Your move, Alexander.”

“My move?”  Alec said, distracted, his mind a few steps behind what was actually going on. 

His eyes never swayed from the lines Magnus’s body made against the pool table, and his mind started getting cloudy.  

He hadn’t realized what a good pool player his best friend was –

His mouth suddenly felt really dry.

“You never said you were a hustler, Magnus,” Alec said accusingly.

Unconsciously, he licked his lips, which were suddenly dry for some reason. “But I could tell by the way you leaned over that table. And I thought I knew you…”

“Eh?” Magnus asked, his concentration momentarily thrown off as Alec spoke. He turned to him in confusion.

Hm, that’s weird, he thought, a bit confused.  If he wasn’t mistaken, the tone of Alec’s voice had changed in some subtle way toward the end.  Well, he wasn’t exactly sure. It had been that subtle. 

It had almost sounded…teasing.  Like flirtatious, even.

And then the licking of the lips had made him pause.

Okay, what was that? Magnus wondered, something in his gut feeling slightly off-centered and borderline uneasy.

As someone who used to flirt -- a lot, he was adept at picking up signals like that.

But Alec would never...

After all, they were best friends, right?  

All Magnus knew was that he had never met anyone he was so comfortable with.  They could talk about almost anything, he could act however he wanted in front of him without judgment – sure, Alec would roll his eyes or grunt approval or dissent, but he never directly placed any judgment upon him.  

Hell, he hadn’t even gotten to that point with Imasu. 

In fact, he hadn’t told Alec yet, but lately, he and Imasu had been getting into more and more fights as of late.  Not even about anything remotely important, but all of a sudden Imasu had started picking at his appearance, his makeup, just everything.  

What was up with him lately? Magnus thought, feeling irritation simmering under his skin. 

But then he just shrugged it off. Imasu was probably just having a bad day with work or something going on.  Magnus would always ask.  But he had yet to get anything even remotely close to a straight answer.

Another sore topic was —of all people – Alec!

The first time Imasu had brought it up, it had nearly blindsided him.

“You two sure hang out an awful lot. I mean, you guys meet up every so often after work, then go out to brunch every Sunday, and then spend the whole day together,” Imasu observed one day. 

His voice was a bit on the cool side, a tone Magnus recognized when Imasu was trying and failing to be impartial.

Magnus knew that meant that it bothered him. Greatly.

Magnus initially bristled. He was also this close to throwing up a glare toward Imasu for one brief second – it was almost instantaneous how defensive he was regarding Alec, since they were best friends.

Then he dropped it immediately, not wanting Imasu to get the wrong idea.

“Whatever do you mean, Imasu? Of course Alec and I are going to hang out. He’s my best friend,” he said quickly, trying to appease him.  

A flash of something unreadable passed over Imasu’s face, so quickly that Magnus hadn’t even been sure if it had occurred in the first place. 

“But you think he’s good-looking, right?” Imasu asked, now looking directly at Magnus with a searching type of look.

“Uh, I mean, right, physically he is good looking. But aren’t we all?” Magnus asked, starting to get a headache about all of this. He’s always had relatively attractive people within his circle of friends.  So did Imasu! When they had initially met one another at Pandemonium, it was evident that they both hung around pretty types.

But, with all this questioning as of late, Imasu was starting to sound just the tiniest bit…jealous? 

But that wasn’t possible, was it? 

They had established themselves as casual from the very start.  And Magnus was incredibly happy about that.  He didn’t want anything more than that. 

Having something emotionally deeper just did not fit with what he wanted right now.  He saw Imasu fairly regularly, had a great time hanging out with him, they were great in bed together, and they liked to spend time together. 

No strings attached, so no pressure whatsoever.  Wasn’t it just better that way?

So, why was Imasu suddenly asking all these questions about Alec? 

It completely baffled the mind…

Sure, Alec definitely had looks and a great body – it was impossible for anyone to not see that about his best friend. 

That was just a fact. 

He just didn't see what the big deal was about it.

Anyway, Magnus had never had a close best friend before that was male and good-looking, to hang out with, to knock down a few drinks with, with no underlying ulterior motives.  He just felt very lucky that he was able to have this with Alec.

Best friend, he thought affectionately, coming back to the present.

He watched as Alec tried to line up his cue with two striped balls for a combination.  Alec wrinkled his nose, in that adorable way he would, when concentrating hard on something…

“Hmm, looks like that’s taking a long time for you,” he teased Alec. “Are you sure you don’t want to forfeit your turn?”

Now Magnus was starting to get annoying. Alec’s eyes narrowed. Sure, he was a bit tipsy, but he wasn’t about to admit that to Magnus.  He needed to keep his edge, otherwise Magnus would totally take the game from him…

“Can’t rush perfection, you know,” he shot back.  He and Magnus exchanged lingering mock glares for a second.  Magnus was the first to break.

“Okay, okay, buddy,” he teased. “Didn’t mean to break your concentration like that.”

Alec smirked. “Sure,” he deadpanned. “Whatever you say.  You’re not to be trusted here.”

Magnus made a wounded noise. “What? But I’m your best friend.  You don’t trust me?” he asked, pretending to sound offended.

Alec grinned, his blue eyes twinkling with mischief. “Nope,” he said. “Not when it comes to a game of pool.  It’s straight up competition right?”  He challenged Magnus with a direct look.

Magnus grinned back, his heart starting to beat a bit erratically. “Right, I’m not supposed to just let you win, right?” he said.

At that, Alec laughed uproariously.

“Nah, there will be none of that,” he declared. 

He resumed his position as he attempted to line up the balls again on the table with his cue.  Taking a deep breath, he bent down, stretching his body over the table.

He was so engrossed in this that he failed to notice that Magnus was no longer standing across from him.  In fact, Magnus had moved right next to him and was trying to suppress a grin.

Alec took a deep breath. Okay, he thought.  Ready, one…two…

POKE!

Something poked him HARD right in the side of his butt..  

Alec yelped, jumping in surprise, collapsing his stance as he slumped forward ungracefully onto the table, his hands bracing his fall.  All the balls dispersed, now all out of place.

WHAT THE HELL?? AND SO INAPPROPRIATE --

Furious, he whipped his head around to see Magnus  nearly bent over in stitches, laughing his ass off.

“Oh my god, you should have seen your face!” Magnus gasped. “You looked like you were ready to kill someone! I’m so sorry.  I just couldn’t resist. Your butt was right there!”

“Really?” Alec demanded. Had Magnus wanted  to win that badly that he resorted to this?

Magnus gave him a sheepish grin. “Sorry, Alexander,” he said, looking contrite. “Are you mad at me?

He gave him what he thought was his prettiest pout.

Alec huffed again, now more embarrassed than anything else. Mockingly, he grabbed Magnus by the lapels of his leather jacket until they were nose to nose. 

"You're soooo lucky we're best friends," Alec growled, "Or else I'd --- I'd---"

Magnus could smell the liquor as well as the heat from his breath on his face.

"Or else you’d what?" Magnus challenged, his brown eyes twinkling devilishly as he looked into Alec's blue eyes.

As Alec looked at Magnus, in his inebriated state, his thoughts began to form.

In his head, they were both back in that car three years ago, Magnus with that multilayered cut and the tight dark washed jeans, trading verbal barbs with him as they headed east to NYC.

But even back then, amidst all that hostility, and their differences of opinion, there had always been something...

Something.

Simmering...simmering under the surface.

Like a live wire, buzzing under Alec's skin. 

It was so intense it hit Alec like a Mack truck. What the fuck was going on??? 

Confusion hit Alec, as he became light-headed, all these mixed feelings rising within him. He became immensely aware that he had Magnus in his hands, so close that he could see Magnus swallow hard, his Adam’s apple moving within the hollow of his throat.

"Alexander?" Magnus said, hesitantly.

Had he ever heard Magnus sound so hesitant, so quiet? Absent of his usual flair and all the bells and whistles that usually accompanied such a flirtatious persona?

But there was none of that right now. Instead it felt like everything had been laid bare, and stripped down to its essence... Their friendship, between him and Magnus was so different now from that day...

Nevertheless, his voice sent chills throughout his body, and he froze, as he started to realize something. 

"M-Magnus," he managed, his voice choking as he said his name.

Magnus continued to look at him, questioningly. "Are you okay, Alexander?" he continued to ask in that same tone of voice. "You sound like you're a bit off. Are you feeling sick from the alcohol?"

Alec continued to look at Magnus blankly. Swirling sensations welled up within his gut, and suddenly Magnus was the only person in the room. 

And he was, in a word, BEAUTIFUL

JUST... BEAUTIFUL.

Magnus continued to look at Alec with a confused yet worried expression on his face, his mouth in a slight pout.

And God, now he couldn't stop looking at Magnus's lips.

Holy mother of God ---

Magnus must have suddenly become aware of the odd vibe and tension between them, because his eyes widened. 

He opened his mouth to speak. "A-Alexander, uh---" he said, weakly. "I--"

"Hey guys!” Isabelle's excited shriek suddenly pierced the air.

Shit! Isabelle ---

Alec automatically shoved Magnus away from him --  so hard they both nearly fell over. 

The look of shock and annoyance of Magnus’s face as he did so made his heart sink.

"Shit! What was that for?!" Magnus complained, stumbling and trying to regain his balance. "Damn, you are never fucking drinking again, Alec! That was just...weird!"

Alec, still trying to regain his composure, mumbled under his breath. 

"Sorry, Magnus. I’m sorry," he said, his emotions still in a tizzy. Yea, maybe he just shouldn’t drink anymore.

Because, what the fuck was all of that before...?

Suddenly Isabelle was in front of him, with a knowing look on her face. It had become so familiar to him, this look, as she would tease him mercilessly. And it had gotten so much more frequent now in recent months...

She leaned in toward him, her lips close to his ear.

"So what excuse do you have for us today, big brother, hm?" she asked, in a voice louder than a whisper.

"Izzy!" he hissed.

Somehow the gang was suddenly in front of the three of them. Jace, Clary, Simon... 

And Imasu, who had happened to walk in with them.

Imasu. Who currently had a stunned look on his face.  And he didn’t look happy…

Not in the very least.

Judging from his expression, he had seen as much as Isabelle. 

And now his dark eyes were calm yet hard – traveling from Alec, to Magnus, who was still looking incredibly annoyed, then back to Alec again. 

Alec cowered inwardly under Imasu’s intense gaze while still feeling Isabelle’s knowing gaze on his back. 

Alec took a few deep breaths, as he attempted to keep a straight face.

His inner emotions, however, were pretty much going haywire.

He gritted his teeth, trying to get them all under control.

Fuck...

Chapter Text

Wollman Rink, Central Park, Christmas Eve 1988

Alec sat on the ice, frowning after having fallen for the umpteenth time since first entering the rink. Sighing, he looked back at the entrance to the ice skating rink, which was only a few feet away.

Shit, so he hadn’t made it as far as he had thought. His cheeks burned. What was he doing here again?

Jace and Clary were suddenly in front of him, stopping in perfect unison like seasoned skaters.

“Alec, are you okay?” Jace asked.  Clary was also looking at him with a concerned expression on her face.

“Oh, he’s fine, stop babying him. He didn't even fall down that hard,” a playful voice said from above him.

Scowling, Alec looked up as Magnus’ smirking face looked down at him.

“I am so not fine,” Alec said, folding his arms and pouting. “I’ve never been good at ice skating. I can’t believe I had you talk us into doing this. Now my butt is wet and I’m freezing.”

“Alexander,” Magnus said patiently, “We just got into the rink.  There’s no way you are freezing already. Sheesh, here, take my scarf.”  

Magnus unfurled his oversized royal blue cashmere scarf from his neck and torso, bent down, and started playfully wrapping it around Alec.  

Alec pretended not to notice how close Magnus’ face was to his ear.

“There, darling,” Magnus whispered. “How is that? Much better?"

Magnus’s breath tickled Alec’s ear, and he shuddered slightly.

“Uh, much better, Magnus. Thanks,” Alec managed weakly. He took a deep breath and looked at him, trying to look cross.

“This doesn’t mean I forgive you.” 

“I’d never dream of it,” Magnus said blithely, now helping Alec to stand up again.

"Okay, now we are going to try again," Magnus said. "We can link pinkies this time.   Then just watch how how I'm pushing off, and how my legs are moving. Bend your knees too."

"Exactly!" Jace and Clary said enthusiastically. Waving goodbye, the pair skated away, joining the throng of skaters creating a circle in a clockwise direction.

"They make it look so easy," Alec complained. "Also they are starting to act like one another. It's kinda creepy..."

Magnus laughed. "I did notice that as well. They do say that couples do end up acting like each other -- due to all the time they spend together."

Alec shuddered. "Hopefully that doesn't happen to everyone," he muttered.

Magnus laughed again. "Well, everyone's different," he said. "Some people want that. Others want to retain their individuality."

Magnus gestured toward the both of them. "Look at us, for instance --"

Us? Alec’s mind picked up on the word us.

"-- even best friends might start acting like each other. For many. But definitely not you and me," Magnus said, with a twinkle in his eye. 

"You still haven't picked up on my fashion sense, nor do you appreciate a good cup of espresso," he deadpanned. "Also you definitely don't have the coordination to skate on the ice." 

Toward the end of the sentence, Magnus had started cracking up. Alec just looked at him, getting annoyed. 

"Oh yea?" he huffed. "Come on then, let's skate."

Magnus bit his lip in mirth.

"Ok then. You asked for it," he said mildly as he linked pinkies with Alec, and slowly led him across the rink toward the main circle. "Remember, make sure to bend your knees, and always look in front of you."

He looked at Alec, his forehead scrunched in concentration, and moving stiffly. 

"Well, now that's a bit too stiff, Alexander. You need to loosen up, get into the music. Stay there for a moment, and watch me," Magnus said, letting go of Alec's hand. 

Alec watched as his friend pushed off with an easy glide, did some long graceful strokes toward the center of the rink.  Then he turned his feet so the heels were touching, and proceeded to make a perfect circle in place as he leaned into the turn, three flawless revolutions.

All while grinning at him.. 

Alec's mouth dropped open. Of course Magnus was good at ice skating too, he thought wryly. Figures…

Despite feeling grumpy, Alec found himself admiring the ease with which Magnus skated. He just seemed so full of life and was completely enjoying himself.  He was even a little bit envious. 

He wanted to feel that way too. 

Could he let loose a little like that as well?  Well, anything was certainly better than being tightly wound like he currently felt, right?  Now what did Magnus say to do?  Bend the knees, keep weight on the balls of the feet…

Hmm…he could try that.

Slowly, he decided to venture out, as Magnus was starting to make it back toward him. 

Magnus stopped in mid-glide, as he saw Alec skating toward him, slowly.

“Oh my god, you decided to try it on your own. Never thought I would see the day!  Anyway, that’s it, Alexander. Woohoo!” he cried happily, seeing Alec actually attempt to glide and come forward on the ice. 

Despite some unsteadiness, Alec was actually moving, and getting closer to where he was standing!

He wasn’t sure what had happened in Alec’s mind in those last few minutes, but he was glad for it. It always lightened his heart to see his friend try new things...

Except that Alec started flailing his arms unevenly as he got closer to Magnus. Stay calm, lean forward, don't lean back, Magnus thought, willing Alec to regain his control. But it was futile, as leaning back was what most beginners tended to do. 

Magnus already knew what was going to happen. He cursed under his breath as he just watched Alec lose whatever control he had -- and was just heading directly toward him, arms outstretched and frantically trying to grab at something -- anything --

... And of course that's what beginners do. 

Magnus should have remembered that.

The best thing to do if you suddenly felt like you were going to fall, was to roll toward the side and tuck your hands between your knees in order to prevent others from slicing over them.

First lesson in skating school, pretty much.

But Alec had never taken lessons in ice skating, so he couldn't possibly know all of that. He was heading straight for Magnus because he was the closest anchor...

Ok then, Magnus thought. He would have to do his best to be an anchor. 

As Alec barreled toward him, his hazel eyes widening with a frantic yet apologetic look on his face, Magnus reached out to grab Alec’s arm to try to slow him down.

What he hadn't expected was for Alec to grab his arm using both hands, no less -- what the hell was he doing??!  

Oh crap...

They both crashed into the ice, ending up in an ungraceful heap, Magnus hitting his side on the ice, and Alec nearly on top of him. 

Shit, Magnus thought, wincing. 

He hadn't fallen on the ice in years! He had forgotten how much it hurt.

And especially when someone falls on top of you...

"Magnus, are you okay? Shit, I shouldn't have grabbed you like that. For some reason I didn't expect you to just go down like that, too..." 

Alec was babbling at the moment, sounding very anxious. He would completely hate himself if Magnus got hurt because of him...

"I'm alright, Alexander," Magnus reassured him. "Just a little shaken up." The side of his hip was smarting from how he had slammed down into the ice.

"Do you guys need any help?" an unfamiliar female voice said.

Both Magnus and Alec looked up. It was a middle aged woman with a little girl at her side in matching coats, and regular white figure skates. They were steady, just standing there in front of them. 

"We're okay," Magnus said, smiling. “Thanks for asking. I broke his fall, that's why I'm down. But I'll live," he attempted to joke.

Next to him, Alec's cheeks flamed with embarrassment. 

"Oh look, he's blushing," the woman observed. "Damn, he’s adorable. You guys make a good looking couple," she said good-naturedly.

Alec flushed even more, even as Magnus was saying something to the woman -- no doubt trying to refute whatever she was saying.  

Ever since that afternoon in the pool hall, Alec had been actively trying to avoid thinking about whatever the hell happened during that game...

And he had been successful for the most part.

But there were some moments -- just a few -- where something would just take him by surprise. Then that weirdness would come back. 

He would find himself becoming hyperfocused on anything Magnus was doing, noticing his style of dress, or even fixated on some part of his face.  Well, of course other thoughts had begun to come into his head, but those he would quickly shut down – there was a line that he was adamant about not crossing. 

Otherwise there would be no going back.

And he needed this friendship to survive whatever craziness he was experiencing right now.  

He’d never had a best friend, ever.  He was already bad at meeting new people. 

He certainly did not want to lose the ones he already had…

Luckily, the fleeting feelings didn’t seem serious – it only occurred occasionally – so he was fairly confident it was just a phase. 

At some point – hopefully soon  he would be back to normal.

And then he would stop having these thoughts about his best friend.

Maybe this was a sign telling him he needed to get out more – to try to meet decent people who were potentials, Alec thought. 

It really had been awhile since he last had gone on a date. 

He had just chosen not to; instead he had decided to hang out with friends -- and especially one very special, best friend --

Magnus.

Gorgeous, kind, thoughtful, protective, proactive, fun-loving, cheery, good-natured…sexy, muscular, and a pout that just drew you in—

Ah, dammit.  

Was it any wonder that he ended up reacting this way toward his best friend? 

Inappropriate thoughts started to make their way into his mind -- yet again.  

Fuck. 

He really needed to nip this in the bud.

Taking a deep breath, he attempted to get up on one knee and managed to get himself up into a standing position on the ice. 

"Yea, we're good," he said to the woman, who was still standing there, surveying the two with great curiosity.

The woman smiled. “Good to hear that,” she said.  She turned to the little girl, who had dutifully stood by her side the entire time. “Come on, honey.”

The woman took her hand and turned to leave.  Then she turned back again abruptly to face the two men. “Good luck with everything, you two,” she said, smiling. Both she and the little girl waved goodbye, and turned to skate again.

“We aren’t together,” Magnus called out, while Alec flushed.

“Man, why do people keep thinking that we are? Sheesh,” Magnus said, laughing. “It’s starting to get annoying.

Alec swallowed hard, even as he tried to think of a comeback.

“Yea,” he said finally, trying to sound sarcastic. “As if I can’t do much better than you, huh?”

At that, Magnus smiled widely, a devilish look coming into his eyes. “No, of course you can’t,” he said. “Who else knows the mystery behind your many facial expressions?  Who would be there to remind you that a t-shirt and jeans isn’t appropriate for going out to a nice restaurant? And who else would remind you to eat three square meals a day? I swear, I bet you would go all day without eating and you would just waste away…”

Magnus sighed dramatically. Alec rolled his eyes at him.

“Okay, okay, yea.  What would I do without you?” Alec deadpanned, even as a small part of his heart tugged at him.

Magnus winked at him. “Anyway, should we go find the others?  And without falling too much, please? I don’t think my cute butt can take any more slams onto the ice today,” he said lightly.  “Ah! I see Jace and Clary, they are on the opposite end. Let’s skate to them!”

He offered a gloved hand to Alec.

Alec just stared at it.

“Well, come on, I’m sure that fall took a bit out of you.  I’m just watching out for you. As always,” Magnus said, continuing to stick his hand out to him.

As always…

Right.

Alec took the offered hand, and tried not to think about how nice his hand felt in his.

What would I do without you…

Indeed.

*******

At the far end of the rink by the rental area, Isabelle and Simon had run into Imasu, who had just arrived.

“Hey, Imasu, do you need to get skates? We do!” Isabelle said.

Imasu lifted his skate bag. “No, I already own a pair. Saves money!” he said cheerfully. 

“Magnus should already be there, right?  With Alec?  At least I think so – those two are inseparable,” Simon said, in all innocence.  “I mean, the way they – Ow!”

Isabelle had discreetly delivered a sharp nudge to Simon’s ribs, giving him a look.  Simon had caught the look and shut up immediately, the look on his face clearly showing that he didn’t quite understand what was going on but knew it was best to just stay quiet.

Imasu didn’t appear to notice this exchange.  “Yea, Magnus should be here already,” he murmured.

He had already walked away from the two, heading in the direction of the rink, scanning the rink for any sign of Magnus.

He didn’t see Magnus anywhere. 

Hmm, okay, he thought. He was about to turn away, but a flash of royal blue caught his eye toward the center of the rink.

He focused more closely.  It was Alec, who was sprawled on the ice.  He must have fallen.  Next to him was a woman with a little girl, who seemed to be in conversation with him.  Probably to check if he was okay. 

Then Alec moved over, and the very familiar figure with long legs in dark hip-hugging jeans and black turtleneck got up. 

Magnus!

Imasu smiled.  He was ready to skate out to both of them, when he saw Magnus stick out his hand to Alec.  

Imasu froze.  What was Magnus doing?  He watched as Alec hesitated and then took Magnus’s hand. Together they started moving toward the far end of the rink. Imasu didn’t want to feel this way, but it was already too late. 

His mood was ruined.  He didn’t want to skate anymore.  Actually, what he needed  was a drink and to cool his heels somewhere. 

He was sure he was overreacting and it was probably nothing.  But he couldn’t stop the bad feelings from coming.  He just felt like he needed to be as far away from here as possible right now.

He would just show up to the party later, after he had some time to calm down.

….

“Hey, I think I see Magnus and Alec!” Isabelle said, looking out at the rink.

She noted with amusement that Alec had Magnus’s giant royal blue scarf wrapped around him.  Isabelle grinned.  She would have recognized that scarf anywhere.

They seemed to be talking to a mother with child for some reason.

She was sitting in the rental area with Simon, who was currently struggling to put on his skates. “These rentals are torture!” Simon complained, as he was getting nowhere with them.

Jumping up, she went to the edge of the rink and peered at Magnus and Alec a bit more closely.

Were they…holding hands?  Isabelle’s eyes widened.  She watched for a bit as they skated away and toward the far end. 

Ah, they had gone to meet with Clary and Jace.  She recognized the flame-colored hair of her brother’s girlfriend in the distance.

Two thoughts ran through Isabelle’s head at that very moment.

Well this was interesting, she thought, again noting her brother holding hands with Magnus.

Then – Where’s Imasu?

As if on cue, Imasu suddenly appeared in front of her.

“Imasu!” she said, surprised.

“I can’t stay,” Imasu said abruptly.  “I just remembered, I have errands to run.”

“Oh?” Isabelle asked curiously. Imasu’s voice, usually playfully, had gone completely flat. 

“Okay, Imasu. Too bad though,” she said.  She smiled at him brightly, and he smiled back.

“See you later at the party then?” she added. 

Isabelle was so great, Imasu thought. Truly good people…

“Wouldn’t miss it, love,” he said, some of the music back in his voice.

He reached out with his hand to squeeze her elbow affectionately.  “Tell Magnus I’ll see him later, if you see him.”

“Uh, okay,” she said, a little too quickly.

Something flashed in Imasu’s eyes, his smile disappearing for a quick second.  Then a smile was back on his face once again.  He nodded at her, then turned and walked out of the rink.

Isabelle sighed.  Somehow, she knew that Imasu had already seen the two and that he knew she had seen them as well.

“What was that all about?” Simon asked.  He had finished putting on his skates, and was now standing next to her. “Imasu left?”

Isabelle continued staring in the direction where Imasu had left.

“Yea,” she said absentmindedly. “Something came up.” 

She was lost in thought for a second, and then shook herself out of it.  “But he will be at our party tonight,” she said brightly.

Suddenly she poked Simon in the ribs playfully, making him yelp. “So do you wanna get out there, or what?” she asked affectionately, gesturing out to the rink.

“Hey, girl,” Simon gasped, holding his side. “I really do like you, Izzy. But sheesh, I’m starting to have trouble differentiating your jabs. Like, are they affectionate or are they “Shut up, Lewis” type of jabs?”

“I do them for both reasons,” Isabelle teased. “Admit it, you love me for it.”

Simon sighed.

Chapter Text

Wollman Rink, a few hours later...

“We are soo looking forward to the party tonight,” Clary gushed, pulling Jace with her as they slid into the table that Isabelle, Simon, Alec, and Magnus were sitting at, all drinking hot chocolate. 

They had all met up on the ice, skated a few rounds – well, it had been more Magnus holding up Alec, than Alec actually skating -- to Alec’s chagrin. Isabelle had been giggling at him and giving him knowing looks at the time.

By the last round, Alec had been so tired, achy, frustrated, and embarrassed, he had sworn he would never come back again.

“Oh, Alexander, it wasn’t that bad, was it?’ Magnus asked. 

“Easy for you to say,” Alec retorted. “You didn’t have little kids coming over, skating circles around you, and asking if you were okay the way they kept asking me. A little kid even came over, volunteering to teach me!”

Magnus and Isabelle started laughing.

“Yea, well, that was me, back in the day,” Magnus said. “Learn a skill, you just want to show it off.  I recall I’d be trying to teach adults clinging desperately to the wall, and then I’d suddenly skate backwards – and then their eyes would just bug out right then and there at this six year old skating circles around them. Haha, great times!” 

Both Magnus and Isabelle turned to one another and high-fived.

“Yea, well, even if it was true, it didn’t mean I wanted little kids calling me out for my lack of skill,” Alec muttered.

“Oh c’mon, Grumpy. Cheer up,” Magnus soothed, ruffling Alec’s hair affectionately. “The party’s tonight.  At least you won’t be the only one humiliated – everyone will be equally horrendous, wearing their ugly Christmas sweaters.”

Clary lit up upon hearing the party being brought up again.

“We should give a prize to the person with the ugliest sweater!” she giggled.

“Great idea!” Simon hooted.

“Also, everyone shopped for their Secret Santa gifts, right?  Can’t wait to trade tonight!” Clary squealed, clapping her hands together.

Alec inhaled sharply.

Right, the Secret Santa.

It hadn’t been rigged or anything, given that all the names had been tossed into a bowl and randomly fished out.  But he had randomly picked Magnus. 

Of course, the universe would do that to him. Of all the freaking luck…

His thoughts went back to that morning, the day he had decided to go shopping for the gift...

….

Magnus’s hair that morning was spiky and tipped with magenta, his only makeup being on his lower lash line, glittering gold, as they met up for their morning coffee at Yaffa Cafe.

They made his brown eyes look incredibly luminous….and Alec almost couldn’t breathe upon seeing him --

Oh boy. The butterflies were starting again….

“New eyeliner?” Alec managed, trying not to choke on his words.

“Yea,” Magnus said quietly. “Trying for a lighter face.”

He looked at Alec from under long and curly lowered lashes. “What do you think?” he asked tentatively.  Suddenly he looked unsure.

“Why that long face? That’s not like you,” Alec asked softly, suddenly forgetting his awkwardness. 

Magnus smiled slightly but it didn't quite reach his eyes.

“You look amazing.  Actually I don’t think you know how not to look amazing,” Alec quickly blurted out. 

“You're the best, Alexander," Magnus murmured, giving him a bigger smile. Which quickly turned into a frown. 

'Wish Imasu thought that way,” Magnus muttered, taking out his small mirror and glancing into it. “He thought my makeup was a bit too heavy.”

“Really?” Alec asked. “After all this time? No way…”

Suddenly he was angry.  Magnus obviously felt insecure about his appearance because of Imasu.

No one had a right to make anyone feel that way, and especially not toward Magnus.

“Listen, Magnus.  I may not know Imasu well, but I know you. You wouldn’t normally allow someone to  dictate how you look or what you do.  I happen to think you’re great just the way you are,” Alec said genuinely.

Yea, you’re certainly beautiful the way you are. What was Imasu thinking?

Magnus’s grateful smile in response to his words was worth everything

****************

It was supposedly an easy task, shopping for the Secret Santa -- $30 limit, a decent amount that could cover any casual gift.  Right?

Alec’s intention upon starting out his shopping trip was to get Magnus a nice sweater, perhaps, or maybe even a Nintendo game, since he loved video games. 

But something in one of the storefronts on Fifth Avenue caught his eye. It fit Magnus to a tee.

Before he knew it, he walked into the store.  An hour later, he walked out the door, having paid almost $150 over what he had initially intended.

Egad, he thought, a bit shell-shocked, almost experiencing buyer’s remorse. 

It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford it, but he never bought anything so expensive, not even for himself!

Was it too much in terms of price and gesture?

Sighing, he plopped down on an iron bench lined along the sidewalk, lost in thought.

Opening up the little shopping bag, he glanced at the box, wrapped prettily in gold foil wrap and white curly ribbons.

The thing was, he knew Magnus would love it.  Alec had caught him looking at a similar one in magazines and commenting on how nice it was. 

Alec imagined Magnus with it.  It would be perfect for work, he thought. 

It would look great on him.

Alright – it was decided.  He would keep it.

They were best friends – giving him such an expensive gift wouldn’t seem like anything crazy. 

Best friends tended to think of one another that way.  Didn’t they?

Then again, people didn’t think inappropriate thoughts about their best friend.

Not even occasionally..

......

“Everyone ready for the party?” Isabelle’s voice broke into Alec’s thoughts.

“Uh yea,” Alec muttered dryly. “Gift and ugly sweater laid out and ready, right in your closet. I’m just dying to wear it.”

“Funny that Imasu just upped and left before,” Magnus mused randomly, seemingly distracted. “He didn’t say anything about errands earlier when we talked in the morning.”

"Yea, he seemed in a hurry," Isabelle said, her voice coming out a bit odd.  She looked away.

Alec glanced at Magnus.

Magnus seemed so confused and lost.

Alec felt a rush of sympathy toward him.  He didn't like seeing his best friend so distressed.  He seemed to be having more and more episodes these days…

Patting Magnus’s hand in comfort, he said simply, "Maybe he suddenly remembered something he needed to do. You never know.  But he will be there tonight," he said quietly, as Magnus' brown eyes looked at him anxiously.

"I'm sure you're right," Magnus said.  But he still sounded very uncertain.

An awkward silence developed among them.

“Uh, guys?” Jace piped in. “I think you guys still need to go home and set up for the party, right? Unless some magic fairy was in the apartment and did all the decorating and preparations for us?”

Isabelle looked down at her watch. “Oh my god, it’s 6pm already?  Where did the time go?!” she whined in dismay.  “Simon, weren’t you supposed to remind me we needed to leave early?”

Simon looked at her apologetically. “Sorry, Iz.  I was too busy trying not to fall on my face out there, I completely forgot,” he said, abashed.

“Okay guys, we need to go,” Isabelle said to the group. “Alec gets to help out by default since he stayed over last night so he didn’t need to trek it all the way back to Brooklyn.”

“Actually, I would love to help out if you guys need.  It would be a great way to keep my mind off unpleasant things.  I do love a good party,” Magnus said.  He held up a department store bag. “I also brought my gift and ugly Christmas sweater along to save time, so I don’t need to go home first.”

Alec brightened up at the mention of Magnus volunteering to help out.  At least he wouldn't be stuck doing the setup alone now...

“That’s a great idea,” he agreed.  Yes, it would be the perfect thing to get Magnus’s mind off the weirdness with Imasu. 

At least he kept telling himself that was the only reason why he was thrilled about it.

Magnus smiled appreciatively at him.

*****

Isabelle's apartment, 30 minutes later

"Izzy!" Alec complained. "How did your apartment get messier from this morning? I thought you only left half an hour after I did!" 

"Shut up," Isabelle muttered. "I misplaced my keys, ok? So I turned the place over to look for them! Anyway I'll clean up myself. It's not a big deal."

"Whatever," Alec muttered, bending down to pick up some random shirts from the living room floor. Just like when she was at home, he thought, breaking into a smile despite his exasperation. Little sisters never change...

And of course, he would always help out.

"Wow, so her disorganization wasn't just limited to drama club, eh?" Magnus chuckled. 

Alec turned to see Magnus picking up magazines and random pieces of mail right by the shoe rack. "I'm guessing this is where she dumps the mail, eh?"

Alec shrugged. 

"Beats me. When I got here last night, that pile of mail was not there," he said. "Looks like we will need to clean this up. Think Izzy's tied up at the moment."

He gestured toward the kitchen, where muffled expletives could be heard, along with clanging of pots and pans, dishes, and Simon occasionally yelling ”Ow, ow, ow!" accompanied by Isabelle's floaty sounding laughter. 

Magnus laughed. "Sounds like they have more than enough to handle on their own. Is Simon ready to deal with that, long-term?" he asked, his eyes twinkling. 

"They seem happy," Alec said, shrugging. Then he smiled. "I know I rag on Simon a lot... But he's a pretty decent guy," he admitted.

Magnus's eyes brightened. 

"Wow, finally you admitted it!" he cheered. Then he pouted cutely. "Looks like I'm out 20 bucks. Oh well."

"Huh?" Alec was dumbfounded. "You bet against me? With who?"

"Clary," Magnus said.

"I didn't know you talk to her!" Alec protested. Ugh, the last thing he needed was to be the subject of gossip. He scowled.

Then he grew curious. "So, what was the bet, exactly?" he asked offhandedly, pretending not to be so curious.

"That you would admit that Simon's good for Izzy before the year’s up," Magnus replied. "I didn't think you'd admit it this soon. So much for expectations, Alexander." He stuck his tongue out at him. 

Alec wrinkled his nose at him. 

"Well, there's no other witnesses, so maybe this just never happened," he said, shrugging.

Magnus looked at Alec and grinned. "You're right, this could be our little secret," he teased.

"Sure," Alec laughed, as he stooped down to pick up more miscellaneous items from the floor. "Come on, the party's in 3 hours and we have to clean the dining area as well."

Magnus shook his head reproachfully. 

"Aren't you glad I volunteered to come help out? You would have been doing this all on your own. You need me, Alexander," Magnus chuckled.

Alec managed a small smile before ducking his head to hide the flush on his cheeks.

"Well, let's ask Izzy where the decorations are. And we might as well help to put up the tree too.” He sighed. “Sigh, I guess we are going to end up doing everything, aren't we?”

"You wouldn't have it any other way, right?" Magnus laughed.

Alec grimaced. "Yea, I'm such a sucker for it," he deadpanned.

Somehow they managed to finish cleaning and decorating in good time prior to the party. 

Isabelle poked her head out of the kitchen door at some point during this time, her cheeks and t-shirt half dusted with flour, to check in on the boys. 

Alec had initially recoiled in horror – as the flour signified that she had been baking (or would the more correct word be – experimenting?).  He recalled years of being subjected to her experiments when they were teenagers.

“Uh, Izzy,” he gasped. “What have you guys been doing in there?”  His voice held an accusatory tone.

Isabelle rolled her eyes. “Uh, baking, don’t you see the flour?” she demanded. “It always takes a long time!  Simon’s still minding the food. Anyway, I’m done, wanna see?  I made cupcakes!  And – OOH!”

Her eyes brightened as she took in the view. The rooms were adorned with strings of softly glowing Christmas lights, paper decorations on every door, red bows, ribbon streamers at each corner, and fake holly placed here and there.  

Pots of red poinsettias were on the coffee table and side tables. There was even some real mistletoe, which had been hung in two places on the ceiling in the living room – to cause some very interesting and/or awkward situations tonight, according to Isabelle with glee. And brightly decorated stockings – one for each guest – were hung on the walls.

The karaoke machine was in a corner -- all fired up and loaded with cheezy tunes. 

“Oh my god, guys. I don’t know how you managed to do all of this and clean up, but this looks amazing!” she said gratefully. “I owe you guys!”

“Yea, I’ll just put that one on our ever-growing list,” Alec said sarcastically, and Isabelle stuck her tongue out at him.

Just then Magnus came out of the storage closet, dragging a fake tree with him. Alec’s eyes lit up. “Ah, you brought out the tree!” he said happily.

“All we need to do is to decorate this, and we are all set. We still have an hour before people arrive, so we’re making great time!” Magnus said, smiling.

He turned to Isabelle. “Hey, did I hear you made cupcakes?” he asked.

Behind her, Alec gave him a “Do not ask about those!” type of look.

Magnus threw him a questioning look but continued to smile at Isabelle. 

Isabelle squealed. “Yes!  I made chocolate cupcakes, with white frosting for snow, and Christmas tree designs on them! Want to try one, Magnus?” she asked, excitedly.  She went into the kitchen and came out with one cupcake on a plate.

“Ooh,” Magnus said. “That looks great!” He admired the cupcake. Isabelle had been detailed with the Christmas design. It was a little tree with colorful crystal sprinkles and red M&Ms.

“Try it!” Isabelle insisted.

Oh dear, Alec thought, wincing.

Magnus smiled as he started to eat the cupcake.

His eyes widened. “Isabelle, this is really good!” he said happily. He then ate the rest of the cupcake in one mouthful.  “Mmm, that’s great!”

Alec was amazed. Had his sister’s culinary skills improved since years back? 

Isabelle was suddenly looking at Alec with narrowed eyes. 

"Hey,” she said accusingly, “I know what you’re thinking, big brother.  For your information, I took classes when I first came to New York.  I can actually bake.  And cook decently now.”

She beamed.

“Now, if you ask me nicely, I’ll let you have a cupcake too,” Isabelle said, folding her arms against her chest and smirking at Alec.

Alec rolled his eyes. But he felt only relief that this time she had made something not only edible but good!

“Okay, okay,” he said. Trying for a more conciliatory tone of voice, he asked, “Izzy, can I try one of your cupcakes?”

Isabelle brightened. “That’s more like it! Wait a moment,” she said. 

Soon Alec had a cupcake in his hand as well.  He bit into it. It was perfectly chocolaty and moist – Devil’s food – his favorite. 

“Wow, this is good,” he said appreciatively, "Looks like you've got a hit on your hands! Everyone's going to love them!"

Isabelle beamed again.

Just then, Simon poked his head out the door from the kitchen. "Iz, I need help plating!" he said, sounding frantic.

"That's my cue," Isabelle quipped. "Everything is almost ready. Just get the tree up. By the way, love you guys!"

She quickly gave Magnus a kiss on both cheeks, then Alec, before smiling and dashing back into the kitchen.

They both looked at the kitchen door for a moment.

"Boy, she's sure full of energy right now, isn’t she?" Magnus observed. "Probably ate one too many cupcakes, eh?"

"Hmm maybe," Alec said. "She is prone to extreme sugar rush when she has too much."

 Magnus chuckled. 

"Okay, let's get this tree up," he grinned.

*****

An hour later, everything was set up.

The tree looked great – with some presents placed at the base of the tree, and the strains of “Winter Wonderland” filled the air.  There were delicious smells in the air coming from the kitchen – Alec was still reeling at having discovered that Isabelle and Simon did well with the food, and the serving tables had trays of food, hors d’oeuvres, soft drinks, beer, and miscellaneous sweets.

“We did a great job, didn’t we?” Magnus whooped.  He had already changed into his ugly Christmas sweater, which featured a reindeer, and a cabin with a chimney in a snowy Wonderland.  On his head he wore a Santa hat that he had  he managed to put a Santa hat on Alec, which matched the one he was wearing.

Alec immediately yanked the hat off. “I’m not wearing that!” he argued. “It looks silly on me.”

“Um, news flash, you already look silly in your Xmas sweater. So do I.  Adding a hat wouldn’t make it much worse, right?” Magnus teased.

Alec groaned. His sweater was freaking hideous – it was so busy he could barely tell what was on it, just a whole bunch of red, green, white, and swirly designs everywhere. He couldn’t believe someone actually spent time designing it for production… 

“Plus, I’m wearing my hat, so that means you need to, also!” Magnus said, putting it back on Alec’s head. “Please?  For me?”

He gave him his cutest puppy-eyed look. 

Egad…Alec’s heart flipflopped. “Okay,” he muttered. “Dammit, Magnus.”

“Hey, Isabelle,” Magnus called out to Alec’s sister, who was just bringing in the last of the food from the kitchen. “Isn’t this the most adorable grump you’ve ever seen?”

Isabelle looked at the both of them for a moment before breaking into a huge grin.

“I’d say you two are definitely something, alright,” she said, smirking. Her gaze fell on Alec for a second longer, and Alec flushed.

“Don’t say anything, Izzy,” Alec admonished.  He could feel himself flushing again.

“I wasn’t,” she said innocently, as her expression indicated the opposite.  “Anyway, I need to finish setting up.  You guys can greet the guests coming in, everyone should be coming just about now.”  She proceeded to finish setting up the food table.

Alec looked at the room he had just finished decorating.  Everything looked perfect. 

His gaze fell upon the presents under the tree – specifically his Secret Santa gift, which was in a small gift bag with the name on a card inside.  He just hoped that Magnus would like it.  He was just the tiniest bit nervous about it.  Then again, it would be considered a really nice gift in most circles. But still, this was his best friend. 

Of course he would want him to love it.

His mind also flew to the engraving on the back of it – which he had the store do at the last minute, since they had that as an in-house option at the time of purchase.  He hoped that Magnus would find it as meaningful as he did ---

Just then the doorbell rang.  Alec was closest to the door, so he answered it.

It was Imasu. “Hey,” he said, his voice a bit strange.

Alec swallowed. “Hey, Imasu,” he said.  He turned to call out to Magnus. But there was no need. Magnus had already crossed the room, and was headed toward Imasu.

“Darling!” Magnus said. “I’m so glad to see you.” He leaned in toward Imasu.

Imasu saw the genuine look in Magnus’s eyes and felt warm all over.  Suddenly what had happened earlier in the skating rink didn’t matter. Perhaps it had all just been a misunderstanding.  He accepted the kiss Magnus gave him. 

He noticed Alec smiling at them, as he walked away to help Isabelle out with the settings.

Imasu’s heart was full. 

As they parted, Imasu’s words came out in a rush. “I’m so sorry about earlier. That I had to leave,” he blurted out.  Of course he couldn’t disclose the real reason he had left. But he felt bad now. And Magnus seemed so happy to see him.

That’s all he ever wanted from him…

Magnus shook his head, smiling. “I had wanted to skate with you, hand-in-hand, on Christmas Eve.  So it was too bad that we missed out on that. But as long as you are here now, with me,” he said gently.

“I’ll make it up to you, I promise,” Imasu said softly, his hand gently grazing Magnus’s jawline. “Maybe a date at Rockefeller one day after work? And then dinner after?” he murmured, looking into his eyes.

Magnus smiled. “That sounds wonderful,” he said softly.  

Imasu leaned in, resting his forehead on Magnus’s.  Maybe they would be okay, after all.

******

The party was in full swing, and everyone was chatting, drinking, and eating.

Both Jace and Clary chose that moment to show up.  Their cheeks slightly flushed – turns out they had ended up going to a bar after the rink for fruity cocktails.  Somehow, after taking off their coats, and walking into the room, they found themselves standing under a sprig of mistletoe together. 

Isabelle raked her eyebrow. “Do the honors, bro,” she said.

Jace grinned and twirled Clary around. She squealed, her fiery red hair whirling about her, as he caught her back in his embrace, and dipped her, kissing her dramatically.  Everyone whooped. “Guys,” he said happily, as he gently brought her back up, his eyes still on hers, “I have some news!  I asked Clary to move in with me at the start of the new year. She said yes!”

The room was suddenly quiet. Alec stared at his brother.  What? This was significant!

He saw the happiness on Jace’s face turn slightly uncertain as he regarded the silence.

He felt a lump in his throat.  He looked at Jace’s ecstatic face, then at Clary’s face, who was uncharacteristically blushing, and almost shy. 

Happiness surged within him.  They were obviously thrilled.  Everyone deserved that for themselves.

Well, he thought, it was Christmas.

Alec decided to act upon his instincts.  Making his way across the room, he hugged Jace.

“I’m so happy for you, bro,” he whispered. Then he turned to Clary.

“You make him so happy. Best wishes to you both,” he said, and hugged her too.

Clary was barely able to contain her composure. “Alec, you hugged me!” she said in disbelief.  “The world is ending!”

“Yea, right,” Alec said, rolling his eyes, but laughed anyway.

Everyone cracked up and then started to crowd the happy couple.

After that, everyone was eating, singing to Christmas carols, and complimenting Isabelle, Simon, Alec, and Magnus on their party planning.

“Whoa!” Jace said, upon eating the penne alla vodka that was part of the entrees. “This is really good! Did you guys cater this?”

“No,” Magnus said, “Izzy made it.”

Jace did a double take. “What? You did?” he said, his mouth now agape, staring at Isabelle.

Alec grinned. “I had the same reaction as you,” he said. “Guess our Izzy really did grow up. Lucky Simon never needed to be a test subject for questionable items, huh.”

Simon beamed. “Lucky me, I’m so well fed by her, you have no idea.  Jealous?” he said playfully.

Isabelle beamed. “Thank you, babe,” she said happily, whirling him around to give him a kiss.  Simon was practically floating with heart eyes at her side.

"Okay, everyone!" she called out. "Keep eating, schmoozing, have a blast! Then we will do karaoke, have our Secret santa gift exchange, and vote on the ugliest sweater at the end of the party! Cheers!"

She lifted her glass and whooped.  Everyone lifted their own glass in response and cheered in return.

Chapter Text

Alec was resisting the urge to stick his fingers in his ears as Jace and Clary were by the karaoke, singing their lungs out to “Winter Wonderland.” 

Yes, he knew it was all in fun, but shit – to be subject to this

Even Simon was staring at them with an aghast look on their face. Alec couldn’t suppress the grin on his face.

Carrying a tune was definitely not their forte…

“I guess that makes them perfect for each other, huh.” Magnus, sitting next to Imasu and Alec, had leaned in, speaking in a tone only present company could hear.

Alec started laughing.

Imasu, curled up against Magnus’s shoulder, smiled. “Yea, they are just perfect together,” he agreed.

A few more rounds of karaoke happened, and then some games. Finally it was finally time to do the Secret Santa.

“Everyone, places!” Isabelle said happily. "Come sit by the tree.”  She dramatically gestured toward the tree. Several colorful and glittery packages were now clustered under the tree, just waiting to be opened.

The gang dutifully made their way to the tree, and now were sitting in a circle surrounding it.

She pointed to herself, and to her Santa Hat on top of her head.

“Since I’m wearing this hat, and I’m the host of the party – I will be the organizer. This is how it’s going to work.  I’m going to read out the name, and pass the gift to you. And then you can either guess the sender, as we chose to not put our names on it. Or not.”

She looked at the first one.  “Clary! This one is for you!” she called out, holding out a package wrapped with magenta paper. 

Clary squealed as she took it.  She took out the card from the envelope and read it, showed the card cover briefly to everyone, and then ripped open the gift like an excited little kid.

“Ooh, the headphones I wanted! And a Rainbow Brite midriff tee!” she said happily. Immediately she zoned in on someone.  “Simon?  Were you my Secret Santa?”

Simons shook his head vigorously.

“No, but shit, I would have totally gotten you that!” he said. “Whoever chose those for you knows what you like!” he said. “Kudos!”

After a while, Clary was like, “I give up.  Who was it?” She looked around, no one else had a guess.

Isabelle said, “Yea, I can’t figure it out either! Okay, reveal yourself!”

Imasu shyly raised his hand. “I’m so happy you like them, Clary. I did remember you talking about needing a decent set of stereo headphones, and you just seemed like a Rainbow Brite type of girl,” he said.

“Oh my god, what?!” Clary yelled. “You are so amazing!  I love them. Thank you!”  She practically flew across the room and caught Imasu in a tight hug.  Imasu smiled widely as he hugged Clary back. Then they both went back to their seats.

Isabelle smiled happily. “Okay, well I guess it’s Imasu’s turn now,” she said, as she handed him an envelope. 

“Thank you,” he said graciously, as he opened the envelope.  His eyes lit up. “Wow, this is a $50 gift card to Steve Madden!  This is incredible. I love that brand!”

Magnus whooped and blew him a kiss. He knew that was Imasu’s favorite brand!

Imasu looked at everyone. “Okay, who knows about my obsession with those shoes?!” he asked with mock suspicion, eyeing everyone, who all started cracking up.

His eyes honed in on the host herself. “Izzy, is this your handiwork?” he asked.

Isabelle bit her lip, then suddenly cracked up. “Yes, it was me!” she laughed.  “And no -- I did not know that was your favorite brand, but it certainly seemed like it might be your style!” I’m so glad I guessed correctly!” 

They came together for a big hug as well.

“Okay,” Isabelle said, back to her no-nonsense role as emcee. “I guess this is mine then!” she said, picking up a small and flat brightly ornate green and red package.  She opened it up and inside was a ruby pendant on a silver chain.  Wide-eyed, she lifted it out, and everyone ooh’d and aah’d.

“These are freaking gorgeous!  Waah, I love them!” she exclaimed. Then her eyes narrowed. “I know who got me these…you know I love ruby things, Clary!! Was it you?” 

She wagged her finger at Clary.

Clary blushed.  “You got me!” she said.

“Give it here,” Isabelle shrieked as she opened her arms wide.  Clary hugged her friend.

“Hmm, Clary already got her gift,” Isabelle said. “So it’s back to me, to pick at random.” She bent down to inspect a long silver box.

“Alec,” she said.

Alec went up and Isabelle handed the box to him.  He unwrapped it carefully. 

Inside was a McDermott Professional 20 lbs pool cue with a dark blue grip in a black case. He just stared at it.

He’d wanted one for years, even back in high school.  This absolutely had to be…

“Jace,” he breathed.  Jace winked at him. “Damn, whatever gave me away? Sheesh,” Jace said, rolling his eyes, and then winking at him. “I figure I was such a pain in those years, I kinda owe it to ya,” he said. 

The two brothers embraced.  Isabelle smiled widely, tears in her eyes.

“Jace!” she announced. Jace stepped up, and took the silver bag.  He looked inside and lifted out a wrapped box. He opened it.  It was the Star Wars Trilogy on VHS along with a companion guide and a poster of the Empire Strikes Back.

“Oh my god, this is great,” Jace gasped. “This has gotta be Simon.”

Simon held up a Vulcan Salute. “Guilty,” he grinned. They high-fived one another.

Then Simon bent down by the tree and found the package with his name on it. “Ooh,” he said, tearing it open.  “

“Wow, what? It’s Final Fantasy II!”  He held it up for everyone to see. “But how?? I’m addicted to this series. Whoa,” he said.  He was clearly blown away.  “Yea, there’s no way I can guess who…”

“I’ll save you the trouble. It was me,” Magnus said, grinning. “You and I share a love for video games.”

“Magnus you are mega awesome!” Simon squealed, as he grabbed Magnus for a hug.  Magnus at that moment, looked squished, yet he was still smiling.

“Hahah, you’re welcome!” he said.

Isabelle grinned at Simon’s enthusiasm.  Simon, ecstatic, sat down right next to the tree.

“Okay, last but not least, Magnus,” Isabelle said.

Alec felt himself grow warm. Damn, the luck of the draw.  Everyone else had drawn.  Magnus would know immediately that it was him.  Shit…

Actually, everyone – who had been paying attention – would know.

Suddenly, that gift seemed much too extravagant…especially for a Secret Santa gift that was to be given in public…

Magnus didn’t appear to be thinking that way though, because he didn’t even throw Alec a look as he bent down and picked up the last gift, which was in a silver and white gift bag.

“Hmm, what’s this?” he mused, lifting out a box wrapped in gold foil with white ribbons.  Delicately he unwrapped the paper, revealing a burgundy box. 

He opened it.  His eyes grew wide. “Holy…” he breathed.

“Hey, I wanna see!” Simon said, who was sitting right where Magnus was. He looked in and whistled.

“Whoa, that’s nice,” he said.

“Show it to us, Magnus!” Clary said excitedly.

Magnus flipped the box open to reveal a beautifully elegant Seiko Chronograph two tone watch, two tone silver and gold metal band, with a black face, and two diamonds in the middle.  It was exquisite.

“Oh my god, I don’t know what to say. Who got this for me?” Magnus honestly sounded clueless. But he was ecstatic, and his soft brown eyes were in awe and shining. 

He looked at it again, touching the metal armband delicately with his fingertips.

Isabelle’s gaze immediately honed in on Alec with a knowing look. Alec looked away, flushing.

Oh boy, this was sure garnering a lot of attention, wasn’t it…

When Alec looked back, he noticed Imasu suddenly staring at him. And he wasn’t smiling. 

Alec’s heart dropped. 

Meanwhile, Simon had nudged Magnus in the ribs. “Hey, maybe there’s a card or something written on the card of authenticity!  And put it on!” he said excitedly.

“Okay, okay!” Magnus said, laughing.

Smiling at Simon for his enthusiasm, Magnus lifted the beautiful watch out, and undid the clasp. As he did so, the inscription came into view on the back of the watch. 

At that moment, Simon leaned in. “Ooh, an engraving!” he said happily. “Hmm what does it say?” He squinted at the script. 

“Uh,” Simon said, as he craned his neck to get a better view, “To my best friend, the one I can’t live without.  Alexander.”

Magnus suddenly looked up, shock clearly on his face. “You?” he asked, surprised, looking at Alec with genuine surprise. “You got me this?”

Alec, speechless, licked his lips nervously. He opened his mouth to speak.

Almost simultaneously, before Alec could respond, Imasu was halfway across the room already, his lips pressed in a firm line, passing him by. He looked like he was on some mission.

Magnus’s attention was now on Imasu, who was now in the foyer, putting on his shoes. Where was he going?  And he didn’t look happy…

Magnus’s bright smile quickly faded. 

“Imasu?” he asked tentatively, handing the watch to Simon. 

Imasu stopped, but didn’t turn around.

“Where are you going?  What happened?” he asked curiously as he walked up to him, and  put a hand on Imasu’s forearm, worry in his eyes.

Imasu shrugged him off. “Nothing for you to worry about,” he muttered. “I’m glad you got such an amazing gift. Enjoy. I need some air outside.”

He walked out and shut the door behind him.

An awkward silence followed.

Magnus just stood there, looking at the now-closed door.  His soft brown eyes were now glistening with unshed tears.

Alec didn't miss this exchange between them. 

He swallowed hard. Had he caused this?

It was obvious that when Imasu had seen the gift, and Simon had read the inscription out loud, which was meant for Magnus only, that it was only going to cause nothing but trouble.

But Alec hadn't expected Imasu to react as he did...

Magnus was now staring into space, starting to look heartbroken and lost.

Still, Imasu should not have shoved Magnus aside like that -- Magnus hasn't done anything.

"Magnus," he said gently.  Magnus's red rimmed eyes focused on him. 

"I think you should go after him,” Alec said softly.

Magnus smiled slightly. "Should I?" he asked uncertainly. He shook his head. "He just shoved me aside..."

"I’m sure he didn't mean to," Alec said reasonably. "Anyway, it looks like he needs some comforting. Go after him, Magnus.”

Magnus didn't say anything for a moment.  And then he nodded.  He got up.

Alec was relieved.  He was going to go after Imasu and things would be okay.

What Alec had not prepared for, was for Magnus to suddenly come over to him, and fold him in his arms.

Alec froze.

It’s not as if they never hugged in the past. But it felt slightly different now.

Alec just stood there, stiffly, and then he yielded.  Despite his head telling him to pull away, his arms, body and heart thought otherwise.

Man this felt so good….

Magnus's lips were very close to his ear. 

"For what it's worth, Alexander, you are amazing," he whispered.

His breath tickled his ear, and voice sent chills down Alec's spine.  "This gift is beyond amazing, and I know you were listening to me. You always do. That inscription almost made me cry. You're seriously the best, ever."

They just stood there for a few seconds. Alec’s emotions were swirling wildly within him.  He didn’t know what to do…

Finally Alec cleared his throat, causing the moment to be broken, and stepped away from Magnus.  He chuckled awkwardly.

"Go after Imasu, Magnus.”

Even his voice didn’t sound like his own. It was husky, and sounded even – reluctant.  No, not reluctant, Alec told himself.

The most important thing was Magnus’s happiness. No matter what.

Magnus gazed at him with the most appreciative look.

Slowly he nodded. Then he threw him a salute with a wide grin on his face.  “Love you,” Magnus mouthed, his eyes crinkling.

He turned and walked out the door.

Alec watched him leave.  Then he let out a big sigh and closed his eyes.

He had been a little too affected by Magnus's sudden embrace.

He’s your best friend, he said to himself. You want what he wants.  You want what’s best for him.  You want him to be happy.

His heart sank.

Exactly.

Best friends forever.

****

Magnus just stood in front of the elevator doors after walking out of Isabelle’s apartment.

His thoughts were all in a jumble right now.  He took a deep breath, trying to collect his thoughts.

What was up with Imasu? he wondered.

First the thing about not meeting for ice skating, and then him abruptly walking out – even pushing him off, of all people –

He just didn’t get it.

And then that remark about the gift – Alec’s gift.  The way he had made a remark about it, there was no mistake – Imasu was bothered by it.

Like, seriously?

Why was Imasu even bothered by it? Of course a best friend would think to get something meaningful – even if it had been a Secret Santa thing – right?  I mean, they were best friends. Magnus even had his own gift for Alec at home but had chosen to not bring it with him today.

Now he was doubly glad he hadn’t. Not if Imasu was going to react this way --

Anyway, he and Imasu were seeing each other, and even though it wasn’t serious, he did care about him.

Also, Magnus needed to know what was going on.

He glanced at the elevator again.

The elevator seemed to be stuck eternally on the 1st floor. Magnus groaned. Oh god, one of these….

The stairs it was…

Magnus opened the stairwell door and started running down two steps at a time.

….

The handsome figure with the familiar slouch– whom he could spot from a mile away, it was that familiar to him – was just up the block, half hidden in a nook, with a cigarette in his hand.

Imasu.

Straightening up his shoulders, Magnus slowly walked toward him.  He didn’t know why, but his feet felt heavy with every step he took.

He was now standing in front of him. 

Imasu still hadn’t looked up.  He took a long drag of his cigarette.

“You’re wearing Doc Martens,” Imasu noted, without any emotion in his voice.

Magnus looked down.  Right, the steel toe Doc Martens that he has been wearing for months.

“Weren’t you more into Steve Maddens when we first met?” Imasu persisted.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Magnus asked, confused, momentarily thrown by this sudden line of questioning.

An awkward silence developed between them. Why was Imasu acting so strange?

Magnus started to get annoyed, coupled with guilt over the feeling.  He was trying so hard to be reasonable, to be patient, but this was starting to wear him thin.  Taking a deep breath, he folded his arms around his chest, as it was starting to get chilly. He had walked out of the apartment without his jacket and was now regretting it. 

Still, he wasn’t about to go back for it – this was obviously something that needed to be addressed right now.  So he didn’t – he just stood there.

Waiting…

“It’s more than the thing with the shoes,” Imasu finally said.

Magnus looked up. Imasu’s eyes were still not looking at him. Rather he seemed to be looking into the distance.

“It’s also your style of dress. You changed – even if you didn’t realize it. Your routine too,” he continued. “The way you forgot to call me on days you just happened to get off work early, the way you don’t ask me to brunch on Sundays –”

“Is that it? That I don’t ask you to come to brunch on Sundays?” Magnus interjected, taken aback by Imasu’s outburst. “Firstly, those are spontaneous.  I never plan those. And secondly, those are best friends days. Alexander always comes by –”

“Yea, so I’ve noticed.”  The curtness with which Imasu said those words made Magnus’s eyes widen, and he stared at him.

“Oh my god,” Magnus said, suddenly putting two and two together. “This can’t be about Alexander.”

Imasu said nothing.

“Imasu,” Magnus said patiently. “He’s my best friend, such an important part of my life –”

“Yup, he’s certainly important, alright.  And he figures so much in your life,” Imasu observed. “You know, after all this time, I thought we would have grown to be that as well –”

Magnus just stared at him as realization slowly dawned on him.

Was Imasu saying what he thought he was saying?

How did he not see this?

“Imasu,” Magnus said. “I thought we were on the same page about staying casual, no strings attached.  No drama, just good times, easier to maintain.”

But then memories flitted through his mind – certain situations when it seemed like Imasu had become irked or had unreadable looks on his face, and especially when he and Alec had been hanging out together…

And it all slowly just came together – albeit messily, like some poorly stitched patchwork quilt.

OH.

Imasu said nothing.  He took another drag of his cigarette, exhaled slowly, then flicked the butt onto the far end of the sidewalk. He put both hands in the pockets of his jacket and paced back and forth, his eyes on the sidewalk.

Then he stopped in front of Magnus.

“I thought I was okay with it too,” Imasu admitted.  There was a catch in his voice. 

Magnus inhaled sharply.  The look in Imasu’s eyes…

“My feelings started changing,” Imasu said softly. “I thought it might be the same for you.  I thought the more time we spent together affected you the same way it was affecting me…”

He trailed off. He heard himself sounding desperate.  He hated sounding that way…but that’s the way it was coming out.

“Imasu.” Magnus’s voice was kind. Almost too kind. Bordering on sadness. 

And then he knew. Magnus didn’t feel the same.

He just didn’t. 

“I’m sorry,” Imasu suddenly blurted out. “I didn’t mean to put this on you.  I know how we started.  I agreed to it. I hadn’t expected my feelings to change.”

Magnus gazed at him. Imasu, with his gorgeous dark hair, strong jawline, and kind, beautiful dark eyes.  “You’re wonderful, Imasu,” he said, sighing.

He didn’t deserve him…

“But you just aren’t there, are you?” Imasu’s words just hung there with an air of finality.

“I really wish I was,” Magnus whispered, suddenly not able to look at him.  Oh god, he felt so sad. How had they gotten to this point? Had he just misread the signs?

He took a deep breath and felt the tears rise up into his eyes.  He blinked them back.

He felt like shit.  He was such a horrible person.

“I am so sorry I hurt you,” he whispered, letting out a long exhale.  He sniffled.

He took both of Imasu’s hands and held them tightly, running his thumbs in circles on the soft part of Imasu’s palms.

Imasu didn’t pull away. 

They stood like that for a moment, face to face.

“It’s not your fault,” Imasu whispered. “This just wasn’t meant for us.”

Magnus sighed.  He hated situations like these; it hurt, no matter what side you were on.  It always did.

“Can I have a kiss though?” Imasu asked, his voice cracking toward the end.  God, he didn’t want to start crying.  He always ended up a slobbering mess…

Magnus smiled, feeling his eyes fill with tears. “Sure” he nodded. 

He leaned forward and gently touched his lips to Imasu’s.  He stayed there for a moment.  Neither deepened the kiss – rather it was just a moment of tenderness, of friendship, of remembrance of what they had shared these past few months.

But the solemnity of the moment made Magnus’s breath catch in his throat, and he sniffled again.

Imasu pulled back. “Don’t, Magnus,” he admonished softly. “Please don’t get that way.  It’s better this way.”  He swallowed hard.

“We can still be friends, right?” Magnus asked tearfully. “Please.”

Imasu struggled to regain his composure. He then smiled through unshed tears.

“Of course, darling,” he whispered. “Always.”

Magnus kissed him again.

…..

They had stayed outdoors for a few moments longer, still holding hands.  But the air around them seemed lighter. 

And when they looked at one another, they were able to at least smile and mean it.

Imasu suddenly looked thoughtful.

“He likes you, you know,” Imasu stated as if listing a known fact.

Magnus now stared at Imasu like he had grown two heads. “W-What?” Magnus sputtered. “You don’t mean Alexander, do you? That’s ridiculous.”

“You can honestly say that you don’t see it?  That you haven’t seen it? I mean look at that gift he got you. And then all the other times too, how he acts toward you,” Imasu prodded. 

His tone had grown slightly impatient. 

It was getting on Magnus’s nerves.

“We are best friends, Imasu,” Magnus said slowly, as if explaining things to a small child. “We are very close, and we enjoy our friendship a lot.  I’ve actually never had anything like this in my life, especially with another attractive man, without any intent to get into my pants.  Also I tried to flirt with him once and it just totally didn’t work, so after that, I just told myself that ship had sailed. That’s it. ”

“So you were attracted to him once.”  Silence.

Magnus winced. Perhaps he had said too much…but then again what did it matter? That was a single day in the past.  Then they somehow had run into each other after three years, and now things were even better the way they had turned out. They were best friends.  Really unbelievable still, in Magnus’s head, but he would not trade this current situation for anything…

Alec was just incredible.

That?” Magnus started laughing like crazy. “That was our first meeting, and the car ride down to the city after college.  He was just a random person who I ran into. We only had Isabelle in common. I used to flirt just to break the ice – I would flirt with everyone.  Anyway he turned out to be the worst.  We practically argued all the way down…”

“You know what they say about hate and love,” Imasu mused knowingly.

“Man, do I need to keep saying it? No. Nada. Anyway, best friends are hard to come by and I would never throw it away like that, not even for some momentary lapse, no matter what the situation.  That ship has sailed a long time ago. And I’m rather thankful for it,” Magnus said firmly.

Imasu regarded Magnus for a second. “You’re serious,” he said. “You wholly believe that.”

“I do,” Magnus asserted. “This is the only solid thing in my life.  I want things to stay that way. It’s unfortunate that I’m not ready for anything relationship-wise, but I’m just not ready.  I also don’t believe in any of that friends-make-the-best-partners type of thing.”

“Anyway it’s such a silly thing, to ruin a long-standing friendship like that,” Magnus argued. “I don’t know why anyone would take the risk.”

Imasu continued looking at him, then he smiled.  His smile held some sadness in it. “Well then, Magnus,” he said softly. “I do hope you continue to be happy, live for yourself and someday, when you are ready, you will find the One.  Because you are really awesome.  I’m so glad I got to spend this time getting to know you.”

Magnus smiled at him, squeezing his hands affectionately.

Awkwardly Imasu shifted his weight between his feet. They had been standing here too long. 

“You have a party to get back to, darling,” Imasu stated finally.

Magnus sniffled. “Well, yea.  I guess I do,” he said, sighing. “But I had to come out here – because you are important to me.  And you still remain important to me.”

“I like the sound of that,” Imasu replied, still smiling that sad smile.  “Anyway, I should be going.”

With those words, Magnus’s heart suddenly dropped. Even though he knew this was inevitable, it didn’t hurt any less. Against his will, a tear slipped from one of his eyes.

“Hey,” Imasu said, lifting his finger to wipe away the tear from Magnus’s cheek. “It’s okay.  I understand.  I mean I am really sad right now. But at least I haven’t completely lost you.  I am going to hold you to the friendship, okay?”

Magnus chuckled despite his tears. “You’d better,” he said, punching him in the arm.  Imasu laughed.

“Okay then.  I’ll see you around?” Imasu asked.  He held his arms wide. “Hug?”

“Hug,” Magnus said. 

They came together, arms folding one another in.  Magnus rested his head against Imasu’s shoulder. Part of him wished this had never happened, that they could just go back to the way they had been.  But another part of him knew that this was just how life turned out sometimes.

They would survive.  He would survive and grow from this.

They released one another almost simultaneously and looked at one another.

Magnus self-consciously wiped at his cheek and eyes. “I probably look like a drowned rat now, don’t I?” he said self-deprecatingly, trying to smile. 

Imasu stared at Magnus.  His eye makeup and liner were kinda smudged, that was true, colors blending into the gold glitter liner all around his eye. But still…

“You look beautiful, Magnus. Always,” he whispered. “See you sometime, darling.”

With a wink, Imasu turned and walked away.

Magnus watched him leave.

“See you,” he whispered.

With a big sigh, he inhaled deeply, hugging his arms to his chest, and turned to walk back into the building.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Alec knew something was up the minute Magnus cracked open the door and came back into the apartment.

His whole posture looked defeated, his face wan, and his eye makeup was all smudged.  Had he been crying?  Alec thought that was entirely possible, but he wasn’t sure.  Even when Magnus’s eye makeup was smudged, it still looked deliberate – it looked kind of smoky around his eyes and not messy in the way it would on any normal person. 

It seemed like no one else had noticed Magnus coming back in, as he was rather quiet about it.  Certainly not like him, by any means – Magnus was the type who loved to make an entrance no matter where he was.

“Sorry about that, everyone – didn’t mean to leave like that.” Magnus’s voice floated out into the room. Everyone’s attention was suddenly oriented to him.

Alec watched Magnus closely.  He was smiling brightly, and with the tilt of his head, he was convincing, so convincing in the affect he gave toward everyone.  To everyone except Alec, that was.  Alec knew him. 

And Alec could sense the slight tremble in his voice – that things were not okay. 

“Imasu… had to leave early, but he told me to tell everyone to have a Merry Christmas,” Magnus continued, all in one rushed breath, his eyes bright.

“Aww!” Isabelle said disappointedly. “That’s too bad!  I hope he had fun, though!”

Magnus nodded. “Yea, he told me to tell you that you did a great job, Isabelle and Simon, especially with the food.”

Well, actually Imasu hadn’t said anything of the sort, but he probably would have.  He’d always loved Isabelle…

Isabelle beamed.

Looking at Clary, he said, “He told me to tell you that he’s thrilled you love your gifts, Clary,” to which Clary beamed. 

“Oh, right, Isabelle,” Magnus added quickly, as if he had just remembered something. “Imasu said he’s going to use that gift certificate to buy the wickedest Steve Madden lace up boots in existence – and he’d probably love a shopping trip soon if you are up for it.” 

Isabelle nodded excitedly. “Yea, please tell him I am when you talk to him next! I’ve been dying to ask him where he got those jackets, they are amazing!” she said happily.

Magnus smiled slightly.  At the very least, he could give Imasu that message, he was sure Imasu wouldn’t mind, despite what had happened.  He knew Imasu had gotten friendly with everyone when they were seeing one another, and he was almost certain he’d want to keep in contact with the gang…

While all of this was going on, Alec just stared at Magnus. 

Man, he was really good at this – pretending things were fine when they just weren’t. Alec could see through this façade so easily.  Something definitely happened. Magnus was babbling through his smile and bright eyes, and it was not fooling him one bit.

“Okay!  What’s next on the agenda, Isabelle?” Magnus said brightly.  He moved to walk toward her, walking past Alec. 

Alec’s arm automatically shot out to grab his forearm.  Magnus stopped immediately, and Alec felt him stiffen.  He was right, there was something wrong.

“Magnus,” Alec said quietly.

Magnus didn’t look at him. He didn’t even utter a word. 

And then Magnus just sighed defeatedly.  He blinked, and the bright look in his eyes was suddenly gone.

Alec knew what to do. “Come with me,” he said.

Magnus took a deep breath.

“Okay,” Magnus said in a ragged tone of voice.

….

Alec pulled Magnus into Isabelle's room. 

"Stay here, I'm going to tell Izzy we need some privacy," Alec said. 

Magnus nodded, and Alec stepped out. Magnus went over to sit in a chair, hugging his arms to his chest.

He was still a bit numb, considering what had just happened.

He still couldn't believe how much he had hurt Imasu -- even if he hadn't meant to. Also he couldn't believe Imasu had developed feelings for him. 

Then again, that hadn't been quite as farfetched to predict. It was easy for feelings to develop when people were seeing one another. But they had established boundaries to being with, so he'd thought that would prevent things from progressing. 

As far as Magnus had been concerned, he had been happy with it. 

Someone to go to events with, someone to hold and hug and sleep with, someone he had a blast with. 

Imasu had been all of those things and more. Neither had told the other to be exclusive either.  

So, how did it all change? 

In Magnus's head, their arrangement could have lasted far longer. Now that it ended, he felt a bit lost. It had been nice to have someone there -- but he just didn't want anything serious right now. 

It's not that he had anything against relationships.

But the really serious ones he had had back in high school had ended really badly. People became vindictive, or even obsessed... In fact, he had gone halfway across the states for a fresh start -- he just wanted to be different, be surrounded by more open-minded people, and cultures.

In the back of his mind, he knew that this was a different world now, and he should have been able to push old beliefs and attitudes out of the window by now -- but as soon as he settled into New York City, he noticed similar types of people and how they would react to him. A lot of flirting, a lot of requests to hook up especially at parties, that was the culture here. Just like in college. The less attached he was, the less drama and hurt it was supposed to be. Just how he liked it. 

As he had told Imasu, and as he had even told Alec months ago, he wanted to focus on friendships more -- you got the same companionship but (hopefully) none of the drama, at least not the type that occurred when people were actively sleeping together -- he had tried to avoid that by just having casual relationships -- but even that had not panned out. 

Jealousy was a common theme that just kept popping up, along with possessiveness. He'd had bad experiences in the past with both, where exes would cause serious drama, and he wanted nothing to do with any of it. 

Still, the same thing had happened with Imasu. 

Thinking back to the way he had acted over the last few months, he knew that now. 

But he had liked Imasu, especially with his penchant of living for the moment; he had thought they had wanted the same things. So he had overlooked similar behaviors that had started to emerge...

"Hey, Magnus, sorry about taking so long," Alec apologized, stepping back into the room. "I just told Isabelle you didn't feel well and wanted to rest for a bit. I'm not sure if she bought it completely, but it was the only thing I could think of.

Magnus seemed lost in thought. "Magnus?" Alec repeated. Magnus blinked.  Oh, Alec was back. Immediately he felt so much better.

"Alexander," he said, relieved. 

"Come on, let's sit for a bit," Alec said, grabbing his hand without a second thought. Magnus needed him right now -- needed a friend. His best friend. And that's what he was going to be right now, despite the conflicting feelings in his heart. 

He could, and he would, push them aside so he could devote the utmost attention to this. 

He pulled him toward the giant windowsill next to Isabelle's bed. It was rather unusual for any apartment in New York City to have anything expansive.  But this was a prewar building– old school New York City -- so the rooms had unusually high ceilings with arch designs in the corners and other intricate details, remnants of a gilded age long gone.  Isabelle had happened upon this apartment by chance, and it was pretty much the details, as well as this window in her bedroom that had solidified the deal .This windowsill was large enough for two people to sit on, across from one another, and had a large arch at the very top. 

Many a time, when Alec had come over, Isabelle had grabbed his hand, in the same way he was grabbing Magnus’s now, and they would just climb up and sit, across from one another, and hug their knees to their chest as they talked, or sometimes just fell silent as they both glanced out the window, becoming quietly absorbed with watching random city life go by. From the 10th floor you could certainly see quite a few of the streets and avenues below, as if looking at it from their very own bubble. Then they would turn back to one another, and smile, as if having had shared a great secret together.

He had gotten used to that – the comfort and intimacy of it. 

That’s what he wanted to do right now with Magnus, with him looking the way that he was currently.

Alec motioned for Magnus to climb onto the windowsill.  He complied, and Alec was up there a second later.  He sat down, folding his knees to his chest.  Magnus imitated his pose, resting his chin on his knees as he shifted so his back was firmly against the wall.

And his whole body seemed to sigh.

“Magnus,” Alec said quietly. “What happened out there?”

Magnus lifted his eyes to meet his. The look in Magnus’s eyes were glistening, but now it seemed like there was a sad, faraway look within them.  He looked away.

“Imasu and I are done,” he said dully.

Alec recoiled internally.  What?  He thought that perhaps they had a fight, and that’s why Magnus was acting so off…he didn’t’ think they had actually broken up. 

“Magnus,” he said, in an empathetic tone of voice. “I’m sorry that happened. You two seemed to match well…”

He scooted a few inches forward, then took both of Magnus’s hands in his own. They felt a bit cold. He started rubbing his thumbs in circles on the underside of Magnus’s palms.  Funny how this gesture wasn’t uncomfortable for him to do, despite his feelings.  All Alec wanted to do now was to comfort Magnus in his time of need.

Magnus looked at Alec with a grateful look in his eyes. He started caressing his hands in return. He then let go of them, and scooted forward to pull Alec into a hug.  Alec closed his eyes and savored it, as his arms enveloped Magnus in turn.

They just sat there together, their heads against one another, breathing in unison for the next few minutes.  After awhile they disengaged, and then sat back once again.

Magnus’s face was still wan, but he looked a lot better than before.  Alec was glad for it.

Magnus then opened his mouth to speak.

“What he had to say, blindsided me pretty much,” Magnus admitted, heaving a big sigh.

The next thought hit Alec like a ton of bricks.  He was suddenly afraid to ask, and afraid of the answer…

“Who broke up with who? And why?” he asked, his voice coming out a bit strange. The thoughts about his gift possibly causing the breakup flitted through his mind again.  But the more rational, logic part of his mind pushed that thought away.

It couldn’t have been because of the gift he had gotten Magnus, right?

But…he did see how visibly affected Imasu had been when Magnus had reacted to the watch. Imasu hadn’t been happy, and he had gotten up right away following that and walked out…

If Magnus had noticed the awkwardness in his voice, he didn’t show it.

His eyes were still faraway as he continued, “Well, Imasu told me he had started to see us as a couple – and that he had wanted something more serious.  That was just not part of my plan right now.”

Alec had started to sigh, his shoulders sagging in relief. 

But Magnus was not done talking.

“He also started sounding so irrational,” Magnus said, his voice starting to sound annoyed. “He was going on and on about how it was so clear that you liked me.”

Alec froze. Of course it had been obvious, hadn’t it?  He thought back to all the times Imasu had looked at him strangely, or there had been a catch in his voice whenever they would see one another.  Or the times in which Imasu would somehow happen upon them, completely out of the blue. 

Alec thought he had been gracious enough every time though, to step aside, to let them have their alone time…

He suddenly realized that Magnus was looking directly at him. 

“Alec, stop overthinking,” Magnus said firmly. “You’re looking like you think this is all your fault.  And it’s not. He was drawing conclusions based on nothing.  He made it a point to mention you, and the time we spent together. And yes, he pointed at the gift you got for me as evidence.  But that is not on you, by any means. I told Imasu that I wasn’t ready for any serious relationships right now.  I really don’t know if I will be in the near future either.  I just have a lot to work out within myself.”

He squeezed Alec’s hands comfortingly. 

Alec nodded. He didn’t know that much about what Magnus was referring to, but Magnus had mentioned in passing more than once about his issues back in high school about failed relationships and being with the wrong people.

“Anyway, people who don’t have a best friend, just don’t get it,” Magnus continued. “You are the most stable thing in my life right now, and I am so very glad to have you here.”

Alec shivered at the intense look directed toward him by those soft brown eyes. 

He got lost in them for a moment – they were so beautiful, so compassionate. He suddenly felt  like they were elsewhere for a moment…

Then he blinked, coming back to reality. No, that’s not what he was supposed to be doing right now!

He forced his thoughts back on track.

Of course, Alec thought rationally. That’s what Magnus needed at this very moment. Something tugged at his heart, but he pushed it aside. Of course he would be able to be who Magnus needed him to be. That was most important, above all else – their friendship. 

Which would last for always.

“I will always be here for you Magnus.  You were there for me during my most vulnerable moment, and I am here for you now,” Alec said softly, squeezing both of Magnus’s hands in his. “I don’t know how to be without you.”

They both looked at one another, for what seemed like an eternity.  Alec’s breath caught.

He then cleared his throat awkwardly, and laughed, breaking the moment. “Like what the back of the watch said,” Alec quipped.

Magnus smiled. “I really take that to heart,” he murmured. “And I meant everything I said before.  I treasure that gift, and I will treasure it for the rest of my life.  You mean so much to me, Alexander. You are the best friend that anyone could ever have. Aku Cinta Kamu.”

“What does that mean?” Alec asked. This was the first time Magnus had ever said those words.

“It’s Indonesian for ‘I love you,” Magnus said simply, looking at Alec with an honest and open expression.

Oh lord, Alec thought helplessly, as the weight of those three words made feelings swell up within him again.  Don’t do this to yourself, he reprimanded himself silently. He loves you as a friend. Of course.  All best friends love one another…

He sighed, and took a deep breath. 

“Always, Magnus. For you, always.” 

His voice was quiet, as he responded, before looking away, trying to quell the tide of emotions.

….

They talked for a little bit more after that, with Alec making sure Magnus had talked out whatever he needed to talk out, vent out, or whatever he needed to do to get back on track emotionally --- at least enough so that he could return to the party without needing to front too much.

Then they had both hopped off the windowsill and hugged one another fiercely.  

"You ready?" Alec asked, his hand reaching for the doorknob to open the door.

Magnus grinned. "As ready as I'll ever be," he quipped in a teasing tone of voice. "Come on, hot stuff, let's go."

Alec's hand froze on the doorknob. 

Butterflies...

Then his eyes narrowed. "Oh my God," he said, sardonically. "That just sent me back three years to U. Illinois, Magnus. Uh really?"

"It has been awhile since he's come out to play. Maybe he should make a comeback. Did you miss me?" Magnus asked playfully, fluttering his lashes provocatively at Alec, while moving to touch his hair.

"Oh, stop," Alec protested, lightly slapping Magnus's hand away from his head. "But it's cool, as long as I know who the real Magnus Bane is."

He lightly punched Magnus in the arm. Magnus flashed him a genuine smile.

"Yea," he said, heartfelt. "You do."

.....

They slowly made their way out of the room.

"Want some drinks?" Alec asked. "Or maybe we can mix our own in the kitchen? I think that Isabelle keeps the good stuff up on the uppermost cabinets --"

"AWWW SHIT, MISTLETOE!" a high pitched voice screeched happily. 

Isabelle!

Alec stopped in his tracks, as did Magnus next to him. Oh my God, Alec thought, his eyes widening. And even though he rarely prayed much before, he found himself praying desperately –

Please don't let it be above me, please don't let it be above  me,  please don't let it be above me ---

"Isabelle got us good," Magnus muttered. 

Alec slowly looked up.

Right above them, hanging -- the sprig of mistletoe --

The bringer of bad misfortunes…

Taunting, laughing at the hopeless one-sidedness of his situation --

FUCK.

....

Everyone in the room was staring at the both of them, with varied levels of amusement on their faces. Alec happened to exchange looks with Simon, who grimaced and mouthed, “Sorry!”  He knew Simon couldn’t do anything. 

Once his sister was set on an idea, she could rarely be swayed…

“First, drink!” Isabelle stated, tossing beers into each of their hands. 

Magnus took his, shrugged, and chugged it.  Alec lifted the beer bottle to his lips and drank it, albeit a bit slower.  His mind was still spinning from all of this.

"Ah, guys," Jace was saying, looking from one to the other, shaking his head in pity, "Didn't think Isabelle's ploy would work, yet again -- especially after Clary and I got caught much earlier. Thought everyone would be actively looking up in order to avoid the situation we have now..."

"Yea, well I was avoiding it all night, but I got distracted," Alec muttered. He looked over at Isabelle, trying to relay how very not okay this was with him, and hoping he could get out of this...

Isabelle chortled. 

"Oh, no way you're getting out of this, big brother," Isabelle needled him. "This is just too good!"

Alec groaned. 

"Besides, it's Christmas! It's just a little something to get into the spirit of things," she said. 

She turned to Magnus, who hadn't said anything as of yet. "Magnus, surely you don't mind this little spot of fun, do you? Christmas traditions and all..."

Okay, so now was the time where Magnus would laugh and protest and then this whole thing would be effectively squashed without even a second thought ---

"Well, it is Christmas tradition..."

What? Alec whirled to look at Magnus, his mouth agape. What was this? He was agreeing to it?

Magnus shrugged. “C’mon, even I know that Isabelle would keep us here for the rest of tonight if we don’t agree to it. And besides, it will be just a quick peck on the lips –”

“Uh uh!” Isabelle taunted. “No way, stop cheaping out on us, Bane.  I’ve seen you kiss Imasu.  No, no, no, no, no, you are certainly not just a quick peck on the lips type of guy.  It needs to be lingering.  C’mon your ego and reputation is on the line here.  Also I’ve known you since college, so I know how you roll…”

Isabelle gave Magnus a challenging look.

Alec was mortified, even as he was growing indignant about how his sister was goading Magnus right now.

Surely he wouldn’t fall for it –

“Well, my dear Isabelle,” Magnus said smoothly, “I wouldn’t dream of letting you down. After all, I do have a reputation to uphold. Isn’t that right, blue eyes?”

He turned to Alec, throwing him a wink, accompanied with a full smile.

Blue eyes?  Alec thought. What? He hadn’t called him that since

Isabelle grinned. “Now, that’s the Magnus I know!” she said cheerfully, as the rest of the room whooped.

“I’ll take another beer,” Magnus called out. Isabelle grinned and passed him one.

What? What had suddenly gotten into Magnus?  Why was he acting that way?  Alec stared at his best friend. This was not the time to slip into character…

Magnus chugged it again, then caught Alec’s confused gaze. Magnus shrugged. “There’s no way we are getting out of this, we might as well make the best of things.  Besides, it’s all for the spirit of Christmas right?” he said lightly. “I’m tired of feeling down. Let’s have a little fun.”

Alec just stared at him.  He wasn’t sure he could go through with it.  His heart started beating slightly erratically at the thought of it…

But Magnus was right about Isabelle.  She would never let this go unless they just got it over with.

“…Okay,” he said with resignation. “For the spirit of Christmas.”

Magnus was grinning at him.  He raked an eyebrow, clearly amused.

“Great!” Isabelle yelled delightedly. “So, any time now…”

Alec felt four pairs of eyes on him as he and Magnus stepped closer to one another.  Alec could smell the scent of Magnus’s sandalwood cologne.  He glanced up again at the mistletoe, that daunting mistletoe – and he cursed internally at his luck, again, at being put in this position. 

Then he looked straight at Magnus.  Who looked back at him.  His eyes were twinkling, dancing with some kind of challenge in them.

Breathe, Alec, he thought to himself. This was Magnus in front of him. His best friend.

You trust him and love him. Just don’t make too much out of it. Surely you can do that for a few seconds, right?

Magnus started to lean in. Alec’s breath hitched.

“Merry Christmas, Alexander,” Magnus whispered, just before their lips met. 

Alec froze. 

In the distance, sounding incredibly far away, he thought he heard whooping, and Isabelle yelling, and Simon going, “Holy shit!”

And then time seemed to stand still…

Magnus’s lips were soft. So soft…in fact, what was he doing with his lips right now? He had kissed him with his mouth partially open, and was running his lips over his a few times, caressing them even, lightly biting his bottom lip and pulling a bit

...oh lord…

and was that his tongue now? Darting in and out, running, sweeping over his own lips, so tingly...

god it felt sooo good -- 

Alec’s brain short-circuited as he responded, sending waves of sweetness, warmth, and desire throughout his system…

Then – in the blink of an eye – it was over.  Magnus pulled away and grinned.  Alec stumbled forward just the slightest bit, not quite prepared for Magnus stepping away.

Flustered, he sought to regain his bearings.  He could feel his cheeks getting warm.

And he hoped he didn’t look as dopey as he felt, right now…he couldn’t look at anyone right at this moment.

Count backwards from ten…9…8…7..6…5…4…3…2…1 

He pasted a smile on his face and looked up.

“I certainly hope that was at least adequate, Isabelle,” Magnus quipped with a smirk on his face. “Not too bad, if I do say so myself.”

Isabelle grinned. “Oh, you did good, Magnus. So good,” she said. 

Their words barely registered with Alec – his mind was still elsewhere.

Even Jace didn’t seem to realize there was any sort of tension whatsoever.  He went over and clapped both Alec and Magnus on the back. “Wow, you guys survived that, great!  It was nothing, see?” he said.

“Yea,” Magnus said, agreeing. “Nothing at all.”

He took a deep breath.

“Well this was scintillating.  Who wants cocktails? I’m making some, “he said resolutely, stepping away and walking toward the kitchen. 

He opened the door, and turned around, lingering in the doorway.

“By the way, Isabelle, you don’t get a repeat performance of this.  I declare myself immune to the rules of the mistletoe after this,” he said in dramatic fashion with a flourish of his hand.  He winked and then disappeared behind the door.

Isabelle giggled. “Sure thing, you more than did what you were supposed to do.  I’m down with that,” she called out to Magnus.

Her eyes then fell upon Alec, who had not said a word since.  He looked dazed and wasn’t looking at anyone.  When he finally did look up, he was glaring at her.

And suddenly her smile disappeared.  Her heart sank.

Uh oh. 

It was not very often that Alec would be annoyed or become angry with her – but this was certainly one of the few times when he was.  She could see it in his eyes. And his cheeks were flaming red – from embarrassment and anger.

Meanwhile, Alec was standing there, under the spotlight – alone – fighting the urge to turn to Magnus as he just stepped away abruptly, leaving him alone.

Now his flush came full force, and he knew it was visible.

Embarrassment and resentment flared up within him, and he shot a quick look at Isabelle, who paled. 

Then he took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a second, before opening them up again, pasting a smile on once again.  His own movements felt robotic and removed – as if he wasn’t the one controlling them.  Nodding, as Jace put an already opened beer in his hand.  He took the bottle, smile still in place, tipped it to his lips, and chugged it as quickly as he could.

Merry Christmas, Alexander.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

New Year’s Eve 1988, Pandemonium

Magnus glanced idly at the large countdown clock that had been constructed on top of the large screen, showcasing the Times Square celebration going on outside.

He should want to be out there, losing himself in the crowd of zealous partygoers, obsessed with standing out there for 6+ hours straight until the ball drops, signaling the end of the year, and the reigning of the new one…

But standing 6+ hours in brick cold weather – somehow the weather always seemed to drop below freezing right on this day – and wearing diapers all night (since there’s absolutely no access to bathrooms once you pass the police barricades) just didn’t seem like a good time to him…

Call him crazy for turning all that down tonight…

So, instead, he decided to take up the one shift that no one wanted, for obvious reasons  – the shift for New Years Eve…

Others decided to call out or decline because they wanted to either 1) be out in this craziness, 2) party it up on their own, or 3) they wanted to be home with their loved ones to celebrate in front of the TV and/or attend a house party.

Anyway Magnus didn’t have plans, nor had he wanted to be out there, for all the reasons mentioned previously.  Nor did he have any alternative plans, or people to see.  They somehow were all busy.  No one had seemed to be available – they just all casually bowed out or weren’t reachable…

And of course he initially had plans but that’s when he was actually seeing someone…

He frowned at the thought of that, but quickly pushed the thought away.

There were worse places he could be, tonight.  And he was in the middle of a celebration, so it wasn’t too bad at all.

Magnus was out here, at one of the hottest clubs in New York City, on shift on an immensely well paying night – and personally he didn’t find his situation bad at all.

Although – as he looked down at himself wryly – this getup could use a little work.

He normally would wear a decent amount of trendy clothing from time to time – but this silver vinyl vest with magenta sequins with dropped waist flared out silver bottoms and magenta platform boots just weren’t quite doing it for him. 

At least his makeup – winged out silver liner with rose shadow, with clear shiny lip gloss – was something which he could control. And his dark hair, which he had styled into a throwback layered style and threaded with magenta, had bangs which fell in his eyes.

This was an old hairstyle…but he hadn’t really cared to think up a new one just for tonight.  So he decided to chance it.

Surprisingly, this retro style had netted him many compliments on this ensemble – his hair, his face -- all night – netting him big tips. Along with the fake rose tattoo on his exposed hipbone. He was getting serious attention left and right, especially from the VIP section.

He strolled over, notepad in hand, bent down slightly to look the patrons in the eye.  Then he tilted his head, fluttered his long lashes, and crooned, “Hey darling, anything I could get for you?”

Immediately he zeroed in on the tall blond guy who was casually slouched in the corner of the booth, looking bored. “How about you, suga’?” he asked.

He saw the blond glance over, and then immediately fixate on him.  His eyes dilated, and Magnus had to stifle a laugh. 

Tricks of the trade, he thought, stifling a laugh that was threatening to bubble up in his throat.

“Well, well, well -- what do we have here,” the guy said softly, his eyes never leaving Magnus’s.

“Just the bartender, trying to take your order. Only the top shelf for the table?” Magnus asked lightly, trying to sell as his boss had asked him to do.

“Tell you what,” the guy said smoothly, “if your sweet self keeps coming back, we will buy top shelf all night, and tip you well for it too.”

“I can’t promise that I’ll be back every time, but I’ll try,” Magnus said, throwing a wink at the guy.

The wink wasn’t lost on the guy, who grinned widely at him.

God, people are so easy to flatter, Magnus thought, as he strolled away, back down the stairs, putting an extra swing in his hips.

He knew the guy was fixated on his every move as he walked away…

….

The DJ put on a new song, and it was a slower one.  Magnus was tired.  Having run from the main floor up to the VIP booth countless times, his feet were starting to hurt from walking continuously in double platform boots. 

Thank goodness he got to have a break right now.  He glanced up at the Countdown Clock. 15 minutes to the ball drop – to the new year.

Upon hearing the intro, Magnus immediately recognized the song. It was a favorite of his.  Tapping his foot to the song, he threw his head back, closed his eyes, and rolled his neck around his shoulders to loosen them up as he got lost in the music.

Playfully, he held the edge of the pole of metal banister of the staircase, and swung himself – once, twice, three times – in dramatic fashion as he kicked up his legs and grinned. 

He threw his head back as he laughed, his hair swinging around his face – getting lost in his playful reverie.

Unbeknownst to him, he was being watched by someone…

So long, I've been looking too hard

I've been waiting too long

Sometimes I don't know what I will find

I only know it's a matter of time

When you love someone

When you love someone

It feels so right, so warm and true

I need to know if you feel it too


Maybe I'm wrong

Won't you tell me if I'm coming on too strong?

This heart of mine has been hurt before

 

This time I want to be sure

 

I've been waiting for someone like you

To come into my life


I've been waiting for someone like you

Your loving will survive

 

I've been waiting for someone new

To make me feel alive

Magnus opened his eyes, after dancing silly by himself for a few minutes.  That had felt so great, to just let go.  He had been feeling stressed all week, but this just seemed to help loosen him up.

He turned to his left, and a short distance away, was the blond guy from the VIP booth.  The guy apparently had been watching him dance. 

He blushed, feeling silly.  But the look on the guy’s face only showed admiration, desire, and want.

The guy smiled slightly.

Their eyes locked, and slowly Magnus smiled back at him.

The tall blond smiled much more widely at Magnus’s response.  Then he curled his finger, beckoning him to come over.

Magnus stared at him for a moment – weighing his options.

Well, why not? It was New Year’s Eve anyway. Better to have someone to celebrate with, right?

Besides, there were cameras everywhere, and especially on the workers here.  And he could totally hold his own, if otherwise…


Yeah, waiting for someone like you

To come into my life

 

Magnus fought the urge to grin, as he sinuously walked in his platform boots toward the guy.  He knew the spectacle he created with every step that he took. The guy’s eyes took him in.

The connection was electric. Magnus recognized that look of lust in his eyes and face.

Yup, I still got it, baby …

*******

Brooklyn, New Years Eve 1988

Alec was just staring – staring up at the blank white ceiling as he lay on his bed in his apartment in Brooklyn. 

It has actually been awhile since he had voluntarily decided to stay in, especially on the biggest night of the year.  New Year Eve…

Outside his window, he could hear people singing off-key at the top of their lungs in the apartment below and above him, and to the buildings around the block, corny music playing out loud, people loudly talking as they walked up the block, most likely already drunk or on the way to their house parties.

No, he wasn’t a partier – far from it actually. Been there, done that.  No, he liked where he was, just fine.

The track in his Walkman changed, and he realized his favorite song was coming on. 

He turned the volume up high and settled back more comfortably on his pillow.  The rhythm, bouncing beat, and hypnotic bass of Robert Smith from the Cure filled his ears as the song “10:15 Saturday Night” came on.

Alec sighed contently.

He could always depend on his favorite music to make him feel better…

 

10.15 on a Saturday night
And the tap
Drips under the strip light

And I'm sitting in the kitchen sink
And the tap drips
Drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip

And no, he’s not wondering what his sister is up to, or the fact she had been pleading to talk to him for a few days now.

And no, he’s not wondering where a certain someone is.  Or who he’s with, how they are celebrating. 

He doubts he’s alone, as some people are just not meant to be alone. 

For very long, anyway.

He just wanted some time by himself. Or at least that’s what he has been telling himself all night.

Actually someone called.  No, make that two people.  But he didn’t answer. 

One of them was Isabelle. Who -- of course as his sister --she was going to call and check up on him.  But, actually she had been trying to get in touch with him all week. But he had been making up paltry excuses to keep the calls short, or just not answering at all.

He just couldn’t help how he felt.  He still couldn’t get over what she did at the Christmas party. 

After that incident, Magnus and him barely talked to one another for the rest of the night.

Well, actually Magnus had spoken to him like everything was normal – as if that kiss under the mistletoe was just like, whatever.

Anyway, why would it ever be otherwise?  Alec was the one with the feelings that were wrong, but he couldn’t help feeling awkward. He had just mumbled something in between  drinking as much beer as he could, so that he could avoid conversation – at least for the rest of that night. 

That morning he had returned home with a huge headache. 

He pledged he would never drink so much beer in one sitting ever again…

Then the rest of the days had been crazy busy at work, and he hadn’t any time to talk to Magnus or to meet up for Happy Hour.  So his week ended curiously empty.

So, right -- he felt like being alone tonight.  So he just let that one go to voicemail. He didn’t even want to hear who it was from. He had already walked out of the room right before the beep went on to record the message.

That someone did leave a message, and no he had not cared to check it.  That was about 4 hours ago. 

And no, he was not about to check it now.

He was just fine, right now, right where he was.  Fine and dandy….

 

Waiting for the telephone to ring

And I'm wondering where he's been
And I'm crying for yesterday
And the tap drips
Drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip

 

Frustrated, he jumped out of bed, and started dancing manically around the room, bobbing his head to the beat, his headphones in his ears, as Robert Smith BELTS out the frustrations that seemed to echo the hollowness in his heart. And that fantastic bass just screamed -- screamed out all the frustrations, all the questions --- with no answers that he had yet to resolve within himself.

Alas, it would continue to be that way.

Because that’s just not how he was, or how others perceived him to be. He wasn’t the type to confront, or to upset what was expected of him.

Well, not yet, anyway. 

Alec was tired of being predictable.  No one liked predictable anyway.  It was boring, and not interesting, and of course who would go for that, when there were so much more scintillating people and experiences to be had out there?

But…perhaps if he danced just a bit harder at this moment,  he would be able to dance these crazy, mixed, and tumultuous thoughts away…

And stop feeling like his world had completely turned upside down –

Without his sister –

Without that particular someone who normally made him feel whole.

Well, used to make him feel whole, anyway. 

He had no right to put that on anyone – to expect that.  

God, he needed a fucking life.

Right then and there, he swore he was going to go get one.  A new year was upon him, after all.  Might as well do it up right.

He sighed. And he would…

Starting…next week. Perhaps.

 

*****

New Year’s Day 1989 Pandemonium 230am

 

"Well, weren’t you the popular one tonight…”

Magnus looked up from where he was sitting, currently adjusting the top of his magenta platform boots to see who was speaking with him. 

Magnus had detected an accent in his voice – British, perhaps? 

Well, well, well – someone from across the pond, perhaps?  He loved meeting tourists from abroad…

Magnus looked the guy over quickly. 

One thing you learned as a bartender on the job, was to scan the customer quickly so you could get an overall vibe.

A fairly tall guy with a light complexion, unruly, wavy sandy blonde hair of medium length...he wore black rimmed glasses, and looked respectable in a dark blue dress shirt and dark wash jeans with tan colored Timberland boots. And the guy was looking at him rather contemplatively, his lips twisted in what might have passed for a slight smile.  

Magnus’s eye then fell upon the badge at the base of the guy’s shirt, along with the walkie-talkie sticking out of the side pocket of his jeans.

Oh, okay, not exactly a tourist -- he was security for tonight. But he wasn’t the regular guy, who was normally a tall African American guy with a board build --- the type that looked really scary if you didn’t know him, thus making him perfect as a bouncer/security. 

This guy had a solid build, with a cleft in his chin and a square jawed face.  None of the scare factor that security/bouncer would evoke -- yet he certainly looked like he would be able to hold his own.  Also he just gave off that vibe – that he would seek to protect those around him.   

Magnus always did have a soft spot for protectors.

Magnus let out a short laugh and shook his head slightly, letting his layers fall softly around his face.

"Well, not many people were working today. That would get you popular, real quick, I’d think?" he quipped in a dulcet tone of voice, looking at the guy from under lowered lashes.  

Giving him a quick smile, he then took out a mirror and was examining his makeup and hair.  The hair was definitely mussed up as VIP guy's hands seemed to love being in his hair as they had made out, and his eyeshadow was a bit smudged but no worse for the wear.

Satisfied, he put his mirror away.

His back ached slightly from being wedged back against the edge of the VIP booth when he was making out with the guy, and he could still feel the fresh marks the guy had made against the sensitive skin of his neck and clavicle area.  He adjusted his vest, which had been shifted quite a bit.

"Do you normally do that often, fraternize with patrons at the club?" the guy asked, raising his eyebrows as he gestured toward the VIP area.

He frowned.  "I can't imagine that would be good practice in general,” he said. “In fact I’d think it would be rather unsafe, especially since you don't know these people that come in and out of the club.”

The guy’s eyes were on his neck and clavicle, and Magnus could feel him zeroing in on the visible marks. He suddenly felt like he was under some microscope…

“And -- for the love of God -- I also hope you used protection…" the guy continued, his eyes widening. “Damn…”

Magnus bristled internally.  Was this guy rude or what??

"I can handle myself, thank you very much," Magnus snapped. "And if you must know, no I don't do this often.  Well, not anymore, anyway.  It was New Year’s Eve tonight, and I just didn't want to be alone. An opportunity presented itself and I took it. Besides, all we did was to make out and stuff. I don’t sleep with strangers."

“And actually, I hardly talk to strangers at length, also,” Magnus said, getting ready to get up. “So if you’ll excuse me…”

“I’m Ragnor.  Ragnor Fell,” the guy said smoothly, extending a hand.  Magnus looked at the hand.  Soft and fleshy, not much callouses at all. Hmm.

He took the offered hand and shook it. It was a warm handshake.

“Magnus Bane,” Magnus said. 

Then he furrowed his brows. “You don’t usually work security, do you,” he stated.

Ragnor laughed throatily. It was one of those nice, warm laughs one would expect a really friendly guy to have.

“Was it that obvious? Nah, my friend’s the one who is the regular. You probably know Thomas, right?” 

Ah yes, Thomas was the one that Magnus was familiar with. 

“He had something to do tonight, so he asked for someone to fill in just for tonight.  And I had nothing better to do, so I was just like, “Why not?” Maybe it would be an interesting experience. Or maybe I’d meet some interesting folks tonight…”

“Oh?” Magnus asked, giving Ragnor a lopsided grin. “So, did I end up being one of those interesting folks you were hoping to meet?”

Ragnor rolled his eyes.

“We haven’t spoken at length enough yet for me to determine that,” he said dryly. 

Magnus couldn’t help laughing.  He loved that wit.

Sooooo,” Magnus couldn’t resist purring,” Maybe we should just keep talking then, then maybe I can make it on that list.”

Ragnor looked at Magnus with a blank look on his face, and then started laughing. “I’d have to say, You’re pretty good.  You ever get anyone with that line?”  he asked good-naturedly.

Magnus chortled.

“All the time. After all, you’re still talking to me, right darling?” he teased.

Oh, stop. And you should really be careful with who you approach.  I mean, what if I just lied to you about my identity and I’m actually some serial killer targeting good-looking brunette bartenders at flashy clubs such as yourself, you know?” Ragnor said with a straight face.

“Well then, I guess I’m done for then. Shit,” Magnus said, with equally a straight face. “I better call my loved ones and give them my last will and testament then, before I continue talking to you.”

Something suddenly made Magnus pause.  “Wait, hold up,” Magnus suddenly said, realizing what Ragnor had said. “Did you just call me good looking?” he said, with genuine surprise. 

Hmm, flattery would get people everywhere, he thought. 

He started sizing up Ragnor with new eyes; hmm, he probably gave really awesome cozy hugs, if those arms were of any indication…

“I have eyes, don’t I?  I mean, I’d say from any standpoint, you are good looking. I don’t think I would receive any opposition to that opinion,” Ragnor said mildly. “Anyway, don’t place any weight on that judgment, I’m just being observant, really. But I’m as committed as they come, as my lovely girlfriend Catarina would say. And she’s currently working night shift tonight, which is why I’m here. But yea, together two years and couldn’t be happier...”

“Hmm, you guys are lucky,” Magnus mused aloud without thinking.

Suddenly he noticed Ragnor looking at him closely.

“Was that just a note of wistfulness I detected in your voice?” he asked.

Magnus was flustered. “What?  Huh?  No,” he said quickly.

“No, you said we were lucky,” Ragnor confirmed  “As if you kinda wanted something stable and secure also.”

“Nah,” Magnus said off-handedly. “And in fact, I was seeing someone, just casually, for about 11 months, but we broke up last week because he wanted to get more serious and I didn’t want to, and also he seemed jealous of my best friend –”

“What?” Ragnor exclaimed. “11 months?  Wait, you were with the guy for 11 months, and you didn’t think feelings would develop?  You must have a screw loose in that head of yours somewhere, no offense.  That is almost never the case.  Some actual relationships would already be in the “I love you’s” by that time.” 

He looked at Magnus, who just shrugged.

“And what’s this about a best friend?” he asked.  “So, how long have you and this person been best friends?” 

“Alexander? Oh about 8 months.  He’s the best,” Magnus said. “I’ve never had someone who knew me inside out.  We actually started off rather combative, well that couldn’t be helped, and then we lost touch for about 3 years, but then ran into each other again.  Since then, we have been pretty tight.  I actually don’t know what I would do without him.” 

He smiled, thinking of Alec.

“What’s that look for?”  Magnus asked, suddenly noticing Ragnor again looking at him contemplatively.  It was unnerving him, and he didn’t know what he thought about it.

“So this best friend. He sounds special,” Ragnor said thoughtfully. “There’s nothing there at all between you two, though?”

“What?” Magnus asked, surprised.

“Is he attractive?” Ragnor asked.

“Uh, I guess he’s good looking.  Tousled dark hair, baby blue eyes, fair skin, tall…” Magnus said nonchalantly.

“You say that so casually,” Ragnor said, seemingly in thought. “So you mean to tell me, that you never ever found him attractive, even once?”

“Well, there was that drive back from college,” Magnus mused.  “But he was such a pain in the ass, and also he rebuked all my attempts at flirting. I wasn’t even serious anyway.  Back then I would have flirted with anyone…”

“Just like you did tonight, with VIP guy? And with me?” Ragnor asked bluntly, giving Magnus a knowing look.

“What? I didn’t flirt with you,” Magnus protested. But now he felt his cheeks flushing, and it was pretty much admitting to it.

“Well, that was before I knew you were taken,” Magnus said, shrugging.

“Ha, so he admits to it!” Ragnor laughed. “Well, I’m flattered, regardless. I usually don’t get attention from people who look like yourself.”

“I don’t see why not,” Magnus objected. “You seem like a great person, and you are also really sweet.  Those are two very highly desirable traits.”

“And I gotta say, I don’t usually meet flirtatious people who happen to be genuine.  That is a first.  Consider yourself special,” Ragnor deadpanned. “I’m usually a good judge of character.”

“Oh yea?” Magnus laughed. He smiled at Ragnor. “Well thanks.  You aren’t so bad yourself.”

Ragnor started laughing.

“Oh my god, I can’t believe I made a friend at the club, while doing bouncer/security. Catarina is never going to let me live it down!” he said, wiping tears from his eyes.

Magnus shrugged. “Well, call it being spontaneous, then,” he said airily. “Never anything wrong with that.  The last thing you want to be is boring after all.”

Ragnor looked at him. “Somehow,” he mused. “I doubt you are ever boring, and neither are those who end up hanging out with you. Now I’m wondering if I’m going to be in over my head, when it comes to you…”

Magnus laughed out loud.

“Well, why don’t you make it your New Year’s resolution to try and find out?” Magnus said lightly. 

He took a quick glance at the clock.

“Anyway…It’s already like 4am right now, we might as well stay up and have an early breakfast together.  I mean unless Catarina wants you home..”

Ragnor snorted. “She doesn’t even get home until 9am. One of those dreaded 12 hour shifts, you know?” he said.

“Aww, so you would have just been by yourself, poor baby,” Magnus crooned. “Well, she doesn’t have to worry, you’re hanging out with your friend Magnus now. You can tell Catarina that you were more than well taken care of.”

“She wouldn’t believe it anyway.  She asks me constantly how my friends continue to stay with me, since I am always so sarcastic and I constantly make fun of them,” Ragnor laughed.

“I really don’t know what she’s talking about,” Magnus argued. “I think we are getting along just fine.”

They smiled at one another. 

Not a bad way to start off 1989….

Chapter Text

Brooklyn , New Year’s Day 10am

Alec yawned, as he opened his eyes, still bleary from sleep.

He realized he still had his headphones on, but his Walkman had shut off during the night.

So he had missed the Countdown.  Ah well, not that he usually paid attention to things like that.

Random thoughts from last night flitted through his mind.  He wondered how everyone spent their New Years Eve.

Against his will, his thoughts went to Magnus. How did he spend New Years Eve?  Did he end up with anyone?  Was he even home? Or was he somewhere else?

He stared at his phone.  Ugh, it was Sunday, and usually they would already be in Manhattan together, having brunch.  Well, usually, anyway.

But…should he chance it anyway?

Before he knew what he was doing, he had picked up the phone and was dialing a too-familiar number, even as his mind was telling him not to do so…

“Hello?” a groggy voice answered.  But familiar.

“M-Magnus?” Alec asked hesitantly.

“Alexander!” the voice on the other end sounded brighter. “Hey, happy new year. How was your night?”

“It was okay. What did you end up doing?” Alec babbled.  Ugh why did he just ask that.  He wasn’t sure if he even wanted to hear the answer.

“I worked. Pandemonium,” was the muffled reply. 

And Alec’s heart just stilled. He closed his eyes. Of course he was at Pandemonium.  And New Year’s Eve, lots of opportunity for kissing during the countdown in the club. Who wouldn't want that? Somehow he knew Magnus probably did find someone to kiss last night…

He tried to push away the thought.  It wasn’t important, he thought.  A New Year’s kiss. Everyone did it, no big deal, he thought. Nothing meaningful. 

Just  like the mistletoe kiss didn’t mean anything?  his brain thought.

Be quiet, he commanded himself.

“So,” he said brightly, “Any plans this afternoon?  I was thinking, well it’s a little too late for brunch, and it is New Year’s Day so brunch would be kinda silly. But how about lunch?”

There was silence on the line, and Alec thought perhaps Magnus had not heard what he had said. So he tried again. “So,” he began again, “I –”

“Oh, Alexander, I actually just got home.  I went for an early breakfast with a friend from work after the shift was over.  And I’m so exhausted. I’m so sorry,” Magnus said apologetically.

“A f-friend from work?” Alec asked.

Magnus had never mentioned a friend from work before…

”Like work, work?” Alec asked, trying to remember all the people he had heard Magnus talk about before…

“No, from Pandemonium – his name’s Ragnor.  He was actually watching over me last night, working in security.  Actually he was just subbing for the regular security guy, a friend of his.  He came over while I was finishing up, and he was concerned about my safety.  He's decent folks. You would really like him. He was pretty cool and we talked for awhile. I happened to invite him along for an early breakfast at around 6am.  It ran a lot later than I expected, and I’m so sorry –”

That's just like Magnus, Alec thought. So easy for him to meet people, or to draw people right into his orbit.  He just seemed to make new friends, new people all the time.

New potentials too…

So, what kind of friend was Ragnor? 

He hated these random thoughts. He wished they would go away.

“Magnus,” Alec said, a little louder into the phone.

“Yes, what is it, Alexander?” Magnus asked, sounding a bit surprised for the firmness of his tone. 

Alec closed his eyes, trying to keep his breathing even. 

“It’s okay, Magnus.  I’m glad someone was there for you and watching over you at Pandemonium,” he said softly, feeling a bit resigned.  He was really tired and didn’t want to push it. “It probably wasn’t the most ideal place last night for you, given that it was New Year’s Eve.  I hope you didn’t run into any creeps, I know how much that bothers you.”

“No,” Magnus said. “Everyone was fine actually.” Magnus’s voice now sounded the tiniest bit off, as if he was being evasive. 

Hm, so he probably did hook up with someone, Alec thought.  His stomach clenched. 

No, he had no right to feel that way...

"Well okay then," Alec said quickly, suddenly feeling the need to get off the phone as soon as possible. "You probably just want to knock out right? So don't let me keep you. And --"

"We talked about you, Ragnor and I," Magnus suddenly said. 

What? Alec thought shocked. “Oh?” he asked, trying to keep his tone light.  Wow, that was quick, him confiding in Ragnor. 

Again the thought came into his head.

How close did they actually get last night? Or, rather, this morning…?

No, he certainly didn’t need images of Magnus with some stranger together, breaking night, leading into the morning  -- getting close, or whatever they ended up doing, then going together to get breakfast after, of all things – coming into his head…

"He said you sounded special," Magnus stated.

Oh?  Alec’s cheeks burned.

"Pshh," Alec scoffed, feeling slightly embarrassed.

"You are," Magnus said quietly. 

Alec heard Magnus sigh over the phone. 

"We should have hung out together on New Year’s Eve, Alexander," Magnus continued in the same quiet tone.

“Listen, you don’t need to say that,” Alec began, his voice thick. 

"I'm sorry about the poor planning. You know, at least we know when we hang out we have a good time together. That beats working on New Year’s Eve, or meeting with strangers. I'm sorry I was too short sighted to realize that,” Magnus said softly.

"No worries," Alec said. He swallowed. "Yea, it would have been cool to hang out."

"Next year, let's make sure of it," Magnus stated.

“Okay,” Alec said.

He felt kinda silly, agreeing to some plans way out in the future – when no one knew what the future would hold. But he did it anyway, because it seemed like it was what Magnus needed to  hear.

Magnus laughed just then, and Alec felt a lot better hearing that from him.

“Anyway, I’m sorry again about lunch today… but Happy Hour Thursday, or brunch next Sunday?” he said lightly.

Alec smiled. “I have a meeting Thursday. But definitely brunch. Wouldn’t miss it for anything,” he said.  “You really should go back to sleep, Magnus.” 

He cradled the phone receiver against his ear.

“Okay,” Magnus said. Alec could hear him yawning. “I’ll talk to you later?”

“You bet,” Alec said. “Sweet dreams, Magnus.”

Soft laughter filled the receiver. “Bye, Alexander.”  Then the phone clicked and the dial tone came on.

Alec hung the phone up on the receiver, and sat back where he was. 

He couldn’t help his runaway thoughts.

Who, exactly, was Ragnor?  Ugh he wished he didn’t care so much…

Damn, he really needed to get a life, he thought, not for the first time.

He made a mental note to ask Magnus to set him up with people again the next time he saw him, he just needed to get out there again.

*******

Waverly Diner, Greenwich Village, NY on the following Sunday

 

Alec had been standing on the corner of 6th avenue and Waverly Place for about fifteen minutes already.  

It was starting to get a bit chilly, as the winter winds swirled around him.

He hugged his arms to his chest, shivering. Perhaps wearing a leather jacket had not been the right call for the 2nd week of January. But he had thought he had layered appropriately with a cashmere scarf around his neck, merino wool turtleneck sweater over his usual tee shirt and jeans, thick socks, and Doc Martens. 

But obviously not, judging from how violently he was shivering, especially as the wind hit him. 

Wind chill. He always forgot about that, when calculating how potentially cold the weather could get during winter. Yea without the wind, it would be great. But of course the universe wasn't going to make it easy. 

Not one bit...

Shivering, he focused his eyes on one area of the sidewalk as he attempted to burrow his face deeper into the layers of his scarf to keep warm...

"Alexander!" a familiar voice shouted.

Magnus!

Oh good, finally, his brain registered. And how odd he was late today, usually he would be super early... 

Alec looked up and was about to greet his best friend, when the sight of something made him freeze.

Or rather, someone

Magnus was walking toward him, looking amazing in a tan colored woolen overcoat, topped with Burberry scarf, with furry white earmuffs and white woolen gloves. There was someone with him, matching his stride. A tall, handsome looking guy with sandy blond hair, wearing black rimmed glasses, and a navy peacoat. Magnus was smiling widely, with his arm hooked around the guy's arm.

The guy definitely looked about 5-7 years older if not more -- and definitely exuded confidence with ease. 

Alec just stared at the both of them.

Magnus hadn’t said he was bringing someone to brunch...

"Alexander! Hey, so sorry we're late," Magnus said. "Oh my God, it's so good to see you. I felt like I haven’t seen you in forever!" 

Suddenly Alec was caught up in a warm hug -- and the all too familiar scent of Magnus's cologne, as well as his presence momentarily made Alec forget about everything else. Alec inhaled deeply as he hugged Magnus back. He had missed him these past few days...

"He's cute, Magnus. You didn't do him justice with your description," a medium baritone spoke, laced with slight amusement. 

Me? Alec looked up from the embrace, to face the owner of the voice.

“This is the Alec, I presume?” the guy continued in that same voice.

It just hit Alec the wrong way.  He shuddered.  He didn’t know why, but he didn’t like it. 

His eyes narrowed.

“You’ve been talking about me?” he said, trying to keep his voice light as he disengaged from Magnus.

Magnus shrugged. “I thought I told you over the phone last week about Ragnor.  Anyway I hope you don’t mind that I invited Ragnor for brunch, I ran into him this morning, as I was walking out. He lives nearby,” he said.

Alec’s eyes honed in on the figure before him.

So, this was Ragnor -- not only handsome, but he looked worldly, well-aged, intelligent, and witty.  No wonder why Magnus liked him…

A million conflicting thoughts flew through Alec’s mind at that moment. He took a deep breath to calm himself.

He never thought Magnus would just go and invite someone to brunch with them just like that...

Wasn’t this their thing?

Well, his mind said, Perhaps it just might not be your thing, anymore…

He struggled to maintain his composure.  

Putting a smile on his face, he looked up, his eyes going from Magnus to…Ragnor.

Niceties! Manners! his mind screamed.

“I-It’s nice to finally meet you. Ragnor,” Alec said as cordially as he could, extending his hand. “Magnus told me so much about you.”

Ragnor looked at Alec for a moment with an unreadable look, before taking his extended hand and shaking it, with a grin on his face.

“Oh, he did now, did he,” he mused.  He looked at Magnus with a look, which was returned with a shrug and a grin from Magnus. Magnus nudged him in the ribs, which made Ragnor look back at him, his eyes crinkling with amusement. 

Ragnor shook his head.

“Oh, you,” he sighed dramatically. “Starting trouble this early, eh?” he grumbled. “Sorry, but not everyone finds you that cute.”

“You know you do, don’t even deny it,” Magnus shot back, doing a mock kiss in the air.

Ragnor just rolled his eyes at him.

This exchange was not lost on Alec.  So it’s that type of “friendship”, huh? he thought. Or whatever Magnus was calling it now.

And now he had to sit through all of brunch with this??  He took a deep breath.

He had already lost his appetite…

***********

They walked into the diner, and were seated quickly.  Magnus had scooted in next to Ragnor in the booth, while Alec took the opposite side. 

Why, of course, he thought wryly. 

They were like two peas in a pod.  Ever so perfect…

“Coffee? And are you ready to order?” The waitress was waiting with pen and pad in hand.

Alec suddenly realized that the waitress was speaking to him.  Egad, how long had he ignored her? Oof!

“So sorry. Yes, definitely, thank you,” Alec fumbled, smiling at her apologetically.

He quickly scanned the menu. “I’ll take the #1 with sunnyside eggs and bacon,” he said.

“Very good,” she said, and walked off.

Alec was still feeling really out of sorts. Jesus, Alec, quit it, he thought, irritated with himself.

“You alright, Alec?” Magnus asked, concerned. “You seem kinda out of it today.”

Alec put a smile on his face, slightly tightlipped. “I’m fine,” he said, looking up at Magnus, then Ragnor – widening his smile a bit.

Alec sighed.  He really needed to be more open here. 

He couldn’t act this way, due to his own issues.

“So,” Alec said, trying to be friendly, “What do you do, Ragnor? Magnus said you were subbing for his friend at Pandemonium that night, but it’s not your day job.”

“Oh, I work for a non-profit company. You might have heard of it – Habitat for Humanity – we assist those in need to build safe, affordable, viable housing. It’s gotten quite big since its inception in 1976.  Having the former President, the honorable Jimmy Carter on board with us has been a huge boon to our growth,” Ragnor grinned.  “I work in the Public Relations and Media department, but I also volunteer with them as well…”

Alec just stared at him, wide-eyed, the smile frozen on his face.  Jesus, he has good morals, and is into philathrophy as well…?

Magnus clapped Ragnor on the shoulder, his eyes glowing. 

“You didn’t tell me that. That’s huge!” Magnus said, looking at him adoringly. “Is there nothing you can’t do?”

Magnus turned to Alec.

 “See?  My first instinct about him was right, especially how he watched over me during New Year’s Eve.  My protector,” he crooned.

Alec stared at Magnus.  He didn’t like that very much…

His coffee slid in front of him. The waitress had come back.

 “Thanks,” Alec mumbled, picking it up and taking a huge sip, practically burying his face in the cup. Ugh, bitter!  He didn’t like black coffee.  He wrinkled his nose in disgust.

“I didn’t know you drank your coffee black, Alexander,” Magnus said. 

Alec looked up.  Magnus was looking at him with a thoughtful expression on his face.

He forced him to swallow it, his taste buds internally cursing him out.

“Well,” he said, brightly, taking a deep breath. “That’s great you were there, Ragnor. It’s not the safest, being at the club alone..."

He lifted his cup to his lips again, continuing to sip slowly. He couldn’t think of anything else to say at the moment…

“Not to mention what they had us wearing that night,” Magnus said, rolling his eyes. “What was it, Ragnor?”

“That absolutely dreadful silver and magenta sequin vest horror, with the magenta boots to match?” Ragnor stated, his eyes widening. “It gave me nightmares for nights after. Total clown suit on everyone, I don’t know what that club was thinking that night! But of course Magnus, here, apparently he could make anything work for him. He had all the patrons buying up top shelf and had them eating out of the palm of his hand. They couldn’t take their eyes off of him.”

“After I saw that, and their reaction to him, I made sure to keep an extra close eye on him.  Especially that blond one,” Ragnor added, tut-tutting at Magnus. “He just kept staring at your body the whole night, and especially zeroing in on that rose tattoo on your hip.  That tattoo, it’s a temporary thing, right? I’m not exactly in favor of permanent body art. Also, please don’t give guys even more excuses to leer at you, especially at that body part. It’s just not the ideal thing…”

“Pshh, c’mon, I told you I handled him just fine,” Magnus protested. “Don’t worry, hun, I’m good. Besides I had you there to protect me, right? Anyway, you’re right.  I’ll cover up next time. Not everyone should get the privilege of seeing my cute butt.”

Alec nearly choked on his coffee.

“Excuse me,” he muttered, taking a napkin and coughing into it.

He looked up again, cheeks burning, and noticed Ragnor giving him a thoughtful look. 

Oh great, Alec, chill out, he thought, really irritated with himself now.  Don’t need to have Ragnor think he’s being super weird right now…

He cleared his throat to say something. “Or maybe you shouldn’t work at the clubs at all,” were the words which came out of his mouth.

Shit, did he just say that? 

Alec thought, his eyes widening. “Uh, that wasn’t what I meant to say,” Alec said quickly.

Ragnor gave him an appraising look.

“He’s got a point, Magnus,” he mused aloud.

Magnus regarded Alec silently for a moment, with a serious look in his eyes.  “Alec,” he said quietly. “I never knew you felt that way…”

Alec shrugged, feeling slightly embarrassed. “Well, when you were with Imasu, I figured he would watch over you," he said awkwardly. "So I wasn’t as concerned;. But then you guys broke up, and now you’re by yourself, out there.  I know you can take care of yourself, and it’s really not my place to say anything, or for it to even be my business –”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Alec,” Ragnor cut in. “You’re doing exactly what you should be doing.  You care about Magnus, of course you are allowed to say what’s on your mind.  You care about his safety.”

Alec looked at Ragnor, still a bit taken aback.

“Yea…I do,” he breathed.

Ragnor was really supportive and protective of Magnus, Alec thought.  

He winced.

Dammit, he didn’t want to start liking him…

Magnus then smiled at Alec. “You’re the best, you know that?” he murmured, taking his hand from across the table and squeezing it briefly before letting go.  Then he turned to Ragnor.  “You both have given me a lot to think about. What would I do without either of you.”

Then Magnus leaned over and kissed Ragnor on the cheek, leaving a shiny stain on Ragnor’s cheek.

And Alec just stared.

He was no longer capable of any rational thought. All he could see was the lingering, shiny stain on skin…

“Hey!” a lilting female voice called out. “Ragnor, sheesh, when you told me about this one, I didn’t know you guys were getting this serious!”

Alec looked up, confused.

A very pretty African American woman, dressed in royal blue scrubs, came over to the table with an engaging smile.  Despite his confusion, something within Alec warmed upon seeing the woman.  He smiled at her.

“Oh my god, this one is so cute,” the woman said delightedly.

She gestured toward Magnus, while still addressing Ragnor. “If you get to keep him, then I’m keeping this one. God, these blue eyes are a dream!” she giggled.

Alec flushed. What the ---

And then, despite himself, Alec started giggling at the table, which then made Catarina giggle yet again.

“What is going on?  I’m so confused,” he gasped once he had a chance to catch his breath.

Catarina tittered. “Oh don’t mind me. Ragnor and I do this, whenever he happens to get new “friends”,” she said, overemphasizing the air quotes.  “Usually I don’t care about leveling the playing field…but this current one is way too pretty, so now I’m a little worried…”

She sighed dramatically.

Which bought a loud laugh out from Magnus. He stood up.

 “You must be Catarina,” he said smoothly.  His lips twisted into a lopsided grin. “I’m sorry I didn’t speak up sooner, I was rather enjoying this exchange between you two.  Ragnor, she is an absolute delight.  Here, let me get out of your seat, darling.”

Magnus got out of the booth, and went back to Alec’s side.  He bumped his hip against Alec’s, which made Alec jump. “Come on, scoot over, I warmed up Catarina’s seat long enough.  By the way, this is Catarina, Ragnor’s better half/superhero girlfriend. She’s a nurse,” he quipped.

Alec slid over, and Magnus hopped into the booth. Immediately Alec felt Magnus’s warm lips on his cheek.

Alec turned to look Magnus, slightly stupefied. “Did you miss me?” Magnus asked innocently.

Alec just rolled his eyes at Magnus, not trusting his capability of speech at the moment. He was still mindblown about the whole Ragnor thing.

He cleared his throat.  “Well, Catarina,” he said. “Your timing’s great.  We only ordered recently, and we just got our coffees.  Glad you could make it,” he said sincerely.

“Isn’t he just so well-behaved, Catarina?” Ragnor said. “Magnus has got himself a good one, doesn’t he, Alec?”

Alec just shrugged, trying not to flush.  Magnus smiled. “Yea, I do,” he agreed.

Just then the waitress came with all their food.  She was even ready to take Catarina’s order, but turned out Ragnor somehow ordered enough food to feed two people already, so she didn’t need to.

As they all settled down to eat, Alec glanced furtively in Ragnor’s direction.  Ragnor was looking in his direction, a knowing expression in his eyes, and a genuine smile on his face.

He raised his glass and nodded at him. 

Alec smiled slowly at Ragnor’s gesture, and raised his coffee cup at him in return.

Chapter Text

Shortly after they left the diner, Ragnor and Catarina needed to part ways with Magnus and Alec, as they had their own things to do.

“Brunch was great,” Ragnor said to both Magnus and Alec. “Thanks for the invite.  Maybe we can do that again, sometime.”

Magnus pulled Ragnor into a hug, then Catarina.

Alec grinned.  Ragnor was actually okay in his book. And Catarina had such sass, he found himself laughing throughout the entire brunch.  Despite how he was feeling about Ragnor in the beginning, due to the misunderstanding, Ragnor actually seemed supportive of everything Alec said, pertaining to Magnus. 

He found that he liked Ragnor after all.  So when he gave Ragnor a hug, he meant it.  And when he told Ragnor, “You’re invited to brunch anytime, just pop on by,” he really meant it. 

Magnus had looked at both of them, eyes shining --  like he was so happy that he wanted to burst. 

And Catarina just kept looking at Alec and saying, “Damn, he is gorgeous. How is this one single?”

Magnus shrugged and shook his head. “I really don’t know Catarina – if only he would let me set him up with people,” he said.

Now, as he and Magnus walked up Broadway toward Forbidden Planet by Union Square – Magnus’s favorite comic book/collectibles shop – Alec found himself replaying Catarina’s words in his head.

How was he still single?  Because he kept pining for his best friend, who would never see him as more than that. 

Just then Magnus turned to him as they were walking and beamed a happy smile at him, his brown eyes twinkling.

Alec smiled back, even as his thoughts were racing, and he felt a tug at his heart.

Magnus was shiny and magnetic --  so in love with the world, and the world loved him right back.

Magnus was too much of a free spirit – in love with everyone and everything around him – to want to be in any type of relationship.

And it wasn’t fair for Alec to wish from the bottom of his heart that the situation was any different.

Alec was lucky to even be able to call someone like this his best friend. Magnus had helped him to open up his own personality, and he would always be grateful for that.

But he needed to get his own life together.  It was the New Year’s resolution he had promised himself he would make.

They stopped by the light at the corner.

“Magnus,” he said.

Magnus turned to him. “Yes, Alexander?” he asked inquisitively.

“I was thinking about what you guys said earlier – I think I want to try meeting new people this year.  Do you think you can help me out again with that?” Alec asked in as enthusiastic of a voice as he could muster.

He swallowed hard.  Part of him still didn’t want to do it, but he knew it needed to be done.

Something flickered in Magnus’s eyes.  Then a big smile crept across Magnus’s face.

“Of course, Alexander. I’m so happy to hear you want to move on with that part of your life.  You deserve to be happy.  Yea, let me work on it, and then I’ll get back to you, okay?”  he said.  

“Great,” Alec said, trying to keep the enthusiasm in his voice.   He mustered up a smile for Magnus.

Anything to keep the friendship…

**************

That evening, Alec returned to his apartment in Brooklyn a bit tired from hanging out in the city.

The flashing of the light on his phone caught his eye.  Voicemails.  Right, he hadn’t even checked since last week.

No doubt some were from Isabelle. Well, he might as well check them all now, right?

He pressed the button and listened. Yup, the first 5 were from Isabelle – he skipped a few.  He didn’t need to listen to them.

In his mind, he had already forgiven her. 

Sure, it had been annoying that she had put him in that position, but it was hardly something to hold a grudge upon. 

He made a mental note to call her later.

The next message was two days before New Year’s Eve.  A deep male voice, unfamiliar yet somewhat familiar at the same time, came on. 

“Hey, Alec.  Not sure if you remember me, but we were set up by Magnus right before Thanksgiving?  Sebastian Verlac? We went to that arthouse movie at the Angelika, and then went to Silver Spurs for burgers… and then the night just ended really awkward with me having to leave early?  Yea, I need to apologize for that.  My mind wasn’t really all there that night, after having taken that phone call from family. Anyway, I felt like I didn’t get the chance to really get to talk to you, and I am so sorry I haven’t called earlier.  I would really like a re-do on that date, and start over. You seemed really cool.  But no obligations okay? Anyway this is my number, if you ever decide to hit me up…”

Alec pressed pause on the machine. 

Sebastian Verlac. 

Tall, sandy blond hair with green eyes. Great smile. 

That had actually been one of the better blind dates he had been set up on by Magnus.  True, it was really odd how Sebastian’s behavior had seemed to change right after using the payphone to call home, then their stop at the burger place had been awkward, with Sebastian drumming his fingers nervously on the table and his gaze flitting back and forth.

Ultimately, Alec had spoken up and asked him if he needed to leave.  And so he had, giving Alec an apologetic smile. He had said he would touch base with him again, throwing down some bills before he’d left.

Well, to Sebastian’s credit, he had thrown down more than enough money to cover both their meals.  So at least he was of the decent and considerate sort.

So he hadn’t called the week after the date, or the following week…

But he had called last week.  And the apology seemed really genuine…

Alec decided he would sleep on it – what was a few more days? -- and then decide.

Alrighty then. 

And with that, he started to change out of his clothing, heading into the shower.

****************

Washington Square Park, a few days later, sometime in the afternoon.

“So, tell me, Ragnor – who do you think Alec Lightwood’s type is?” Magnus said idly. 

He and Ragnor were sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park, watching skateboarders fly across the square with unbridled ease, and pigeons scattering about.  In the center, under the Arch, there was a local band playing some kind of indie rock that Magnus didn’t recognize. 

This was very common in this area, as it was known for many an unknown artist to come to New York City  and play in the local bars, and even here, right in the park, and try their luck toward seeking fame and fortune.

“That’s an interesting question.  Why do you ask?” Ragnor asked contemplatively.

In his lap, Ragnor had a bag of bread crumbs that he had brought from home.  Magnus smiled at that; sentimental Ragnor loved to feed the birds in the winter – he was always worried that they wouldn’t be able to find food.  Magnus just didn’t have the heart to tell him that pigeons never needed to worry about starving, especially in the city…

Still, Magnus smiled when the pigeons came over to investigate, and then to eat the bread scraps by their feet.

“Oh, because Alec asked me to set him up with some people.  He wants to get out there again,” he said nonchalantly. “But I’ve set him up with all different types of people, from all walks of life, and so far no one has worked out.  And I don’t know why.”

“Well, what type of person do you think is his type?” Ragnor asked, now looking at Magnus intently.

Magnus shrugged. “Actually, I wouldn’t know,” he said. “All I know is that whoever I’ve set him up with, it has never worked out.”

“Hm, how about someone like you?”

Magnus looked at Ragnor, surprised by that answer. “Huh?” he asked blankly.  

There was wind rushing through his ears for a second, and he felt lightheaded.   Then – just as quickly -- he came back to his senses.  

Oh right, someone like himself – personality-wise etc, that’s what Ragnor meant..

For a second there, it had nearly sounded like Ragnor was saying...

Magnus shook his head.  What a crazy notion…

“Uh, no. Alec doesn’t take flirty people seriously, and he definitely isn’t into high maintenance,” he said slowly. “Otherwise I have tons of friends I could set him up with...”

Ragnor looked at Magnus. “Is that honestly how you view yourself?” he asked carefully.

Magnus shrugged. “I know it’s people’s first impression of me.  And I’m fine with that. But anyway, that’s definitely not Alec’s type,” he said firmly.

“And yet, you two are best friends.  So how exactly did that happen?” Ragnor persisted.

“Oh, that?” Magnus said. “He was at Pandemonium, being pawed at by someone horrible. I ripped that guy off of him, and then brought him back to his apartment and took care of him.  He was in real bad shape, and still shellshocked by what had happened to him.  We ended up talking.”  He smiled at that memory.

“So you don’t think someone with those qualities would appeal to Alec as a potential boyfriend?” Ragnor asked.

“I suppose,” Magnus mused idly. 

Wait, he thought, backtracking to what Ragnor said.

“Alec’s not looking for a boyfriend,” Magnus said thoughtfully.

“Uh, he’s asking you to set him up with someone.  Surely, you’d think that if it were to go well, the guy would eventually become his boyfriend?” Ragnor asked.

A silence followed, as Magnus considered Ragnor’s words. “Well, you’re right,” he conceded. “I just never thought of it that way.”

They were both silent after that.  When they did talk again, it was about lighter topics, and other miscellaneous small talk. And then they decided to go get an early dinner together.

Magnus could think about gathering data for Alec’s prospects later. He just didn’t feel like dwelling upon it right at this moment.

……

Brooklyn

Alec was staring at the slip of paper in his hand.  On it, he had written Sebastian’s number that he had gotten from the voicemail message. 

He stared at it some more. He could feel his heart beat rapidly in his chest.

Did he dare do this? Did he dare call Sebastian, out of the blue?  Take this first step toward whatever this could be?

It could end up nothing, he mused.  Or, this could be the beginning of something brand new.  Something to put this year on the map.  To finally bring Alec Lightwood into his own.

And to make Alec Lightwood forget about things that were just damn well improbable.  No one should be sitting around – waiting for things that could never be. Or shouldn’t be.

He took a deep breath, holding the slip of paper in his hand.  Then he reached for the phone and dialed the number quickly, before he had a chance to change his mind.

Chill, Alec, chill, he thought to himself, as the phone rang. Once, Twice, Three times…

Then there was a click, and a deep voice saying, “Hello?” into the receiver.

“Can I speak to Sebastian Verlac?” Alec said, trying to keep his voice as calm and even as possible, despite his heart pounding in his chest.

“Speaking. Who’s this?” the voice asked on the other end.

“This is Alec Lightwood,” he said, his voice trembling slightly. “I, ah, got your message on my machine, and –”

“Oh my god. Alec Lightwood?! Oh, wow.” The deep voice sounded happy. “How are you?  And yea, I left that crazy message on your machine. God, I was kicking myself afterwards, I probably sounded crazy, rambling on like that.  Anyway, wow, I wasn’t sure if I would get a call from you.”

Alec had to grin, upon hearing the way Sebastian was rambling.  It was kinda…adorable.

“How was your holidays? Hope they went well,” Sebastian continued breathlessly.

“They were alright,” Alec said nonchalantly.  He took the phone and walked over to the couch to sit, leaning against the armrest. “How was yours?”

Sebastian’s rich laughter filled the receiver. “Good, good. Even better now, though, now that I’m talking with you.” 

Alec smiled into the receiver.  That did feel kinda good, to have someone say that to him…

“You know,” Sebastian continued in that same tone, “I just kept thinking about how weird that date ended, you know.  And then I was thinking, well, it’s going to be a new year. What do I have to lose, you know?”

Alec chuckled. “Well, that’s kinda the reason why I’m calling,” he said. “I was wondering if you wanted to meet up for a drink or something, sometime.”

“Oh, really?  Wow that would be great, Alec,” Sebastian said sincerely.  “Well, I think I’m free on Thursday next week, if that works for you. Or I can give you other times…?”

Hmm, Alec thought, the wheels turning in his head. Thursdays he would normally meet Magnus for Happy Hour at the usual pool hall or a bar. 

But, his mind reasoned, this was not just a meetup.  This was a date

And dates…well they were a different situation entirely.  He could always do Happy Hour some other week.  There was no reason to move the date for that.  Magnus would understand…

“Thursday sounds great!” Alec said enthusiastically. “Are there any places in mind you would want to go?  I’m pretty open.”

Right, Thursday, he thought, giving himself a mental reminder to tell Magnus that something came up on Thursday…

“Hmm,” Sebastian said. “I can come up with something.  Hmm…actually, now that I think about it -- there is this one spot that I’ve been dying to go, it’s kinda fun and the food is great.  My  sister works there sometimes, and she’s been asking me to come by.  How does that sound?”

“Sounds great so far. I’m down,” Alec agreed. 

Now he was getting excited about having this in his plans for next week.  Alec, being spontaneous, on his own for once, he thought.

He grinned. He certainly liked how that sounded…

“Great!” Sebastian said happily. “So we will talk.  But other than that, I’m really looking forward to Thursday, Alec. Can’t wait to see you again.”

“Alright then, I’ll talk to you soon, and we can finalize things closer to Thursday,” Alec said, grinning widely into the phone. “Bye, Sebastian.”

“Bye, Alec,” Sebastian said, before hanging up.

Alec carefully placed the phone receiver back in the cradle on the side table. And just sat there on the couch, smiling.

He just couldn’t stop smiling.

He had a date next Thursday.  And Sebastian actually sounded decent.  Not only that, he sounded thrilled that Alec had called him back, happy to be seeing him again, to be given a second chance.

Maybe this year would pan out after all. 

Out with the old, and crazy thoughts of impossibility. He felt a tug at his heart, but then willed it away.

Hello, to new things, perhaps even some leading to potential happiness.

He couldn’t wait…

 

Chapter Text

Rodeo Bar, Uptown NYC

“So what do you think of the place?” Sebastian said in a loud voice to Alec, trying to make himself heard above the crowd. 

The place that Sebastian had chosen for their date – Rodeo Bar -- just happened to be one of the new hot spots in the city. 

Which was really to their disadvantage, because that meant that everyone and their mother decided that they wanted to see and be seen at this spot at any given night, and that it would be relentless going into the next few months, if word of mouth continued to keep this place trendy. 

Besides its expansive space and 3 bars on the floor, it boasted a great happy hour with a huge menu of exotic beers, cocktails and food.

But the bar's main attraction, drawing everyone to this spot was their mechanical bull, situated right on the stage in the center of the bar --  everyone wanted a chance to ride it. 

“Seems really popular,” Alec remarked, looking around.  In some areas, people were packed like sardines.  “I guess it’s good that your sister works here, so we got to cut the line…”

Sebastian had exchanged some words with the bouncer, and after taking a look at both Sebastian and Alec – who had looked away due to being self conscious at being scoped out – the bouncer had shrugged. “Two hotties, coming through,” he had said into the walkie-talkie, and they had been ushered into the bar and the sea of bodies currently moving about.  

Sebastian had quickly located a nook not far from the main bar and the stage, and had pulled Alec into it with him.  They had been nearly nose to nose, so close that Alec could see the flakes of gold in Sebastian’s green-gray eyes.

Sebastian grinned, a dimple showing up on his left cheek. “Oh hell yea,” he said. “That’s the only reason where I would come to a place like this.  Otherwise, forget it, you know?” he said giddily. 

Alec felt Sebastian’s eyes rove over his outfit for the night, a dark navy button down shirt with blue jeans and tan Timberlands.  “You look hot, tonight, Alec, but I think I’ve already said that a million times,” Sebastian said.  He smiled. “I am so glad that you called me back,” he said reverently. And the way that Sebastian sounded made Alec feel warm all over. He flushed.

“I’m glad I did, too,” Alec said huskily.

Suddenly the crowd seemed to wane, at least by the main bar.  “Look, there’s our chance!” Sebastian yelled happily as he pulled Alec toward the bar. Alec nearly stumbled, but kept his footing.  Despite it all, he couldn’t help grinning widely.  Sebastian was just so…fun! 

"Don't you love how this bar is right by the stage?" Sebastian said, giddily.  "So we get to watch the bull riding action up front!" 

Alec grinned at Sebastian's enthusiam.

They both ordered quickly, and soon a pair of beers and a shot were being handed to them.  Irish car bombs.

“Love these,” Sebastian said, as Alec took his in hand. “A toast,” Sebastian said. “To taking chances.”  His eyes never left Alec’s face. 

Wow that was hot, Alec thought.  He gulped.  “To taking chances,” he said, hoping his voice didn’t tremble.  He smiled at Sebastian, who smiled back at him.  Together they dropped the shot into the beer, and downed it simultaneously.

Alec exhaled deeply. “Wow, not bad,” he admitted.

“See, what did I tell you?” Sebastian said happily.

The two started talking animatedly about this, and about that.  Alec told him about working as a copy-editor for a publishing company, and Sebastian was telling Alec about his position as a commis chef at Blue Water Grill by 14th Street and Broadway.

“Oh my god, you’re a chef?  That’s so awesome.  I love food,” Alec said giddily.  He was getting tipsy already.

Sebastian laughed. “It’s really not all that glamourous.  I still need to report to the sous chef and the head chef, and let me tell you, they are practically slave drivers.  I’m at the lowest on the hierarchy, I still need to do clean up and all the other stuff, while they just end up going home!” 

“Aw, you poor baby!” Alec empathized, suddenly bursting into giggles.

Sebastian looked surprised, and then he grinned, bopping Alec on the nose with his finger.  “God you’re adorable,” he said affectionately.  Alec beamed. 

Sebastian then moved a bit closer to Alec, and put his hand on his forearm.  His hands were warm and tingly against Alec’s skin.

“Anyway, you should totally stop by the place where I work, I’d totally make a personalized meal just for you,” Sebastian said. He started running his fingers lightly along Alec’s forearm.

Alec felt a shiver go down his spine at Sebastian’s touch.  He grinned, a flush across his cheeks. “I totally should, that sounds great,” he murmured, moving closer to Sebastian. 

He was on cloud nine…

“C’mon!  You, blue-eyes, you go!” the bartender yelled. “Ride that bull!”

What? Me? Alec thought, astounded.  But yea, the bartender was looking at him.

That’s so not like me… “Nah man, I’m good,” Alec said, shaking his head. 

“Now that’s an idea,” a happy voice sounded in his ear. Kinda tipsy, kinda cute…Sebastian.  Arms come around to hug him around the waist, squeezing him against his side in some playful, tipsy hug.  “Oh, you would look so hot up there,” he said, his breath hot, his lips close to Alec’s ear.  Tipsy or not, the combined effect gave Alec a thrill down his spine.

He downed his shot and then turned slightly to address Sebastian.  His green eyes were twinkling, and his long blond bangs falling across his gorgeous angular face.

“Soo…you think I should?” he murmured as if disclosing some secret.

Sebastian grinned. “Hey, why not?  You only live once, I say.  Besides, there’s no expectations – the current Guinness world record is 2minutes 4.49 seconds, so no big deal. And besides you will never see anyone here again, right?” he said lightly, shrugging.

“But what if I make a fool of myself? And what if you don’t want to go out with me again after I’m so horrible on it?” Alec pouted.

Sebastian laughed, his warm arms hugging Alec to his side again.

It felt really good..

“Oh my god, are you kidding?  I would find it so hot, you have no idea.  I could almost picture it, oh yeah.  I’d probably never let you get away,” he said, lowering his voice. 

And somehow – just somehow – that was the right thing to say.  Alec’s eyes flew to the mechanical bull in the center of that stage,

I’m going to do it, he thought, an insane giggle rising up in his chest.  He threw his head back and downed the other shot that was on the table.

“Count me in,” he said to the bartender.

The bartender’s face lit up, and he raised up his hand. “High five!” he yelled happily.

Alec looked at the hand, grinned, and smacked the guy's hand enthusiastically.

“Okay, I guess you’re next, then, blue-eyes!” the bartender stated.  “Just hold on and let me introduce you.  What’s your name?”

“Randy,” Sebastian cut in before Alec had a chance to speak.  Alec looked at him incredulously. What the ---

The bartender nodded. “Very cowboy-like.  I like it,” he said suggestively, as he went toward the stage.

Meanwhile, Alec was giving Sebastian an incredulous look. “Randy? Seriously?” he asked.

Sebastian grinned in a silly way and shrugged. “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time,” he said, then he pouted. “You don’t like it?”

Sebastian couldn’t have been any cuter at that moment if he tried.  “Okay, okay, but only because you’re so cute,” Alec teased, feeling brave.  “Hey, when I get off that bull, you owe me.”

“I do? Hmm, okay. Anything,” Sebastian said playfully. “Hmm…how about a kiss?”

Alec grinned. “Hmm, that could do,” he said, his cheeks reddening.

Suddenly Sebastian’s fingers were at the front of his button-down shirt.  “I think a few of these buttons need to go, Mr. Sexy Cowboy.  Better to look the part, eh, Randy?” he asked flirtatiously.

“Sounds good to me,” Alec said lightly.

“Hey, blue eyes, get up here!” the bartender suddenly bellowed from the stage.

“That’s your cue, good luck,” Sebastian whispered to Alec, which made him giggle.

“I’m doing this for you,” Alec shot back.

“Good,” Sebastian said, grinning.

Ah, that grin was beautiful.

Giving Sebastian one last look, Alec turned and ran up the steps toward the stage.

“And here is the fifth worthy competitor of the night!  Dare he tame this fine bull that we have here? “ the bartender’s deep baritone rang out to the rest of the bar. “Let’s hear it for blue-eyes here, Randyyyy!”

Alec stepped up, flashing a wide tipsy grin, cheeks slightly reddened. Well this is it, he thought.

“How you feeling today, Randy?” the bartender said into the microphone.

“Oh, I’m good. I feel real good,” Alec said in a lower tone of voice than usual. 

Several hoots could be heard from different places in the crowd.

“Wow seems like you have quite the admirers in the crowd tonight.  You gonna show them how its done, cowboy?” the bartender said, as he raised his arms to encourage the crowd to cheer more. 

“I guess so!” Alec said, laughing.  His nerves were all gone, and he had never felt so free in his life.  He was feeling great!

The bartender was walking around him, scrutinizing him very carefully.

“Hey!” Alec heard Sebastian shout. “Hands off, he’s mine.”

Alec turned to face him. “Yea,” he said. “You are…”  Sebastian’s beaming face just shot his ego up a zillion points.

“Actually, you’re missing something,” the bartender mused.  Then he took off the cowboy hat he was wearing, and plopped it on Alec’s head, half mushing down his wavy dark hair. “There. That’s perfect!”  he said.

Now Alec was really feeling giddy. He looked out at the crowd, as he felt himself get more tipsy, and everyone’s eyes were on him. For some reason this gave him a thrill unlike any other.  His adrenaline was sky high…

“Are you ready to ride?” The bartender yelled into the microphone, his eyes on Alec.

Alec looked back at him intently. “Hell yea!” he shouted, raising his fist and pumping it. 

He strode toward the intimidating looking contraption, and was about to go on.  Then he paused.  Hell, as long as he was going all out, why not go all the way? he thought, his blood singing with alcohol and adrenaline. 

He unbuttoned the rest of his shirt, leaving his chest exposed.  Then after the slightest hesitation, he threw his shirt into the crowd.  An even louder cheer rose from the crowd.

On the side, Sebastian was just staring, with his mouth half open, at Alec Lightwood.   He was a vision – and now he was shirtless. 

And boy, he was sure good to look at.  Shit…

“Let’s get this party started,” Alec proclaimed, as he got on the bull.

“Alright!  Get that music going!” the bartender yelled.  A second later the music started.

 

Step inside


Walk this way


You and me babe


Hey hey!

 

Ah, Pour Some Sugar on Me, by Def Leppard, Alec thought, already rocking his head to the beat.

PERFECT. 

Grabbing the bull at the harness, he felt the bull start to move, and rotate around slowly. 

Get ready, he thought.

 

Love is like a bomb, baby, c'mon get it on


Livin' like a lover with a radar phone


Lookin' like a tramp, like a video vamp


Demolition woman, can I be your man?

 

He threw his head back, and yelled joyously, surrendering to the music. As the bull started to buck in earnest, he held on for dear life…

…..

Earlier in the night…

"Oh my God, we are finally in here," Magnus complained, tugging his coworker Zach into the bar with him after getting stamped by the bouncer. The line outside had been atrocious and they had waited an hour to get in.

If it wasn't for the happy hour deals, the fabulous staff, and the fun atmosphere that this place had, he wouldn't even bother with the place. 

"It's a western theme? How quaint," Magnus's date muttered, looking around.

Magnus looked at him incredulously. "Uh, it's called Rodeo Bar, Zach...I'd hardly think it was anything else. Besides, you'll see why it's so popular real soon.” 

Magnus resisted the urge to roll his eyes right then and there. Sighing, he tugged at Zach’s shirt sleeve. “Anyway let’s get to the side bar and get shots, and then make our way to the main bar by the stage,” he said. 

Zach didn’t protest, just let Magnus drag him through the crowd until they were in front of the side bar. 

And then Magnus’s thoughts started wandering.

Sure, Zach was cute and all, and he knew Zach had been crushing on him like forever -- but he just wasn’t spontaneous.  And, judging from the scowl on his face, he just wasn’t getting the point of this place either.

But…Alec had cancelled Thursday happy hour plans on him – which he admittedly had come to depend upon.

They had never missed a Thursday, until now. 

Magnus figured he was probably tied up from work or something; otherwise he would never miss something so routine.

That was the thing about Alec – you knew you could always count on him to be there for you, to always lend an ear, to be compassionate – that’s why they were best friends.

He had been glad that he was able to bring him out a bit more from his shell since last March.

Yea, Zach was definitely not the type of guy he wanted to be with.

But alas, since his original plans had fallen through, that had seriously thrown him – and then he did not really look for a suitable replacement.

Which was why he was here with Zach. 

When he should actually be with someone – who exuded life, happiness, joy at being alive –

In the distance, Magnus could hear ppl whooping, the emcee was yelling as a young man wearing a half buttoned white shirt and jeans sauntered toward the bull.   

Obviously this guy had ventured to take on the mechanical bull in the center of the bar. That was the star attraction of this place, and the bar knew how to rile up the crowd to its max.

Hmm, now Magnus suddenly had an urge to get closer to the main attraction.

"Shit, it’s about to start soon," he said. With renewed vigor, he tightened his hold on Zach’s hand, and pulled him along, again.  Zach’s muffled “Hey!” in protest didn’t even faze him. 

He just had to get toward the front….

"Excuse me, s'cuse me, s'cuse me," he muttered, as they moved through the crowd.  At some point, Zach had let go of his hand, whether purposely or by accident.

Magnus didn't even notice.  All he cared about was that he was finally within viewing range of the stage. 

The mechanical bull had just started rotating, the music had just cranked up, and the guy riding it was now shirtless, one hand holding on for dear life, the other holding on to the cowboy hat perched on his head.

The guy threw his head back and let out a joyous yell -- and for some reason that sent a delicious shiver of anticipation down Magnus's spine.

There was nothing he loved more than seeing people living and loving life. And this guy had it in droves.  The chemistry he projected to the crowd was palpable, even from this distance. It shone about him like nothing else.

And the crowd was loving it.

His eyes roved over the guy’s muscular build, the smattering of chest hair over defined pecs, the way he arched his back while riding the bull – and, damn, he was fiiiiine – and damn, he sure knew how to ride that bull. 

45 seconds…and the guy was still on.

Magnus just couldn’t look away.  The guy was a vision…

The way he handled that bull, the way his muscles contracted and flexed as he fought to hold on…

The crowd’s cheers got louder, and the guy whooped even more loudly,. Shouting. “YEAAA!”

The whole effect was sexy, it was hot, and oh god, what was he even doing with Zach tonight.  He needed to be with someone --

Someone like that guy up there. 

He just couldn’t take his eyes off of him.  He was electric – and exuded sex like nothing else.

1 minute now..

Damn…Magnus’s mouth went dry.

He needed to catch the guy’s eye as he was riding – who knows what could happen. 

There was something to be said about instant chemistry and attraction, and the night that might even follow from such a meeting – it would be explosive ~!

Magnus shuddered at the thought, and closed his eyes to calm himself down.

The guy was glorious, a light sheen of sweat covering his muscular body. Back arching, and the way his body moved with the bull. 

1 minute and 15 seconds…

This was fucking incredible!  This guy was incredible.  And so hot!

And then the bull bucked upwardly, wildly.  The guy momentarily lost his balance, but managed to hold on.  The crowd cheered. But the guy lost his hold on his cowboy hat, and it flung out into the crowd, revealing his face.

The guy’s dark wavy hair was kinda matted, kinda sweaty, but his face flushed and victorious, and his blue eyes sparkled and shone, a wild look in his eyes.

Magnus froze where he was standing.

Holy shit, he thought, his heart suddenly pounding so hard he could barely breathe.

“Alexander?” he whispered, his eyes as big as saucers, too shocked to say any more.

He was too stunned to even move.

Chapter Text

Magnus couldn’t stop staring.  He was fixated.

Spellbound.

Even as part of his brain was fighting within himself – fighting against the surge of emotions and hormones singing in his veins.  

Alexander is your best friend. You’re not supposed to look at him like that.

And yet…

As Magnus continued to stare, absolutely speechless, at Alec's glorious body -- that's when Alec - oblivious to anything that was happening, was finally thrown off the bull.

The crowd gasped as he landed on the mattress a few feet away, placed there by the bar to cushion falls from the bull.

Alec was disoriented for a moment as he lay on the mattress.  Whoa, what happened?!

Then ---

...Wait. I did it! Alec thought, starting to grin. 

I can't believe I did it! 

Slowly he got up, first on one knee and then the other, and then he slowly rose up to a standing position. 

And the crowd went wild.

"Well," said the Emcee/bartender," that was quite the show wasn't it? Let's hear it for Randy!"

Alec blushed at all the attention. The spotlight was a bit too bright, a lot too glaring.

Suddenly Sebastian was in front of him. "Oh my God," he exclaimed. "You were amazing. So fucking sexy," he said 

Then he kissed him.

Around them, the crowd cheered even louder. 

Sounds of rushing wind rushed through Alec's ears as his eyes fell closed. Oh my God, now this was a kiss...

He felt Sebastian's mouth open against his, and his tongue start to probe into his mouth, as he pulled him closer. 

The cheering sounds of the crowd suddenly seemed to fade, and it was just Sebastian and him, together…

Alec was drowning, getting lost in this kiss…

  ...

Magnus was stunned, as he saw Alec’s date stake his claim on the stage in front of everyone. 

Sebastian?

His mind was racing. 

Hadn’t Alec already gone out with Sebastian around Thanksgiving, and it hadn’t worked out?  He recalled setting them up, but Alec had told him that they hadn’t worked out – that Sebastian pretty much bolted in the middle of dinner. Alec had told him that over a brunch of Eggs Benedict, strawberry jam on toast, and coffee – the Sunday following the date.

And yet…

The way these two were carrying on – it was as if they intimately knew one another…

Right, that was something Magnus definitely didn’t need a picture of, right about now.

Just then the couple on stage parted, still looking at one another, in rather loopy fashion. Still holding one another at arm’s length. 

Alec still seemed dazed, eyes unfocused and hooded, his hair in disarray, his cheeks flushed, and his lips parted, red from just being kissed. Strong images suddenly flooded Magnus’s head, of Alec in other rather compromising positions, with his head thrown back, and those bee-stung rosy red lips partly open as Magnus's mouth touched that glistening, smooth firm muscle…

wait, wait...NO!  Magnus thought, shocked at himself, and suddenly half-freaking out at the involuntary thoughts flooding his head. 

And damn if his body wasn’t reacting to it too…he could feel his blood quickening, and sensations building, esp south of his waist...

Holy shit, stop that --!!! NO NO NO NO NO

Magnus inhaled sharply.

Maybe if he moved now, he could just leave quietly ---

Sebastian, still smiling at Alec, turned to look at the front of the stage, and suddenly Magnus and Sebastian locked glances.

Magnus tried to duck, but Sebastian had already had that look of recognition on his face.

Fuck, too late...

“Magnus!” Sebastian said happily. “What a surprise to see you here!”

Next to Sebastian, Alec froze.  Did Sebastian just say, “Magnus?” 

Turning to the front of the stage, he saw him.  Magnus.  Who had an unreadable look on his face. 

“Magnus,” Alec said weakly. His emotions started crashing down…

They just stared at one another.  Dead silence.  It was the most uncomfortable silence ever.

Then, slowly, Magnus tilted his head, and his lips twisted into a smirk.

“Well,” he said airily, pretending not to care, “I guess this definitely beats Happy Hour at the pool hall, eh? By the way, nice skills up there, blue eyes. Although not exactly sure how you’re going to get home without a shirt...”

He gestured toward Alec's bare chest, muscles glistening with sweat.  Magnus found himself gazing at it for a little too long, and he quickly averted his eyes once again.  Oh my god, so not appropriate, Magnus, Stop it!

Alec flushed. Yea, he hadn’t thought that far, yet -- how was he going to get home without his shirt?!

Just then the bartender strode up to the stage, holding a wrinkled white shirt in his hands. “I believe this might be yours, cowboy,” he drawled.  His eyes roved over Alec’s chest and abs as he handed the shirt to him.

Magnus felt something flaring inside him as he watched the exchange.  He didn’t like it…

“Boy, Randy, you sure got it, alright,” the bartender drawled, as he stepped closer to Alec. “Listen, if things with your guy happen to fall through –”

“Uh, I’m right here?” Sebastian said good-naturedly. “But I totally feel you. I’m so lucky he gave me another chance.  Seriously, who would let this get away?”

Alec’s eyes focused back on the bartender and Sebastian, having heard the last part of their conversation.

“Uh, thanks?” he said uncertainly.

He flushed again. Sebastian was definitely a sweet-talker.  A bit over the top, but part of him admittedly liked it. A lot.

He took the shirt. “Thanks for finding it,” he said, suddenly feeling embarrassed, and a lot underdressed. “Not sure how I would have gotten home without it.”

The bartender looked at him incredulously. “Are you kidding me?” he whooped. “Trust me, you would have been home in no time, looking like that.  Sheesh, blondie, you are so lucky you get to go home with that!” 

The bartender proceeded to give Sebastian a high five, who giggled and returned it wholeheartedly.

Just then someone tapped Magnus on his shoulder, almost making him jump. Magnus whirled around.  “What the –”

It was Zach, holding two beers. “It took me forever to find you. Where did you go?” he asked, a confused look on his face.  His face was red, and he was huffing a bit, as if he had been searching for awhile.

Just then, Alec jumped down from the stage, grabbing Magnus by the forearm. “I didn’t know you were going to be here,” he blurted out.

Magnus looked at Alec. Then he pasted a smile on his face. “So, Sebastian, huh?” he asked in an overly sweet tone, "Well, well, I thought that little thing didn't work out the first time. I guess second times the charm, eh?" 

“Well, he called me last week,” Alec mumbled.

Magnus’s eyes were flinty, not usually a look directed at him.

Suddenly Alec was at a loss for words...

Then he started getting a bit impatient.  Why was Magnus acting like this?  He had a right to go out on a date, right?  Even if it meant breaking regular plans.  Anyway, it was only this one time – no need for Magnus to act all weird about it --

"But that's great. You needed to get out and have a life. You said so yourself,” Magnus added quickly. “I'm glad to see that you are.”

The sound of someone clearing his throat made both of them turn around. Zach was still there, with a slight look of impatience on his face. 

"I'm so sorry," Magnus said sweetly to Zach, who widened his eyes. “I wanted to take a closer look at the main event. But it's done now. Let's go over there. See you, Alec."

Magnus looked up to the stage where Sebastian had been watching intently. He nodded at Sebastian. “Hey, dude, good seeing you,” he said.

“Likewise,” Sebastian said, nodding in return.

Magnus smiled brightly at him as he slung an arm over Zach's shoulders, who turned and looked at him with surprise as they walked off.

Alec narrowed his eyes as he watched Magnus and Zach walk off together.

Sebastian jumped off the stage, and stood next to Alec.

“What was that all about?” Sebastian asked curiously. “And wow, didn’t expect Magnus to just show up like that.”

“Well, we usually have Happy Hour plans every Thursday, but I turned that down to go out with you,” Alec said distantly, his eyes still on the two retreating backs.

Sebastian didn’t say anything for a moment.

“Well,” he finally said slowly. “Do you regret it?”

At that, Alec turned to him. “Not one bit,” he said, with as much conviction as he could muster.

After all, he had needed to get out here, to date.  Everyone else was happy – so why couldn’t he go and search for happiness too?  And after all, it looked like Magnus was with someone now.  Zach – he was cute, and looked cleancut -- well, actually he didn’t really look like Magnus’s type, but people changed and tastes evolved.

It certainly looked like Magnus had evolved. And moved on.

He couldn’t help but feel just a bit wistful about that.

“Hey, you okay?” Sebastian asked. “You aren’t smiling.”

Alec willed his thoughts away. He was on a date tonight.  He didn’t need to bring the mood down.

He turned to Sebastian. “Kiss me. Again,” he said. 

Please, he thought pleadingly.

Sebastian’s eyes sparkled. Again, Alec grew warm to think that he affected Sebastian like that.

“With pleasure,” he murmured, as he leaned in, covering Alec’s mouth with his, pulling him close.

…..

Zach was currently talking to him, but Magnus just couldn’t look away from the stage.

Alec and Sebastian seemed to be at it again – making out, some serious tongue action going on, wrapped around one another…

“…and Bella at work was like, “There’s no way that’s the right photo! Well it turned out that the client had given us the wrong picture.  Thank goodness someone caught it.  That’s how lawsuits happen,” Zach was saying.

Magnus turned to look at Zach blankly.  Zach huffed, “Weren’t you listening to anything that I said?” he asked plaintively.

Magnus felt terrible.  Zach didn’t need to be treated this way. “I’m sorry,” Magnus murmured, suddenly abashed, still looking at them. “Just that’s my best friend, Alec, up there, and I’m not sure he knows what he’s getting into with Sebastian.” It was a little white lie, but Zach wouldn’t know any better…

“Aww,” Zach said softly. “That’s so great that you are so concerned for your friend. But for now, it doesn’t seem like you need to worry about him.”

A hand on Magnus’s cheek made him turn in surprise. “Maybe I can make you forget about all of that, what do you think?”  Zach’s face was suddenly very close to his.

Magnus’s eyes fluttered closed as he let Zach kiss him. 

And when Zach pulled him closer, licking into his mouth, he responded automatically.

His emotions were all up in turmoil.

“Ah,” Sebastian said, as he parted from Alec.  He motioned to the right of them. 

Alec turned to see Magnus kissing Zach, and it seemed to be getting deeper by the moment.

His heart clenched.

“Hm, he certainly doesn’t seem like Magnus’s type, does he?” Sebastian mused. “But then again, people can change, I suppose.”  There was a catch in his voice.

That made Alec turn to him. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“Well, I mean, I’m a prime example of how things can change,” Sebastian said. “I’m not too proud of it, but I used to be like him – Magnus. I didn’t want anything serious. And in fact, I did ask Magnus out, about two years ago – but neither one of us wanted anything serious, and Magnus is a great guy and all, but he wants to play the field.  And hey, it’s his right to want to do so. Some people just don’t want to ever settle down. But it’s different for me now –”

Sebastian…and Magnus?  Alec’s head spun.  Magnus had never told him about that before…

Sebastian looked at Alec with an intense gaze. 

“I like you, Alec.  A lot.  You are sweet, considerate, funny, and you surprised the hell out of me tonight.  You are an enigma.  I’m enjoying getting to know you.  I hope the feeling is mutual,” he said seriously, lifting a finger to Alec’s chin and lifting it upward so his green-gray eyes were looking into Alec’s blue ones.

Alec couldn’t help smiling at Sebastian’s words. “Yea, the feeling is mutual. But…” He trailed off, a bit hesitant.  Tonight was really, really fun. But things had escalated so quickly. 

And now he had experienced full make-out sessions with Sebastian while barely even knowing him.  He hadn’t expected the first date to end up like this.  He wasn’t sure if he wanted tonight to be set as a precedent for going forward.

“What is it, Alec?” Sebastian asked. 

Sebastian did seem concerned, and considerate…Alec shrugged helplessly. “It may have gotten a bit out of hand, with the atmosphere, and the drinking and stuff,” he said slowly. “Not that it wasn’t fun and all.  It really was, and I needed it…”  

“But, you want to slow down a bit. Is that what you are saying?” Sebastian asked gently.

Alec stared at him.  Wow, Sebastian was more insightful than he had given him credit for.

“Ah, yea,” Alec said, feeling a bit more relieved. “I haven’t had much experience in the dating department, and – well, I guess I do now, don’t I?”  He laughed nervously, running his hand through his hair. 

A slow grin appeared on Sebastian’s face.  Alec was so unreal…honest, genuine.  The real article…

“Wow,” he breathed. “I would never have guessed. But hey, I guess that’s why you appear so genuine.  It’s not a bad thing at all by any means, and I feel honored that you even took the initiative to call me back. I don’t mind at all.”

Sebastian then reached over to take Alec’s hand, lacing their fingers together and giving it a small squeeze.

“Okay, brain – wild eyed, sexy, shirtless Cowboy – being erased at this very minute,” Sebastian said, in as serious of a tone as he could muster while chuckling.

Alec laughed, nudging Sebastian in the ribs. “No, no. You don’t need to go that far,” he protested. “I mean, it’s good.  I do need to loosen up a little.  Maybe a lot. You’ve helped me a lot already.”

He looked at Sebastian affectionately. “It’s a positive thing.  I have a feeling you will be really good for me,” he said honestly, his blue eyes looking into Sebastian’s green-gray ones.

Sebastian’s eyes crinkled. “I’m glad,” he said.

“Listen, you want to get out of here?” Sebastian asked. “I mean, to hit up some other place, or maybe I can take you back if you’re tired or anything.  Nothing else, promise.”

Alec’s eyes flickered over slightly. Magnus was still with Zach, and they were still going at it. 

“Sure,” he said, “Let’s get out of here.”

….

From where Magnus was, with Zach’s hands in his hair and his mouth on his, he faintly saw the two men leave the bar.  He finally pulled away slightly with Zach’s lips chasing his. 

He hadn’t meant for the kiss to get that far.

Not that Zach wasn’t a decent kisser.  In fact, he had surprised him by being much better than he had anticipated. But still…

“What is it, Magnus?” he asked softly.

“You’re not feeling this place, are you?” Magnus said, looking directly into Zach’s eyes.  They were soft brown, and they looked empathetic.

Zach shrugged. “Well, you seem to like it, so it’s all good,” he said. “I don’t mind. I’m just not a fan of super-hyped up places. I’m more of a café type of guy, like the ones in the Village or Little Italy.”

Magnus suddenly felt a burst of inspiration. “You want to leave this joint and hit up one of those cafes? The night’s still young after all.  Do you have a favorite in mind?” he asked.

Zach thought a minute, scrunching up his face slightly. It reminded Magnus of a little kid.  He couldn’t help smiling at that.

“Actually, Café Mona Lisa on Bleecker and 7th Avenue South – they have these coffees in those huge café au lait cups, and awesome velvet armchairs that look like thrones, and chenille couches for everyone to sit on. Their tiramisu is pretty damn good too.” Zach’s eyes were now dancing with enthusiasm. “They sometimes have local artists walk in impromptu and start playing guitar or some even have their own bands with them already. But then again, I’m probably biased, since I dabble with guitar from time to time…”

This time, Magnus really looked at him. “Really,” Magnus stated. “You play?”

Zach shrugged. "Just a little.  In my spare time.  I'm also trying to write, too.  Nothing big, though," he said, modestly, his cheeks pink.    

Hmm, well, Zach was certainly full of surprises.  Magnus hadn’t expected that out of him.  The way he would come to work, so quiet, not really into conversation much, dressed very casually – but then again many a musician was that way as well.  And Magnus had a soft spot for musicians and their craft, since he used to play back when he was in college back at the University at Illnois.  He somehow didn't have time for it anymore, and it was kinda sad, now that he thought about it.  Maybe he would try to pick it up again, sometime soon. 

Anyway, being a musician was admirable, it took discipline, and Magnus had always been a goner for men skilled and focused in anything, but especially in art and music –

Magnus found himself gazing at Zach with new eyes.  He was intrigued. 

Suddenly Zach was looking better than before -- as a potential.  Well, and the way Zach looked at him at the moment, like Magnus hung the moon and the stars -- well, that was certainly a plus too. 

“Wow," Magnus said. "That sounds amazing.  I'd love to hear more about your music.  And  I absolutely adore tiramisu. I don’t mind heading there. You down?” Magnus asked, getting up from his seat and offering his hand.

Zach blinked, looking up at Magnus before looking at his outstretched hand. It was obvious he hadn't expected Magnus to take him up on his offer.

A lock of his brown hair had fallen into his eyes and he moved it aside with one hand.

“Oh, you do want to go? Yea, I mean, wow -- that’s so great. Let’s go.  You’re going to love that place, I swear,” Zach said, eagerly getting up from his seat.  His face was flushed, and he looked happy.  Magnus couldn't help smiling at that.

Zach looked down at Magnus's offered hand, hesitated for only a second before putting his hand in Magnus’s. 

Magnus smiled at him as they laced fingers together.

Well, it wasn’t a bad way to spend an evening, that’s for sure. 

And he did love coffee and tiramisu.

Chapter Text

Magnus collapsed onto his couch after getting home, a rueful twist upon his lips as he recollected the events of the night that had just occurred.

Boy, what a night that had been. 

Not even allowing himself to even think about what happened at the Rodeo Bar --

Lest the fact that not only had his best friend ditched him for a date –

Well - okay, granted, sometimes things like that did happen –

But, no, hardly any turned out to be the eligible bachelor working the moves center stage...

Creating all sorts of awkward feelings that he didn’t know what to do with...

 

RIGHT, NO, HE'S NOT GOING TO THINK ABOUT THAT AT ALL --

 

Instead, even more weirdness occurred later that night, as he and Zach had them ending up at the café in the Village.

It was actually a pretty good time.  Zach was infinitely much more relaxed, and interesting when in his element.

Sitting on the plush armchair with a cappuccino in a cup the size of a soup bowl –

Not to mention the boy had nearly fainted, when Magnus inadvertently learned in to wipe some whipped cream off the tip of his nose

Magnus chuckled.  Some things were just too cute –

And then – who should saunter in, but Ragnor.  

And it wasn't Magnus who had spotted him, since he was sitting with his back to the cafe entrance --

But it had been Zach, who jumped up, "Hey, Ragnor!" 

Oh, so cheerfully and familiar --

Magnus immediately stiffened with surprise.

And then in the blink of an eye, Ragnor made it to their tables, shaking hands with Zach, with his back still to him.

Ragnor was Zach's cousin.  Of all the people to end up inviting to go out

In a city of 8.3 million…

Magnus’s eyes widened with every minute as he watched the exchange of pleasantries and hugs.  

He wanted to sink into the back of the velvet chair he was currently sitting in – and disappear.

And as Zach began to gesture to Ragnor enthusiastically, pointing out Magnus in the seat across from him – well, that was when Ragnor had turned --

“Oh, I wanted to introduce you to someone,” Zach said enthusiastically, almost tripping over himself to cross over to Magnus. 

Ragnor turned, and they locked glances.

The absolute irony of all of this was not lost on both of them.

“Magnus,” Ragnor said, raking an eyebrow.

“Ragnor,” Magnus offered weakly.

Ugh, he was usually prepared for these type of encounters with his typical lines.  But right now, all thoughts had flown out of his head, leaving him absolutely flabbergasted. 

Meanwhile, Zach sat there, again being the odd one out, and  looking absolutely lost.

“Wait, you two know each other?” Zach asked, completely surprised.

“In a manner of speaking,” Ragnor quipped, smirking. “Anyway, isn’t it Thursday? Aren’t you supposed to be  with your better half, Magnus? I’m rather surprised to see you here, with Zach.”

He paused, and then spoke again, now with a full-on smirk on his face, “Well, I’ll say this for you. One, it’s a small world.  And two, you sure know how to pick ‘em.”

Magnus stiffened.  He just stared at Ragnor with knitted brows, getting more confused by the minute.  Wasn’t that…just a bit rude, talking about Zach that way?

“Oh, cousin Ragnor,” Zach laughed, punching him in the shoulder, “Stop teasing.”

“Zach and I work in the same company and decided to hang out tonight,” Magnus said slowly.  “Anyway –”

“Ohhhh -  better half, you meant his best friend, Alec, right?” Zach interjected.

Magnus blinked.  Uh he didn’t’ want to talk about Alec right now….

“You should have seen Alec, Ragnor,” Zach said enthusiastically, “He got on the mechanical bull, threw off the shirt he was wearing, and was holding onto the bull and his cowboy hat while riding the bull.  And he was good!  Wasn’t he, Magnus?  That’s why you pushed through the crowd to get to the front, right Magnus?”

By now, Magnus’s face was warm, possibly pink, and he was feeling really uncomfortable.

“Uh, he was alright,” Magnus mumbled. “Didn’t know it was him until his hat flew off.”

He saw Ragnor narrow his eyes as he looked at him contemplatively.  Magnus suddenly felt like Ragnor could see right through him.  He didn’t like that…

Ragnor then cleared his throat, rather conspicuously.

Trying to save face, Magnus just rolled his eyes at him.  “Yea, well, Alec ditched me for a date –”

“Alec’s date was hot!” Zach blubbered.  Magnus flinched at the mention of Sebastian. He looked away.

“Oh my god, Magnus, I’m sorry, Zach said apologetically.  He put an arm around Magnus, hugging him close to him. “I mean, you know, if you like the blond, green eyed type. You are so much hotter.”

Obviously Zach had misinterpreted Magnus’s reaction as envy or jealousy  “But anyway,” Zach continued, turning to Ragnor, “The guy jumped up on stage and kissed Alec after he got thrown off the bull.  It was so crazy!”

“Oh, did he,” Ragnor said, raking an eyebrow.  Magnus couldn’t help but feel as if Ragnor was examining his every reaction.

Magnus tried to change the subject. “Anyway, enough about talking about Alec, he’s on a date, and they obviously are into each other,” he said. “I’m happy for them.”

“Yes, that’s great for Alec,” Ragnor agreed. “He’s a great guy.  Someone was bound to notice, sooner or later.”

Magnus flinched involuntarily. God he needed to stop doing that!  He saw Ragnor looking his way again, inquisitively. 

Zach and Ragnor made small talk for a bit longer .Then Ragnor looked at his watch.

“Well, this has been entertaining, but I really need to get going. Or else Catarina will be wondering where I am.  She has the night off tonight,” Ragnor said. “Anyway, you kids have fun!  Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” 

He threw them both a wink.

Zach turned pink. “Uh, we’re only a few years apart!” he protested. “And, uh, stop it.”

Ragnor turned to Magnus. “Good seeing you as always, Magnus, it was definitely a surprise running into you tonight. I look forward to our next conversation.  I’ll call you,” he said, his lips twisting into a smirk. 

“Sure,” Magnus said weakly.

Ragnor continued looking at Magnus.  Then he leaned in to say something to Zach, who nodded. 

Turning back to Magnus, Ragnor motioned for him to come over to the hallway next to the dining area.

Wordlessly, Magnus followed him a few feet away to the short hallway, by the pay phones and the bathroom.

Ragnor looked at him carefully. “Magnus, “ he said, “You sure you’re alright?”

Ragnor sounded concerned.  “You’re acting a bit off tonight…usually you’d be all flirty and everything. Sorry if I’m joking too much, I know sometimes I get on people’s nerves.”

Magnus pasted on a smile. “Nothing’s wrong, darling,” he said, making an effort to front. “Just feeling a bit tired right now. And no, you’re fine.  Thanks for asking though.”

“You sure?”  Ragnor didn’t seem to want to let up.  Nor did he seem convinced.  “Well, okay then,” he said slowly.  “I’ll definitely going to call you sometime during the week, and if you feel like talking then, I’m all ears. I just wanted you to know that.”

“Thanks, you’re the best, darling,” Magnus said, with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.  He gave Ragnor a quick hug.

Together they walked back to where Zach was sitting.  

Immediately Zach jumped up from his seat to acknowledge them. “Is everything okay?” he asked anxiously.

“Oh, things are fine,” Magnus said quickly. “Ragnor thought I looked a little tired and was checking up on me..”

Zach’s face grew even more anxious looking. “Oh, you are?  Do you want me to take you back home then?” he asked quickly.

Magnus smiled at Zach. “No, no need for that. We can just sit and hang for awhile if you want, I don’t mind,” he said. 

“Oh.  Okay, then, if you’re sure,” Zach said, visibly relaxed. He sat back down again.

Zach was really sweet, if anything, Magnus thought.  He leaned over to ruffle his hair.

“Okay, then, as long as you’re good, Magnus – then I’m going to take my leave,” Ragnor said, smiling. “Zach, see you again sometime?  Magnus.” 

“Sure, Ragnor,” Magnus said, smiling. “Thanks.”

Ragnor waved, and then walked out of the café.

“Wow, of all the crazy things to happen, running into my cousin tonight,” Zach exclaimed.

“Yea, totally,” Magnus said, shaking his head.  Of all the things…

…………………

After relaxing on his couch for a little bit, Magnus noticed that the answering machine was blinking.  He had kept it on silent, that’s why he didn’t hear it. He turned the volume up. 

There was one from tonight.  “Hey, Magnus…”   

It was Alec. Magnus froze upon hearing his voice. How had he never noticed how nice Alec’s voice sounded.

“Sorry about not telling you that I had a date with Sebastian for tonight – I didn’t think we would run into each other like that.  Kinda crazy, eh? I can’t believe I rode that thing, I was freaking out, really…” 

At this point, Magnus smiled.  He could picture Alec with a sheepish look on his face, probably running his fingers nervously through his hair.

 “I mean, I figured that .I already told you that I couldn’t make it to Happy Hour on Thursday, so it wouldn’t’ matter what my other plans were.  But the more I think about it,. that was just not cool on my part. I guess I need to be better about that eh?  I mean, we are best friends, and I should want to tell you everything, and the same with you.  Be supportive and everything. Well, at least I always try to be.”

Alec’s voice had softened toward the end of the sentence, with  a slight catch in Alec’s voice. 

Magnus wondered if that was because Sebastian was currently over Alec’s place, or whatever the situation was. Ugh, definitely didn’t like that thought, either.

“Anyway, I’m not sure if you are hanging out late with that guy you were with, or what.  I guess call me, sometime, if you get a chance, okay?”  Alec’s voice started to come out a little awkward when it got to this part of the message.

Magnus started feeling bad for how he spoke with him earlier.

I’m going to call him, Magnus thought, pushing down any awkwardness he might have felt earlier. 

He dialed Alec’s number.

“Hello?” a tired voice answered. Magnus’s voice caught in his throat.  He found himself smiling into the phone.

“Alexander,” Magnus said.

“Oh, Magnus,” Alec said, sounding surprised. “You’re home right now? Already?”

“Yea, I am.  Just came back from a café in the Village,” Magnus said.  “We just hung out for a little bit after that.  Then we left.  I was getting a bit tired.”

There was a moment of silence.

“Anyway, I got your message, Alexander . And I need to apologize for what I said earlier at the bar.  Of course it’s your life, and I know you’ve been wanting to meet someone.  I just didn’t expect to see Sebastian, especially since the date didn’t go well the first time,” Magnus said, all in a rush.  “But anyway, Sebastian is a good guy –”

“Yes, he is,” Alec interjected.  Ah, Magnus hadn’t expected Alec to confirm it, just like that.  “And he also told me, that you two were seeing each other in the past.”

Oh. “He did?” Magnus asked.  Talking about exes, already?  Hmm.

“Yea,” Alec said slowly.  “It didn’t really bother me, all that much, just that you hadn’t mentioned it before.”

“Yea, well, it was a short thing, what we had, and then we were friends again,” Magnus said thoughtfully. “It just totally went out of my head, when I was talking to Sebastian and setting up the initial blind date with you back in Thanksgiving, he was just a regular friend to me – I guess in  that case, things ended well and there’s really no awkwardness.” 

Well there could be potentially be awkwardness now, but Magnus was not about to tell Alec that.

“Well, I’m glad you are still friends.  Things like this could potentially ruin a friendship if things go sour,” Alec said, his voice sounding a bit odd.  Magnus inhaled sharply, holding the receiver next to his ear.  Yea, you’re telling me, he thought, closing his eyes.  His emotions had started up again, silly silly emotions. See? His brain thought.  Even more reason to not say anything. 

If anything, this was just some fluke, a passing thing, these feelings.... It would be gone in the morning, or in a day or so, and –

“Hmm, any time on your schedule for dinner sometime?” he blurted out before he realized what he was saying.

“You know, just to talk,”  he added.  Oh god, Magnus thought immediately, wincing.  sounded so much worse than it was…

Now what made me suggest, dinner? he wondered. He hadn’t meant to offer up the invite.

And, no, he hadn’t meant for it to sound like that!  Shit shit shit!  He just wanted to hang out...

Or, do you?  His mind asked.  Magnus had no clear cut answers right now. 

He backtracked quickly. “Ah, you know, if you have time or if you’re up to it. After all, you gotta eat, right?  Nothing big, maybe grabbing a burger at Corner Bistro, sushi at Sushi Park  or even Pomme Frites on 2nd Avenue – totally up for anything.  You know, we normally do have brunch but we can totally switch up from time to time, right --

Magnus was rambling now -- even as his brain told him to stop it --

There was silence on the other line. 

Magnus wondered how Alec had taken it.  His heart was beating so erratically right now, it wasn’t funny…

Magnus heard Alec clear his throat on the other end. 

“Dinner?  Ah, yea, sure, Magnus. Sounds good.  Of course I'm up for it.  Totally down for anything, we can decide day of.  Just tell me when,” Alec said, in the same odd tone of voice.

Magnus drew a blank just then. “Uh, probably sometime during the week, I actually haven’t thought about the exact day, “he said, now kicking himself for even suggesting it.  He must sound like such an idiot to Alec right now.

Alec didn’t seem to notice.  “Hey, no prob,” he said. “Just let me know. I’m all yours.”

“S-Sure,” Magnus said, relieved. “Anyway it’s getting late so I should let you go.  I’m glad we got a chance to chat.”

“Yea, me too,” Alec said, sounding as if he was relieved as well.

Ugh, this whole conversation was ending way too awkward…

So, blue eyes,” Magnus added, half-heartedly attempting to make his voice sound light, “So when were you going to tell me you had such bull riding skills?”

“Uh, beats me,” Alec said, sounding dumbfounded himself. “I guess I must be a natural?” 

The sentence was said in all innocence, and without pretense or arrogance. 

However, upon hearing Alec’s answer, Magnus started getting weird feelings in his gut, and all of a sudden he couldn’t breathe.

“Yea, I guess you must be....Anyway I’ll talk to you later, okay?  Bye, Alexander,” Magnus said as quickly as he could, slightly choking at the end of his sentence.   He needed to get off the phone that instant…. 

He waited for Alec to return the goodbye, and he hung up the phone, his cheeks now flaming.

Shit.

Chapter Text

Two weeks later, Ogilvy Advertising Agency

 

Magnus was at work at Ogilvy, sitting in his chair in his open cubicle area, with his feet laid up on the table.  

Absentmindedly, he twirled his fountain pen on his fingers as he drummed his fingers on the table, as the client was saying something through the conference phone.  

He really should be listening to everything the client was saying, but right now the client was just running off about personal things. 

And if there were important things regarding the latest campaign in that conversation, well these calls were all recorded – with the client’s knowledge of course – in case they needed to refer back to the client’s feedback.’

He ought to be better about things – he knew he should.  

And normally he was.

But today, he knew he had been off all day. 

Even Zach had noticed earlier, when he had passed by the office, while running proofs between departments.  

Magnus had been deep in looking over copy for a few campaigns.

“Hey,” Zach said, poking his head in and smiling affectionately at him.  “Busy day today?  I hardly got to see your handsome self today,” he said, pouting slightly.

True, it was hectic today. Magnus made a face.  

“Yea, sorry about missing our usual coffee break, Zach, people needed me in calls today,” he said apologetically.

“Poor you,” Zach commiserated.  “Oh by the way, you up for drinks with the crew tonight?”  

Zach was referring to heading out with some workers to a sports bar after work – the usual sports bar just down the Avenue.

“Oh, I’m meeting Alec for dinner tonight,” Magnus said quickly, “So sorry ---”

“Right, I remember you talking about that, I just didn’t know if you set up an actual date and time for it,” Zach said pleasantly.

Tonight was his dinner with Alec.

Well, after he managed to  call him back with a date and time.  

He nearly didn’t --  

Well, not that it was a big deal or anything.  It was just dinnerBut still…

It was a major reason why he had been distracted all day. 

His nerves were at an all-time high, for reasons he couldn't state...

“Yea, I didn’t think I’d be able to schedule something concrete this week, either – given the workweek we’ve had,” Magnus admitted.  “But yea, that’s tonight.”

“Well, that’s nice,” Zach said, smiling. “Well, I’ll miss you tonight, but you go and have fun with Alec –”

Zach was about to turn and leave, and then Magnus felt a tug in his heart.  

For some reason, he suddenly felt really bad about leaving Zach to his own devices tonight…

“Wait,” Magnus said, motioning for Zach to come into the cubicle. “No need for you to stay all the way over there, you could have stepped in to chat.”

“Uh,” Zach said, somewhat at a loss for words, as he stepped in so he was next to Magnus. He bent down so his face was next to Magnus's ear.

“But you know, I thought we had to lay low about things,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper.

Magnus huffed.  “Well I’m sure one kiss isn’t going to cause any waves. Come here,” he said, grinning. 

The soft look in Zach’s eyes seemed to make his smile shine even more brilliantly. 

“You know what you do to me with that?” he murmured, leaning in to kiss Magnus softly on the lips.  Magnus smiled as he kissed Zach back. 

He was such a sweet person, and so considerate. 

And Magnus loved it whenever Zach would bring his guitar out with them to sit out in the park, and he would start playing and singing to him. 

It was a level of sweet and adoring he had never felt before. 

His thoughts were still on Zach playing the guitar, when Zach suddenly spoke, breaking into his reverie.  “Oh, I spoke with cousin Ragnor the other day. He had a message for you,” Zach said in all innocence.

Magnus’s eyes narrowed.  “Oh,” he asked, trying to make his voice light.  “Pray tell, what important thing does Ragnor have for me today?”

The fact that Ragnor asked Zach to pass on a message to Zach was borderline snarky on Ragnor’s part – Ragnor knew a lot more than he let on.  Magnus was sure of it. Ragnor always had this sixth sense that was bordering on infuriating at times, especially when it was inconveniencing, or embarrassing.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Zach shrugged modestly. “He just said to tell you to stop being so obtuse and that the truth shall set you free.  Or get things rolling, anyway.” Zach paused, furrowing his brow.  “I wonder what he meant by that –”

“Hey Zach!” Maria, one of the photographers said, upon seeing Zach in Magnus’s workspace. “You almost done? We are about to head over.”  She resumed walking down the hallway.

“Yea, sure,. I’m right behind ya!” Zach said cheerfully.  

He looked at Magnus apologetically.  “I gotta run.  But call me later?” he asked, leaning in for another kiss.

“Sure,” Magnus said, smiling. “Have a good time.”

“Say hi to Alec for me,” Zach said, smiling as he waved and walked out of the workspace.

Magnus watched Zach go, and shook his head with a smile.  Ah, Zach…

His smile faded somewhat, as the image of Alec entered his head.  And Ragnor’s words now flitted through his mind. 

“Stop being so obtuse and that the truth shall set you free.  Or get things rolling,” Ragnor said.  It hit closer to home than Magnus cared to admit.

Magnus rolled his eyes, suddenly tired of people hinting things.  Yea, what did Ragnor know?  He didn’t’ know anything.

He looked at his watch, the gleaming new Seiko that Alec had gifted him for Christmas. 

Almost an hour to go before meeting Alec at Sushi Park for sushi on 2nd Avenue.

Something random suddenly went through his head.

 “Look at that gift he got you.,” Imasu’s words from Christmas rang in his mind.

““To my best friend, the one I can’t live without.  Alexander,” Simon’s voice from that night also floated through his mind.

He paused for a moment, and then unhooked his watch and slid it off his wrist. Turning it to the back, he gazed upon the engraving – which had taken his breath away when he first glanced upon it.  So innocuous it was.  And yet ---

He found himself cradling the watch in one hand, while using his finger to trace along the engraving. 

To my best friend, the one I can’t live without.  Alexander.

He took a deep breath.  No, he was not going to think about it. 

He quickly put the watch back on and hooked it securely in place. 

There…

Then he sat back in his office chair, leaning back, and put his feet back on the table.  And despite himself, he thought about it.

His gaze happened to fall upon his shoes.  “You’re wearing Doc Martens.  Weren’t you more into Steve Maddens when we first met?” Imasu’s voice was saying.

What the – ugh why were these words coming back to haunt him? Magnus thought, getting annoyed.

Quickly he stood up from his chair.  Well, no reason to hang around here, if he was just going to idle around.  

Going outside for some air to kill time would be far better, he thought. 

Putting on his spring  leather bomber, he made his way out of the office as quickly as his legs would allow him.

***

Alec paced around the subway station platform at 34th Street, currently  waiting for the R train to come.

He figured that this would be a decent way to get to 2nd Avenue – the R train would take him directly to 8th Street, which would then land him fairly close to Sushi Park, where he and Magnus would be meeting up for dinner.

The train arrived fairly quickly.  The doors opened, and he stepped in and took a seater in one of the two seaters by the window.  He leaned his head against the window, half-listened to the conductor announcing the closing of the doors, and the beep beep of the doors closing.

His brain was racing.  If he was being honest with himself, Magnus suggesting dinner two weeks ago kinda threw him off.

They had almost never met up for dinner by themselves – it was mainly just brunch, or if they ordered food during Happy Hour, but he had never counted those as anything really, or quick meets during the day. 

The dinners always seemed to revolve around the group, -- Isabelle, Simon, Clary, Jace etc.

Speaking of the group, Isabelle had called him this afternoon during work.  It had been a bit inconvenient, as there had been some deadline in proofing copy for a few established authors who were working with Simon and Schuster. 

“Izzy,” he said, trying not to sound too annoyed with her, “I’m kinda in the middle of something at work –”

“Hey,” she said enthusiastically, as if she hadn’t heard the impatience in his voice, “Are you doing anything for St. Patrick’s Day?”

“Uh not at the moment,” Alec hedged, trying to rack his brain to see if Sebastian mentioned anything about that weekend. 

Usually St. Patricks’ Day was a huge thing in New York.

Third Avenue around midtown was legendary for the pub crawls during that festive weekend – the sidewalks and bars would be filled with people drinking from the early morning until the wee hours, usually annoying those within the residential area with their loud boisterous drinking and banter. 

Alec had always felt sorry for those who had ended up living right above those bars – they probably haven’t seen a good night sleep in a long time.

The huge St. Patrick’s Day parade with the visiting marching bands and various Irish- American organizations, affiliated groups, and other organizations who wanted to show support, normally traveled down Fifth Avenue – while spectators would be dressed in in green. 

Some even painted their faces and bodies – that was how fanatical some got. 

Of course, he didn’t really care for the Parade too much, as there was a blatant history of LGBT discrimination. 

Many a year, the organizers have denied LGBT groups from marching in the parade. 

It had been a sore point for New York City year after year -- along with a lot of negative press. 

He couldn’t believe that level of discrimination could occur, even in a city as diverse as New York..

What was really the big deal about that, in allowing people to march?  Alec wondered. 

Seriously, sometimes it felt like so much had changed since way back when. 

But then there were the other things, that would kinda just pull you back in to remind you that, oh, things were just as biased now as they were back then, and actually things hadn’t changed much at all.

“I don’t think we have plans,” Alec said slowly. 

He racked his brain.  Had he told Isabelle about Sebastian?

“Oh, okay, great!” Isabelle’s voice sounded happy, coming from the receiver of his phone.  “Then you and Magnus –”

“I actually don’t know about Magnus’s availability,” Alec interjected.  Oh, so maybe he hadn’t told Isabelle about Sebastian…

He cleared his throat. “I was talking about the guy I’m seeing – Sebastian,” he stated.

There was silence on the other end. 

Then he heard a squeal.  “W-What?” Isabelle stated.  She sounded breathless. “My big brother is finally seeing someone?  Oh my god, this is news!”

“Ah, yea,” he said, now a bit embarrassed.

“Did Magnus meet him yet?” she asked, her voice sounding a bit odd.

“Actually,” Alec said, “Magnus was the one who set us up initially.”

More silence on the other phone.  “Hmm, that’s interesting,” Isabelle said slowly.

Alec could hear the wheels turning in her sister’s head, even though she wasn’t physically there. 

“Besides,” Alec said quickly, “Magnus is seeing someone at the moment too.  His name is…”  Had Magnus even introduced them two that night?

“Anyway, I think he’s someone from work.,” he added hastily.

“Oh?  This is the first I’ve heard of this.  I thought he normally tells me everything…” Isabelle said, trailing off.

Alec could tell from Isabelle’s voice that she was a bit confused about this development.

“He didn’t even seem like Magnus’s type,” Alec said absentmindedly.

“What was that?” Isabelle asked. “I couldn’t hear you. Were you saying something about the guy not being Magnus’s type?”

Did he say that out loud?  Sheesh, Alec you need to be more careful with what you say, he thought..  Isabelle was also good friends with Magnus, who might actually say something to him in an unguarded moment…

Now that he didn’t need…

“Oh, I mean, he’s just a different type of person than I expected Magnus to be seeing,” Alec said. 

No big whoop, though – Magnus was free to see whoever he pleased…

“What do you mean, he’s not Magnus’s type?” Isabelle asked curiously.

“Eh…clean-cut, fresh-faced, dressed kinda preppy casual,” he said rattling off some categories.

“Sounds like you to an extent,” Isabelle mused.

Alec’s eyes widened.  “What?” he sputtered.

“I mean, you are all of those things,” Isabelle said.

“Am not,” Alec protested.  Surely he wasn’t seen like that…was he?  He wasn’t sure what to think. 

Then again, a whole rodeo bar of people definitely didn’t see him that way. 

And the thought of that made him feel a little bit insane, a little bit ecstatic, like he had a secret that no one else knew about. 

My secret identity, he thought, grinning to himself.

“Well, anyway, it’s a free for all.  Everyone can bring whomever they want,” Isabelle continued.  “Now I need to figure out food and all –”

“Hm I wonder if Sebastian has experience in catering,” Alec mused.  “He’s a commis chef at Blue Water Grill, by Union Square…”

“Oh my god,” Isabelle said.  “He can cook?  Damn, you scored bigtime, big brother!  Yea, can you ask him, pretty please?  It would be so cool to have a themed party, if he was good at that sort of thing…”

“Well, I’ll need to tell him about the party, first, Izzy,” Alec laughed.  “But sure I’ll ask him…”

“Thanks so much,” Isabelle said gratefully. “And, oh my god, I should really let you go, shouldn’t I? You’re still at work, so sorry!!!” 

There was a click on the other end, and then a dial tone. 

Hmm so there was  a group get together  soon, eh?  He wondered how Sebastian would fit in with the group, and how comfortable he would be, bringing Sebastian in like that… and how would he feel, if Magnus brought his new guy with him…

He wasn’t sure he could answer that question right now…

….

“8th Street,” The conductor suddenly announced, as the doors opened.  This was his stop.

Jumping up, he half-sprinted out the door, looking for the closest exit that would lead him to the corner of Broadway and 8th street.  Locating it, he walked toward it, went through the turnstile, and took the stairs two at a time.

Soon he was aboveground, and walking down 8th Street, past Astor Square, and the area of 3rd Avenue and the adorable little niche known as St Marks came into view. 

St. Marks – still a bit sketchy, as thehthe neighborhood was rumored to have a history of drug deals, drug addicts and other shenanigans in the past – now filled with cool places to eat, tattoo and piercing parlors, sex shops, niche bars, and other local mom and pop specialty stores – it was a rising cool place to hang out in, yet still had that dangerous allure to it to some extent. 

On the corner of Second Avenue and St. Marks Place, you could still see guys clad in motorcycle jackets hanging out, loitering – and you were just never really sure what they were doing…along with a whole smattering of NYU students just walking and hanging out, and a hell of a lot of Japanese young adults -- dressed in the punkiest fashion this side of the country--  who had quickly made St. Marks the hot spot to be.

Alec grinned upon seeing a group congregated in front of one of the cool eateries on that block – Yakitori Taisho.  He too loved the small eats that place offered up.

He got to Second Avenue and quickly swung a right.  Sushi Park was the third on the right. 

Alec got there in minutes, and then looked in through the front.  The restaurant was not even half full, as their dinner rush was normally not until 7pm. 

Someone was chilling at a table on the middle left of the place, looking eeriely familar – but was that even Magnus?  The hair was different, completely down, black with bright red highlights, side partially shaved on the side, with 3 red streaks straight across. 

The guy was clad in a black leather bomber, with faded jeans that were artfully ripped up, and black Doc Martens with yellow stitching.   

The person’s head was bowed, as if he was lost in thought or distracted…

The posture and lean build of the person, along with the silver rings across long elegant fingers, was totally Magnus though...

He took a deep breath.  Well, here goes nothing, he thought.

He pulled open the door and walked in.  The sushi chefs at the sushi chef immediately chimed in:

"Irasshaimase!” (いらっしゃいませ!)"

meaning "Welcome!"  It was the traditional greeting to any customer walking in.  Alec smiled at the chefs, then walked toward the guy sitting down.

At the same time, the guy had decided to look up, upon hearing the greeting. 

His eyes met Alec's.

Alec’s breath caught. 

It was Magnus, and he was looking up at him from  under lowered lashes.

Of all the things...

Magnus was probably so used to looking up at people that way, he probably wasn’t even aware of how that made him appear to people.

Regardless, it was like a wide-eyed yet mysterious approach at looking at people.  With a dose of sexy…

He was wearing red eyeshadow with black at the creases, black liner on the lower lashline with a bit of red glitter at the inner and outer crease of his eyes, matching bright red highlights in his hair, which he now wore downswept – hmm, new hairstyle? -- so long bangs were over half of his face.

When had he stopped wearing the mohawk? Alec wondered. 

Two weeks ago, he had still had it…

At least he had kept the 3 long colored red tails,w which he had pulled over to the side, so they hung down along the side of his neck.  Which matched the three red streaks over the shaved sides of his head. 

And a crazy looking swirly silver earcuff on his right ear.

Hm, this certainly took some getting used to…especially the new hair.

Then again, this hairstyle also made Magnus’s downswept hair look so thick and luxurious, as if it would be heavenly to run fingers through it –

Okay stop now, there’s no place for thoughts like that, Alec told himself sternly. 

Especially now that he was seeing Sebastian now.

And right, this was his best friend.  Who was seeing someone else too.  

But he couldn’t help it.  Old habits die hard…

And then just as immediately, another thought came into his head. Hmm, maybe the new look was for the new guy...

He wasn’t exactly sure what he thought about that, either.

“A-Alexander,” Magnus said, immediately standing up as Alec approached.

“Your hair.  It’s different,” Alec observed.

“Yea, needed a change,” Magnus murmured, suddenly seeming a bit shy, his hand reaching up to touch the ends of his colored tails. 

Wait, this was new --when was Magnus ever…shy?  Or was he just imagining things?

Who are you?

His brain wasn’t able to reconcile this at all –

They just looked at each other – both seemingly a bit taken aback by the other...

Chapter Text

It was getting awkward…too awkward, just standing there, staring at one another.  In the middle of this sushi restaurant.

It was definitely getting very awkward for Magnus.  As he looked at Alec, he saw his best friend, but he could also see the blue-eyed cowboy with the glistening muscles and the feral spirit –

And damn did that thought bring some fire in his veins…He inhaled sharply.  He really needed to stop that.

He chuckled nervously as he shook his head.

“What is it, Magnus?” Alec asked, a bit confused.

“Nothing, nothing, just remembering something,” Magnus murmured.  “Should we sit?”

He gestured to the table jerkily. 

Just then Alec realized that they had just been standing by the table all this time, instead of sitting.

How awkward was that?

As it was, a petite Asian waitress had chosen that time to come over to them.

“Is there anything I can help you with?” she asked in a pleasant tone.  “I saw that both of you were still standing by the table.”

“Oh, no, we’re fine,” Alec said, fumbling as he took his seat. “But thank you.” He flashed the waitress a small smile, which she returned.  

“Take your time,” she said sweetly, and walked away.

Luckily it had gotten darker outside-- more so, the restaurant was a bit dimmer now, lit by tea lights and random spotlights on the ceilings -- his flush was not as visible.

Magnus had already sat down at the table by that time too. 

“Oh boy, I guess we better lay low, now. Now they got their eye on us for being weird," Magnus said.

Alec smiled.  “Oh, they have nothing to worry about,” he said. “We’re regular boy scouts, aren’t we?  Seriously do we look like we’re trouble?” 

He gestured between the two of them.

Magnus couldn’t help laughing, maybe a little too much.   Oh lord, way too much laughing, he thought, immediately coughing to stop it. 

He flushed.  No need to embarrass himself…

Alec blinked in surprise upon seeing Magnus laughing.  Had it been that funny?  Usually people -- even Magnus -- found his jokes super corny, and people would be groaning.

Probably just a fluke, he thought.  Maybe he had been funny, for once, he mused.

He cleared his throat. "Maybe we should look at the menus," he suggested. 

"Sure," Magnus said, taking a menu and  immediately burying his head in it, while attempting to read it. Fuck, he was already acting overly awkward, and this was so not like him...

"Hot sake," the waitress said cheerfully, bringing forth a tray with two glasses of hot sake in masus -- wooden boxes -- one of the traditional ways to serve sake. 

She placed one each in front of Alec and Magnus.

Magnus thanked her, and then turned his attention to the sake. 

He turned to Alec. "You know how to do this, right?" he asked.

"I think so?" Alec hedged. "The glass, first, and then the masu, right?"

"Yes," Magnus stated. "Exactly." He lifted the glass to his lips and sipped a bit off the top. 

Alec did the same.

Then Magnus raised the glass up and toward Alec as if in a toast. Alec followed suit.

Think of something witty! Magnus thought. He opened his mouth.

"To us." 

Simultaneously, Magnus froze, as the words left his mouth. Why did he just say that?

Didn't people say that when they were on a date?  And um why did his mind just go there? No, they were most certainly not on a date -- and he was most definitely freaking out right about now...

It was too late right? he thought, as the expression on his face froze, including the big smile on his face...

"Uh...yes. To us. Why, of course," Alec replied, somewhat hesitantly. 

Then he brought his glass to his lips and sipped rather than throwing it back.  His mind was racing. Why was he feeling so weird right now, so off balance?

Things should be relaxing right now.  Here he was, hanging out with his best friend, about to have dinner...

And yet there was now something in the air, some really strange vibe. But he couldn't figure out what it was...

Ugh, Alec, why do you constantly need to overthink things? Did you overthink things at the Rodeo Bar? Didn't you have fun then? You need to loosen up! his brain reprimanded him.

Taking a deep breath, he returned the smile that Magnus had given him.

"Well, that went down smoothly," he said, a bit more confidently. "Should we get another?"

“Oh,” Magnus said slowly, as if taken aback. “Well, let’s finish this first.” Magnus took the masu, which still had some Sake in it, which was extra spillage from the glass itself, and then downed it in one shot.  Alec nodded, and did the same.

Magnus looked at Alec thoughtfully. “You want one more?  I thought you don’t drink…”  

Did being with Sebastian change all of that?  He cringed at the thought.

“I don’t know,” Alec said, shrugging.  “Just thought I’d go with the flow.  Isn’t it more fun to be spontaneous?”  He continued looking at Magnus carefully. Something was definitely off about him. 

Was it because he was here…and not with his guy?

He decided to be straight with him.  “Look,” Alec said, “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m sensing something’s off.  Is everything okay with you?  If you would rather be somewhere else right now, like with your guy or something, I mean, it’s perfectly fine.  I know you have your own thing now  –” 

Alec pasted a small smile on his face, despite feeling his heart drop as he spoke those words, and reached over to put his hand on Magnus’s hand as a comforting gesture – something he’s done many times over.

This time, however, Magnus involuntarily flinched, pulling his hand quickly away and to the side.

Wow, he’s really on edge, Alec thought, eyes widening.

“N-No,” Magnus huffed, as he attempted to pull himself together.  This evening was starting out way worse than he’d ever imagined.  He wished he could disappear.  “Why would you even think that? Besides, Zach knows we are meeting up. He was all for it. Anyway,  I l-love seeing you. Always.”  He tried making his voice sound light, but somehow the words were thick on his tongue.

So …his name was Zach. 

Alec looked at Magnus, his brain still processing that piece of information. 

Magnus…and Zach.

Magnus’s heart dropped as Alec continued to look confused, his brows furrowed in a way that suggested that he didn’t quite believe him.

“Hold that thought,” Magnus said quickly, as he turned toward the sushi bar, raising his hand.

“Excuse me!”  he said, trying to flag down the waitress. 

The waitress quickly saw him and walked over with a smile. 

Magnus ordered the hot sake, and then the waitress asked if they were ready.

Alec peered at the menu again briefly.  “I’ll probably just want to go with the sashimi/sushi combo,” he said finally.

He looked over at Magnus. 

“If that was what you wanted to get as well, should we just get a boat to share?” he asked.

One of the restaurant’s highlights was an enormous combination of sashimi and sushi placed on a wooden serving platter shaped like a boat. 

He figured, if they were going to order similarly, why not just combine it?

“Or, if you were thinking of doing something else entirely…” he added, suddenly feeling uncertain.  Magnus seemed very unpredictable right now for one reason or another.

“No, no, that sounds great, yea, let’s order the sushi/sashimi boat, with extra wasabi and ginger on the side” Magnus said quickly. 

The waitress beamed. 

“Great choice, I’ll be back,” she said, writing down the order. 

Then she called out the order to the sushi chefs at the bar before walking away.

“Well, that was easy,” Magnus said, exhaling. “I hate being indecisive about ordering sometimes…

”“Yea, me too,” Alec replied.

A long silence followed.

Alec had clasped his hands together on top of the table, now idly moving his thumbs in small circles.

He spaced out, his gaze on his hands for a few moments, and then briefly glanced up at Magnus, who kept looking out at the sushi bar. 

Someone had to say something.  This silence…it wasn’t them, at all. 

How did things change…this quickly?  Just from a missed Happy Hour two weeks ago?  Alec wondered. 

No, that couldn’t be it! 

His date with Seb? Was Magnus…bothered about that?

No, he couldn’t be.

That was not like him to do something like that. 

Hell, that was more something that Alec might be a little bothered by – especially about Magnus and Zach at the Rodeo Bar --

Oh.  Alec stiffened upon having that realization regarding himself.

 It was wrong to feel that way.  Magnus could see whoever he wanted, of course. I mean, he was with Imasu before, right? 

For some reason Alec had not been bothered by Imasu, but it was bothering him about Magnus and this guy now... 

Isabelle’s words came back to him.  “Sounds like you to an extent,” she had said.  

Was that why it was bothering him so much.?

He snuck a furtive glance at Magnus, who was still not looking at him.

And then…something in his heart just gave way.

Dammit.  He wasn’t still only attracted to Magnus, he still had feelings for him. 

He had been hoping that, going out with Sebastian, they would have slowly ebbed away so that the friendship could be preserved. 

And for these past two weeks, between not seeing or talking to Magnus much, and trying to focus his energies on talking to Sebastian every day on the phone, and getting lunch with him – he had thought he was doing great with getting over all of this. 

Sebastian was amazing, and caring, and thought the world of him.  He was everything that Alec had ever wanted in a potential boyfriend --

Well, almost.  And what a damn shame that was…

Just then, Magnus turned. Alec seemed in a daze, thoughtful, but for some reason he was looking at him.

Magnus immediately felt self-conscious.  Why was Alec looking at him like that?  He cleared his throat, and his hand moved to play with his silver earcuff. 

Alec’s eyes appeared to follow that movement.

“Alec?  Is everything okay?  Is it my makeup, do I need to fix it again?” he asked tentatively, his nerves twisting into an uncomfortable knot in his stomach. 

That seemed to snap Alec out of his reverie.  “No!” Alec said hastily. Then he flushed.  Oh man, that had come out a bit louder than he had intended. 

Alec tried again.  “No, Magnus,” he said, sighing.  “You look perfect.  You always look perfect to me.” Oh god, his eyes are so luminous tonight, especially in this dim lighting…

Oh crap, Alec thought, as he heard his own voice lowering to a husky tone at the end of the sentence.

Alec quickly looked down, his eyes widening, as his cheeks flamed.

Magnus closed his eyes briefly as Alec’s change in tone had inadvertently made shivers go up his spine. 

Goddamnit, he cursed internally, for the umpteenth time. He was not supposed to react to his best friend like this! 

Just then the waitress came back with the hot sake and sushi boat.  “Here you go,” she said cheerfully.

“Great!” both Magnus and Alec said, both appearing visibly relieved.  

Magnus began busying himself with filling up his plate with sushi, and he noticed Alec doing the same, still with furrowed brow and a look of confusion on his face.  His cheeks were pink.

Magnus took a deep breath.  Best friends, forever, eh?  he thought, mentally gauging how things felt right now. 

Well, it certainly didn’t feel like it. Not by a long shot…

The ease with which they seemed to interact with one another in the past was gone.  Magnus wondered how much of that was stemming from the fact that Alec had someone now. 

Everything had changed. 

But, of course, he hadn’t expected to develop an attraction to Alec, either.  That was still bothering him.  But since it was just the beginning, it was generally easier to squash.

And so, he decided -- that’s what he needed to do, even if he had to stay away from Alec for a while.  At least until this weirdness had passed. 

After all, he had flirted with Alec in the past. He had gotten over it.  

He would get over it, again, he decided.  Feeling a bit more lighthearted, he started eating.

He looked up at Alec, and now he didn’t feel uncomfortable anymore, in the wake of his decision.

“How’s the tuna?” he asked, having seen Alec bite into a piece, with some wasabi on it. 

Alec looked up as if startled. 

“Um, it’s good,” he managed. “Fresh.”  He winced, as the sharpness of the wasabi hit his taste buds. 

Oh my god, that was a bit too much, Alec thought.  He hadn’t paid attention to how much he had put on, due to being lost in thought.

Magnus saw Alec wince from the wasabi. Aww, he thought, commiserating.

Before he realized what he was doing, his chopsticks expertly lifted two slivers of pickled ginger from the sushi boat, and held it toward him.

“Here, you might need this,” his mouth was saying, before Magnus realized what he was doing.   

Uh, what am I doing? Oh god, Magnus thought.

Alec looked at the silvers of ginger being offered on Magnus’s chopsticks.  Of course, Alec thought.  It was just like Magnus to be that considerate and observant.  It’s probably how he treated Zach all the time.  That’s why it comes naturally to him…

“Thanks, Magnus,” Alec said softly, sighing again.  He felt so resigned at the moment.

Leaning forward, Alec’s lips connected with his chopsticks, and Magnus suddenly couldn’t look anywhere but at Alec’s mouth…

Don’t watch him eat, don’t watch him, eat don’t watch him eat, Magnus’s brain was screaming at him. 

But it was too late, Magnus was completely fixated on Alec’s mouth as he watched Alec slowly nibble at the ginger, and then take the remainder in his mouth with a tiny swipe of his tongue. 

Uh, okay…

Magnus smiled weakly as he sat back in his seat, a bit harder than he intended. “Oof,” he said as his back hit the wooden back of his bench.

“Are you alright?  That didn’t look too good,” Alec stated.  He had finished eating the ginger.  “Thanks again for that,” he said. “The fire from the wasabi is gone. They’re right about ginger being able to cleanse the palate.”

Magnus gave a small smile, shrugging it off. “I’m okay,” he said quietly. “Not a problem.  I’m glad it isn’t bothering you anymore.”

Alec smiled back at him, then went back to eating.

They spent the next 30 minutes eating, without speaking to one another.

*******************

Soon the meal was over.  Having paid the bill, the two walked outside.  It was dark by now, but still relatively early.

“So,” Alec said.  The strange vibe was still there, and he was still confused by it.  “You want to go over to Tower Records and browse audio for a bit?”

Magnus looked down at his watch. “Oh, it’s 8:45pm right now, and I actually have an early morning meeting to get to.  I think I should call it an early night.  But…um this was fun.  We should do this again,” Magnus said, his voice a bit clipped.

Alec just looked at him.  He could tell Magnus was being evasive.  He was probably going to meet Zach now…

His heart clenched. 

Well Magnus and Zach were together, weren’t they? Of course, they would meet up.

He nodded slowly.  “I get it,” he said, trying to sound happy. “Next time then, Magnus.”

“Yea,” Magnus said.  “Next time.”

Magnus felt himself start to move in for a hug – which was perfectly normal for their friendship – but in light of everything, it felt so different now. Just as quickly, with such a minimal slight, he jerked himself back, and put his hand on Alec’s shoulder.  Alec probably wouldn’t notice anyway if Magnus didn’t hug him, especially since he was seeing Seb now, Magnus thought. 

“I’ll call you,” Magnus said finally.

In fact, Alec did notice it.  Magnus didn’t hug him, like all the times that he would have done in the past.  Was this the new normal now – since he was with Zach?

He didn’t expect it to hurt.  But it did.  A lot.

Wasn’t their friendship supposed to last and be steady, even over dating and boyfriends and things? he wondered. 

He struggled to take a breath to calm his feelings down.

Managing to meet Magnus’s eyes – and oh god, they were still beautiful and luminous and everything that he wanted – he swallowed hard and said gruffly, “Yea.  Maybe we can do brunch on Sunday, like we usually do?”

Magnus didn’t respond right away.  “I’ll let you know, this weekend is kinda tough,” he said.

Oh, is it like that now?  Alec thought.  He closed his eyes and took a quick breath.  “Sure thing, Magnus,” he said quietly.  “Okay. Have a good night then.”

“Good night,” Magnus replied.  Magnus then gave him a quick smile, and turned and walked down the Avenue toward the train station.

Alec just stood there for a second, confusion and hurt and even more confusion filling his head and heart.

Ah well, he thought. Guess I need to get home too…

He started walking down the block toward his station.

****

As Magnus turned left on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 11th street, his breath slowed down, along with his pace and the beating of his heart. 

My god, that was a bit too much, he thought.  Again, he was sure he had made the right decision to resolve his feelings for Alec, and to not see him for a bit.  Although, Alec asking if brunch was still on, was kinda killing part of him inside.

He tried to rid himself of those feelings as he took longer strides down the block.  Soon he reached Broadway, with his train station 3 blocks away at Union Square.

There was a gourmet deli coming up. Ooh, he could use a water to drink on the train.  When he got to the deli, he pushed open the door and walked in.

The deli owner looked up at him upon his entrance. “Hey, what’s up,” Magnus said casually.

“Magnus?” a very familiar voice suddenly asked.

Eh?  Magnus whirled in the direction of that voice. 

Imasu – dressed in a royal blue trench coat, flared black pants, and Steve Madden boots. With a big smile on his face.

Magnus’s heart warmed instantly.  And in the next moment, he felt horrible.  He had not kept in touch with him, as he had promised.

“Imasu,” he breathed. “You know, I meant to call you, I really did –”

Imasu held up his hand as if to say something, and Magnus fell silent.

“You told Isabelle I wanted to go shopping with her,” he said slowly.

“What?” Magnus asked. He had no idea what Imasu was talking about.

“During Christmas, or after Christmas.  She called me up, and we went out,” Imasu said.  “She told me how happy she was that I invited her to go shopping. But I didn’t. And then she said that you had mentioned it to her.”

Oh. Right, Magnus thought.  He was so concerned about keeping Imasu in the good graces of everyone, and not wanting to reveal that they had broken up, that he had said stuff like that after returning to the party…

“Anyway,” Imasu said, “That’s one of the nicest things someone has ever done for me…”

He stepped closer to Magnus, and gave him a kiss on the cheek and a hug.

Magnus was stunned.  But then a big smile crept onto his face, and he hugged Imasu back.  His arms felt so familiar, and it felt really good.

Imasu released him, and smiled. “How have you been?” he asked.

“I’m okay,” Magnus said. “Are you still going to clubs?  I don’t work as a bartender anymore.  I decided I didn’t need to…”

Imasu nodded. “Well, that’s good,” he said warmly. “After all, I used to be there when you were bartending, so I could keep an eye on you.  Without someone there, things could potentially get a bit sketchy you know?”

“Yea,” Magnus replied, laughing slightly, as he recalled the conversation in the diner with Ragnor and Alec. “Some friends told me the same thing…”

Magnus and Imasu grinned at one another.  Well, guess this is the moment to say bye, Magnus thought. 

He opened his mouth to speak, and then another thought came to him.

Tossing his hair, he turned to Imasu. "So, darling,” he said lightly, “So glad we ran into each other again. Are you doing anything Sunday?  If not, how do you feel about having brunch?"

Imasu blinked, obviously not expecting that. "Brunch…on Sunday?  You want to go to brunch...with me?" he asked.

Magnus shrugged.

"Sure! We definitely need to catch up.  I did say I wanted to stay friends, right?" he said, with a genuine smile.

A smile slowly crept onto Imasu's face.  "I want that more than anything," Imasu said. 

“Well, then, there’s nothing stopping us, darling,” Magnus said, beaming.  “Take two for friendship.”

He threw Imasu a wink, and Imasu’s heart grew warm. 

This year had already exceeded Imasu's expectations by far, despite that setback during Christmas.

But Imasu made a New Year's Resolution to let bygones be bygones and not to fret over things that he didn't have control over.

And, in fact, even though his breakup with Magnus had been that exact setback, it had been Isabelle calling him – from out of the blue -- to go shopping that had been the first of the turnaround in the New Year.  Then, between Isabelle thanking him for suggesting the shopping trip, and her disclosing that it was Magnus who told her that – well that just bowled him over. 

He had already forgiven Magnus in his heart at that time, as no one was at fault for how they ended up. 

But to know that Magnus was mindful about how much Imasu treasured the get-togethers – this too was the first time Imasu was part of anything resembling a regular group to hang out with – as well as the friendships, that just showed the type of person Magnus was.

Standing here right now, though, and being invited to brunch – and getting a chance to regain a friendship with someone who he really cared about – well, this just proved to be the icing on the cake right about now.

“Hug?” Magnus was asking him, his soft brown eyes shining with happiness, with his arms outstretched.

“Each and every time,” Imasu murmured, moving in toward Magnus. 

They hugged one another, both incredibly happy.  Both relished the newness of their re-established friendship. Not everyone got a second chance

But they would. They were going to be friends.  Hopefully good friends, too.  Imasu was so thrilled about that.  He had missed having Magnus in his life.

This time, it would be even better.

Chapter Text

Sunday, mid-morning, Yaffa Café @ St. Marks Place

 

Magnus stood right outside of the outdoor seating area of Yaffa Café, just scoping out the people walking back and forth down the block. 

He looked down at his watch.  1050am, hmm – so he was just a bit early today, he thought. 

Brunch didn’t generally start up until 11ish, just about.  But this morning, he had felt a bit anxious, for some reason, and decided he wanted to start out a bit earlier. 

The walk over there did do him some good though, and now he was just standing around, chilling, while listening to his Walkman.  He nodded a hello to café workers walking in and out of the café, and narrowed his eyes at one or two passersby who were giving him leering looks. 

He was way too used to that type – as soon as he saw them scoping out his front or his ass and legs, he would give them the death stare. 

Usually that would be enough to make them turn away in embarrassment.

Right, he was not in the mood for that today. 

It was Sunday, brunch day, and nothing was going to ruin it for him.  Self-consciously, he adjusted the flipped up collar of his royal blue polo shirt and ran his fingers through the longish dark bangs, which he had highlighted red about a week ago

Foot traffic was generally heavy during the brunch hours in this area, as this was very popular with the locals as well as tourists who were in town, and might have read up on the hotspots to hit up. 

Usually the best places were constantly being reviewed and written up on local papers such as the Village Voice or TimeOut Magazine, sending influxes of patrons to bustling places striving to keep up with the demand.

Yaffa Café was no exception. With its menu catering to all types of diets including organic and vegan, word had spread fast about this place.  Not to mention that the specialty coffees were heavenly.  

Adjacent to the cafe, there had been a mural painted on the side of the building facing the outdoor seating area of the café – it was of a striking woman’s closeup, wearing a sailor’s cap in black and white, with the words “Yaffa’s Café, “Open all Nite”.  This served as a visual takeaway of the café when patrons walked by or dined, and it was quite memorable. 

Funky chairs, booths, artwork from local artists on the walls, and playing tracks from underground bands were big draws for regulars and tourists alike. 

This was one of Magnus’s favorite places to eat at.  The booths and the large comfortable chairs inside were his favorite.   Although today, since the weather was so nice out, sitting outdoors seemed like an excellent idea..

“Hey,” a familiar, smooth drawl snapped Magnus to attention.  He looked up, right into Imasu’s warm brown eyes and smiling face.

Imasu was dressed down for Sunday, in an  army jacket, white v-neck tee, and faded jeans cuffed up into boots.

Ah, right, Magnus thought, his heart warming.  Our new friendship. 

“Hey, stranger,” he said softly, leaning in to kiss both cheeks as they used to greet one another.  “So I thought we should sit outside today, since it’s such a nice day.”

Imasu’s eyes twinkled. “That sounds wonderful,” he replied, as he followed Magnus into the outdoor seating area.

………

An hour into the brunch, both Magnus and Imasu were a bit toasty from unlimited Bloody Mary’s, and their breakfast plates.   Magnus was cracking up so badly at Imasu telling him about the ditzy new secretary at his company – she kept mixing up calls and a few bosses were getting really annoyed with her. 

God he missed talking with Imasu – no matter what, they just always seemed to vibe together well. It had worked well before, and it was even better now, since Imasu was not picking at every little detail like he had been when they were seeing one another.

“So,” Imasu said, leaning in across the table  after sipping on his mocha cappuccino, “You said you were seeing someone now from work?”

Magnus nodded.

“Yea,” he said casually. “It’s not serious, but he is admittedly very sweet.  His name is Zach. He works in production at my company. He also plays guitar, and he likes movies and photography.  He’s pretty straight laced but has a really great sense of humor.:

Magnus laughed at the look on Imasu’s face, which was akin to amazement.

“Yea, yea,” he laughed.  “I know, he doesn’t sound like my type at all, right? But I don’t’ know.  He grew on me.”

Imasu looked at Magnus for a moment. 

“Well, I’m happy to hear that things are going well.  Things are good with me too.  I’m actually dating someone exclusively right now.  Met him during one of the conventions back in mid-January.  He’s actually Japanese-Latvian, so he’s tall and has these huge brown eyes that just drive me crazy when he looks at me.  I think I really really like him,” he said softly. 

Magnus’s eyes widened at the soft smile and the way Imasu’s voice softened when he spoke about his current paramour

“Oh my god, Imasu.  I’m SO happy for you.  I honestly am.  If anyone deserves to be happy,. It’s you.  I really mean that,” Magnus gushed. 

He meant it, with all his heart.

“Thanks,” Imasu said.  “That really means a lot, coming from you.”

They sat there for a moment, amidst comfortable silence as both drank their coffees.

Then Imasu spoke.  “So where’s Zach today?” he asked curiously.

“Oh,” Magnus said airily, “Zach normally sees his family in Jersey on Sundays, but he usually calls me once he gets back later on.”

Imasu nodded.  Then his brows furrowed as his face looked inquisitive.

“And…Alec?” he asked, his voice a bit quieter.  .”How are things with him?”

Of course Imasu would ask about Alec…

“He’s fine.  We’re fine,” Magnus said quickly.  He looked Imasu directly in the eyes as he said the words, and gave Imasu a quick smile, hoping that would be the end of it.

It wasn’t. Imasu paused, with the same expression on his face.

Then he said, “I thought Sundays were your thing.  Weren’t they? Since you guys are best friends and all?  At least I recall that the both of you regarded Sundays as ‘your day together?”

Magnus inhaled sharply. 

Just be calm, he commanded himself, even as his insides were churning and his heart had started to beat erratically. 

“Yea,” he breathed, as he looked at Imasu.  However, he was unknowingly looking a bit to the side of Imasu now, without realizing it.  “Well, I’m seeing Zach, and Alec is seeing someone now.  You know, schedules change and life moves on, right?”

Imasu frowned.  He had noticed that slight with Magnus, when he was evasive and looking away from him.  Something was not right, or Magnus was not telling the complete truth about things…

“Right,” Imasu said slowly, not completely convinced. 

In the next moment though, he just shrugged.  Maybe it wasn’t worth delving into. 

After all, Magnus had invited him to brunch spontaneously right? 

And that was in character for Magnus to do.  He decided to let it go.

“Anyway, darling,” he said, putting his hand on Magnus’s forearm, “Forget I said anything.  You’re right, things just happen right.”  He smiled as a relieved smile came upon Magnus’s face as he received a warm gaze back at him.  “Anyway, so –”

“Imasu?  Wow, it’s been awhile…” a male voice, somewhat familiar, said.  The voice sounded surprised.

Hm, who’s that?, Imasu’s brain registered, as he looked up.  It came from the sidewalk, right outside of the outdoor seated area. 

And it belonged to one surprised looking Alec Lightwood, who was carrying a few magazines in his hands. He was by himself, and holding his hand over his eyes amidst the afternoon glare of the sun.

Imasu stilled, as he snuck a furtive glance over at Magnus -- who also seemed to freeze .

“Hey…Alec, long time,” Imasu said finally.  He tried to keep his voice even. There was no reason to feel on edge, even if this had been an unexpected meetup.  So why did he feel like a cornered animal right now? 

And...why wasn’t Magnus smiling or greeting Alec like the way he usually did?

“Oh…and Magnus.”

Alec’s gaze had immediately shifted to see Magnus sitting across from Imasu.  It hadn’t been apparent, at least from the direction from where he had been walking. 

The expression on Alec’s face changed slightly, with his brows knitted together.  His gaze fell upon Imasu’s hand, lingering on Magnus’s forearm. 

Imasu quickly withdrew his hand, for whatever reason he wasn’t sure.

“Hey,” Magnus said quickly, flashing Alec a smile.  However, his voice was all clipped. 

Imasu was confused. 

Magnus, so outgoing and boisterous before, had suddenly been reduced to…awkwardness?  And toward Alec, his supposed best friend?  This wasn’t how they usually acted toward one another…

Something was not adding up.

Magnus cleared his throat, apparently at an effort to make small talk.

“So, nice day, eh?” he practically babbled, his voice overly bright. “Browsing bookstores or something?” He gestured toward the magazines that Alec was holding.

“Uh…yea,” Alec hedged, looking down briefly at the magazines as Magnus mentioned them.  “I took the train in an hour ago.  I was actually at Barnes and Nobles at Union Square, and decided to walk down to Avenue A for a bit, and then just walked back up this way. How fortuitous, eh?” ‘

Imasu’s eyes widened.  Was he imagining things, or was Alec acting a bit stiff himself?  Now this, he never seen before! 

Alec’s gaze seemed to move from Magnus to Imasu, then back to Magnus again. 

“So, I guess you managed to figure out brunch, eh?” he said, with a short laugh.  But there was an edge to the tone of voice – almost like sarcasm.  “You weren’t sure when I asked you on Thursday.”

“Yea, well, I hadn’t decided on anything at that time yet,” Magnus mumbled, now not looking at Alec. He started looking down at his plate, picking at his food.

An awkward silence developed.

“Magnus had a pretty rough week, from what he was telling me,” Imasu said in a lower tone of voice, as he quickly jumped in to deflect.  “I’m sure he didn’t mean to.”

Alec stared at Imasu for a moment, not saying anything. 

His gaze flitted back to Magnus, who was still picking at his food on his plate. 

Then Alec let out a sigh.  He motioned to Imasu, and then leaned in to speak directly to him.

“It’s alright, Imasu.  I’m glad to see you’re here for him,” he said softly.  “You were always really good for him.”

Oh dear, Imasu thought.  He had detected that little something

But was it the something he thought it was?

Last year, this would have really bothered him. But now, as an objective party, he felt bad for Alec.  His  shoulders were now slumped, and his whole facial expression now looked a bit disappointed and sad.   

He glanced over at Magnus, who was still engrossed in his food and not really paying attention.

He felt compelled to say something…anything. 

“Magnus and I are just friends.  You know that, right Alec?” he whispered in a gentle tone.

He looked directly at him.

He saw Alec’s facial expression shift once again. 

“Oh, actually I wasn’t thinking about that at all, but I do appreciate the reassurance.”

Alec’s voice was kind, but still a bit stilted.  “I guess he no longer has time for me, now that he’s got that boyfriend of his,” he continued softly.  

He sighed again. “Anyway, didn’t mean to vent,” he said.

Boyfriend? Imasu’s eyes widened.  Didn’t Magnus tell him it was just casual?  Something was definitely up with these two, and he wasn’t sure what.

“Anyway,” Alec said a bit louder, straightening back from his crouched position. “it was nice seeing you Imasu.  You still see Izzy from time to time right?  Maybe we will bump into each other again.” 

Imasu raised his hand to his ear, making a hand gesture for Alec to call him, as he mouthed the words “Call me?” with an inquisitive look on his face. 

He felt somewhat weird initating this, as it was a bit out of his nature for Imasu to just volunteer to lend an ear to someone whom he really didn’t know all that well.

But he had jumped upon his instincts, and thought he would make an exception for Alec. 

After all, this was Isabelle’s brother. 

He did look like he needed someone to talk to– the lost look he had on his face was not something he would wish upon anyone.  And the way he was acting right now really concerned him.

Alec stilled, surprise written all over his face, as Imasu asked him to give him a call in case he wanted to talk. 

Not knowing how to respond at first, he had looked at him, wide-eyed, with a slightly confused look on his face. 

In the next moment, however, his face had relaxed into a slight smile, seemingly wistful. 

“Yea,” he said quietly. “I’ll get your number from Isabelle, if need be.” He swallowed hard.  “Thank you.”

Imasu nodded in return. "Anytime,” he said sincerely, and meant it.

Alec seemed to hesitate for a moment.  "Actually, did she mention the St Patrick's get-together at all?  I'm assuming she did.  But, regardless, you should come.  Really."  Alec's gaze was directed at him, empathetic, and seemed full of gratitude. 

Imasu blinked. 

Oh...well, that was really nice...

"Ah," Imasu said, regaining his composure. "She did.  Yes, she did."  A genuine smile crept across his face. "But thank you for that, Alec. I really appreciate it." 

Alec nodded in acknowledgment.

Alec then turned toward Magnus. “Magnus,” he acknowledged politely.

Only then did Magnus look up, and the expression was unreadable.  He nodded in turn at Alec. "See you, Alec," he said.

And then Alec was gone the next minute.

An uncomfortable silence lay between them.

Then Imasu cleared his throat.  “Well, darling,” he said, looking at a Magnus, who was now looking distressed. 

Okay, Imasu, he thought to himself. Destress, then try to get Magnus to talk when he's a bit more calm. This was starting to get ridiculous...

“Tell me what you need, Magnus,” he said, trying to keep his voice sounding normal.  “The day is still young.  Do you need to browse some comics?  You want to go to the bookstore?  Tower Records?”

Magnus appeared to suddenly focus on what he was saying.

“You said Tower?  Yea, sure, that sounds good.  Tower has everything, doesn’t it?  Music and videos.  And then there’s the flea market right next to it, right?” Magnus said, his voice a bit less shaky than before.

Imasu smiled. “Right, I remember how much you love to go there.  Let’s get the check and walk around,” he said.  Imasu turned to flag down their server. 

Magnus smiled at him gratefully.

Chapter Text

Weekend of St Patrick’s Day, a month later

 

“Oh my god, what do we have here?  They look amazing!” Isabelle said happily as she walked into the kitchen. 

Sebastian turned and gawked at Isabelle. “Wow, you’re certainly getting into the spirit,” he laughed, gazing at Isabelle’s head to toe green outfit appreciatively. 

Isabelle was wearing a short midriff tee and skirt with green feather boa with silver glittery details, and silver slippers to match. 

Even her eye shadow and liner was two shades of green with black eyeliner. 

“Well, we are having a party, aren’t we?  Imma be fully decked out to the max!” she said, giggling. 

She turned to Alec, who was next to Sebastian, attempting to plate the rest of the appetizers after taking them out of the oven.

She frowned.  “How come you’re not wearing your hat, big brother? “ she asked.

Alec rolled his eyes.  “C’mon, do you see that I’m busy? It’s in the room. I’ll get it later,” he said. 

Sebastian grinned and gave him a peck on the cheek, which made Alec smile. 

“Oh, you could have worn the hat.  I’m wearing mine,” he said proudly, pointing to his green chef’s hat.

“But your hat is so much cooler,” Alec whined. “Mine is just a regular party hat from Party City.  Cheap old thing.”

Isabelle couldn’t help grinning at the both of them. 

Alec and Sebastian had come over around noon, as Sebastian had graciously volunteered to make hors d’oeurvres for the St Patrick’s Day gathering later that evening. 

This was the first time that she had met Sebastian, and, she had to admit, Alec didn’t do badly by him at all.  He was warm, funny, charismatic, and he cooked – a huge plus as far as Isabelle was concerned. 

And, he seemed to think the world of her brother, which was the most important thing to her…

Beside them, four different types of appetizers were laid out on platters sitting by the counter thus far  – mini crab cakes, butterfly shrimp, chicken skewers, and some sort of seafood mousse on table crackers. 

There were two other appetizer trays in the oven.  Isabelle was also currently watching over a big pot of Irish seafood chowder, a large Shepherd’s Pie baking in the oven, along with a pan of roasted vegetables. 

Sebastian had also managed to get a slab of Corned Beef, which he was currently carving. And of course, the refrigerator was stocked with beers, ales, and soft drinks. 

“You are a godsend, Sebastian,” Isabelle said.  She turned to Alec. “Where did you find this one?”

Alec grinned.  “Lucky, I guess,” he quipped. 

Sebastian beamed. 

“You really did a great job with the appetizers, Sebastian,” Alec said. 

He was really glad that Sebastian had been able to come to the get together with him today.

In fact, having his company this past month had done a lot to even out his unsettling emotions. 

They had also both fallen into a routine, where they would talk to each other on the phone every night, as Sebastian’s work hours were really long at the restaurant, 6 days a week, and aside from that first Thursday, they had not been able to go out on weekdays after work. 

But they would see each other on his day off on Saturday.

Alec really looked forward to Saturdays. They would usually go out and about, doing a little of everything, as they tried to get to know one another better.  

Sebastian was still as kind of a person as ever, and understanding about Alec wanting to take things slow.  He proved to be excellent company, and Alec was so happy to have him in his life.

“How’s the guest list looking?” Alec asked Isabelle, out of curiosity.

“Looks like everyone can make it. Besides our family, Magnus +1, Imasu, Ragnor and Catarina,” Isabelle said offhandedly, as she opened up the lid and started stirring the seafood chowder. 

“Hmm,” Alec hummed in response. 

He didn’t trust his voice right then. 

So Magnus, whom he had somehow been on the outs with – and for no real good reason either, at least in his mind – was bringing Zach. This would be the first time he would officially meet Zach. 

And everything would be real.  Official.

A sadness settled over him – seemed like the norm, these days? -- before he shook it off fervently. 

So Magnus was with Zach.  He was with Sebastian. 

Sebastian was wonderful and treated him so well.  It seemed like Isabelle really liked him too. 

That mattered to him.  And, tonight, everyone would meet Sebastian too

He took a deep breath.  He would get through the dinner, as long as he had Sebastian and Isabelle by his side.

At least, in large group gatherings, it was much easier to avoid people whom you didn’t want to interact with.  Or at least to interact with them at the very minimum.

At least he hoped so.

……

“Isabelle!” Magnus said cheerfully, throwing himself into her arms as she opened the door. 

To his left was a quiet looking guy with brown hair and brown eyes wearing a navy peacoat and holding a guitar case.  To his right was a tall elegant looking guy with sandy blond hair wearing glasses, and a very smiling and pretty African American woman in a full length green asymmetrical A line dress. 

And behind him was Imasu and a very good looking guy that looked half-Asian, half-European.

“Magnus!” Isabelle squealed, hugging him back.  “Ooh, and Imasu, you made it too!  Come give me a hug,” she said.

Imasu stepped forward,  hugging her happily, before pulling his guy forward.

“This is Peter, my boyfriend,” he introduced them, his eyes shining. The guy looked at Imasu affectionately before turning to Isabelle. “So nice to meet you.  Imasu talks about you all the time,” he said in a pleasant deep timbre of voice.

Then she looked at everyone else, who were regarding her curiously.  But a few already had smiles, and she could tell she was going to like them too. 

“Hi, so glad you guys could make it!  I’m Isabelle, the host of this lovely abode, and I am sure that each and every one of you has made it into our conversations at least once!” she cheered.  

Catarina burst into laughter.  “Oh, I like her!” she said happily, her arm hooked with that of the sandy blond guy.  “I’m Catarina, and this is my husband Ragnor.  He and Magnus are super tight –”

“Hey, my sister isn’t harassing you guys too much, is she, Catarina?”

Alec had just walked into the room from the kitchen, having heard the door.  He grinned a lopsided grin upon seeing the boisterous woman.

“Alec!” Catarina said delightedly, as she ran to him and gave him a hug.  “Long time no see.  Hope you are well.”

“I’m great,” Alec said, once they disengaged from one another.  Looking past her, he saw the rest of the group.  His eyes flitted to Magnus, and the two exchanged a brief glance.  He took a deep breath.  He could do this.

The smile still on his face, he made his way over to the rest of the group.

 “Ragnor!” Alec said pleasantly, sticking out his hand.  The older man took his hand and pulled him into a warm hug.  “Staying out of trouble, right?”

“Me? Do I look like the type?” Alec joked.  Ragnor grinned warmly at him.

Imasu had now stepped forward in front of Alec.  “Hey, Alec,” he volunteered, in a semi-quiet tone,  holding up his hand as if to initiate a high five. “Just wanted to know how you were feeling –”

He was cut off, as Alec seemed to ignore that hand, in favor of going in for a short hug. Imasu, taken aback, quickly adjusted, returning the hug.  “Hey, thanks for the talk on the phone last week,” Alec said quietly.  “I really did appreciate it.” They then stepped away from one another.

Imasu beamed.  He hadn’t realized that it had carried that much weight.  But it now made him feel really good. 

“Always,” he said in a genuine tone.

Alec then turned to face Magnus, who  was looking at both of them curiously.  He realized then he had witnessed his exchange with Imasu.

Alec took a deep breath.  “Hey,” he said quietly. “Good seeing you, Magnus.”

Weeks of not seeing him had somewhat eased the tension in his gut.  Had this been earlier on the month, this might have been nearly impossible to handle for him..

Magnus looked back at him.

“Hey, Alec,” he replied.  His voice seemed more at ease this time, as compared to the last encounter at Yaffa Café.

“This is Zach,” Magnus said simply, gesturing to the guy next to him. 

Alec looked him over and stuck out his hand.  “Hi, I’m Alec. It’s nice to meet you,” he said cordially. 

The guy had a friendly smile on his face, and he must have gotten contacts now, as he was not wearing his glasses this time. 

He certainly was dressed infinitely better than when Alec had seen him last, at the Rodeo Bar.  His brown hair was half spiked up in front, and he was wearing a sharp looking shimmery medium green collared shirt with two buttons open at the top, collar flipped up, and flared dark wash jeans over Timberlands. 

That was Magnus’s shirt – Alec’s brain registered.  He had seen Magnus wear it a few times in the past;

Magnus must have lent it to Zach to wear. 

In fact, he could see Magnus’s handiwork here and there on Zach  – with the clothing and hair.  Alec had to admit that it worked.  Zach looked great. 

“It’s so nice to finally meet you,” Zach said eagerly. “I know the last time was a bit rushed, and you were on your date, as I recall.” 

Alec nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Sebastian is in the kitchen. He will be out later.  He’s plating the rest of the food.”

Zach’s eyes widened as did Magnus’s.  “He cooks?  Oh my god, that’s great.  You lucked out didn’t you? This is going to be the best party ever,” he gushed. 

Alec couldn’t help but to smile at that.

“Yea,” he said. “Sebastian is pretty great, alright.” He thought he saw something flicker in Magnus’s eyes, but he said nothing.

Alec’s eyes flitted down to the guitar case that Zach was carrying.  “Ah, you play?” he asked.  A musician?

Zach shrugged. “Just a little, nothing fantastic,” he said modestly, “But Magnus had mentioned it to Isabelle, and she wanted to hear my novice guitar skills.  So I brought it over –”

“Don’t sell yourself short, you’re great, Zach, darling,” Magnus cut in.  Zach beamed at Magnus’s words. Magnus turned to Alec “He totally undersells himself.”

Alec nodded, smiling at Zach. “Can’t wait to hear you play then,” he said.  “Anyway, I’m going to check on Sebastian.” 

Excusing himself, he turned and walked toward the kitchen, taking small even breaths.  Okay, that wasn’t bad.  And...Zach was a nice guy.  And he couldn’t blame Magnus for being with him. 

And Zach was right, Sebastian was pretty great. Maybe even potential boyfriend material… 

Ah, too early to think about that, now, Alec chided himself. 

Opening the kitchen door, he called out, “Sebastian, need my help with anything?”

*******

Magnus leaned against Zach as they sat on the couch, eating some appetizers. 

Arching his neck upwards, Magnus glanced at Zach from under lowered lashes.  Zach looked down at him, and a smile came upon his face.  He kissed the top of his head.

“Thank you for inviting me,” he said. “Your friends seem great.”

Magnus smiled. “Of course,” he said softly. “ I wanted them to meet you.”

The party was in full swing now, Isabelle in the middle of the living room, trying to get Simon to dance, beers in hand.  Simon blushed as he tried to match Isabelle’s footwork. 

Jace and Clary were both a bit flushed from having pregamed prior to the get-together – their cheeks were flushed, and they were trying to dance but failing miserably. 

With their bright green feather boas that Isabelle had insisted that they wear upon entering, they looked quite the sight for sore eyes.

Sebastian was in a green apron with his green chef hat, having just brought out the freshly carved corned beef from the kitchen.

Suddenly, there was a chorus of ‘OOH’s”, and now, no one was on the dance floor – instead wanting to be the first one in front of the food. 

“Hey! We were dancing!” Isabelle said indignantly, as Simon had practically jumped off the dance floor, and had been the first at the table. “Did you just abandon me – for corned beef?” 

“I’m hungry!” Simon protested, already holding a plate with utensils in one hand.  “Don’t worry, I’ll get you some, too!”

“Oh, okay,” Isabelle said, laughing, not really annoyed anymore. 

“Here are the last of the appetizers!” Alec called out, having just emerged from the kitchen. 

He was now wearing his green party hat – which he still disliked – but it was fun wearing it as part of the party theme.

“You forgot your boa!” Isabelle said, wagging a finger at Alec. 

Grabbing a spare feather boa that was on the armchair next to her, she ran to Alec, and attempted to loop it over his head.

“Izzy!” Alec protested, trying to steady himself and the tray he was balancing in his hands. “Don’t you see I have something in my hands?”

“You’re doing just fine, and see, now you look extra fabulous!” Isabelle said, having successfully gotten the boa on Alec. 

She turned toward the food table. “Hey Sebastian!” she called out. “Doesn’t Alec look great?”

Sebastian looked up from where he was standing at the table to look at the two siblings.

“That boa was a great touch, Isabelle,” he said happily. 

Turning to the small group of people around the table, he said, “Excuse me.”  Moving away from the table, he made his way over to them. 

“Isabelle, mind bringing this tray over to the table?” he asked, not taking his eyes off of Alec.

“Sure thing,” Isabelle said.  She had not missed the look that Sebastian was giving Alec.

“You look absolutely adorable,” Sebastian said, grinning.  “I just can’t help myself..”

Taking Alec by the hand, he twirled him around. The look on Alec’s face registered surprise, but his eyes were crinkled.  He looked happy.  Then Sebastian swung him back to him and kissed him deeply.  Alec returned the kiss and his embrace.

A chorus of “WOOT!” and “Hey, get a room!” filled the air.

Across the room, sitting in chairs, Catarina nudged Ragnor.  “Well, would you just look at that. Cutie pie got some, now,” she mused.

Ragnor wrinkled his nose. “Humpf,” he muttered.

Catarina looked at him. “What was that?” she inquired.  “That blonde boy is fiiine.  They look great together. He’s got moves, and he cooks too!  What a keeper.”

Ragnor didn’t answer.  He glanced over at Magnus, who was sitting with Zach, and staring at the spectacle.  He shook his head. “This is ridiculous,” he muttered.

“Why are you muttering so much, honey?” Catarina said, leaning in slightly. “This isn’t one of your moods coming on, is it?”

No, Ragnor thought, wryly. This is how I get when I see stupidity playing itself out…He felt like his head was going to implode…

Turning to Catarina, he smiled. “No, I’m fine. I need to have a talk with Magnus, though. Do you mind?” he asked.

“Go right ahead, hun. I’ll be right here,” she said warmly.

Ragnor leaned in and kissed her. “Thanks babe, you’re the best.” 

Getting up from his seat, he walked up to where Magnus and Zach were sitting.  Magnus was now leaning his head against Zach, who had a goofy look on his face.

“Uh, Magnus? Can we talk for a second?” he asked pointedly. 

Magnus looked at him inquisitively.  “Uh sure, Ragnor,” he said, blinking.

Ragnor turned to Zach. “Sorry, bud, but I need to borrow your guy for a second," he said.

Zach smiled. “Sure thing, cuz,” he said.

“Let’s go in the kitchen for a moment,” Ragnor said.

Magnus nodded, gesturing for Ragnor to go ahead.

He followed Ragnor into the kitchen.

……………

“Magnus,” Ragnor said in a serious tone once the kitchen door had closed.

“Hmm?” Magnus asked, moving past him, having seen the pot of Irish chowder. Ooh, how did he miss that on the first go-around? Now that looked good..

He grabbed a bowl from the cupboard.  

“So, do you mind telling me what’s going on?” Ragnor asked.

“I really don’t know what you mean,” Magnus said, using the ladle to spoon some soup into his bowl.

He turned to look at him inquisitively.

Ragnor stared at him for a moment.  “Wow,” he said slowly. “You really don’t know what I am talking about. Damn, Magnus, a few weeks of not hanging out, and suddenly you are this obtuse?”

“Obtuse...” Magnus retorted. “Oh, right… that.  As I recall, you had Zach pass that message on to me. Even though I’m seeing him right.  Seriously, Ragnor, that’s not very nice to have your cousin pass along a message to me like that, especially when it kinda affects him. Zach and I are together.  I thought you were in support of that –”

“Yes, love, I totally would be, if I thought you two were right for one another,” Ragnor said bluntly.

Magnus’s eyes widened.  He stared at Ragnor. “What are you saying?  You don’t think we should be seeing one another?  But you’ve been so supportive –”

“I have been,” Ragnor said honestly. “But – in light of there being someone who you should actually be with –”

Oh, that was it --  Magnus did not want to hear anymore. 

Part of him didn’t want to start going into denial about certain things, especially if his heart knew them to be true. 

Secondly, he was here with Zach, who didn’t suspect anything. 

Zach was great, and he enjoyed his company.

Wasn’t he allowed to just enjoy that? Why was Ragnor making it a big deal?

“I just can’t believe you couldn’t see the signs,” Ragnor was saying. “I mean, god, everyone else around you –”

“What?” Magnus demanded, his heart suddenly pounding like crazy. 

What was he saying? 

No, he didn’t want – no he didn’t need to hear this now.

He was with Zach. Alec was with Sebastian.

And judging from that kiss that Sebastian had given Alec outside just now, there was no room for argument. 

They were obviously much closer now than weeks ago.  And that was fine with Magnus.  It just made things easier…

People went ahead and did their thing, he did his…

“You guys are so blind, it’s ridiculous,” Ragnor scoffed. "How long are you going to keep up the charade?"

“Seriously, are we on this again??!” Magnus asked, irritated.

“It’s clear you two are perfect for each other,” Ragnor stated emphatically.

“What? Me and Alexander?” Magnus said incredulously. “But we are best friends!  Well, I mean, admittedly there’s a rough patch right now, but that happens, we are at an in-between stage. We've come a long way since college. I’m his wingman. In fact, see that guy in there? Sebastian? I set them up together.”

He felt a tug at his heart when he said that.  It didn’t feel very good. 

But he willed it away, swallowing  hard. 

“Also,” he continued, feeling exasperated at Ragnor once again, “In case you haven't noticed, I’m also involved with someone,” he said firmly.

Ragnor snorted.

“Now, what’s that supposed to mean?” Magnus demanded. “I’m with Zach.  What is he, chopped liver?” 

“That doesn't count. You two are hopeless,” Ragnor groaned.

“No, you’re hopeless,” Magnus retorted. “Anyway, I need to get back to Zach.” He picked up his bowl of chowder and turned to walk out of the kitchen. 

“Oh, and are you exactly sure you're still best friends? I've had enemies that talked more to me than you two talked at this party. Are you so sure of your status?”

Magnus froze, his hand on the doorknob. He turned around to face Ragnor. 

“Why would you say that?” he asked slowly.

“You’re not stupid.  Figure it out,” Ragnor said crossly.  “And I know you aren’t, by the way. I just don’t know why you are acting it, though.  I’m saying this as your friend.  Anyway, I need to get back to Catarina.” 

And with that, Ragnor walked past Magnus, opened the kitchen door, and left – leaving Magnus alone in the kitchen.

…..

Magnus walked out of the kitchen slowly back to Zach. He swallowed hard, remembering Ragnor’s words. 

He took a furtive glance across the room at Alec, who was just standing in the corner with a beer in hand, nodding to the beats of the music, as he watched Sebastian set down the desserts on the table.

"Hey,” he whispered to Zach upon reaching him. 

Zach to turned to look up at him.

“I’m going to talk to Alec for a sec, be right back.”  He leaned in to kiss him on the cheek.

Zach nodded. “Sure, no problem,” he said agreeably, blushing slightly at the kiss.

Taking a deep breath, Magnus got up, taking his beer with him.  He slowly walked over to where Alec was standing.  Alec hadn’t seemed to notice Magnus was approaching him – his eyes were still on Sebastian. 

“Hey,” Magnus said quietly.

Alec turned at the proximity of the greeting and visibly did a double take as he flinched upon seeing Magnus. “Oh, hi Magnus,” he said, surprise evident in his voice.

“Great party, eh?” Magnus said,

“Yea, Izzy always knows how to get people together for a party, alright,” Alec said, as he took a swig of beer, turning back to watch Sebastian.

“Sebastian did a great job with the food,” Magnus said, trying to make small talk.

“Yea, he did,” Alec responded.

An uncomfortable silence developed between them.  

Ugh, Magnus thought. Was this how bad things had gotten between them?  Even he was feeling the awkwardness now…

“Listen, I know I’ve been acting a bit off lately,” Magnus began. 

Alec didn’t react.  He just took another swig of beer.

Hmm, maybe he didn’t hear him?  Or…he chose not to?

“Yea, you think?” were the next words that came out of Alec’s mouth.

Magnus’s breath caught.  He caught the undertones in Alec’s voice.  He was hurt.

Ragnor was right.  He had been a terrible friend, period. How had he let it go this far?

Confusion or not, it wasn’t Alec’s fault.  It was all on him…

“You don’t have to believe me,” Magnus continued slowly, looking at Alec, who was still not looking at him. “But I’ve been going through some things. And I’ve let it get to me, how I’ve been acting.  Anyway, I wanted to say I’m sorry.  No matter what I’m going through, I should not have projected it onto you.” 

Alec was still looking forward, but he seemed contemplative, as if he was taking in what Magnus was saying. 

Magnus took this as a sign of encouragement. 

“Anyway, I’m happy you are with Sebastian,” Magnus volunteered.  “He seems to treat you well.”

He saw Alec exhale deeply. “That he does,” he said. “I’m a lucky guy.”

“You are.  And you deserve that,” Magnus said honestly.

Now Alec turned to look at Magnus, really looked at him.  Magnus’s breath caught once again.

“You could always talk to me, before,” he said, his voice a bit gruff but not as stilted as before.  “What happened?”

And to that, Magnus didn’t know what to say – he just continued staring at Alec. And Alec didn’t look away.  A flicker seemed to come into Alec’s eyes, and his eyes widened slightly.

What was that?  Magnus’s brain registered. 

He didn’t have time to ponder this, as Sebastian was suddenly in front of them.  “Alec, do you mind helping me for a moment?  I have to bring out the cake,” he said pleasantly.

“Of course,” Alec said with a big smile.  He turned to Magnus. “Uh, I need to go help –”

Magnus waved it away, dismissing it. “You’re needed.  I see that,” he said amiably. “Go ahead.”

Alec looked at him.

“Thanks for this, though,” he said finally. “It’s a start at least. And for what it’s worth, you and Zach seem really good together.  He seems to adore you.”

Magnus laughed slightly. “Yea,” he said, running his fingers through his hair.  “That he does.”

Alec’s eyes seemed to wander to Magnus’s hair for a moment, and then he blinked. “Well, anyway I need to go. We will talk more later,” he said.

Magnus nodded.  Alec put a hand on his shoulder, giving him a quick smile and then walked to the kitchen.

Well, that didn’t go perfectly, he thought, but at least I tried.

It appeared that there was a truce, at the very least. Well, that was that, then.

He turned, looking back at where he and Zach were sitting.  Zach turned at that moment and smiled brightly at him. 

Magnus found himself smiling back, as he started walking back toward their seat.  

Chapter Text

August 20, 1989:

Giants Stadium, Rutherford NJ -  The Cure’s “Prayer Tour”

“I can’t believe you got us tickets to this concert, Imasu!” Isabelle squealed.  The gang was walking out of the minivan that Imasu’s boyfriend Peter had borrowed in order to drive them to the concert site.

Imasu grinned at Isabelle and Simon, as he walked with Peter, slightly ahead of the rest of the group 

Before them, Giant Stadium was illuminated with its usual stadium lights, but also featured humongous banners advertising The Cure and giant posters of the lead singer Robert Smith. 

“I’m so excited!” Clary squealed, grabbing Jace by the arm.  She was already dressed in her favorite Cure t-shirt – the lone silhouette of Robert Smith with his guitar slung across his torso, the same depicted on his Boys Don’t Cry compilation.

Alongside them, Magnus walked hand in hand with Zach, whose hair was spiked up and highlighted dark blue – no doubt influenced by Magnus, whose hair was completely dyed dark blue -- interwoven with glittery effects -- for tonight. 

Magnus’s hair was also artfully styled to resemble Robert Smith’s wild hair style, with a silver dragon style ear cuff, and hanging earring in his left ear.  He had done his kohl liner thickly around his eyes with red eye shadow. 

Interestingly enough, Zach was also sporting liner around his large brown eyes but in a dark blue, and it had kinda smudged on his lower lashes– another Magnus influence, no doubt.

It looked really good on him.  

Magnus sneaked a look at Zach again.

“What are you looking at?” Zach asked curiously.

“You,” Magnus said, grinning.  “God you should have let me put make up on you earlier on.  You look divine…”

Zach blushed. “Eh, it’s really not me. But this is a concert, and we are here to have fun, so why not?  Besides you pull off eyeliner like gangbusters – not me,” he said modestly.  “I think you look so hot with it.”

They stopped to kiss briefly, then grinned at one another and resumed walking.

A few feet behind them, two tall figures were walking hand-in-hand, their pace a bit slower than the rest. 

Alec and Sebastian made a striking pair – the tall and lanky sandy blonde with long side bangs, and the equally tall figure next to him, with wavy dark hair and light complexion.

Both seemed a bit somber, although they had quiet, content smiles on their faces.

Alec looked briefly at Sebastian as he walked.  His mind was still racing about their conversation a few days ago.

…..

They were eating lunch at Yakitori Taisho on St. Marks Place and having a good time.

Sebastian leaned in while they were eating their bowls of ramen, and said, “I need to talk to you about something.”

“Eh?” Alec asked curiously, ”What is it?” He leaned in toward Sebastian.

“My cousin Elijah, who lives out in California – he started up his restaurant after all. It’s in San Diego,” he said.

“Wow,” Alec said, impressed. “That’s great.”  He recalled Sebastian talking about his cousin, who was trying to test somewhere in the West Coast market to start up a vegetarian French restaurant.

The venture had been going on for a few months now.  It was great to hear about his cousin’s success.

“So, anyway,” Sebastian said, and now his hands were clasped together on top of the table with his thumbs rubbing together slightly.  Alec noticed his eyes took on a serious, piercing look, as they looked at him. 

His breath caught.

“He asked if I wanted to come out there to be the head chef,” Sebastian said slowly.  He started looking very intently at his hands, wringing his fingers together.  His lips were pressed into a firm line.

What?  Alec was mindblown.  He was silent for a bit.  Did this mean ---

“Wow,” he said, his brain not yet processing the news entirely.  His mouth, however, kept moving.  “That’s great, Seb. It really is...”

Sebastian’s eyes never left Alec. “Is it?” he mused.  “A good opportunity?”

Alec looked at him.  Okay, now his heart began to ache – but just a little.

“How could it not be?” Alec said, thinking logically. 

Now he had all mental faculties back, and, replaying the conversation in his head, there was no question about what he was just told. 

“You wanted a career right?  I mean, whenever you talked about this before, you were so enthusiastic about the restaurant, and you knew that your cousin would do great.  You also talked about all the times you visited the West Coast and how much you love it. I mean, you do like working in the city, I know you said that, but I got this feeling that you probably wanted something else…”

Sebastian smiled then, a sheepish look on his face.  “Was I that transparent?” he asked, smiling so a dimple appeared on the side of his cheek.

“Well, yea,” Alec said softly. “I listened to every word you said, and it was clear what your priorities are.”

“About that…”  Sebastian said.  “West Coast is great and all.  But ---”  He faltered.

Alec looked up at him.  “But?” he echoed.

Sebastian reached over to take Alec’s hand in his and squeezed it tenderly. 

“It’s been six months – six wonderful months here with you,” Sebastian said.  His gray green eyes regarded Alec seriously.

Alec felt all warm inside.  But even so, he felt a knot of apprehension growing within him

Was Sebastian actually thinking of moving away?  If so, then what --?

Alec was admittedly a bit taken aback at the thought of it. A lot, actually.

“Have you ever thought about living anywhere else besides New York?” Sebastian asked curiously.

Alec blinked.  Wow, he had not expected that!

Sebastian then laughed a bit awkwardly, running his fingers through his hair. 

“I’m joking!” he protested. Then he paused. “Yea, well…”  He made a face. “Sorta…maybe.  Oh, I don’t know.”

Sebastian looked a little lost as he started to ramble.  Alec felt a tug in his heart.

“Listen, Seb,” Alec said, trying to sound both serious and fair. “This is an amazing opportunity that you have before you. You’ll probably need to think long and hard about how you see yourself, and where you see yourself.  You really shouldn’t let anything or anyone keep you from that.” 

“Is it really all that simple?” Sebastian mused, albeit a bit sadly. “Because right now, I’m not exactly sure I see it as an opportunity.  Things are so good right now.  Well, I mean, at least from my viewpoint it is.”

Sebastian was silent then, but his eyes spoke volumes.  And all of them pointed to Alec.

Alec inhaled sharply. 

He never thought he might face the possibility that the person whom he was seeing, might be moving away…   

“Yes,” Alec said softly, giving Sebastian’s hand a tender squeeze in return.  “Yes, things have been really good with us.”

Sebastian’s eyes twinkled as Alec spoke.  Leaning over, Sebastian kissed Alec softly on the lips.

“But it is an opportunity, nevertheless,” Alec said.  There was no denying it.

Sebastian sighed. “Yea,” he said. “I know.”  He looked down at their hands.  “I need to let him know in a few weeks.”

He then looked back up at Alec, and their gazes held and locked.

They kept looking at one another, holding hands across the table, thoughts and emotions running through each of their heads.

…..

Alec snapped back to reality, as Sebastian pulled at his hand to draw him closer.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Sebastian said softly, his eyes crinkling.

Alec smiled at him. “I was just thinking that it was such a fantastic summer, and that I’m glad I get to spend tonight with you and our friends together.”

Sebastian grinned. “Yea, I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he agreed. 

He put his arm around Alec, and Alec put his arm around Seb’s waist. 

Together, they leaned their heads in against one another as they walked toward the stadium, trailing the rest of the group.

………………….

The crowd went wild as the emcee announced The Cure taking stage.  Multiple pyrotechnics, lasers, wind chime sound effects, and then the first strains of their first track “Plainsong” burst into life through the surround sound system.

The crowd went WILD…

Alec closed his eyes and let the floaty, lovely sound settle within his soul.  He so loved this track. 

There was just something so deep and fulfilling about the chord arrangement and the melody which flowed through – so very bountiful…it just made you want to pour all the love in your heart out to the world –

And then to just take it all back in…

~

Just then, Robert Smith took the mic, and started his soulful crooning of the refrain:

I think it's dark and it looks like it's rain, you said
And the wind is blowing like it's the end of the world, you said

And it's so cold, it's like the cold if you were dead
And you smiled for a second

I think I'm old and I'm feeling pain, you said
And it's all running out like it's the end of the world, you said

And it's so cold, it's like the cold if you were dead
And you smiled for a second

Sometimes you make me feel
Like I'm living at the edge of the world
Like I'm living at the edge of the world
It's just the way I smile, you said

 

~

Alec closed his eyes, rocking to the slow, hypnotic beat of the track, allowing it to swirl around him, filling his senses, and getting lost in it all –

Then he opened his eyes, and he saw people holding up lighters – multitudes of bright sparks of lights amidst layers and layers of endless waves within the crowd throughout the stadium…

It was all so magical --

He glanced at Sebastian, with whom he was holding hands.  He seemed to be taking in the experience as much as he was.

Then Sebastian turned to look at him, and they locked glances.  A soft look passed between them.

Alec smiled at him, and Sebastian smiled back, rubbing small circles within the soft part of Alec’s palm.  Alec returned the gesture in kind.

This was the type of experience to try to commit to memory, where one might look back from time to time – as a snapshot, one point in time, where everything was just absolutely magical and perfect.

Alec just stood there, trying to take in as much as he could of this particular moment.

……………………..

Alec glanced casually over at the far end.  Magnus just happened to look his way at that very moment.  Their gazes locked, and they looked at one another for a little bit. 

The starting strains for the track "Disintegration" started up, and the crowd cheered.  Rhythmic beats, strumming chords, the beats and music swelled and combined in unison, accompanied by the expert twang of The Cure’s complex bass riffs, which they were renowned for.

Sebastian was holding Alec, his arms lovingly draped over him, and he could feel Sebastian start nodding in time to the beats filling the stadium.

Magnus had his arms around Zach, whose eyes were bright, and he put his hands in the air and started singing to the words.  Grinning, Magnus started to join in, and the two were now jumping with joyous looks on their faces.

Alec’s gaze then traveled over to Imasu with his arm around Peter – unlike the rest of the crowd, they just stood there, content just to be with one another  - a contrast to the now wild and fast-moving crowd.

Imasu caught his glance.  They shared a smile and Imasu threw him a wink.

Flanking them were Jace hugging Clary from behind, both were singing, their faces aglow. Isabelle, sitting on Simon’s shoulders, was wildly rocking out and shouting out lyrics to Robert Smith singing in time to the song:

I miss the kiss of treachery

The aching kiss before I feed

The stench of a love for a younger meat
And the sound that it makes when it cuts in deep

The holding up on bended knees
The addiction of duplicities
As bit by bit it starts the need
To just let go my party piece

But I never said I would stay to the end

So I leave you with babies and hoping for frequency

Screaming like this in the hope of the secrecy

Screaming me over and over and over

I leave you with photographs, pictures of trickery
Stains on the carpet and stains on the scenery


Songs about happiness murmured in dreams When we both of us knew how the ending would be

~

Isabelle yelled out the last line with such ferocity.  She lurched forward so wildly, that she looked like she was about to fall off Simon’s shoulders.   

Simon started laughing out loud, struggling to keep Isabelle balanced as she moved with the music.

Alec started giggling upon seeing that, despite himself.

It felt so, so, so very good to have friends and family about him – he couldn’t have imagined ending the summer any other way. 

It was just about perfect.

Well, not that anything in life was that – perfect.

And it would soon be less than that, Alec thought, feeling the slightest twist in his gut.

But as long as you are still living and breathing, there will always be hope, and things could change.

But even if they don't work out, you can still go on living.

It’s just all part of growing up -- and growing wiser.

But Alec would dwell on that – later.

Alec turned toward Magnus and Zach again, who had stopped dancing around and were just standing now, swaying to the music. 

Somehow he caught Magnus’s eye.  His breath caught.

They looked at each other for a moment, not turning away.

Alec tilted his head slightly as he gave him a lopsided grin and a shrug of his shoulders. Magnus regarded him with a curious look on his face. 

Then, slowly, Magnus gave Alec a warm smile back.

A slight moment passed. 

Then, almost as if they had read each other’s minds, they both started singing the lyrics to the track simultaneously, while grinning widely at one another  –

Alec’s heart swelled, and he started really belting out the lyrics, turning back toward the stage, singing his heart out – to Robert Smith singing those lyrics back. And he turned quickly, glancing at Sebastian, who had an affectionate look on his face as he regarded him.  Then they were singing the lyrics with all their might, together.

In time to the rest of the crowd, together –

And Alec felt happy. Really happy.  And lucky – to be here right now.

All apprehensive and unhappy thoughts banished --

For at least the time being.

 

 

******

And as long as you are still living and breathing, there will always be hope, and things could change.

But even if they don't work out, you can still go on living…

 

 

 

Live and let live.

Chapter Text

October 1989

MOOD: The Scorpions: Rock You Like a Hurricane

It's early morning, the sun comes out
Last night was shaking and pretty loud
My cat is purring, it scratches my skin
So what is wrong with another sin?

The bitch is hungry, she needs to tell
So give her inches and feed her well
More days to come, new places to go
I've got to leave, it's time for a show

Here I am
Rock you like a hurricane
Here I am
Rock you like a hurricane

~

The limo rounded the corner of Lexington and 59th Street. 

Ah, Bloomingdales, she thought, spying the legendary department store. Now that’s more like it.

So far she’d been kinda bored of what she was seeing out of her window. 

She finished patting down her impeccable styled long blond hair, cut into layers and styled with mousse and  hairspray. 

She gave it an experimental toss with a delicate turn of her head, batting her heavily mascara’d eyelashes perfectly as she experimented with a pouting face in the mirror. Satisfied, she clamped her compact mirror shut.

She still had about 10 minutes before she got to her hotel that the advertising agency had generously paid for – the Plaza Hotel. 

She preferred the Waldorf, but this would do. After all, it still boasted great service, great views, and it was right by Central Park South.

So far the agency and her rep had never been wrong, as her career had quickly skyrocketed in the last year.  And so she didn’t question it, and let them arrange everything.

Well, she hoped the masseuse at the Plaza was good, that 8 hour plane ride from Amsterdam Schiphol was really grating on her nerves.  She thought she had slept adequately to offset the jet lag. 

But admittedly she was getting a bit tired. 

Good thing she didn’t have that meeting with Ogilvy until tomorrow.

Still though, she had wanted to have enough energy to go shopping, maybe clubbing later on – as she knew New York City’s nightlife had a lot to offer.

But maybe a tiny nap would do her some good…

After all, even though she was certainly more than able to hold her own against all the advertising executives and bigwigs, it was often exhausting when everyone wanted to meet her all at once, so yea, she needed to save some energy for that.

Also, charming everyone often got her very annoyed and very exhausted by day’s end.  But hey, she knew it was all part of the job that a model needed to do in order to keep up her rep and image.  She didn’t mind doing it.  She just needed enough rest and everything would fall into place.

She licked her lips in anticipation.

Was New York City ready – yet again -- for Southern belle supermodel Camille Belcourt? 

New York City  was not going to know what hit it.

She usually came raging in like a maelstrom, taking no prisoners, and laying down the rules as she saw fit.

“Oh, you can stop here,” she said, having seen Tiffany’s on 57th Street.  She loved this store, she wanted to do a little shopping…

“As you wish,” the chauffeur said, turning around.  As soon as their eyes met, the guy lowered his sunglasses, revealing a set of gorgeous green eyes. 

“Visiting us for awhile, mademoiselle?” he asked pleasantly.

"Yes,” she purred.  “I’m here on a shoot.”

The guy’s eyes dilated.  Exactly how she liked them.  She flashed him a smile.

"Would you mind terribly if you brought my bags to the Plaza? It would be such a favor to me," she said softly. "I just need the little one with me."

"Why, of course," he said, hurriedly throwing open his door, and coming around to open her door for her.

“Thank you…Jacques – is it?” She peered at his nametag on his jacket lapel. 

“I loooove that name. So elegant,” she said, looking at him from under lowered lashes. 

The guy flushed, nodding at her, and he ran to get her little bag from the trunk.

“Oh, you are such a doll, thank you,” she said softly, in that accent she knew drove all guys wild.  She slipped him a $50 as she leaned in to press a kiss against his cheek.  The chauffeur grinned, as he took his leave.

She hoisted her bag over her shoulder, and looked up and out at the surroundings about her.  From where she was standing, she could actually see the Plaza Hotel. 

Plaza Hotel was admittedly impressive.  It was classic, elegant, like one of those age-old renowned hotels of yesteryear that the legends all stayed in. 

Not bad, not bad, she thought. 

This was alright, she decided. 

She smiled as she started walking toward Tiffany’s. She loved that Tiffany Blue!

In her oversized magenta hat with black ribbon on the brim, black sunglasses, black trench coat just hanging off her shoulders, white silk neck scarf, body hugging magenta jumpsuit with magenta suede pumps, she knew she looked absolutely stunning in her outfit today.

Around her, people were wearing the same old black, grey, dark colors so typical of New Yorkers.

The city needed a little color – she stood out perfectly, the way she wanted to.

She pursed her perfectly pouted red lips and sauntered down Fifth Avenue, throwing out her chest as she held her head up high.

Two guys nearly fell over while starting at her.  She whirled around and winked at the better looking one of the two.  That guy nearly fainted.

Turning back and walking down the avenue, she smirked.  She knew how she affected the male population…

It mostly accounted for her success as a lingerie model on covers of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and other print campaigns.

For some reason Ogilvy Advertising Agency had been trying to chase her down for the past few months, stating that their client – Luminescence -- would give their eyeteeth to have her model their hair products and cosmetic lines. 

Well, flattery will get you…everywhere, she thought.  She smiled fondly . 

Usually if a client wanted you that much, then the advertising agency would be tripping over their feet to give you everything you want. And the client, Luminescence, wasn’t bad either.  It was a start-up, targeting young adults, offering jewel colors in rich concoctions in hair color and makeup -- that even she would use.  

That was the one way she would agree to model for them – that it was a product she could believe in.  And if she thought that the company would end up successful.

Well, she was also looking to take risks – and she knew her face could sell products.

Ready to create wavesto put this company on the map.

She found herself in front of Tiffany’s. A smile crept onto her face.  Time to shop! she thought gleefully.

Breathless with anticipation, she pulled open the front doors and stepped in.

……………………

 

The next day, lunch time – in the Courtyard at Ogilvy Advertising Agency

 

Sighing, Camille sat down on the chaise lounge within the Courtyard at Ogilvy.  She still had an hour or so before her meetings with the bigwigs upstairs.

She had spotted this green respite shortly after she had passed the reception desk, and had come inside.

It was quite tranquil, with green trees and plants, a running fountain with the water providing a nice humming sound in the background.

Along its perimeter, the three office buildings making up Ogilvy surrounded it.

9 elevator doors, 3 per building, all opened up into this Courtyard.

Except for the occasional opening and closing of elevator doors, it was a quiet spot.

It was the perfect place to meditate.

She liked to meditate in order to get her mindset ready for discussions. 

These discussions often consisted of talking to many executive and creative people, and she needed all her energies at her disposal in order to sit through all of them.

After she had rested for a bit, she started to feel a slight prickling sensation on the back of her neck, which made her look up. 

There was a guy with a professional camera, pointing in her direction.

He took a shot, then flipped the camera around and looked at the back. Took another careful shot, then looked at the back again.

Ohhh, it looked like the guy had one of those new digital single-lens reflex cameras.

Single lens reflex cameras, known as SLRs, with the big lenses) were what the professionals used as opposed to the smaller typical automatic ones sold to the masses.  The digital versions of these professional cameras, which captured images as digital pixels instead of on traditional film, weren’t commonplace just yet, but she knew that Nikon had come out with the QV-1000C last year. 

A few photographers had already been testing out that model since then, and there were more competitive models out this year.

She used to dabble back in high school – at least with the film SLRs – so she still read up on it from time to time.

She’d learned a long time ago to scope out the area quietly without attracting attention or needing to confront anyone so as to avoid unnecessary drama.

She had used to be much more volatile in the past whenever she had caught people spying or looking her way.

But such was the curse of becoming more visible and recognizable as a supermodel.  Everyone was going to look, stare, or take photos. 

As long as they weren’t approaching her directly, she was just fine.

What was interesting about this guy, was that he hadn’t even taken photos of her directly.

He seemed to be taking random photos around the courtyard – maybe just as practice – before he became fixated on her shoes. 

Granted they were amazing suede Jimmy Choo’s in magenta – a color that was custom dyed just for her.  But were they more amazing than she was?

She hadn’t seen him point the camera upwards toward her face or body at all.

On one hand, it was good, because that meant he wasn’t surreptitiously stalking her or anything.  But, then again, if he had a shoe or foot fetish or something – well that was a different situation all together.

If this had been in a public area of New York City, then perhaps she would be much more cautious.

But being that they were in the courtyard of Ogilvy, and only employees or clients were allowed in here, it was just likely that he worked here in some capacity and was just practicing some shots. 

Now, she was curious if the photos he took were any good.  She did love a photographer with skill.

She glanced at the guy again. Actually, he was pretty good looking, at least from what she could tell from this distance.  He looked to be Asian, tall with a decent looking build. His thick hair was styled in an undercut with dark blue highlights woven through layered dark hair that was shoulder length, partially shaved on the sides, with three tails dyed dark blue. 

His ensemble, a well-fitted dark blue button-down shirt, slim cut dark wash jeans with bleach-outs, and Doc Marten boots were spot on with what was in season this year. 

He wore it so effortlessly also.  She liked that .

Right then and there, Camille decided she was going to call the guy out.

“You know,” she called out casually, “I know my shoes are just divine. But how about coming up here, cutie pie?”  

She gestured toward her face and then motioned for him to come closer.

The Asian guy flushed – cutely in fact.  He held his professional camera squarely in both hands. 

In fact, she couldn’t recall a cuter guy who flushed that modestly. 

He blinked, and then he started moving closer.  He ended up standing about a foot away from her, still looking at her with a slightly guarded expression on his face.

“Sorry, was taking some test shots with this contraption,” he said.  He ran his hands through his hair and grimaced.  “They want me to use this in a meeting in a few hours.” 

His gaze traveled down to her shoes. 

“Your shoes are quite striking,” the guy said, clearing his throat. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jimmy Choo’s in that color before.  Is that a sneak peek for next season?”

Camille tilted her face as she regarded him. The guy seemed honestly intrigued about hearing the answer.

Ooh, Camille thought, a man that knows  design and offerings of the season – and interested in it as well.  This is new…

Hmm, seemed like she had finally found someone worthy to talk with, today. 

She decided to go with it.

“No, they were custom dyed and made,” she said.  “I love magenta and I love platforms, so they were created for me. Such an amazing gift. I treasure them.”

“Ahh,” the guy said, nodding.

There was a short silence.  She felt like speaking again. 

She gestured to his camera.  “Can I see the photos? I mean, of my shoes? That is a digital SLR right?  I saw you looking at the back screen.” 

The guy gave her a searching look as if he was trying to figure her out.  

“Wow, you are observant,” he said finally. “Hmm, you want to see the ones I took of your shoes?”

He sounded as if he couldn’t believe she wanted to actually see them.

She nodded, smiling at him brightly.

“Uh, okay,” he said. 

He stepped forward even more, until he was right next to her.  He flipped over the camera, and then handed it to her. 

“Eh, the last time I did shoots was during college, so don’t rip them apart,” he said.

He had taken several closeups at different angles. They were really good.   

Hmm, good angle, good closeup, perfect fade to the background despite his distance – meaning he knows his apertures and F-stops, she thought.

“You got a good eye,” she said.  The guy looked up at her in surprise.

She shrugged.  “I used to dabble in high school,” she said.  “And, I used to ask to see the photos after every shoot, and I would pick them out along with the photographer.”

The guy seemed to give her an appraising type of look.  “You are more than you seem,” he said honestly. 

She shrugged. “Yea, not exactly the typical airhead blonde, right?” she said, laughing genuinely.

The guy seemed surprised to hear her laugh.  After an imperceptible hesitation, his lips twisted into a slight smile.

She smiled, looking down again at the photos he had taken of her shoes.

“You know, it is quite refreshing to not have that surreptitiously pointed at my upper body.”  She clucked her tongue. “You have no idea how often that happens, and people think I don’t notice…”

“Wow…that’s horrible, actually,” the guy said, finally.  “You should have someone with you, then. For safety’s sake, anyway.”  

He chuckled, a nice sound to her ears.

Camille blinked.  He actually sounded…genuinely concerned for her.

She hummed, looked at him from below lowered lashes, and took a deep breath.

“Interesting suggestion.  Are you…volunteering, perhaps?” she drawled, giving him one of her signature looks.

The guy seemed to freeze when she said that. 

Camille resisted the urge to giggle. 

“I’m just kidding. Forgive me?” she asked, her voice a bit lighter than before.

The guy continued to look at her, and then a wide grin spread across his face, his eyes crinkling as he did so.

Ooh, that grin did wonders – that just made him shine, like nothing she’s ever seen before.  How did that do so much?  He was good looking before, but now – he was magnetic.  

She was intrigued.

“My lunch break is over,” he said awkwardly. “I gotta go meet someone right now, upstairs…uh, Zach. Yea, uh, I don’t know why I just told you his name. Well, anyway, it was nice to meet you, ah…didn’t quite catch your name.”

She put her hand out to him.

“Camille. Camille Belcourt,” she said in a dulcet tone of voice , bestowing one of her megawatt smiles on him.

The guy did a visible double take as he stepped forward and took her hand. 

“Oh, so you’re the model we are meeting with later?” he asked.  He shook his head slightly.  “Uh, wow. Your photos don’t do you justice.  You’ll be meeting with the Senior Art Director.  I’m the Junior Art Director at Ogilvy, newly appointed.  Magnus Bane.”

“Why, hello, hello, Magnus Bane,” she said sweetly, her eyes never leaving his.

He stared at her, as if hypnotized.  Then, slowly, a big smile spread over his face, as he lifted her hand to his lips for a kiss. 

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Belcourt,” he murmured, almost in a purr.

Ooh, Camille likey.  

She could sense a big personality beneath that shyness – hmm, now what seemed to be stifling this? 

She intended to find out.  And smash it to smithereens if need be. 

They just looked at one another for one more moment, and then the elevator dinged. 

The guy immediately snapped back to attention, as if he had forgotten why he had been standing there in the first place.  He immediately dropped her hand, as if realizing he had been holding it all that time. 

“That’s me,” he said hurriedly.  “I guess I’ll see you up there.”  He flashed her a smile and ducked into the elevator.

She watched the elevator close.

Well, well, well, this day just got infinitely more interesting, she thought, images of Magnus Bane in her head.  Hottie didn’t even begin to describe him.

And they were going to be working together? Maybe even helping to direct her shoots?

Even better.

She was already liking the transition to New York.  A lot.

 

Chapter Text

 

October 1989, two days later at Ogilvy Art Dept

 

“Makeup! Lights!” a harried voice yelled.

It was the voice of the Senior Art Director.  They were just about ready for the first take for the print ad and then the commercial they were about to shoot. 

Quickly two staff members rushed forward to attend to the Queen Anne sofa, where the star of the show, supermodel Camille Belcourt, was lounging on the couch, clad in a skintight black lace dress. 

Besides it being high-necked and ending mid-calf, that was the only modest coverage given by the dress.  It was nearly see-through, with a very transparent nude lining from the waist down.  The top part of the dress was completely see-through, showcasing Camille’s very generous cleavage and leaving little to the imagination.  

Camille resisted the urge to yawn.  She knew the preparations were necessary, but this waiting was oh, so boring Lying here was getting her tired fast… 

She bit her lip as she saw one of the two staffers suddenly in front of her, staring not so discreetly at her.

“Hey, why don’t you take a picture?  It would last longer,” she sneered in a low voice, just loud enough for him to hear.  Her voice was bordering on dangerous. She narrowed her eyes at him.

The staffer blinked, flushed, and mumbled, “Sorry, sorry,” before rushing off to check the lights.

Camille rolled her eyes, annoyed.

Then she looked over at the Senior Art Director, who was busily looking over a clipboard.

“Uh, Jared?” she called out sweetly.

The Senior Art Director looked up.  She smiled dulcetly at him, and he flushed. 

Again Camille resisted the urge to giggle. Men, she thought.

“Is anyone else going to be involved with the shoot?  Don’t you have a Junior Art Director working under you?  I think his name was Magnus Bane?” she asked.

The Senior Art Director did a visible double take. 

“Uh, yea,” he said, obviously surprised.  “We do.  But you haven’t met him yet – he was supposed to be in the meeting the other day, but he got called away last minute by one of our other clients.”

“Ah,” Camille said.  “Oh, I ran into him the day of our first meeting during lunch in the Courtyard.”

The Senior Art Director pursed his lips and nodded. “Well, that’s great,” he said, smiling, “Then I don’t need to worry about formal introductions.”

“Is he going to be involved with this shoot?” she asked curiously.

“Not today,” the Senior Art Director said.  “Maybe in a few days once the initials are shot.  Today we are mostly concentrating on the print ad, and we really need to get the pose down so we are having our regular photographer and Creative Director here.  Besides, we just gave Magnus our digital SLR and he still needs a lot of practice with it –”

“Well, I don’t think it would hurt for him to be here today.  Besides I saw some of his work. It’s not bad,” she said.  “He knows his focal lengths and aperture settings.”

Now the Senior Art Director really stared at her. 

“Hmm,” he mused.  “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have Magnus here – at least to see how we do setup and maybe he can do some practice shots.  Is that what you want, Miss Belcourt?” 

Camille gave him her most appraising look. 

“Why, yes, Jared,” she breathed, her eyes on him. “That would be just lovely if you could arrange that.” 

Jared just stood there, transfixed. 

“Uh, right on it,” he said.  He turned toward the reception desk, where the executive assistant was busy filing reports.  “Amanda,” he said, “Get Magnus up here.”

“Sure,” Amanda said.  She pressed speakerphone and dialed in an extension.

“Hello,” a deep melodious voice answered.  “Magnus Bane.”

“Magnus,” Amanda said.  “Jared wants you in the Creative photo shoot area.”

“He does?” the voice said, with surprise.  “But I thought he said he wanted –”

“It’s what Jared told me, just now,” Amanda insisted.

“Well, okay. Tell him I’m jumping into the elevator right now,” the voice said. The line went dead.

Amanda smiled in satisfaction as she turned to Jared. “He’s coming up,” she said.

Jared gave Amanda a thumbs up.   He turned to address Camille.

“Magnus Bane will be joining us,” he said. 

Camille smiled brightly at Jared.  “Thank you so much, you’re a doll.  Luminescence will be really happy with my positive feedback about your agency,” she purred.  Jared flushed.  Again, Camille resisted the urge to laugh. 

“T-That’s great to hear,” Jared said finally.  “We aim to please. Anything you want, Miss Belcourt.”

That’s right, Camille thought, licking her lips. Anything I want.

Right now, it was clear what she wanted…

And he was coming up in the elevator right about now.

………………….

 

Simon and Schuster around 130pm

 

Alec was busy looking over a manuscript that was handed to him by his boss, looking it over carefully.  This was new copy from an author they had recently acquired, so the boss had rated it as top priority for the day. 

As it was, Alec was making good time on it.  Tapping his pencil on the desk in front of him, he finished scanning the bottom of the page. Then as he turned the page, he just happened to glance up at the calendar. 

And he stilled, as he stared at it.   It was the beginning of October. 

Time flew by so quickly, he thought, suddenly feeling wistful.

A month ago, Sebastian was still in New York City. 

One week ago, Sebastian had left for San Diego.

Somehow, even when Sebastian had first brought it up during that fateful dinner, something in Alec’s gut had known he was always going to go.

They had kept the news private to themselves, as they wanted to spend as time together as they could before he had to leave.  Alec had not even told Isabelle…or Magnus for that matter.  He didn't know why, he just didn't feel like doing so.

Interestingly enough, Sebastian hadn’t told Magnus either. 

They had just kept to themselves these past three weeks, just wanting quiet, quality time together.

The day he was leaving, Sebastian had not wanted Alec to take him to the airport, as he had thought it would get too emotional.  

But Alec had insisted.  Somehow he wanted to give Sebastian a proper sendoff.

Then what had  come forth as they kissed goodbye at the terminal before he had boarded was a flurry of words that Alec couldn’t even remember now –

It was just all too soon, too hasty, and words poured out between them – maybe one day if he allowed himself to relive it, he might even remember exactly what was said, amidst hugs and kisses and promises that may or may not have been valid.

But they had seemed valid right at that moment. 

“I will miss you terribly,” he recalled Sebastian saying to him.  “I’ll call you once I settle in. “  Alec must have responded in kind.  And then he had been gone.

Truthfully, Alec wasn’t sure what to feel.  He felt a bit numb. That was about it.  But, he mused, that was about how one would feel, given that someone who was a part of his life for the last six months was suddenly not going to be around, to hang out with, or to talk to in person, or where their mere presence would just bring comfort –

There was definitely a gaping hole where Sebastian had been.

And yet, Alec was glad to have given the whole thing a chance.  Life was all about grabbing opportunities as they came, right? 

And he certainly had done that with regard to Sebastian. 

The last few days had Alec working late, so he had been missing calls, which ended up being sporadic voicemail messages from Sebastian, asking him to call when he got the chance.  And he would.  He made a promise to himself that he would…

Ugh, he felt really weird right now. 

He needed to call someone. 

Alec put the manuscript down and picked up the phone.  Then he hesitated, the receiver in his hand.

“You can call me anytime, you know that, right?” Magnus’s words to him flitted through his head. 

That had been shortly after the Cure concert had ended, and they were just standing around in the parking lot at Giants Stadium, waiting for Peter to unlock the doors.

Magnus came up to him.  Alec was surprised because Magnus usually kept his distance, and especially since they were going out with other people now. 

Magnus smiled and attempted to give him a hug.  But it wasn’t even like a real hug – but more like one of those quick, slightly awkward half chest bumps  – nowhere like their old lingering hugs, or goodbye pecks on the cheek that he used to give him. 

Things that they took for granted, as expressions of true, unadulterated friendship…

Or maybe Alec had just been kidding himself the entire time. 

Anyway he didn't know what to think of that time now -- it seemed like such a long time ago.

Despite the awkwardness, Alec returned it best as he could.  Perhaps it was that way at the time, since both Zach and Sebastian were both around. 

Then Magnus walked to Zach, and he to Sebastian, and they all climbed into the van, sitting in different rows.

Anyway, what Magnus had said to him – rather silly to say, almost like a platitude of sorts.  Given that as supposed best friends, it should really have been an unspoken assumption, but ever since things had become awkward, nothing could really be assumed anymore.

No, he wasn’t going to call Magnus right now.  It was still around lunch time, right about now.  He was probably busy with Zach, and that was that.  

And he hadn’t told Magnus about Sebastian yet.  It would just be too awkward…

Taking a deep breath, he started dialing another number. It rang once, then twice.

“Imasu Morales,” a deep melodious voice stated formally.

“Hey, Imasu,” Alec said.

“Oh, hey, Alec,” Imasu’s voice softened and sounded cheerful. “Wait, this is Alec, right?”

Now he sounded hesitant.

“Yea,” Alec said gruffly.

He heard Imasu titter. “Sorry about that, I didn’t expect you to call my work phone,” he said, chuckling.

Alec couldn’t help but smile into the receiver.  Then the smile left his face.  “Yea, sorry about that,” Alec said. “I –”   

He faltered.

“You alright? Especially with Seb and all…” Imasu asked in a concerned tone of voice.

Yes, well, after a few days, Alec just couldn't keep things to himself anymore regarding Sebastian leaving, and he had to tell someone. 

He was teetering between emotions right now, feeling really vulnerable and he was not ready for overly expressive overtures, as comforting as that might actually be -- which he knew he would get from Isabelle.  As much as he loved her, he was afraid he would potentially just break down in front of her and be a complete mess.   He also did not want to encounter extreme awkwardness -- which he knew he would get from Magnus, given the current state of their friendship, and especially since Sebastian did not even tell him personally that he was leaving.  

So when Imasu called a few days ago just to chat,  Alec ended up blurting it to Imasu.  Imasu was very surprised, but empathetic.  He understood how it was to care for someone -- as he was steady with Peter now.  He ended up being a very good listener without being too overly emotional and gave very insightful advice.  That's exactly what he needed.

Anyway, he was glad to have him to turn to.

Alec closed his eyes for a brief moment.  

“I’m…hanging in there. I’m okay I guess,” Alec said, exhaling noisily through his mouth. 

“It’s tough isn’t it?” Imasu sounded empathetic. Alec nodded into the receiver, before realizing how silly that looked in general. Oh my god, get it together, Alec, he thought.

“Yea,” Alec said slowly.  He took a deep breath.

“Listen,” Imasu said. “You free after work today?  Maybe we can grab a beer or some eats or something?  I mean if you want to talk or just to hang out…”

“How about Peter?” Alec asked quickly. “Won’t he mind?”

“Nah,” Imasu said.  “If anything, he would just ask me to bring home some of his favorite snacks from the deli on my way back.  Peter’s really chill.  Also, Peter knows we talk sometimes.  He thinks you’re cool.”

“Oh, good,” Alec said. He was relieved upon hearing that.  

And as for Imasu and Peter, they were great together.  They were currently living together somewhere uptown, and Alec was happy they seemed to be working out. 

“Yea, that sounds great,” Alec said.  “Meet at your workplace then?”

“Yea, see you then, Alec,” Imasu said.

“Thanks again,” Alec said, gratefully.

“Of course,” Imasu said softly. They both hung up.  Alec sat back in his chair, and thought about Sebastian again.  He sighed. 

Reaching into his bag, he took out his earbuds and Walkman.  

He turned it on, and put an earbud in his right ear.  As the music came on and the beat resounded in his ears, he nodded his head in time to the rhythm and beat.  He took a deep breath.  Okay, he felt a little better.

Picking up his manuscript and pencil, he started going over the next page, the music and beats in his ear helping to drown out the conflicting feelings now in his head.

…………………………………

The elevator opened, and Magnus stepped out, carrying his camera with one hand. 

He was still a bit confused, as he had been on the phone with his client in his office -- only to be called upstairs by Jared, his boss. 

So he had Zach take over the call, as the client needed some creative revisions involving photos -- he just asked Zach to take down some notes and assure them that Magnus would call them back later. 

If he recalled correctly, today was the first day of the shoot for Luminescence. The main photographer was supposed to handle this. So why was he being called up here?

He turned the corner and saw the setup for the photo shoot toward the end of the hall.  Jared happened to turn in his direction at the moment.

"Magnus," he said, motioning for him to come over. 

Magnus nodded, walking down the hallway toward him. As he got closer to the photo shoot setup, he saw staffers surrounding Camille, who was lounging on the Queen Anne Sofa, wearing a dress that accentuated every curve, along with the top being practically transparent, displaying her generous cleavage.

His breath caught. 

Wow, she's a knockout, he thought. And especially in that dress --

"Magnus, glad you could join us.  Camille asked that you be present.  Apparently she's impressed with your skills," Jared said pleasantly.  "Why don't you take some shots alongside the photographer today."

Magnus turned to Jared, surprised. "Oh?" This was an interesting turn of events.  Anyway he wasn't going to squander this opportunity.  It would be good practice...

Camille was talking to the staffers.  "That lighting is too glarey, it's in my eyes.  Can you adjust that?" she snapped. "And it's getting a bit hot under the lights, this is taking forever to begin.  Can someone get me a water?  That would be great."    

Suddenly, a bottle of water appeared right in front of her.  "Wow, that was quick," she said, genuinely surprised.  Then she looked up.  It was Magnus, offering her the water.

"We meet again," he said with a smile, his eyes on her.   

Wow, she thought, he looked more gorgeous today than the other day...

"Well, hello, hello, we meet again, Magnus Bane," she all but purred. "Thank you so much."

She took the water from him, making sure their fingers brushed one another.  She saw Magnus flush slightly, and then he smiled at her. 

"By the way, missed seeing you at the meeting the other day.  I thought you were supposed to be there," she said, pouting.

Magnus chuckled. "Yea, well, I was pulled into a client meeting at the last minute," he said.  

Jared, who had been observing the both of them, stepped up. "Don't worry, Miss Belcourt, I'll make sure Magnus is in every single one of these meetings involving you and Luminescence, going forward," he said.

Magnus turned to him in surprise.  "Really?" he asked.

"Yes, Magnus," Jared said, giving him a thumbs up.

"Guess no more lovey dovey lunches wtih Zach then!" one of Magnus's coworkers yelled out in jest.

Camille's eyes flickered toward the coworker.  What? Magnus was...gay? Hrmm.  She was not pleased with that..

Then she heard someone go, "Hrmpf! As if!  What about that freelance artist Amy last year? Whatever happened with her, Magnus?"

Camille felt instant relief upon hearing that.  Game still on, she thought, smiling sweetly.  

Magnus continued to smile at Jared, acting as if none of the childish banter was going on around him. This was a professional atmosphere, and it wasn't the time for this type of banter.

Camille's facial expression softened as she turned to Jared. 

"That's a great idea Jared. That pleases me very much," she said softly.  Jared blinked.

She turned to Magnus, fixing him with a direct gaze.

"Well, well, well, looks like we will be working more directly together from now on, eh, Magnus?" she said, purposely infecting her voice with her Southern accent, which she could turn on and off at will.

"Ah, yes, it would seem so," Magnus said, his eyes never leaving her face.

They just stared at one another.  Someone cleared their throat.  They both turned.  It was the Creative Director and Photographer. 

"So are we ready to get this ball rolling?" the Creative Director asked.  

Jared jumped to attention.  "Yes we are, Michael," he said quickly.  

Michael turned to Magnus.  "Well, I guess you get to join us today.  Just stand relatively in the same area as the main Photographer but don't get in his way.  You can crouch a bit or get in front of him if you want to get a different angle but if he tells you to move, move," he said.  

Magnus nodded. "Whatever you say," he said.  The Creative Director nodded assent.  

The photographer and Magnus took their places.  

Camille grinned as she resumed her pose.  She quickly flashed Magnus a look, under lowered lashes. 

This was working out perfectly.

……………………………….

 

Downstairs, Ogilvy Art Dept

 

Zach was in Magnus’s office, waiting for several faxes to come through from the client.  He had been surprised that Magnus had asked him to take over, in the middle of the call.  Jared, the Senior Art Director had unexpectedly called Magnus upstairs, where the Luminesce photo shoot was happening. 

Zach hadn’t known much about it, except that Magnus was going to be involved later in the week.  That’s why today’s sudden decision took them both by surprise.  They were supposed to go out for lunch together in a few– but now it seemed like those plans were not happening today.

“..Yea, that new model is something else,” an unfamiliar guy’s voice floated down the hallway past the office door. 

 “Yea, that model for Luminesce…”

“What’s her name? Belcourt?”

“Ah yea, Camille Belcourt, the one all over the magazines right now. Boy, she was being so stuck-up it wasn’t funny.  We were just trying to set up and she kept biting our head off.”

 “Seriously! But did you hear her sweettalk the Art Director, Jared?  Sheesh I was going to gag so badly –  and he was eating it up!”

“And did you hear how she got Jared to get Magnus Bane up there?”

Zach froze, as he heard this part of the conversation.  Stealthily, he crept close to the edge of the doorway to listen in further.

“Yea, seriously.  All she needs to do is to put forth that Southern accent and she gets everything she wants.  Magnus shouldn’t even be up there.  He’s not experienced enough as a photographer in my opinion, but I guess whatever she says, goes!”

“And did you see how she looked at him?  What’s with her and Magnus Bane?  There’s definitely something there… they couldn’t keep their eyes off one another…”

The voice started fading as the two people walked away.

Meanwhile, in the office, Zach just stood where he was -- stunned at what he just heard.  Was that true?  Did Camille have her designs set on Magnus?  And was Magnus responding to her?

Zach leaned his head against the wall, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. 

Maybe they had just misjudged the situation.  Magnus wouldn’t do that to him, right?  At least he hoped not.

He needed to meet this Camille…  

Chapter Text

Zach was still in Magnus's office, writing up a memo detailing the changes the client wanted on the project.  It had been a long phone conversation.

So now he was organizing everything on the desk for Magnus.

He looked at his watch. 450pm. Magnus had been up there for about half a day -- he hadn't even eaten lunch, which they were supposed to do together.

He wondered if he should call upstairs, just to see if the shoot was over.

“Hey, Jared," he imagined himself saying, "Just wondering if the Luminescence shoot was done, Mr. So-and-so wanted to know.. "

He shook his head, laughing awkwardly to himself.

Truth was, it was he who wanted to know.

It was his guy who  was up there, summoned for some unknown reason, and somehow he was familiar enough with the shoot -- and familiar enough with that lead supermodel, who supposedly asked for him personally?

If those two guys in the hall had been telling the truth during their conversation...was there actually something he needed to be concerned with?

Just then the elevator doors opened.

There was Magnus with a tall blonde woman in an almost see through high necked black lace dress down to midcalf and wearing stiletto heels. 

Magnus was saying something to her, and she threw her head back and laughed, her red lips a perfect stain against her alabaster face. 

There was a pink flush across Magnus's cheeks, and his eyes were twinkling and animated as he talked to her.

Zach couldn't help staring at the two.

God they looked amazing together.

He swallowed hard.

Then in the next minute, he had gotten his resolve back. 

He was the one who was seeing Magnus – officially -- so why was he even being insecure about things? Especially about rumors that may not even hold any weight…

With that in mind, Zach called out, "Magnus! Ah, finally.  That certainly took awhile.”

Magnus looked up at the sound of Zach’s voice, and his eyes softened as he stepped slightly in front of Camille, walking to Zach and giving him a kiss on the cheek. 

Zach beamed, as he accepted Magnus’s kiss on the cheek.  His eyes fell upon the tall blonde woman, who suddenly looked annoyed, pursuing her lips. 

So this was Camille, eh?

“Yea, so sorry to miss lunch, and to leave you with all of that stuff with the client,” Magnus said sheepishly, running his hand through his hair.  “We really got into the shoot upstairs…”

“Not a problem,” Zach said, continuing to ignore Camille, who was looking more annoyed by the second.  “Although I was disappointed to have to miss lunch.  But what do you think about dinner or carryout from  our regular spot?”

He threw Magnus his most winningest smile. 

They usually went to Carmine’s on 44th around Times Square every Tuesday and Thursday.  Zach knew that Magnus adored the bar there, along with the penne a la vodka and the fried calamari with the spicy marinara dipping sauce.

Magnus’s eyes lit up at the suggestion.

“That sounds great! I can’t wait to eat,” he said enthusiastically.  “So starved.”

A sound of someone clearing her throat made Magnus turn around. It was Camille. 

She walked, her heels clacking on the tile floor, until she was standing next to Magnus.

"Ah, Magnus," she said sweetly, her Southern Belle charm in effect, "Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?"

She put a hand on Magnus’s shoulder, showcasing a perfect manicure in red and pink.

“Zach, this is Camille, the face of Luminescence.  She’s the one I was working with upstairs.  Camille, this is Zach, the guy that I’m seeing,” Magnus said.

Zach tried to maintain a smile as he looked at Camille, but already knowing how easily she become annoyed when the attention wasn’t on her – well, that just bothered him.  

Also that hand on Magnus's shoulder...

He gritted his teeth.  She was acting possessive. 

Like she owned him.

But, yes, he could be courteous.   He took a deep breath.

"It's nice to meet you, Camille. I've definitely seen your photos -- you are certainly well known. We are lucky to have you on board," he said cordially.  

Well, at least that’s what he was trying for.  

It was usually hard for him to do something that he wasn’t feeling, but somehow he felt like he needed to save face here.  He wasn’t going to be humiliated…

At least, not in front of her. 

He extended out his hand.

Camille took his hand and shook it, with a soft laugh. "Well, aren't you a doll," she breathed. "Everyone's been so nice here. And especially Magnus. But of course you know that, since you two are together. And also, you two are the cutest, really.  Anyway, did he tell you how we met?"

No, Magnus had actually not spoken to Zach about Camille -- they rarely talked about work on their off hours. Which was perfectly fine with Zach. Work and personal life should always be kept separate, he thought.

But for once, Zach kinda wished Magnus had mentioned her, so he wouldn’t have felt so blindsided this afternoon, and especially after hearing those two in the hallway…

Just then the phone in Magnus's office rang. "Excuse me you two, I need to get that," Magnus said apologetically.  He walked into the office, leaving Zach alone with Camille.

Uh, okay…

Zach realized Camille was looking at him pointedly, waiting for a response.

"No," Zach said slowly. "So, how did you two meet?"

"Oh, it was the day I was to meet the executives.  I was sitting in the courtyard after the busiest day; I was so exhausted and decided to have a little rest in the Courtyard downstairs.  When suddenly I felt like I was being watched.  And there Magnus was, trying out his Nikon, but for some reason he was fixated on my shoes – all of the things…”

She let out a little lilting laugh, her eyes looking out dreamily at the recollection.  Zach wasn’t sure he liked that very much, but he said nothing.

“…well, anyway,” she continued, “So I told him to come over and we talked talking.  I saw the photos that he was taking.  He’s so good, even though he says he isn’t.  But I’m sure you realize that, since you two are together–”

No, Zach didn’t know that…

“..and then we discovered we would be running into one another since he’s assisting with the Luminesce campaign. But thanks to me, now he’s directly involved with the campaign.  I bet that’s them now, calling him directly to make introductions,” Camille said.  She was beaming, as if she was so very proud of herself.

Zach flinched inwardly.  

He rarely disliked someone, and usually would give people the benefit of the doubt.  But there was just something about her that he didn’t like…

“…oh and by the way, you and Magnus are totally cute together.”  Camille’s voice, with the lilting Southern accent broke into his thoughts.  Zach’s attention focused on Camille once again

“It’s so ‘opposites attract’, you know?” she said lightly.  “I mean, I don’t  really believe in that personally, since having things in common usually create that spark that really lasts, you know?  I mean, look at how you dress, and look at how Magnus dresses – it’s like two different worlds.  But hey, good for you guys.”

Camille continued to smile in her sweet way, but Zach could feel her eyes on him.  Scrutinizing.

Do not let her get to you, Zach thought.  He didn’t break her gaze as he said with a slight smile, “Yea.  We are pretty lucky that way.  And yea, that’s awesome how you two met.  Magnus is super friendly, you couldn’t find a better person in your corner than him…”

“Oh, I already know that, trust me,” Camille said in an overly sweet tone. 

Zach resisted the urge to narrow his eyes at her.  Oh God…

Just then Magnus came out of his office, coming up to Zach.  But his eyes were on Camille.  “That was Luminescence on the line, Camille, they were calling to introduce themselves and they said you said a lot of good things about me,” Magnus said, his voice showing evident surprise.  “I don’t know how to thank you.  You’re amazing.”

Camille turned from Zach to Magnus. 

“Of course,” she said softly.  “You saw how we worked well together upstairs, right?  Of course I want you by my side. Even the main photographer said your photos had promise.”

Zach saw Magnus absolutely beam at that. 

Well, he does deserve it, Zach thought objectively.  “That’s great to hear.  Magnus, you should be so proud of yourself,” Zach said softly, kissing him on the cheek.

Magnus turned back to Zach, grinning. 

“Thanks, Zach. Yea, it felt so good this afternoon, holding a camera again.  Not to mention having a great subject to work with,” he said simply. 

Camille winked at him.  Zach saw Magnus flush at that.

Zach resisted the urge to glower at her.  God she was just something else, wasn’t she…

“Well, this has been great,”  he said finally,  “Magnus, I think we should get going now, the place does tend to fill up rather quickly so the earlier the better. And we can chill by the bar and you can get those Appletinis you love so much.”

Magnus nodded. “Yea, you’re right, we really should.”  He smiled at Zach.

Then he turned to Camille.  “See you tomorrow, 11am?” he stated.

“Can’t wait, hotshot,” Camille drawled.  Magnus flushed again. 

“Stop saying those things, Camille – I’m not half as good as you’re making me sound,” Magnus protested. But to Zach, it sounded like he wasn’t saying it with as much conviction as he thought he was.

“Hey, I just call it like it is,” Camille said airily.  “Anyway, I will see you tomorrow, I wanted to stop by Creative to talk about some things.  Have fun tonight.” She then nodded to Zach, looking at him again. “Zach.”

“Camille,” Zach said, nodding.  Finally…

With that, Camille turned and walked off toward the cubicles in the adjacent room.

Well. That was scintillating,  Zach thought wryly.  Taking a deep breath, he turned to Magnus, who was smiling, with a faraway look in his eyes. 

“Ready to go?” he asked.

Magnus blinked, and then was looking at him again. “Ah…ready??  Oh right, for dinner. Definitely,” he said warmly, a soft look in his eyes. 

The look, that so far, Magnus had always reserved for him. 

As far as he knew…

“And we can totally celebrate what happened today, your big career move,” Zach teased lightly.  He was proud of Magnus.  Tonight it would be about Magnus. And Zach was not going to think about Camille.

Not one bit….

Magnus tittered, wrapped his arm around him.

“You’re too much,” he said affectionately, kissing him on the cheek.  “Yea, let’s go.”

 

………………………………………

 

Four weeks later, Brooklyn

 

Alec sat on his couch at home in Brooklyn, his hand trembling as he held an unfolded letter in his hands.  It was from Sebastian.  

It had been in his mailbox when he had come home from work, and he had opened it up and read it right away. 

They had been talking about Sebastian possibly coming over to visit NYC, or Alec even going over there for a visit in a few months.

Right now, his head was spinning.

The letter started with the regular heartwarming words such as “I miss you so much” and “Wish you were here”. 

But then it went on to say that things at the new restaurant was super hectic, and that his uncle, who had been sick, had experienced a downturn, so he would need to go to the UK to visit him soon.

Then he came to the part of the letter which said: “I really don’t want to drag you into all of this, with you being back in NYC, so perhaps it would be best for you to see other people.”

The rest of the letter said something about how he was going to be working late, odd hours for the next week or so, so he might be scarce by phone. 

Anyway, by the time Alec got to that part of the letter, the words barely registered in Alec’s head.

Alec’s heart slammed into his chest when he read the words that did matter. 

“Perhaps it would be best if you saw other people.”

He couldn’t breathe.

He was numb for the first hour following that.  Then later on, he had gotten annoyed - and even angry.  

Who was Sebastian to make this decision for him? 

If Alec had wanted to be with him, to support him through this, wasn’t he allowed to make his own choices on what to do here?

Or maybe Sebastian himself just decided that it wasn’t worth trying to make things work anymore?

He couldn’t be here right now.  He needed to take a walk.  Or something. 

Anything.

Throwing the letter down on the coffee table angrily, Alec strode to the closet and grabbed his jacket.   Opening the door, he stormed out of his apartment, slamming the door behind him.

……

A day passed. Then two. Then, three.

Alec had calmed down significantly since that first day.

 He could see the validity of Sebastian’s argument now.

With Alec being so far away, in fact on the other side of the country, and Sebastian suddenly needing to deal with all these responsibilities, a relationship in general was not going to work out – let alone a long distance one. 

No matter how either side felt about it.

Still, Alec couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss, yet again.  Tears slipped out from his eyes before he could stop them, and he put his head in his hands and cried. 

Things were so unfair…

……

When he felt like he couldn’t cry anymore, he walked to the coffee table and picked up the letter. He scanned through it again. 

He sighed deeply.  He had to look at the bright side.  He got to experience something wonderful.

He would always remember it as such. 

No doubt they would remain friends even in the interim  – Sebastian was too good of a person to not have in his life, regardless…

And who knows, maybe one day…

No, he shouldn’t finish that sentence.  No one could predict the future, he thought. 

He swallowed hard.

He took a deep breath, and reached for the phone.  He realized his hand was still shaking.  He dialed a number.

Ring! Ring! Someone picked up on the other end on the third ring.

“Hey,” Alec said into the receiver without thinking.

“Alec?”  Oh, it was Peter. 

“Hey, yea.  Sorry, I should have –”  Alec faltered.  He was unable to think clearly at the moment.

“You’re looking for Imasu right?” Peter asked gently.

Alec sighed. “Yea,” Alec whispered. 

“No worries, he’s here.  Alec, you don’t sound good.  I don’t mean to overstep, but I hope things get better for you.  But I’ll let you talk to Imasu about it, okay?” Peter stated gently.

Alec felt an overflowing sense of gratitude at Peter’s words. “Thanks, Peter,” he sighed.

There was some movement on the line, and then Imasu’s voice came on.  “Alec, Peter sounded…concerned.  You okay?” he asked worriedly.

“No, not really,” Alec said, breathing hard.  He shut his eyes and leaned against the armrest of the couch.

“Where are you right now?” Imasu asked urgently. “Home?  Somewhere else?”

“Just home,” Alec said despondently.

“You…need me to come over there?  Or you want to meet up somewhere?” Imasu asked, his voice with the same level of urgency.

Alec furrowed his brows. “You would come all the way here?  But it’s too far –”

“Truthfully you don’t sound like you could handle a trip out,” Imasu said slowly.  “Do you think you could?”

“Uh,” Alec said, his mind drawing a blank.

“No, I didn’t think so,” Imasu said firmly. There was some rustling on the other line.  “Listen, just go lie down and relax.  I am going to look for a cab and come to you.”

“Are you sure?” Alec asked hesitantly.  He didn’t feel like protesting at that very moment.

“I’m already outside, hailing a cab,” Imasu said firmly.  Now Alec could hear the noises on the street.  Hmm, Imasu wasn’t kidding about getting outside that quickly. “No buts.  I will just see you soon.  And, it’s like 2pm.  Have you eaten?”

“No, not even breakfast –”

“Alright, that’s solved as well.  Stay put, okay?”

“Sure,” Alec said dully.  The line went dead.  Alec just stared at the receiver before he placed it back in the cradle.

…………………………………

“Alec,” Imasu stated.

They were both sitting on the couch in Alec’s living room with beers in their hands.  Opened containers of half-eaten Chinese takeout was on the coffee table in front of them, which Imasu had picked up on the way here..

Alec was seated next to him with a slumped posture. He appeared defeated, with a pensive expression on his face as he stared straight ahead.  Imasu was glad he had decided to come over.  He glanced at the letter in his hand, which Alec had immediately given to him when they had sat down. 

Alec had not spoken since then.

“I’m so very sorry to learn about Sebastian,” Imasu said softly.  “I can’t even imagine what a shock this was to you…”

Alec huffed back a laugh.

“Yea, you’re telling me,” he said wryly.  He took a deep breath.  “I mean, I do understand why he would write this.  But he didn’t think we could weather things like this – that I wasn’t capable of doing so?”

“It may not even be about that,” Imasu said quietly.  “Perhaps he doesn’t think you need to put yourself through that.  It does sound like he has a lot going on…”

“There’s certainly no doubt that he cares about you.  A lot,” Imasu said.  Alec turned to him just then, tears glistening in his eyes. He smiled a sad smile.

“Yea,” Alec said. “I know that.  And I care so much for him too. That’s why this hurts.  So much. But I think that even something within myself knows that perhaps this is just how it is supposed to be, at this time.” 

He sighed as he got up from his seat and started slowly pacing around.

“I don’t know,” he started rambling. “I just wish things were different.  God, what a ridiculous cliché thing to say, eh?  Yea, everyone always wishes this.” 

He rolled his eyes at his own words.

Imasu reached out to grab his arm. Alec turned to look at him, his face slightly pained.

“Look, you can’t be this hard on yourself,” Imasu said gently.  “It’s natural to get angry at this situation.  You wanted things to go one way  -- but it’s not turning out the way that you want.”

Alec hung his head.  “Yea, I know.  I just hate that I don’t have any control over the situation,” he admitted.

“You do, though, “Imasu insisted.  “I mean, you already said that you know this is for the best thing for now. So you are just going to work through this,  and do whatever it takes to deal.  We are all so young, how would we know what’s going to happen in the future –

“Well, you found Peter,” Alec said bluntly.

There was no denying that.

Imasu looked at Alec.

“Yes,” he admitted.  “I did find him. And I am so very lucky to have found him.  But I wasn’t really interested in any stable relationship prior to that.  Well, maybe except for Magnus, but that was totally a misread on my part toward the end. But yea, when we first started, the last thing I was thinking about was a committed relationship.”

“The point is, life is just going to happen, and we don’t know what will come our way today,. tomorrow, the next day, a month from now, even a year from now.  Who knows, maybe if you guys are meant to be, then you guys will come together later and meet up again, and then things will go great.  Or maybe you just don’t need another relationship right now and you want to focus on yourself.  Or maybe there’s someone else out there who you are meant to be with –”

Imasu saw something flicker in Alec’s eyes just then. He appeared to freeze, as if he was suddenly reminded of something.  

Imasu had a notion, but he filed it away for later.

“Regardless,” he continued in a gentle tone of voice, “Just take it one day at a time.”

He hesitated for a moment, and then he spoke again.

“Would it help if I told you that it was probably just as difficult for Sebastian to write that letter to you?” he asked.

Alec looked at him with an incredulous look on his face, his blue eyes flashing.  Imasu almost cracked up upon seeing that, but bit his lip.

“Uh, I’m not sure I want to hear that right now from you, no offense,” Alec said.

A small smile crept onto his face, and he chuckled.

“Maybe I want all your attention focused on me right now.  Maybe I want to wallow in self-pity,” Alec huffed, pouting.

That made Imasu chuckle. 

“Well, I’m yours right now, that’s for sure,” he said, looking directly at Alec. 

He had seen the small smile on Alec’s face, and it made him feel much lighter.  “If that is what keeps you going, wallow away.  Just don’t do it for too long..”

“Yea, I know, “Alec said, sighing.  He plopped back down on the couch.

“I’m here to listen, if you need,” Imasu reassured him. ” Or even if you just need to not talk at all, I’ll just sit here with you.”

Alec looked at Imasu gratefully.  “Thank you,” he said.

He looked down at his hands.

“I guess I am okay for the most part,” Alec said slowly. “Well, not completely okay.  But it’s been a few days now, and I’ve had time to think about it.  But I just keep going back and forth about it, you know?  But  having you, someone to talk to or just being here, really does help.”

Imasu smiled empathetically at him.  

Just then a thought occurred to him. “Oh, by the way, have you talked to Magnus at all?” Imasu asked curiously.

Alec furrowed his brow. 

“Not really,” he admitted.  “We kinda said that we would try to keep in touch, right before we left the grounds at Giant Stadium after the Cure concert --  but with the Sebastian thing and all, I was pretty scarce during September…”

And now it was around November...

Damn, has it been that long? 

He kinda knew it, of course – but to hear it laid out like that – geez…

“Oh,” Imasu said, surprised. “Well anyway, I did meet up with him two weeks after the concert, but then work got busy.  Haven’t had a chance to talk to him since.  I really should touch base with him soon…”

He trailed off.

“Well,” Alec said awkwardly. “Maybe you can say hi to him for me, if you get the chance.”

Imasu smiled.  “I will,” he promised. 

Chapter Text

Magnus currently found himself at home, sitting on the couch after a day of work.

In front of him were two manila folders, filled with printed photographs from the Luminescence campaign in front of him. 

Fortunately today had been a light day at work –  a rare thing, ever since he had been drawn into the campaign by one very persistent model Camille Belcourt.

And intriguing, his brain added, as he recalled how knowledgeable Camille had been regarding photography on that first day they had met. 

That certainly wasn’t something you would find in someone who had that type of career/lifestyle. 

He filed that thought away for later, refocusing upon the task at hand.

The test shots had finally come back from the main photographer.  Camille had insisted that Magnus be the one to narrow down the photos going into the print campaign.

He carefully removed the contact sheets from both the  main photographer and those from his digital camera  -- which he had downloaded and carefully printed out via Photoshop.

His eyes fell upon the images. 

He took a sharp intake of breath.

Damn, Camille, truly something else, his brain registered even before thoughts could be formulated. 

In most of these photos, especially with her wearing that highnecked lace dress, it pretty much looked like she was barely clad in anything on her upper torso. 

His mouth went dry. Other parts of his body started reacting involuntarily as well.  Oh God ---

Ringgg!

Wow, that was good timing, Magnus thought, half-relieved, as he turned to look at his phone.

Reaching over, he picked up the receiver, putting the contact prints back into the folder and placing it to the side.

“Hello,” Magnus replied.

“Hey.” The warm, familiar voice filled his ears. Ooh, Imasu, his brain registered.

“Heeeey, Imasu,” Magnus said happily, “What’s up?”

He was surprised to hear from Imasu out of the blue.  The last time he had seen him was about 2 months ago, and then work had gotten extremely hectic.

“I’m good,” Imasu’s warm voice filtered through the receiver.  “Damn, time flies, doesn’t it. First it was mid-September, and now we are looking closer to Thanksgiving now.  I’m so sorry I didn’t keep in touch more.  I mean, we totally said that we would   –”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Magnus said casually. “Life,  you know? It’s always nice to hear from you.  How’s Peter?”

“Oh, he’s great, as always,” Imasu says.  “He says hi.” Aww, that was nice, Magnus thought.  Peter was such a cool guy….

“Yea, tell Peter I say hi back.  We should all hit up the new spot by your place sometime and catch up,” Magnus said.  They had done that from time to time during the summer. 

But for some reason, summer seemed like an eternity ago right about now.  Sheesh, where had the time gone?

“So, how’s work?” Imasu asked curiously. 

Magnus found himself grinning into the phone.  

“Well,” he said, trying to contain his voice, “I was promoted to Junior Art Director in September…and then got pulled into the campaign for Luminescence.”  

Magnus couldn’t help feeling a thrill at the thought of it.  He totally couldn’t complain about his life right now..

“That’s great!” Imasu’s delighted voice came through.  

“Wow, Luminescence, eh?  They are rising fast.  Hmm, so is it true that you guys snagged that top model…what was her name?  Camille?”

“Camille Belcourt,” Magnus stated.  “Yea, I work with the main photographer on the campaign.”

Imasu whistled. “Wow, that must be demanding,” he commiserated.  “What does Zach think about all of this?”

“Zach?” Magnus asked. “He was happy for me when he heard about it – in fact, he took me out for dinner that same night to celebrate…”

He smiled as he remembered what a great time they had at dinner that night.  

Although as of late, it just seemed like things had just gotten busier and busier – the shoots and the creative campaigns were getting more demanding, and Jared (Camille?) wanted more of his input as time went on.

As for Zack, he had taken over Magnus’s client in his previous campaign, as the client had gotten used to working with him.

So suddenly he was in a more proactive role, having to manage a team. He had to learn to prioritize and delegate things to his team.  

The learning curve had been steep, and lunch dates had gotten displaced when the client would call with more changes to be made, etc. Not to mention having to work late as well.

Come to think of it, Magnus now realized that he had missed out on lunch dates with Zach for over a week now, due to conflicting schedules.  

He had also fallen into a routine of going out with his boss Jared, Camille, and other staff members for lunch – as the client wanted Jared to make a good impression on Camille.

Whatever Camille asked for, Camille usually got.

He made a mental note to call Zach later on, to catch up.  

He recalled Zach had called him a few evenings ago and they had chatted on the phone.

But now he realized three days had passed, and nothing.

Now that was kinda odd…  

“Well, I can’t begin to know what you guys go through,” Imasu was saying,  “But I can only imagine that you guys spend a lot of time on the shoot, looking over the prints and then work on other aspects of the creative in the campaign…”

Magnus laughed.  “Yea” he said. “In fact, that’s what I was doing right when you called, looking over the contact sheets.  My boss Jared told me that Camille wanted my input on the shots to use for the print portion of the campaign…”

“Wow, she asked for you personally?  That’s…interesting…”

Imasu’s voice had an edge to it at the moment.  For some reason, Magnus felt defensive.  “Well, she told Jared she thought I had a good creative eye – and I ended up with the task of looking through her shots,” Magnus said.  “It’s a really important role –”

“No, no, it definitely is important,” Imasu said quickly.  “It’s just interesting how you said Camille talked you up to the boss.  Was that how you ended up more involved on the campaign too?  That she asked for you?” 

“Yea. So?” Magnus hedged. 

“This may sound presumptuous, “ Imasu asked slowly.  “But do you think she has more than a professional interest in you?”

“What?” Magnus laughed. “No, no way. I mean, sure she’s got this amazing Southern drawl, but she talks like that to everyone…” 

He trailed off, as he recalled how short she had been with the other members of the Creative Staff from time to time. But never him…

Actually, no,  she didn’t talk like that to everyone, he realized, his eyes widening.

So what did that mean?  Or rather, what did he want that to mean? 

“Yea, you’re probably right,” Imasu said, chuckling.  “She probably is like that, usually.  Models, you know…”

NO. She’s not just *any* model...Magnus’s brain automatically thought. 

And then he pulled himself back, shocked. 

What was he thinking? Magnus wondered, his eyes widening.  What was happening to him?

He briefly relived their first meeting in the Courtyard – there had definitely been a connection…

“Anyway, we can talk about something else,” Imasu continued hastily.  “I’m sure that there’s other things going on for you.  Oh, and before I forget, Alec says hi.”

Magnus stilled. 

Alec?  

That was kinda weird, coming from Imasu, of all people... 

“Alec?” he asked slowly. “You’ve…spoken to Alec recently?” 

Come to think of it, hadn’t he told Alec to hit him up anytime, that night following the Cure concert?  But then it just seemed like he had dropped off the face of the Earth. 

Not that it would have been that difficult to believe.  He had a boyfriend, and sometimes people just did that, inadvertently.  

Well, at least that’s what he thought, happened. Besides, it  was really none of his business what Alec was up to with Sebastian, anyway...

"Actually, I have," Imasu said. "In fact, we met up the other week --"

"Wait...hold up. For what?" Magnus cut in, flabbergasted.

"He just needed to talk..." 

Imasu seemed to be wrestling with his own thoughts as he spoke. Now it was starting to grate upon Magnus's nerves...

"What about?" Magnus asked automatically. 

Then he pulled himself back. "Never mind that," he said quickly. "Forgot I even asked --" 

He had no right, absolutely no right to demand answers like that... 

Alec could seek out whoever he wanted. Even if it was Imasu...

There was silence on the other end. 

Then Magnus heard Imasu sigh. 

"Listen, I'm not sure I should be the one telling you this," Imasu said slowly. "But Sebastian is gone, Magnus. He's been gone. He left NYC for a new job in California."

Magnus's mind went blank for a few moments. Then Imasu’s words registered.

 "W-What?" he asked, shocked. "When?"

"End of September," Imasu confessed. "But don't be offended or anything -- I think they were trying to keep it quiet and didn't tell anyone.  Anyway, Alec hasn't really been dealing with it too well, though. He also got a letter recently from Sebastian saying they should date other people --"

"Oh my God," Magnus said. 

To say he was horrified was an understatement.

While he had never had anyone say that to him personally, those were the type of words you never wanted to hear come out of someone's mouth -- with a "Let's talk" being one thing you never wanted to hear from anyone you were going out with. 

Poor Alec, he thought sympathetically.

"Well, anyway he ended up calling me last week, and he sounded wrecked. So I ended up going over there to check up on him. It wasn’t pretty..."

"Is he okay though?" Magnus asked quickly.

"I think he's accepted it, for the most part. But I think he's still somewhat heartbroken over it,” Imasu said.  “He was doing better after our talk.”

“Im glad to hear that,” Magnus said softly, feeling a tug in his heart.  He sighed. “Thank you for being there for him…” 

Ugh, Alec wasn’t able to come to him for this?  he wondered. 

With good reason? his brain retorted. After all you were actively trying to avoid him, weren't you?

I was trying to save the friendship, he argued internally.

But even that now sounded like a lame excuse to him.

He didn’t feel very good, all of a sudden…

“Magnus,” Imasu said, with concern in his voice.

“Eh?” Magnus asked distractedly. He frowned. He didn’t like where this was going, just from the tone in Imasu's voice.

“I don’t mean to pry, but what happened to you and Alec?” Imasu asked slowly.

Magnus closed his eyes.  Were they really going to have this conversation now? 

“It’s just that things have been really off – like you guys were so tight last year – and never mind whatever we were going through.  I’m past that.  The issues I had back then -- that was on me. They had nothing to do with you two.  But I gotta tell you, that day at Yaffa Café, it really seemed like you went out of your way to avoid him,” Imasu said bluntly.

Ouch, Magnus thought.  

He couldn’t say anything.  It was all true.

“I mean, seriously.  Both of you were awkward, and it was weird to be in the middle of it –”

“Is that why you stepped in?” Magnus asked tentatively.  “I saw you two hug during the St. Patrick’s day get together…I didn’t recall you being on that level before –”

“Actually that had taken me completely by surprise that day,” Imasu said slowly.  “But Alec and i did chat over the phone the week before.  I guess it was helpful to him.  I don’t recall what we talked about.  But he just happened to call me…”

Ah, so that accounted for the hug – made sense, Magnus thought.

Well, Imasu was excellent with giving advice as well as being a good listener. Of course Alec would have grativated to him...

"So? What happened, Magnus?" Imasu pressed.

Magnus sighed. Imasu wasn't going to let things go... 

"I guess it started when he suddenly cancelled on Happy Hour out of the blue one Thursday, saying something came up," Magnus said thoughtfully. 

"Then I found him on a date with Sebastian..."

"And...that bothered you?" Imasu hedged. 

"What? No, of course not!" Magnus protested, a little too quickly. "I mean, he could have told me he had gotten a date and all...I mean I knew he was looking to date. I guess it just took me by surprise..."

He trailed off.

"Where did you run into him?" Imasu asked.

"Rodeo Bar," Magnus stated. "Actually I had invited Zach along with me because I didn't have anything to do that night..."

"Oh, that one with the mechanical bull? Heard that was a blast," Imasu commented.

'Yea, well Alec definitely liked that." The words came out of Magnus's mouth before his brain realized what he had said.

"Oh yea? He rode it? Hmm, bet that was interesting to watch. I didn't know he did stuff like that...." Imasu said, his voice sounding a bit odd.

"Ohhh, yeaa. He definitely rode it, all right...," Magnus muttered absent-mindedly, as his mind started to wander.

"...Uh, what?" Imasu asked. He sounded surprised .

"What?" Magnus echoed, distractedly. 

"You said something before," Imasu said pointedly.

"Uh, I don't think I did..." Magnus said slowly.

Silence.

Imasu was being so confusing and cryptic right now, Magnus thought, starting to get slightly annoyed.

"Anyway, never mind," Imasu said. "I just wanted to make sure everything was alright with you. Like I said, I'm sorry I let things drop for so long. Let's meet up again soon, okay? Peter would love to double date with you and Zach again..."

"Yea," Magnus said, a bit more confidently. "Let's." He smiled into the receiver.

"Right," Imasu said. "And... Magnus? Just remember what I said about that model Camille, okay?" 

"Uh, right," Magnus said.  Camille...

Right, her photos. He needed to look them over for tomorrow...

"Okay then, let's talk again sometime and finalize things. Have a good night, Magnus," Imasu said pleasantly.

"Definitely. Can't wait to meet up," Magnus said, smiling again. 

He hung up. His eyes went to the manila folders on the table.

Camille... Hmm what was it that Imasu had said about her? That she might be interested in him?

Hmm... That's certainly food for thought.

He leaned over to grab the folders, and flipped them open. One of Camille's headshots grabbed his attention. She was looking behind her shoulder, throwing a wink at the camera with a flirty smile.

 

Playful. 

Sensual. 

Beautiful. 

 

He had taken that photo. 

They were taking a break, and Camille was feeling playful. She was walking around, then turned and flashed him a wink and a smile.

"Catch this, Magnus Bane..." She purred.

Click! Went his camera...

 

He couldn't stop staring at it.

.....

Meanwhile, Imasu hung up the phone, wide-eyed and all sorts of confused. Yet at the same time, he received unexpected clarity. 

Clarity regarding both Magnus and Alec...

He detected that tone in Magnus's voice, when he had spoken about Alec. It didn't even seem like Magnus realized he had slipped up.

There was a particular vibe about it.

Imasu had picked up a similar vibe from Alec, more than once in the past few weeks.

Damn. That was really something, wasn't it. He had suspected that they were going through something... Even fighting something...

It was far too similar for it to be a coincidence... 

Something was there, even if neither wanted to admit to it.

He sat for awhile, pondering this new information in his head.

And now there was this Camille, trying to work her way into Magnus's life. 

Which was not necessarily the best thing for Magnus... 

Something had to be done.

 

 

Chapter Text

Zach hated the new setup at work where he was – truly hated it.

Not that his office was bad – it was Magnus’s old office, which he had moved into after being given Magnus’s client after he was transferred to the Luminescence account.

But his office was located right by the elevators, everyone always walked by, or rather, wanted to peek in and say hello.

Now that he normally didn’t mind…but as of late, someone very annoying always just seemed to pop in, to his chagrin…

“Hey, Zach,” Camille said brightly, suddenly appearing from out of nowhere and hanging onto the doorframe of his office. “Having lunch indoors again?”

Holy hell, second day in a row?? Zach inwardly cursed himself for not keeping the office door closed during his lunch hour. 

He had wanted to keep an ‘open door’ policy with his team, but he may just need to revisit that – given these types of intrusions…

“Oh, hi Camille,” he said, casually, putting his lunch aside now that she was talking to him. Somehow he always felt the need to keep the conversation going.  “How’s it going?” he asked, putting a smile on his face.

She beamed.

"Oh, it’s just going so well. Fabulously,” she gushed. “We just finalized the first print of the campaign…and it’s so amazing…” 

She brought a finger to her lips.

“But shh, no one knows that it’s Magnus’s photo that got selected.  “Actually, oops! Well, now you know!  My client couldn’t get enough of that photo.”  She grinned proudly as she paused to preen a bit, tossing her luxurious blond hair about.  “They said it brought out my fun, flirtatious side, and that’s what they wanted to evoke with their brand,” she drawled.

“Magnus’s photo got selected?” Zach stated. “Wow, that’s great! They must be so proud of Magnus up there! I need to call him to congratulate him.”

Zach turned to his work phone, lifted the receiver, and started punching in the number for upstairs.

“Oh, you don’t need to bother with that right now, sugar,” Camille said sweetly. “Right now, Magnus isn’t by his cubicle. He’s actually in the conference room, in a call with Luminescence, where Jared is telling them that he was the photographer that took the photo they chose. This is such an exciting day for him!  Then I think Luminescence wants to take all of us out to dinner tonight – maybe at Café des Artistes or something along those lines. I do adore that restaurant,” she said in her lilting drawl. 

Zach still held the receiver in his hand as he heard Camille gush about Magnus and the dinner the client had planned for tonight.

Hrmm, another evening where they wouldn’t see one another? he thought, dismayed. 

But what could he do? This was work, the client was extremely important, and there was nothing Zach could do about that.

He swallowed hard. “Well, that’s great to hear.  I’m glad they are recognizing Magnus for his efforts.  Enjoy dinner tonight then,” he said, trying to sound enthusiastic. 

He saw Camille giving him a piercing look with her blue eyes.  He willed himself not to break. No, that’s not the way you dealt with these types.  You needed to remain self-assured, no matter what.  Calmly he looked back at her.

After a moment, a smile came upon Camille’s face.  “Anyway, I need to go!” she bubbled. “Gotta get back upstairs.  Magnus is waiting for me in the conference room, I need to make this meeting.  Nice talking to ya, Ciao!” 

Flashing Zach a (fake?) smile with teeth, she walked away.

Zach just stared at the doorway.  He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Now that she was no longer in the doorway, he did not need to front anymore.   He knew it couldn’t be helped, but he felt so left out. 

He wished Magnus was available so he could talk to him and hear his reassuring words.  But, now, their schedules were so different.  And he couldn’t even meet up with him for dinner either because of the client. 

Sighing, he got up from his seat, went to the door and closed it.  Then he went back to sit down. 

He picked up the phone and rang for the executive assistant.  “Hold my calls for the rest of the hour,” he said.  A voice on the speakerphone voiced assent.  He muttered a thanks and hung up.

He then settled back in his office chair, leaning his head back, and put his feet on the edge of the desk.  Much more relaxing.  He closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he attempted to reclaim the rest of his lunch hour.

And maybe this would be enough to make him forget that Camille had stopped by just now…

  …………..

 

Early evening, Café des Artistes Restaurant, W67th Street by Central Park West

 

“Magnus, it’s great to meet you.  Tom Maderas, Marketing Director, Luminescence,”  a bright eyed middle aged man of Latino heritage said, as he got up from the table from the restaurant to enthusiastically extend his hand. 

Magnus took the offered hand, leading to a hearty handshake.  Next to Magnus was Jared and Michael from Ogilvy’s Art and Creative departments.

“So you are the one who Camille has been talking about,” Tom said.  He gestured to two other people next to him.  “Doug and Max, this is the photographer who took that amazing photo that we are using for the print campaign,” he said, gesturing between Magnus and the two men. 

There were smiles all around. Magnus flushed.  “That was just a lucky shot,” he demurred. “We took that photo during break – Camille was being playful –”

“There’s no such thing as luck,” an assertive female voice declared, drawling with a Southern lilt. 

Magnus turned around. 

Camille had strolled into the dining area, larger than life.  Her blonde hair was flipped out for once, her layers flying about her face like graceful wisps, and they moved as she walked toward them  – her body clad in a body hugging black and white horizontal striped colorblock dress down to mid-calf with black stiletto heels.  Her eyes were winged out with black liner and her mouth touched with a bit of magenta lipstick. 

She looked stunning.

“Camille!” Tom said happily, stepping out from the table and walking toward her.  “How lovely to see you again.”  He stopped right in front of her, and they both greeted one another by holding one another by the forearms.

“The pleasure’s all mine,” Camille drawled, smiling. “I see you’ve met Magnus.”

“Yes, we have,” Tom said happily. “Quite the modest one, isn’t he?”

“I’ll say,” Camille said.  “But I’ll let you in on a little secret – I’m working on that.”

Tom threw his head back and laughed.  “Why, of course, Camille.  Magnus definitely has untapped talent, you were right about that,” he said.  They both came to the table.  Everyone shook hands and then sat down.  Camille settled herself next to Magnus.  Magnus turned to look at her, his eyes taking her in. 

Stunning, he thought again.

“You look exquisite, darling,” he said.

Camille smiled. “Thank you darling.  You always look great,” she said softly, taking in Magnus’s charcoal gray button down, magenta tie, and slim fitting black slacks. 

“Hey,” she said in a teasing tone, taking one perfectly manicured finger and tapping his tie, “That matches my lipstick.  Must be fate.”

She pursed her lips as she looked at Magnus under lowered lashes.

Magnus continued to look at her.  “Must be,” he agreed instantly.

……………….

“You’ve never tried this drink before?” Magnus gestured toward a small shot glass that was layered with amaretto topped with rum.  A glass half filled with beer sat next to it.

“Uh, not sure,” Tom hedged, eyeing it.  “It does look really good though.”

Next to him, Jared, Michael, Doug and Max were all watching Magnus with this drink.  To the side, Camille was smiling serenely, with her arms folded to her chest.

“Oh, it’s not even finished yet,” Magnus laughed. “Here is the piece de Resistance.”  The bartender took out his lighter, and lit the surface of the shotglass.  Instantly it lit up. 

He then gestured for Tom to come forward.  “This is yours.  Just drop the glass into the beer and drink it,” he said.

“Oh, now this part I like,” Tom said enthusiastically, as he did as he was told.  He downed the beer, with the flaming shot, right away.  Everyone cheered. 

“Wow, that was good,” Tom exclaimed.  “What was that?”

“Flaming Dr. Pepper,” the bartender said, smiling.  He pointed to Magnus. “This guy knows his drinks.”

“Not that I imbibe regularly,” Magnus said. “But I used to bartend a few times in the past.”

“Doug, Max,” Tom said, gesturing for them to come over, “You really need to try this!  Magnus too!”

“Oh, I couldn’t…I’m not supposed to drink on the job,” Magnus said tentatively, stepping back slightly.

Then Magnus felt himself being pushed forward.  He turned. It was Jared, and he was smiling.

“It’s okay, I’m here,” Jared said. “You can do a few if you’d like.  We have been working really hard, and we deserve a break.”

Magnus turned to him. “Really?” he asked.  “Okay, cool.” 

He turned to Tom with a big grin.  “So where were we?” he said, smirking.  Tom immediately urged him forward until he was standing right in front of the bartender. 

"A round for these guys,” Magnus stated with a flourish of his hand, his eyes twinkling and a big grin on his face.

“Right away, boss,” the bartender said, grinning, as he turned to make their drinks.

Camille smiled, upon seeing the men interacting with one another.  She had not missed that flair of Magnus’s personality come out just before.

She loved that…

“Is there room for one more?” she inquired innocently as she made her way to the boisterous group. They had all downed their first drink simultaneously.

Magnus lifted his eyes to meet her gaze.

“Of course,” he drawled, his eyes never leaving hers.  “One for the lady!”

“Coming right up,” the bartender said.

………………

3 hours later

“Hmm, think I need to be getting home…need to call Zach…” Magnus mumbled.

He was sitting in a chair with a firm back, a bit woozy from the few shots he had with the executives.  By the bar, the group was still drinking.

He did not feel too badly right now, thankfully, but his mind was clouded and he could barely keep his eyes open…

Suddenly a glass of water appeared in front of him.

Magnus looked up.

It was Camille. With her wispy blond hair floating around her face, she looked like an angel to him right at that moment.

“You look like you need it,” Camille said softly. “Are you feeling alright?”

Her dark eyes filled with concern. “Just really, really buzzed,” Magnus muttered. “But thank you. Man, that bartender was real generous with the hard stuff, huh..."

Camille laughed softly.

"Well he did seem to be putting one after the one straight into your hands," she said.

"MmHmm," Magnus hummed.

He accepted the glass of water with both hands and drank it greedily. He felt Camille’s eyes on him, and he felt an unexpected thrill through his veins.

“Yea, I think you need to get home,” Camille said.  “Can you manage that yourself?”

“I-I think so,” Magnus said. 

He started to rise up from his seat but then shakily sat back down again. “Whoa, that was something.  Not good,” he muttered.  “Maybe the company car.  Ugh, I feel so sleepy all of a sudden… Yea, at this point I think I need some sleep.” 

“Sure,” Camille said.  “Let me go tell Jared and the rest of the group. Don’t go anywhere.” 

She turned and went over to the group.  Magnus saw her in conversation for a moment, and then she was walking back to him.

“They called a car.  It should be here in a few,” she said.

“Thank you,” Magnus said.  He focused his eyes on her face, which continued to look at him with concern. “Why aren’t you over there with the guys?  You’re the star here.”

“Well, someone needs to make sure you get home safely,” she said silkily.

“I’m sure the car is plenty safe, and I’ll be fine,” he argued, half-heartedly.

“You could barely stand up. I think you need a little help. I only drank lightly, so I have a light buzz.  Unlike yourself.  I’ll just see you safely inside and I’ll go, okay?” Camille said. 

Then she pursed her lips and wagged a finger at Magnus.  “No arguments, mister,” she said in a more teasing drawl.

A big smile crept onto Magnus’s face. “Yes, beautiful.” 

The words escaped his lips before he realized what he had said.  His eyes widened.  “Oh, wow.  Um, sorry Camille, uh –”  Magnus was at a loss for words.  He and Camille had a professional relationship.  He was not supposed to say things like that.

But Camille only smiled more intensely, her eyes lighting up.  “You think I’m beautiful?” she asked.  Suddenly she sounded shy.

Impossible, Magnus thought in his woozy state.  There’s no way she didn’t know that about herself.

“Yea,” he said simply, not able to formulate much else in his current state.

Camille’s smile was blinding.  Then she looked up, as Jared was calling out her name and gesturing toward the front.

“The car is here,” she said. “Come on, let’s get you home. Try to stand, okay?”

Magnus gingerly stood up, and he was okay, but just slightly wobbly.  Damn, where had his tolerance gone, he wondered.  He used to be able to handle 7-8 shots a night and then walk all the way home from Pandemonium on clear, summer nights. 

But now…egad…

At least Camille was here to help…

Camille was holding him lightly under his arms.  “You good?” she asked softly.

“I think I can make it out to the car,” he murmured. 

Carefully, they both walked out of the restaurant.  The car was in front.  Camille helped Magnus in, and then she went in herself.  The driver turned toward the backseat to address them. “Grove Street, right, like on the business profile?” he asked gruffly.

“The same as usual,” Magnus muttered.  He sunk into the leather seats and closed his eyes, groaning slightly.

He felt a bottle of water being pressed into his hand. 

“The bartender gave me this to give to you,” Camille said.

Magnus opened his eyes briefly to look at her. “Thank you so much.  For everything,” he said softly. “I mean it.”

“Just take it easy,” Camille urged.  “Do whatever you need to.”

Magnus’s eyes closed, and he leaned back against the seat as the car drove off.

15 minutes later, he was lightly snoring, and his head had drooped onto Camille’s shoulder.

Camille turned to look at him, and smiled.. 

…………………

“Here we go,” the driver said.  They were in front of Magnus’s apartment building.

“Magnus, we’re here,” Camille said, shaking Magnus’s arm slightly.

Magnus’s eyes opened up slowly.  “Home?” he murmured.

“Yea,” Camille said.

“Okay, I’m going to go then,” Magnus murmured.  He made his way across the backseat toward the door, but found it hard to do.  “Uh, I think I need some help.”

Camille turned to the driver. “You mind coming back in 20-30  minutes?’ she asked. “I’m going to help him upstairs.

The driver shrugged. “It’s the company tab.  He does look like he needs help though,” he said. 

Camille smiled, as she started to help Magnus up out of the car.

Soon they were in front of his apartment door.  He fumbled with the lock and stumbled in.  He turned the lights on dim.

“Is the couch good?” Camille asked.

“Yea, it’s good,” Magnus slurred.  She helped him toward the couch.  “Sit with me until the car arrives.”

“You sure?” Camille asked.

“Yea,” Magnus mumbled.

They both gingerly sat down on Magnus’s couch. 

Magnus then turned to Camille. “You really didn’t need to take me all the way home, that was so sweet of you,” he murmured, slurring slightly.  He leaned back against the couch and shut his eyes.

“Of course,” Camille said softly.

She watched him for a moment.  A thought suddenly came into her head, and she leaned in toward him.  Her lips touched his softly, causing him to gasp. 

Ooh, she liked that…

Suddenly they were kissing, their mouths open and tongues entwining against one another.  Kissing felt so nice… 

Magnus faintly reached his hand up toward her face. Camille leaned into it – his hands felt so nice against her skin…

At that moment of contact, Magnus froze.  Wait – went his muddled mind.

He pulled away, and focused on the person in front of him.  This was Camille. This was not Zach…

“Oh god, I-I’m sorry,” he said hastily, recoiling.  He flushed. “This was so unprofessional of me…” 

He couldn’t believe he had just thrown himself at her.  Dammit, Magnus!

“Well, I don’t know. I kinda liked it, though, didn’t you?” Camille purred.  She reached over to gently brush some hair off Magnus’s forehead.

Magnus shivered at the light touch.  “It…was nice,” Magnus admitted. “But…”

“Right,” Camille said.  “You’re tipsy, we work together, and you have a boyfriend, right?” she said lightly.

“Uh…yea, well we are seeing one another,” Magnus said slowly.

“Hmm, maybe we need to revisit this again, once you’re less tipsy,” she continued.  “No worries.  We will pretend this never happened.”

Magnus just looked at her, wide-eyed. “Eh? You…like me?” he asked.

Camille shrugged. “I think we get along, don’t we?”  she purred.

He just looked at her blankly.

Camille looked up at the clock. “Pooh, the car should be back right about now,” she said. “Too bad, I would have liked to keep talking. You’re going to be okay, right?” she asked.

“Yea,” Magnus murmured.

She slowly got up, getting ready to leave.  “Listen, keep drinking that bottle of water that’s on the couch next to you, and take it easy tomorrow.  If you choose not to come in, I’m sure they will understand.  We will just miss you though…”

The look in her eyes was unmistakable.  I’ll miss you.

She leaned in for a quick peck to Magnus’s cheek.  “Anything for a friend,” she drawled.  Surprised, Magnus’s hand flew to his cheek.

She pulled away, her face only inches away from his.  Magnus was having a lot of trouble not looking at her magenta tinted lips. 

“See you soon?” she asked lightly, her warm breath grazing his lips and face.

“Uh yea, thanks again,” he whispered.

“My pleasure,” she said.  Then she got up and walked out of the apartment.

When the door closed, Magnus picked up the water bottle and drank half the bottle in one shot.  Then he put it down and leaned against the couch.  

The whole latter part of the evening was a bit hazy, a bit muddy.  Did whatever happened, actually happen?

He was not going to dwell on it right now.  He needed sleep.  And no, he was not going to make it into work tomorrow morning.  At least Camille would let them know…

He stretched out on the couch and was asleep within the next half hour.

******

Ogilvy, Employee’s Lounge next day

 

Zach was absentmindedly unwrapping his lunch while sitting in the employee lounge.  He had not heard from Magnus at all last night. He guessed dinner had probably run really late.

Suddenly Jared the Art Director walked into the lounge with Michael, the Creative Director.

“So I heard Magnus called in sick today,”  Michael said thoughtfully.

Eh? Zach was not usually the type to eavesdrop, but it couldn’t be helped…

Jared only shrugged.  “Oh that?” Jared said, laughing. “I bet that was because of last night.  Magnus was great at Café des Artistes, wasn’t he?  Luminescence loved him. Too bad he couldn’t make it in today. I think he had one too many.  I think we need to establish the cutoff at five next time, eh, Michael? But no, they kept asking him to drink more!”

Most definitely,” Michael said, laughing. 

“Anyway thank goodness we used the company car to send him home,” Jared continued. “And Camille even volunteered to ride with him to make sure he arrived home safely.  Wasn’t that nice of her?”

Their laughter continued as they walked out of the lounge, and walked down the hallway.

Zach froze upon hearing what they said. 

Camille had offered to take Magnus back to his home in the company car?  He couldn’t help the pang of jealousy that suddenly flooded his veins. 

What had happened last night? he couldn’t help wondering. 

Then in the next moment, he pushed that thought away.

No sense in driving himself nuts about something that was probably nothing to worry about.

Still, he thought about it.

Something about this situation was not right.  How come Camille was seeing more of Magnus than he was? 

He was the one seeing Magnus, wasn’t he?

Ugh, he had to get back to working on this project, he couldn’t dwell on this.  He sighed, turned his mind off, and attempted to tackle the work in front of him..

…………………………..

  After work, Greenwich Village, Zach’s apartment

 

“Hey, Zach, it’s Magnus,” the smooth silky voice on the machine said. “I’m sorry we keep missing one another.  The shoots, Camille, your late hours because of the client.  I’m not sure why we keep missing each other, but I was calling just to say hi…”

Zach’s hand hovered over the buttons on his answering machine, as he listened to the messages.

His brown eyes softened as he heard Magnus’s silky smooth voice speak.  A small smile crept onto his face. 

He loved listening to Magnus talk – nothing was quite as soothing or calming whenever they were out together, whether just sitting in the park, him strumming his guitar while Magnus put his head on his shoulder, or whether they were out to dinner, and they would talk animatedly over cocktails and their favorite food.

However, the mention of work and Camille in the same sentence quickly made that smile disappear.  As the message ended, he clicked off the machine and just sat on his bed.

Camille.  She just seemed to be running the entire show upstairs in Creative with that Luminescence campaign.  And it was because of her that Magnus had quickly become busy with assignments, and they now barely got to see one another. 

Ironically, he had seen Camille much more than Magnus this week to his dismay.

Arghhh…Zach needed to stop reliving what had happened this week, for his own sanity. 

Sighing loudly, he sat up on his bed, leaning back against his pillows, which he had propped up against the headboard.  Somehow he did not feel like returning Magnus’s phone calls right now. 

He just needed time to get his head right.

It had been too much news, too soon right now, and he hated the fact that Camille was at the center of everything. 

Chapter Text

Uptown, at Imasu and Peter’s apartment.

 

Imasu had been staring at the phone for a while now.  It had been a few days since he had talked to Magnus. 

He had stewed and sat upon this, trying to figure out what to do. 

Today he had a day off -- and by the end of the afternoon, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

Yes, it was the perfect day to talk to Alec.

He dialed Alec’s number at Simon and Schuster.

“Why don’t you meet me at Cucina di Pesce?  It’s a quaint Italian place, no dress code, and the food is decent and not pricey.  There’s a prix fixe menu that I love, and their pastas are awesome,” Imasu spoke into the receiver.

“Sounds great!  I’m down,” Alec said warmly. “See you after work.”

“Bye,” Imasu said, hanging up. 

Okay, here goes nothing, he thought.

…………..

“Hey,” Alec said, upon seeing Imasu standing in front of Cucina di Pesce.  He walked up to him.

“Hungry?” Imasu asked, grinning. 

“Famished,” Alec said happily.  He went in for a quick hug, which was returned warmly by Imasu.  These hugs were fairly commonplace now between them, as friends.  Alec was glad for this.

The restaurant, on East 4th street between 2nd Avenue and Cooper Square, was a local favorite, written up in the Voice and other local publications for its service and affordability.  There was music coming from inside of the restaurant.

“Thanks for meeting up. Anyway, this place has great food to mention the unlimited mussels marinara,” Imasu said enthusiastically. 

“Of course,” Alec said. “I’ve always wanted to try this place, it looks great,” he said.

“Do you prefer to sit inside or outside?” he asked.

Alec shrugged.  “We can sit indoors,” he said.  Imasu nodded, and they both walked in.   

They were quickly seated. 

There were old style paintings with old-fashioned gilded frames adorning each wall, which had been painted a matte aqua blue, with gold paint swirls on each panel.  It was eclectic yet classic looking, all at once. The small tables were set for two and four settings.  It was comfortably cozy. 

Alec loved it.

Both opened their menus, and, shortly after, the waiter came to take their orders.  Ten minutes after that, the waiter came back with their drink orders – two chocolate martinis.  They toasted one another and sipped.

Then they made small talk.  Alec was amazed at how relaxed he was feeling.  It was great to hang out with a friend.  He hadn’t done that in awhile since his breakup with Sebastian.  He still felt a tug in his heart, whenever he thought about him.  But it was more like a fond recollection now.  Sebastian had called him a few times two weeks after the letter, sounding all apprehensive about Alec’s reaction to the letter.  And he had kept apologizing.

However, Alec had been in a good headspace by that time, and he had quickly reassured Sebastian that he understood.  He said he would always care for him, but their lives were just very different now.  They each swore they would remain friends, and that the future was still unknown.  Alec had ended that phone call with a smile on his face. 

He would never forget him…

“I wanted to talk to you about something,” Imasu said all of a sudden.  He seemed a bit uncertain. Alec noticed that he was chewing his lip nervously.

The tealight centerpiece illuminated his brown eyes, heightening the level of seriousness in his expression.

“Sure,” Alec said, noting the change in demeanor.  He leaned in slightly to give him his full attention. “What is it, Imasu?”

“This might be an odd question to ask, but did you ever have feelings for Magnus?”

Alec’s heart stopped.  He just stared at Imasu. 

Then Alec realized that his own hand, which was resting on the table, had closed into a fist.  His nails were digging into the soft part of his palm.  He inhaled sharply.

“N-No,” he said, trying to keep his voice even.  “We are best friends.  Well, admittedly that’s a bit questionable right now, given that we haven’t really been checking in on one another – especially with the thing with me and Sebastian happening simultaneously....”

Ugh, that suddenly hurt so much to admit, Alec realized.  They had drifted really far apart, hadn’t they?

Alec suddenly looked at Imasu, feeling guilt and horror stir up within his gut.  His eyes widened.  “If you are asking this because you were wondering about him and me when you two were together, trust me, I never thought…No, n-nothing was ever –” 

He faltered.  He was stammering.  And, ugh, he also may have just said too much. 

Oh god, Alec thought faintly.  He was going to be sick…

Suddenly he couldn’t look at Imasu.  He chose to examine a very interesting part of the table right by his fork. 

His heart was pounding like crazy. 

Was this going to impact their friendship? 

He couldn’t lose this, he realized with horror.  Apprehension flooded through his veins.  He already lost too much already in a short time...

Oh god, he just couldn’t…

“Hey,” Imasu’s soft voice broke him out of his thoughts. 

Alec blinked, and looked up at him.  Imasu had reached over and placed a hand on his, which was currently still clenched into a fist.

“Looks like I lost you for a bit there,” Imasu said.  He had a look of understanding on his face.

It was the right expression to make Alec calm down.  Slowly he unclenched his fist.  Imasu’s hand was warm, and Alec took a deep, relaxing breath.

“I’m sorry,” Alec breathed.  “I’m so sorry about reacting that way.  I’m…actually sorry about everything.  About how you two ended up.  You two seemed really good for one another…”

He trailed off.  Imasu did not seem angry with him, and so he relaxed.  Their friendship still seemed to stand firm. 

“Magnus and me,” Imasu said in a firm tone, “We didn’t work out. He and I didn't work out because it's not what he wanted.  He is his own person, of course.  He doesn’t belong to anyone. He was never mine, just like he was never yours, or even Zach’s, even though he’s with him right now…”

That was true, Alec thought.  That was very objective of Imasu to say.  Magnus was his own person, free to make his own decisions…

“Well actually, scratch that. I'm wrong. Magnus is probably meant to be yours.  But he didn't realize that at the time.  And timing is so very crucial with things in life…”

Alec froze.  Huh?  he thought, as the words registered.  He looked at Imasu, doe-eyed.  He blinked.  To say he was shocked was an understatement. 

Imasu chuckled, seemingly at the look Alec had given him. 

“Well, I’m sure you’ve realized this by now, Alec.  Magnus doesn’t exactly pick up on things quickly.  And then when he does, he tends to want to run from it,” he said.   “But I think you’re not like that, and that you’ve already realized certain things. Haven’t you?”

He fixed a knowing gaze upon Alec. 

Alec’s heart stopped. 

What?  Had Imasu just said what Alec thought he had said? 

He lifted his eyes up to meet Imasu’s, not sure what to expect.  Alec was caught off guard.  He flushed.  All he could remember was having a crush on Magnus all last year, while he was seeing Imasu.  Imasu had given them pointed looks several times whenever he would come across Alec and Magnus hanging out together.

Alec had always done his best to keep out of the way…and yet things had happened as they did. 

But now he and Imasu had somehow become friends – much closer than Alec had expected, to his surprise.  It had become a friendship he cherished, greatly, especially in light of what had happened with Sebastian.

But the one thing they had never spoken about was Magnus.

Alec wasn’t sure what to expect when he looked up to face Imasu. 

Well, he certainly hadn’t expected to see a look of empathy and understanding, that’s for sure. 

But that was what Imasu was radiating toward him. 

Alec blinked.  He was speechless.

 “W-What do you mean by that?” Alec asked carefully, his eyes never leaving Imasu’s face.

Imasu smiled.  “Look, Alec, I have no ill will toward Magnus. If it wasn't for him, how would I have known that Peter was actually the love of my life? So, yes, I thank him. But I worry about him too. He's not made of stone. Everyone needs someone to love them the way they should be loved,” he said simply.

“So if you, at any point, thought you could be that for him...well, I'm almost certain now that you most likely got closer to achieving this than anyone else in his life, ever,” he stated.

Alec felt a lump form in his throat, and felt a tug at his heart as Imasu’s words came through. He could feel his heart flutter, and a pressure building behind his eyes. 

Imasu’s gaze did not falter. 

Suddenly Alec felt like Imasu could completely see right through him.

The look in Imasu’s eyes changed to one of contentment and affirmation.  Right then and there, Alec knew that Imasu knew.  Or rather, that Imasu was able to tell what Alec was feeling at that very moment. 

Slowly, he nodded, suddenly feeling like he was a fly in the room, looking down at what was transpiring between the both of them.  The fact that they were both coming to this realization right now, it just seemed so unreal…

“Well, then,” Imasu said softly. 

Silence.

Imasu had a soft smile playing around his lips. 

Then he spoke again. “Now if that even mattered to you at any point in your life before... or even now, about you and Magnus,  I think you have some place to be, soon.  And especially since Magnus may be at a crossroads right now, with Camille–”

“But…what about Zach?” Alec asked hoarsely. 

That was also an issue – Magnus was currently in a relationship with Zach.

While Alec was not sure of the level of seriousness of that relationship – regardless it was still a relationship.  He couldn’t be the reason for any sort of breakup…

Imasu put a hand on his forearm, his eyes still intensely on him. 

“Trust me, I just have this sinking feeling that their relationship is already in trouble.  They all work together.  I’m sure Camille has already met and spoken to Zach.  Magnus was getting defensive about Camille when I spoke with him.  I think she’s already affected that relationship, even without your involvement in it,” he said bluntly.

“Magnus needs you.  I’m sure he does, even if he doesn’t realize it yet,” Imasu said. “Life is too short for what-if’s or to keep playing the nice guy – if it is keeping you from what you are destined to be, or who you were truly meant to be with.  That’s important too, you know.  And granted, we are all so young, how would we really know what that is?  So we try it out, and if we crash and burn, we live and learn.  But – if there’s the chance that things will work out, and it will be beyond our wildest dreams – ever, then don’t you think you owe it to yourself to risk it all?”

Alec felt a tingle at the base of his spine.  Imasu’s words had really affected him, cut to his very core.

This was all so surreal.  Never did he think he would one day be sitting with his best friend’s ex, talking about his best friend.  As part of some kind of intervention discussion.

Talking about his feelings for his best friend.  With no animosity.  Just objectivity.

Suddenly Alec felt a rush of gratitude and love for Imasu.  He gazed at Imasu, overwhelming feelings flowing through his veins.

“Imasu,” he said softly.  “I’m overwhelmed you would even do this.  For me.  For Magnus.  What would I even do without you?”

Before he could control it, he leaned over the table, and pecked Imasu on the cheek. 

“You are amazing, really,” he whispered, before settling back in his seat across from him. 

He could now feel the tears fill his eyes.  From gratitude, and happiness.

A small grin crept onto Imasu’s face.  “Ah wow.  Now that I haven’t seen in awhile.  Hello, happy Alec, it’s nice to see you again,” Imasu said warmly.  “It’s a good look on you.”

They just gazed at each other for a long moment, both looking extremely content, with Alec’s eyes shining.

Just then the waiter came with their food, putting the plates down accordingly.  Imasu looked up and nodded at them in acknowledgment.

Alec’s heart was still beating fast, still excited at what had just occurred.

Imasu was the first one to speak. “But of course, I would tell you not to underestimate Camille, or how Magnus reacts to her.  She definitely seems like she wants Magnus,” he said, a serious look in his eyes.  “So tread lightly.  She may have already gotten to him.  Regardless, just make sure you start making yourself more visible, and make it known that you aren’t going anywhere.”

“I will,” Alec promised.  His heart was beating erratically, and he admittedly felt a bit nervous.  But he also felt lighter, much lighter than he’s felt in a while.

Alec felt giddy.  He was finally going to try to talk to Magnus, and eventually tell him how he felt about him, Camille be damned.  He suddenly found himself smiling widely, happily. He felt so silly.

Imasu laughed. 

“Oh my god, were you always this gone for him? How did anyone miss this?” he said dryly, with a tinge of sarcasm, indicating that everyone had known to begin with.  Alec flushed. 

But Imasu’s sarcastic words were good-natured, accompanied with a wicked smile.

Alec chuckled at that. 

Imasu then leaned over to bop Alec on the tip of the nose with his finger.  Alec made a face.

“You’re too cute,” Imasu said, laughing some more.  “Well…now that we know what you are going to do about this sordid situation, I think we can relax for a bit and eat.  Don’t you think?”

“Yup,” Alec said happily.  “That certainly sounds like a plan.”

They both started eating, Imasu giving Alec a wink or two and a few encouraging smiles – while Alec’s mind was racing a mile a minute about how all of this was going to play out.  Whether the outcome was good or bad, Alec was finally going to go after what he wanted. 

No one could ever have regrets about that.

……………………………..

Ogilvy,  Creative Floor

“Magnus!  I was trying to ask you something,” Camille whined. 

They were currently on a break from shooting a commercial and sitting in one of the visitor lounges.  Magnus had sat down and picked up the work phone there, about to call Zach downstairs.  He had not heard from Zach in days, and he was wondering what was up. 

Magnus turned to her.  “Oh, I’m sorry, Camille,” he said apologetically.  “I was trying to make this phone call to Zach.  He’s been so busy with work, we haven’t talked in a few days, do you mind?”

“Oh, no, of course not.  Of course you should,” Camille said quickly.  “Just that it’s one of the first Luminescence roll-out parties out at Tavern on the Green, and I was wondering if you wanted to come.  As my plus one…”

Magnus blinked.  “Wow,” he said slowly.  “I don’t know what to say.”  He was hesitant. 

Work had been taking up so much of his time lately.  He’d been doing what he needed to do – but he was not sure if he could handle one more thing on the agenda.  Also it was on Friday night, and usually he and Zach would hang out – at least they used to try to get together.

Lately they had not been, and he felt badly about it.

“Oh?” Camille stated, her blue eyes focused upon him, still smiling. “Well, that’s too bad sugar.  But it’s still early on. Will you promise to think about it?”  She put her hand on his forearm.

He looked down at her hand. “Uh yea,” Magnus said, blinking.  “I’ll think about it. Sure, Camille.”

“That’s all I wanted to hear,” Camille said sweetly.

Inside, though, Camille was starting to feel slightly confused.  Magnus was…hesitant about taking her somewhere?  But he was usually pretty enthusiastic!  And she was sure that, following that kiss, she had gotten him where she wanted him. 

But now this?

Zach, Zach, Zach – wow so Magnus was a bit more loyal than she had expected him to be.  Well, pooh. That was no fun, was it?

Well, let’s see what happens once I’m done with that, she decided, narrowing her eyes.

Camille got up from her seat.  Magnus looked up at her, as he held the phone receiver to his ear. “Oh, you going somewhere?” he asked, surprised.

She smiled. “Just going downstairs to the courtyard,” she said. 

“Oh, okay, cool,” Magnus said. 

Hmm, he thought, as the line went to voicemail.  Zach was probably busy on the other line and couldn’t pick up. 

“Magnus!” Jared’s voice called out. “Are you around? I need you for a second.” 

Ah, he would try to call Zach later.

“Coming, Jared!” Magnus said, rising up from his seat and heading down the hallway.

Meanwhile, Camille was watching by the elevators. The elevator doors opened, and she stepped in.  

She smiled to herself.   She had an appointment with someone downstairs…

……………………

“Zach!  Hiiiiii!”

Oh god, not Camille again, Zach thought, rolling his eyes.  He had just gotten off the phone with his client.  Ugh, a moment too soon, he thought wryly. 

How was it that she knew exactly the right time to approach him?

He attempted a smile.  “How is everything up there?  Good shoot today? I heard you guys are shooting a commercial now,” he said, as an attempt to make conversation.

She smiled. “Oh yes!” she said, clapping her hands. “It’s going wonderfully.  And it’s just in time too, since  the roll-out party is this Friday. Magnus seemed very interested in attending when I mentioned it,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes.

“Oh, is he?” Zach asked in a neutral tone of voice. His heart dropped.

Fridays were usually the day that he and Magnus would try to make plans to go out after work – and especially after busy stretches where work just prevented them from getting together earlier on. And shit, was Magnus just going to drop everything if Camille said to do something? 

Zach had never taken Magnus to be like that. But maybe he was wrong…

“Yea,” Camille said airily, as she appeared to examine her manicure.

There was an awkward silence. 

Then Camille sighed, and she said, ”Magnus says you two are just seeing one another.  But I’ve heard you two have been together for a while now. So how is it that you two aren’t boyfriends by now? Hmm?”

That question stunned Zach.  His eyes widened.  He was so unprepared for that.  Shit.  He didn’t know what to say.

Yea, why weren’t they boyfriends by now?  he wondered.

He swallowed hard. Days had just flowed into weeks and into months.  He saw Magnus almost every other day, and things were going well – or so he thought.  Somehow they just did not talk about that. 

For some reason he had assumed they were.  But she was right, they were certainly not boyfriends.

“Anyhoo, it’s none of my business, anyway,” she suddenly said in her very annoying lilting Southern drawl. 

“Oh, would you look at the time, I need to head back upstairs.  I’ll tell Magnus you said hi!”  And with that, she walked off.  

Zach was left in a state of confusion and anxiety.  Why would he be talking about their relationship to Camille, of all people?  Were they just that tight now? 

He took a deep breath as he started to feel incredibly annoyed.  God, if he didn’t see her ever again, that day would come too soon.

Grabbing hold on the doorknob, he slammed the office door shut, his other hand clenched into a fist.

……………….

Ringgg! 

Magnus looked at the blinking extension.  Oh…Zach.  He had been trying to call him earlier…

He picked up. “Zach,” he said breathily.  “I tried calling you earlier.  I don’t know how we kept missing each other during the week –"

“Magnus.  We need to talk,” Zach said curtly.  “Can we meet up this evening?  I know you are probably busy –”

“Zach?  What’s wrong?  Why, y-yes, of course,” Magnus said, surprised at hearing that type of tone in Zach’s voice.  He was normally so calm and confident.  What happened?  he wondered.

“I’ll meet you downstairs after work.  Please try to make it,” Zach said. He sounded tense.

“Uh, okay, Zach.  I will make it.  See you then,” Magnus said. 

Click.  Zach had already hung up.

Magnus looked at his receiver, feeling a sense of trepidation.

 What was that all about?  he wondered.

…………………

Izzy’s apartment

The doorbell rang.  Once, twice. Eh? Isabelle thought, getting up from the couch and walking to the door. She peeked through the spy hole.  

It was Alec.  Alec? she thought, surprised.

Isabelle blinked and opened the door. 

“Hey, Izzy,” Alec said, smiling. “I was around the neighborhood, and I thought I’d pop by to see if you were around.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Isabelle said. “I just wasn’t expecting anyone right now, and especially you, since I thought you would be home in Brooklyn by now…” 

It was weird to see her brother here.  She’d known about the breakup with Sebastian, as Alec had told her about it two weeks ago.  She still couldn’t believe how they had kept it to themselves all this time.

In the end, it had been understandable, since that was how Alec dealt with serious occurrences in his life.

Still, she had been trying to get him to hang out since then, and he would keep declining, choosing to stay home…

But here he was – right now.  Tonight…

Isabelle looked closer at Alec.  There seemed to be some sort of nervous energy about him – he seemed restless at the moment.

”You didn’t go home yet, big brother?” Isabelle asked slowly.  “Aren’t you usually the one telling me that the trains are slower at night?”

She gestured for him to sit down on the couch, and then she went to the refrigerator, popped open two beers, and brought them back.  She handed one to Alec. 

“Yea,” Alec said, accepting the beer. He took a swig and held the bottle in both hands as he leaned forward in his seat. “Well, Imasu invited me out to dinner tonight, to hang out.  So I went to meet him –”

“Aww, that’s really sweet,” Isabelle said warmly.  “But I didn’t know that you and Imasu were such good friends.  I mean he and I are shopping buddies, and that’s understandable, but you two –”

“Actually he’s been really great. He’s really insightful, and a really good listener too,” Alec said. 

He proceeded to tell her about his advice regarding Sebastian, particularly about the letter he got. Isabelle had an impressed look upon her face.

“Wow,” she said finally. Then a thought occurred to her.

“Well,” she said slowly. “Wasn’t Magnus all of those things, and more even?  You two are best friends, right?  Where is he in all of this? I don’t think you two have really spoken that much recently, right?  I know he’s really busy with work, and you were trying to lay low because of Sebastian, right?”

Alec nodded. “Yea,” he said slowly. “Well, things just got awkward…”  He suddenly felt shy and looked down. 

He could feel his cheek flushing.  Damn, back at the restaurant, he had felt adrenaline flowing through his veins – he was going to throw caution to the wind, go find Magnus, and tell him how he felt about him. 

But now, sitting in his sister’s apartment, he was starting to feel a bit less so…

“Do you mean, because you met Sebastian, and then Magnus met Zach?” Isabelle prodded.  “I always did find it kinda odd how the both of you found guys almost at the same time…I mean I thought it was great, but still…”

“I have feelings for Magnus,” Alec blurted out.

Isabelle stilled.  “W-What?” she asked, her eyes widening.   She stared at Alec, hard.

Alec felt his cheeks burn.

“I do,” he said quietly.  And with that, his heart begin to sing once again, and then he started grinning so widely he started chuckling because he felt so silly…

Isabelle continued to stare at Alec, watching him go crazy – and then a huge smile crept onto her face.

“OH MY GOD, I KNEW IT!!!”  she screeched, jumping up from the couch.

“Izzy!” Alec complained, holding his ears.  “I’m right next to you, do you mind??!”

Isabelle looked contrite. “I’m so sorry,” she said apologetically.  She sat down again. “But geez, it took you this long to admit it?  I think I could already tell…but now you are obligated to tell me if I was right…”

Alec sighed. “Okay,” he conceded. “Shoot.”

Isabelle tilted her head in contemplation.  “Well, I kinda did know around Christmas and the mistletoe thing, especially the way you reacted.  Again, I am so sorry about that,” she said, her words coming out all in a rush.

“I wasn’t completely sure at the time, but you got so angry with me, I was like shit, and, ugh, it was just a horrid decision on my part,” she concluded.

Alec smiled. “Oh, I already forgave you for that.  But anyway, yea, you’re right, that did affect me badly.  And it didn’t help that you told Magnus it had to be really, really good. Because, goddamn…” he said, his voice ending in a whisper.

He flushed as he recalled the kiss.  Even though It was nearly a year ago, he would never forget it…

Isabelle looked carefully at Alec’s face as he spoke of the kiss.

“Was it that good?” she asked curiously. 

She looked thoughtful. “Damn, and I never tried to get him to kiss me, even in jest? I mean we have been friends since school and all…” she mused.

“Hey!” Alec said, poking her in the ribs, which made Isabelle yelp. “Stop that!”

Isabelle fluttered her lashes at Alec. “Why should I?” she asked innocently.  “I was just asking myself how come I never asked the hottest guy friend that I’ve ever met, like ever -- to kiss me, even in jest,” Isabelle said.  “What’s wrong, are you jealous even at the thought of it?’

“Pssshhh, no,” Alec retorted.

His cheeks remained pink though.

Isabelle’s eyes widened. “Holy,” she breathed.  “You are jealous! Oh my god, and here I thought you were laid back and everything.  I didn’t think you were the ultra jealous type!”

“I’m not!” Alec complained. “This is just all so new, admitting my feelings.  I guess I wasn’t prepared for all this other stuff yet!”

“Okay, okay,” Isabelle laughed. “I was just joking anyway!  I never thought to kiss Magnus.  I mean we flirt and it’s really fun to do, but that’s about it.”

She cleared her throat. “Okay, so  I’m going to keep playing,” she said.   

“Hmm, so how about that time when we met you guys up at the pool hall?  I was only joking when I first ran into you two,  because I saw you guys looking like you were about to get into a fight, or whatever you two were doing, cuz you had grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket, and you had this really intense look on your face –”

Her eyes widened suddenly. “Holy shit,” she breathed. “Don’t tell me…”

Alec held up his hand. “Stop it, right here,” he huffed. “No, I was not going to kiss him.”

Isabelle’s face fell, as if she was disappointed.

“However…” he said, “That was the first time when I started to feel attracted to him.  Magnus  had been laying it on thick, teasing me and flirting all night, you know, the way he usually does.  Then when I grabbed his lapels and just stared at him, suddenly I was overwhelmed with feelings.”  

He swallowed hard. He remembered how he couldn't stop looking at Magnus's lips...

“So you aren’t completely off base there…” he admitted.

Isabelle squealed, totally excited. “Wow, oh my god, this is sooo amazing.  My brother is in love!”

“What? I’m not in love,” Alec insisted.

“Well, it’s been almost a year, and you are still thinking of him,” Isabelle said, grinning.  “I say you’re in love.”

Alec stilled.  

Was he?  Was he in love with Magnus?

Oh god, he thought. 

He was in love with Magnus Bane, wasn't he...

Fuck.

"So what are you going to do then?" Isabelle said, in an almost double dare you type of voice.

"I guess... I'm going to tell him," Alec stated. "Somehow." He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. "That part I haven't figured out yet...”

Isabelle scrunched up her face and then grinned. "How about we do a meet-up after work at Tonic Sports Bar. That's close to your work place. Let's say, Friday. Let's try to get everyone. I'll ask Magnus and Imasu and Peter to come," she said. 

She threw a wink at Alec. 

"Who knows, maybe that could be your chance," she joked.

"Yea," he scoffed. "In that loud, noisy place, right?"

"Got a better idea?" she asked. "Besides, you two can drink a little, and both loosen up a bit before getting into anything."

Alec looked at her. "Yea," he said. "Count me in."

His heart skipped a beat. Wow. He was going to do this for real. 

Friday.