Isabelle nodded, and their eyes met. Magnus had said far too much, and he worried that Isabelle could see more.
She launched herself off the counter, toward Magnus’s small alabaster-topped coffee table, and scrawled on his notepad. “Here’s my number.”
“May I ask why you’re giving it to me?”
“Well, wow, Magnus. I knew you were hundreds of years old and all, but I hoped you were keeping up with modern technology.” Isabelle held out her phone to illustrate her point, and waggled it about. “So that you can call me, or text me. If you ever need Shadowhunter help.”
“Me need Shadowhunter help?” Magnus inquired, incredulous. “Over the—you’re right, hundreds of years—let me tell you that I’ve found it is almost invariably the other way around. I presume you’ll be wanting my number in return, and I’m also prepared to bet, based on nothing more than a passing acquaintance with your circle of friends, that you are going to get into trouble and need my expert magical assistance rather a lot.”
“Yeah, maybe,” said Isabelle with a rakish grin. “I’ve been known to be a troublemaker. But I didn’t give you my number because I want magical help, and okay, I understand that the High Warlock of Brooklyn probably doesn’t need an assist from a bunch of underage Nephilim. I was thinking that, if you’re going to be important to my brother, we should be able to get in touch. And I was thinking that you might want to have it if—if you need to contact me about Alec. Or if I need to contact you.”
Magnus understood what the girl meant. His number was easy enough to get—the Institute had it—but in giving him her own, Isabelle was offering the free exchange of information about Alec’s safety. The Nephilim led dangerous lives, chasing after demons, stalking the Downworld for lawbreakers, their rune-Marked, angel-swift bodies the last line of defense for the mundane world. The second time Magnus had ever seen Alec, he had been dying of demon poison.
Alec could die at any time, in any of the battles to come. Isabelle would be the only one of the Shadowhunters who knew for sure that there was anything between Magnus and Alec. She would be the only one who knew that if Alec died, Magnus would be someone who needed to be told.
“All right,” he said slowly. “Thank you, Isabelle.”
Isabelle winked. “No need to thank me. I’ll be driving you mad before long.”
“I’ll be expecting it,” said Magnus as she clattered out on her high, weaponized heels. He admired anyone who made beauty and utility work together.
“By the way, that demon is dripping slime all over your floor,” said Isabelle, poking her head back around the door.
“Hi,” said Elyaas, and he waved a tentacle at her.
Isabelle regarded him with disdain, then raised an eyebrow in Magnus’s direction. “Just thought I’d point it out,” she said, and closed the door.
“I don’t undersssstand the point of your present,” said Elyaas. “He isn’t even going to know about it? You should have just gone with flowers. Red rosssses are very romantic. Or perhaps tulips if you think that roses say you just want him for sssssex.”
Magnus lay upon his golden sofa and contemplated the ceiling. The sun was low in the sky, a flash of golden paint inscribed with a careless hand over the New York skyline. The demon’s shape had become more and more gelatinous as the day had progressed, until he seemed like nothing more than a lurking pile of slime. Possibly Caroline Connor would never come back. Possibly Elyaas was going to live with Magnus now. Magnus had always thought Raphael Santiago was the worst possible roommate he could ever have. Possibly he was about to be proven wrong.
He wished, with a profundity of longing that surprised him, that Alec were here.
Magnus remembered a town in Peru whose Quechua name meant “quiet place.” He recalled even more vividly being obscenely drunk and unhappy over his heartbreak of that time, and the maudlin thoughts that had recurred to him over the years, like an unwanted guest slipping in through his doors: that there was no peace for such as he, no quiet place, and there never would be.
Except he found himself remembering lying in bed with Alec—all of their clothes on, lounging on the bed on a lazy afternoon, Alec laughing, head thrown back, the marks Magnus had left on his throat very plain to see.
Time was something that moved in fits and starts for Magnus, dissipating like mist or dragging like chains, but when Alec was here, Magnus’s time seemed to fall into an easy rhythm with Alec’s, like two heartbeats falling into sync. He felt anchored by Alec, and his whole self felt restless and mutinous when Alec was not there, because he knew how different it would be when Alec was there, how the tumultuous world would quiet at the sound of Alec’s voice.
It was part of the dichotomy of Alec that had caught Magnus unaware and left him fascinated—that Alec seemed old for his age, serious and responsible, and yet that he approached the world with a tender wonder that made all things new. Alec was a warrior who brought Magnus peace.
Magnus lay on the sofa and admitted it to himself. He knew why he had been acting demented and pestering his friends over a birthday present. He knew why, on an ordinary unpleasant workday, his every thought had been punctuated with a thought of Alec, with insistent longing for him. This was love, new and bright and terrifying.
He had been through a hundred heartbreaks, but he found himself afraid when he thought of Alexander Lightwood breaking his heart. He did not know how this boy with the messy black hair and the worried blue eyes, with his steady hands and his rare sweet smile that was less rare in Magnus’s presence, had acquired such power over him. Alec hadn’t tried to get it, had never seemed to realize that he had it or tried to do anything with it.
Maybe he didn’t want it. Perhaps Magnus was being a fool, as he had been so many times before. He was Alec’s first experience, not a boyfriend. Alec was still nursing his first crush, on his best friend, and Magnus was a cautious experimentation, a step away from the safety that golden and much-beloved Jace represented. Jace, who looked like an angel: Jace, who, like an angel, like God himself, would never love Alec back.
Magnus might simply be a walk on the wild side, a rebellion by one of Idris’s most careful sons before Alec retreated back into secrecy, circumspection. Magnus remembered Camille, who had never taken him seriously, who had never loved him at all. How much more likely was a Shadowhunter to feel that way?
His gloomy thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the buzzer.
Caroline Connor offered no explanation for her lateness. Indeed, she breezed by Magnus as if he were the doorman, and began immediately to explain her problem to the demon.
“I am part of Pandemonium Enterprises, which caters to a certain subsection of the wealthy.”
“Those who have used their money and influence to purchase knowledge of the Shadow World,” said Magnus. “I’m aware of your organization. It’s been around quite a long time.”
Ms. Conner inclined her head. “My particular area is in providing entertainment for our customers in a nautical environment. While there are other cruises in New York Harbor, we provide our customers with a gourmet meal served on a yacht with a view of the more magical denizens of the city—nixies, kelpies, mermaids, various and sundry water sprites. We make it a very exclusive experience.”
“Sounds classy,” gurgled Elyaas.
“However, we do not want to make it a very exclusive experience in which rebellious mermaids drag our wealthy customers to the bottom of the river,” said Ms. Connor. “Unfortunately some of the mermaids do not like being stared at, and this has been occurring. I simply want you to use your infernal powers to dispatch this threat to my company’s economic growth.”
“Wait a second. You want to curse the mermaids?” Magnus demanded.
“I could curse some mermaids,” Elyaas said agreeably. “Sure.”
Magnus glared at him.
Elyaas shrugged his tentacles. “I’m a demon,” he said. “I’ll curse a mermaid. I’ll curse a cocker spaniel. I don’t care about anything.”
“I cannot believe that I have spent a whole day watching slime rise for no reason at all. If you had told me that the problem was angry mermaids, I could have fixed it without summoning demons to curse them,” said Magnus. “I have several contacts in the mermaid community, and failing that, there are always the Shadowhunters.”
“Oh, yeah. Magnus is dating a Shadowhunter,” Elyaas put in.
“That’s personal information I’d thank you not to repeat,” Magnus said. “And we’re not officially dating!”
“My orders were to summon a demon,” Ms. Connor said crisply. “But if you can solve the problem in a more efficient way, warlock, I am all for it. I’d prefer not to curse the mermaids; the customers like looking at them. Perhaps some monetary recompense can be arranged. Do we need to amend your contract, warlock, or are the same terms agreeable to you?”
Magnus felt somewhat tempted to argue for a pay raise, but he was already charging them a satisfyingly outrageous sum of money, and he did want to avoid having a curse fall upon all the mermaids of New York. That seemed like it could get really complicated really fast.