Call Me Maybe Not — an evening at Magnus Bane’s new restaurant
By A. Lightwood.
When my boss told me he wanted me to do a review of Magnus Bane’s new restaurant, I hesitated. What is left to be said about him that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over? Why would my review even matter in front of the empire that is associated with his name?
Magnus Bane is a renowned chef and there is no denying he is a great one. He became famous for his unorthodox methods, his raw talent and innovative spirit and, possibly, his handsome face and charming smile (my job relies more on taste buds, but I do have eyes too).
I visited Le Petit Paris –that’s the restaurant’s name and I could write a whole article on how arrogant it is, but it isn’t the point here–situated in Downtown Manhattan, last week, on the three month anniversary of its opening. I had great expectations, which perhaps justifies the equal proportion of disappointment I felt by the end of my dinner.
Le Petit Paris’ concept is relatively simple: it is a congregation of all the dishes that made Magnus Bane’s notoriety, with little to no regard for the menu’s coherence or for a clear association with French food (with the notable exception of the coq-au-vin).
The thing is… Bane’s new restaurant isn’t bad. I’ve written reviews about restaurants who barely deserved the title. I’ve eaten in places that made me question the worth of humanity’s survival. This isn’t the case here. The wine menu is excellent –as is the sommelier, Raphael Santiago. The service is subpar –the maître d’, Magnus Bane’s long-lasting acolyte Ragnor Fell, is particularly helpful, although he looks as happy to be there as I was to realize my expectations wouldn’t be met.
The first thing I found odd was the restaurant’s decor. There’s gold everywhere, on the lights, on the bar, on the walls. It is married with blood red, and although I have never been to Versailles, I assume this is what it would look like if Versailles met Dracula’s castle. It’s somehow somber and gaudy at the same time, which I suppose is an achievement in itself.
But let’s go back to what truly matters: the food.
I am a meat lover, so I naturally leaned towards the Sublime Entrecôte et ses pommes duchesse –again, no comment from me on the arrogance of the name. I was asked if I wanted it saignant , to which I replied ‘medium rare’ because it means exactly the same thing and my server didn’t speak any more French than I do.
The entrecote wasn’t bad; great seasoning, perfect cooking. The rose-shaped potatoes were good. Somehow, a dish that could be so tastefully simple looked fancy enough that I felt like it was judging my entire existence and telling me I wasn’t good enough for it. The sprinkling of gold flakes added a top layer of bullshit. I wondered if they might have just fallen from the walls directly onto my plate, but I was reassured by a server that it was perfectly edible. I don’t know when it became trendy to eat gold, but it seems to be an established reason to justify grossly overpriced dinners in New York, and Magnus Bane sadly didn’t depart from this new craze. Food should be an adventure, but it doesn’t have to include a treasure hunt for a chest of gold in your plate. The dish was overall good, and I struggled to pinpoint why I was feeling… sad. Then I realized I expected more than ‘good’ from a chef as famous and talented as Magnus Bane. I expected more than food that tastes like I could find it just as good in an unknown bistro in France’s Provence.
It’s rare that I have to write a bad review about good food, but Magnus Bane’s status and fame mean I feel inclined to hold him to higher standards. The problem isn’t with the food, nor with the service, nor with the decor —okay, maybe a little with the decor— but rather with how spectacularly it fails to blend all together.
It’s like all the efforts are put into making sure everything is so flawless no terrible food critic like yours truly could have anything to say about it. And so I knew why I was uncomfortable eating there: it is completely soulless.
It’s not a word I ever thought I’d use to qualify Magnus Bane. His public appearances, whether in his own TV show or in the ones he stars as a guest, always insist on how food has been his passion since childhood, on how his raw talent was built on practice and hard work. Magnus Bane is self-taught, hasn’t gone to any elite cooking school and yet is regularly a guest professor there. Magnus Bane is synonymous with many things, generally eulogistic (at the exception, perhaps, of the many people he’s antagonized or criticized vehemently in said TV shows). But I don’t have much good to say about his new restaurant, and there is probably no one more thwarted about it than myself.
In many ways, food is like music, ingredients stringing together to form a song that belongs to its author but whose interpretation resides in its consumer. I was expecting a symphony, and instead I got Call Me Maybe (which I won’t—call that is.)
Although executed masterfully, Magnus Bane’s dishes sing out of key.
By the end of the dinner, I was disappointed and, frankly, a little sad. Nobody should pay this much money to be sad. I could have very well stayed home, eaten frozen pizza and watched an umpteenth rerun of Grey’s Anatomy, to the same effect.
C’est la vie, I guess.
Magnus throws the newspaper down on the table, his heart in his throat.
“Who the fuck is this arrogant asshole?”
Raphael lays down a glass of Anakena Chardonnay in front of him. “He’s got a point about the walls,” he grumbles, not quite low enough for Magnus not to hear.
Magnus glares at him and looks away from the offensive article, eyes scanning the dining area. Sure, the decor is a bit much, but by the time he realized he wanted to change it, it was already too late and the restaurant was opening the following week. Still, though, it’s not that bad. It goes well with the restaurant’s overall vibe, no matter what this A. Lightwood has to say about it.
A familiar hand rests on his shoulder, warm and comforting. Magnus glances up at Catarina, his sous-chef, best friend and overall life saver —not necessarily in that order.
“Alec Lightwood,” she says calmly. Magnus wonders whether or not she’s feeling a matching surge of rage toward this Lightwood guy for slandering their restaurant like this, or if she’s keeping her composure for his sake. It could be, too, that it takes a whole lot more than that to truly anger Catarina –generally her loved ones being hurt, occasionally starting her on a rant about her deep-rooted hatred for junk food.
“He’s Idris Magazine’s resident food critic,” Ragnor says. He grabs Magnus’ glass and takes a sip of his wine unceremoniously, ignoring Magnus’ look of total horror. “Has been for the past two years.”
“I don’t pay attention to that stuff,” Magnus scoffs. It’s a blatant lie. Of course he does pay attention to critics. He doesn’t know a single professional chef that doesn’t. But he undoubtedly gives them too much of his time, especially the bad ones. They’re the ones that somehow have more power over him, no matter how rare they are compared to the positive ones.
Magnus hasn’t had a bad review in a long time —his mere name is usually enough to deter the few courageous ones— and this one is infuriating, because its author clearly has a superiority complex and Magnus would bet one of his Michelin stars that he doesn’t even know how to make a damn puff pastry.
“And you shouldn’t,” Catarina says, squeezing his shoulder.
Magnus’ bottom lip struts into a pout. “I know, but this is Idris Magazine, not some random food blogger with twenty followers and I don’t want this guy’s highly subjective attack on my restaurant to disparage our customers.”
“All critics are subjective,” Raphael butts in.
Magnus flings the cork at his face.
“You could ask for a right to reply,” Ragnor says. “I have a friend who works there, and she owes me a favor.”
Magnus lifts an eyebrow. “You have friends outside of us?”
“One hardly has a choice with such friends,” Ragnor retorts in the same beat.
Magnus snorts, gaze falling back on the article.
But I don’t have much good to say about his new restaurant, and there is probably no one more thwarted about it than myself.
How fucking arrogant does this guy have to be to think his expectations should matter at all?
This isn’t the first bad review Magnus received, though, and many a pompous food critic now are kicking themselves for it. This A. Lightwood won’t be the exception, Magnus decides right then.
A smirk tugs at the corner of his lips as he looks right into Ragnor’s deep green eyes.
“Oh no,” Catarina sighs.
“Invite him again,” Magnus says.
“Magnus, there’s no need losing sleep over this guy,” she tries, always the voice of reason.
“Invite him again,” he repeats firmly, leaving no room for negotiation.
Ragnor laughs loudly. “I can’t wait for our days without incident count to go back to zero.”
Magnus wishes he hadn’t thrown the cork at Raphael’s face.
Ragnor calls Idris Magazine and they settle on a date the following week. When the evening comes, Magnus doesn’t leave anything to chance. He passes over every station to check his staff’s mise en place. At least, if A. Lightwood’s second review is as disastrous as the first, he won’t have anyone to blame but himself.
He decided on a closed menu for the night, which makes it easier for his kitchen staff and for himself to make sure everything is flawless.
He decided on a pumpkin and wild mushroom risotto for the main dish, because it is the perfect time of the year for it and he has made it so many times before that he could probably do it blindfolded and with a hand behind his back. He went to the farmers’ market in the morning, as he does twice a week, and carefully handpicked ingredients of the finest quality himself.
He’s organized every station in order of preparation, and he’s personally checked that they have enough spare pots and pans to not have to wash up halfway through the evening and lose some precious time.
His team has been briefed and dispatched according to everyone’s strengths, and it is all going smoothly, like a well-oiled machine they have spent years creating.
That is, until the kitchen door bangs open and Simon comes in, eyes wide and blinking behind his glasses.
“He’s here,” he announces, like Magnus imagines he would announce the apocalypse.
“Alright everyone,” Magnus immediately shouts at his staff, clapping his hands. “You’ve been doing great for the past hour so let’s keep up the good work. I want to taste everything and nothing leaves this kitchen without my approval.”
His kitchen immediately erupts into organized chaos, everyone redoubling their efforts.
Magnus bends over his plate. “3 out salmon,” he yells for the kitchen, before glancing up at Simon, stopping him as he turns to go back to the floor. “Did he say anything?”
Simon shakes his head. “I showed him to his seat and told him about the closed menu for tonight. He didn’t look too pleased about that.”
“Well, I wasn’t pleased about his review so I guess he’ll just have to get over it,” Magnus retorts sharply.
“Raphael took over when I left to offer him a drink to go with the entrée,” Simon continues, unperturbed. “I think he might be planning on getting him drunk.”
Magnus feels a pang of affection in his chest, and looks over his kitchen, at everyone working even harder than they usually do. Catarina hasn’t even cracked a joke the whole evening, handling the cooking of the meat with such mastery Magnus would feel a little jealous if it was anyone but her. Joking around is usually how they get through the long shifts, pushing through the rush with playful banter and teasing, but tonight is all determined focus and grave faces.
They have been through worse than a bad review, together. Magnus knows he might fall apart if it weren’t for Catarina, Ragnor, and Raphael’s unwavering support. He has before.
But not tonight.
Half an hour later, Magnus is plating up Lightwood’s risotto, Simon waiting patiently at his side to take it away, plates lined up adroitly along his arm.
“Want me to accidentally rip some gold from the walls and spill it on his plate?” he asks, giving Magnus a broad-eyed, innocuous smile.
Magnus barks out a laugh, handing him the finished plate. “Maybe for dessert.”
Simon straightens up, puffing out his chest proudly, and steps out into the dining area. Magnus expels a deep breath and, before he can talk himself against it, walks to the kitchen door, following Simon with his eyes through the round window.
Simon walks to a table and serves a couple first, charming them with a broad smile and a few words that Magnus can’t hear but make the customers chuckle lightly. He sends a wink to Clary, who is serving another table, on his way to his next one, and finally stops at a table where a tall, broad-shouldered man is sitting alone, his back to Magnus. He has ebony hair cut short in the neck, and his head is bowed down as he writes in a notebook.
When he looks up at Simon, pushing away the notebook, Magnus catches a glimpse at the stubble on his jaw and the polite smile he gives Simon before glancing down at his plate.
“You trying to cast a spell on him or something?” Catarina asks softly, her voice so close that Magnus jumps with surprise.
He clenches his jaw tightly. “I just want to make sure he can’t slander anything but the food this time.”
Catarina lays a comforting hand on his shoulder, squeezing lightly. “Are you going to tell me why you’re so angry about one bad review? You’ve had plenty,” she muses, not unkindly. “It never affected you before.”
That’s wrong, of course, but Magnus won’t tell her that.
Catarina is right, after all. He has received plenty of bad reviews and just like tonight, they’ve always made him strive to do better, to excel in a world that didn’t welcome him with open arms because he didn’t have either the common background or the proper education for the stuck-up people who dominate his field. Bad reviews have always been fuel, yet another motivator to go against the tide and punch back with feverish rage.
Catarina’s inquisition isn’t innocent, however, and they both know it.
“I just didn’t like his tone,” Magnus lies.
She heaves out a deep sigh, her hand slipping from his shoulder to rub at his back instead. “Are you sure that’s it?” she says softly, sounding so defeated he refuses to turn around and see it on her face.
Magnus inhales sharply, nods and clasps his hands together. “Absolutely. Now let’s get back to work. He’s not our only customer tonight and I don’t trust anyone to cook this meat as flawlessly as you do.”
Catarina doesn’t reply, but Magnus can read the worry through the light touch of her fingers grazing against his back.
He swirls around, winks at her and plasters a wide grin on his face, moving back to his station.
“The next one I catch slacking will close every day next week,” he shouts warningly, even though he knows his employees are perfectly aware it is an empty threat.
Still, they work through the night with renewed verve.
What Happens When Magnus Bane Doesn’t Like Your Review And Invites You To Eat At His Restaurant Again? — another evening at Magnus Bane’s
By A. Lightwood.
It is not exactly uncommon for restaurants to invite you again when you write a review of the place. To be fair, it happens a lot. It is less common, however, when the review is admittedly bad. Usually, the response is a vaguely threatening email, a few colorful words and something along the lines of “what the f*** do you know? You’re just a food critic.”
I suppose I should have expected something different from Magnus Bane. So when I was told he wanted me to visit his restaurant again after reading my review, I was perplexed.
Most of what I do relies on the element of surprise, visiting a restaurant when they don’t expect it so I am sure not to receive any special treatment because of what I do. I knew I would be unlikely to receive the unbiased treatment I had the first time I visited Magnus Bane’s latest restaurant.
But who the hell am I to turn down an opportunity like this one, with the added bonus of not having to wear the kind of ridiculous disguises we food critics do to avoid being recognized because I knew I’d be expected?
Much like last time, I was greeted by the maître d’, who pursed his lips when he saw me and looked at me with such disdain I almost began to miss the death threats I usually receive when I write a bad review. I was seated at a nice table, thankfully with my back turned away from the golden abominations on the walls.
I was next accosted by the sommelier, who offered me a glass of wine he thought would marry well with the entree (I almost thanked him for the lack of French pronunciation, but I didn’t). He did mumble something rather impolite and unflattering in Spanish under his breath. I’m taking this opportunity to let him know that my mother is Latinx so I can actually understand Spanish and that he can sleep on both ears tonight knowing I did not actually choke on my food.
Our relationship wasn’t made any easier by the fact that I turned him down when he came back barely twenty minutes later to offer me another glass of wine and I asked for water instead. I think he might have been trying to get me drunk, and I’ve decided to take the high road there and admire his dedication to his boss rather than the consequences of it for me.
Anyway, I was taken care of by the same waiter as last time, who informed me that I would not need a menu because Chef Bane had personally handpicked a closed menu for the night and I’d be served the entrée (with French pronunciation, and perhaps I did regret the option where I ended up murdered and made into a stew a little bit at that very moment) shortly.
So, what happens when Magnus Bane doesn’t like your review, invites you to his restaurant again and decides for you what you’re going to eat?
Well, sadly, nothing much. Nothing much at all.
By the end of the night, I was beginning to wonder whether I was being scammed or pranked (and not solely because of the exorbitant prices, although they most definitely played a part). Because I lied when I said earlier in this review that I didn’t expect something different from Magnus Bane. Of course I did, especially after my first review of his restaurant.
Nothing had changed since then, except for the meals I was served (a pumpkin and wild mushroom risotto was the main dish, for those who actually read this for an opinion on the food and not as a gossip column). There is no doubt that Magnus Bane can cook exceptionally well, but I could simply copy my previous review, change a few details and paste it for this second night without feeling too bad about myself. My boss would forgive me this mishap, I’ve never missed a deadline.
Open parenthesis. I’m being a hypocrite: there was indeed one notable change. Chef Bane, my deepest thanks for skipping the gold flakes this time. I am guessing your plans to rob a bank that week were derailed by the impromptu need to write a special menu for yours truly. I greatly appreciate it, and I’m certain you are equally grateful for the gain of time and energy my dislike of gold flakes has surely provided you with. Close parenthesis.
So here we go again: the food was good, the technique irreproachable, the service enchanting (albeit threatening at times). Sometimes I eat in restaurants so bad I only write about them as a warning, a civic duty of sorts. This isn’t it at all. Nothing was exceptional, though, not the way one is allowed to expect considering the applied prices.
Was it a complete disaster? No.
Would I eat there again? Yes, if after a break-up, the ultimate combo of misery ice cream plus The Notebook isn’t quite enough to make me feel sadder and like I’m gonna die alone.
Has money been spent on the decor (see first review for my thoughts on that; spoiler alert: they’re not positive), the staff, the ingredients? Absolutely.
The result could, if anybody cared enough, be spectacular.
But either somebody doesn’t have the heart to it anymore, or spending time yelling at people on TV is much more professionally fulfilling than I imagine it to be.
Which it is is your pick, reader.
I’m not quite sure I’ve made mine.
Magnus grits his teeth tightly as Raphael finishes reading, looking up at the screen with as good an apologetic face as he can muster.
He turns away from their video call to walk to his drink cart, pouring himself a martini.
Catarina is leaning toward the screen, Ragnor by her side. “Magnus, are you okay?”
Magnus takes a long sip of his drink and walks back to his laptop. “Fan-fucking-tastic,” he says blankly. He ignores her look of concern, turning to her husband instead. “Ragnor, call your friend. The one who works at Idris Magazine. I don’t want a right to reply, but she can definitely help with something else.”
“Magnus,” Catarina sighs. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Please,” Magnus says, although he is pointedly addressing only Ragnor.
Ragnor casts a swift look at his wife, and then back at Magnus, shoulders slouching a little in defeat. “Yes, Chef.”
Magnus finishes his drink in one long gulp and glowers back at the screen. “I’m gonna show this fucker so much heart he’s not gonna know what to do with it.”
“You’re not very good at making threats,” Raphael points out unhelpfully.
Magnus glares at him, but softens when his gaze finds Catarina instead. “I’m fine, I promise,” he mutters. “I’ve worked too hard to let some self-righteous asshole besmirch my name like this. I’ll request an apology and I’ll be perfectly polite about it.”
Ragnor barks out a boisterous laugh, throwing his head back.
“I’d pay to see that.”
Magnus desperately needs to ditch him and Raphael and find some new friends. Catarina can absolutely stay, because she is an angel, and the only sous-chef Magnus can actually see himself working with.
“If you’re sure about it,” Catarina says, somewhat dubious. “I’m with you, no matter what.”
Magnus smiles adoringly at her. “And I love you for it. I just need to do this my way.”
There is irony to be found in the fact that Magnus has to walk into a goddamn burger joint to find the stilted food critic who denigrated his years of hard work because he reckoned it didn’t blend all together.
He spots Alec Lightwood immediately, which might be because of the hours he spent looking up pictures of him after the infamous reviews —only so he could recognize him in a crowd, really, nothing to do with the man’s sharp jawline and clear hazel eyes and full lips and ugh— or simply because Lightwood stands out in there, wearing an elegant suit in a sea of plain t-shirts, baseball caps and greasy fingers. He’s sitting down near the window, munching on a plate of fries, chatting with a dark-haired woman who looks just as out of place as Lightwood does.
They look like the wealthy heirs of a noble family discovering the peasant life for the first time. Magnus decides not to like them on principle alone.
There’s also the matter of Lightwood’s reviews, but at least Magnus is glad to know that there is more of him to dislike than just his defaming words.
His dark hair is curling on his forehead, messy despite Lightwood’s otherwise neat appearance, and his lips are pulled into a smile as he listens intently to whatever the woman sitting in front of him is saying.
Magnus inhales deeply, grits his teeth in a vain attempt at controlling the angry twitch of his jaw, and marches forward.
The burger joint is tiny, so his dramatic entrance is probably ruined by his careful maneuvering through hipsters and overrun waiters, but when he does manage to get close enough, Magnus grabs an empty chair from a nearby table, spins it around to be next to Lightwood’s table and sits down, all in one graceful movement.
Lightwood, who has his burger raised toward his mouth to take a bite, stops to look at him, and his eyes widen.
“I should have realized that this is why you can’t appreciate fine dining establishments,” Magnus says, gesturing vaguely to Lightwood’s greasy plate, lips pulled into a grimace of disgust. “Next time you visit my restaurant, I suggest you just ask your server to direct you to our nearest trash can, maybe you’ll find it soulful and more to your taste.”
Surprise vanishes from Lightwood’s eyes, quickly replaced by amusement, which is not what Magnus was aiming for. This burn was devastating. Lightwood should be devastated.
He wets his lips instead and puts down his burger to face Magnus.
“Good evening, Mr. Bane,” he says, far too polite for someone Magnus wishes he could punch in his perfectly aligned, annoyingly white teeth. “How can I help you?”
“Spare me the top layer of bullshit,” Magnus hisses. “Your reviews were already a whole web of lies, I don’t need this on top of it.”
Lightwood lifts an eyebrow. “Is it lying if I meant every single word?”
Magnus falters, his lips parting in a rebuttal that doesn’t quite want to slip out. He quickly regains his composure, though, squaring his shoulders as he narrows his eyes on Lightwood.
“It’s not exactly honest when you say everything was good but still slander the whole thing.”
Alec gives an irritating smirk. “I didn’t say everything was good,” he remarks. “I did mention the decor was awful.”
“It’s Victorian inspiration!” Magnus protests, indignant.
“It gave me a headache,” Lightwood retorts, deadpan.
“Could that be your insufferable arrogance instead?”
A soft, low rumble of clear laughter pulls Magnus out of his menacing squinting, and he whirls his head to the side. Lightwood’s dinner companion is gazing at them intently, her chin resting into the palm of her hand, elbow tucked on the table.
“Please, don’t stop on my account,” she says, her red-painted lips pulled into a mischievous smile. It is strikingly like Lightwood’s. “I am thoroughly enjoying this.”
“Izzy,” Lightwood grumbles, rolling his eyes in their sockets so hard Magnus thinks he might finally find his primary gustatory cortex. Although he might not know what to do with it.
Izzy ignores him and leans over to Magnus, laying a delicate hand on his wrist.
“I’m a big fan,” she murmurs with a conspiratorial wink.
Magnus blinks. “Thank you,” he murmurs, although it sounds more like a question than sincere gratitude, and then turns back to his main cause of grievance, “I want an apology, Lightwood.”
He snorts and pops a greasy French fry in his mouth. Magnus isn’t sure which he finds most offensive.
“An apology would require me being sorry, which I’m not.”
“My cooking is not soulless.”
There is a flash of sympathy on Lightwood’s handsome features, and Magnus decides that this is what he finds most offensive.
“I know it’s not,” Lightwood says, not unkindly. “And it’s because I know it isn’t that I had to write a bad review.”
Magnus clenches his teeth so hard he fears he might break one. “Fine,” he grits out, nails digging in his knee to contain his growing anger. “If you can’t admit you’re wrong, I’ll prove it to you.”
“You don’t ha–”
Magnus raises a hand, narrowing his eyes in a clear threat, and Lightwood shuts his mouth abruptly, although Magnus surmises it is more because of disbelief than in recognition of Magnus’ authority –even though he has plenty of it; it’s a prerogative that comes with being a chef.
“Give me your phone number.”
Lightwood splutters this time, his cheeks coloring a light shade of red that clashes with his pale complexion. When he doesn’t comply, Magnus extends a hand, wiggling his fingers impatiently.
Lightwood gives him his phone in near automatism, his dark brows furrowed. Magnus enters his own number in, and sends himself a text from Lightwood’s phone that simply says ‘I’m a pompous ass,’ because he can.
When he hands it back, Lightwood reads it and chuckles, and Magnus really wishes he wouldn’t reply to his attempt at antagonizing him with amusement —or worse, mockery. It only serves to make his irritation increase.
“Leave it to you to manage to get a phone number like that,” Izzy chimes in. “One could think you wrote that bad review on pu–”
“Isabelle!” Alec hisses, his eyes broadening with urgency. “Shut up or I’ll tell Jace what really happened to his Chopin partition.”
Isabelle pouts, clearly disparaged by the threat.
Siblings, Magnus’ brain supplies, a little late.
Magnus frowns, looking between the two of them, and wisely chooses not to go on this clearly dangerous territory, turning back to Alec.
“I’ll text you.”
Lightwood’s lips part as if to answer, but Magnus doesn’t give him the time to. He gets back to his feet, puts the chair back where he took it, and gives Lightwood one last glance.
“Prepare to have your mind blown,” he says, casting a dubious look at the French fries on their plates. “Which shouldn’t be too hard, considering where you eat when you have to pay for it.”
And he leaves without another word, leaving Alec Lightwood gleefully speechless.
He texts Lightwood a couple of days later,
Tomorrow, 11am at my restaurant.
The restaurant is closed on Sundays, so this is the best time for Magnus to make sure he makes Lightwood swallow his tongue—and delicious food, although he seems wholly undeserving of it.
He’s already waiting by the door when Magnus maneuvers his car into the small parking area by the building.
Lightwood smiles when Magnus sashays his way to him with all the confidence of a man on a mission.
“Any allergies I should know of?” he asks.
Lightwood shrugs, but there is a hint of mischief in his hazel eyes. They glimmer idly with the early fall morning lights, green meddling with brown like the majestic spread of a forest.
“I’m deeply allergic to gold flakes.”
Magnus contemplates flipping him off, but he glares instead. It makes Lightwood’s smile widen, and the lines around his eyes crinkle with delight.
“You’re enjoying this too much.”
“I thought the whole problem here was that I hadn’t enjoyed it enough,” Lightwood retorts, and god Magnus hates this guy’s wit.
“You’re really not as clever as you think you are,” he mumbles, unlocking the door.
He barges inside and resists the urge to slam the door in Lightwood’s face. He’s not about to hold it open for him though, so if it ends up smashing him in his stupid nose dimple, well, what can he do about it?
“I had nothing but good things to say about the service but this might have to change,” Lightwood comments airily as he walks up after him.
Magnus swirls around to face him, scowling, but the words die in the back of his throat as Lightwood takes off his coat. He had already noticed Lightwood’s frustrating good looks. He’s all sharp cheekbones and clear eyes and full lips and fucking messy hair and he did imply in his review that he found Magnus attractive, which Magnus is suddenly distinctly remembering as Lightwood scratches at the light scruff on his face that wasn’t there when Magnus crashed his dinner date three days ago.
Lightwood’s eyes skim over the walls and he pulls a face, promptly tearing Magnus out of his silent observation or freak out as Ragnor would say.
Ragnor is an asshole.
“Look, I understand you wanted the Victorian vibe or whatever you said,” he said. Magnus wonders if he means to sound so judgmental or if it comes naturally to him. “But seriously…”
He doesn’t finish his sentence, pointing at the gold ornaments slithering in intricate patterns from the walls to the ceiling. Magnus didn’t choose them. In fact, he didn’t choose much of the restaurant’s design, and it was too late by the time he realized he wanted something else, so he just let it be. If he’s completely honest with himself, he agrees with Lightwood. But he’s not about to tell him that.
“Careful or I’ll rip some gold from the walls and put it on your plate for real,” Magnus says, his smile too sweet to be anything but threatening. “Maybe you’ll like chewing on plaster better, considering where you eat at in your spare time.”
Lightwood rolls his eyes, but his lips curl into the ghost of a smile, the way they often do when Magnus tries to insult him. Contrary to him, Magnus does not enjoy their banter. Absolutely not. Nope.
Magnus leads him across the empty restaurant to his table, the one closest to the kitchen, and ushers him into his seat. Lightwood sits down obediently, which is a bit of a surprise.
He rests his chin on his palm, elbow on the table, and gazes up at Magnus. “So, what am I eating, chef?”
Magnus lifts an eyebrow at the nickname. It’s not like he isn’t used to being called that. It happens every day, but most of the time it’s woven with a sense of recognition of his authority that is thoroughly lacking in Lightwood’s mouth.
Lightwood says it like a taunt. Whether he means it as though Magnus isn’t deserving of the title or as a friendly teasing their current relationship seems deeply uncalled for, Magnus doesn’t know.
If he has learned anything in the past few years since his career skyrocketed beyond even his control, it is that teasing is a camouflaged way of insulting someone anyway. He’s evolved into enough socialite circles to recognize the twisted dance of egos that reign among them. He shouldn’t be surprised this is the game Lightwood wants to play.
He’s a food critic, after all.
“You’ll see,” he says, words clipped in an official tone.
Lightwood smirks, looking up at Magnus through thick eyelashes. “You really don’t want me to choose what I eat, do you?”
“I saw what happens when you do,” Magnus says, deadpan. “My clothes smelled like grease and badly fried food for the rest of the night.”
“You’re a bit of a snob, you know that, right?”
Magnus scoffs, offended. “Excuse you, Lightwood. You had the nerve to say I don’t care about food. You were at least right about one thing in your review: you are a hypocrite.”
“I told you I wasn’t lying,” Lightwood retorts in the same beat.
Magnus laughs without meaning to, and immediately inwardly chastises himself for it.
Lightwood shrugs, wholly unapologetic. “I have a feeling I wouldn’t be sitting here if you didn’t like it at least a little bit.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Magnus says, before whirling on his heels to get to his kitchen, unsure whether the slight shake of his fingers is to be blamed on anger, nerves, or something else entirely.
His gaze roams over the familiar surroundings, uncharacteristically quiet.
He grabs his apron from the hooks on the walls, ties it around his waist and moves to the fridge, grabbing what he needs.
He picks up the chopping knife next and starts working, every motion precise from intense repetition, meticulous with years of practice. He had dreamed of becoming a professional chef from a young age, watching his mother create what had seemed like magic with what little they could afford. He had helped her experiment with recipes and had started developing his own, taking over for her when she didn’t have the time or the energy to cook for the both of them, and then the three of them when his stepfather had joined their family.
Cooking was always a matter of heart for him. Always a magic he could create with a flick of his hands when he let his mind roam free, wander down the less traveled roads.
This isn’t the story people know of his background. All they know is this perfect American dream story of the son of an immigrant who worked so hard, he managed to crawl his way to success through ruthlessness and the sheer force of his determination.
And it isn’t untrue, but it’s not even the half of it.
Magnus moves around quickly to get everything ready, ignoring the lonely silence that encompasses him when his kitchen isn’t bursting with orders, Ragnor and Catarina’s usual bickering or Simon blabbering about his latest crush. Still, he lets himself be immersed by the task at hand, humming under his breath as he does.
When Magnus walks back inside the main body of the restaurant, Lightwood is still sitting where he left him, scribbling down in his notebook. His brows are dipped into a light frown, and his lips pursed into a grimace of concentration. It makes Magnus’ mouth twitch with the beginning of a smile, but he quickly suppresses it and lets the door close behind him.
Lightwood looks up at the noise.
“I have half an hour of cooking before it’s ready,” Magnus says. “Do you want a glass of wine?”
“Are you trying to get me drunk so I can write a good review again?”
Magnus narrows his eyes on him. “It was a yes or no question.”
Lightwood grins crookedly. “Yes then.”
Magnus moves behind the bar and picks a white wine that will marry beautifully with his dish, pouring two glasses before moving back to Lightwood, whose eyes are following him like he’s afraid Magnus might throw one of them at his face.
It’s a tempting idea, but Magnus hands over the glass without spilling a single drop. Raphael might kill him if he did. Or at least sulk for a while. More than he usually does.
Magnus watches as Lightwood takes a sip, an air of satisfaction passing across his features. He licks his lips, and fixes Magnus with shrewd eyes.
“So, why do you dislike me so much?” Magnus blurts out, unwilling to let the silence stretch into something that could be interpreted as discomfort on his part.
Lightwood perks a brow, confusion marring his features. “I don’t,” he says, as though he can’t surmise why Magnus would even think so. “Dislike you.”
“You called me arrogant, unoriginal, and soulless,” Magnus deadpans.
“I called your restaurant arrogant and soulless.” He stretches to grab a menu from the pile sitting on the table and opens it. “And I didn’t say anything about lack of originality, but I’m glad you realized that yourself.”
Magnus scoffs, and for a second, he is left staring at Lightwood in shock. He doesn’t seem to realize the audacity of his last words, because he lays the menu in front of Magnus, pointing at the second page.
Magnus Bane’s greatest dishes, the first line reads in complex calligraphy.
Magnus doesn’t give him the satisfaction of sparing a glance at where his finger is pointing. He knows his own damn menu, thank you very much.
“It’s what people know me for. It’s what they want from me.”
Magnus hears the words echo in his mind with someone else’s voice, a voice layered with velvet to hide true intentions, concealing guileful prospects with sweet nothings whispered into the shell of his ear. He’s heard them so often he repeats them like a well trained parrot, too quickly to realize how deeply he loathes them.
They do nothing to tame Lightwood’s apparent confusion.
“No, it isn’t,” he says. “People want Magnus Bane, and this isn’t him.”
Anger sparks in Magnus’ chest, abetted by the ingenuous honesty Lightwood has written plainly on his features.
“You don’t know who I am,” Magnus snaps, fingers tightening around his glass. “But I understand your review better now. You’re one of those people who have read two articles about me and watched one of my shows and think they have me all figured out. Well, I’ve got news for you, Lightwood: you don’t know shit about me.”
Lightwood opens his mouth to say something, but Magnus glares at him, and he clamps it shut.
“It’s what you said, right? I owe my success to my handsome face and charming smile.”
“Who gives a fuck about the fact that for the first three years after I opened my first food truck, I worked seven days a week, twelve hours a day. After all, I’m on TV so it must mean I don’t deserve any of this.” He gestures broadly to the empty restaurant, his temples throbbing with fury. “You know what? I don’t know why I even wanted to do this, it’s pointless. You know where the exit is.”
Magnus whirls on his heels and stomps back in the kitchen, heading for the oven.
Rage is still boiling deep in his system, hot against his skin. It churns within, hungry for destruction. Magnus wishes he could blame Lightwood for all of it, but he knows the main reason for the raging sea waving through him can’t be claimed by the words of a man he barely knows. It sits deeper in his chest, and Lightwood’s either genuine candor or cruel ineptitude just set free a tempest that Magnus has been working hard to suppress for months.
He closes his eyes, inhales, holds, exhales, repeats the process twice and opens his eyes with a deep breath.
He focuses on the food, lets himself get immersed in every smell, every subtle spike. He works meticulously, dressing a plate that will be for himself after all. Food used to be about giving to others, to him. He doesn’t quite remember when it became a lonely endeavor.
Even on their busiest days, when his kitchen is a chaos of shouted commands, rushed chopping and rough camaraderie, Magnus doesn’t remember when cooking was something fun to do, and not a way for him to quiet the nagging voices pestering him at the back of his mind.
It works, though. He focuses on his task, on the technique he has mastered even though he never had access to any of the elite schools Lightwood probably has nothing but words of praise for. There’s a soft creak behind him as the kitchen door opens, but Magnus doesn’t turn around, meticulously depositing a thin beetroot chip on the side of his plate.
Lightwood clears his throat, and Magnus spares him a quick glance before concentrating back on his asparagus mousse.
“I didn’t mean to sound like I can pretend I know you,” he says, shifting awkwardly on his feet. The mischievous confidence he’s gotten Magnus used to is muffled, his gaze apologetic as he meets Magnus’. “I’m sure you’re much more than what you show on TV, but that’s not what I was talking about. I was talking about your cooking. The passion you always seemed to have for it, which I personally can’t find here.” He gestures gingerly toward the door leading to the restaurant’s floor. “But it was rude of me, and I’m sorry.”
There is genuine remorse in his eyes. He is toying nervously with his fingers.
Magnus should just tell him to leave, to take his entitled, misinformed opinion built on things he thinks he knows and things Magnus allowed them to see for years, but he isn’t sure he wants to. He can’t exactly blame people, or Lightwood in particular, for looking at him and seeing the carefully constructed image he’s showcased for their entertainment.
That’s what he has become, what this restaurant and its menu are the reflection of: a charade. A business, grown bigger than Magnus could have ever imagined.
When Magnus doesn’t reply, Lightwood takes a cautious step forward, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
“Smells good,” he mumbles, with a look on his face that is definitely not sweet enough to have Magnus’ insides feel like mush.
Damn his weakness for a pretty face. Damn the power it can hold over him when it’s combined with the genuine kindness he can read in Lightwood’s eyes.
And Lightwood seems to understand exactly what he is doing because when Magnus glances up, trying to keep a straight face, he puckers his bottom lip into a pout that manages to tear a chuckle from Magnus despite his best efforts against it.
“Ugh, fine,” he grumbles, turning away to conceal the smile poking at the corner of his lips. “Get back to your seat, I’ll be right out.”
“Can I—” Lightwood pauses to lick his lips, running a hand at the nape of his neck. “Can I watch how you work?”
Magnus hesitates for a second, observing the quiet curiosity flashing in this odd man’s eyes, and shrugs.
“You can if you only say nice things.”
Lightwood snorts. “I can’t do that,” he says, but the words are belied by the jovial glint in his gaze. “I have a reputation, Magnus.”
His name sounds odd in his mouth, as if he gives it a whole new meaning Magnus hadn’t even considered.
Magnus rolls his eyes, and leans back to the plate, meticulously placing a beetroot chip in the mousse.
Lightwood hisses, causing him to look back up quickly.
“I wouldn’t have done it like that,” he says, his lips curling into a teasing smirk.
Magnus glares at him, but he knows it doesn’t come out as infuriated and menacing as he wanted it to.
“You really are an asshole, huh?”
Lightwood leans forward, resting his elbows on Magnus’ immaculate inox countertop, and steals a beetroot chip from the tray, popping it into his mouth. He licks the remaining sea salt from his fingers, looking every bit like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, except there isn’t an ounce of remorse on his handsome features.
“Maybe you just bring it out of me.”
Magnus picks up the bottom of an asparagus and throws it at his face. “Try this.”
Lightwood gives him a lopsided grin, looking wholly unapologetic as he leans back against the counter, arms crossed over his chest.
Magnus focuses back on the work at hand. He is used to having someone watching him cook. He’s had an entire TV crew following him through a kitchen. He’s had apprentices scrutinizing his every move to try to learn from him. He’s had Ragnor nagging over his shoulder, “more food Magnus, these people are here to eat, not contemplate the smallness of humankind through the contents of their plate.”
It’s weird, though, when he is not explaining the process he is going through. Lightwood is just watching him silently, brows notched in concentration that almost matches Magnus’ own. His gaze is riveted on Magnus’ hands, following every movement, as if entranced.
It’s an odd feeling, because Magnus is usually the one losing himself to every task, chopping and magnifying every piece of a plate like a second nature.
He doesn’t hate it entirely, to have someone watching him with the same dedication Magnus reserves to his art.
He finishes dressing the plate quickly. When he looks up, Lightwood blinks at him, as if pulled out of a trance.
His cheeks flush gingerly and he averts his gaze, as though Magnus had interrupted him in the middle of something quiet and intimate.
Lightwood nods, and saunters back to the dining room, Magnus on his heels.
He resumes his previous seat. Magnus sets the plate in front of him, and takes the seat across from him.
Lightwood lifts an eyebrow. “Are you going to watch me eat?”
Magnus snorts. “Do you often eat with the chefs you’re reviewing?”
Lightwood shrugs. “Most of the chefs I review content themselves with cursing my entire existence and the occasional death threats. They don’t insist on proving me wrong.” He pauses, a spark of mischief glimmering in his eyes. “Also, I need to make sure you’re not trying to poison me.”
Magnus chuckles, a light rumble of laughter that escapes him before he can truly think about it. “Well, there goes my evil plan.”
Lightwood laughs with him. “Sorry,” he says, and reaches aside to steal a fork from a nearby table, handing it to Magnus.
Magnus quirks an eyebrow, eyes drifting between Alec and the fork in his hand. Eventually, he shrugs.
“Might as well.”
But his stomach is in knots, for a reason he cannot quite comprehend, and he observes anxiously as Lightwood takes a first bite and chews slowly.
He levels Magnus with an amused glance. “This is uncomfortable.”
Magnus dismisses it with a wave of his fingers. “You watched me work, it’s only fair I get to do the same.”
Lightwood gives him a pointed glare, but he shakes his head with a smile as he pokes his fork back into the plate. He takes another bite, and then pushes it toward Magnus.
Magnus caves, digging in. Everything tastes perfect. The asparagus mousse is voluptuous, and the beetroot chips add a little note of crisp that marries with it seamlessly. The smoked salmon is simply delicious.
They eat in silence, and it isn’t until Lightwood has tried every ingredient, together and separated, that Magnus lets himself talk.
Lightwood curls his lips thoughtfully.
“What’s this dish’s story?”
Magnus frowns. “It’s asparagus mousse with smoked salmon, confit lemons and crispy beetroots. It doesn’t have a story.”
Lightwood stares at him silently for a while, and Magnus wishes it wouldn’t make his stomach squirm in anticipation the way it does, but there isn’t much he can do about it.
Lightwood wipes his mouth with a napkin and lays it back on the table. It’s all too slow for Magnus’ liking, as though he is purposely making the moment stretch to make Magnus’ agony linger. He doesn’t even know why he’s waiting for his verdict with such nervosity.
He owns five extremely busy restaurants. He has Michelin stars, a successful career, recognition from his peers.
Lightwood is just a food critic like many food critics Magnus has met before. Their job is to find the little details that are off, to dig out the wrong from everything that is right.
“This is what I meant,” Lightwood says eventually, with a small sigh Magnus tries not to take offense to. “Earlier. Perhaps I’m wrong, and you just moved on from it, but what I used to love about your shows —the intimate ones about you cooking, not the ones where you mostly shout at people— was the way every single one of your dishes had a story attached to them. I remember very precisely the dish you prepared in honor of your best friends’ wedding, in that special episode you did about wedding food. You mixed together two of their childhood favorite meals and made something beautiful out of it. Which was pretty damn impressive considering one of them is British.”
Magnus gives a soft scoff of laughter, the best he can muster. He remembers that recipe well. He had spent hours perfecting every detail, wanting the wedding reception to be as flawless as Catarina and Ragnor deserved it to be.
It was a beautiful day, with a beautiful ending —or so he thought, back then. He hates that it is forever tarnished in his mind, because it is also the day he had one of his biggest arguments with Camille and he ended up caving to her. It was the first time of a long series. The day his life started derailing from the path he had envisioned for himself and his career.
It was an extremely personal creation to him, that dish, and he hadn’t wanted to share it with anyone but the two people it was dedicated to.
He doesn’t know why he let himself be persuaded otherwise. Why he ever let even the most intimate parts of him be ripped from him and thrown in a public arena to be appraised and dissected.
“The dish in itself was pretty simple,” Lightwood continues, oblivious to Magnus’ inward turmoil, “and I didn’t even taste it, but I remember being moved just by hearing you talk about it. It felt like more than just food put together in a complex but masterfully executed way. It was a piece of you on a plate.”
Magnus doesn’t reply, staring at the empty plate they just shared together. He can still taste the mousse on his palate, dull and more bitter than it should ever be.
“That’s what I meant, when I said it all felt soulless. Everything always seemed to be seamlessly blending together every time you walked into a kitchen, even through a screen. And when I came here a couple of weeks ago, it all felt… awkward. Like something was missing. Like everyone was just trying too hard to hold this whole thing together, to make sure it was perfect.”
Magnus’ heart thuds loudly in his chest, banging against the constricted cage of his ribs until he can’t ignore its existence anymore.
He wants to be mad. He should be mad at this guy who just barges into his life and tries to psychoanalyze him but Magnus feels defeated instead.
Because the truth is, in all its ugliness, that Alec is right.
Catarina tried to tell him when he was working on the blueprints for the restaurant. So did Ragnor and Raphael, and even Simon, who doesn’t hold the same responsibility in what comes out of this project.
This is why they all insisted to come work with him at this specific restaurant once it was opened, and not any of the other ones Magnus could have assigned them to. Because they knew that this one held a peculiar importance to him, because they knew he had something to prove with it, because they knew he was running at full speed towards a brick wall.
They tried to tell him, he thinks, but Magnus has never been particularly good at listening to people, even when they have the best intentions at heart. He’s stubborn like that.
But here comes this stranger, all dreadful good looks and playful smiles and inherent arrogance of a food critic, and he sees right through it.
He came here twice, and he saw the exaggerated smiles, the ceremonial efforts, the wrong notes wasting the whole partition.
Magnus feels like a farce.
And Lightwood seems genuine in his intentions, his eyes seeking Magnus’ with a lingering kindness that is pregnant even when his words are teasing. Perhaps it is why Magnus has tolerated his presence without much trouble.
But Magnus doesn’t trust himself to give credit to this gut feeling that he has about him and the sincerity of his smiles. He’s been wrong before. He’s been hurt, so deeply it sometimes feels like he can feel the burn licking at his weakened bones.
“If what you truly wanted is a piece of me, you should’ve asked,” he says, with a flirtatious tug of his lips that has saved him from more perilous situations before. “But I’m afraid we’re not that kind of establishment.”
Lightwood’s lips part, his tongue poking out to wet his bottom lip. He stares at Magnus for a while, eyes drifting over his face, searching to decipher him. Finally, he smiles, shaking his head.
“Is there a dessert, chef?”
Magnus snorts, indignant. “So I invite you to eat for free in my restaurant, on the day it’s normally closed, you criticize my cooking again, and you think I’m gonna offer you dessert on top of it?”
Alec blinks innocently at him. “Pretty please?”
Magnus stares, bewildered. When the corner of Lightwood’s lips twitch with the pride he feels at his own ridiculous attempt at innocence, though, he can’t help but smile, too.
“You’re really not as cute as you think you are,” Magnus mumbles, but something he doesn’t want to put a name on compels him to his feet anyway.
At this time of the year, they have creamy hazelnut pie on the menu, and since it usually is just as good the following couple of days, Magnus finds some in the fridge, ready to be consumed. He lays two on dessert plates and brings them back to the sitting area, where Lightwood is glancing down at his phone with a frown.
“Everything alright?” Magnus asks, depositing the plate in front of him.
Alec blinks up at him and smiles, something genuine that doesn’t resemble the usual cheeky ones he graces Magnus with. “My sister is being a pain in the ass,” he says offhandedly. “And dragging my brother into it, so they can team up on me and annoy me to death.”
Magnus chuckles, digging into his pie. It melts under his tongue, hazelnut exploding in his mouth. “I suppose that’s what having siblings is all about, is it not? Having someone willing to die for you, if they don’t end up the ones killing you with shenanigans?”
Alec sighs heavily, but it is half-hearted and there is sincere tenderness in his gaze. “That’s about it.” He pauses, levels Magnus with a deep gaze. “What about you? Any siblings?”
Magnus shakes his head. “Single child. My parents separated not long after I was born, and my mother and stepfather never had other kids.”
“And your father?”
Magnus is careful to keep his expression neutral. His father isn’t a topic he usually broaches with any sort of joy or enthusiasm, but he answers anyway.
“He might have some illegitimate children here and there, now that I think about it,” he says jokingly. His tone falls a little flat, though, and if he thinks Alec doesn’t know him well enough to pick up on it, the small scowl on his face speaks otherwise. Magnus shrugs dismissively. “We don’t exactly keep in touch.”
“Well if it makes you feel any better, my father left my mother alone with four kids to run away with his mistress and only talks to me at the annual Lightwood gatherings at my grandparents’ in the Hamptons. It’s usually to ask me if I have a girlfriend, even though I’m gay. Like, very much gay. Oh, and he did send me a happy birthday text last year,” Alec says, face lighting up with staged amazement. “Except it wasn’t on my birthday.”
Magnus’ lips twitch with a smile. “I don’t know about making me feel any better, but it’s always nice to know you’re not alone.” He lifts his glass and licks a bit of chocolate cream from his bottom lip before adding loudly, his voice echoing in the empty restaurant, “To shitty fathers.”
Alec’s hazel eyes flicker, green catching on the restaurant’s lights and almost completely swallowing the brown. He picks up his glass to clink it lightly against Magnus’.
“To shitty fathers.”
They fall into easy conversation after that, and Magnus hates to admit that he finds chatting with Lightwood more thrilling than he had anticipated. He’s witty, and he challenges Magnus’ opinions with his own intelligent, articulate ones. The topic shifts from Alec’s siblings to academia, his sister —who is indeed the brunette he was with when Magnus interrupted their dinner— being a college professor, and then to politics and TV shows and somehow wildlife documentaries. Lightwood speaks passionately about every subject and so long as they avoid the topic of Magnus’ cooking and the reviews Lightwood wrote on his restaurant, Magnus finds that he quite enjoys his company.
When they finally part, because they both have other engagements for dinner, it is already late in the afternoon, and it all went by in the blink of an eye.
“Thank you for the meal,” Lightwood says, hands stuffed in his pockets, hair disheveled in a way that makes Magnus’ fingers itch a little, eyes glimmering prettily under the lamp posts. “And sorry for… you know, doing my job.”
Magnus glares at him, even though he knows Lightwood is joking. “Next time, I’ll make you change your mind, Lightwood.”
He lifts an eyebrow, and Magnus easily recognizes the cheekiness he is starting to become familiar with when it settles on Alec’s face. “What makes you think I’ll agree to a next time?”
Magnus feels bold, for reasons he wouldn’t be able to explain. He leans forward, just a little, and pokes at Alec’s chest with a finger.
“I have a feeling I wouldn’t be standing here if you didn’t like it at least a little bit,” Magnus retorts, with a cheekiness that most definitely rivals Lightwood’s own.
He walks away without another word, leaving a gobsmacked Alec Lightwood behind him. Magnus feels a little giddy, but it is mostly for the sole reason that he finally managed to shut Lightwood up.
And that has nothing to do with the fact that he immediately walked away without giving him a chance to respond.
Or that a part of him, deeply buried and muffled, may be looking forward to the next time.
Third Time’s The Charm? Define ‘Charm’ — an afternoon with Magnus Bane.
By A. Lightwood.
So, I learned a few things since my previous reviews on Magnus Bane’s new restaurant Le Petit Paris were published.
One: Magnus Bane has a fanbase, and they are feral. They found my (barely active) Twitter account and drowned my mentions with gifs of their favorite chef saying “everything about this is wrong and I am disgusted” linking it back to my article. I applaud the way you managed to come together as a group and how passionate you are.
Two: The fierceness of Magnus Bane’s fans is nothing compared to the man himself. I want the record to state that this is most certainly not a bad thing. One would have to be a fool —which I truly hope not to be— to think Magnus Bane is a man without passion. I was lucky enough to be allowed to watch him work and there is spirit and devotion to his every movement when he stands in his kitchen.
Three: Here’s the thing, though. There is none of this passion on the plate. Perhaps my expectations are too great, and that’s on me. Perhaps I’m too binded on the image of Magnus Bane I have in my brain —the creative genius many of my peers praised— and that’s why I look beyond the food.
Of course Magnus freaking Bane can cook well. He has an empire to his name to prove it. Of course he can follow his own recipes masterfully and produce a great dish displaying seamless technique and all the appropriate flavors. But my question remains: do we go to Magnus Bane’s restaurant to seek appropriate, or extraordinary?
There was no heart to Mr. Bane’s cooking, no more the second time than the first time I visited his restaurant.
So third time’s the charm?
(I suppose it depends on what exactly ‘charm’ is referring to, but that’s beside the point.)
Look, I love asparagus mousse as much as the next guy. But why an asparagus mousse, you’re probably asking yourself. Well, so was I.
The answer is unclear.
The mousse was —and I will shock you here— good. So was the smoked salmon, and et caetera. If you’ve read my previous reviews of Magnus Bane’s restaurant, you know the drill by now. If you’ve read any of my reviews before that, you know I love fish. All the fish. Any fish.
Perhaps it’s my insufferable arrogance, if I take his word for it, but it felt more like Mr. Bane was trying to inject some heart into his food by seeking what would appeal to my own.
But I didn’t come in for some deep introspection on the content of my heart. All I have to do for that these days is log on Twitter, apparently. I’m going to save so much money on therapy, my banker will be thrilled.
I wanted to see a piece of Magnus Bane, the one that isn’t displayed on TV with heavy editing and a script that rings untrue.
Apparently all I have to do is ask so… this is me asking.
Perhaps next time, chef.
Meet me tomorrow at 5:30am at the farmers’ market in Union Square.
I take it you read my new review?
I’m too busy running a brand-new restaurant and an overall successful career to read your stuff, Lightwood.
Of course, chef. I’m sorry, chef. I shouldn’t have assumed things, chef. Please forgive me, chef. It won’t happen again, chef.
You’re an idiot. See you tomorrow, Lightwood.
What if I say no?
I’ll take it as you admitting you were wrong all along. That’d make things a lot easier, actually. Just admit you were wrong, and we can put this whole misunderstanding behind us.
I’ll be there at 5:15, then.
Do you take pride in being a little shit? Is that your thing?
Says the one who’s forcing me to get up at 5am just to prove a point.
Enough French vernacular, I’m begging you.
Ne me tente pas, darling.
Starting to think your goal might be to prove me right instead.
Despite your best hopes, it seems you may actually be a fool, Lightwood. My condolences.
Ha! I knew you read it!
Go to sleep, you have to be up early tomorrow.
You’re the one keeping me up, Bane.
Not yet, but again, all you have to do is ask ;)
………….. Good night, chef.
Good night, Lightwood.
Market shopping is Magnus’ favorite part of the routine he has built throughout the years. He tries to do it twice a week, thrice when he can, but these days, he can barely do it once every couple of weeks. At this time of the day, where the rest of the city still sleeps soundly, the market is the liveliest place in the world. It is when Magnus gets to drink in the colors and the aromas, and when his brain usually comes up with new ideas for him to try.
It is a nest for creativity, every corner washing anew the once ever growing list of recipes in his mind.
The market is particularly buzzing today, as if aware of Magnus’ own excitation. It’s always a good day to make a food critic swallow back their words.
As promised, Alec meets him at the entrance of the market at 5:15am. He looks tired, which makes Magnus petulantly giddy. Alec is wrapped in an elegant winter coat, a dark blue that contrasts with the creme color of his turtleneck and there is the same light scruff along his jawline he was sporting when he visited Magnus’ restaurant at the beginning of the week. Soft curls are slipping out of his beanie and falling on his forehead and above his hazel eyes in loose waves.
He’s holding a tray with two cups of coffee and he hands one to Magnus wordlessly as he reaches him.
“Good morning,” he says, voice deeper than usual. If Magnus were a better man, he’d have mercy on the man, but the first thought that comes to his mind is that perhaps he should make him wake up at 5am more often. Lightwood takes a sip of his coffee and throws the tray in a nearby trash can. “So, are you going to kill me and ask the market vendors to help you hide my body?”
Magnus really, really doesn’t want to, but a snort of laughter escapes him anyway.
“If I were to kill you, I’d choose a less public place, Lightwood.”
“I suppose I warned all my loved ones of where I was going and to call the police if they didn’t hear from me by noon for nothing, then.”
Magnus rolls his eyes, and swirls around to walk into the market, if only to hide the faded trace of a smile poking at the corner of his lips. Lightwood easily falls into step with him.
The market isn’t crowded yet at this time of the day, especially on a Monday. The only people here are either restaurant owners like Magnus or extremely early risers who would rather avoid crowds.
They weave through the various stands in silence, the air perfumed with produce and spice. Magnus lets his eyes roam over each of them, seeking the most tender meat, the juiciest fruits, the best vegetables.
“Did you really ask me to come just so I could shop with you?” Alec asks. It isn’t exactly irritation that taints his tone but rather curiosity.
“It’s my day off,” Magnus says in lieu of an answer.
Alec lifts an eyebrow as they stop in front of a vegetable stand. “You’re doing very little to reassure me about my chances of survival.”
Magnus picks up a fennel and holds it up to his nose, his senses immediately overflowed by a powerful anise scent. “You can relax, pretty boy,” he says, and bites the inside of his cheek on a smile when it makes Alec’s cheeks flush lightly. “We’re going to my place but I needed to do some shopping first and I wasn’t about to let you get away with sitting your ass down and shitting on my cooking without suffering with me at least a little bit.”
Alec takes a sip of his coffee. “What’s the point of being a food critic if I have to do stuff now?”
He sounds more dejected than he looks, and Magnus shakes his head, but doesn’t get a chance to answer because a vendor turns around the corner just then, arms filled with a crate of beautiful butternuts. He is wrapped in a heavy winter jacket and his purple hair contrasts greatly with the darkness of his skin. His smile broadens when he spots Magnus, showing off youthful dimples in both his cheeks.
Magnus winks at Alec before he turns to face him, opening his arms in greeting.
“Elias!” he exclaims with a grin of his own.
Alec winces. “It’s too early for this level of cheerfulness,” he grumbles.
Elias’ eyes lay on him for a second before moving back to Magnus, amused.
“This is Alec Lightwood,” Magnus says. “He thinks you’re going to help me hide his body.”
“Anything for my favorite customer,” Elias chirps.
“I’ll come back to haunt you,” Alec says flatly, turning away to pick up an apple from the stand. He takes a bite of it, and answers Elias’ creased brows with a perfectly innocent smile, pointing at Magnus with his thumb. “He’s paying for it.”
Magnus’ eyebrows jump to his hairline. “I am?”
“You got me up at 5am.”
Magnus shakes his head to conceal yet another smile, and turns back to Elias. “I need some carrots, celery, and tomatoes. And the one fennel,” he says, depositing it directly on the balance.
Elias nods and turns away.
“What are you making?” Alec asks.
“You’ll see,” Magnus says.
Alec lets his eyes roam over the fruits and vegetables, humming thoughtfully. “I can take care of dessert.”
Magnus levels him with a surprised look. “You cook?”
“Would be a bit hypocritical of me to judge other people’s cooking if I couldn’t put together a decent meal, wouldn’t it?” Alec retorts, with a tone that doesn’t leave much room for contradiction.
Magnus shrugs. “You’d be surprised by the amount of food critics I’ve met who never bother to learn to cook for themselves.”
“I had to learn young,” Alec says, offhandedly. “My mother was often away for work and I’m the eldest. She taught me how to cook so I could take care of my siblings when she was away. I’m not by any means a professional chef, but I can make a mean apple turnover. It’s my brother Jace’s favorite.”
Magnus finds himself smiling, annoyingly endeared. He gestures vaguely towards the apples. “Have at it then, Lightwood.”
Elias comes back with a crate for Magnus a minute later and they add apples to it before moving on to the next stand, where Magnus buys the best eggs one can find in New York. They finish the shopping quickly, but they continue to roam through the different aisles for a while, Magnus chatting joyfully with the different vendors while Alec follows mostly quietly, sometimes joining in with a slightly bashful smile that contrasts greatly with the usual smug confidence he answers Magnus with.
Somehow, he manages to charm some of Magnus’ sternest patrons, and by the time they’re making their way out of the market, they’ve tasted ten sorts of cheese, got presented with enough fruits that Magnus is grateful that he skipped breakfast and Magnus got asked whether his new companion is his boyfriend thrice.
The third time, Alec has stopped blushing and he turns to Magnus with a smirk that Magnus has come to think of as a bad omen ––except, not really.
“I’m starting to think your idea of a date is to force people into waking up at 5am and have them listen to all these people singing your praises.”
Magnus glances up at him through his eyelashes, lips curving into a matching smile. “Please,” he murmurs, “in my idea of a date, we wouldn’t have gone to sleep at all, darling.”
Alec splutters and falters completely, his cheeks turning a lovely shade of red.
Magnus laughs, loud and clear, and swirls around on his heels. “Come on, we’ll catch a cab to my place.”
The drive to Magnus’ place is longer than he expected it to be. They hit the morning traffic right as they reach Brooklyn Bridge.
Alec settles more comfortably in his seat and lays his head against the headrest, turning to face Magnus. “Can I be honest with you?”
Magnus snorts rather inelegantly. “Have you ever been anything but honest with me? Because if so, I need to re-evaluate every single one of our interactions.”
Alec’s hazel eyes crinkle a little in amusement, but he fixes Magnus with a grave look that has Magnus sobering up immediately.
He nods curtly.
“I don’t understand why you give a shit about what I think,” Alec says, blunt in a way Magnus is starting to grow familiar with and yet always manages to make him blink in surprise. When Magnus doesn’t reply, staring at him inquisitively instead, Alec continues, “You’ve got a successful career. You’re respected among your peers and clearly among your suppliers.” He gestures vaguely behind himself, in the general vicinity of the farmers’ market. “You’ve got your Michelin stars and your TV stuff. I’m just one food critic amidst thousands singing your praises. And I’m sure you’ve received other bad reviews before, but I’ve never heard anything about you going out of your way to prove any of them wrong in any other way than by continuing to be as successful as you’ve been. I mean, you’re Magnus freaking Bane. Your name is a goddamn brand.”
“I knew you looked familiar!” their taxi driver exclaims out of the blue, clearly not having learned the unspoken rule among taxi drivers that it is okay to eavesdrop but not to interfere.
Magnus gives him as polite a smile he can muster. “Hi.”
“My daughter wants to become a chef because of you,” the taxi driver says, completely oblivious to the fact that his interruption might be a little rude. “She’s saving up for culinary school right now. She’s gonna lose her shit when I tell her I met you!”
Magnus would usually dismiss him with a polite rebuttal, but it gives him the perfect opportunity to ignore Alec’s veiled question, and he isn’t about to pass on it. Alec doesn’t push, looking between him and the taxi driver as they start chatting, Magnus giving him the names of a bunch of programs he knows offer scholarships to women who want to get through culinary school. He ends up writing them down for him on a receipt Alec digs out of his pocket. He adds his professional email address at the end, and the drive to his apartment passes almost in a blur then, the traffic forgotten in the midst of their conversation.
When the driver announces they have arrived, Magnus hands him over the piece of paper.
“Tell her to shoot me an email, I can help with her application if she needs me to,” he offers. “And tell her to stop by my new restaurant if she wants. I’m usually around at least three days a week, and we’re regularly looking for talented apprentices.”
The taxi driver nods rapidly. “Thank you, Mr. Bane. Sorry for crashing your conversation.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Magnus says, casting a quick glance at Alec, who he finds already looking at him, something undecipherable in the soft green of his eyes shining under the still early morning lights. “Tell your daughter I said hi.”
“I will! Thank you so much!”
Alec is uncharacteristically quiet as they make their way to the elevator, and Magnus slides his key in for the penthouse.
“Sorry,” he says, leaning against the wall as the elevator starts moving up.
Alec shakes his head. “It was nice of you to offer your help like that.”
“Did you expect me to tell him to fuck off?” he asks with a light chuckle.
Alec shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says, none of his usual cheekiness on his features. “I guess I did.”
Magnus gives himself a second to take it in, then his brows dip into a frown. “We’ve been over this, Lightwood,” he says, more sharply than he intends to. “The person I am on TV and the person I am in real life are not the same.”
“I know, I know,” Alec is quick to respond. He wets his lips, his mouth pinched as if he’s trying to stop himself from saying exactly what is going through his mind. Magnus is learning that Alec doesn’t seem to be very good at that. And indeed, when he opens his mouth to speak, he does so unrestrictedly. “I just don’t understand why you’d want that to be your public image. I know I don’t know you well, but if there’s one thing I can say about you with absolute certitude, it’s that you’re kind, Magnus. I don’t think you even realize how kind you are. It’s like you can brighten someone’s day with just a single word. And it’s so far from the… asshole I’ve seen on TV.”
He sounds almost frustrated, and Magnus feels his heart jump in his throat, his grip tightening on his bag of groceries. The elevator dings lightly as the doors open directly in Magnus’ apartment. He puts his free hand against them to keep them open, motioning at Alec to walk in with a jerk of his chin.
Alec ventures inside, a little warily. He toes his shoes off automatically and adjusts them with his toe to be perfectly aligned, before taking off his beanie and coat, hanging them both on the rack against the wall. Magnus bites his bottom lip on a smile, but doesn’t say a word as he crosses the hallway.
“Kitchen’s this way,” he says, Alec on his heels.
The kitchen used to be Magnus’ favorite room. He used to spend hours on end there, creating new dishes, finding new ideas to magnify a product, chopping until his fingers were sore. It’s a beautiful room, the brick walls marrying perfectly the metallic hues of the counter and shelves, which themselves match with the copper of the pans and saucepans hanging from the ceiling. Together with the unbeatable view of the Manhattan skyline from the balcony, it was what convinced him to get this apartment.
He hasn’t spent as much time there lately as he once did, always running from a restaurant to another, and then to a TV set or a publishing house. Warmth wraps around him as soon as he steps in, and he is so overwhelmed by the feeling that he almost misses the subtle frown that flashes through Alec’s handsome features.
Magnus follows his gaze as he studies his surroundings —the leftovers from his favorite restaurant in Chinatown in the sink, the single wine glass drying next to it, the bookshelf filled with cooking books that are starting to collect dust, the knife bag tucked away. He suddenly feels embarrassed, as though Alec has uncovered a dark secret Magnus had barely tried to conceal because he didn’t even realize it was one until he saw it through Alec’s gaze.
He hadn’t really noticed before, but much like he could read through Alec’s lines, he can see the realization dawning in his gaze, the truth he sees that Magnus didn’t.
This is the kitchen of someone who loves to cook, but hasn’t done it in so long that it lost its soul.
Alec opens his mouth to speak, but seems to decide against it, perhaps because Magnus hasn’t replied to any of his previous interrogations, perhaps because he doesn’t want to intrude on something that feels so intrinsically Magnus.
But there is no pity in Alec’s gaze, no misplaced interest or disparaged judgment. There is only curiosity, and this hint of something Magnus has caught in his gaze before, as if everywhere his eyes fall on something that is Magnus’, he sees more than anyone else ever could.
Magnus struggles to swallow past the lump in his throat. He inhales sharply, and walks up to Alec to take the bag of groceries from his arms, effectively tearing him out of his baffled observation.
“Tell me something, Lightwood,” he says, voice lighter than he feels.
Alec walks up to the counter, leaning against it. “You know I have a first name, right? It’s Alec.”
“Actually, my research tells me it’s Alexander,” Magnus corrects, teasing. “Alexander Gideon.”
Alec purses his lips, throwing him an annoyed look that Magnus knows is mostly pretence. “Just Alec is fine.”
“You got it, Gideon,” Magnus replies cheekily.
Alec rolls his eyes, but doesn’t answer, watching carefully as Magnus rummages in the cupboards for his pasta machine. “What do you want me to tell you?”
“Why would someone who actually likes to cook want to sit his ass down and make a career out of criticizing other people’s cooking?” Magnus asks, emitting a sound of triumph as he grabs the machine from a cupboard he hasn’t opened in too long, glancing at Alec over his shoulder. If he finds Alec’s eyes riveted on his ass, he chooses not to comment on it. He knows what he’s working with.
Alec blinks rapidly and averts his eyes, clearing his throat. “Uh.” He blinks again and glances back at Magnus. “What?”
Magnus stifles a laugh. “Why did you become a food critic?”
Alec looks down at his hands over the counter, toying absently with his fingers. “I got a MD in journalism,” he says, causing Magnus to arch an eyebrow. “Not every journalist is either war or politics,” he adds pointedly, in the tone of someone who’s had to explain this countless times before.
“Oh, I know,” Magnus retorts, tone heavy with sarcasm. “Although if you’ve ever stepped foot in a professional kitchen, you know you’re probably not far from your war reporter colleagues.”
Alec snorts, and concedes Magnus’ point with a dip of his head. “I’ve always been passionate about food, and I was sometimes writing some blog posts about my favorite restaurants and stuff like that. They started to get more and more attention and I was offered my first job as a critic by a magazine that liked my tone. It wasn’t what I had pictured myself doing, but I was fresh out of college and it paid well, so I took the job. One of my articles blew up once and I was poached by Idris Magazine. Been working for them ever since.”
“What was it?”
Alec arches an eyebrow. “What was what?”
“You said it wasn’t what you had pictured yourself doing,” Magnus eludes. “So, what did you picture yourself doing?”
“Documentaries,” Alec says almost nonchalantly, but Magnus can see a spark of passion lighting up in his gaze. “About people. I did a project back in college where I had to follow people and show what bound them together. As you can probably guess, a lot of it revolved around food.” Magnus returns Alec’s smile with one of his own. “I just think there’s something magical about what you can learn about people, about a culture, just by looking at the food they make.”
“It’s a lovely idea,” Magnus says, and he hopes the way his heart is clenching painfully in his chest doesn’t transpire on his features.
Alec shrugs. “It was a bit... niche. And nothing really concrete. I like my job.” He pauses, licks his lips. “Do you?”
He is looking at Magnus intently, hair mussed from running his hand through it, big, hazel eyes boring into him as though all he wants is to uncover every single of Magnus’ secrets and make him feel better about their existence.
And Magnus wants to spill them out, for a reason he doesn’t comprehend. He’s spent the last hours dodging Alec’s questions, changing the subject when the conversation drifted to graver topics than he was willing to tackle with this man he barely knows.
But now he’s here, genuinely interested, an offered hand.
There are things Magnus can’t tell Catarina or Ragnor, because they weigh too heavily on his shoulders, because he knows even though they won’t judge him, he judges himself for the repercussions his actions had on them. They entered this strange world together, and they’ve followed Magnus every step of the way, even when he was leading them astray, even when they knew the road was needlessly fraught with difficulties.
Magnus inhales sharply and grabs a wooden board, mounding flour over it.
“I never wanted to be on TV,” he says, the words spilling out of his mouth as he mechanically makes a well and adds a pinch of salt into his preparation. “I never wanted my name to become what it is today. I just wanted to cook. And I don’t know if you’re aware of that, but I started with just a food truck.”
There’s a pause as he lets the ineluctable wave of nostalgia wash over him. Alec cants his head, looking at him through his eyelashes.
Magnus breaks an egg into the well, staring at his hands working masterfully instead of Alec’s disturbingly sweet eyes.
“I had a girlfriend, back then. Her name’s Camille Belcourt. At first, she was genuinely supportive. Pushing me to be better, to aim for more than what I had thought possible. After a while, I was successful enough to acquire another food truck. Then another. And then my first restaurant. I wanted to stop there. It was all I ever wanted, to share my cooking with people, to explore all the things I could create in a professional kitchen, to be my own boss to ensure I would be free to do so. I wanted it to be something heartfelt and earnest, but Camille wanted more for me and ––I learned that later–– for her. She became my self-proclaimed manager and I thought she just wanted the best for me, so I let her. She invited journalists to come over to my restaurant regularly and slowly built me this fame I had never asked for. Then there were the TV offers.”
Magnus begins to knead the dough, still focused on his hands. He chances a quick glance at Alec, who is listening attentively, brows dipped into a frown. He encourages him to continue with a rueful smile.
“I thought it would be fun,” Magnus says, gulping. “And it was at first. But then there were all these network officials telling me I had to be ruthless, to play the part of what people expected to see of a chef. An asshole, basically. They said it’d make for better entertainment for the viewers.” He looks up at Alec, lips curving into a feeble smile. “Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of swearing in my kitchen and if Catarina and I don’t yell at each other at least once a week, we consider it a bad week. But the people who work for me are there because they are either passionate or want to learn, and although the tone might not always be pleasant, we all love and respect one another. This… guy they wanted me to be on TV, it wasn’t me. It wasn’t the chef that I am. And it certainly wasn’t the person that I want to be.”
“Why did you go through with it?” Alec asks, but there is no judgment in his tone.
Magnus tips his head up, staring at the ceiling for a moment before he lowers it back. “A loving heart is a malleable one. And I loved her.” The delicate tilt of her voice is still seared into his brain, and it sometimes whispers in his ear when he lets his guard down, when he lets himself think he could ever be more than what she made of him. That he could ever be loved for what he is, and not for what the world expects of him. “I thought I would lose her if I ever did anything other than what she demanded.” A derisive laugh slips out of his mouth. “I was right about that.”
He clears his throat, focusing back on the dough between his hands. It’s perfectly smooth by now, and Magnus scrunches his nose, rolling it into a ball before putting it under a cling film.
“What happened?” Alec asks, his eyes following Magnus’ every movement carefully.
“They wanted me to do another show. The concept was basically me yelling at some poor apprentices whose only crime was learning how to cook… as if I hadn’t been there myself. I talked about it with Catarina who, as you can imagine, was never Camille’s biggest fan. She managed to convince me to say no. Which isn’t something Camille is used to. She flipped out, and asked me to choose between her and Catarina.” Magnus forces a derisive grin on his face, but he knows neither he nor Alec are fooled by the attempt. “I chose Cat and broke up with Camille on the spot. Thankfully, she was so persuaded she could control me forever we had never signed a proper contract, so I was able to get rid of every tie she had on my restaurant and my name. I called the TV network the next day and terminated our contract. That was six months ago.”
“Your new restaurant…” Alec trails off, a question dying on his lips.
Magnus can easily surmise it, though, and he snorts self-deprecatingly. “Most of the paperwork for my new restaurant was already done by then. Camille had hired the designer, had registered the name…” He exhales sharply, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Let’s just say it was mostly Camille’s doing.”
“Why didn’t you change it? You had time.”
He sounds disgusted, and he isn’t even trying to hide it from his face. It makes Magnus chuckle despite himself.
“Very diplomatic of you, Lightwood,” he says, teasingly. Alec gives him an utterly unapologetic look in lieu of an answer. Magnus shakes his head, and surprises himself with the fondness he can feel surging in his chest. “I—I don’t know. I owe my career to Camille, and I can’t exactly complain about where it’s at, can I?” he says, gesturing broadly to the walls around them. “She had good ideas, and they’ve always seemed to work before. She made me who I am today.”
There’s a silence as Magnus measures the true meaning of his words. But before he can go on, most likely with something to ease the charged tension that has befallen upon his kitchen, Alec’s voice breaks through, unforgiving.
Magnus startles with surprise, blinking up at Alec with parted lips. “What?”
“That’s bullshit,” Alec parrots, unrepentant. “Look, I don’t know this Camille person, but she sounds horrible and she treated you terribly and you don’t owe her shit. She didn’t cook any of the meals that made you the chef you are today. She didn’t win any of the Michelin stars that made you famous. She didn’t manage to reap praises from the harshest critics I know without ever stepping a single foot in a culinary school. You did. And fuck her for ever making you feel otherwise.”
Magnus continues to stare, speechless.
His fingers tingle where they lay on the counter as though charged with electricity. Magnus recognizes the sign, this pull in his stomach. He wants to reach out, to wrap his fingers around Alec’s lapels and kiss his stupid face.
He swirls around instead, picking up his favorite knife from the magnetic rail against the wall, urging his heart to settle down.
Alec must sense his hesitation, because the cheekiness is back in his voice when he speaks next, “Also, her ideas suck. That place looks like a vampire lair, and not even a good one. Like a shitty vampire who only eats rabbits or something.”
Magnus laughs, louder than he can control, and turns back to Alec to give him a pointed glare that’s belied by the hint of a smile he can feel poking at his lips.
“What?” Alec says, in no way as innocent as he probably expects to be. “Tell me I’m wrong.”
It’s back. This feeling in his chest. Magnus wouldn’t have to make a great effort to pull Alec closer. But it would demand courage he doesn’t think he owns.
“I get it, you hate the place,” he groans instead, letting the spark in his chest wither away slowly. “You made it very clear in your reviews.”
“And you’re hoping your lasagna will finally make me change my mind?”
Magnus challenges him with a keen look. “What makes you think I’m making lasagna?”
Alec’s eyes sparkle, the morning lights pouring through the window making them shine with mischief. “I told you. I know a thing or two about cooking.” His lips curve into a smirk. “And the pasta machine was a bit of a clue.”
“Fair point.” Magnus chuckles.
“I have to warn you, though. No one can beat my mother’s lasagna,” Alec says. “I’ll take care of the celery,” he adds, wiggling his fingers expectantly.
Magnus hesitates for a moment, but hands over a knife and cutting board anyway. “At least if it doesn’t meet your impossibly high standards, I can blame the poor job you did at chopping it.”
Alec snorts. “Whatever helps you sleep at night, chef.”
They start working in companionable silence, the only sound in the kitchen of chopped vegetables. It’s quieter than what Magnus is used to. His cooking is usually surrounded by the other workers in his kitchen, Ragnor grumbling about dishes being expected to be served and Catarina snapping at him to do it himself if he thinks he can do better, and the rest of their workers punctuating every single one of Magnus’ and Catarina’s orders with a vigorous ‘yes, chef!’
Alec works differently, so focused on his task he seems to forget about everything else, where he is and why. Or at least, Magnus would believe so if it weren’t for Alec’s eyes finding his every now and then, before immediately diverting back to his task. By the time Alec is done, Magnus can’t quite shake off the smile he can feel softening the corners of his eyes.
“Where is she today?” Alec’s voice breaks the comfortable silence. His eyes are riveted on Magnus’ hands working through chopping the onions, having finished with the carrots and the fennel already. He glances back up at Magnus when he catches the inquiry on his face. “Camille?”
Magnus fails to grasp how his walls are so effortlessly brought down by the hazel of Alec’s eyes, but he answers nonetheless, “I killed her and asked the market vendors to help me hide her body.”
Alec smiles, licking his lips as he leans forward, resting his chin on the palm of his hand, glancing at Magnus through thick eyelashes. They cast eerie shadows on his cheeks now that the sun is pouring through the windows, framing his face with the genuine interest that has made Magnus’ stomach lurch all morning.
“And here I thought I was special.”
Magnus is starting to think that might be true, so he turns away, moving to the sink to wash his hands. “I’m not really sure,” he says, clearing his throat. “I cut her out of my life and I haven’t seen her since she came to get her things out of my apartment. Last I heard she had moved on with some Italian chef and was certainly making his life miserable too.”
“Have you?” Alec asks.
Magnus pauses, takes a long look at Alec, who meets his gaze with equal intensity. A shiver runs down Magnus’ spine, and he lets his lips curve into a teasing smirk to conceal the stutter of his breathing.
“Are you asking if I’m single?”
Alec shrugs, but Magnus doesn’t miss the slight flush reddening the tip of his ears.
“I’m asking if you’ve moved on. However you interpret it is up to you.”
It’s a clear opening, a fissure in Magnus’ carefully protected heart that even Alec’s perceptive regard can’t possibly surmise.
Magnus inhales sharply, and leans forward on the counter. He’d only have to move a few inches to grab Alec’s hand, to discover whether his touch can match in the rest of his body the electricity Alec’s wit can ignite in his chest.
It wouldn’t take much more than a leap of faith.
“Whenever I’ve decided how to interpret it, you’ll be the first to know, Lightwood.”
Another beat passes, Alec’s gaze dropping to his lips for a second. Magnus pulls out his hands and spins around to head to the fridge.
“I look forward to it,” Alec says, his voice barely a murmur.
Magnus picks up the butter and puts it in the counter in front of him. “Now, I do believe you’ve promised me apple turnovers.”
Alec smiles at him, small and promising. It makes something unspeakable flutter in Magnus’ stomach, something that doesn’t need much interpretation.
“I’ll get right on it, chef.”
Magnus Bane Tries To Have Me Disowned By My Own Mother — a morning with Magnus Bane.
By A. Lightwood.
This is turning into a series, isn’t it?
Oh well, you won’t hear me complaining.
Neither will my boss, because these reviews are apparently the most popular posts ever on the magazine’s website, which means money, and my boss likes money. So the series continues. Capitalism in a nutshell.
Yesterday’s setting was much warmer than the vampire lair I visited a few weeks ago. It felt much more like Magnus Bane than anything else I have come to see so far.
Magnus Bane took me on an expedition, for which I had to wake up at 5am. I suspect it was a not so subtle attempt at enacting his revenge on me. He took me to a farmers’ market whose location I will keep secret to protect his intimacy because I’ve been in (virtual, thankfully) contact with his fans and they terrify me. I saw another side of him, which I am beginning to learn to expect and yet sometimes still surprises me.
Who we are and who we show the world are sometimes two very different persons. For Magnus Bane, it seems to be an absolute truth. I look forward to the reconciliation of the two.
Magnus Bane invited me into his home to cook for me. There was more to it than just my bad review. I’m making that clear in order to avoid provoking any onflow of bad reviews from those same overzealous fans who terrify me.
I made him my infamous apple turnover in return. It earned me a “not bad, Lightwood” that I regret not to have recorded. I could’ve turned it into a GIF as the perfect reply to the ones I still receive on Twitter. GIF aside, I’m sure it would have made my mother weep with pride.
Kidding, my mother would never weep with anything but despair over my career choices. Love you, Mom.
Back to the food. It was what one can expect from a lasagna: an artery-clogging tower of Italian sausage, ground beef and cheese, with a few vegetables in there to give yourself a better conscience about it. And it was pretty amazing.
It didn’t make me sad, but hopeful instead.
It comforted me in the idea that Magnus Bane can cook absolutely anything. I suppose I should stop sounding surprised about that. There might be something missing still (thankfully it isn’t my body).
And it definitely isn’t Magnus Bane’s talent either.
Still, I stand by my word. My mother’s lasagna isn’t perfect, but no one can beat it. I’m not saying that because I don’t want her to resent and disown me but because my mother’s lasagna may be weird and untraditional, but it is exactly what makes it special in my heart. It doesn’t follow any pre-established codes, doesn’t always taste exactly like a lasagna should taste, but it never fails to bring me back to a time where I was a spotty, socially awkward, greasy-haired, closeted teenager who could eat twice his weight in one sitting and blamed it all on growth. It takes me back to these family dinners we would have, with my mother and siblings, after she had spent hours in the kitchen to make it for us, hoping it would make us forget the way our idea of family was collapsing. And for a moment in time, it did.
It’s flawed, but it’s more than just food. It’s a balm against life’s deepest cuts, a stronger spirit-lifter than any liquor.
It has a soul, the way all exceptional dishes should.
So, as of today, no one can beat my mother’s lasagna.
But I’d wager that if anyone could, it’d be him.
“I can’t believe this guy is flirting with you through Idris Magazine.” Ragnor sighs heavily, glaring at Magnus over his phone.
Magnus looks up from the plate he is currently dressing to smirk at his oldest friend, knowing perfectly well how infuriating he will find it.
“Well, I’m quite irresistible.” He adds the final touches and hands the plate over to Simon, who is waiting at his side. “Table two.”
Simon nods, with a warm, goofy smile that hasn’t left him since Ragnor finished reading Alec’s latest review. He doesn’t make a move to go, however.
“Now, Simon,” Magnus says sharply, and Simon snaps back into focus, rushing out to the floor. Magnus chuckles slyly in his wake. When he turns back to Ragnor, he is still staring at him, arms crossed over his chest. “What?”
Ragnor gives him a pointed look. “You like him.”
“Who? Simon? Of course I like him, I hired him.”
Ragnor rolls his eyes, sending a pointed glare at Raphael when he snickers as he passes by on his way to the wine cellar.
“I meant the food critic,” Ragnor says, his lips curving with disdain at the words. “You like him.”
Magnus gives a side glance at Catarina, who is manning the meat corner. “Tell him to leave me alone while I’m working.”
“Leave Magnus alone while he’s working,” Catarina says automatically. Ragnor goes to protest, but is interrupted by Catarina herself, “Especially when you’re asking such dumb questions.”
“Ha!” Magnus exclaims, pointing at Ragnor victoriously with the tip of his knife.
“Magnus obviously likes him, there’s no point in asking,” Catarina finishes, and although Magnus can’t see her face, he can perfectly hear the smile in her voice.
“Hey!” he blurts out, offended.
Betrayed by the one he cherishes the most. Typical.
Ragnor smiles triumphantly, but quickly sobers up as he leans closer, lowering his voice. “Do we need to stage an intervention?”
It’s Magnus’ turn to roll his eyes. “I can take care of myself, Ragnor.”
“I know,” Ragnor replies, although there is a hint of dubiousness lingering. “But you don’t exactly have the best track record and I want to make sure your tastes have improved.”
Magnus pauses for a second to heave out, straightening up to face Ragnor. “There’s nothing between Lightwood and me,” he says. “And if that ever were to change, I promise I’ll be careful, alright? Can I go back to work now? This is a kitchen, not a therapist’s office.”
Ragnor’s dark eyes bear into his for a moment, but eventually he nods, seemingly satisfied.
“Is there really a difference?” Catarina chimes in, and Magnus chuckles as he moves to the next plate.
Magnus groans, glowering at Simon who just came back from the dining room. “What now, Simon? No, you can’t take off the necktie.”
Simon shakes his head. “That’s not it,” he says.
He seems to hesitate for a moment, and Magnus doesn’t know whether it is the full dining room of customers waiting to be served or what Ragnor’s concern kindled inside of him, but he doesn’t have the patience for it.
“What is it, Simon?” he snaps.
Simon blinks back into focus. “Your… Your boyfriend is here.”
Magnus freezes, his lips parting in shock. “What?”
“The food critic from Idris Magazine,” Simon explains. “He’s here. Says he wants to talk to you.”
“I—” Magnus says, chancing a glance at Catarina as if she could give him an answer he doesn’t know himself. “What is he doing here?”
She shrugs, but gives him a supportive smile, and it seems to be all Magnus needs to turn to Simon, bracing himself with a deep breath.
“Send him in.”
Simon swirls back around to leave. Magnus just has time to utter a boisterous “And he’s not my boyfriend!” before the kitchen door closes after him.
Magnus is just handing over four new plates to Clary when Simon walks back in, Alec on his heels. Alec’s gaze roams over the kitchen and he startles. Magnus smiles to himself. The organized chaos that reigns around here can only be overwhelming for someone who isn’t used to it. Alec seems to adjust quickly enough, however, because his eyes soften when they fall on Magnus, crinkling softly at the corners.
Magnus curves an eyebrow at him. “Wash your hands,” he orders, and Alec gives him an amused bow as he moves to the sink. “What are you doing here?”
“One entrecôte and one smoked salmon for table five,” Clary yaps as she walks in from the floor.
Magnus moves automatically, his hands working on preparing the plates but his eyes trained on Alec.
“Have you already eaten?” Alec asks, in a casual tone that makes Magnus wonder if he realizes exactly where he is standing right now.
“I always eat before my shift,” Magnus replies, too busy to focus on hiding the bewilderment he is feeling. “That was three hours ago. Why?”
“I want to take you somewhere.”
Magnus isn’t less perplexed than he was when Simon first announced Alec was here. “We’re a bit in the weeds right now. Where?”
“You’ll see,” Alec says, the now familiar cheekiness dancing freely in his eyes as he mimics the exact words Magnus has uttered to him a few times. “But I think you’re gonna like it.”
Magnus shakes his head, reaching out to grab the plate Catarina is handing him for the final touches. “You know you could have texted, right?”
Alec runs a hand at the nape of his neck, shrugging a little apologetically. “It was more of a last minute thing. So what do you say?”
Magnus takes in the silence for a moment, focusing on the wild beating of his heart that he isn’t sure he can blame on the rush of the joyous chaos around him. And then he blinks, realizing that if there is one thing he hardly ever hears here, it is silence.
He looks up, only to find his entire staff staring expectantly either at him or Alec, even Catarina who at least had the presence of mind of taking her pan off the fire.
“Is there something I can help you with?” Magnus snaps, and the anarchy immediately reprices. He glances back at Alec. “Fine. Text me the details and I’ll meet you there.”
“When are you off?” Alec asks in lieu of an agreement.
“A couple of hours.” Magnus frowns.
“Great,” Alec says, with a wide grin that has Magnus staring despite his best will. “I’ll wait for you at the bar. Your sommelier hates me, but I’m sure if you’ve managed to refrain from killing me, he can too.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Magnus retorts, teasing.
Alec’s grin broadens. “It’s a risk I’m willing to take. See you then.”
And he leaves as quickly as he came in, leaving Magnus to stare after him, chewing on his bottom lip.
The silence is back, and he doesn’t have to look around his kitchen to know why.
Magnus groans. “Get back to work. If I hear a single word out of you, the culprit will spend the next month on toilet cleaning duty, am I clear?”
The clutter of pans and frantic chatter is a transparent answer.
“I like his style,” Catarina comments anyway, because she knows Magnus’ threats never apply to her.
Magnus doesn’t reply, smiling to himself. He’s not quick enough to conceal it to Ragnor’s prying eyes.
“Don’t,” Magnus warns. “And please go do your job.”
Ragnor rolls his eyes. “First it was an evil witch, now a food critic… Next time, it’s going to be a vegan,” he grumbles begrudgingly, disgust written plainly on his face as he turns on his heels to head back to the dining room.
Magnus glares at his retreating back, throwing a dish towel at his head.
Magnus finds Alec exactly where he said he would be: sitting at the bar. The unexpected turn of events is that Raphael seems to be chatting with him, and there is no murderous intent in his gaze —none that Magnus can decipher anyway.
Magnus can’t quite conceal his surprise as he walks up to them. “I feel like I should ask, but I won’t.”
Alec gives him a lopsided smile, looking a little too proud of himself. “What can I say? I’m likable like that.”
“For a food critic,” Raphael points out, deadpan.
Magnus shakes his head, more fond than annoyed. “So, where are we going?”
“Are you hungry?” Alec asks in lieu of an answer.
“I could eat,” Magnus says. “But I just spent six hours in a kitchen, so I’m sorry darling but I don’t feel like proving you wrong tonight.”
Alec’s grin only broadens as he stands up, slipping in his coat. “Good thing I was never wrong then.” When Magnus glares at him, his expression softens, although there is still something akin a smile in his gaze. “Get your coat, I’m taking you somewhere.”
Magnus sucks his bottom lip in, casts a quick look at Raphael, who simply arches an eyebrow, and heaves out a deep sigh.
“If you don’t hear from me tomorrow, it’s because he killed me.”
Raphael frowns, clearly not appreciating the joke.
“In a good way,” Alec butts in, sending Magnus a fondly exasperated look. Raphael shakes his head, no affection apparent beneath the blatant irritation. Alec looks down at the watch on his wrist, and back at Magnus. “Come on, chef. I made Maia promise to stay open a little longer than usual, but I don’t want to keep her up too late.”
“Who’s Maia?” Magnus asks.
“You’ll see,” Alec says, grabbing him unceremoniously by the sleeve of his shirt to drag him to his office where Magnus keeps his stuff, stomping through the kitchen without a care for the baffled looks he is given on the way.
Ragnor and Catarina, who are gathering their belongings too, give them both a dubious look.
“Is he kidnapping you?” Catarina asks, although she doesn’t sound too worried.
“I’ll bring him back before midnight, I promise,” Alec replies, tone heavy with sarcasm.
“Please don’t, you can keep him,” Ragnor says, deadpan.
Magnus grabs his coat, flipping Ragnor off with his other hand, and turns to Alec.
“Let’s go then.”
The drive to Alec’s mysterious location is relatively short. Traffic is calmer at this time of the night, and it isn’t very far. They spend it in companionable silence, and Magnus can’t help but steal a few glances over at Alec, the way his fingers dance nervously against the wheel, the small shadows the fleeting lights of the night cast upon his face, the sharp line of his scruffed jaw, the quick, hesitant jump of his lips when he feels Magnus’ eyes on him.
It’s disorientating in ways Magnus can’t explain, even more so when he realizes he doesn’t want to run, that he’s perfectly comfortable where he is right now, letting Alec lead him somewhere Magnus didn’t think he’d want to follow —the unknown.
When Alec finally parks, Magnus knows they are in Brooklyn, but there is nothing for him to identify a specific place apart from buildings all around them and the knowledge they haven’t crossed the bridge very long ago.
“I’ll never find a parking spot closer than that,” Alec eludes before Magnus can ponder on it further.
It’s just a short walk to the pier from there, and Magnus lets himself be guided once more, until there is nothing surrounding them but the trees of the park on one side, speckled with the orange, yellow and brownish hues of the early autumn days, and the Hudson river peacefully running its course on the other side.
There are a few people around, chatting and laughing, but Alec doesn’t speak, buzzing with a kind of nervous energy Magnus doesn’t quite understand.
And then he does.
It’s a glorious sight, the Manhattan skyline spreading in front of them, Brooklyn Bridge shining into the night like a beacon, ushering them closer to safety. Magnus almost startles at the thought but he knows it is the indubitable truth: somehow, someway, he feels safe. He doesn’t feel like his ugliest lies are going to be exposed to the world, like an impediment doom is upon him, like the ineffable loneliness that often follows him is just around the corner, waiting for him like it would an old friend. Here, he is shielded from the brutal viciousness of the world, protected even from time rushing by.
Just in front of the water, a food truck is standing, a few tables around it and fairy lights bathing the scenery in an eerie glow that makes Magnus feel like he just stepped into a land of magic. It’s a nice engine, all metallic hues, a large, brightly-colored piece of street art on the side depicting an explosion of ingredients. It has a round roof, a striking reminder of Magnus’ first food truck. Nostalgia washes over him in waves.
“Wow,” he murmurs under his breath.
“Right?” Alec says, a smile in his voice.
When Magnus turns to look at him, he finds Alec already looking, not at the stunning view but right back at him instead. Magnus flushes, heat searing through his cheeks, and before he can ponder on the absolute horror his blushing drags along in its wake, Alec’s fingers curl around his wrist, pulling him toward the food truck.
“Come on, chef.”
And Magnus follows, stunned.
“Hey, Maia,” Alec exclaims as they reach the counter.
An accusing finger is immediately pointed at his face. “You’re late.”
Alec gives her an innocent smile. “But you forgive me because I’m your best friend and you love me?”
Magnus chuckles, somehow relieved that Alec isn’t partial to acting like a little shit just with him. Maia’s head whirls to him, a strand of the brown curls framing her face falling off the bright, yellow headband holding them back and in front of her eyes as she does. She blows it off nonchalantly, and extends a hand to him.
“Chef Bane, I’m a big fan. You’re amazing,” she says. Magnus gives her a humbled smile, running the tips of his ringed fingers against his lips. “I hope you didn’t let this idiot make you think otherwise.”
Alec’s fingers are still wrapped around his wrist and Magnus’ skin burning under the touch. His heart is rummaging in his chest, as though his whole body is working on getting as much out of it as he can through his pulse point.
“He never told me anything I didn’t already know,” he says.
Alec glances back at him with a look of complete surprise, but it quickly fades, replaced by a soft, kind smile Magnus doesn’t know what to do with. He returns it.
“Alright,” Maia says, clearing her throat. There’s the same shit-eating grin on her face as the one Magnus has caught on Alec’s face many times by now, and he is suddenly very much aware of the reason why these two are friends. “What can I get you, chef?” she asks Magnus, before turning to Alec. “I’m guessing you’ll have the usual.”
“I’ll have the same,” Magnus says.
Maia nods, immediately turning her back to them. “Take a seat, I’ll be right with you.”
They pick a table right under the fairy lights, just far enough from the truck that nothing is obstructing the breathtaking view of the skyline.
Alec sits across from him, lazily stretching his legs under the table until his calves are almost brushing against Magnus. He wets his lips, inhales sharply, and fixes Magnus with these terribly cunning, beautifully sincere eyes of his.
“I have a confession to make.”
Magnus stares in silence for a moment, and then makes a flourish with his hand, gesturing for him to go on.
“My first visit to Le Petit Paris wasn’t the first time I tasted your food.”
Magnus’ brows dip into a frown. “Really?”
Alec chews on his bottom lip thoughtfully, grabbing a napkin from the dispenser on the table. He starts meticulously ripping it, and Magnus isn’t endeared by it in the slightest.
“I told you I studied journalism.” Magnus nods, but Alec barely notices. “Well, when I was a college student, I barely had time to cook for myself, so I pretty much lived off junk food. I spent most of my days either in classes, the library or working part-time doing photography for a small newspaper. I used to get out of the library, get some food from whatever food truck was parked on campus and immediately head to whatever corner of New York my boss was sending me.”
Magnus has a distinct idea of where this conversation is going, but he doesn’t interrupt, watching Alec carefully dismantle an innocent napkin instead.
“One day, this new food truck showed up. I got something to eat as usual and I was in the subway when I took my first bite and well… if I could’ve married a sandwich, I guess I’d be a married man right now.” Magnus chuckles lightly, head tipping to the side to send Alec a pointed look. Alec smiles back. “Your food, Magnus… It was incredible. The best thing I had ever had. Don’t tell my mother I said that.” His urgent tone and widened eyes make Magnus bark out a laugh. “Your food truck wasn’t on my campus every week, so I used to transit at least once a week to wherever it was, because it was just that good.” He pauses, a hint of playfulness flashing in his gaze again. “I think a good part of my scholarship went directly into your pocket.”
Magnus gives another full, unbridled belly laugh, throwing his head back with the genuineness of it.
Alec’s face lights up, his eyes reflecting the same amusement and something more, more than Magnus can fathom, rippling into the fairy lights hanging above their heads.
“It was a new experience every time, but I knew I would never be disappointed, no matter what I’d order,” Alec goes on with a hint of nostalgia. “When I had a shitty day —and I had many, back then— I knew a single bite could make me forget everything, if only for a short moment. And then one day the food truck disappeared and I won’t lie to you: I was devastated.”
Magnus rolls his eyes, although he doesn’t quite manage to shake off his face the smile Alec seems to be particularly proficient at putting there.
“I sense a hint of exaggeration.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Alec sighs playfully. “But still. What you did back then, it was just… prodigious, you know? And it wasn’t just the food, it was everything. There was this atmosphere of pure joy that seemed to follow everywhere you went.”
He levels Magnus with a grave look, but before he can say anymore, Maia is walking up to them, depositing two overflowing plates in front of them. Magnus takes a look at its contents, and smiles.
“I do soul food,” Maia explains. “Cooked with traditional methods but with my own twist.”
Magnus sparks up with interest. “Tell me more!”
Maia seems surprised he even asks, and Magnus inwardly curses the public image that follows him everywhere, even without a camera in sight. But like anyone with true passion in their heart, her face quickly brightens at the opportunity offered for her to talk about it.
“When I decided to open this food truck, I wasn’t sure what kind of food I wanted to serve, so I went back to what I knew. My roots. I traveled in the South and rediscovered some traditional African American dishes I had grown up with but mostly forgotten about. I knew I wanted to highlight this food that’s a huge part of my culture, but I also wanted to use everything I had learned working in restaurants in New York, so I decided to add my personal touch. The chicken and the greens are all from local farmers in New Jersey, but I cook them with the traditional methods. The ones you don’t learn in culinary school,” she adds with a wink that causes Magnus to grin. “And I add a personal touch I can’t tell you about. I’m sure you’ll understand.”
Magnus chuckles. “I understand perfectly, dear. I’ve been stolen enough ideas to know you should guard them jealously.”
He leans in to take a sniff, his eyes shutting as he lets his senses get overwhelmed by the enticing smell. His mouth is already watering.
“Dig in,” Maia says cheerfully. “I’m not sold out on red drinks if you want to go fully traditional.”
“That would be lovely,” Magnus replies.
Maia grins as she walks away.
Magnus turns back to Alec, who is already chewing on his first bite.
“Sorry,” he mumbles through his mouthful. “I’m starving. I don’t usually eat so late.”
“You would bristle at my eating habits, darling,” Magnus jokes.
Alec smiles and gives him an expectant look, pointing at Magnus’ food with his fork. “Taste it.”
Magnus complies, taking a bite of fried chicken. His eyes widen almost immediately, a moan of pure pleasure slipping out of his mouth on its own accord.
“Holy shit,” he breathes out, fingers fluttering in front of his mouth.
Alec smirks, looking far too smug for Magnus’ liking. “So what I was trying to say, is that you were right,” he says. Magnus gives him a dubious look that he dismisses with a flourish of his hand. “When I visited your restaurant a month ago, I had great expectations, expectations that were attached to my personal experience with your food that probably isn’t who you are today anymore. It wasn’t fair of me to hold you to them.”
Magnus doesn’t reply immediately, instead glancing at this infuriating, beautiful man and failing to comprehend how they got to this point, where they can open their hearts up to each other. Because instead of making Magnus want to close himself off entirely and forget this ever happened, he wants to drive himself closer, to deliver his darkest secrets to Alec’s benevolent eyes, to hear him speak those words of esteem and recognition Magnus feels wholly undeserving of.
“Your cooking was the first to make me realize food could have a soul, you know?” Alec says eventually, seemingly made a little uncomfortable by the prolonged silence. “But just because I can’t see it anymore doesn’t mean it doesn’t have one. It just means you’ve changed, and that’s not a bad thing. You’re pretty great as you are.”
Magnus shakes his head. Tears brim in his eyes, so he dips his head down, looking at Maia’s plate like it holds all the answers. Perhaps it does.
“You were right,” he admits, barely recognizing his own voice through this hushed murmur. “That’s why your review was so hard for me to read and to process. That’s why I wanted to prove you wrong. Because I wanted to prove to myself that you were.”
Alec’s fingers move forward as if to reach out, but he seems to hesitate, pulling back his hand. Magnus looks at him, and something on his face must be the last straw, because Alec grabs his hand gently, his thumb mapping gentle circles against Magnus’ skin.
“The truth is I don’t recall the last time I was truly passionate about what I do,” Magnus confesses, a lump in his throat. “At some point during the time I spent with Camille, letting her decide what was best for me and leaving it to her to make the important choices I should have made for my own career, I lost myself. She deprived me from the liberty to choose for myself for so long that I’m not sure I know how to do that anymore.”
Magnus inhales sharply, glancing up at Alec, who is looking back with a frown. Magnus wants to reach out and smoothen it with a gentle touch of the pad of his thumb. He digs his nails in his knees instead, and tightens his grip with his hand that is holding Alec’s.
“I know my new restaurant is bad, Alexander,” he says sternly. “I’ve known all along. But I didn’t have any inspiration for a new menu, so I went with the easy way out of just going with the dishes that made me famous. My food is soulless because it became something I do as a habit more than a passion. Because it’s associated with heartbreak and the worst decisions I made in my life. With the lowest points rather than the bright spots.”
Alec squeezes his hand gently, and Magnus shakes his head, laughing self-deprecatingly at himself when he feels a tear trickle down his cheek. Alec catches it with his thumb, letting it linger on Magnus’ jaw for a moment too long.
Magnus’ heart slams against his ribcage, looking back down at the food Maia made. “I wish I could still make food like this,” he says. “Creative and delicious and inspired.”
“You can,” Alec says, with such confident intent Magnus is tempted to believe it.
Magnus smiles. “Easier said than done, Alexander.”
“Maybe you just need to do what Maia did and get back to your roots,” Alec suggests softly. “If it’s become something bigger than what you wanted it to be in the first place, you can reclaim it. It’s your craft and your life. No one should be telling you how to go about either of them. Maia sure doesn’t let anyone tell her how she should be cooking her food.”
“Not even that stubborn food critic from Idris Magazine?” Magnus asks teasingly, lifting an eyebrow in silent defiance.
“Especially not that stubborn food critic from Idris Magazine,” Alec replies, smiling. His thumb sweeps across his skin, the touch so delicate it seems to echo through Magnus’ entire body, sending a rush of shivers down his spine. “But I hope you know he just wants you to find your heart again.”
Magnus stares into Alec’s beautiful hazels, shining under the fairy lights like a blissful mirage, and for the first time in a long time, he thinks he just might.
Alec drives him home an hour later. Their hands brush together as they walk to Magnus’ front door, because Alec insisted and Magnus didn’t really feel like telling him no anyway. He’s come to realize that every second he spends with Alec has morphed into something he cherishes rather than apprehends.
“Thank you for taking me to Maia’s,” Magnus says as they come to a halt in front of the door. “It gave me food for thought.”
“It wasn’t completely selfless, I use any excuse to eat there,” Alec retorts, but his words are belied by the genuine affection in his gaze.
Magnus chuckles softly. He takes Alec’s hand, squeezing his fingers against his palm. “Thank you, Alexander,” he murmurs. “Truly.”
Alec blinks and gives him a smile, devastatingly tender at the edges. “You’re welcome, Magnus.”
He could lean forward and kiss him. It would be easy. But perhaps he doesn’t trust ‘easy’ anymore, because all he can do is kiss Alec right at the corner of his mouth, leaving the possibility of more to be explored another time. One of Alec’s hands lays against his waist, leaving a burning warmth where it touches.
“Good night,” Magnus murmurs.
Alec’s fingers brush idly against Magnus’ coat, but somehow he feels his skin burning underneath all the same. “Good night, Magnus,” he says. “I’ll see you soon.”
Magnus nods and plucks his keys out of his pocket. He plays with them for a moment, hesitating. But eventually, he opens the door, gives Alec one last smile, and walks in. When he takes his first step inside his home, his senses are immediately overwhelmed by the loneliness of these walls and the memory of a time, just a few days ago, when they stopped being so. He’s taken by the inextricable urge to turn around and find Alec in the dark streets of New York. But he doesn’t, because as his gaze falls on the photograph he has hanging in his hallway, of his mother and him, his arms wrapped around her, their smiles blinding and perfect matches, an idea forms in his mind, clearer and more evident than anything he’s felt in years.
He grabs his phone and texts his work group chat.
Team meeting tomorrow at 9am.
Ugh so early, Simon replies in the next second. Why do you hate me?
Magnus slips in bed and falls asleep with a smile on his lips.
“Are you sure about this?” Catarina asks as he tapes the ‘closed until further notice’ sign to the front door of the restaurant.
Magnus turns to her with a smile. “Absolutely positive,” he says, with all the confidence he feels at the idea. “I need some time to mull things over. Are you sure you don’t want me to move you to another restaurant in the meantime?”
“And pass on those vacation days you’ve offered us?” she retorts playfully. “Never.”
Magnus chuckles, throwing her the keys. “Thought so. Just make sure Ragnor doesn’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.”
“You always ask too much of me,” Catarina replies with staged despair, pulling him into a hug.
Magnus melts into her embrace, letting all the remaining nerves pour out of him in comforting waves.
“I’m proud of you,” she whispers against his ear.
Magnus pulls back, planting a kiss to her cheek. “I’ll call you when I arrive.”
Catarina nods. “Say hi to Amisha for me.”
“Will do,” Magnus calls over his shoulder.
He steps into his car, waves goodbye to his friends, and drives away.
His mind is buzzing with ideas for the entire ride, and he’s barely seen the drive go by when he makes it to East Hampton. He hasn’t been there in a while, he realizes as he drives up the alleyway to the house. It is far from the small, one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn he grew up in, or even his first apartment in Queens where his rat roommates made him consider the possibility more than once of reenacting Ratatouille just for the sake of it. But it is just as much of a home, even though he hasn’t spent quite as much time among those walls as he has any of the other places he’s lived.
It’s her place before anything else, his gift to her, a chance at the better, more comfortable life she never thought she’d get to have.
His mother is waiting for him on the front porch when he arrives, sitting on the rocking chair that faces the wide gardens that border the roads with a heavy book. She leaps out of her seat as soon as she spots his car, rushing down the steps with such energy he almost fears she may fall. But he knows she would immediately get back up —if only to berate him about not visiting enough.
She engulfs him into one of her bone-crushing hugs as soon as he steps out of the car, and Magnus laughs freely, happy to let her squeeze the air out of his lungs for a moment.
“Hey, Mama,” he says against her hair.
She pulls back to cup his cheeks between her hands, tugging his head down to drop a kiss against his forehead.
“Hello, sayang,” she mutters tenderly. “You look famished. Come in, I made some fried rice.”
Magnus’ mouth waters at the thought. “What are we still doing here then?”
His mother laughs, patting his cheek gently. “I’ll fix you a plate,” she says before walking inside.
Magnus takes a look at his surroundings, the slow, soothing pace of the river, the trees moving gently with the blow of the wind, their autumnal hues reflecting in the river, the high sunlight bathing the scenery in an ethereal glow. He takes a deep inhale, closing his eyes as the wind brushes against his skin, cold but comforting.
“You okay, baby?” his mother calls in Indonesian from the warmth of her home.
Magnus smiles to himself and turns to follow her inside.
“I am,” he says, and he finds it is the absolute, unaltered truth. The delicious aroma of his mother’s cooking wafts through his nostrils, blowing away the rest of his tension. “It’s good to be home.”
Amisha smiles back, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “You should visit more often,” she says, predictably. “You work too much.”
Magnus chuckles, glancing over her shoulder as she checks the pot of homemade tea she’s prepared to go with lunch. “I seem to recall a time where you thought I didn’t work enough.”
His mother tsks, shaking her head. “Nonsense,” she says. “I always knew you were a hard-worker.”
Magnus chooses to pick his battles wisely, and lets her have this one. After all, he knows exactly where he got his hard-headed tendencies from.
“Well, as soon as lunch is over and you’ve caught me up on what you and your book club have been up to, this hard-worker is going to take a nap for the first time in years, and it’s gonna be fucking amazing.”
His mother turns back in a rush, eyeing him angrily as she swats his arm with a cloth. “Language!”
Magnus laughs, trotting back to the car to get his bags.
Magnus rolls in his bed, groaning as his head throbs with too much sleep, for once. The dim lights peeking through the curtains are indication enough that the afternoon has passed and gone, but he gives himself the time to stretch lazily in bed nonetheless, pressing his palms against the headboard of his bed to ease the tension from his sore muscles, sighing in content.
With another groan, he rolls out of bed and grabs the jacket hanging against the door, slipping it on. He can hear his mother’s voice chiming lightly from downstairs, probably on the phone, so he takes a moment to pluck his phone from the pocket of the skinny jeans he had thrown carelessly to the ground when he laid down for his nap. It starts vibrating in his hand before he can even unlock it, Ragnor’s name flashing on the screen.
“Missing me already?” Magnus grumbles as he answers. “I’ve only been gone a day.”
“I definitely don’t miss you,” Ragnor retorts, a blatant lie. “But that much cannot be said of your lover boy.”
Magnus frowns, rubbing at his still sleep-heavy eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“The food critic,” Ragnor eludes, as if it wasn’t abundantly clear before. “He came by the restaurant earlier today and sort of panicked when he saw the notice on the door. He seemed to think it had something to do with him.”
“I’ll text him,” Magnus says, powerless to control the flutter of his heart at the mere mention of Alec. “It was all a spur of the moment kind of thing and I forgot to tell him I’d be out of the city for a while.”
Magnus’ heart stutters in his chest. “Ragnor, what did you do?”
“I may or may not have told him you were visiting your mother,” he says, but his voice trails off at the end and Magnus knows there is more than just that.
“And given him her address.”
“Ragnor!” Magnus scoffs, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“He looked like a lovesick puppy and he kept mumbling about how it was all his fault,” Ragnor exclaims, not one bit apologetic. “It warmed my cold little heart, truly.”
“You’re the worst,” Magnus sighs heavily.
“And yet I’ll be the best man at your wedding,” Ragnor retorts, sounding far prouder than he should be.
“Oh please,” Ragnor says. “I know that look you’ve had on your face lately. You’ve been smiling a lot more. And you went all doey eyed when he showed up at the restaurant the other night. And from what I witnessed of him earlier, he’s probably even more smitten than you are. I have my best man speech ready.”
“I don’t have doey eyes,” Magnus protests, choosing to disregard every other word Ragnor has uttered mockingly.
“Not the point,” Ragnor retorts sharply. “So anyway, I just wanted to give you a heads-up and remind you that you love me.”
“Hardly,” Magnus deadpans.
“Bring me back a souvenir.”
“I hate you.”
“Give Amisha my best.”
“I won’t,” Magnus grumbles. “She hates you too.”
Ragnor laughs, loud and boisterous. “Now I know you’re lying. Bye, Magnus.”
“You won’t ever be my best man!”
Ragnor hangs up with another laugh, the sound echoing in Magnus’ ear. Rolling his eyes at his friend —if one can call it that— Magnus pulls the phone away from his ear, looking down at the screen.
There’s a couple of missed calls from Ragnor and nine from Alec. Magnus chews on his bottom lip to hinder the treacherous smile threatening to take over his face as he opens the texts Alec sent instead.
Is it okay if I come over tonight after your shift?
or during your shift? I think I can get Raphael to actually like me if I keep marveling him with my knowledge of French wines
I’m at the restaurant and it says it’s closed until further notice, is everything okay?
I don’t want to sound like a maniac but I’m kinda worried?
Did you close because of me? Because of what I said about your food? Because you need to know this is definitely not what I had in mind.
Magnus, I’m really worried…
Your friend Ragnor took pity on me and told me you were gone. I’m so sorry, Magnus. Please answer my calls so I can apologize properly.
You know I never meant any harm, right?
I’m on my way.
Magnus blinks up from the phone, and his mouth drops open as he hears the melodic laughter of his mother chiming from downstairs.
He quickly slips into his jeans and runs down the stairs, following his mother’s voice to the kitchen. She glances up at him with a grin, and the knowing glint in her eyes is probably one of the most terrifying things he has seen in his entire life.
“You have a visitor, sayang,” she says, with an innocent lilt to her voice that doesn’t fool Magnus at all.
Magnus’ gaze drifts to Alec who stands by her side, his hands full of flour. He gives Magnus a sheepish smile, forgetting about the flour entirely as he runs a hand at the nape of his neck.
“Hi,” he says mutely. “I—We should talk.”
Alec pushes a mug of tea his way. It’s still fuming, and Magnus’ heart races at the thought of Alec making him a tea as soon as he heard Magnus was up.
Even his heart has decided to betray him, it seems.
Magnus takes a look at his reflection in his mother’s oven. His hair is all over the place, his cheek still dented with a pillow mark, but he looks rested at least. He reaches out to pluck a jajan pasar from the tray they have been working on and scarcely avoids his mother smacking his hand as he does.
“Let’s go outside,” Magnus says.
Alec nods, and picks up a jajan pasar himself. Amisha doesn’t even try to stop him, patting his shoulder instead. Magnus glares at her, but she doesn’t even flinch.
Alec turns to go out on the porch and Magnus goes to follow him but his mother stops him, wrapping delicate fingers around his wrist.
“He’s handsome,” she whispers, although it’s not low enough for Alec not to hear.
Magnus rolls his eyes, following Alec outside.
Alec gives him a sheepish smile, and sits down on the stairs that give directly on the beach. Magnus takes a seat directly next to him, taking a long sip of his tea. It’s relatively cold at this time of the year. A few recalcitrant gulls haven’t left the area yet, filling the air with the sound of their beating wings and piercing cries. Other than that, it is quiet, cut away from the rest of the world, an alcove of peacefulness.
“I think I may have overreacted,” Alec says, chewing nervously on his bottom lip.
Magnus chuckles fondly. “You think?”
Alec laughs with him, albeit tensely. “I don’t know, I saw the closed sign on the restaurant and my brain kind of did the rest.” He pauses, licking his lips. “It didn’t help that the first thing your friend asked me when he saw me at the door was what I had done to you.”
Magnus can’t repress a groan. “You’ll learn with time that you should never give credit to anything that comes out of Ragnor’s mouth.”
He realizes too late that it implies that there is a future where Alec and Ragnor interact again, which means there is a future where Alec is an integral part of Magnus’ life.
He expects panic welling up in his chest, a deep-rooted fear taking over what little rationality he manages to summon around Alec, but there is something else instead, a realization dawning on him that it wouldn’t be such a bad omen. That it could, in fact, be the exact opposite.
Alec’s mouth jumps with the hint of a smile. “I’ll try to remember that. But still, I’m sorry if I had any part in your decision. I realize I’ve been…” his voice trails off, his hand finishing his sentence for him in a flourish.
“Stubborn?” Magnus offers, biting his lip on a smile.
“Yeah,” Alec mumbles bashfully.
Magnus gently knocks his shoulder with Alec’s. “I cooked for you three more times because I couldn’t accept that you had been telling the truth in your first review. I think we’re probably tied on stubbornness, Alexander.”
Alec chuckles, squinting his eyes in agreement. “Can’t argue with that.”
“I’m not mad at you, though,” Magnus says, shaking his head fondly. “Not at all. I left because I wanted to catch up with my mother. I needed to clear my head and do some thinking and she usually helps a lot with that.”
Alec visibly pales, his eyes widening with horror. “Oh my God,” he whispers under his breath. “I’m such an idiot. I’m so sorry, I never should’ve come. With you closing the restaurant right after me taking you to Maia’s last night, I just thought it was my fault. That maybe I had overstepped and—”
Magnus lays two fingers against Alec’s lips, sending him an amused look. “It was largely your fault,” he says. “Shh,” he presses when Alec goes to speak, looking positively crestfallen. “I never said it was a bad thing. I told you, you were right the first time. I did lose my spark. These past few years, cooking has felt more like a chore than a passion. I let myself be convinced that it should be about money when it never was before. Not to me.”
He pulls his fingers back, eyes roaming over the horizon. The sun is slowly starting to set, bathing the scenery in magnificent pink and lilac hues.
“I bought this house for my mother three years ago,” he says. “She raised me on her own and she made many sacrifices for me. She worked three separate jobs while I was growing up, so that she could give me my best chance. When I finally could, I wanted to show her I was grateful for everything she did. Or everything she didn’t do because she always put me first. So I bought this house, without telling anyone because it was my money and I had earned it. Camille flipped out when she found out. Yelling about how I could have invested my money elsewhere. She broke up with me and I spent weeks trying to get her back, until finally I bought her a fucking Cartier necklace and she took me back and made me promise never to spend money without telling her first again.” Alec’s brows are knitted into a deeply disapproving frown, and Magnus smiles at him, shrugging. “It should have been a warning to stay away, but instead I started to live with that fear that if she left me, I’d be left completely alone. She liked to remind me that no one would ever love me the way she did, which I realize now is a pretty good thing.”
“She made me apologize all the time,” Magnus says, heart heavy in his chest. “For buying an apartment that just wasn’t as big as someone else’s. For booking a surprise vacation without consulting her first. For leaving a book open on the table. She criticized everything, and particularly my food, even though it was what she was using to build this fortune she wanted me, and thus her, to have. But she never once apologized to me, not even when I caught her cheating on me with one of the cut-throat producers she had insisted I work with even though I didn’t want to.”
Alec winces. “I’m so sorry, Magnus.”
Magnus gives him a feeble smile. “And here you are, apologizing for everything even when it objectively isn’t your fault. Driving three hours just to apologize for maybe influencing me into making a decision I should have made months ago.” He reaches out to grab Alec’s hand, smiling softly. “You’re something else, Lightwood.”
Alec’s flushes a little, just enough to coat his cheeks with a soft pink. His thumb rubs gentle circles against the back of Magnus’ hand.
“Is that a good thing?” he asks.
Magnus’ heart is rummaging in his chest, and the warmth enveloping him is all-consuming.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t like it at least a little bit,” he says with a teasing smile.
Alec’s eyes shimmer with the dimming lights of the day when he answers with a matching grin.
“I should go,” Alec says.
The sun has completely set by now, and they’ve been sitting on the porch for longer than Magnus cares to fathom, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart.
Magnus hums noncommittally, content enough to stay right where he is and brave the cold of the falling night with Alec by his side.
“Nonsense,” a chilling voice calls from the kitchen window. “It’s far too late, you’re staying for dinner.”
“Mama!” Magnus hisses in disbelief.
His mother waves him off with a flourish of her hand. “Quiet, Magnus. Alexander is staying for dinner. Aren’t you, darling?”
Alec stares, gobsmacked, between Magnus and his mother, before settling on Amisha. “I wouldn’t want to impose, really.”
She shakes her head firmly. “It’s too late to drive back to the city. You can stay the night too, I have a guest room.”
“Mama!” Magnus tries again, but to no avail.
Alec’s mouth drops open and he blinks in shock, unsure what to do. “It’s really nice of you, Mrs. Bane, but—”
“No but,” Amisha cuts in firmly. “Driving at night is dangerous and you didn’t come all this way just to gaze into my son’s eyes and watch the sunset. I insist you stay the night.”
Alec sputters, a deep blush travelling from the tip of his ears all the way to the collar of his grey sweater.
Amisha nods, excessively proud of herself. “That’s settled, then. I can show you Magnus’ baby pictures. That’s what you Americans do, right?”
“Mama, please,” Magnus groans, burying his face in his hands. He didn’t think he could still feel like a teenager getting embarrassed by his mother at thirty-two, but apparently that’s another thing he was wrong about.
“Well, if you put it like that,” Alec says, with that mischievous smirk of his that Magnus has grown fond of despite himself, “I’d love to stay.”
Amisha grins triumphantly.
Magnus is starting to believe that Alec Lightwood might be some sort of magical being. Not only has he managed to charm his no-one-will-ever-be-good-enough-for-my-son mother in the matter of a couple of hours, but he’s also somehow achieved the no less impressive feat of convincing her to let him handle the dishes while she heads to bed, her eyes dropping with fatigue.
Magnus was tasked with filling the dishwasher, but he’s already done, and there isn’t much else to do but to sit on the counter next to Alec, watching the ghost of a smile resting on his lips, the soft curve of his eyelashes, the small dimple on his nose.
Alec looks at him through his eyelashes, drying his hands on the cloth Magnus hands over.
“What?” he asks, his voice barely over a whisper.
“My mother likes you,” Magnus says, matter-of-factly. “That’s quite an achievement.”
Alec grins that lopsided grin of his, crossing his arms over his chest. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, chef, but I’m very likable.”
Magnus smirks, fingers tingling. “I suppose you grow on people, Lightwood.”
Alec takes a step closer, licking his lips, and Magnus’ heart slams against his ribcage, effectively removing the air out of his lungs. “Like I grew on you?”
He’s close enough for Magnus to reach forward. “I guess you could say that.”
Alec smiles, looking down at Magnus’ lips and back into his eyes.
“I finished preparing the guest room,” Amisha announces cheerfully from the hallway.
Alec barely has time to jump away before she walks in. She takes one look at them, before glancing back at Magnus.
“Magnus, come with me so I can show you where the extra blankets are if you’re cold during the night.”
“I know where the extra blankets are, Mama,” he tries valiantly.
“Magnus,” she hisses warningly.
He heaves out a deep sigh, sends a glare at Alec when he scoffs out a quiet laugh under his breath, and jumps off the counter to follow her upstairs.
She hits him squarely on the shoulder as soon as they are out of earshot.
“Ouch! What was that for?” he asks, rubbing at his shoulder.
“You didn’t tell me you had a boyfriend,” she whispers accusingly in Indonesian.
“He’s not my boyfriend!” Magnus retorts.
She narrows her eyes on him. “He drove all the way from New York because he thought he had upset you and he looks at you like you hung the moon in the sky.”
Magnus looks down at his feet, chewing on his bottom lip. “He does?”
Amisha rolls her eyes. “Why else would he be here?”
Magnus shrugs, unsure what to reply.
His mother softens, shaking her head fondly. She lays a hand on his cheek, rubbing her thumb under his eyelid. “You deserve someone good, Magnus,” she murmurs tenderly. “Someone who looks at you the way you look at them.”
Magnus smiles, something small but genuine. “I know, Mama,” he promises.
She nods, satisfied. “Get some sleep, you look exhausted.”
Magnus snorts. “I will.”
“Now, the extra blankets—”
Magnus rolls his eyes. “I know where the extra blankets are. I helped you move in!”
“In the cupboard in the guest room,” she says nonetheless.
He chuckles, leaning forward to kiss her on the forehead. “Good night, Mama.”
“Good night, sayang,” she says, heading back downstairs to her own room.
Magnus gets back to the kitchen. He easily spots Alec, sitting on the porch where they had looked at the sun setting earlier. He reheats the tea on the pot and joins him a moment later.
He takes a seat next to Alec on the couch, bringing one knee up to his chest, before offering him one of the mugs.
“Thanks,” Alec says, cupping it between his hands. “I really hope I’m not intruding or anything. I really hadn’t planned on staying the night.”
Magnus stages an exasperated sigh. “My mother wouldn’t have let you leave anyway,” he says. “She’s tiny but don’t underestimate what she is capable of when she has her mind set on something.”
Alec smiles. “Sounds like my mother.” He takes a sip of his tea, watching the moon reflecting into the water, distorting into shapeless, buoyant light. “To be honest, I’m kind of glad I drove here just because I met her. And it’s only partially because I got to taste her food.”
Magnus snorts, but concedes Alec’s point with a nod. “Why do you think I came here after our conversation yesterday? She’s not just my roots because she’s my mother, she’s the reason it became a passion of mine in the first place.”
“I thought it was about earning money by selling food to the neighbors when you were a kid,” Alec says.
Magnus shakes his head. “Well, that’s the pretty story Camille wanted me to tell,” he says, voice muted. “It’s far from the truth.”
Alec shifts a little closer, his knee knocking gently against Magnus’ as though to encourage him to continue.
Magnus takes a long sip of his tea, sending him a glare that is utterly insincere. “You know, it’s really annoying how you keep making me want to talk about things I usually keep as deeply buried as possible.”
Alec’s eyes seem to burn right into the very core of his soul. “I like it,” he says, unapologetically. “And I’m grateful for it.”
Magnus tilts his head to the side as he stares at Alec, wondering what hidden power ignites the earnestness of his gaze.
“I like it too,” he says truthfully.
Alec leans a bit closer, voice dropping to a grave, soothing murmur. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.”
“I know,” Magnus replies, almost a groan. “But I do, that’s why you annoy me.” He braces himself with a deep breath, looking out at the sea spreading before them. “Camille didn’t want me to tell the truth because she said it was depressing and people didn’t want a sob story out of me but something that could inspire them. The truth is I started cooking because my mother suffers from severe depression. She’s received help and she’s better now, has been for years. But when I was growing up, there were times she barely could get out of bed to shower, let alone cook for us. That’s why I learned in the first place. I didn’t learn to earn money to make ends meet for us, but out of necessity. Eventually, she started pushing her demons away and joined me in the kitchen. Perhaps she was tired of eating overcooked noodles.”
Alec chuckles, deep and low. “I’m sure people would indeed find it inspiring to know even the great Magnus Bane used to struggle to cook pasta.”
Magnus gives him a gentle shove, his eyes crinkling with amusement. “Inspired by my failures?”
“Inspired by the fact that you tried again and again until you didn’t fail anymore,” Alec corrects, with the same blunt honesty Magnus has come to care for as much as he does the man.
It is what brought them here in the first place, after all, and for that alone, Magnus is grateful.
“I don’t know.”
“Your motivation to do better came out of love,” Alec says, almost matter-of-factly. “That’s pretty damn inspiring if you ask me.”
It feels like the world is slowly morphing around him, shaped by Alec’s vision of him, flawed but inherently good. The fog that usually surrounds Magnus’ mind fades away slowly, his burning lungs filling with air he didn’t know he was missing.
His heart hits his chest so hard he fears it will break his ribs for a moment, but all it does is vanquish the dark hole that has been living there for a while, washing away the nothingness he thought had become a cardinal part of him.
Magnus promised himself he wouldn’t rely on others’ opinions of him to feed his own self-esteem anymore, but old habits die hard, and Alec’s abundance of kindness is far different from the dryness Camille’s fake attentions used to provide him with. They were the illusion of a helping hand, which made the subsequential punch to the gut even more painful, but Alec… Alec expects no retribution for the consideration he dispenses freely, and it fills the hole with something Magnus had thought he had given up on, a determination to be deserving of his unshakable faith.
“I don’t want to disappoint people,” Magnus says softly, struggling to get the words past the lump in his throat. “I’ve already let them down too many times. Catarina, Ragnor, Raphael, Simon… They followed me through my worst times because they trusted me and I broke that trust. Even after Camille was gone, with the new restaurant, they counted on me and I didn’t listen to them because I wanted to prove something. I didn’t realize I was trying to prove I could live with the remains of Camille’s influence, when I should have worked on dismantling it instead.”
“I don’t know them very well, but I don’t think you’ve disappointed them,” Alec answers. “Even Ragnor, who seems perpetually disappointed in everyone in one way or another.”
Magnus laughs, shaking his head fondly. “He’s a grumpy fucker but he’s my grumpy fucker.”
“They love you,” Alec presses, “and they know you’re doing your best. If you ask me, that’s more than good enough.”
Magnus groans, laying his forehead against his knee. “You’re making it hard for me to wallow in self-pity. Stop being smart, it’s annoying.”
Alec reaches out to touch his shoulder, fingers gently mapping soothing circles. “I’m not just a pretty face, Magnus,” he says jokingly.
Magnus looks up with puckered lips. “So pretty,” he sighs forlornly.
Alec blushes, the teasing vanishing from his eyes to be replaced with something sweet and bashful.
He glances away, clearing his throat. “About your restaurant, do you know what you’ll do next?”
His tone is more curious than concerned. Magnus wraps his arms around his knee, the mug warm between his hands.
“I have a few ideas,” he says non-committically. “Nothing very clear yet.”
Alec lifts an eyebrow at him, dubious. “Why do I feel like that’s a lie?”
Magnus purses his lips in annoyance that is belied by the wild stutter of his heart. “You’re too perspective for my liking.”
“Food critic,” Alec says matter-of-factly, pointing at himself with a proud grin.
Magnus rolls his eyes, taking a sip of his tea. Alec is looking at him expectantly and, as he has come to realize fighting it is utterly pointless, words spill out of his mouth.
“I had a silly idea a few years back. It was actually what I first had in mind for Le Petit Paris before it became… well, that. But things happened and it never came to fruition.”
“Let me guess,” Alec chimes, sounding annoyed before he even gives Magnus a chance to clarify, “Camille didn’t like it.”
Magnus hates how easily Alec came to that conclusion. “She didn’t.”
Alec’s eyes are shining with excitement under the moonlight, Camille’s mere existence quickly forgotten. “What is it?”
“I’ve always wanted to get back to what cooking was about for me. Something genuine and heartfelt, deeply rooted into different cultures and local knowledge of the ingredients,” he says. “Back to what my mother taught me food was about. So I wanted to travel around the world, learn all those amazing techniques and recipes from locals and add my own twist to it in my restaurant. It wouldn’t have a menu, because it’d be me creating different dishes every day according to what product I’d receive from local producers and the latest wonders I’d have discovered. But Camille said it’d be a money pit, which wasn’t entirely wrong.”
“Every restaurant is a money pit at first,” Alec points out. “And I don’t know her, but I’m pretty sure Camille didn’t like it because it was your idea and she didn’t want you to have anything she couldn’t take credit for.”
Magnus grimaces. “That sounds accurate.”
“It’s a great idea, Magnus,” Alec asserts firmly. “You could even film your travels, what you learn around a country’s culture through its food.”
Magnus straightens up in his seat, fingers gripping the couch cushion out of an inexplicable reflex of excitement. “And actually highlight where the traditions come from and the people who help them live on to this day!”
“With your name attached to this, I’m sure Netflix would buy that in a heartbeat.”
“Ugh, please, no more Netflix,” Magnus says, lips trutting up with disdain. “I’ve had enough of them.”
Alec laughs lightly. “A YouTube series, then.”
Magnus nods rapidly, head buzzing with a million new ideas. “I could start in Indonesia,” he rushes out, as though they all might disappear if he doesn’t get them all out in the next minute. “I could take my mother with me.”
“You can retell your own story. Claim back your narrative,” Alec says, sounding just as excited as Magnus feels. “Show people who you really are.”
“What if they don’t like who I really am?” Magnus asks before he can stop himself.
Alec scoffs, as though the mere idea is preposterous. “Well, then you don’t want them watching your shows anyway. You’re perfect the way you are, Magnus. Anyone who asks you to be anything other than that is a fucking idiot.”
Magnus truly wishes Alec would stop with his blunt honesty, just as much as he hopes he never, ever does.
He’s close enough to reach out, as he always seems to be these days, but this time Magnus does, his fist closing around the soft material of Alec’s sweater to pull him closer. Alec’s breath stutters against his lips but when Magnus kisses him, he melts into it almost immediately, his hands flying up to lay on Magnus’ waist.
And then Magnus’ hands are buried in that ridiculously disheveled hair of his and Alec’s arms are tightening around him until Magnus is all but flushed against him, willingly going. Something falls and shatters on the floor, but it is far beyond what either of them cares for or is even vaguely aware of right now. Magnus grips at Alec’s hair, kissing him harder. Alec makes a low noise in the back of his throat when Magnus’ thumb skates gingerly along the shell of his ear and then down to his jaw where Alec’s rough stubble scratches under his touch in the most delicious way.
Alec tastes of chamomile and a faint hint of mint and a million things Magnus wants to lose himself to. All his defences crumble and give way to this whole new avenue Alec’s lips are tracing for him, warm and mysterious and so very worth it. His mind is still buzzing, but he would be hard-pressed to remember another cause for it but the tender press of Alec’s mouth against his own and the clashing fierceness of his embrace.
When Magnus pulls back, panting heavily, he almost crumbles as Alec chases after his lips, his billowing breath crashing against Magnus’ burning mouth.
“I need to write all of this down before I forget,” he murmurs with a quiet laugh, slowly unhooking his fingers from where they are tangled in Alec’s hair.
Alec whimpers in disappointment and Magnus might as well fucking give up on life altogether.
So he kisses Alec again instead, and it doesn’t matter if he forgets one or two ideas, because his head is flowing with them, and his heart is bursting with happiness.
They are forced to get back instead half an hour later, when even the warmth of each other’s arms fails to keep the biting cold at bay. Their fingers are hooked together as Magnus guides Alec upstairs to the guest room, coming to a halt in front of the door.
“Good night, Magnus,” Alec says. His voice is hoarse from the kisses they shared, his hair mussed and his lips red and shiny, and it takes all of Magnus’ self-control to leave it at that instead of finding out how rough he can make it.
He presses a soft, chaste kiss to Alec’s lips. “Good night, Alexander,” he murmurs. “Thanks for believing in me.”
Alec’s eyes soften, and he leans in to steal another quick peck from Magnus’ willing mouth. “Always,” he whispers back.
It takes another minute, but eventually Alec detaches himself from Magnus and walks into the room, leaving Magnus to get to his own.
He brushes his teeth and gets ready for bed, following the same mechanical movements he knows by heart, because his mind hasn’t quite fully come back to him just yet. His face is marked by an indelible smile that doesn’t leave him even as he slips into bed, his heart still rummaging in his chest.
Perhaps it is why he is still tossing around an hour later, the feeling of Alec’s lips still lingering against his own, his skin still burning where Alec has laid his hands. He feels restless, and whenever he shuts his eyes and tries to urge himself to go to sleep, he’s haunted by hazel eyes and tender smiles that make them crinkle softly at the corner.
He feels a bit like a teenager, laying in his bed in his mother’s home, unable to go to sleep because his head is too preoccupied by matters of the heart to allow him otherwise.
He checks the time on his phone for an umpteenth time, the screen aggressively flashing that it is past two in the morning, and finally decides to do something about it, pushing the covers off of him and jumping out of bed.
He braces himself with a deep breath, runs his hands over his face and walks out of the room, only to stop dead in his steps when a thought flashes through his mind.
It’s past 2am, and Alec is most certainly asleep.
“Pull yourself together,” he mumbles under his breath, shaking his head at his own ridiculousness.
He heads back to his room, closing the door behind him, and falls head first into the bed with a groan. Only to raise back up a moment later, heading for the door again.
He opens it and almost runs head first into the subject of his restless hours.
Alec’s fist is raised as though about to knock and his lips are parted in surprise. He blinks at Magnus, eyes dropping to his naked chest.
“Get in here,” Magnus demands, grabbing at Alec’s wrist to haul him forward, slamming their mouths together and the door shut in the same movement.
Alec moans against his lips, stumbling on his feet. It sends them both flying backwards, but Magnus manages to salvage their fall by directing them to the bed, Alec falling on top of him with a chuckle.
His mouth drifts to Magnus’ jaw line. “Couldn’t sleep,” he mutters shortly, the necessity of uttering full sentences forgotten in the heat of the moment. “Heard you in the hallway.”
Magnus’ fingers grip at Alec’s hair, tugging his head back up to capture his mouth again.
“The guest room is very cold,” he says, a blatant lie. “You should stay here tonight.”
Alec nods in agreement, fingers drifting over the naked skin of Magnus’ stomach.
“Maybe you should stay tomorrow too,” Magnus suggests, a little out of breath already.
Alec chuckles against his mouth. “I have nothing else planned.”
Magnus pulls back, resting his head on his pillow and glancing up at Alec, eyes drifting over his face, fingers following the path his gaze takes with a reverence that surprises him.
“Maybe I can take you out on an actual first date,” Magnus murmurs, lips pulled into a teasing smile.
Alec turns his head to press a kiss into Magnus’ palm, nipping playfully at his thumb when it brushes against his bottom lip. “First date?” he parrots, sounding far too amused for Magnus’ taste. “Magnus, we’ve had something like three dates already.”
Magnus scoffs. “No, we haven’t.”
Alec leans back, resting his weight on his forearms, to give Magnus a look of complete disbelief. “Are you kidding?”
Magnus frowns. “No,” he says dubiously, although it winds up sounding more like a question than he anticipated.
“I made you apple turnovers?” Alec sounds a little offended now. “I took you to my best friend’s food truck at eleven in the fucking evening!”
Magnus perks a brow. “So what?”
“Oh my God,” Alec whispers under his breath. He leans forward, his nose skimming lightly against Magnus’. “Those were dates, chef.”
Magnus shakes his head stubbornly. “They don’t count.”
Alec rolls his eyes, fondly exasperated. “Yes, they do.”
“No, they don’t. I was trying to prove a point.”
Alec gives him a pointed look. “Really? You’re gonna argue with me on this?”
Magnus slips a hand at the nape of his neck, pulling him closer. “Get used to it, Lightwood,” he mutters, lips tugging in a mischievous smirk.
Alec opens his mouth to argue, but Magnus muffles his retort with a kiss, grinning against his lips.
“This isn’t over,” Alec muffles between kisses. “You’re lucky I like your stupid face.”
“You’re lucky I like yours,” Magnus replies, a tad petulantly. “And the market vendors thought you were too pretty to go to waste.”
Alec lets out a strong, bemused laugh that surprises the both of them.
Magnus slams his hand against Alec’s mouth. “Shh,” he murmurs, but he’s laughing too.
Alec bites on his bottom lip, and has at least the decency of looking apologetic as he buries his head in Magnus’ neck to stifle his laughter. Magnus rubs at his naked shoulders, a grin that he has no control over spreading across his face.
“You’re insufferable,” Alec mutters against the tensed skin of his neck and a long shiver runs down Magnus’ spine when he pecks soft but burning kisses along his collarbone.
“I have a feeling we wouldn’t be exactly where we are if you didn’t like it at least a little bit,” Magnus replies against his ear, pressing a kiss at the shell.
Alec hums in amused approval, mouth travelling down to Magnus’ abs, but offers no retort, his usual wit forgotten in the face of the situation.
Magnus is grateful for it. Magnus is grateful for all of it.
The Way To a Chef’s Heart — six months with Magnus Bane
By A. Lightwood.
I haven’t written a review in a long time, but it has a lot to do with the fact that I quit my job a couple of weeks after my last one to follow the man I love on a crazy adventure. It only makes sense for my first review in six months to be about Magnus Bane. It will also be my last, as I now have other engagements that have become a priority.
Magnus Bane reopened his restaurant after a six month closure that left many distraught. Your humble servant writing these lines was one of them, although it also cost me a full tank of gas. Best money I’ve ever spent, if you ask me.
Le Petit Paris went through a complete makeover, down to its very name. The Globe Cooker opened last week with a whole new concept and, thankfully, a whole new decor too. Gone is the vampire lair. The restaurant’s main body is now cream walls elegantly decorated with art from the chef’s many travels, which inspired both the Globe Cooker’s concept and Magnus Bane’s newly launched (and already dizzyingly successful) YouTube series of the same name. The design is completed by a large and absolutely stunning botanical wall, whose idea my trustworthy sources tell me came from a NYU professor whom Magnus Bane met about seven months ago when he interrupted her dinner in a quaint burger joint.
There is no pompous French vernacular on the menu and for that alone, I am grateful. It saves me the trouble of sounding like an idiot when I order food. Now I only sound like an idiot the rest of the time. Also, you’ll be happy to know there isn’t any gold on the plates, at least not in the literal way. Metaphorically, well, it’s a whole other story.
The Globe Cooker doesn’t have a menu. Instead, it promises you an adventure, and a different one every day according to the local produce harvested at this time of the year and the chef’s latest discoveries. I love it when a restaurant flirts with me like that.
What matters, of course, is how you magnify these products and ideas into a plate. And for that, one must answer the pressing question I know you are seeking if you’re reading these lines having already read my previous reviews of Magnus Bane’s restaurant.
I couldn’t possibly taste everything on the night of the grand reopening (not for a lack of trying, I can assure you), but everything I managed to get my mouth on was otherworldly. I’m talking solely about the food. (No, I’m not.)
I’ve said before that Magnus Bane is an extraordinary chef, but there is a welcomed simplicity and beautiful authenticity to the dishes served at the Globe Cooker. I don’t believe those are essential to good food. All recipes are bound to transform over time, and these changes are often made to improve their quality. Magnus Bane came back to the roots of the food he serves, though, using the traditional techniques he learned from the people who keep them alive and adding to them this special and divine touch that is completely his. The result is gorgeous, and my eyes are still watering at the thought of the mie lethek I had that night. I meant my mouth. (Or did I?)
It is a distinct proof, with every mouthful, that absolutely everything Magnus Bane does is extraordinary. And I do mean everything. Again, just talking about the food. (No, I’m not.)
As for Magnus Bane’s heart? Well, I’ve heard from an extremely trustworthy source that it is thriving. And in good hands. His own.
He’s asked me to specify that his heart is happily cradled by other hands for extra warmth, these days. Most of the time, they’re a little busy holding a camera but they’ll do their best to keep it safe and nurtured.
Ps: To Magnus Bane’s fanbase, old and new, I hope there are no hard feelings between us. I’ve been a fan of Magnus Bane before he even knew I existed and I’ll continue to be for, I hope, a very long time. I hate that I ever had to write a bad review about him, but I have no regrets that I did because it gave me an incomparable (and reluctant at first) access to witness with my own eyes what great chefs are made of, the heart and soul of their craft. And apparently, the way to a chef’s heart is through scathing reviews. My tone might not have made it as clear as it should have been. Or perhaps it’s my sense of humor, even though I’m objectively hilarious. I could have been a bit more polite or a little less brutally blunt about it. But I have a feeling I wouldn’t be sitting here writing these lines if he didn’t like it at least a little bit.
PPs: Date count: 91 +3 (because they definitely count) = 94.