Alec Lightwood had faced off against demons, Greater Demons, and countless monsters of all different types. He’d taken on the Clave and stood tall against their bigotry and rampant homophobia. He’d faced down his parents and their disapproval, the disapproval of almost his entire Institute, and countless Downworlders who thought a nephilim not good enough for their High Warlock. He’d messed up countless times, but he’d done it.
Yet at that moment, Alec couldn’t remember ever being quite so afraid as he was sitting inside the living room of one Catarina Loss, facing her over cups of coffee.
Judging by the amused way she was watching him, she’d seemed to realize that. Though Alec didn’t doubt she had no idea why he was here, she was still enjoying his discomfort. The two of them got along rather well, all things considered. She insisted he was good for Magnus even after everything that had happened. More than that, a sign of her trust in him was that she often called on him to babysit her daughter Madzie, and Alec knew he wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the little girl if Catarina didn’t trust him.
None of that made this any easier. Alec sat there, hands curled tightly around his mug, and wondered for the millionth time if he was doing the right thing.
Catarina must’ve had enough of sitting in silence. They’d already been here for ten minutes and had maxed out their usual small talk. Now she looked at him, and she gave him an amused look over her own mug. “What is it you wanted to talk about, shadowhunter?”
For the past week or two Alec had been practicing this conversation. Trying to figure out how to bring up what he wanted to bring up. He’d thought about who the best person to talk to about this would be, and then about what he would say. Now that Alec was here, he found all of those well-planned speeches vanishing in front of him.
“I, uh, I wanted to ask you a question,” Alec said. Annoyed with his own stammering, he forced himself to take a deep breath and carefully blow it back out. He gave speeches to the Clave all the time. He faced off against countless assholes who told him that he couldn’t have what he wanted, and he’d still managed to get it in the end. He could damn well sit here and ask a question of a friend. “What kind of courtship rituals do warlocks have?”
The bluntness of Alec’s question clearly surprised Catarina. Her whole expression showed her shock, eyebrows up, mouth falling open slightly. “What?”
“I just… I know that we have our own rituals and such as Shadowhunters, and I assumed that warlocks do too.”
Some of the shock was fading from Catarina’s face only to be replaced by curiosity. She lowered her mug down so that it rested on her knee and fixed Alec with a serious look. “You do realize the courtship period is over, right? You don’t have to win Magnus over.”
Alec shook his head at her. Not because she was wrong, but because that wasn’t what this was about. Alec knew he didn’t have to win Magnus over. They were already together in their eyes, and in the eyes of the nephilim, no matter how little the Clave and other shadowhunters might like it. But – though it’d taken Alec an embarrassingly long time to remember it and pay attention – shadowhunter culture wasn’t the only culture involved in their life.
Magnus was a downworlder – a warlock. They had a culture all on their own. One that Alec had been blessed enough to witness in small ways as his relationship progressed with Magnus. But not once had Magnus brought up anything that his culture might demand in terms of dating, courtships, or anything like that. He liked to play it off like he was just a human who could do magic and live forever. Not like warlock culture had its own set of rules.
Once the idea had occurred to him, Alec hadn’t been able to let it go. Magnus had done everything possible to be respectful towards Alec. To cater to his needs and the needs of his people. The least Alec could do was grant him the same courtesy. And maybe show his boyfriend just how much he really did mean to him.
All of that was what had Alec here now, looking at Catarina across her living room with a determined gleam in his eye.
Catarina must’ve recognized the look. Her expression softened ever-so-slightly while her lips curved up into a grin that was somehow both fond and mischievous. One that was far too similar to Magnus’ troublemaking smirk. “You really are good for him.”
“I try to be,” Alec said honestly.
“Trust me, you’re already leagues ahead of anyone else he’s dated so far.” That grin grew a little, becoming just the slightest bit more mischievous, and Alec had to wonder how the hell it was that a lot of the people he talked to seemed to think Catarina was some sort of calming influence on Magnus. Didn’t any of them realize she was just as much of a troublemaker as he was? “Right. So, warlock dating customs…”
Alec pushed aside all other thoughts and eagerly focused on what Catarina was telling him. He might’ve taken a long time to realize just how ignorant he’d been, but he was going to make up for that now. Magnus was going to get the courtship he deserved. Alec would make damn sure of it.
The first stage of courtship – gift-giving
“One of the first things done in a warlock courtship is sort of a… declaration of intentions. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but most warlocks do complicated spell work with what’s called a focus stone.”
“You mean like the big green stone Magnus keeps in his apothecary?” Alec asked.
Catarina grinned at him. “Exactly. Now, focus stones are extremely personal. They have to be perfect, flawless, or there’s a risk of them exploding when too much magic is channeled through them. They aren’t something that’s a casually given gift, either. The only time warlocks give them to one another is the start of courtship. They’re too personal – something that’s going to be tied to them. The intent of the person giving it makes all the difference, and if there’s true affection, it gives it a little power boost, too. Which tells the warlock being courted right from the start just how serious the other person is…”
How the hell was Alec supposed to go out and find some sort of focus stone for Magnus and find one that was perfect for him? Knowing how much pride Magnus took in his magic and his work, it was likely any good focus stone he could get he already owned. He wasn’t one to spare expense on things. Especially not matters related to his magic or his work. No matter how much it cost him, Alec had no doubt Magnus had the strongest focus stone out there, which meant Alec’s offer was undoubtedly going to be something of inferior quality than he already had. Though Catarina made it sound like the act of giving it to him gave the stone itself some sort of extra power to it.
For being the first of the courtship rituals, it wasn’t exactly easy. But then again, Alec doubted it was supposed to be. This wasn’t about doing something easy. It was about putting in time and effort to show that he cared about Magnus.
Alec had no idea what he was doing here, where to even begin to look, and he wasn’t going to ask Catarina to direct him to where he could get something like that. The fact that she’d talked him through this was already enough. She’d answered so many of his questions. But this – this felt like something Alec needed to do on his own. How could a gift like that be meaningful if someone had to tell Alec what to buy and where to buy it?
That meant he set out to try and find it on his own. The fact that he didn’t even know what kind of stone it was that Magnus had didn’t exactly help. Nor was it just something he could go and ask. Alec didn’t want to clue Magnus in to what he was doing right away. Asking about the stone might do that. And it’d take away from the whole specialness of it.
Alec could’ve asked his siblings. Isabelle, at least, could’ve directed him to specialty shops to look around in. She probably knew where some good ones were.
But Alec was determined to do it himself. Magnus deserved someone putting that kind of effort in for him. So few people ever had, it seemed.
What that meant was that Alec spent the next month after his talk with Catarina, trying to hunt down the right kind of shops to go to, then going to visit them and look around, hoping against hope that what he’d need would jump out at him. He wasn’t having any luck, though.
No matter what he saw, no matter how many stones he looked at – in all shapes, sizes, and colors – none of them felt right. He couldn’t explain why. It was just…they didn’t suit Magnus. At all.
He was beginning to despair that he was ever going to find something on his own and that this whole courtship thing was doomed before he’d even managed to get it started.
And then he found it.
Of course, Alec had to find it on a night he was out shopping with Magnus. The two of them had been wandering around some shops in Paris when Magnus dragged them inside a little store called Celestial Awakenings. It didn’t take long for him to get into a long, drawn-out conversation with the lady at the register – who Alec strongly suspected was a warlock as well – about the properties of some of the crystals she carried there.
While they talked, Alec wandered. He liked to look around the shops that Magnus dragged him to sometimes. There were always interesting things to see. It was kind of like stepping in Magnus’ apothecary – you never knew what you were going to find. Sometimes Alec picked up stuff in there just because he liked it, or because he thought Magnus might like it, and it warmed something in him to see those little things show up around the loft. Maybe the stuff he bought was good, but it was just as likely they were junk, and Magnus just kept them around for sentimental reasons.
Alec didn’t mind. He enjoyed exploring, learning what bits Magnus would share with him about what he found, and how Magnus never made him feel like he was stupid for asking. If anything, he got excited when Alec asked questions and was more than happy to share any knowledge he had at length.
As Alec wandered toward the back of the store, he kept one ear turned toward Magnus in that instinctive way he couldn’t quite help. He needed to know where he was and that he was okay. But most of his focus was on the row of little figurines on the shelf in front of him. They were in various shapes and sizes and were carved out of different types of stones.
One of them really caught Alec’s interest. A small twist of what looked like flames at first glance. The stone was red and orange, and it looked almost like real fire had been trapped and frozen into cool stone. Yet, at closer inspection, there was a sense of shape inside those flames. Bodies. Two bodies, actually, twined together in an embrace.
Alec reached a hand up and let his finger trail over the stone. The flames were so real he almost expected it to burn. Yet it was cool to the touch. He traced his finger down, smoothing over the dip of the waist, the curve of what might be a hip. The more Alec looked, the more he was sure there were two people in those flames. Lovers, twisted around one another, wrapped up together.
It was beautiful, and Alec could easily picture it somewhere in the loft. The thing was barely bigger than his hand; it’d fit perfectly on a table, or, oh, on his or Magnus’ desk.
He hesitated for only a moment before lifting it carefully off the shelf. Turning back toward the front, a soft smile on his lips, Alec was ready to go and join his boyfriend and make his purchase – while making damn sure that Magnus didn’t try and pay for it for him, something which he really liked to do – when something else caught Alec’s eye. He wasn’t sure if it was the size, or the color, or what it was. But Alec stopped, taking one step back so he could look over into the small nook in the corner of the shop, mostly out of sight of the register.
It was… it was perfect.
Alec knew even before he walked over there that he’d finally found the focus stone he wanted to give to Magnus. It wasn’t excessively large or anything like that. Nothing about it really drew the eye. It was probably about the size of a softball, definitely larger than a baseball, and was perfectly round. As Alec moved closer, he could see that it wasn’t purple like it first appeared. The angle of the light had just made it seem so until Alec was fully in front of it. There, he could see the red and blue that were mixed together, two colors swirling around one another like water, shining inside this little globe. In a way, it reminded Alec of Magnus’ magic. The reddish-orange it could be when he was angry or fighting, the calming blue when he was helping, healing, or just playing around.
“Can I help you with something?”
The voice startled Alec. He jerked back, a little embarrassed at not having realized that someone was getting close to him. When he turned, he found the woman from the front desk watching him with a curious look on her face.
Alec almost flushed under her scrutiny. She was watching him like she wasn’t quite sure what to do with him being back here. It reminded Alec of the look he got from a lot of different Downworlders in the various places Magnus took him to. Most of them weren’t all that fond of Shadowhunters. He’d come to expect it and knew better than to take it personally.
Before Alec answered her question, he looked past her, expecting to see his boyfriend. When he didn’t, he furrowed his brow and turned back to the woman.
He didn’t even have to ask. “Magnus is up at the counter picking out the best of the crystals. I told him I was going to see if I could help you with something. You looked like you might need it.”
That worked out perfectly. With Magnus up there, out of the way, Alec straightened up, a little more confident. “How much for this stone right here?”
The woman’s eyebrows went up when she looked to the stone he’d gestured at. If she had questions about it, she didn’t ask them, instead just watching him while she rattled off a number. One that Alec was pretty sure was a bit higher than most would have to pay for it. Not that it mattered. Money wasn’t an issue here.
“Is there any way I can pay for it and have it delivered somewhere? Um… preferably without Magnus knowing about it?”
That last bit came out hesitant. Alec knew he was taking a risk here. If he could’ve been confident that it’d still be here later, he would’ve simply come back and bought it without Magnus around. But Alec didn’t want to run the risk of it not being there when he finally got back.
The curiosity in the woman’s eyes grew a little. Yet, it was also tempered by something else. Something warmer. She stood there with her hands on her hips and studied him for a moment. Whatever she saw had her smiling at him. “I believe that can be arranged. Would you like it sent to the New York Institute?”
Alec relaxed a little and smiled. “If that’s possible.”
“Of course. Come up to the front with me, and we’ll take care of payment.” She paused and then winked at him. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t pay attention to how much I’m charging you for that little sculpture.”
Alec felt a grin light up his face. “Thanks.”
The two of them were most of the way to the register when Magnus looked up. His eyes sought out Alec’s the same way they always did, and he grinned the instant he saw what was in his hands. “Well, what did you find this time?” Magnus asked. As they got close, he winked at his friend and chuckled. “You wouldn’t believe the treasures Alexander manages to find. I’m tempted to take him on all my shopping trips. He always manages to pick out the best things without even seeming to realize it.”
“I can see that,” the woman said, smiling at Alec over Magnus’ head.
Thankfully, Magnus missed both the smile and Alec’s blush, too caught up in the statue in Alec’s hands that he finally noticed. The little “Oh” he let out was soft, but it was followed up by a much clearer “That is absolutely stunning. Would you look at those colors?” and then Magnus was lost, hands running over the statue while he took it carefully from Alec’s hands.
While Magnus looked it over, exclaiming over the colors in the stone and the skill required to shape it this way, Alec took advantage of the distraction to pull out his wallet. He’d already slid his card over and was signing the receipt when Magnus took notice of what he was doing. The side-eye glare he gave Alec made it clear what he thought of his sneakiness.
Alec smiled, cutting off any protest by leaning in to kiss him.
The woman took the statue from Magnus and started to wrap and bag it for them. While she did, Magnus leaned in against Alec’s side. “Where were you thinking of putting that? It’d look lovely on your desk, or on the mantle above the fireplace.”
“I thought it might look good on your desk,” Alec told him.
No matter how many times he saw it, the way that Magnus’ eyebrows went up, that way his lips parted just a little, just the sheer surprise that he always so quickly tried to hide, it broke Alec’s heart a little. It also firmed his resolve to continue to buy random gifts until Magnus learned that it wasn’t meant to be some rarity that someone wanted to give him something.
“Alexander.” The press of their bodies became a little firmer. Magnus pushed himself up that half-inch so that he could kiss Alec, warm and soft.
Their moment was cut off by the woman at the register. She held the bag out to them, smiling as she did. There was none of her curiosity or caution present anymore. Just open, honest kindness. “Here you are, boys.” Her eyes drifted to Alec as she said, “It was a pleasure doing business with you. Please, come back anytime.”
He was definitely going to. Something told Alec there were quite a few things in that shop he could gift Magnus in the future.
The package arrived at the Institute that night. Underhill sent him a text to let him know. Apparently, the box had appeared on their front step – where any packages of magical origins that were unknown ended up, instead of just blocking them entirely, something that Alec had asked Magnus to implement in the wards after too many random deliveries that weren’t getting through. When Alec came in in the morning, he brought it to his office with him and opened it up to take a look.
The stone was just as beautiful as Alec remembered. He held it in his hands, felt the stone warm under his touch, and knew he’d found the perfect one. Magnus would love it. The woman – the little note in the box said her name was Ayanna – had even included a gift box to hold it, with velvet inside to keep it cushioned so that it wouldn’t break. The whole thing was perfect, and Alec couldn’t wait to give it to Magnus.
Alec kept it bundled up in a protective bag at the bottom of his quiver. The safest place to store something until he got it home. Putting it in his jacket wasn’t smart; too much risk of demon attacks on the way to the loft that night. Alec didn’t want to test how sturdy it actually was. Though he hadn’t seen a single flaw in it.
The whole day it was all Alec could think about. Not just because he wanted desperately to give it to Magnus, but because this was going to be the official start of things even if Magnus didn’t realize it right away. This was going to be the start of their courtship. A time for Alec to finally be able to show Magnus just how much he loved him. How important he truly was in Alec’s life.
Alec mostly held it together throughout the long day. He even got a bit distracted when he went to the loft after work. Then again, it was hard not to when he was greeted at the door with a deep, hard kiss, and then dragged back to the bedroom.
It took a little while for them to come out. Eventually, however, the need for food one out and they went out to the main part of the loft. He and Magnus had dinner, taking a little time to catch up on their days, a ritual that Alec was coming to adore. Ever since their breakup and reconciliation, they’d been working at communicating more. Not just about the big things but about the little things, too. For them, that meant trying to make a point to share dinner together and talk about their days.
Getting lost in it and the relaxing atmosphere of the loft was easy. Anymore, Alec always felt like his troubles started melting off him the minute he came through the front doors. More so when he set his eyes on Magnus.
It wasn’t until they were curled up on the couch for their usual even tv show/movie watching that Alec finally remembered the present. Unfortunately, not even his relationship with Magnus had erased Alec’s tendency to blurt things awkwardly – a fact Isabelle often jokingly lamented.
They were nicely cuddled up together when Alec remembered the present, and he didn’t even think before blurting out, “Oh shit, I forgot!”
Magnus twitched a little against him. He looked up from where his head had been resting against Alec’s shoulder and gave him an amused look, one eyebrow up. He rarely got frustrated at Alec’s inability to talk like a normal person. Unlike the rest of the people in Alec’s life, for some reason, he seemed to find it endearing. “What did you forget, Alexander?”
The warmth in Alec’s cheeks told him he was blushing a little. Even knowing that Magnus didn’t mind didn’t stop Alec from being a bit embarrassed by his own mouth sometimes. “I, uh, I brought something home for you.”
Now that perked Magnus up. He sat up a little more, both eyebrows up now, and that pleased/surprised look on his face. “Two presents in two days? Is there an important holiday or anniversary I’ve missed?”
Alec smiled and shook his head. “No. I just like getting you things.”
Those candid words were worth any vulnerability that came with them when Alec got to see the rare sight of Magnus blushing. He lifted himself up to brush a kiss over Alec’s lips. “You ridiculous man.”
“You always tell me to let you spoil me. I just want to do the same.” Alec smiled and kissed him back, then bumped their noses together in a gesture that was stupid and cute and was probably one of the sappiest things the two liked to do. At least according to his parabatai. “Now, are you gonna let me up so I can go get it out of my quiver?”
Really, he shouldn’t have been as specific as he was.
Magnus grinned at him and snapped his fingers. When Alec’s quiver appeared in his lap, he gave Magnus a dry look that got him a soft laugh.
“Really?” Alec couldn’t help but ask. “You couldn’t just let me get up and walk the few feet to go get it?”
“Why should you when we’re both so comfortable, and you have a loving boyfriend who is willing to get your stuff for you?”
There was no point in arguing it. Not really. Magnus would continue to do things like that no matter what kind of protests Alec gave about wasting magic on frivolous things. In the end, Alec just shook his head and used his free hand to reach down into the bottom of the quiver and pull out the box waiting there.
A large part of Alec was desperately nervous as he held the box out to Magnus. It didn’t matter how many gifts he got his boyfriend, or how well received they were, there was always going to be a part of Alec that worried that he hadn’t gotten the right thing. More so with something as important as this. Because this wasn’t just any gift. This was something so much more.
Magnus sat up just a little bit and reached out to take the box. “What is it? It’s surprisingly heavy.”
“Why don’t you open it and find out?” Alec asked.
He watched with bated breath as Magnus reached out to flip the little metal hook on the front side of the box. He balanced it with one hand while using his other to lift the lid open.
The soft gasp Magnus let out the instant the inside of the box was visible didn’t exactly help Alec’s nerves. He wasn’t sure if that was a good sound or a bad sound. All he could do was sit there in the silence and wait.
Alec watched as Magnus carefully set the box down in his lap. Was it just a figment of his imagination, or were Magnus’ hands shaking just the slightest bit when he reached in and picked the orb up? “This… where’d you get this, Alexander? It’s stunning.”
“I got it last night when you were up looking at crystals,” Alec said. His words were a bit stumbled, he knew. Nerves. As always, he found himself rambling as his nerves grew. “I don’t know if it’s something you’d like or you could use, but I saw it and I just, I thought of you. It reminded me of you and your magic, and so I wanted to get it, but if you don’t like it you don’t…”
His words were cut off when Magnus twisted and surged up to kiss him. The kiss was hot and just this side of hard, almost as much teeth as it was lips, and when they finally broke apart, Alec had forgotten entirely what he was rambling about.
Magnus, however, had not. He looked at Alec with that bright, shining look in his eyes, the look that was solely for Alec. “It’s wonderful, Alexander. And so are you.”
Tension bled out of Alec at those words. He smiled easily once more. “I’m glad you like it.”
“I love it, though not near as much as I love you.”
Another kiss, and then Alec watched as Magnus carefully put the stone back down into its case. His touch was gentle, almost reverent, and Alec felt his heart swell a little more. He’d done it. He’d done the first step, and Magnus hadn’t just accepted it, he’d loved it. Alec couldn’t have asked for a more perfect reaction.
It didn’t escape Alec’s notice that Magnus gave him a little sideways look, something curious and a bit longing flashing through his gaze. Maybe it was cruel to give him what he would recognize as something important without confirming that, yes, this was actually what Alec was doing. But…Alec wasn’t going to state his intentions out loud. Catarina had said that some did and some didn’t. Some let their gifts and actions speak for themselves.
They’d both agreed that that would probably be the way to do this for Alec. If he just quietly did the rituals, it would make sure Magnus didn’t have a chance to try and talk him out of it. By the time he really caught on, Magnus would either speak up and say something if he was really upset, or he’d be too curious for his own good and want to see what else Alec would do.
Alec was banking on the second option.
He didn’t say anything about the look. Just waited as Magnus schooled his expression until there was nothing but love and thanks on his face when he looked back up. “It really is beautiful, Alexander. Thank you.”
“I love you,” Alec said, like the simple truth it was.
Magnus leaned in to kiss him, and then he tucked himself back against Alec’s chest, snuggling back into the position they’d been in before. Alec smothered a smile against Magnus’ hair when he saw his boyfriend fiddling with the little box.
Step one was a success. Time for step two.