"If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you be?"
Magnus answered without a moment's pause. "I'd live here."
Julia snorted, giving his arm a playful nudge. "Besides Raven's Roost, you goof."
Magnus flushed red to the tips of his ears. "But I like it here. Why would I want to leave?"
"Oh, you know I don't mean it like that," Julia sighed. "But are you really telling me you've never thought about it? There's a whole world out there, you know. Lots of adventures 'n shit. I figured you'd be into that kind of thing, since you're such a rowdy boy." She laughed at that, deep and low and quiet.
Magnus felt the corners of his mouth twitch into a smile. "You're one to talk, Jules."
She laid back down in the grass with a hum, staring up at the night sky. "Point taken. But you still didn't answer my question. There's really no place you'd rather be than here?"
You're here, Magnus thought, and the words hung on the tip of his tongue. But he was thirteen and bumbling and Julia was the most beautiful person he'd ever seen, her hair streaked with moonlight and all the stars in the sky reflected in her eyes, so he kept them from tumbling out of his mouth.
"You can't beat the view from up here," he finally mumbled, flushing an even deeper crimson and looking back at the sky.
Julia hummed again. "Didn't think you were much of a stargazer."
"Lots'a things you don't know about me," Magnus chuckled. "Anyway, what about you? Is there somewhere else you'd rather be?"
Julia glanced back at him, his eyes still turned skyward. A smile crept across her features. "Not really."
Magnus closes his eyes with a heavy sigh. Around him, the quad is silent, the lights beginning to flicker on one by one as the sky darkens. From the moon base, he can see the stars begin to emerge into the night sky above him while the earth below him is still ringed with a warm, red glow. The view is striking.
Magnus thought maybe stargazing would bring him a little peace of mind and help him sleep. Merle said once that when he feels lost, he likes to look at the stars. Magnus feels as though he might understand why; the stars are a constant in his otherwise tumultuous life. When Merle looks at the stars, he feels grounded.
When Magnus looks at the stars, he misses the view from Raven's Roost.
He pulls a chain around his neck from under his tunic, his expression soft as he eyes the wedding band hanging from its end. It was the simplest ring in all of the jewler's column, a plain gold band without any engravings or ornamentation. It was all Magnus could afford at the time. But Julia wore hers proudly, as though it were fit for a queen. He wonders for the millionth time where her ring is now, but it isn't a thought he cares to dwell on.
His is dingier now than it was when he bought it, covered in scuff marks and scratches from before he took to wearing it around his neck rather than on his finger. He never learned how to clean it, and to ask now would be the start of a conversation he isn't sure he wants to have just yet. He rolls the ring between his fingertips idly as he watches the night sky creep up on the earth below him.
When the horizon finally turns dark, Magnus stands to his feet with a sigh, leaving somehow more exhausted than when he came.
He thinks about Julia as he walks back to his quarters and knows that there's very little chance he'll sleep easily tonight. It's not as though he expected to, really.
He also wasn't expecting to see a pajama-clad Angus McDonald standing outside the entrance to the dorms, chewing his fingernails and rolling on the balls of his feet as if teetering on the verge of something.
"Angus?" he calls curiously. "You're up pretty late."
Angus jumps a foot in the air and whirls around, looking like a rat caught in a trap. "Y-Yes sir, I suppose I am!" he squeaks, turning bright red. "I hadn't realized the time. I'll be heading to bed now–"
"Whoa there," Magnus snorts, grabbing Angus by the collar as he tries to make a run for it. "You're not in trouble, Ango, cool your jets. Lookin' for Taako?"
"Well... no..." Angus mumbles, hugging himself a little. "Not specifically... I just thought m-maybe someone might still be up and..."
Magnus's expression softens and he lets go of the boy's collar. "Couldn't sleep?"
Angus fidgets for a bit, wringing his hands and darting his eyes anywhere but at Magnus. After a moment he nods abashedly, his ears turning pink.
Magnus lets out a long, slow breath. "That makes two of us," he says softly.
Angus glances over him discreetly, taking in the slump of his shoulders and the dark circles that sit under his eyes like bruises. His eyes linger on the simple gold band hanging from Magnus's neck, a little startled. It doesn't take long for Magnus to register the the look on the boy detective's face and he hurriedly tucks the chain back under his tunic with a cough. Angus's cheeks flush again and he looks away, feeling strangely like an intruder.
Magnus brushes off the exchange and gives Angus's shoulder a gentle nudge. "Wanna talk about it, kiddo?"
Angus fiddles with the hem of his pajama shirt for a moment, not looking at Magnus. After a bit, he nods again.
"Okay," Magnus sighs, sitting down against the hallway wall and motioning to the spot beside him. "Time for a trademarked Magnus Burnsides heart-to-heart." Angus follows suit timidly, drawing his knees to his chest and tucking his chin between them.
Angus is silent for a while, so Magnus prompts him gently. "Did you have a bad dream?"
Angus considers this. "Not... a bad one," he says quietly. "It was kind of nice actually... I dreamt I was at home with my grandpa."
Angus sniffles, hugging his knees a little tighter. "We were in his library, and I was reading to him. His eyesight went bad when I was little, so I used to do that a lot. It was a mystery book, so we took turns guessing the culprit as we read along. And we just stayed like that for a while, and it was really nice just to spend time with him." He blinks back tears, taking a deep, shaky breath. "Then I woke up and remembered he passed away."
Magnus's chest tightens. "Jesus, Ango..." he murmurs.
Angus pulls a handkerchief out of his breast pocket (of course his pajamas have a fucking breast pocket, Magnus thinks) and dabs at his eyes behind his glasses, clearing his throat. "I-I know it's dumb and I shouldn't have bothered you in the middle of the night, sir, but I didn't want to be alone for a little bit."
Magnus shakes his head, fiddling absently with the chain around his neck. "That's not dumb," he says quietly. "Not at all."
Angus sniffles again and, after a moment's hesitation, leans against Magnus's side.
Magnus is reminded just how small Angus is as he watches tears drip silently down the boy's nose. He forgets sometimes what it was like to be ten years old, when the scale of the world seemed so vastly unbalanced. He wonders how frightening it must be for Angus to constantly be aware of how much bigger than him everything in his world is.
And then he has an idea.
Angus is startled when Magnus suddenly starts digging in his bag for something. The boy watches curiously as Magnus lets out a satisfied grunt and pulls out a small glass sphere with a beautiful goldfish swimming inside. There's some kind of magic there, Angus recognizes immediately. The water and the glass are both clear as fine crystal, and somehow the fish never seems to run out of room. It's hard for Angus to reconcile the size of the ball with the motion of the fish as it grows gradually smaller and larger as if swimming a much greater distance than it possibly could in this small sphere. He looks up at Magnus with wide, awestruck eyes.
"This is Steven," Magnus says. "He's the best fish in the world and I love him very much."
"He's lovely," Angus breathes, mesmerized.
"He's... named after someone special to me." He holds out the sphere a little nervously. "When I feel lonely or homesick, I like to hold him. It's kind of dumb and I don't know if it'll really help but if you-"
Magnus stops short when he sees Angus's face, scrunched up against a flood of tears. "Oh shit wait don't cry Angus, it's not-"
"I r-really appreciate it, s-sir," Angus chokes out quickly with an almost comically gigantic sniff. "I'd love to hold your f-fish."
A laugh builds up in Magnus's chest and bursts out involuntarily as he hands Angus the fishbowl and he gives his shoulder a squeeze. "Go nuts," he chuckles. A pause. "Actually don't, I mean he's just a fish, be gentle with him. But you know what I mean."
Angus lets out a watery giggle, smiling warmly at Magnus. "Thank you sir," he murmurs. He reaches up a hand to stifle a yawn.
"Nope, I saw that," Magnus says gruffly, standing up. "Time for bed, kiddo."
"But sir-" Angus whines.
"No buts." Magnus picks Angus up easily, plopping him on his shoulders. "C'mon, I'll even make you some cocoa."
Ten minutes later, the two of them are curled up the couch in the casa de los tres horny boys, two empty mugs of hot chocolate (made by Taako rather than Magnus, as Taako insisted after watching in disgust as Magnus tried to heat up the milk in the fantasy microwave) sitting on the table across from them. Beneath an almost stupid number of blankets, Angus is tucked snugly under the crook of Magnus's arm, Taako curled up almost cat-like beside them. Merle sits on Magnus's other side, his back against Magnus's arm and feet propped up on the arm of the couch. Angus watches their eyes drift shut and hears their breathing become slow and regular, Magnus's heartbeat a steady thrum in his ear. He holds Steven's bowl close to his chest, and it emits a soft, pale blue halo of light as he watches the fish swim in lazy circles. Something warm makes its home inside Angus's chest as he finally drifts off to sleep.
And for the first time in a long time, Magnus sleeps soundly.
"Damn," Taako whistled, staring out at the night sky from the quad. They had decided to take a second tour of the base after being inoculated, since it had been hard to really get a good idea of the place while they had vertigo to the point where could barely walk a straight line. "Talk about the scenic route."
"You can almost count them," Merle said quietly, his voice gentler than the other two had ever heard it.
Magnus looked at their awestruck faces, the dirt and scars and bruises gathered on their first grand adventure somehow smoothed by the soft starlight. He took a deep breath, and the air filling his lungs felt warmer and sweeter than it had in a long time.
"Not a bad view," he said softly.