Alec took a deep breath and let it out. Well, he’d come this far; he might as well go on. The bare lightbulb hanging overhead cast sweeping shadows as he reached forward and pressed the buzzer.
A moment later a voice echoed through the stairwell. “WHO CALLS UPON THE HIGH WARLOCK?”
“Er,” Alec said. “It’s me. I mean, Alec. Alec Lightwood.”
There was a sort of silence, as if even the hallway itself were surprised. Then a ping, and the second door opened, letting him out onto the stairwell. He headed up the rickety stairs into the darkness, which smelled like pizza and dust. The second floor landing was bright, the door at the far end open. Magnus Bane was leaning in the entryway.
Compared to the first time Alec has seen him, he looked fairly normal. His black hair still stood up in spikes, and he looked sleepy; his face, even with its cat’s eyes, very young. He wore a black t-shirt with the words ONE MILLION DOLLARS picked out across the chest in sequins, and jeans that hung low on his hips, low enough that Alec looked away, down at his own shoes. Which were boring.
“Alexander Lightwood,” said Magnus. He had just the faintest trace of an accent, something Alec couldn’t put his finger on, a lilt to his vowels. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Alec looked past Magnus. “Do you have — company?”
Magnus crossed his arms, which did good things for his biceps, and leaned against the side of the door. “Why do you want to know?”
“I was hoping I could come in and talk to you.”
“Hmmm.” Magnus’ eyes raked him up and down. They really did shine in the dark, like a cat’s. “Well, all right then.” He turned abruptly away and disappeared into the apartment; after a startled moment, Alec followed.
The loft looked different without a hundred churning bodies in it. It was — well, not ordinary, but the sort of space someone might live in. Like most lofts, it had a big central room split into “rooms” by groupings of furniture. There was a square collection of sofas and tables off to the right, which Magnus gestured Alec toward. Alec sat down on a gold velvet sofa with elegant wooden curlicues on the arms.
“Would you like some tea?” Magnus asked. He wasn’t sitting in a chair, but had sprawled himself on a tufted ottoman, his long legs stretched out in front of him.
Alec nodded. He felt incapable of saying anything. Anything interesting or intelligent, that was. It was always Jace who said the interesting, intelligent things. He was Jace’s parabatai and that was all the glory he needed or wanted: like being the dark star to someone else’s supernova. But this was somewhere Jace couldn’t go with him, something Jace couldn’t help him with. “Sure.”
His right hand felt suddenly hot. He looked down, and realized he was holding a waxed paper cup from Joe, the Art of Coffee. It smelled like chai. He jumped, and only barely escaped spilling on himself. “By the Angel —”
“I LOVE that expression,” said Magnus. “It’s so quaint.”
Alec stared at him. “Did you steal this tea?”
Magnus ignored the question. “So,” he said. “Why are you here?”
Alec took a gulp of the stolen tea. “I wanted to thank you,” he said, when he came up for air. “For saving my life.”
Magnus leaned back on his hands. His t-shirt rode up over his flat stomach, and this time Alec had nowhere else to look. “You wanted to thank me.”
“You saved my life,” Alec said, again. “But I was delirious, and I don’t think I really thanked you. I know you didn’t have to do it. So thank you.”
Magnus’ eyebrows had disappeared up into his hairline. “You’re . . .welcome?”
Alec set his tea down. “Maybe I should go.”
Magnus sat up. “After you came so far? All the way to Brooklyn? Just to thank me?” He was grinning. “Now that would be a wasted effort.” He reached out and put his hand to Alec’s cheek, his thumb brushing along the cheekbone. His touch felt like fire, training tendrils of sparks in its wake. Alec sat frozen in surprise — surprise at the gesture, and surprise at the effect it was having on him. Magnus’ eyes narrowed, and he dropped his hand. “Huh,” he said to himself.
“What?” Alec was suddenly very worried that he’d done something wrong. “What is it?”
“You’re just . . .” A shadow moved behind Magnus; with fluid agility, the warlock twisted around and picked up a small gray and white tabby cat from the floor. The cat curled into the crook of his arm and looked at Alec with suspicion. Now two pairs of gold-green eyes were trained on him darkly. “Not what I expected.”
“From a Shadowhunter?”
“From a Lightwood.”
“I didn’t realize you knew my family that well.”
“I’ve known your family for hundreds of years.” Magnus’ eyes searched his face. “Now your sister, she’s a Lightwood. You—’
“She said you liked me.”
“Izzy. My sister. She told me you liked me. Liked me, liked me.”
“Liked you, liked you?” Magnus buried his grin in the cat’s fur. “Sorry. Are we twelve now? I don’t recall saying anything to Isabelle . . .”
“Jace said it too.” Alec was blunt; it was the only way he knew how to be. “That you liked me. That when he buzzed up here, you thought he was me and you were disappointed that it was him. That never happens.”
“Doesn’t it? Well, it should.”
Alec was startled. “No — I mean Jace, he’s . . . Jace.”
“He’s trouble,” said Magnus. “But you are totally without guile. Which in a Lightwood, is a conundrum. You’ve always been a plotting sort of family, like low-rent Borgias. But there isn’t a lie in your face. I get the feeling everything you say is straightforward.”
Alec leaned forward. “Do you want to go out with me?”
Magnus blinked. “See, that’s what I mean. Straightforward.”
Alec chewed his lip and said nothing.
“Why do you want to go out with me?” Magnus inquired. He was rubbing Chairman Meow’s head, his long fingers folding the cat’s ears down. “Not that I’m not highly desirable, but the way you asked, it seemed as if you were having some sort of fit —”
“I just do,” Alec said. “And I thought you liked me, so you’d say yes, and I could try — I mean, we could try —” He put his face in his hands. “Maybe this was a mistake.”
Magnus’ voice was gentle. “Does anyone know you’re gay?”
Alec’s head jerked up; he found he was breathing a little hard, as if he’d run a race. But what could he do, deny it? When he’d come here to do exactly the opposite? “Clary,” he said, hoarsely. “Which is . . . Which was an accident. And Izzy, but she’d never say anything.”
“Not your parents. Not Jace?”
Alec thought about Jace knowing, and pushed the thought away, hard and fast. “No. No, and I don’t want them to know, especially Jace.”
“I think you could tell him.” Magnus rubbed Chairman Meow under the chin. “He went to pieces like a jigsaw puzzle when he thought you were going to die. He cares —”
“I’d rather not.” Alec was still breathing quickly. He rubbed at the knees of his jeans with his fists. “I’ve never had a date,” he said in a low voice. “Never kissed anyone. Not ever. Izzy said you liked me and I thought —”
“I’m not unsympathetic. But do you like me? Because this being gay business doesn’t mean you can just throw yourself at any guy and it’ll be fine because he’s not a girl. There are still people you like and people you don’t.”
Alec thought of his bedroom back at the Institute, of being in a delirium of pain and poison when Magnus had come in. He had barely recognized him. He was fairly sure he’d been screaming for his parents, for Jace, for Izzy, but his voice would only come out on a whisper. He remembered Magnus’ hands on him, his fingers cool and gentle. He remembered the death-grip he’d kept on Magnus’ wrist, for hours and hours, even after the pain had passed and he knew he would be all right. He remembered watching Magnus’ face in the light of the rising sun, the gold of sunrise sparking gold out of his eyes, and thinking how oddly beautiful he was, with his cat’s gaze and grace.
“Yes,” Alec said. “I like you.”
He met Magnus’ gaze squarely. The warlock was looking at him with a sort of admixture of curiosity and affection and puzzlement. “It’s so odd,” Magnus said. “Genetics. Your eyes, that color —” He stopped and shook his head.
“The Lightwoods you knew didn’t have blue eyes?”
“Green-eyed monsters,” said Magnus, and grinned. He deposited Chairman Meow on the ground, and the cat moved over to Alec, and rubbed against his leg. “The Chairman likes you.”
“Is that good?”
“I never date anyone my cat doesn’t like,” Magnus said easily, and stood up. “So let’s say Friday night?”
A great wave of relief came over Alec. “Really? You want to go out with me?”
Magnus shook his head. “You have to stop playing hard to get, Alexander. It makes things difficult.” He grinned. He had a grin like Jace’s — not that they looked anything alike, but the sort of grin that lit up his whole face. “Come on, I’ll walk you out.”
Alec drifted after Magnus toward the front door, feeling as if a weight had been taken off his shoulders, one he hadn’t even known he was carrying. Of course he’d have to come up with an excuse for where he was going Friday night, something Jace wouldn’t want to participate in, something he’d need to do alone. Or he could pretend to be sick and sneak out. He was so lost in thought he almost banged into the front door, which Magnus was leaning against, looking at him through eyes narrowed to crescents.
“What is it?” Alec said.
“Never kissed anyone?” Magnus said. “No one at all?”
“No,” said Alec, hoping this didn’t disqualify him from being datable. “Not a real kiss —”
“Come here.” Magnus took him by the elbows and pulled him close. For a moment Alec was entirely disoriented by the feeling of being so close to someone else, to the kind of person he’d wanted to be close to for so long. Magnus was long and lean but not skinny; his body was hard, his arms lightly muscled but strong; he was an inch or so taller than Alec, which hardly ever happened, and they fit together perfectly. Magnus’ finger was under his chin, tilting his face up, and then they were kissing. Alec heard a small hitching gasp come from his own throat and then their mouths were pressed together with a sort of controlled urgency. Magnus, Alec thought dazedly, really knew what he was doing. His lips were soft, and he parted Alec’s expertly, exploring his mouth: a symphony of lips, teeth, tongue, every movement waking up a nerve ending Alec had never known he had.
He found Magnus’ waist with his fingers, touching the strip of bare skin he’d been trying to avoid looking at before, and slid his hands up under Magnus’ shirt. Magnus jerked with surprise, then relaxed, his hands running down Alec’s arms, over his chest, his waist, finding the belt loops on Alec’s jeans and using them to pull him closer. His mouth left Alec’s and Alec felt the hot pressure of his lips on his throat, where the skin was so sensitive that it seemed directly connected to the bones in his legs, which were about to give out. Just before he slid to the floor, Magnus let him go. His eyes were shining and so was his mouth.
“Now you’ve been kissed,” he said, reached behind him, and yanked the door open. “See you Friday?”
Alec cleared his throat. He felt dizzy, but he also felt alive — blood rushing through his veins like traffic at top speed, everything seemingly almost too brightly colored. As he stepped through the door, he turned and looked at Magnus, who was watching him bemusedly. He reached forward and took hold of the front of Magnus’ t-shirt and dragged the warlock toward him. Magnus stumbled against him, and Alec kissed him, hard and fast and messy and unpracticed, but with everything he had. He pulled Magnus against him, his own hand between them, and felt Magnus’ heart stutter in his chest.
He broke off the kiss, and drew back.
“Friday,” he said, and let Magnus go. He backed away, down the landing, Magnus looking after him. The warlock crossed his arms over his shirt — wrinkled where Alec had grabbed it — and shook his head, grinning.
“Lightwoods,” Magnus said. “They always have to have the last word.”
He shut the door behind him, and Alec ran down the steps, taking them two at a time, his blood still singing in his ears like music.