Water Under The Bridge

Chapter 1:
for the smile is the beginning of love


*.*.*.*.*

Tuesday mornings were notoriously slow—slower even than Sunday mornings, though that shouldn't have been possible. And yet there Alec was. Bored out of his God damn mind, all because people had the nerve to have jobs and school and whatever else it was that kept them away during these hours. And it didn't make any sort of sense at all, because people had school and work during the rest of the week as well, but it was never as slow as it was on Tuesday mornings.

And he guessed he shouldn't have been bored, exactly, as there was plenty to do: cages to clean, cats to brush, to feed, to pet, to check up on, to exercise; there was paperwork to do, inventory to take, dishes to be washed, so really, it wasn't that he was bored, he was just…

Lonely, he supposed. It was never any fun when things were slow. He didn't particularly care for people, but it was nice to have people to talk to, if he so wanted to. And besides, when they were busy, he had help in there, and the people who would come to help him were the ones he actually liked, could talk to all too easily.

But it was Tuesday morning, and they were notoriously slow, had always been notoriously slow, so it was just him in the cat room that day, all by his lonesome self. His sister Isabelle was in the dog room, their receptionist Clary was at the front desk, and their dog walker Maia was out, well, walking some of the dogs. The vet on call that day, Luke, was in surgery spaying a dog, his assistants were with him.

It was a slow day, so a small staff where everyone was spread out, and therefore it was a lonely day.

With a wistful sigh, Alec looked back down to the clipboard with all his notes and to-do lists on it, and pursed his lips in thought. He wondered idly why he had agreed to come back and take over for his parents in the same moment that he decided that it was definitely feeding time at the chorus of hungry meows that were suddenly surrounding him.

"I'm sorry, I'm rusty; cut me some slack here," he murmured under his breath, aware when he looked at the time that he was decidedly late with their breakfast.

Once upon a time, he had had this down to a science, could run the whole business in his sleep. And he very nearly had; his parents had entrusted the place to him when they took vacations or went out of town for extended periods to take care of other business matters or whathaveyou, and he had taken the task oh so very seriously, taking little to no time off, and not leaving unless he was sure everything would run smoothly in his absence.

But that had been so, so long ago. It had all been as easy as breathing before, but now… Now it had to be relearned, those muscles needed to be stretched and worked out before he was back to where he had been before. Really, they should have had Jace or Izzy take over instead of calling him back home, but who was he to argue with an excuse to run away from the shitty situation he had created for himself in what had been his old life?

"You must be new," an unfamiliar voice said, sweet as honey and twice as tempting, startling Alec as he pulled the keys to the cat cages out from the desk, where they weren't supposed to be kept but where he kept them anyway because he could.

He looked up to the doorway to see who was actually free enough to come to an animal rescue at 10am on a Tuesday—more like to see who such a voice could have come out of, but—and dropped the keys back onto the desk in front of him when his eyes roamed over the man who was standing there. The loud clattering sound earned him the stray hiss from a cat who was rather jumpy, and a few more whining meows that he could barely hear, though they were loud enough that they were usually hard to ignore.

(Fuck.)

Suddenly it was less who had the free time to come to an animal shelter on a Tuesday morning and more when did Alec get luck enough that someone that hot would come to the shelter during his shift?

"I, uhm," Alec licked his bottom lip, trying to keep some sort of wit and sense about him.

Which was very much so easier said than done when the man was standing there like that. Leaning in the door way. Smirking. Looking delicious as sin in too tight jeans and a god damn sparkling black jacket on top of a dark turquoise top.

What the actual fuck. He was hard pressed to say whether he was being rewarded or punished in that moment, truly.

"I'm not, actually," he managed to say finally, because fuck, Lightwood, get it together.

"Oh?" the man said in reply, raising a perfect eyebrow at Alec, and he wondered curiously how everything about him was so in place.

He was definitely overdressed to be looking at cats, but at the same time, somehow, he looked like he belonged there, like Alec was the one, in his worn jeans and light blue, wrinkled t-shirt, who was wearing the wrong attire.

"I've been coming here every Tuesday morning for something like a year now; if you're not new, then why haven't I ever seen that pretty face before? I would definitely remember someone like you, you know," he insisted with an appreciative flourish of his hands, a long slow trail of his eyes down Alec's body.

Alec felt himself flush at that, at the insinuation, at the words pretty face.

(He thought Alec was pretty.)

"I've been away," Alec began, looking down to the keys that were still on the desk. "I'm Maryse and Robert's eldest son, Alec, I grew up working here, but I… moved away for a while," he shrugged, the thrill of being called pretty having worn off much too quickly, leaving him much more somber as he remembered everything that had happened, that had had him away for as long as he had been.

(Maybe the man would call him pretty again, and the exhilarating feeling would come back.)

The man let out a long breath that Alec hadn't known he was holding.

"Alexander," he said lowly, somber himself suddenly, it seemed. "Well, I've heard plenty about you at least," he added, voice chipper once again. Alec looked back up at him, a smile tugging itself into place on his face. "What everyone failed to mention, though, is just how attractive you are. If I'd known this is what you looked like, I would have been here as soon as you arrived home," he winked at Alec, who flushed again.

"I, uhm," Alec stammered again, unsure what to say to that. Flirting had never quite been Alec's forte, no matter how badly he wished for the opposite to be true. "Sorry, did you want to see a cat? You've been coming here every Tuesday you said?" he asked, his curiosity catching back up with him.

Unless he was after a job—which he could just have, in Alec's opinion, were that the case—Alec was at a loss for why he would come every single week for a year. A year. Who did that?

The man gave Alec another long up and down look that made him shiver despite himself. If he really was going to be there every Tuesday… Alec was doomed, if this was the way he was going to act when he was there.

Not that Alec could say that he would mind, of course. This seemed as good a way to go out as any, in his opinion.

"I'm Magnus Bane, in case you were wondering," he said, pushing off the door frame without a reply to Alec's questions.

He walked over to the desk and took the keys from where Alec still hadn't picked them up from. And Alec knew technically he wasn't supposed to let him do that, should have snatched them back from him and insisted that if, he wanted to see a cat, Alec would have to get them out for him.

But Magnus was walking away from Alec and the desk with the keys before he could bring himself to actually do it, and his ass looked fantastic in those jeans, and Alec was nothing short of mesmerized at the sight. Well, what his parents didn't know wouldn't hurt any of them. Not that any of them would ever even think to ask about something like this happening. So it was fine, everything was fine.

"Okay. Nice to meet you, Magnus Bane," Alec said, barely able to tear his eyes off the other's rear end when Magnus looked back over his shoulder to wink at Alec again, and why did Alec think Magnus knew exactly what he had been doing?

Fucking hell.

"The pleasure is all mine," he purred, before he looked back to the cage in front of him.

The cat in the cage, a pure white thing with a single spot of black on her chest, was rubbing against the door in the way she did when she wanted the person in front of it to open the door and pet her. She was still meowing as she had been before Magnus had arrived, but less for food and more for attention now.

"I know, baby," Magnus said lowly, clicking his tongue gently at her as he unlocked the cage and shoved his hands into it, picking her up and holding her to his chest gingerly with one hand, petting her head with the other.

She shoved her head under his chin suddenly, and Magnus chuckled, hand finding other territory to wander over. And if that wasn't the single sexiest thing Alec had ever seen before in his life…

His mouth was suddenly oh so very dry.

"So," he managed to say, swallowing when Magnus' eyes found his, wide and curious and watching. And Alec thought that Magnus was only different from the cats around them in that he could actually unlock the cages. "You… come in here to pet the cats?" he asked.

"Well," Magnus shrugged, still loving on the cat in question. "That… and help with whatever chores need doing. Every now and then I'll adopt a cat that just captures my heart and that I can't help but take home, but, for the most part, your parents… considered me help they didn't have to pay, and it's always worked out for everyone; I get something to do on Tuesday mornings, and whoever is stuck on cat duty—which was usually your sister—gets a helper and some company. Where is Isabelle this fine morning anyway?" he asked.

And that couldn't have been a twinge of jealousy Alec felt at Magnus asking after his sister, he thought to himself. It simply couldn't have been.

"She's with the dogs. She was only ever in here because Jace refused to do cats and she had no choice; she's more a dog person. Well, actually," he paused, thoughtful, before he added, "she's more a reptile person. But given the choice between dogs and cats she'll take dogs. And I don't mind the cats, so I told her I'd switch with her."

The cats were easier than the dogs were anyway, he thought, not that he wasn't up for a challenge, but, well, he needed to ease back into it, needed to get used to being back home and running everything slowly but surely. It wasn't quite like riding a bike; everything he had once known was forgotten for the most part in favor of other things he had learned for his old life. It wasn't as though he had ever planned on coming back to this place and taking over, wasn't as though he had thought he would ever need to know any of it ever again—that had never been The Plan. And maybe he was so slow to readjust because he was still licking his wounds, though it had been a considerate amount of time since everything had happened.

"Such a good big brother," Magnus said, voice teasing.

"Well," Alec cleared his throat, gave Magnus a small, tight smile. "If you're not too busy, you can help me feed the cats; I'm a bit behind," he shrugged with little embarrassment.

Magnus raised an eyebrow at him, but otherwise said nothing, simply returned the cat in his embrace to her cage, with a meow of protest from her, and turned to Alec.

"Let's get started, then."

*.*.*.*.*

It only took them a couple hours to get all the chores done, and little was said between them as they did it all, other than exchanges that had to do with the cats and where Maryse had moved this or what Robert had done with that and when had they changed kitty litters and why was that cage off limits now Jace did what to it.

It was comfortable though, somehow, to have this perfect stranger here with him, helping him with things, knowing as much, if not more, about everything as Alec did. It was unnecessary, of course, to have two people doing everything on a day as slow as this one was, but it was nice all the same. Alec felt at peace with Magnus around, if nervous as all hell, particularly whenever they strayed too close to each other or whenever their fingers brushed, or their sides bumped, but it was a calm kind of nervous, a contradiction upon itself.

Not that Alec was complaining, of course.

"Well that was…" Magnus fluttered his hand through the air as he threw himself down in the chair behind the desk, his sparkly jacket thrown across the back of it and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows—not shoved up like Alec would have done, but neatly rolled up.

He had taken great care to roll them up perfectly, too, and Alec had stared the entire time he had done it, not caring that Magnus was watching Alec watch him, an amused smile on his face all the while.

(God damn smug bastard.)

"... eventful. I have to say, when I usually came by to help out, your parents never quite utilized me in that way," Magnus finally finished as Alec came to perch himself on the edge of the desk near Magnus, eyes on him the whole time.

"Well, I think you'll find I operate a little bit differently from my parents," he shrugged.

"That you do," Magnus murmured, seemingly in awe, and that sent a thrill through Alec in much the same way Magnus calling him pretty earlier had.

He was starting to suspect, though, that everything Magnus did was going to send a thrill through him.

"So," Alec cleared his throat. "I don't… know if it's quite your taste—and you're welcome to say no—but there is some cold pizza in that fridge behind you that I have been looking forward to all day. Otherwise I think there should be stuff to make a sandwich too. And there are some drinks and probably other leftovers, too; as long as there isn't a name on it that says Maia, you can help yourself to any of it, honestly. She's the only one I'd hate to be on the bad side of," he said, aware that he was rambling as a silly smile came over Magnus' face.

If this was how his Tuesday morning visits were going to go, Alec blushing and Magnus smiling sweetly and flirting way too obviously, then Alec was going to be looking forward to every single agonizingly slow Tuesday morning for the rest of forever.

It was then, of course, that he realized Tuesday mornings only occurred once a week, and it put quite the damper on his jovial mood for a moment, until Magnus turned around to begin rummaging through the mini fridge Alec had invited him to. Why did the thought of getting to eat lunch with Magnus make Alec perk up so much?

At least there was a Tuesday every week, he thought, at least Magnus didn't only come once a month or something like that; at least Alec was guaranteed to see him at least once a week. He would like to see him more often than that, but, well, he would take once a week if he could have nothing else.

Magnus turned back around with the Tupperware container holding the pizza in question and two bottles of water, and waggled his eyebrows as he sat the loot down on the desk.

"It's been a while since I had cold pizza, actually," he said, took a slice and bit into it with a wink.

"Me, too; I actually stole it from Jace but, you didn't hear that," he winked back at Magnus as he grabbed a slice of pizza for himself as well, and bit into it.

Magnus hummed in amusement before they spent a few moments in silence, enjoying their food and stealing glances at each other every moment or so. And Alec wasn't a fool, he knew he liked Magnus, knew Magnus liked him back, knew there was something between the two of them that would be cruel to deny either of them from exploring…

So why couldn't Alec seem to bring himself to ask for Magnus' phone number?

"So," Magnus began after he swallowed his last bite of pizza, rubbing his hands on a napkin that had been left on the corner of the desk. "Where did you move away to for so long?" he asked, as simple as if they had just been talking about all that a moment ago rather than hours ago.

Alec held up a finger to signal that he needed a moment as he chased his own last bite down with a sip of water. Magnus didn't seem to waste time, and Alec couldn't help but admire that about him.

"I," he began, stretching himself so he was staring at the ceiling rather than at Magnus' gorgeous, overwhelming eyes. "... had something of a crisis, you could say—call it identity or midlife or existential or whatever else. And I couldn't… be here anymore. As much as I love this place and my family, I had to get out. I had to get away. So I shacked up with this girl…" he groaned to himself, closed his eyes against his own past stupidity. "... and we moved as far away as we could, which turned out to be California. And I hated the sun, and I hated the earthquakes, and I hated the culture, and I hated my job, and I think I even started to hate her…" he admitted quietly, for what was the first time out loud.

"... but I asked her to marry me anyway. Because that's what you're supposed to do, isn't it? Find some nice, pretty girl, move away from home to chase a dream, get married, have a few kids, live in domestic bliss working a job you hate until you can retire and you don't have a life anymore because you've spent it all hating everything. And I was prepared to accept that life, to… marry someone I didn't love, live a life I didn't want… I was just… ready to accept it, you know? Even though it wasn't exactly my own dream I was chasing."

At that, Alec finally looked back down to Magnus, and gave him a small smile, a shrug. It wasn't like him to open up so wholly to someone he had just met, and yet here he was anyway, offering his entire past, his entire self, to Magnus Bane.

If it wasn't so confusing, Alec might almost consider it romantic.

"So what happened? Clearly you didn't just accept it… did you?" Magnus asked, eyes flitting down to Alec's left hand, searching for a ring that wasn't there.

Alec drew his hand up, rubbed at the ring finger on his left hand self consciously.

"No," he shook his head. "I didn't. We eloped to Vegas, and we were waiting for our turn at one of those stupid casinos where you can get married in like, ten minutes or whatever it was. And she was so happy, and I was so… miserable. And they called our number, and we're standing up at the altar, and we've already gotten to the part where we put the rings on each other… and she put my ring on me, and I just… I couldn't do it. I told her I needed to go to the bathroom—fuck, Magnus, I said I needed to go to the bathroom—and her face just… fell. So, we told them we would get back in line and come through again, and I told her, when we were away from everyone, that I couldn't do it, that I didn't love her, that she deserved better.

"And she agreed with me, said we both deserved better. I thought she was gonna slap me at first—Lydia was nothing if not a firecracker—and we… left Vegas that night. We drove back to Cali, and I packed up my things, spent a few months couch surfing, staying in hotels, still miserable as hell… And then my mom called to tell me Jace had been in a motorcycle accident. He was fine, but… he's my best friend in the entire world, and I didn't find out until a week after the fact that he had almost died, you know?

"So because of that, I was making plans to come back home anyway when my mom called to tell me her and dad were getting a divorce and they needed me to take over the business while they get everything sorted out," he shrugged again. "So here I am."

Magnus nodded, silent in a still kind of way that was different from the other silences he had occupied that day; Alec could see the wheels turning in his head, could tell he was trying to figure out what to say, where to go from there. And he was afraid, suddenly, that Magnus would be scared off now and Alec would never see him again.

He really should have known better than to unload like that on a complete stranger.

Just as he was opening his mouth to apologize for it, Magnus reached a hand out to grab Alec's, gave a reassuring squeeze. And it felt like fire when Magnus touched him. If every accidental brush from earlier had left Alec's skin tingling in the most torturous of ways, Magnus flat out holding his hand felt like fire, felt like it was consuming his very being in the most overwhelming of ways, taking him over, making sure it was the only thing Alec could focus on.

In his dreams, his fantasies, he knew he would imagine that feeling on other parts of his body as well, would try to figure out what it would feel like, if it would drive him to madness, how long it would take to get him there.

He also knew that his fantasies would not be anywhere close to how it would surely feel in reality.

"That couldn't have been easy," he said softly. "Any of that. We all do things we shouldn't do, that we know isn't the right thing to do, because we think it's the right thing to do. Life is a confusing bitch, but… at least you didn't fall into that trap, at least you realized you deserve to be happy and with someone you love. You don't deserve to settle for a dream that isn't yours, Alexander, you don't deserve to waste your life hating it."

Alec could only smile in response to Magnus' words, squeezed his hand in turn. Maybe, he thought, that was why he had said any of that at all to Magnus in the first place; sometimes, it was just nice to hear from someone who was mostly unbiased that you weren't a shit person. Sometimes, you just needed validation that wouldn't plague you or make you feel guilty a year or ten years down the road.

And Alec didn't know how long he would know Magus for, but he knew, no matter how long it was, that he wouldn't hold any of that against Alec for even a fraction of that time.

And it was funny to be so sure of a fact about someone when you barely knew them at all, Alec thought, but…

He just had a feeling about this one.

*.*.*.*.*