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The Course of True Love (and First Dates)

Cassandra Clare

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  It was Friday night in Brooklyn, and the city lights were reflecting off the sky: orange-tinted clouds pressing summer heat against the sidewalks like a flower between the pages of a book. Magnus walked the floor of his loft apartment alone and wondered, with what amounted to only mild interest, if he was about to be stood up.

  Being asked out by a Shadowhunter had been among the top ten strangest and most unexpected things that had ever happened to Magnus, and Magnus had always endeavored to live a very unexpected life.

  He had surprised himself by agreeing.

  This past Tuesday had been a dull day at home with the cat and an inventory list that included horned toads. Then Alec Lightwood, eldest son of the Shadowhunters who ran the New York Institute, had turned up on Magnus’s doorstep, thanked him for saving his life, and asked him out while turning fifteen shades between puce and mauve. In response Magnus had promptly lost his mind, kissed him, and made a date for Friday.

  The whole thing had been extremely odd. For one thing, Alec had come and said thank you to Magnus for saving his life. Very few Shadowhunters would have thought of doing such a thing. They thought of magic as their right, due whenever they needed it, and regarded warlocks as either conveniences or nuisances. Most of the Nephilim would as soon have thought of thanking an elevator for arriving at the right floor.

  Then there was the fact that no Shadowhunter had ever asked Magnus out on a date before. They had wanted favors of several kinds, magical and sexual and strange. None of them had wanted to spend time with him, go out to a movie, and share popcorn. He wasn’t even sure Shadowhunters watched movies.

  It was such a simple thing, such a straightforward request—as if no Shadowhunter had ever broken a plate because Magnus had touched it, or spat “warlock” as if it were a curse. As if all old wounds could be healed, made as though they had never been, and the world could become the way it looked through Alec Lightwood’s clear blue eyes.

  At the time, Magnus had said yes because he wanted to say yes. It was quite possible, however, that he had said yes because he was an idiot.

  After all, Magnus had to keep reminding himself, Alec wasn’t even all that into Magnus. He was simply responding to the only male attention he’d ever had. Alec was closeted, shy, obviously insecure, and obviously hung up on his blond friend Trace Wayland. Magnus was fairly certain that was the name, but Wayland had reminded Magnus inexplicably of Will Herondale, and Magnus didn’t want to think about Will. He knew the best way to spare himself heartbreak was not to think about lost friends and not to get mixed up with Shadowhunters again.

  He had told himself that this date would be a bit of excitement, an isolated incident in a life that had become a little too routine, and nothing more.

  He tried not to think of the way he’d given Alec an out, and how Alec had looked at him and said with devastating simplicity, I like you. Magnus had always thought of himself as someone who could wrap words around people, trip them up or pull the wool over their eyes when he had to. It was amazing how Alec could just cut through it all. It was more amazing that he didn’t even seem to be trying.

  As soon as Alec had left, Magnus had called Catarina, sworn her to secrecy, and then told her all about it.

  “Did you agree to go out with him because you think the Lightwoods are jerks and you want to show them you can corrupt their baby boy?” asked Catarina.

  Magnus balanced his feet on Chairman Meow. “I do think the Lightwoods are jerks,” he admitted. “And that does sound like something I’d do. Damn it.”

  “No, it doesn’t really,” said Catarina. “You’re sarcastic twelve hours a day, but you’re almost never spiteful. You have a good heart under all the glitter.”

  Catarina was the one with the good heart. Magnus knew exactly whose son he was, and where he came from.

  “Even if it was spite, no one could blame you, not after the Circle, after all that happened.”

  Magnus looked out the window. There was a Polish restaurant across the street from his house, its flashing lights advertising twenty-four-hour borscht and coffee (hopefully not mixed together). He thought of the way Alec’s hands had trembled when he’d asked Magnus if he wanted to go out, about how glad and astounded he had seemed when Magnus said yes.

  “No,” he said. “It’s probably a bad idea—it’s probably my worst idea this decade—but it had nothing to do with his parents at all. I said yes because of him.”

  Catarina was quiet for a few moments. If Ragnor was around he would have laughed, but Ragnor had disappeared to a spa in Switzerland for a series of complicated facials meant to bring out the green in his complexion. Catarina had the instinct of a healer: she knew when to be kind.

  “Good luck on your date, then,” she said at last.

  “Much appreciated, but I don’t need good luck; I need assistance,” said Magnus. “Just because I’m going on this date does not mean it will go well. I’m very charming, but it does take two to tango.”

  “Magnus, remember what happened the last time you tried to tango. Your shoe flew off and nearly killed someone.”

  “It was a metaphor. He’s a Shadowhunter, he’s a Lightwood, and he’s into blonds. He’s a dating hazard. I need an escape strategy. If the date is a complete disaster, I’ll text you. I’ll say ‘Blue Squirrel, this is Hot Fox. Mission to be aborted with extreme prejudice.’ Then you call me and you tell me that there is a terrible emergency that requires my expert warlock assistance.”

  “This seems unnecessarily complicated. It’s your phone, Magnus; there’s no need for code names.”

  “Fine. I’ll just text ‘Abort.’” Magnus reached out and drew his fingers from Chairman Meow’s head to his tail; Chairman Meow stretched and purred his enthusiastic approval of Magnus’s taste in men. “Will you help me?”

  Catarina dragged in a long, annoyed breath. “I will help you,” she promised. “But you’ve called in all your dating favors for this century, and you owe me.”

  “It’s a bargain,” said Magnus.

  “And if it all works out,” said Catarina, cackling, “I want to be best woman at your wedding.”

  “I’m hanging up now,” Magnus informed her.

  He had made a bargain with Catarina. He had done more than that: he had called and made reservations at a restaurant. He had selected a date outfit of red Ferragamo pants, matching shoes, and a black silk waistcoat that Magnus wore without a shirt because it did amazing things for his arms and shoulders. And it had all been for nothing.

  Alec was half an hour late. The probability was that Alec’s nerve had broken—that he had weighed his life, complete with his precious Shadowhunter duty, against a date with a guy he didn’t even like that much—and he was not coming at all.

  Magnus shrugged philosophically, and with a casualness he did not quite feel, padded over to his drinks cabinet and made himself an exciting concoction with unicorn tears, energizing potion, cranberry juice, and a twist of lime. He’d look back on this and laugh one day. Probably tomorrow. Well, maybe the day after. Tomorrow he’d be hungover.

  He might have jumped when the buzzer sounded through the loft, but there was nobody but Chai
rman Meow there to see. Magnus was perfectly composed by the time Alec ran up the stairs and hurtled through the door.

  Alec could not have been described as perfectly composed. His black hair was going in every direction, like an octopus that had been dropped in soot; his chest was rising and falling hard under his pale-blue T-shirt; and there was a light sheen of perspiration on his face. It took a lot to make Shadowhunters sweat. Magnus wondered exactly how fast he had been running.

  “Well, this is unexpected,” said Magnus, raising his eyebrows. Still holding his cat, he had flung himself lightly on the sofa, his legs hooked over one of the carved wooden arms. Chairman Meow was draped over his stomach and meowing in perplexity about the sudden change in his situation.

  Magnus might have been trying a bit too hard to appear louche and unconcerned, but judging by Alec’s crestfallen expression, he was really pulling it off.

  “I’m sorry I’m late,” Alec panted. “Jace wanted to do some weapons training, and I didn’t know how to get away—I mean, I couldn’t tell him—”

  “Oh, Jace, that’s it,” said Magnus.

  “What?” said Alec.

  “I briefly forgot the blond one’s name,” Magnus explained, with a dismissive flick of his fingers.

  Alec looked staggered. “Oh. I’m—I’m Alec.”

  Magnus’s hand paused mid-dismissive-flick. The gleam of city lights through the window reflected off the blue jewels on his fingers, casting bright blue sparks that caught fire and then tumbled and drowned in the deep blue of Alec’s eyes.

  Alec had made an effort, Magnus thought, though it took a trained eye to spot it. The light-blue shirt fit him considerably better than the unholy gray sweatshirt that Alec had been wearing on Tuesday. He smelled vaguely of cologne. Magnus felt unexpectedly touched.

  “Yes,” said Magnus slowly, and then he smiled slowly as well. “Your name I remember.”

  Alec smiled. Maybe it didn’t matter if Alec did have a little thing for Apparently-Jace. Apparently-Jace was beautiful, but he was the sort of person that knew it, and they were often more trouble than they were worth. If Jace was gold, catching the light and the attention, Alec was silver: so used to everyone else looking at Jace that that was where he looked too, so used to living in Jace’s shadow that he didn’t expect to be seen. Maybe it was enough to be the first person to tell Alec that he was worth being seen ahead of anyone in a room, and of being looked at longest.

  And silver, though few people knew it, was a rarer metal than gold.

  “Don’t worry about it,” said Magnus, swinging himself easily off the couch and pushing Chairman Meow gently onto the sofa cushions, to the Chairman’s plaintively voiced dismay. “Have a drink.”

  He pushed his own drink hospitably into Alec’s hand; he hadn’t even taken a sip, and he could make himself a new one. Alec looked startled. He was obviously far more nervous than Magnus had thought, because he fumbled and then dropped the glass, spilling crimson liquid all over himself and the floor. There was a crash as the glass hit the wood and splintered.

  Alec looked like he had been shot and was extremely embarrassed about it.

  “Wow,” said Magnus. “Your people are really overselling your elite Nephilim reflexes.”

  “Oh, by the Angel. I am so—I am so sorry.”

  Magnus shook his head and gestured, leaving a trail of blue sparks in the air, and the puddle of crimson liquid and broken glass vanished.

  “Don’t be sorry,” he said. “I’m a warlock. There’s no mess I can’t clean up. Why do you think I throw so many parties? Let me tell you, I wouldn’t do it if I had to scrub toilets myself. Have you ever seen a vampire throw up? Nasty.”

  “I don’t really, uh, know any vampires socially.”

  Alec’s eyes were wide and horrified, as if he was picturing debauched vampires throwing up the blood of the innocent. Magnus was prepared to bet he didn’t know any Downworlders socially. The Children of the Angel kept to their own kind.

  Magnus wondered what exactly Alec was doing here in Magnus’s apartment. He bet Alec was wondering the same thing.

  It might be a long night, but at least they could both be well-dressed. The T-shirt might show Alec was trying, but Magnus could do a lot better.

  “I’ll get you a new shirt,” Magnus volunteered, and made his way to his bedroom while Alec was still faintly protesting.

  Magnus’s closet took up half his bedroom. He kept meaning to enlarge it. There were a lot of clothes in it that Magnus thought would look excellent on Alec, but as he riffled through them, he realized that Alec might not appreciate Magnus imposing his unique fashion sense on him.

  He decided to go for a more sober selection and chose the black T-shirt that he had been wearing Tuesday. That was perhaps a little sentimental of Magnus.

  The shirt admittedly had blink if you want me written on it in sequins, but that was about as sober as Magnus got. He tugged the shirt off its hanger and waltzed back into the main room to find that Alec had already taken his own shirt off and was standing around somewhat helplessly, his stained shirt clenched in his fist.

  Magnus stopped dead.

  The room was illuminated only by a reading lamp; all the other light came from outside the windows. Alec was painted with streetlights and moonlight, shadows curling around his biceps and the slender indentations of his collarbones, his torso all smooth, sleek, bare skin until the dark line of his jeans. There were runes on the flat planes of his stomach and the silvery scars of old Marks snaked around his ribs, with one on the ridge of his hip. His head was bowed, his hair black as ink, his luminously pale skin white as paper. He looked like a piece of art, chiaroscuro, beautifully and wonderfully made.

  Magnus had heard the story of how the Nephilim were created many times. They must have forgotten to leave out the bit that said: And the Angel descended from on high and gave his chosen ones fantastic abs.

  Alec looked up at Magnus, and his lips parted as if he was going to speak. He watched Magnus with wide eyes, wondering at being watched.

  Magnus exercised heroic self-control, smiled, and offered the shirt.

  “I’m—sorry about being a lousy date,” Alec muttered.

  “What are you talking about?” Magnus asked. “You’re a fantastic date. You’ve only been here ten minutes, and I already got half of your clothes off.”

  Alec looked equal parts embarrassed and pleased. He’d told Magnus he was new to all this, so anything more than mild flirting might scare him off. Magnus had a very calm and normal date planned: no surprises, nothing unexpected.

  “Come on,” said Magnus, and grabbed a red leather duster. “We’re going to dinner.”

  The first part of Magnus’s plan, getting the subway, had seemed so simple. So foolproof.

  It had not occurred to him that a Shadowhunter boy was not used to being visible and having to interact with the mundanes.

  The subway was crowded on a Friday night, which was not surprising but did seem to be alarming to Alec. He was peering around at the mundanes as if he had found himself in a jungle surrounded by menacing monkeys, and he was still looking traumatized by Magnus’s shirt.

  “Can’t I use a glamour rune?” he asked, as they boarded the F train.

  “No. I’m not looking like I’m alone on a Friday night just because you don’t want mundanes staring at you.”

  They were able to grab two seats, but it didn’t appreciably improve the situation. They sat awkwardly side by side, other people’s chatter rushing all around them. Alec was utterly silent. Magnus was fairly sure he wanted nothing more than to go home.

  There were purple and blue posters staring down at them, showing elderly couples looking sadly at one another. The posters bore the words with the passing years comes . . . impotence! Magnus found himself staring at the posters with a sort of absent horror. He looked at Alec and found that Al
ec could not tear his eyes away either. He wondered if Alec was aware that Magnus was three hundred years old and whether Alec was considering exactly how impotent one might become after that much time.

  Two guys came onto the train at the next stop and cleared a space right in front of Magnus and Alec.

  One of them began to dance by swinging himself dramatically around the pole. The other sat cross-legged and started beating time on a drum he’d carried in with him.

  “Hello, ladies and gentlemen and whatever else you got!” the dude with the drum called out. “We’re gonna perform now for your entertainment. I hope you’ll enjoy it. We call it . . . the Butt Song.”

  Together they began to rap. It was quite obviously a song they had written themselves.

  “Roses are red, and they say love’s not made to last,

  But I know I’ll never get enough of that sweet, sweet ass.

  All that jelly in your jeans, all that junk in your trunk,

  I just gotta have it—one look and I was sunk.

  If you ever wonder why I had to make you mine,

  It’s ’cause no other lady has a tush so fine.

  They say you’re not a looker, but I don’t mind.

  What I’m looking at is the view from behind.

  Never been romantic, don’t know what love means,

  But I know I dig the way you’re wearing those jeans.

  Hate to see you leave but love to watch you go.

  Turn back, then leave again—baby do it slow.

  I’m coming right after, gonna make a pass,

  Can’t get enough of that sweet, sweet ass.”

  Most of the commuters seemed stunned. Magnus was not sure if Alec was just stunned or if he was also deeply scandalized and privately commending his soul to God. He was wearing an extremely peculiar expression on his face and his lips were very tightly shut.

  Under normal circumstances Magnus would have laughed and laughed and given the buskers a lot of money. As it was, he was profoundly grateful when they reached their stop. He did fish out a few dollars for the singers as he and Alec left the train.