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The vegetable rack

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“Try to relax,” Magnus suggested, running a soothing hand down Alec’s arm.

“Relax? She’s not only bringing a boyfriend to dinner, but he’s a Shadowhunter,” Alec grouched.

“Yes dear, just like you.”

“I know what I am, Magnus. I just don’t think he’s good enough for Madzie.” Alec jerked away from Magnus’ attempts to soothe him with gentle strokes and started pacing the loft.

“You know, he said to me last week ‘ I’m glad you paved the way for relationships between downworlders and Shadowhunters ’ and you should have seen the look on his face, rubbing it in that he was talking about our niece. What am I meant to think of that Magnus? She’s sixteen and this kid doesn’t know his stele from his seraph blade.” Alec ran his hand through his hair, tugging slightly in frustration. “Do you know what the most worrying thing about him is? He reminds me so much of Jace at his age. That’s not the kind of guy you want dating your family!”

Magnus pulled Alec’s wrist until he released his hair and ran a smoothing hand over it to correct some of the mess his Shadowhunter had made. He reached up on tiptoes and pressed a gentle kiss to Alec’s cheek.

“Relax, Madzie is more than capable of taking care of herself. And from what Catarina has told me, they’re both entirely smitten. It’s adorable if she’s to be believed.”

“She’s sixteen, Magnus,” Alec growled, “She should still be demanding you conjure her a unicorn, not portalling to who knows where to fool around with idiotic Shadowhunters in training!”

Magnus opened his mouth to attempt to talk down Alec’s rant but was cut off by a knock at the door.

“Play nice,” he warned, pointing a finger at Alec and giving him a stern look, before planting one more chaste kiss to his cheek.

He swept over to the loft door, gesturing in a dramatic half-bow as he opened it to greet their guests.

“Sweetpea, I’m so glad you’re here,” he declared, sweeping her up into a bear hug. “And you must be Caleb.” He held his hand out to the young man stood awkwardly in the doorway.

“Uh, yessir, Caleb Wisewater sir,” he stuttered out.

Magnus could practically feel Alec’s eye-roll burning into the back of his skull where his husband was still standing stiffly in the living room. He’d never tell Alec, but he was already entirely endeared to Madzie’s young beau. He reminded him an awful lot of Alec when they’d first met. All stuttering speech, nervous eye movements but strong soldier’s posture. Shadowhunters were almost all the same - the clave trained them never to show weakness or fear, taught them to hold their shoulders tall and stand proud, but they never taught them how to deal with actual human interactions. ‘ Emotions cloud judgement’ was their motto, they were too blind to see that ignoring emotions was even worse for judgement. A lot had changed under the influence of Alec’s more progressive generation of Shadowhunters however some Shadowhunter traits were harder to overcome than others.

Magnus broke from his musings, realising he’d kept their guests waiting on the doorstep, and ushered the pair into the loft. Madzie made a beeline for Alec and grabbed him around the waist pressing her face into his ribs. They didn’t get to see her nearly as much as they would have liked but she still loved them all the same. Magnus smiled fondly on the scene as Alec grinned down at the young Warlock who was apparently refusing to let go. 

“Mr Lightwood-Bane, sir. It’s good to see you.” Caleb stood a respectful distance away from Alec and kept his eyes downcast. His feet were planted hip-width apart and his hands clasped stiffly behind his back. Magnus withheld a snort at the fear the young man clearly felt in Alec’s presence. He sincerely doubted this kid was anything like Jace had been at this age.

“Good evening, Wisewater,” Alec replied stiffly. Madzie finally released him from her grip to look up at him reproachfully.

“Come on Uncle Alec, you’re not at the Institute now,” she pleaded.

“Drinks?” Magnus suggested, clapping his hands together enthusiastically. “Please, make yourself at home. Madzie knows where everything is. Alexander and I just need to check on dinner.” He raised his eyebrows pointedly at Alec and jerked his head into the kitchen.

Alec dutifully followed his husband, as Magnus closed the door behind them.

“I thought you were magicking in dinner from that ristorante in Rome? It’s Madzie’s favourite.” Alec asked in confusion.

“I am. But I’m going to need you to lighten up a bit.” Magnus smoothed his hands down the front of Alec’s shirt, ridding it of imaginary creases. “Madzie’s clearly very nervous and she really cares about this boy. This dinner is important to her and at the moment you’re being very unwelcoming. Now I know you’ve got it into your head that Caleb’s bad news, but we really should give him a chance - for Madzie?”

Alec groaned, “Why do you have to emotionally manipulate me?”

“I’m your husband, darling. If I didn’t know how to play on your emotions after a decade together, then I wouldn’t have been paying you the attention you so deserve all these years now would I?” Magnus smirked at him. “Now, do you think you can at least manage civil through dinner? Maybe even bordering on friendly?”

“I suppose. Though any hint of dishonourable intentions towards Madzie…”

“And I’ll send him to limbo myself,” Magnus reassured. He snapped his fingers, conjuring a tray of fancy cloudy lemonades and levitated it alongside him as he reopened the door and led Alec back out into the living room.

“You have a lovely home, Mr and uh - Mr Lightwood-Bane.” Caleb complimented them, his attempts at polite conversation only mildly undermined by his clear nerves. “Some, uh, interesting decorative choices.” 

Alec couldn’t help but snort at that. Caleb was hovering in the corner near their glass-fronted display cabinet, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

Magnus described the cabinet as ‘ a homage to ten years of relationships taking effort’ - Alec just called it ‘ the vegetable rack ’. The ornate wooden cabinet was an antique Magnus had bought back in the 1800s apparently. Alec couldn’t remember what had been stored in there originally, but somewhere over the last ten years, it had been emptied to instead display their many apologies to one another. Of course, to an outsider, it would look pretty strange.

Madzie giggled and wandered over to join her Shadowhunter, linking her arm through his. She peered at the display.

“There are some new ones in here,” she commented with a grin. “Who bought the yam?”

“That one was Alexander. He didn’t even put any thought into it. ‘ I yam sorry I was late to dinner ’. Such a weak and overplayed pun, absolutely no originality or care taken.” Magnus’ look of mock outrage lasted seconds before he caught Alec’s eye and burst out laughing. He couldn’t help it. Alec looked so adorable when he was grumpy.

“It was a tough week ok, someone opened a demonic rift. We had alerts all over Manhattan to deal with. I didn’t have time to stand in the grocery store trying to come up with something more original.” Alec pouted, his arms crossed over his chest.

“Wait, you bought a yam, as an apology?” Caleb’s eyes darted between the two of them, a look of genuine confusion on his face. “Surely flowers would have been more effective? Or chocolates? I don’t know… Just, not a yam?”

“It’s just what my uncles do,” Madzie said nonchalantly as if that should explain everything. When Caleb only continued to look confused she tried to explain “Look, it started with a potato. It was the funniest thing.”

“Ahh, the potato. Yes, Alec bought me that when we’d been dating for what, three months?”

“Something like that,” Alec grumbled, not enjoying having to share one of his & Magnus’ family jokes with an outsider.

“I remember Uncle Magnus came round and just sat on the sofa staring intently at a potato. Mom had to ply him with coffee and she still had to practically prise the thing out of his hands. He was so confused. I remember thinking he was really sick because he just sat there shaking. Then he suddenly burst out laughing. He was laughing so hard he snorted and fell out of his seat.” Madzie’s shoulders were shaking with her own laughter as she recounted the story. “Mom kept asking if he needed help, saying she’d heal him if he’d just tell her what curse he’d been hit with and all he could say was ‘ a potato’ repeatedly.”

“Wait, I never heard this side of the story,” Alec said, finally cracking a smile.

“Well of course not, because this is all from the overactive imagination of six-year-old Madzie. This is not at all how it happened.”

“Suuuure,” Alec extended the word, smirking at his husband, “so you won’t mind if I text Cat then and ask her?”

“Now now, there’s no need to disturb Catarina. She’s working the nightshift. Patients' lives to be saving and all that.”

Alec merely raised an eyebrow and took a sip of his drink.

“Anyway, after that Uncle Alec fell over in the dark because he forgot to activate his runes. So Uncle Magnus jokingly bought him a carrot and -” Madzie’s explanation was cut off by Alec’s outraged spluttering.

“‘ I forgot to activate my runes’ ? Is that what you tell people? Seriously, Magnus?” Alec’s voice was pitched slightly higher and his eyes comically wide. Magnus had to fight back the giggle that threatened to bubble out of him. Alec rounded on Madzie and Caleb, “Let me tell you what really happened. Uncle Magnus was far too drunk to use magic but tried anyway. He ended up inadvertently creating an obstacle course across the bedroom then tricked me into navigating said obstacle course in the dark, resulting in a broken stele AND a broken wrist.”

Alec shot another glare at Magnus but the crinkles around the corners of his eyes only betrayed his amusement. He was slowly loosening up at least.

"At least I never mislabelled any vegetables," Magnus fired back.

"A turnip and a swede are practically the same vegetable!" Alec defended. 

"Oh, just like Norway and Sweden are the same country?" They were both grinning now, used to the familiar pattern of the long-repeated argument. 

"I sent the high Warlock of Sweden a personal note AND flowers, she forgave me. I can't believe you haven't," Alec threw his hands up in exasperation. 

"Are they always like this?" Caleb whispered to Madzie, looking between them incredulously. 

"Pretty much," she responded, "but it's what makes hanging out with them so fun! They're ridiculous and sweet." She was practically cooing by this point.

"I just can't believe Alec Lightwood-Bane thinks vegetables are romantic? I mean, I don't know what I expected him to be like outside the Institute but it wasn't this!" 

"Oh he’s a massive sap when it comes to Uncle Magnus. I guess it's the opposite of when I see him being all 'clave official'. To me, he's just the giant goofball who used to play sharks & minnows with me and read me bedtime stories. And the guy who makes my uncle Magnus smile like that."

Sometime during the hushed conversation the teenagers had been having in the corner the argument had ceased. The Lightwood-Banes instead were staring at each other, all soft smiles and gooey eyes.

"So, I heard there would be lasagna?" Madzie asked, tilting her head sweetly to distract from the obvious interruption to the couple's moment. 

"Yes!" Magnus seemed to remember they had company and snapped straight into good host mode. "Shall we move to the dining room?" he turned on the spot, graceful in every movement and with a wave of blue sparks conjured dinner to the table ready for them. 

Dinner itself turned out to be a very enjoyable affair. Madzie regaled them of stories from her training in the Spiral Labyrinth and Caleb shared some anecdotes from his shadowhunter training, including an excellent story about Clary distracting Jace and causing him to trip over mid-demonstration in front of the entire cohort. Jace had of course conveniently forgotten to tell Alec about this incident. Alec made a mental note to bring this up next time he saw his Parabatai. 

After dinner, they retired back to the living room with Magnus mixing them all drinks, virgin Coladas for their young guests and cosmopolitans for him and his husband. The atmosphere had relaxed somewhat through the course of the evening and so Caleb felt comfortable making his way over to the cabinet to continue inspecting the contents. 

"What was the eggplant for?" he queried, pointing to the large vegetable marked with a messy scrawl in silver ink.

Alec flushed from the collar up, his entire face turning bright red.

"That is not a story for young ears," Magnus declared, shooting a delicate spark of magic to spin the writing out of sight.

"Umm, sorry," Caleb suddenly looked uncomfortable. His eyes darted around looking for a safer topic. "What about the corn?" 

"That would be Magnus getting me cornfused with his ex and thinking that I love cherries. For the record, I despise cherries, they’re gross."

They continued answering questions and filling in various stories about the vegetable rack until late into the evening. Magnus suddenly spotted the late hour and jumped up from his relaxed position, tucked under Alec’s arm on the couch. 

"Look at the time! I should portal you both home before Catarina kills me," Magnus declared. 

"I can portal myself," Madzie reminded him. 

"In which case, I should at least portal your beau back to the Institute.”

Madzie skipped forward and wrapped him in a tight hug.

"Thank you so much for dinner Uncle Magnus, it was really fun!" 

"You're more than welcome, dear. It’s been a delightful evening. Keep me updated on your training sweetpea." 

She released him to envelope Alec in a hug, reaching up on the very tips of her toes to whisper in his ear "Thank you for not being too grumpy this evening!"

"Hey, I'm never grumpy." Alec scolded, wrapping his arms tight around her. He dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “If this one hurts you, you be sure to tell me and he’ll be on ichor duty for life.” He waggled his eyebrows in Caleb’s direction pointedly.

Madzie just stepped back with a giggle. 

“Thank you for dinner, Mr Lightwood-Bane,” Caleb said, tone reverting back to formal and nervous again, shaking Magnus’ hand.

“You’re very welcome,” Magnus’ response was said in the slightly mocking formal voice he sometimes used with Alec, usually right before he called him his ‘ Serious Shadowhunter’ .

“I’ll see you in the morning, Sir,” Caleb addressed Alec, offering his hand out.

Alec instead grasped at his fore-arm somewhere closer to his elbow and used it as an opportunity to step in close. Lowering his voice to a stern whisper he instructed: “Never ever repeat what you read on that onion.”

“Oh, you mean the thing about you crying when Magnus made you watch Titanic. I promise I won't say a word.” Caleb met his eyes with a look of fierce determination.

“Seriously,” Alec warned. “I will make your life a living misery if I even suspect you've told anyone. Especially my siblings.”

“Yessir, completely understood.” the young Shadowhunter looked mildly fearful.

Magnus took that as a queue to conjure a portal back to the Institute. Caleb smiled gratefully at him. He gave an awkward wave and stepped through, the portal closing behind him.

Madzie gave them both one last hug before she waved her own portal into existence and stepped through to home.

Alec collapsed back onto the sofa with a sigh.

“Well, I’m glad that’s over with.”

“It didn’t go too badly I don’t think.” Magnus snuggled into his side, pressing a soft kiss into the side of his husband’s neck.

“You told him about the zucchini, Magnus. I have to face this kid tomorrow at the Institute knowing he knows about the zucchini .”

Magnus chuckled softly, not a hint of remorse crossing his features.

“I’m sorry, darling. I’ll find a vegetable to make it up to you.”