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Settle Our Bones Like Wood

Chapter Text

It’s early winter when Magnus gets the phone call.

He’s there less than 45 seconds later. The pitiable woman on the other end of the line is cut off when he steps through the portal, and he pockets his phone without another thought.

Snow is drifting onto the street; great fluffy flakes obscure the gradually increasing morning light. It must be just after dawn. Magnus is still holding his morning coffee. He downs it in three scalding gulps, then chucks the cup into the snow.

It’s no matter. No one is paying him any attention, and those that are won’t remember him later.

Besides, he’s looking at a certifiable goddamn disaster.

Magnus pulls himself up short-- mentally, but also literally, mid-step-- before he gets too close, and takes a second to recenter. It’s so much like that day that he knows that he might get lost in it. As it stands, reality gets hazy around the edges for a moment before he can remind himself that he’s not, in fact, ten years old anymore and that he can breath without choking on ash.

Breathe, he thinks. It’s okay. It’s not then. You’re okay.

And then, oh god, poor girl.

The portal landed him just across the street from what was, at one point, the main entrance to a sprawling estate academy, and is now a pile of dust.

As is the rest of the building. The entire, multi-thousand square foot, city block of a building.

Cops, firefighters, and the occasional EMT are scattered throughout the rubble, talking animatedly at each other or dejectedly poking at bits of what was once likely furniture. A few solitary pillars and individual walls remain standing, the only indication of the layout-- or even existence-- of what had towered over the street mere minutes ago. Everything else is particles. It’s as if someone has literally melted the place down with a precisely targeted earthquake. Or a divine cheese-grater.

Or magic.

Another breath, Magnus. You’re not there. That time is over.

Besides, Magnus knows who created this particular disaster, and it wasn’t him.

The women who had called him-- a frazzled, dismissive individual who called herself Detective Mage, ironically-- was pretty clear about who these children were and exactly why they were so important, in fairly excruciating detail. Magnus knew about the so called Umbrella Academy, in passing at least. The building is adjacent to his ward as High Warlock, and beyond that, they’re famous enough that anyone who regularly watches the news recognizes the name.

Vanya Hargreeves.

The other children and their father refer to her exclusively as Number Seven. But there was an interview a few months ago in which one of her siblings-- Number Two, maybe, Magnus can never keep them straight-- let the name slip, and the media was on it like a swarm of excited wasps. It’s unclear whether or not Vanya is in fact her name, or what she likes to be called, but Magnus can’t bring himself to call her Number Seven, not even in his own mind. The numbers are so impersonal. It sits uneasily with him, as the whole Academy has since he first caught wind of it. For the time being, however, he resolves to keep an open mind.

He has a job to do.

One more deep breath. He’ll have time to decompress afterwards. To remind himself of what’s real, alone and in the safety and privacy of his loft. Perhaps with a stiff drink. He simply needs to take care of this first.

He finds her immediately. Even from across the street, he knows the posture of someone who’s just brought the whole world down around them.

The girl sits encased in her own arms, head between her knees. A tiny waif of a thing, certainly no older than 10 years old, with long brown hair that’s miraculously intact, hanging straight and neat down the back of her dirty uniform. She’s rocking herself with a sort of frantic urgency, and as Magnus steps closer, he can hear her mumbling.

“Ididn’tmeantoIdidn’tmeantoIdidn’tmeantoIdidn’tmeanto--”

A quick snap of his fingers creates a shield around his body, invisible but nearly impenetrable. His magic reaches out before him, a thin, weaving line that snakes toward the destruction, sensing for energy or magic or power. Danger.

It finds none.

Whatever Vanya’s done, she’s utterly deflated.

Her head snaps up as he approaches. Wary, piercing brown eyes meet his own. She looks right through him.

“Are you here for me?” she asks. Her voice is remarkably neutral, almost cold.

Something lurches in his chest. He’s not sure what to tell her. He remembers what it was like, to want someone to stop you so badly that it hurts.

So he tells her the truth. “Yes,” says. He sinks himself into a crouch and she flinches backward. “It’s okay, you can’t hurt anyone anymore.”

She stares at him. He flashes his eyes at her. She doesn’t flinch this time.

He makes his magic visible; a bubble of purple expands to surround them both with a thin veil. It’s not a force field, not exactly, but to her young eyes it must look like one. She glances at it, sitting up slowly to take stock, and then blinks back at him. She promptly bursts into tears.

“Thank you,” she whispers.

Then she passes out.

 

 

He finds the other children afterward, hidden in a dumpster a few blocks from the accident zone and being monitored by a stern-looking Scandinavian firefighter who clearly didn’t sign up for this.

She tells him as much as he approaches, apparently unconcerned with the fact that he’s a complete and total stranger and also carrying the body of a small unconscious child in his arms. As soon as he peeks inside the dumpster and sees the six of them there, huddled and shaking-- and immediately has no fewer than three separate knives at his throat-- she exits stage left with a scoff and a head shake.

He’s still shielded by his magic, and anyways, the knives are attached to very tiny arms, so Magnus isn’t worried. Not for himself, at least. The snow is really coming down hard now, in large, looping flakes that obscure even his vision, and Vanya is beginning to shiver. He’d magicked her a coat as soon as she’d passed out, but it can’t help much. She’s drained in a way that has little to do with the weather.

The other siblings can’t be very warm in the dumpster, though.

Besides, the cops from the scene have started to trail toward him now, clearly understanding that he’s done with the whole saving-their-asses-in-a-way-they-aren’t-allowed-to-ask-about part and wanting to officialize the process again. There will be calls to make, reports to fill out, questions to answer, and people to placate. There always are, but especially so with children. He has to imagine that superhuman children rank even higher on the list of concern. Mundanes have no protocols in place for something like this.

It’s not going to be easy. Still, as Magnus stares into a dozen rageful, suspicious, and fearful eyes, he feels one undeniable truth settle itself firmly-- if a little reluctantly-- into his heart.

He will be taking this strange, vulnerable, spiky bunch of misfit children home with him.

Tonight.

Chapter Text

It’s no surprise to anyone that Magnus can be… impulsive.

Capricious. Impetuous. Ill-considered. Foolhardy.

He’s certainly been called all of these things. Among other, less kind insults, of course. Most of them true. He likes to think of himself as a person of measure and forethought; being a warlock in his position-- being a downworlder at all, frankly-- requires it. But he can admit that he has his weak spots. Among the list include his dismal love life, Shadowhunters, and, relevant presently, his own childhood trauma.

Which will be his excuse-- if anyone asks-- when he finds himself in the Jade Wolf with seven armed, supernatural children.

“What the hell?”

The restaurant erupts in exclamations. Something sharp is pressed against Magnus’s jugular; a knife, not a fang. The lights flicker with the surge created by the portal, and for a moment, they’re plummeted into darkness before the generator kicks in. Someone is already growling.

Perhaps this was a bad idea.

“Drop my sister,” a boy snarls in his ear.

“Don’t move!” another boy shouts from across the room. A throwing knife whistles past his face then blows sideways, deflected by protective magic.

Magnus blinks.

“Alright, one moment.” He leans forward slowly, knife still at his neck, and deposits the girl in his arms gently onto a grease-slicked table. She murmurs in her unconsciousness, shifting slightly on the hard surface. “There, I’ve put Vanya down.” When he straightens he sends a quick glance around the restaurant, holding up a hand to the scattering of werewolves who are watching him warily. The last thing that he needs is someone trying something. One of the older men sits back down, but his nails clutch the edge of the table and he flashes his eyes at Magnus.

They will abide by his warning, but not forever.

“Her name is Number Seven,” one of the children corrects. The remaining five siblings are clumped together across the building, brushing themselves off and staring at Magnus with varying degrees of confusion, focus, and anger. The only other girl in the group raises her tiny fists.

“Number Seven, then.”

“Step away slowly,” the boy at his ear orders. “And tell us what you’re doing here.”

“How are you getting through my magic?” Magnus asks instead. “You shouldn’t be able to have that knife on me. Not that it could actually break skin, but still.”

“I’m the one asking the questions,” the boy argues, but his hand has started trembling.

Magnus turns just slightly to look at the child. All of them are the same age, he knows, but this boy looks younger than Vanya. He’s small, white, with a flop of brown hair half-hanging over one wild eye. His uniform has blood on the sleeve cuffs. Number Six, maybe? Five?

“I simply came to-”

“Magnus, what the fuck?”

Luke strolls into the room, one hand on the gun at his hip. He takes in the children in uniform, the dimmed lights, and the blade at Magnus’s neck. “What are you doing here?”

A crack breaks the air and an explosion of blue pops behind him. The boy, somehow, is now on Luke, who’s hands instantly rise in surrender. Luke quirks a look at Magnus, and Magnus shrugs, like what are you gonna do.

The growl that reverberates around the restaurant is raucous. They aren’t waiting anymore.

“Call off your dogs, Luke. Please.”

Luke rolls his eyes and nods, flashing green at his pack before saying, with authority, “hold. They’re just kids.”

“That kid has a knife on you!”

“Shut up, Russel. I said hold.”

Yeah, Russel. There’s something so deliciously satisfying about listening to Luke calling that asshole to heed. Besides, Luke’s fine. Magnus’s magic is covering everyone in here. Russel doesn’t seem very happy or grateful to hear that, though, rumbling a low warning note in the back of his throat. Luke growls back.

“Where are we?” another boy, who hasn’t spoken until now, breaks the tension with his quiet question. Number One. The one with enhanced strength.

“The Jade Wolf,” Luke answers, demeanor instantly switching to ‘friendly uncle Luke’ as he turns toward the child, paying no mind to the knife shaking chaotically at his throat. “It’s a restaurant. My restaurant. My-- my friends live here.”

“Why are we here?”

“That’s a good question.” Luke raises an eyebrow at Magnus. Magnus tries to look innocent.

“I uh, portaled you here,” Magnus explains.

“Yes, but why, Magnus?” Luke asks at the same time as the knife-wielder yells, “You can portal?”

“I couldn’t exactly turn them over to the mundane police,” he defends.

“So you brought them here?

“They’re just kids, Luke! But they have powers, you know that. The cops were trailing closer and Vanya--” he indicates her on the table with a tilt of his chin-- “was going into shock. I figured we could re-coop here. And maybe you could...”

“No, Magnus. I’m not going to pull strings for you in the NYPD again!”

“Lucian, please. You know how these things go. I just need time to figure out my next steps.”

Luke glares at him, then sighs. “Fine,” he says. He takes a quick side-step away from the table that the tiny hostage-taker is standing on, whirling away from the knife to move closer to Magnus. The kid’s jaw drops; he lowers the knife resentfully. “Fine. I’ll see what I can do. But you can’t keep them here in the meantime.”

Magnus nods. “I know.”

“You’re going to anyways, aren’t you?”

Magnus smiles. “Well, maybe just for breakfast. You hungry, kids?”

Chapter Text

The man is a wizard.

Not a really one, obviously. (Wizards aren’t real. That’s what their father says and Diego is meant to believe him on everything).

But the man might as well be a wizard. He makes things happen like magic; he teleported them all to this place, for starters, which Diego thought only Five could do. It’s more than that though. Everyone seems to give him what he wants. And he doesn’t seem scared of anything.

Diego hates him instantly.

The man didn’t even flinch when Five popped up behind him, knife to his jugular. He’d carried Number Seven, and that made Diego even more furious, in more ways than he could keep track of.

(He wanted to tell this stranger to get away from his sister, but he also wanted to tell her to get away from everyone else).

Now, he watches from the booth as the man-- who’s called Magnus, which is a dumb name, too-- makes phone call after phone call. He talks to the other man, Luke, in between each call, in hushed whispers that they aren’t supposed to overhear.

Diego doesn’t like not knowing what’s going on. It makes something uneasy settle into his stomach, and that makes him angry. Luke offers them food and Diego shakes his head and tugs roughly on Klaus’s sleeve in warning. None of them take anything.

It’s cold in the restaurant but warmer than it had been in the dumpster, at least. Not that he cares. He can handle a little cold. He could’ve handled it in the dumpster, too, if Magnus hadn’t made them come here instead.

He was going to figure out what happened. But now he can’t. At least not until he can get out of here.

“Who the hell are you, anyways?” Five asks Luke, who doesn’t react to the hostility except to smile a little gentler. Diego hates him, too.

“My name is Luke, I’m a cop. It’s alright, you kids are safe now.” He pushes the mug of hot chocolate a little closer to Five, who ignores it.

“Who were all those other men?” Number Three asks, at the same time as Five says, “Safe from you and your friend, you mean? He’s the one who kidnapped us.”

Luke’s eyebrows furrow. “Magnus? No-- he was called to your house to help. With the… accident.”

Five snarls. “There was no accident. You two did this. Tell me why.”

Luke’s eyebrows go all the way up this time. “Why would we--?”

“Luke, a word, please?” Magnus pockets the phone. He beckons Luke toward the back room.

Luke glances at Magnus, then stares back at them warily. He nods. “Stay here,” he tells them.

Yeah, right.

As soon as the men are out of sight, Diego stands up. “I’m out of here.”

“Me too,” Klaus says. He rises unsteadily and pulls his sleeves down over his hands, which their father hates. He says that it’s sloppy. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand. Ben?”

Number Six shakes his head. “Klaus, we can’t.”

“Maybe you can’t, but I’m leaving,” Diego argues. “I’m gonna go see what happened to our house.”

(The ground shaking with a rumbling so loud that it hurt his ears. A bright flash of light like the sun had fallen down. The alarm. Klaus screaming. The window, the ladder, the dumpster, his siblings, Three Four Five Six and no Seven, and then eventually One. He doesn't want to think about it, but he needs to know more).

“I should come,” Klaus says hurriedly. “Besides, someone needs to find dad, right?”

“Like you care about finding dad,” Number Three sneers. A piece of her hair falls in front of her face, caked in dust and garbage, and she pushes it away. “I’m not going. I don’t trust this Magnus guy.”

“Number One?” Diego asks, crossing his arms defensively. He doesn’t care what Luther is doing, but he better not try to stop them from leaving. He’s been quiet this whole time, not bossy like he usually is, but that’s not always a good thing. Diego scratches at the scar on his eyebrow and glares.

Luther looks surprised to be asked. He shakes his head and clears his throat, peeling his gaze away from Number Seven still lying on the next table. “It’s not a good idea. Allison is right. We should all stay here.”

Diego rolls his eyes. A searing blaze of anger rolls up his throat. Of course Number One would say that. He always wants to take the boring, easy route, even if it’s no good for anybody.

Diego looks to Five for back-up, but he's not paying them any attention. He's still looking to where Magnus had left, eyes sharp with concentration and hands clenched.

“You can’t stop me,” Diego warns.

Luther sighs heavily, like he’s exhausted. “Yes, I can. Don’t do this, Two.”

“Don’t tell me what to do.”

“I’m the leader. I say we don’t go.”

“It wasn’t even your idea to hide in the stupid dumpster!” Diego yells. “If it were up to you we all might be dead. Where were you, One?”

Luther’s face turns white as a sheet. “Shut up. You don’t know anything.”

“You can’t stop me from going back to the house. You can’t do anything.”

“Leave it alone.”

“You’re just saying that because you’re scared. What if the person who did it is still there?”

“I said no--"

“Guys, stop it!” Number Six calls. “Magnus is coming back.”

Diego clenches his jaw, squeezing his knife until his knuckles turn white. Luther always ruins everything. Now they’re stuck here and their house is probably broken and Number Seven is still unconscious and the bad guy is still out there.

Diego slams his knife into the table.

Klaus sits back down obediently as Magnus approaches the table, but Diego stays standing. He’s leaving, one way or another, and this guy can’t stop him either. Even if he does have Five’s power.

Magnus fidgets as he stops in front of them. He looks nervous. Good.

“Kids,” Magnus says. He takes a deep breath in, then lets it out in a rush. “I have some bad news.”

Chapter Text

When Magnus was 26 years old, he lived for three years in the streets of Madrid, in Spain.

Lived being a loose term. He slept there, he ate there, he existed there, but didn’t have a home. It was a period of great economic change and artistic flourishing-- Spain’s Siglo de Oro, as it would later be termed-- but Magnus was privy to little of that. He was more focused on his next meal.

When he was 27 years old, he found a small empty house in the south side of the city and broke the lock with an iron screw that he pulled from the window sill. Each day he wandered the city, keeping to the shadows, and each night he watched the house for an hour to ensure the coast was still clear before letting himself in and retiring to bed.

He slept there for 33 nights, and on the 34th, someone came home.

Her name was Ana. She was the wife of a middle class Catholic merchant and the daughter of a blacksmith. She was beautiful, and kind, and when she found Magnus in her bedroom on the 34th night, she pulled a knife on him, but she let him sleep on the couch.

They became inseparable.

Except for when they had to separate.

Ana would leave for hours or weeks, and return with brittle smiles and bruises on the underside of her arms. Whenever he asked her about it, she’d wave her hand at him and say, over and over, “shh querida. Estoy bien.” It’s fine.

She flinched when he touched her. She seldom touched anything in her own home, except to polish or wash it, over and over and over. When Magnus asked her why she slept alone each night, and where her husband was, she pressed her lips together and shook her head at him. He never asked again.

Every morning Magnus would leave before dawn, and every night she’d light a candle in her window, and Magnus would return.

Many months later, there was a knock on her door. They were up together past midnight, always talking, only ever talking, and when they heard the noise, Magnus fled to the bedroom and watched from a crack in the door.

It was a merchant. At first Magnus thought it might be her husband, whom he’d never seen. But when Anna waved him inside, the man asked her to sit.

The news broke over Ana like a wave.

She didn’t cry. She hardly moved. He couldn’t hear her speaking, but he saw her eyes. How they hardened. How they changed.

It confused him, and frightened him. He’d never seen anyone with eyes like that before.

(He would again, however, a thousand times over the course of his lifetime. The eyes of survivors never changed).

Ana’s husband was a cruel man, but he was her anchor as well as her prison. She had no life without him. She’d never had a life with him.

Fate can be just as cruel as men, to those who need gentleness the most.

 

 

When Magnus breaks the latest twist of cruel fate to the six children in front of him, he thinks of Ana once again.

“That-- that’s not true.” Number One lifts his gaze to meet Magnus’s. “That’s not true. You’re lying.”

The children stare at him with blank expressions. The little boy with the knife-- who Magnus has decided is in fact Number Five-- forms his mouth into what looks like a cross between a smile and a grimace. No one else moves.

“Your father… they found evidence that he was in the building when it exploded. I am truly sorry.”

“Exploded?” The little girl asks. There’s dirt and garbage and maybe blood in her curls, but she doesn’t seem to notice. None of the children seem to notice how tiny and fragile and war-worn they look.

Estoy bien. Prometo que estoy bien, Magnus.

Magnus nods, keeping his movements slow. “That’s the other bad news. Unfortunately the house is… unsalvageable. I saw that part with my own eyes. It’s gone.”

When the children take off-- Five in a flash of blue and the others on foot-- Magnus doesn’t stop them.

 

 

Three hours later he goes to collect them, where they’re standing in the rubble of their old lives.

They come home with him without a word. No one asks why the explosion happened, for which he’s grateful. He’s not sure that he could explain that part right now, not without falling so far into flashbacks of a life he once had that he’d be remiss to look after children.

He sets the table with six places, and they sit and eat, quickly and mechanically.

He tells them that Vanya is sleeping in the guest bedroom; Five blinks out and returns with a silent nod of confirmation.

Number One has a bruise on his face that wasn’t there before. The spindly boy with startling green eyes-- Number Four, Magnus has done his research now, he knows their numbers, he only wishes he knew their names-- has tear tracks on his face and won’t stop clawing at his wrists. Number Two keeps one hand in his pocket, the other white-knuckled around his spoon.

After they finish their meal, Magnus explains the plan. He’ll take them in for the night, and for the next number of nights, until a more appropriate long term solution can be established. If that’s okay with them, of course. They need choice. He wants to establish choice.

“And why would you take us?” Number Three asks. She straightens her stance tall in her chair, seems unperturbed by the silence she’s just shattered. “Why would you want us?”

Behind her, Five’s narrowed eyes echo her question.

Magnus hesitates. What can he possibly say? The truth seems the wisest path-- but how can he say it aloud to them, when it hurts so much just to feel it? How can he explain to these tiny, wary children that when he looks at them he feels a pain as old as time itself, but one which is nevertheless profoundly and deeply disturbing each time it is encountered?

There are no words for the ache of abuse.

“Rumour him,” Number Five orders offhandedly.

“Are you sure?” Number Three asks. She tilts her head toward Five, but her eyes never leave Magnus. “We aren’t allowed to--”

“For God’s sake Number Three, grow up--”

“It won’t work anyway,” Magnus cuts in.

“What?” Number Three straightens back to face him.

“It won’t work. I’ve got… precautions, against your powers.”

“He’s lying,” Number Two cuts in. “Rumour him.”

Number Three looks conflicted. She takes her eyes off of Magnus to look for Five’s approval, and when he shrugs, she appears to steel her resolve.

“I heard a rumour that you-- that you put your left hand on your head!”

Magnus, of course, doesn’t move.

After a moment, the group erupts.

“How is that possible!”

“Try again, something better this time.”

“It should’ve worked--- I did it right, Two, shut up.”

But it’s Five who addresses Magnus directly. “Why didn’t it?” he asks. His knife is back where it’s clearly visible. He grips it tightly in between his thumb and index finger, gaze directly on Magnus.

Perhaps a particular version of the truth might work well, here.

Magnus takes a moment to step closer to Five, using his last step to fold into a crouch. Five frowns.

“I’m just like you,” Magnus says. And with a long, slow blink, he drops his glamour.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling no matter how many times he does it, and this time is no different. But he’d done it for their sister and it had immediately calmed her; once upon a time, someone had done the same for him.

Number Four gasps. Everyone else goes dead silent once again.

“So you do have powers,” Three says.

Magnus inclines his head. “Something like that,” he settles on.

“What can you do?” Five’s eyes are alight now, with both intrigue and fear. Magnus smiles gently.

“Many things. But-- you asked me why I would have you children stay in my home with me. That’s the answer. You all deserve to feel safe, and I think that I can keep you safe better than--” he cuts himself off on a word like normal, or even mundane-- “than a non-powered adult.”

“You’re lying!” Number Two chimes in again. He points his finger at Magnus, expression vitriolic.

Magnus blinks. The accusation takes him aback, a little. He hadn’t expected that his honesty wouldn’t be enough. Naive of him, perhaps, but all of the children he’s been around lately have been well taken care of and sweet. It’s been a number of years, decades even, since he’s been around such anger in someone so young. Such distrust.

But doesn’t he remember what it was like? With Raphael it had taken him years to learn to trust the feeling of knowing one’s place in the world again. What’s love from a caregiver, after all, when God has forsaken you? When you have forsaken yourself?

And doesn’t Magnus remember feeling it, too? (Doesn’t he feel like that still, sometimes? In his darkest moments). The certainty that at all kindness, all safety, were commodities to be bargained for, and guarded greedily. That nothing was free. That no one meant well. A certainty known so intimately that it weaves itself into the very fabric of your life, until you forget that it’s knowledge at all and just take it as truth. It’s possible these children have never known any differently.

“He wants to keep the others safe from us,” Number Four says. “Obviously.”

Number One hangs his head. “I would never hurt a citizen,” he says, a bit uncertainly.

“It doesn’t matter,” Five cuts in. “We aren’t going with him anyways.”

Magnus, still crouching in front of him, tries to meet his eye without success. “Where would you intend to go?”

Five’s gaze strays even further out along the corners of the room. “We would figure it out.”

“We can’t be just with each other, dummy,” Number Three chides. “It’s illegal.”

“I know that,” Five hisses at her. “But we can’t go with him, either.”

“We’re already here.”

“Well we can’t stay, Four!”

Number Four crosses his arms. “Well I’m not staying if Luther’s here!”

“None of us are staying, that’s what I’m saying.

“I’m not going anywhere where Luther is either!”

“I thought you wanted to stay.”

“I do, but you said we can’t!”

“That’s because we--”

“I think we have to.” A small, steady voice cuts off the bickering. The last little boy, who so far has had little to say, carefully steps forward. “We don’t have anywhere else to go.” He looks down at his stomach, hands pressed on it mournfully as though he has a stomach ache. “Not anywhere safe.”

“I promise that my home will be safe for you,” Magnus assures. “I can’t guarantee everything else, but I can promise that much. For all of you.” He glances at the room where Vanya’s still sleeping.

The little boy with the stomach ache-- number Six, Magnus realizes-- scans his sibling’s faces. Then he looks back at Number Five, who doesn’t move a muscle but must be communicating something, because finally Six turns back to Magnus and nods.

It’s settled, then.

Something terrifying and hopeful takes flight in Magnus’ stomach.

Chapter Text

A camp is erected in the living room. Six cots, six sleeping bags, and far too many blankets and pillows. Magnus’s desire to keep things familiar for the children wars with his urge to nest and loses. They spread out around the room and stare at the ceiling, still and solemn.

Half an hour later, the gentle noises of children sleeping begin their chorus.

Five refuses to sleep, and instead reappears with one of Magnus’s books in his hand and a challenging stare in the darkness. Magnus magics him a flashlight right into his hands, which Five drops in surprise and then acts nonchalant about. Magnus ducks his head to hide a smile.

Number Four can’t seem to sleep. He tosses and turns with a pillow stuck to his face so tightly he might asphyxiate. When Magnus asks him if he can help, he blinks at him with wide eyes and shakes his head, and Magnus doesn’t push.

All of the children sleep restlessly. Shallowly. It’s the sleep of ex-military members, downworld leaders, and refugees. Magnus works silently to avoid waking them.

Vanya needs near-constant monitoring. The house needed rearranging, to create an appropriate number of bedrooms, and to reinforce the defensive wards now that there are children in his care. There’s also the issue of a child who can teleport; Magnus finally settles on a complex web of wards, which allow a person to portal throughout the house, but not outside of it, and not into select, locked rooms where he stores his magical items and weapons.

There is also a concern with how to…. contain a number of unknown powers with unknown origins and unclear repercussions. He felt sick when Number Four suggested that Magnus needs to keep the world safe from them, but in truth, that’s his duty as much as any of his other tasks. Vanya has already created a destruction that no child should ever have to bear witness to, let alone be responsible for.

It will not happen again.

A shout breaks through from the living room. The other children are awake, and have formed a cautious semi-circle around Number One, who’s thrashing wildly in his sleep. His sleeping bag is torn clear in half and as he jolts, a lamp goes tumbling to the floor with a loud crash.

He wakes up gasping, limbs flailing. One fist connects and hits Number Four squarely in the stomach, and he doubles over, landing on his butt with an oof. Number Six growls.

“Everyone step back, please.” Magnus parts through the children with his hands raised. “Are you alright, Number Four?” he asks over his shoulder as he crouches in front of Number One. The boy is covered in sweat and stares at his own hands with frantic, dawning comprehension.

“Yes,” Four answers. It makes Magnus vaguely sick to have called a child by a number that way, but this situation is no time to ruminate on that.

“Number One. Hey, it’s okay. You’re okay.”

The boy doesn’t answer, doesn’t even seem to see Magnus. His eyes are on the lamp on the floor.

Magnus decides to try something. He heard Number Four use the name earlier, about someone-- it might not be correct, but something in his gut tells him that it is.

“Luther…” The boys eyes snap up to Magnus’s face, searching. “Luther, is that your name? It’s okay, you were having a nightmare, but everything is okay. No harm done, right?”

Luther wets his lips and drops his head. “My name is Number One,” he whispers.

Ouch, okay. Magnus does his best to smile in a way that hides his sick sadness. “Right, Number One. How about we all have some dinner, hmm? I think we’re all awake now.”

“Yes, sir.”

 

 

On the way to the table, Magnus skims a cautious stream of magic down Four’s side, where the punch had landed. Four flinches, but he’ll be okay. He’ll have a nasty bruise, but no internal damage.

Magnus hands him a bag of frozen peas and Four tilts his head at it, until Six grabs it out of his hands and rests it on the sore spot.

Magnus hands one to Number One, too, for his fist where it hit the lamp, but he ignores it, leaving it on the table beside him as he picks at his food.

The children eat dinner the same way they had lunch. Mechanically, quietly. This time Magnus eats with them. He takes the chance to examine them further, at least what he can see, for blood and dirt and any other wounds or signs of illness. They’ll all need to bathe, that’s for certain, but it's lower on the list of priorities.

When everyone’s finished, Magnus clears his throat. All the children straighten except Five, who slouches further in his chair and examines his sleeve cuffs lazily, and Two, who straightens at first and then hunches over, staring at the table.

“I was wondering if I may ask you children something,” Magnus hedges.

No visible response. He hadn’t meant it rhetorically-- choice, the children need choice-- but he pushes forward nonetheless.

“Firstly, I need to let you know that my friend Catarina will be coming over shortly, to help your sister.”

“What’s wrong with her?” Three asks.

Magnus blows out some breath. “She’s still unconscious. She’ll be alright, but since she can’t eat or drink until she wakes up, she needs an IV. Catarina is a nurse. You’ll all be welcome to visit your sister and watch, if you’d like, so you know that she’s safe.

“In the meantime, I’d like to ask about your names. Or rather, what you would like to be called while you stay with me. I know that Number Seven is sometimes called Vanya, and Number One, you’ve told me that that’s the name you prefer. But I’d like to know about the rest of you.”

“My name’s Klaus,” Number Four speaks up. Number Six and Number Two both elbow him from either side, and he clamps his mouth shut.

“Klaus. That’s a lovely name,” Magnus says cautiously. Number Four-- Klaus-- grins shyly.

“Anyone else?” Magnus asks.

Number Two carves a streak in the table with his fork. “Diego,” he mutters, without looking up.

“Alright, Diego. Number Three?”

Number Three shoots a look at Number One, who shakes his head. Her shoulders slump. “Just Three is fine, thank you.”

Magnus nods. “Okay, let me know if that changes though, okay? It can always change.” He glances at Five, who’s still pretending not to be paying attention. “And you?”

“It’s just Five.”

“Lovely. Six?”

“Uhm.. Six is fine. Or Ben. Just not.. nevermind.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Ben.”

Magnus slumps with relief at that last name, feeling almost dizzy. Having names for some of these children-- wherever the names come from, whatever they mean-- allows one of the shadows over his heart to lift. They can do this. They’ll get there.

“And you can call me Magnus.”

 

 

“Are you sure about this, Magnus? The Umbrella Academy?

Catarina adjusts the IV bag connected to Vanya’s hand with practiced ease, and then turns to face him. She just came off of a shift at the hospital so her glamour is up, and she’s in obnoxious bubblegum pink scrubs, her hair fastened neatly in a braided knot.

Right now, she’s the most beautiful sight Magnus has ever seen.

“Not even a little bit.”

She doesn’t laugh. Instead she regards him with a heaviness that only she, Ragnor, and Raphael have ever seemed capable of. Magnus isn’t entirely convinced they aren’t all coaching each other behind his back, frankly.

“How long are they going to be with you?”

Magnus double checks the soundproofing magic in the room, again, while he pauses to collect his words. The kids had watched from the doorway as Catarina inspected and treated Vanya, and then Magnus had split them into two groups and sent them to the loft’s two bathrooms, armed with fluffy towels, toothbrushes, and even a rubber ducky. They can’t hear him, but it still makes him antsy to talk about them like they aren’t in the house.

“I’m not sure. A while, maybe. We need to find a place that will take all seven of them.”

“Do you even know what their powers are?”

Magnus shuffles uncomfortably. “Well Number One has enhanced strength, we all know that from the television interviews. Number Five can create instant portals for himself, with an effect much like teleportation.”

“Teleportation? Magnus.”

“I know, I know. But my place is warded.”

“Isn’t Number Two the one who took down those bank robbers with a knife? Maybe that’s his power.”

“Diego.”

“Sorry?”

“That’s his name, Diego.”

“Oh, Magnus.” Cat places a hand on his arm and squeezes, gently. “You’re in this so deep already, aren’t you?” It’s not really a question. She knows him too well.

“Oh, and--” he clears his throat, resisting the urge to pull his arm out of her grasp. “Number Three seems to have some sort of ability to control people with her voice. She tried to get me to put my hand on my head, by saying that she heard a rumour.”

“That seems consistent with what their father teased to the reporters,” Cat agrees. “This would be much easier if they were only a few years older. Although I guess it’s good, in a way, that it happened before they were fully debuted to the public. This way they may get some privacy here, if you’re careful.”

It’s good, in a way, that it happened now. Her voice is clinical, detached. But he knows her, too. She’s just as concerned for these kids as he is.

“Cat, I don’t.” Tears begin to pool in his eyes, and Magnus scrubs them away. “I don’t know what I’m doing. This girl, she totally blew her house to bits. The other siblings don’t even know that it was her. I’m not even sure that she knows, not entirely. And with the state of the world right now… you’ve heard the rumours, about Valentine returning. People are scared. It’s not a good time, but what can I do? She killed their father, Cat. His body-- his ashes-- were found in the rubble. She’s a child, and she killed him.”

Cat shakes her head. “Magnus…” She wraps her arms around him and he caves into her, resting his head down onto her shoulder. He can’t hold himself up anymore, and she seems to know that, gripping him tightly and sending her magic rippling through his back as she rubs it. It’s comforting. Familiar. Healing. Her magic tells him that it’ll be alright. It reminds him, ironically, that he’s human.

“Listen. I don’t know what these kids are, but they aren’t strictly human. That makes them ours. The Downworld will watch out for them, no matter what’s going on with Valentine. Beyond that, they’ll support you. And this-- this girl, whatever she did, it’s not like what happened with you, love. It won’t be like that, because they have you, now. Okay?”

Magnus nods into her shoulder. “Thank you,” he whispers. Then he straightens.

He can’t mourn forever. He’s got more work to do, and these kids are counting on him.

There’s a rustle of noise from the bed, and Magnus glances over, alert. Vanya is awake, and she’s staring between him and Cat with something akin to horror.

“Vanya, you’re--”

“I killed him,” she whispers. “I killed him. I killed father. What-- You can’t-- you can’t tell them. Oh god, please don’t tell them. Please, please don’t tell them, please.”

Chapter Text

The whole world is burning.

The noise is overwhelming. A thousand cracks of thunder ring through the air all at once, and it keeps going. It just keeps going and going and going and going, until Vanya covers her ears with her hands and squeezes tight, and then suddenly there’s silence.

The world tilts on its axis. She’s at home. Klaus is falling down the stairs like a tumbleweed. There’s blood when he lands. It tilts again and she’s in the basement, her father telling her that she’s very special and very, very dangerous. It tilts again. Diego sneers at her. She can’t be trusted. It tilts again and now she’s falling, through fire and into more fire, and there’s no ground to land on because everything is fire. She takes her hands off of her ears and the thunder cracks again, and this time, the house splits in two.

The house is talking.

“She tried to get me to put my hand on my head--”

“-- consistent with what their father teased to the reporters.”

“people are scared… killed her father.”

“-- aren’t strictly human.”

“Magnus.”

“Killed her father.”

“Ashes.”

“a child and she killed him.”

The world tilts on its axis, and Vanya wakes up.

 

 

The words are coming out of her mouth before she even processes them, before she even understands that she’s talking. She’s begging this man not to tell her siblings what she’s done. Pleading with him. Because they already hate her so much and if they knew- if anyone knew--

“Vanya. I’m Magnus, do you remember me?”

She killed him. She killed her father. She killed him and now he’s dead and he’s not coming back and--

“Remember this? The magic. You’re safe.”

Safe. She’ll never be safe again. No one else will ever be safe as long as she’s around. She killed him, she killed him, she killed him. She’s a murderer. She exploded everything, she destroyed everything, and she’ll destroy this place too, she’ll hurt this man--

“Where are my pills?” she asks him. She’s choking on her own words, they’re all trying to come out too fast. Don’t tell them I’m sorry please make it stop. “I need them, I need my pills.”

They aren’t in her pockets. She destroyed them. The house was burning. They’re probably burnt too.

Oh god, are her brothers and sister still even alive?

“What pills, sweetling?”

“My-- my sister. Five. Diego. Are they-- my pills were in my pocket.”

“Your siblings are all fine, Vanya. They’re here in the other room. I’m afraid I don’t know about any pills.” His voice sounds strained, like he’s lifting something heavy.

A crack of thunder. Maybe a light bulb has exploded. She needs her pills or she’s going to kill everyone, that’s what father says.

“I’m sorry. Oh, I can’t breathe. I can’t-- I’m choking. I killed-- the light bulb--”

Magnus tilts his head at her. “What light bulb? Vanya, you can’t hurt anyone, do you understand? You can’t break anything. I have your powers contained right now.”

“Please I’m sorry please I’m sorry please.”

“Cat?” Magnus looks over his shoulder at something. Someone. “Cat, I think...”

“Yeah. I’ve got it, Magnus. Why don’t you go take a minute to cool down?”

“I can’t leave her. Not like this.” Magnus scratches at his eye with his sleeve. He’s staring at her too closely. She doesn’t understand.

“I’ve got this, I promise. Go take a minute. For the other kid’s sake, if not for your own.”

Magnus leaves, and Vanya wants to call to him, to tell him to come back, to tell him to fix her house, fix the light bulb, fix her father, but she can’t, because he’s gone, and then a wave of something cool and green washes over her eyes and she’s plunged back into darkness.

 

 

Routine.

Routine is important, yes? Young children need routine, particularly those who have recently experienced a traumatic event.

(Magnus may or may not have spent far too many sleepless nights over the past few centuries scouring through any available material on childhood trauma. He had a lot to make sense of, and then later, a lot to be responsible for).

He sends the children to bed. He shows them each of their rooms, the extra blankets, the glasses of water on each of their nightstands. He takes a minute to wish each child a good night’s sleep and to reassure them that their sister will be fine and that he’ll see them in the morning. They’re still not asking any questions or crying but Catarina assures him that it’s normal, they’re probably just in shock.

He knows that, but it doesn’t make it any easier to see.

(It doesn’t help that he’s not entirely convinced that shock is the only reason that these children are numb).

Catarina retires to her own bed a few hours later, with strict orders to call if anything changes and she’ll portal back. Magnus thanks her as profusely as he can in his exhausted state.

(Not that he’ll sleep for all of his exhaustion. It seems as though the only one who will get any sleep tonight is Vanya).

(And who knows what she’s seeing behind her eyelids).

Klaus’s avid tossing and turning finally prompts Magnus to go check on him. He creeps toward the room slowly but noisily, not wanting to startle the boy.

Klaus is wide awake. He’s already sitting up in bed, twitchy and uncomfortable and with the blankets tucked in tightly around every section of his body. His hands cover his ears until he notices Magnus watching.

They drop to his sides.

“You’re not asleep,” Magnus comments quietly.

“I can’t fall asleep,” Klaus stage whispers back. “I’m too awake.”

Magnus makes a gesture like can I come in and Klaus bites his lip and nods, eyes flickering everywhere and hands in constant motion. Magnus sits down slowly on the very edge of the bed; it moves a little under his weight, and both he and Klaus take a moment to notice it. “Too awake, huh? Me too.”

Klaus smiles wide and flashy, like a car salesman convincing a customer. His eyes glint in the light from the hallway. “You could always read me a bed time story.”

“A bedtime story, hmm? Is that what people do when they can’t sleep?”

Klaus shrugs, smile dropping down at the edges. “So I’ve been told.” He looks over Magnus’s shoulder and then away, wringing one pinky finger in the other hand.

“I suppose I could give it a try. If you think that it will help me fall asleep.”

“It might,” Klaus says. He rearranges himself, folding his legs one over another in a contorted position and then rebundling the blankets up around his shoulders. “I heard that the one about the ugly duckling helps people get sleepy. You know, when they tell it. Do you know that one?”

Magnus pauses to feign consideration, and Klaus cracks a tiny smile again.

“There once was an ugly duckling, who all of the other ducklings made fun of because he looked different than them. He was gray and scraggly instead of brown and downy, and he spoke with a voice that was squeaky instead of squawky...”

He projects an image of the ugly duckling onto Klaus’s bedroom wall. One by one the other ducklings appear and join the projection, circling around the first until they’re all there, with a little pond and some fronds and grasses. Klaus startles and then gasps, pointing silently at the ducks with a flailing arm movement that almost knocks Magnus in the face.

“Way cool,” he stage whispers into his blanket, and Magnus chuckles.

He does the voices and he moves the images, and Klaus watches with the rapt half-attention of a child who can’t sit still and has seen too much. When they near the end of the story, where the ugly little duckling is supposed to turn into a beautiful swan, Magnus decides to take it a bit of a different route.

“A goose?” Klaus giggles. “I don’t think that’s right.”

“Oh no, he absolutely is a goose,” Magnus says, flattening his eyebrows and nodding sincerely. “Because here’s the twist: the mean ducks that made fun of the goose, they all still think that he’s ugly even now that he’s grown up. But guess what?”

“What?”

“He decides that even though it hurts his feelings, he’s not going to believe what the ducklings say. Instead, he goes and finds himself a loving family somewhere else, in a different pond.”

“Of gooses?”

“Geese,” Magnus corrects gently. It feels like an appropriate moment to touch Klaus’s nose or ruffle his hair, but instead he retracts his magic from the wall and the room settles back into darkness. “Yes, a family with geese. But also a family with swans, and pelicans, and frogs, and even a few nice ducks that don’t say that he’s ugly.”

“You’re making this up,” Klaus accuses. Magnus shrugs.

“Sure,” he admits. “All stories are made up. But they are all also true.”

Klaus raises his eyebrows and pulls a hand out of his hair to point at Magnus. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“Maybe not.”

There’s a long pause, and then Klaus says, almost too quietly for Magnus to hear. “I hope the goose’s family doesn’t die.”

“Hmm?”

“Nothing.”

“Alright,” Magnus concedes. He stands carefully, and waits until Klaus wiggles back down into the blankets. The child is still looking from left to right with furtive glances, but he seems steadier now. His breathing is more even. Magnus tucks a piece of blanket closer to his shoulder, and Klaus watches the action carefully.

Magnus takes a reluctant few steps back from the bed. “Light on or off?”

Klaus shrugs. He’s folded in across himself now, arms crossed and gaze toward his chest. He doesn’t look at Magnus as he walks across the room.

“Okay, how about I leave it on, then? You can always call me back to turn it off.”

Silence. The moment, then, is thoroughly lost for now. Magnus sighs.

“Okay. You let me know if you need anything, I’ll be awake. Goodnight, little goose.”

 

 

It’s quiet in Magnus’s office. He makes a cup of coffee just to have something to hold. He opens interviews, videos, and articles; each image makes him feel sick.

Eventually, the steam drifting off of his cup in loping whirls convinces his eyes to close, and he sleeps.

Chapter Text

The six children are woken up precisely at 9:00am, by the gentle alarm of their bedside clocks. Magnus couldn’t bring himself to install anything harsher, or earlier, especially after all the children have been through recently.

He serves them all breakfast at the table: peanut butter and banana toast and fresh berries. Then he tells them we’re going to do some running.

He’s greeted with a variety of expressions, everything from confusion to sullen anger, but no one objects. They stay in their uniforms and Magnus marches the little line of children to the loft’s staircase, where he sets the kids loose. Down and up all of the building’s flights, he tells them. At their own pace. It’s not a competition. No fighting.

He really should’ve known better. The thundering of tiny feet on an echoing staircase is only drowned out by the shouting.

“You’re cheating.”
“Don’t touch me.”
“Get out of my way.

Magnus double checks the soundproofing, just to be safe. He may own the building, but he doesn’t need to add tenant complaints to his to-do list. No thank you.

Half an hour later, the kids are still bursting, so Magnus sends them down again. This time he tells them hands clasped together. No using your arms for running or pushing, Diego.

He gets a glare for that one.

It works, just like he hoped it might. By the time the children greet him again at the top, they’re sweaty and just the right amount of exhausted. He leads them upstairs for a TV break and a snack, and they go from there.

Very quickly Magnus understands that the children have absolutely no sense of introception. It’s a common trait for trauma victims, particularly children with previously rigid schedules or neglectful guardians. Check and check. They don’t know when they’re hungry. They don’t complain or rub their eyes when they’re tired. They don’t even take themselves to the bathroom without reminder. They don’t have any grasp on their bodies’ signals whatsoever, reminiscent of much younger children.

So Magnus starts giving them small choices.

Do you want to watch television while you eat a snack, or would you like to read a book while you eat?

Do you want grapes, or blueberries?

Would you like to go for another run, or would you prefer to do some jumping jacks here?

At first they all huddle together, wary and distrustful, and pick the same choices as each other if they answer at all.

By day two, Magnus starts offering slightly more varied options. Do you want to go for a run, or would you rather do a puzzle? Would you like to eat a snack, or stay here without one?

On the third day, they don’t all pick the exact same thing. By the fourth, he thinks they’re starting to catch on.

 

 

Vanya drifts in and out of sleep.

Magnus watches her whenever he can take his eyes off of the others, and Catarina visits whenever she’s not at the hospital. She sleeps, and sometimes she cries, or wakes up long enough to plead for her pills or babble incomprehensibly before she falls asleep again.

Magnus stays with her whenever she wakes and hushes her, murmuring soothing words about how she’s safe now, everything is okay. He tells her over and over that he doesn’t know anything about her pills, and he doesn’t. He wishes that he did, for the way that she seems so desperate for them.

At least so that he could know what he’s up against.

By the end of the second evening, Vanya can sit up long enough to have some soup and water, and Cat takes her IV out. That seems to calm her slightly. Magnus understands.

She begins talking more and more frequently, in snatches of nonsense and story. It’s not long before he can start to piece together some haunting narratives.

She paints a picture of powers that she’s always known she has. Of a little girl who kills her nannies (when she pauses here, to cry and remind Magnus that she didn’t mean to, that she’s really really sorry, he has to clear his throat and excuse himself for a few minutes).

She talks of a father who locks her away. Who convinces her that her power is evil. She tells a story of danger; her own and the world’s. Of a father who drugs her and scares her and prohibits her from using her powers at all outside of rigid training. She talks about her siblings, who don’t even know what her power is, only that she’s dangerous. That she’s not one of them.

She talks about forgiveness and fear and an utter lack of control, but most of all, she talks about pure, absolute isolation.

Magnus doesn’t know what to do with that. He never has.

He has to excuse himself again and again, for fear that she’ll see his fury and think that it’s directed at her. Five catches him once, on the way out of the room, cat eyes alight and fists clenched. Instead of responding with fear the boy scoffs and suggests with saccharine sarcasm that Magnus should go for a run.

Magnus breaths in, breaths out, reigns in his magic, and agrees.

They all run together.

He won’t pretend that he doesn’t hate it, but it does feel like progress.

 

 

The fourth day, for all of its progress, unfortunately happens to be the day before Reginal Hargreeves funeral.

It’s also the day that Vanya decides that she’s ready to see her siblings.

He deals with that first.

“Are you sure, sweetling?” He’s heard enough to fear that this might be a messy reunion.

Vanya nods. “I need to know that they’re okay. You didn’t-- you didn’t tell them what happened, did you? They don’t think that it was me?”

“No, they don’t. I’ve told them that it was an accident. I’m not sure that they’re ready to hear more just yet in any case.”

Vayna nods. She opens and closes her palms, and a rush of power presses against the edges of Magnus’s magic. It’s becoming exhausting to contain her. He’ll have to teach her how to do it herself, just like he learned. Soon.

“I need to tell you something first, Vanya, if that’s okay with you.”

He waits for her nod. Her power moves and jitters, like it’s nervous. Magnus twists a ring around his finger.

“I want you to know that none of what happened was your fault. I told your brothers and sister that it was an accident, and that’s the truth.”

Vanya ducks her head. “I’m a murderer,” she whispers.

“No,” Magnus says firmly, “you’re not. You’re a child. With powers that a grown woman would struggle to contain.”

“You don’t understand.” Vanya wipes a tear from her eye, lips set in a pout. “You don’t understand what it’s like so you don’t get to say anything like that. You don’t understand!”

Magnus sighs. “No,” he says, reluctantly.“I guess that I don’t.”

It’s not the first time that he’s lied to a child, but it still sticks something sharp up through his chest to make the words come out. He could blame it on the exhaustion seeping into his bones. He could certainly blame it on the fire messages from the Downworld that won’t stop coming, and the fear that he can sense throughout the city, and the words of those under his jurisdiction: you’re our only hope, Magnus.

There’s a voice in his head that says that Valentine’s coming, don’t get too comfortable in this life. He tells himself that that’s the only reason that he doesn’t want to share. He almost believes it.

“So,” he says, clapping his hands together. “Let’s go see your siblings, shall we?”

 

 

They aren’t happy to see her.

It’s not that they’re hostile, exactly, but the minute that Vanya steps out into the living room, something in the air changes. The children are alert. They pull their hands behind their backs, a soldier’s stance, as if waiting for Vanya to make the first strike.

“Hi,” she mumbles, looking at her feet.

Ben steps toward her, breaking the line. “I’m glad you’re okay, Seven.” He doesn’t go any further.

Number One tilts his chin up. “You shouldn’t be here,” he says. It comes out half question, and One fidgets in place. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“You don’t belong here,” Diego echoes.

There’s a long moment of silence, where Magnus struggles against the waves of the child’s grief. Then Vanya bites her lip.

“I just wanted to make sure that you’re all okay,” she says.

“Where were you?” Ben asks. “Did you get knocked down by the explosion?”

“Did you see anything?” Diego asks intently, eyes suddenly sharp. “Did you see the bad guys?”

“You shouldn’t be here,” Number One repeats. “You need to go, Number Seven.”

“That’s enough,” Magnus cuts in. He tries to walk the line between firm and gentle, but he knows that it comes out as frustration. “Vanya isn’t going anywhere, and she’s not required to answer any of your questions right now. We’re going to have lunch and then there’s something that we need to talk about. All of us.”

It takes some coaxing, but eventually Vanya agrees to sit at the table, and Luther does too, although he doesn’t take his eyes off of her once during the meal. Diego wolfs down his meal and then kicks his chair back with a loud clatter, huffing as it cracks against the wood.

“This is stupid,” he says. “I’m going to my room.”

“Wait, Diego--” Magnus says, but then he’s ducking. A fire message whizzes past his face and he reaches out blindly to catch it, unraveling it to read under the table.

It’s another message from a neighboring High Warlock. It’s hard to interpret between the cursing, but Magnus gets the gist of it. People are angry. Mostly with him. Big surprise.

When he finally remembers what he was saying and looks back up, Diego is already gone.

Chapter Text

The funeral takes place on a frigid Wednesday afternoon.

All of the snow is frozen, so that the world is a giant ice rink that crunches when you step through it. The sun is bright and glaring, so strong that it hurts your eyes if you don’t shield them.

None of them go.

Instead, they watch it from inside on Magnus’s TV. The funeral is packed with people-- their father was famous, after all. With a lot of rich friends.

Magnus offered to take them, but when they said they didn’t want to go he didn’t push. He said they could have their own funeral some time, if they wanted to.

Klaus doesn’t think that he wants to.

Magnus has this way of looking at you, so that you’re really seen. Not like an experiment or a burden or some random kid. Like the kid that you are inside.

It’s scary, and Klaus could do without it, if he were being honest. But it also feels good. In his experience, good things are usually scary, and vice versa. He can handle it being scary because it’s not scary like the ghosts, and that’s all that matters. It’s not scary like Father, either, though Klaus doesn’t like to think about him.

Good riddance, if you ask him.

Although being dead might just stick Klaus with Father forever, and he would be the only one who has to deal with him. That would really, really suck.

So instead of thinking about that, Klaus does scary things that also feel good, because at least then it’s his choice, right? And he decides that he likes Magnus, even though he’s also scary.

He just doesn’t really know what to do about it, yet.

Except, as the days go by, that feeling comes less and less often, anyways.

Magnus is distracted. He acts like they don’t see the constant phone calls, the messages coming out of nowhere that he reads with a frown, and the way that he whispers to that kind nurse whenever she comes over. The way that he’s sleeping less and less. But Klaus does see it. They all do.

He just doesn’t really know what to do about that, either.

Father taught them lots of things. But nothing useful.

 

 

“So,” Magnus announces. “I’d like to talk about your powers.”

They all instantly stiffen; Klaus does too. It sends a ripple through their little group. Klaus doesn’t miss the way that Luther shoots a guilty glance at the lamp he broke, either. It’s fixed now, even though it was shattered into a million pieces, but they all still remember.

“I still don’t know what most of your powers are,” Magnus explains. “I’d like to get a sense of them, now that you’ve been here for a while. For example, Lu- Number One, I’ve heard that yours has to do with your strength.”

Luther falters. “You can just watch the interviews.”

It’s surprising-- usually Luther always wants to show off.

Magnus seems surprised, too. “I could, but I’d like to hear about it from you directly. I have a feeling that your narratives have been warped enough already.”

He doesn’t know what that means, and probably Luther doesn’t either. But he straightens. “It’s uh, super strength, sir. I could show you if you want.”

“No, that’s okay,” Magnus answers quickly. “And you don’t have to call me sir, Number One. Magnus is fine. Anyone else want to share about their power?”

The room goes dead silent. Except for the ghosts, but only Klaus knows about those. To everyone else it’s crickets. Diego looks like he’s about to punch someone, maybe. Klaus inches away from him.

“We’re not telling you anything,” Diego spits, at the same time that Allison says, “mine is invisibility.”

Magnus blinks. “Invisibility?”

“Yeah, and mine is flame-throwing!” Klaus pipes up. That sounds like a lot more fun than ghosts.

“Mine is shape-shifting,” Vanya says. She’s sitting in the corner on one of Magnus’s couches, away from the group. She smiles a little to herself. Everyone else gapes. They’re playing a game, but for all they know, that could actually be Vanya’s power.

“No it’s not,” Luther says, with his I’m-more-important-than-everyone-else authority.

Vanya looks up at him. “How would you know?” she asks.

Luther pales a little, and Klaus sends a long-distance fist bump to Vanya. But she doesn’t see it.

Magnus sighs. “Look,” he says, “I know that you’re not likely to believe me, since I wouldn’t have believed me at your age, either. But I’m not asking you about your powers to use them for anything. I’m asking for your safety. If I’m going to find a more permanent home for you, then we need to know what the caregivers will have to--”

“You’re going to send us to live with some random non-powered adults?” Allison demands. “That’s not fair.”

Magnus sighs again. He pinches his nose between his thumb and index finger, which in Klaus’s experience is bad news. “Hopefully not,” he says. “I’d like to find a place for you with other adults with powers, but…” he trails off, then continues uncertainly, “it’s just not a great time.”

“We don’t even know what your powers are,” Klaus points out. Because Magnus mentions it a lot but they’ve never really seen it for themselves. Except for the super cool letters that keep appearing out of nowhere. And the story on the bedroom wall. And the one time that Five tried to poof his way out of the building, and fell onto his butt.

Whatever Magnus’s power is, it has to be cool.

“Yeah,” Allison agrees. “You’re being a hypocrite!”

Magnus stares at them for a long moment. A ghost behind them snickers. Magnus has a lot of ghosts in his house.

“Okay,” he relents. “I suppose that you’ll ideally end up living with warlocks anyways, so you’ll find out eventually. Sit down, everyone. This is a long explanation.”

 

-

 

Magnus tells them a bizarre story. One about angels and demons and werewolves and vampires. It sounds totally crazy, but Klaus believes it. It would explain why so many of the ghosts in Magnus’s house look so weird, with horns and scales and claws and skin in funny colours. He thought he might have been imaging that.

“-and so,” Magnus finishes, “I don’t exactly have powers, like you do. I have magic.”

“That’s crap,” Diego huffs. “Prove it. Show us.”

“We don’t demand that from each other in this house,” Magnus chastises, very sternly. Diego turns red but crosses his arms, doing his best to look angry. Diego is always angry. It seems tiring.

“It’s true,” Five says. He looks way too intrigued. “It explains a lot of stuff.”

Ben looks down at his stomach. “So what are we?” he asks. That makes everyone go quiet again.

“I’m not sure,” Magnus answers after a moment. He looks really sad. “Knowing about your powers would help me figure that out.”

“Your friend said that-” everyone turns to look at Vanya, and she ducks her head back down. “That we aren’t human.”

“She meant normal, not human,” Magnus says. “Just because of your powers. She meant that the Downworld would take care of you.”

“But it sounds like they won’t,” Luther speaks up. “You keep saying that it’s not a good time.”

That makes Magnus really pause. He raises a hand and waffles it uncertainly, then brings it up to play with the jewelry on his ear. “That’s not something that you kids have to worry about.”

“It is if we’re homeless,” Allison argues. Magnus shakes his head.

“That won’t happen. You’ll stay with me until we find somewhere else.”

“But your job sounds important,” Luther objects. “Don’t you need to go back to it?”

If Luther weren’t so mean, Klaus would elbow him for that. Instead, he opens his mouth to change the subject but Five beats him to it.

“Why would new people need to know about our powers to take care of us if you don’t?”

“Because,” Magnus explains, “my magic is… such that I can handle unforeseen obstacles. Not everyone can.”

“So you’re super powerful?” Klaus asks. Magnus smiles a little, and something lights up in Klaus’s chest.

“I suppose you could say that, yes.”

“Could you show everyone what you showed me before? But maybe with different animals this time? Please?”

Klaus would really rather keep that as a special secret for himself, but he also really needs to change the subject. He doesn’t want to tell Magnus about the ghosts, or watch Diego throw a tantrum if he’s asked to talk about his powers. He also really, really doesn’t want to talk about living somewhere else.

Not that he thinks that they’ll get to stay with Magnus-- Magnus already said that they can’t. But that doesn’t mean they have to talk about it. Besides, maybe if Magnus has enough fun with them, he’ll change his mind, right?

Magnus’s smile widens. “Sure.” He turns to all of Klaus’s siblings. “Why don’t I show you something?”

Chapter Text

Things move along fairly normally after that.

The kids have a lot of questions about Magnus’s powers. He’s updated the schedule now to include: would you like to read a book, or do you want to ask me some questions? It’s a tad overwhelming-- there’s an infinite amount of no Klaus, you can’t go see a vampire and yes Five, there are in fact mermaids, but we call them Sirens, sorry I didn’t know that you knew what Sirens were, no I can’t teleport quite like you can, no I won’t show you now, please go on and play. But he’s also relieved for them to know. It softens the balance just a little bit between this life and his other one.

Not by enough, but every bit counts.

He starts leaving the loft more often. He feels comfortable leaving the children with Catarina now that they know about her. They go to her place, which is a nice change of scenery for them, and he wards her house just in case. They’re a handful but she can handle them. Besides, it’s not purely selfless for her to babysit, either; she knows that Magnus is needed.

People have started evacuations. The spiral labyrinth can take children and the vulnerable, but there’s few places in the world to escape a man like Valentine.

Typically, there’s no possible outcome which would see Magnus leaving his home. As it stands he may not have a choice.

He should send the children to the care of another warlock. For some reason he doesn’t.

He thinks of Klaus’s tear-tracked cheeks, and Diego’s explosive anger, and the guilt that seems to follow Luther like a cloud. He thinks of Ben’s mournful eyes and Three's fierce stubborness and Five’s feigned callousness and Vanya’s quiet admission of murder.

He also thinks of the Shadowhunters, and how they had reacted the first time that the news of the Umbrella Academy broke. The greed in their eyes. He knows what they do to children. Surely the little gang would already be soldiers for another general by now, if anyone could find them.

Magnus thinks of all of that, and then he doesn’t move their care.

He will. He will, just not now. Not yet.

 

 

The children need clothes.

They need to be able to leave the house, and the uniforms are not very inconspicuous. Magnus had magicked in some plain clothes alternatives when the kids moved in but so far, despite him making his permission very clear, no one has touched them.

Perhaps if they’re given the option to select their own, they’ll wear them.

So, as follows the cliché that his life has become, Magus decides on a shopping trip.

He enlists Cat, and uses a trusted personal connection to rent out a department store. Another phone call later and he’s got the entirety of the ex-Umbrella Academy squashed into a van with tinted windows.

Not his most elegant solution, perhaps, but it’ll do.

“Can I buy jeans?” Number Three asks, for what Magnus is pretty sure is the sixth time. He nods down at her.

“You can get whatever you’d like, within reason,” he tells her again. She turns her head to stare out the window with determined seriousness, but Magnus catches just the tiniest crack of a smile break over her features. It’s the first time that he’s ever seen her smile, when she’s not trying to get what she wants or feign politeness.

“I was thinking that you girls could go with Catarina,” he continues, “and the boys could come with me. Just to make the afternoon more… manageable.”

All of the other kids are sullen and silent. Even Klaus, typically the more effervescent of them, sits with his head down and arms crossed, staring into his lap.

At his words, Number Three whips her head back. “Why does she have to come with me?”

Magnus shrugs. “Mundanes separate clothing by boys and girls. I thought it would be easier that way.”

“I don’t want her anywhere near me.”

Thankful for the hired driver, Magnus takes a moment to turn to the girl. “Number Three… I know that you haven’t had the closest relationship with your sister, but she is your sister, and for better or worse you will live together until you’re grown up. Perhaps you should give her a chance.”

He is the last person to suggest that you must give family a chance simply because they’re family. But the point stands; Number Three and Vanya will inevitably have a childhood’s worth of time together. Because Magnus will not see these children split up.

“Luther says that she’s dangerous.”

Luther catches his name and leans forward from one of the seats behind them. He wanted to sit in the front, but Diego had threatened an assault at the mere suggestion, so Magnus had put them both in the same row, right next to each other in the middle. He also put a wall of magic in between them, because he couldn’t deal with another headache today.

Vanya is with Klaus and Ben in the very back, where hopefully she can’t hear their conversation. He’s already expending half of his focus and energy to keep her powers-- and those unknown powers of her siblings-- at bay in a moving vehicle on a public street. If she gets emotional then Magnus won’t make it through the car ride, let alone shopping, without a nap to recharge.

“She is dangerous,” Luther says. “She shouldn’t be in a place with civilians, sir.”

“I have that covered,” Magnus reminds him. “She’ll be just fine.”

“But father says--” Luther pauses as Diego shoves against the barricade between them, yelling something about being a kiss-up. “Father says that she’s a threat. That she could hurt a lot of people.”

“I’ve got it covered,” Magnus repeats. It’s a fine line, with Luther. The child can be so terrible to his siblings, so domineering, but he’s so skittish and eager to please with adults. Magnus tries to balance the scales between discipline and softness, but it doesn’t always land in the way that he intends. “Diego, please don’t drain my magic unnecessarily.”

Diego sulks, slamming on the barrier one more time for good measure.

“So, Number Three, if I can promise you that everything will be just fine, are you willing to shop with your sister?”

Number Three bites the inside of her cheek, considering. It occurs to Magnus that he still doesn’t know her chosen name. “I guess. If I can buy jeans.”

“You can buy jeans. And who knows, maybe you and Vanya will get some sister bonding time in.”

He doesn’t get a response to that.

 

 

Cat meets them at the department store. She’s wearing a stunning purple dress, hair down around her shoulders, and at least three of the children stop to gawk at her for a second. She is an impressive sight, when she wants to be.

(He’d gotten a few looks this morning, too. Since it’s meant to be a casual outing, Magnus had gone for something a little more creative. Flowing trousers, a button up, and an army jacket are tied together with thick eyeliner and a little colour in his hair. The children don’t seem to be used to him, quite yet. He figures it’s a good example for the future).

“You look lovely, Cat,” he tells her as he pecks her on the cheek. She looks him up and down.

“You’re not bad yourself. You girls ready?”

“Have fun,” Magnus tells them, and Cat shepherds them off, Number Three bounding ahead and Vanya trailing behind, eyes wide.

“Alright gentleman, shall we see what we can find?”

Ben shrugs, and Diego kicks at the nearest clothing rack, hands in his pockets. Luther looks vaguely flabbergasted, mapping out the space with thinly veiled awe and confusion. Five just rolls his eyes and wanders on down the aisle, documenting everything that he sees in a tiny notebook.

Klaus trails after him, sullen.

“Okay, I suppose that we’re going this way.”

They head to the shoe section first. The kids need winter boots.

They try them on with clinical detachment, standing to test their weight and rocking in and out of fighting stances. Five tests a jump, then frowns.

“These shoes don’t make any sense.”

“Why not, Five? And to be clear, you can jump within the store, but not out of it, alright?”

Five rolls his eyes in response, waving a dismissive hand. “They’re too big. How can we move in these?”

“Well, you won’t need to fight in them. They’re meant for walking in the snow.”

“But father says that we need to be prepared to fight all the time,” Luther chimes in.

“Father’s dead,” Diego snaps. It’s first time that he’s spoken since the car ride over. “So shut up about him and his stupid opinions.”

“Don’t say that!”

“Why not, it’s true? Someone killed him, so he’s dead. Unless that’s not how it works, Number One.

“I’m the leader and I say that we listen to dad anyways.”

“Screw you!” Diego shouts. “Dad only made you the leader because you’re a suck-up, and now dad’s gone anyways so you aren’t the leader anymore. You can’t tell anyone what to do.”

Diego’s boot goes flying with surprising accuracy toward Luther’s face, and Luther swipes it out of the air. “What are you doing? Don’t use your power in here, Two!”

“For the last time, don’t tell me what to do!”

Magnus catches the glint of the knife before he sees it and reacts on instinct, reaching out to block it midair with his magic. It clatters to the ground near Klaus’s feet, who stares at it with wide eyes, one boot on, the other foot in only a sock.

“This is childish,” Five objects, and jumps again, landing a few feet away. “These boots are fine.”

“Hold it, everyone.” Magnus raises a hand. With the other, he walks over to grab the knife off of the ground. It’s a butter knife from the loft, sharpened to a thin point. “Diego, give me the rest of these.”

Diego crosses his arms.

“Give me the rest of your knives, now.”

Diego reaches in his pocket and grabs a couple, then drops them on the ground in front of him with a clatter. There’s two more in his socks, and one somewhere behind his shoulder. All of them land in the pile. Magus takes them.

“I don’t know what you were thinking,” he says, “but attacking your brother like that was not acceptable. I know that you’re angry but perhaps you should take a break to cool off.”

“You’re not our father,” Diego says. “You can’t tell me what to do either!”

Magnus’s head is pounding. He tries to keep his voice level. “I am your guardian right now, Diego, and I’m just trying to keep you and your siblings safe. Don’t--”

“You keep saying that,” Diego interrupts, “but you still haven’t caught the bad guys who wrecked our house. You haven’t done anything! Except for some stupid magic tricks and dressing like a dumb girl.”

“I don’t--” Magnus pauses for breath. “Sit down and cool off, Diego.”

“Fine.” Diego kicks at a boot this time, sending it flying, and then marches into the nearby change room with a scowl.

 

 

The next hour goes by remarkably smoothly, considering. Diego returns after a few minutes and picks out some boots in silence, handing them off to Magnus without looking him in the eye.

They head for pants, next, and some humour finally breaks the tension when Magnus realizes that none of the children have ever worn jeans before. They’re all absolutely baffled.

“Regular kids wear these?” Klaus asks, wrinkling his nose down at them. He’s hardly spoken since Diego and Luther’s fight, but the act of trying things on appears to be bringing some life back to him. “They’re awful. And boring.” He peels the edge of the waistband away from his skin and pulls it out, grimacing.

“I think they’re okay,” Ben says. “Maybe a little uncomfortable.” He wiggles his hips like a caterpillar. Magnus bites his lip on a smile.

“They’re thick,” Luther chimes in. “Maybe that’s good protection from knives--” he shoots a look at Diego-- “and other stuff.”

“Diego, what do you think?” He wants to ensure that the boy still feels included, even after his outburst. Diego shrugs. “They’re fine,” he says.

“Great,” Magnus says. “The universality of denim to the rescue.”

Shirts are next, and the children shuffle over in their new jeans. Magnus would prefer to simply let them loose in the kids section to choose, but the looks on their faces suggest that that hardly seems viable, and anyways, they’re fading fast. This is too much stimulation for all of them.

So Magnus walks them through it slowly, pointing out some suitable possibilities and explaining the typical associations with each type of item. When he notes that button up shirts are often associated with formality and authority, Luther picks two. Diego and Five both grab plain gray t-shirts, and Diego adds a faux-leather jacket to the pile, which, despite what’s certainly an intention to look tough, only makes him look adorable.

Ben grabs a few hoodies, citing perpetual coldness, and throws a green sweater at Klaus. Klaus hasn’t picked anything out for himself yet, however, and Magnus goes over to crouch beside him.

“Are you having a hard time picking things?” he asks.

Klaus shrugs. “Not really. I just don’t like anything here.”

“Oh? And what would you like?”

Klaus’s lips press together and he shakes his head, but Magnus doesn’t miss the way that his gaze strays out over Magnus’s shoulder. He turns, and the only thing in Klaus’s eye line is the edge of the women’s department, where Number Three is running past with an armful of denim and pink.

The meaning dawns on him pretty quickly. “Oh. Would you rather be shopping with your sisters?”

Klaus bites his lip, tugging on the bottom of his shirt as he flickers his gaze back up. It’s a habit of his; one that has gradually stretched his shirt out over his thin frame, making it hang more like a short dress or nightgown. It’s a habit that makes much more sense now.

“Diego says that you dress like a girl,” Klaus hedges, uncertainly. His eyes are wet.“He says that you shouldn’t look like that.”

“Diego has learned some things from your father that aren’t true, little goose. You can wear whatever you’d like.”

Klaus glances over at Ben, who gives him a tiny thumbs up. “Maybe I’ll just look with the girls. Would that be that okay? You can pick some plain shirts for me here like Diego got.”

“Sure,” Magnus says. This time, he does ruffle Klaus’s hair. Klaus smiles, bottom lip still trembling a little.

 

 

“I think Vanya would prefer to shop with the boys,” Cat says, as soon as they reach each other. Vanya’s eyes are firmly on the floor.

Magnus smiles. “We’ll be trading children then,” he says, and nudges Klaus forward in explanation. “Welcome, Vanya.”

“Klaus! Do you think that I can pull off a denim skirt?” Number Three shouts from the change room.

The afternoon fall into place, after that.

 

 

They spend a little more time in their respective departments, and Magnus fills Vanya’s hands with t-shirts and hoodies and baggier jeans. Soon, however, rumbling stomachs and waning energy signal that it’s time to head home.

“Alright kids, let’s grab what we have and head home for dinner, shall we?”

Five’s head snaps up from his notebook. “Finally.”

There’s some shuffling in the change room, and then Vanya pops out. “May I wear these home?” she asks. Magnus nods.

“Of course. My card is on file so you don’t even have to take them off to pay.”

Ben pops out of the change room shrouded in a black hoodie that’s at least three sizes too large. Luther trails after him in a gray dress shirt, jeans clutched in his hands.

“Thank you, Magnus,” Luther says politely.

Magnus winks at him. “You’re welcome, bumblebee. Now, where’s your brother wandered off to?”

“He wasn’t in the change room,” Ben says, and Magnus frowns.

“Oh? Then where--” A piercing alarm cuts Magnus off, screeching through the entire department store. An automated voice comes on over the loud speaker.

Emergency exit in use. Please exit single file. Emergency exit in use. Please keep calm and leave the building quickly. Emergency exit in use.

Cat comes rushing over with Klaus and Three at her heels as Magnus sends his magic out, searching 360 degrees throughout the building for any trace of Diego.

There’s nothing.

Diego is gone.

Chapter Text

Magnus gathers the children as quickly and efficiently as he can, One Three Four Five Six Seven. Only Two missing. Only Diego.

He double and triple checks the store but there’s no sign of the boy. How could he have lost him? How could he have scolded a child so fresh out of a loss like that, and then left him alone? What has he done?

But there’s no time for that.

He herds the children into a group and tells them to hold hands, to clear their minds. He wants to give them a little more warning this time. They’re fearful but immediately follow the instructions, and Magnus portals them back to his loft in one large group. Only Five and Luther land gracefully, the others toppling over but quickly righting themselves and standing back at attention, looking vaguely dizzy. Cat follows a moment after through her own portal.

“You’ll all need to stay here while I search for him,” Magnus instructs.

“Where did he go?” Ben asks.

“I’m not sure, my dear, but I’ll find him, don’t you worry. You can stay here with Catarina.”

“I want to help look,” Number Three says. Luther nods.

“We should all help. We can fan out, cover more ground.”

Magnus opens his mouth to protest but Cat tugs on his sleeves and he looks to her. “I don’t know about the children, but I should help, Magnus,” she says. “We can work much more quickly with the two of us.”

“I don’t have a clue where he would have gone,” Magnus whispers back. Cat is right-- the two of them make an excellent team when it comes to finding people-- but right now he needs a moment of reassurance. The past few days are rapidly catching up with him.

Cat always knows. She winks at him. “He’s an angsty young boy. Remember when we tracked those Shadowhunters spies through that bog? This’ll be easy, trust me.”

Magnus nods resolutely. “Okay,” he tells the group, “Cat will come with me. But I need you children to stay here. In case Diego comes back.”

“I’ll stay,” Five offers. “By myself. Everyone else can go.”

Magnus squints at him.

“It should be me,” Five adds. “I can portal to you if he comes, to tell you that he’s back.”

“We have cellphones for that, pumpkin.”

Five shrugs.

“Alright,” Magnus concedes. He makes a split second decision, examining the worried and determined faces of the group in front of him. These are kids who are used to missions. They’re kids who’ve had far too little power in their lives. They need to be given the chance to help. “You can stay behind, Five, and the rest of you can come help search. If you follow my orders to the letter. We can’t afford to have two children missing.”

They nod, backs ramrod straight. Magnus turns to Five.

“But it’s not legal for you to be here alone. You’ll need a chaperone. I’ll-- I’ll call Mr. Furt, from next door. He owes me a favour.

Magnus had charmed one particularly large reptile for the man at one point, if memory serves.

“Who cares if it’s not legal?” Five argues. “Is it legal for you to have us here? Do you have a foster license?”

Despite not understanding the use value of a cell phone, it’s clear that Five’s been on the internet.

“Downworlders have different laws than mundane laws. I’m following those.”

“But mundanes don’t like that. They’ll come get us, right?”

“We don’t have time for this discussion right now,” Magnus declares. They don’t. Light is waning, and it’s freezing outside. It’s an important discussion-- and an important problem, one that Magnus has been putting off solving-- but it’ll have to wait. “I’ll call Mr. Furt.”

 

 

Fifteen minutes later, Magnus and the hoard of jeans-and-brand-new-winter jacket clad children are shivering as they carve a path through the centre of downtown, near the department store. It’s nearly dark and although Magnus can see just fine with his cat eyes, he knows that Diego can’t.

Every minute that passes is one more where Diego could be lost, or taken, or recognized.

“Do you have any idea where he might go?” Magnus asks Ben, who’s hardly spoken a word. Ben considers.

“I think he’ll be looking for the person who destroyed our house,” he says.

Magnus has considered it. Cat is searching the property where the Umbrella Academy used to stand as they speak, but so far there’s no word from her. He can’t imagine where else a child might go when searching for someone like that, with zero leads and only their own two feet.

“Anywhere else that he might have gone?”

“Two likes to be alone when he’s sad,” Ben says. “Maybe he’s just hiding away. Maybe he’ll come back.”

“Maybe,” Magnus answers. “I certainly hope so.”

Half an hour later and they’re running out of options. Cat turned up nothing at the old house, or in the surrounding area. Mr. Furt has nothing to report. There’s no sign of anyone within 3 square blocks of the department store.

He’ll have to track him.

Pulling out the knife that Magnus has stashed in his pocket, he checks to ensure that he’s not being watched, and then discretely removes his glamour and lights the object up with blue. A few focused seconds pass with his breath held tight in his chest. Then he feels the pull.

Diego’s alright. And he’s close.

Magnus sends a grateful smile to Vanya that she’s keeping her powers in check enough for him to focus on the task, and then sends a mental apology to Diego. Being tracked with magic is highly uncomfortable. Magnus can feel the spike of paranoia shoot through their connection; Diego has the sense that he’s being watched.

It won’t be for long, however.

“This way,” Magnus says, ushering the kids further up the street. Luther is at the back of the group, looking left and right, hand positioned over his eyes like he’s acting out searching. At Magnus’s words he pauses and then nods, picking up the pace and encouraging everyone else to do the same.

A few blocks down the glow begins to increase enough that Magnus is forced to keep the knife hidden in his jacket. Another couple of minutes later and that’s no longer enough; a faint blue glow can be seen emitting from his stomach, like a glow stick. Magnus’s spirits start to lift. The kids can feel it too. They’re close.

By now, however, they’re in the outskirts of the downtown core. The landscape is changing-- stores turn to apartment complexes and then to warehouses, covered in grafitti and smelling of piss. This area is familiar, but not one that Magnus enters readily with children. He considers sending them home but one look at their faces changes his mind. They may not be a regular family, but they’ll still fight for their brother.

“Stay close,” he instructs.

Something raises the hair on the back of Magnus’s neck. He pauses abruptly, rolling into a defensive position that has the children mirroring him. Something is wrong.

There’s a click off to the right, in a small alley between two warehouses. Magnus raises his hands to his waist.

“Show yourself, Shadowhunter.”

There’s a second of silence, and then a figure emerges out of the darkness. A stele glints from one pocket; on the other side, a quiver hangs, full and at the ready. Magnus makes a low noise in the back of his throat on an exhale and steps in front of the children.

“Where’s the boy?”

“Who are you?” The man demands. His hazel eyes take Magnus in with scrutiny. “What are you doing here?”

“Where’s the child? I tracked him here.”

“I’ve got him safe,” the Shadowhunter responds. “You’re Magnus Bane, aren’t you? I’ve seen your photos in our records.”

“I’m sure that you have,” Magnus replies. “And who, may I inquire, am I speaking with?”

Thick dark eyebrows pull down together. “Alexa- Alec. Lightwood. From the New York institute.”

A Lightwood. Wonderful. Just Magnus’s luck. He steps even further in front of the children, hoping to keep them obscured and out of the Shadowhunters’ mind for the time being.

“Well Alexander from the New York institute, I believe that I asked you a question. Where’s the boy? He’s my ward, and I’d like to take him home.”

The man frowns. “He’s your ward? We have no notice of that.”

“I didn’t give any,” Magnus responds icily. “I’m not required to by the Accords or any law, am I?”

“Technically no,” Alec answers, tilting his head to one side in consideration. “But how can I know that you’re genuine? That the boy is with you? And--” he adds, eyeing the others for the first time, “that they are meant to be with you?”

At this point, Luther speaks up. “We’re with Magnus, sir,” he says smoothly. “Please direct us to our brother.”

Alec squints. “Your brother? There’s an awful lot of you. Are you all siblings?”

“That’s enough,” Magnus interrupts. The more questions they answer, the greater chance that the Shadowhunter has of recognizing them. Magnus notices with relief that his night-rune isn’t activated. That might buy them some time.

“Are you a Shadowhunter?” Klaus asks. Magnus sighs.

To his surprise, however, the man smiles. “Yes,” he answers. As Klaus takes a step forward, Alec crouches down a little, shifting his weight just slightly onto his heels to be closer to their height. “I am a Shadowhunter. What are you?”

“They’re with me,” Magnus repeats, speaking over Klaus. He steps in front of him once again, until he and the Shadowhunter are face to face. Alec straightens.

They stare at each other for a long moment, and then Alec clears his throat.

“The boy that you’re looking for is right behind me, with my brother Jace and my sister Isabelle. We finished a mission further west and were on our way back to the Institute when we found him here. He’s fine. A little scared, but fine.”

“Thank you,” Magnus responds curtly. “I’ll go check for myself.”

“I can wait here with these guys, if you’d like?” Alec offers. Magnus shakes his head.

“I’ll notify my friend Catarina. She’ll be here shortly.”

He writes her a quick fire message: Diego here. Lightwoods, too, and ignores the incredulous “Catarina Loss?” that Alec mutters into his shoes.

She appears a moment later. “I’ll watch the kids,” she says, eyes on the Shadowhunter. “Go get him.”

Magnus nods and walks further into the alley, shuffling past the Shadowhunter who dodges quickly out of his way, squeezing his large frame to one wall. Magnus has just enough time for it to occur to him that this could be a trap before he sees Diego, sitting in a small opening in between the buildings with two attractive young Shadowhunters.

One is clearly a Lightwood, all brown hair and bright eyes, but the other doesn’t look related. Magnus can’t fathom the idea that Maryse Lightwood would ever adopt a child, but anything is possible, he supposes.

“Diego,” he calls. The child immediately turns to him. “Are you alright?”

Diego ducks his head and nods. He appears to be unharmed; Magnus’s overwhelming relief at finding him drowns out any other doubts.

“He hasn’t spoken a word to us,” the woman tells him. She flips her hair over her shoulder and smiles. “Isabelle Lightwood. You’re Magnus Bane, yes?”

Magnus nods and takes her offered hand. “Yes. Your brother informed me that you would both be here with my ward.”

“Jace,” the other boy chimes in, and offers his hands too. Magnus shakes it. This will go more smoothly if he plays nice.

“Lovely to meet you, I’m sure,” he says. “You may return to your Institute now. Thank you for keeping him safe.”

Isabelle flashes him a gleaming smile. “Our pleasure. It was lovely to meet you, Magnus. I’m sure that Alec would agree.”

Magnus nods wordlessly and then they’re gone, in a flounce and flash of movement. He’s left alone with Diego.

“Hey, chickpea,” he says. He creeps forward and then sits, plopping himself down on the concrete, giving Diego ample space. “You are alright, aren’t you? You had us all worried.”

Diego stares at his hands.

“It’s okay, you’re safe now. No harm done. Your siblings will be very excited to see you.”

Water is dripping from somewhere in the alley, and Magnus finally has the presence of mind to feel the cold seeping through his pants. It’s got to be at least ten degrees below zero. Diego, inexplicably, is wrapped up in a leather jacket at least double his size, big enough to wrap over his shoulders and then across his folded knees like a blanket.

“Did you get that from one of the Shadowhunters?”

Diego shrugs. The scar above his eye becomes visible in the shifting moonlight and then fades again. He shivers.

“What were you doing here? Were you looking for something?”

Still no answer. Magnus takes the moment to grab the knife out of his pocket and release the spell, then flips the knife in his hand easily and holds it out to Diego.

“Why is it that you never speak to me when we’re alone, hmm?”

It’s not the first time he’s noticed the pattern. Diego is unabashedly vocal when he’s with the rest of his siblings, but the few times that Magnus has caught him alone, he’s always managed to avoid speech.

After a moment, Diego reaches for the knife slowly, as if afraid that Magnus will pull it away. He doesn’t.

“I wonder if you might be more comfortable if we called someone over for you,” Magnus thinks aloud, then calls out into the alley. “Klaus! Would you come here, please?”

Klaus appears in the alleyway a moment later, hands wringing together. He pauses when he can see Magnus but not Diego, and bites his lip.

“Could you come over here for me?”

Klaus rocks forward on his toes, compelled by the request, and then pulls himself up short. He shakes his head. Magnus notices that his eyes are wet.

“What’s wrong pet?”

Klaus shakes his head more urgently, and the tears start to fall. Magnus springs to his feet. “Klaus, are you alright?”

“I won’t, I won’t,” Klaus murmurs. “I can’t. Please don’t make me, Magnus.”

“Don’t make you what? Don’t you want to see your brother?”

Klaus wraps his arms around his middle and squeezes his eyes closed. Magnus looks at Diego, hopeful for some guidance.

Diego takes a big breath. “He--” he stops, clenches his jaw, then starts again. “He thinks I’m dead. That’s why-- that’s why he’s upset.”

“He thinks you’re dead? Why-- Klaus, Diego is just fine, he’s right here!”

After a moment with no response, Magnus sends a fire message. A minute later, Ben appears in the alleyway.

“Klaus!” Ben calls. At his voice, Klaus finally opens his eyes. Diego stands, flipping the knife and tucking it into his pocket, and walks into Klaus’s eye line.

“I’m fine, Four.”

Klaus stares at him, then turns to Ben, eyes wide. Ben nods. “I see him too, it’s okay.”

At that, Klaus bursts into tears.

 

 

It’s a little while later before Magnus gets the whole explanation. Ben explains in a low voice that Klaus’s power is to see the dead-- it takes the entirety of Magnus’s willpower not to lose his eyebrows all the way up his forehead or let out some tears himself.

Klaus nods in confirmation now and again, but doesn’t do much else except to wrap himself around Diego like an octopus, which Diego seems to bear with a begrudging acquiescence.

Eventually, Magnus tries again, and asks Diego what he was doing here.

“I wanted--” he pauses. “I wanted to see Grace.”

“Grace? Who’s Grace?”

But Diego refuses to say anything else.

Chapter Text

They walk to a diner. Magnus hangs back with Diego, watching the group skip ahead, re-energized now with a completed task behind them and refreshments ahead.

It doesn’t slip his notice how awed the kids appear to be with just about everything-- it’s clear that they never got out much when they were living with their father. They nudge each other and point out every building, every snow drift, every streetlight. It’s been a long night, but none have lost their resolve.

Except Diego.

“So, chickpea, would you like to tell me a little bit more about Grace?”

Grace, the nanny. Ben and Klaus filled him in on many of the details, although their explanation was as disjointed as it often is with the children of adults who make decisions for them without explanation or word. It sounds as though Grace was only living with them for a short while. Their descriptions of her are strange, however, and fantastical, as though she was a character that they all made up together, like a collective imaginary friend.

Diego shakes his head, staring at the sidewalk. Magnus smiles.

“Maybe we can play a game of questions, hm? You can shake your head no or nod yes.”

There’s no response, and Magnus prompts with a hand, laughing softly. Diego’s lips turn up just slightly and he nods.

“Wonderful. So Grace was your nanny, yes?”

Diego nods.

“Did she live with you children in your house at the academy?”

Another nod.

“Did she live there for more than a year?”

Diego pauses, shrugs.

“For a long time?” Magnus clarifies. He gets a head shake no.

“But you cared about her?”

There’s a very long pause this time, and Magnus almost thinks that the boy won’t answer; then he nods slowly. The leather jacket is still hanging off of his frame-- he’s refused to part with it-- and he bundles further into the coat, hunching his shoulders.

“Was she kind to you?”

A nod.

“Did she know about your stutter?”

Diego stops dead on the sidewalk. He turns big, shocked eyes on Magnus. Then his gaze falls back to the ground.

“I’m not wrong, am I?” Magnus stops too and turns, crouching slowly until he’s a head shorter than Diego, who still won’t look up, arms crossed resolutely. Up ahead, Vanya looks over her shoulder at them and frowns, and Magnus waves her on with a reassuring smile. “It’s okay, you know, Diego. Plenty of children have stutters.”

“I don’t,” Diego murmurs.

“Okay, maybe I have it wrong,” Magnus concedes. “But I don’t think that I do. That’s why you won’t speak unless your siblings are around, right? You don’t want me to know.”

“I don’t!” Diego insists, louder. “I d-- I don’t.”

His little fists clench tightly, and Magnus sighs. There may be a correct way to do this, but if there is, Magnus doesn’t know what it is. Diego is so, so angry and so stubborn, it seems an impossible task to get him to soften. Would it even be ethical to ask him to? There’s a clock over all of their heads-- perhaps it’s best that Magnus leaves this kind of bonding to the adult that the children will ultimately stay with.

Perhaps it is not in Diego’s best interest to open up to someone only to have them leave again. The way that Grace did.

“Okay, you don’t,” Magnus says. “I think you should know, however, that it would be okay if you did. It’s no sign of weakness, you know.”

Diego mutters something under his breath, and Magnus tilts his head. “Pardon?”

“I said it is.”

“It is what?”

“Nevermind.”

“Listen, I think maybe that the two of us have talked enough don’t you? What do you say we catch up to your siblings and go and have some dinner? It’s certainly long overdue.”

Diego nods stiffly, and when he turns away and reaches up to wipe a tear from his eye with his sleeve, Magnus pretends not to see it, even though it makes his heart ache.

 

 

Magnus contemplates Diego all through dinner, despite his best intentions. A number of times he has to pull himself from his thoughts-- as Klaus or Number Three calls his name for the third or fourth time-- to re-engage in the meal in front of him.

He’s not sure what it is that’s bothering him so much about the whole mess. All of the children concern him in a way that feels unique to, and more urgent than, the children that he’s given home to before. There’s something darker in the way that they all exist in the world, as if they never learned how to be people, only soldiers. Only machines.

Even the downworlders that Magnus has taken in before usually come from tragedy. They come into his life in a rain of tears or blood or fear, and they weep with him all through the night and beg for their parents or for their previous lives to return. Even those he’s encountered who are numb are so in a way that feels deliberate; they walk with their armored bodies and guarded hearts and don’t let anyone in.

These children don’t feel like that. They feel… two dimensional, even in their joy and sadness. It’s reminiscent of some of the downworlder adults that he keeps acquaintance with who lived during the decades when they were hunted for sport; people who have experienced far too much for one person to handle, and who have resigned themselves to a world in which that will always be the case.

People that Magnus has always envied but now, seeing these children with the same heaviness etched into their bones, he regrets that envy. It unsettles him.

They go a little wild with the food.

Each of the children orders at least two meals off of the kids menu, and Luther orders three. They end up passing all of the bowls and plates around and piling up their own in front of them with a bit of everything. This time, the children eat hungrily, greedily, without abandon, and it almost makes them come alive again.

They opt for walking home, since they’re closer now and their bellies are full. The children walk as a group and stare up at the stars. Klaus even twirls once or twice, when he thinks that no one is watching.

By the time they get back it’s quite late, and Magnus has a gnawing anxiety in his gut about Five, who they left all alone. He seemed eager to be left and yet if feels wrong to have had this night without him.

Magnus opens the door with a key, simply because it feels wrong to have children in a home without a lock, even if it is absolutely safe with the wards. Beyond that, Mr. Furt is a mundane and though he knows about Magnus, he’ll be expecting the homeowner to enter with a key.

As he walks in, he turns to tuck the key back into his pocket, and that is why he doesn’t see what’s happening until it’s too late.

There’s a scuffle of feet and a curse. A loud popping noise. Magnus feels something wrap around his wrists. In another moment, Five appears in front of him, clutching a glass vial and wielding it in front of him like a hostage.

The other kids gasp and step back, and Luther calls out, “Five!”

“Don’t move,” Five warns. He waves the vial side to side. It glitters and fizzes as the green liquid inside sloshes back and forth, nearly up and over the edge. “Don’t move or I’ll drop this and it’ll explode.”

Chapter Text

“Five, what are you doing?” Magnus tugs on his wrists experimentally. They’re wrapped in some kind of rope or twine behind his back. The knot is actually quite tight and firm; his hands won’t budge. He can magic out of them, of course, but for the moment he does as Five says and stays still.

Whatever Five is holding shimmers inside the glass. It looks like--

It looks like the two spells that Magnus had brewing in his locked office, combined into one container.

In which case Five would be correct; if he drops it, it could do some serious damage.

“You killed our father and destroyed our house,” Five says. There’s hatred glinting in his eyes. There’s fear there, too; but there’s also something worse, something more reckless. “You’re going to tell us why, or I’m going to kill you.”

“Wait, what?” Magnus’s brain comes to a screeching halt. “You can’t be serious.”

“I am.”

“What are you trying to do here?”

“I told you, you’re going to tell us what you did. And I want to know why.”

“You still believe that I’m responsible for your father’s death.” It’s not a question.

“I know you are,” Five bites back. “I can’t prove it yet but I know that you did everything.”

It stings, but beyond Magnus’s initial shock, it is a fair assumption. A logical one. After all, Magnus is the one who showed up to take the children. Magnus is the one who convinced them to stay with him. Magnus is the one with magic-- the only person the children know who is powerful enough to level a city block.

It’s a fair assumption. One that Five has convinced himself is truth.

But this? Five is threatening to kill him. Five is a child, but a child who, as far as Magnus can tell, is entirely serious about carrying out his threat. A child, armed and ready to murder a man in cold blood. A perfectly crafted weapon.

A two-dimensional soldier.

All at once, everything comes into sickening perspective.

“You’ve killed someone before.”

Five tightens his grip on the canister. “I can do it again.”

“Who did you kill, Five?”

“You don’t get to ask me that!”

A wave of power rolls off of Vanya behind him, nearly knocking Magnus over with the force of it. He almost forgot about the blood on her hands. What Five is accusing him of, what Five is holding him hostage for, is Vanya’s doing. Not her fault, but she doesn’t understand that yet.

She shouldn’t be here.

“Children, I think that you should leave with Mr. Furt, please.” He makes his voice as firm as possible. “Where is he, Five?”

Magnus has them protected. Even still, he’s not taking the chance that something occurs that he can’t predict, especially when one of the tiny children behind him is just as much of a walking bomb as the container in Five’s hand.

And in any case, physical protection is not the only kind of protecting that this little family needs.

“We don’t want to go,” Number Three says. He can’t tell from her voice whether she believes Five’s accusations or not. She may want to stay to protect her brother. She may want to stay to stop her brother. He can’t see what any of them are thinking or feeling.

He can’t make this better for them.

“Just tell me why you killed our father,” Five insists. “What do you want with us?”

Magnus can’t help it-- he closes his eyes.“Nothing. I don’t want anything from any of you, except to keep you safe. I told you that.”

“You want to use our powers. For what?”

“No,” Magnus says. “No, I don’t, Five, I promise you that I don’t.”

“I believe him,” Diego chimes in from behind him. “He doesn’t even know what our powers are, Five.”

“Yeah, lay off, okay?” Klaus adds tentatively. His voice breaks and Magnus wants to hug him. “Magnus didn’t do anything.”

Five rolls his eyes. “Think about it,” he says, with all of the urgency and frustration of someone explaining something of great significance to a child. He seems to have forgotten that he’s just a child, too. “He comes right after our house explodes. He brings all of us to his house. He’s controlling our powers. And he kept Vanya away from us the whole week. It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

There’s no response behind him. Magnus chances a glance backward, and the kids look wary. Confused.

“Everyone, please go to Mr. Furt’s apartment.”

Magnus may have them protected, but his magic can’t protect Five from himself. If that thing explodes… it’s unthinkable. He won’t let that happen.

They don’t need to see their brother like this, either.

Though it seems likely now that they already have.

Vanya’s power is rolling off of her in waves. It’s difficult to think. He wants to put up a barrier around the potion or to simply move it somewhere else, but while he doesn’t require his hands for those spells, he does need to move. He’s not certain that he can pull it off without Five pulling the trigger. Containing Vanya without any movement is already difficult enough.

“Last chance,” Five snarls. He takes a step closer, and Magnus tries to focus. Tries to breath. He can fix this. “Tell me why you did it!”

“No,” Luther’s voice interrupts, clear as a bell through the tension. Everyone pauses. “It wasn’t him. It was her.”

Five’s swivels to Luther in a millisecond, gaze steely on his sibling. “What do you mean?” he demands.

“Number Seven. She lost control. She did this.”

At that moment, two things happen.

One, Magnus blinks as hard as he can manage, and the potion and restraints both disappear.

Two, all of the lights in loft shatter at once, and everyone turns to Number Seven just as everything goes dark.

 

 

Number One holds his breath as he creeps another socked foot forward down the hallway. He’s not supposed to be here, and if Father catches him…

But he has to be here. He has to see what’s happening. Number One never breaks the rules-- a leader never breaks the rules, that’s what Father says-- but he’s breaking them just a little bit this time because he needs to see.

Stretching himself up on his toes, Number One peeks around the corner. The coast is clear. He shuffles down the hallway and presses himself against the door. There’s no noise from inside. The room is sound proof, and that’s why Number One needs to see, even though it makes this mission more dangerous.

There’s a little window set into the corner of the wall next to the door and that’s where Number One stations himself. He takes a big breath, holds it, and then turns and peeks in.

Inside the office, Father and Number Seven are talking. Father is standing behind his desk-- he never stands when Number One is in the room-- and saying something very sternly to Number Seven. Instead of listening she’s talking back, talking over Father. She’s always talking over Father. She’s dangerous and she doesn’t obey, and somehow, she still gets the most time with Father. He’s more lenient with her.

It’s not fair.

Number One pulls away from the door when Father turns in his direction, and gasps for air.

He closes his eyes and counts to ten, thinking of every excuse that he can so that Father won’t be angry with him, but he knows that he can’t lie. Leaders never lie, either, and Number One is a leader.

He’ll take whatever punishment he gets. He can handle it, that’s what Father says. He doesn’t get punished very often because he doesn’t ever disobey, but Father likes to push him to see what he’s capable of. And sometimes he gets punished when the team doesn’t do well or when one of his siblings displeases Father. Usually Two, or Four. They never listen and it seems a bit unfair that Number One gets punished because of it, but he knows that it’s because he’s the leader.

It scares him a little, what punishment he might get for something like this. They aren’t supposed to be around Number Seven. They’re also strictly forbidden from going in or near Father’s office without permission.

But it doesn’t matter anyways, because ten seconds pass and no one comes out. He lets out the air that he’s holding, takes another breath, and then peeks in the window again.

It looks like Number Seven is yelling. She’s screaming something at Father, who watches her with his arms crossed, watch in front of him, eyes flickering to the time as he waits for her to calm down.

There’s a strange moment when Number Seven clenches her fists and all the stuff in the room shakes and then settles. Number One clutches his ears as a piercing screech rips through the door and then it’s like a bubble has popped, and he can hear her.

“I’m not dangerous!” she’s screaming. “I’m not dangerous I’m not dangerous I’m not dangerous!”

There are tears pouring down her face. Number One almost feels badly for her, but then he remembers that she’s probably just trying to manipulate Father. That’s what she does.

“Why can’t you just be a dad?” Number Seven yells. “I just need a dad. Why don’t you even care?”

Number One is confused-- Father does care about them. That’s why he trains them. Number Seven is ungrateful, probably.

“Look at me!” she yells. Her voice is hoarse and screechy; it hurts his ears and he pulls away a little. “Do you even care? I’m crying and you’re looking at your stupid watch! Look at me! I’m not dangerous, I just need a dad. Please, please!”

Father scoffs and shakes his head, disappointed with her outburst. More tears pour down Number Seven’s cheeks and Number One suddenly has the feeling that he shouldn’t be watching this.

“Please,” she whispers. “Please tell me I’m not dangerous. Please say something.”

There’s a tense moment when Father finally looks at her, and Luther waits with baited breath to see what he’ll do. Then he reaches out, head turned away as if disgusted by her, a bored line set into his mouth, and he slaps her.

Number Seven pauses, eyes wide, and it seems like something changes in her eyes. Her body sags for a second and then she straightens, and everything in her seems to lift. Her shoulders, her hair, her energy. The room starts to shake again. The piercing noise gets louder.

He runs.

 

 

Reality fills back in around Number One slowly and hazily.

There’s a warm light in front of him somewhere and his fingers twitch toward it, eyes trying to focus. Someone is speaking in a soft, rhythmic voice, saying something that he doesn’t understand. After a minute, he realizes what it is-- it’s singing.

He blinks and tries to take stock. That’s what Father tells them to do whenever they lose consciousness in a fight. He can’t waste time.

It’s just that-- it’s just that the singing sounds so nice. And he’s so tired.

So he sits for a moment and just listens. That can’t be wrong, can it? This isn’t a fight so maybe it doesn’t count. Except--

Except Number Seven broke all of the lights. Number Seven broke all of the lights and maybe she destroyed this whole house too, the way that she destroyed theirs. That time Number One didn’t do anything to stop it and he won’t let this be his fault again.

He sits up with a gasp, and realizes that he can’t breath. There’s smoke filling his lungs. Ashes. It’s too dark to see. Where did that light go?

A hand squeezes his, and Number One squeezes back, because he can’t think of anything else to do. The singing stops for a second and Magnus voice tells him, “it’s okay, Luther. Take another breath.”

He does. The singing starts again.

For some reason, it makes him feel safe.

Chapter Text

By the time that Luther rejoins them completely, Vanya has calmed down to an acceptable level. It took all of the songs that Magnus could remember in Indonesian to get her there, but it finally feels like everyone can breath again.

He counts with her again-- in for four, hold for four, out for four. Taps the beats gently on her knee. He counts them out for Luther too, by squeezing his hand. A couple of times Luther squeezes back, eyes clouded and unfocused on the wall opposite.

Then Luther blinks, and shakes his head, and immediately begins to rise unsteadily onto his feet. Magnus tries to hush him and tug him gently back down but he shakes him off, reluctantly ripping his hand out of Magnus’s grasp.

“What’s going on? What did she do?”

“She didn’t do anything, my dear. Everything is okay.”

“Where is everyone?”

“Right behind you, bumblebee.”

Luther turns as quickly as he can on shaky legs and counts his siblings out under his breath, like a roll call. Klaus smiles and does a little wave with his fingers. Everyone else looks away.

“How long was I asleep for?” Luther asks. He feels around in his pockets, stares down at his jeans, and then looks up and around the room uncertainly, realization setting in. “What--?”

“Ahh, you’ve arrived with us now, have you? You weren’t asleep, you were… having a flashback, I believe. We’re still in my loft.”

“A what?”

“A flashback. Like a waking nightmare, but something you remember instead of making it up. Does that sound right?”

Luther nods, seemingly before he can help himself, and bites his lip. “The lights--?”

“The light bulbs did break. That was my fault, unfortunately. It takes a lot of magic to keep you lot contained.” He’s still tapping on Vanya’s knee. One two three four. One two three four. One two three four.

Luther grows solemn. “You mean her.”

“Not just her, but yes, she did get the best of me a little bit this time. That’s alright. Broken bulbs were an easy problem to clean up. How are you feeling?”

“She killed our dad.”

Magnus hums. One two three four. “You could say that,” he agrees. “It was ultimately her power which caused the explosion, if we’re being technical.”

“You knew?” Five asks from the couch. He hasn’t looked up from his hands.

“Yes, I knew. It doesn’t change anything.”

“Why not?” Luther asks. “You should take her away from here.”

Next to him, Vanya chokes on a breath, and he gently pinches her knee. “I didn’t mean to,” she says.

Magnus smiles at her with as much tenderness as he can muster. “I know you didn’t, lovebug. Everyone here knows that. It’s just going to be a bit tricky while everyone adapts to the news, alright?”

There’s a crack as Diego pushes the coffee table over. He rounds it and then the couch, walking slowly to stand in front of Luther, who straightens and regards him with feigned disinterest.

They stare at each other for a minute, and Magnus readies himself to intervene. Then Diego opens his mouth.

“You’re nothing,” he says. He turns to Vanya. “And you wrecked everything. I hate you both. I hate you all.”

He storms toward his room, and Magnus watches him go but makes no move to follow. His window is warded against another run-away attempt and there’s not much else he can get up to in the bedroom. Besides, they all need a break.

Magnus’s head is spinning. It’s becoming harder and harder to manage Vanya’s power, and there’s a persistent fear that is growing in his gut the longer that she stays with him. It seems a near impossible question, one that Magnus hasn’t had to contemplate in centuries, but he’s quickly seeing little other avenue.

What if she’s more powerful than him?

If he can’t handle her, there may quite literally be no one else who can. What do you do with a child who can’t be protected? One with this much capacity for destruction?

He needs reinforcements. He needs to talk to the only person who may yet have an answer that won’t bring him to despair.

 

 

The kids scatter after that. Magnus tries to offer them alternatives but they won’t hear of it-- it’s been a long night, and their resolves are finally worn thin. They all retreat to their individuals rooms and Magnus, weak as he feels, does the same.

He’s tapping out yet another phone number on his cell phone half an hour later-- Mr. Furt is unharmed and at home, though not entirely sure why or how he ended up there; Magnus has a lunch meeting with Luke next Tuesday and an appointment with a local warlock next Wednesday and yes, Catarina can babysit and yes, Magnus understands that Valentine is a real threat, and no Laurence, he isn’t actually feeling alright-- when there’s a faint knock on his door.

“Come in.”

The door creaks open slowly. It’s Five, in pajamas and clutching a book to his rib cage. He walks all the way into the office, closes the door again behind him, and hangs his head.

“Hey pumpkin,” Magnus says. He takes a second to relax his shoulders against the immediate spark of wariness and resentment that he feels upon seeing the boy. It’s not his fault, he reminds himself. It’s all that he knows. It doesn’t make it go away, but at the very least, it may hide it a touch.

“Hello,” Five says stiffly.

After a moment, Magnus puts the phone down. “Can I help you with something?”

Five clears his throat, and thumbs through the top pages of the book distractedly. “No.”

Right. Magnus pinches the top of his nose. It’s not his fault. It’s not Five’s fault.

“In that case, there’s a few more phone calls that I need to make, if that’s alright?” He knows that he’s being short. He knows that it’s against what he believes in regarding how to approach children. But he can’t-- he’s just out of steam. That’s all.

He’s exhausted, and Five’s unpredictability is the last thing that he needs right now.

“That’s alright,” Five agrees, but instead of leaving, he perches in the chair on the opposite side of the desk and folds his hands with the book neatly over his lap.

Magnus stares at him for a second, openly gaping. Then he sighs. “Fine.”

So Magnus simply... carries on. He calls, and he types, and he writes fire messages, and he tries not to cry. All the while Five sits there, staring blankly at the desk and then eventually, he opens the book to somewhere in the middle and begins to read.

Some time later, Magnus is startled by a cup of coffee appearing quite suddenly on his desk. He looks up to see Five giving the wall a cautious imitation of a smile.

“Thank you,” Magnus says, and as soon as he takes the first sip, Five walks out as wordlessly as he came.

 

 

Dawn breaks over the loft like a golden light in a clouded sky. The children are woken up by their alarms at precisely 9:00am, same as always. The table is set, but nobody comes.

At 9:45am Magnus makes his decision. He calls Catarina, makes himself a note to send her a gift basket as soon as possible, and then writes out a fire message to the only person that he really wants to see, and sends a prayer with it.

Chapter Text

Magnus is gone for a long, tense day, and none of them leave their rooms. It’s silent, even Klaus’s room next to hers which is never quiet, and there’s no crackle of one of Five’s jumps, not even once.

Allison considers going out to say hi to Luther-- or going out to see anyone at all-- but then thinks better of it. She can occupy herself just fine. Even if she does hate being alone.

Catarina brings them each food individually; at one point, she disappears into Ben’s room for a while and Allison can hear the low murmur of their voices from across the hall. She doesn’t come back out for a pretty long time and Allison wonders if that means that Vanya had to wait for her dinner, since she was going to be the last one to be served, and maybe it’s cold now.

But then, Allison doesn’t really want to think about Number Seven at all right now. So she doesn’t.

There’s not really much to do here though. She pulls out a magazine from under her bed-- one that she convinced Magnus to buy for her-- and flips through to a page that she’s already read a hundred times. Staring at the pictures is comforting. It makes her think of what will be, one day. When she’s just like those people. Famous. Happy.

Magnus comes sweeping back in that evening, and it’s like the roof opens up and new air floods in, clean and refreshing but uncomfortably chilly. When he bounds into the hallway to visit them he’s got a new energy than he had before, but also a new urgency. Allison is good at recognizing smiles that are not really pretend, but are still fake. Magnus blows her a kiss goodnight and she turns away to the wall.

That night, she dreams that Luther is singing to her. Only it’s in Magnus’s voice. When she wakes up, she doesn’t remember the words.

Her alarm goes off at 9am. At 9:05am she hears a chair scraping across the floor in the kitchen, and Klaus’s sleepy hello and Magnus’s answering good morning.

At 9:07am she joins her siblings, and they all have breakfast like nothing ever happened.

Allison is good at pretending, too.

 

--

 

 

“A scavenger hunt,” Magnus declares, three days later. He claps his hands together and then wiggles them apart. Jazz hands, they’re called.

“A scavenger hunt,” Allison repeats. Luther and Five are already standing, and even Diego looks up from his wood carving, which Magnus lets him do at the table sometimes if he promises not to use the knife for anything else including carving the table.

Magnus probably doesn’t know that Diego has already carved six versions of his name over top an academy mask all over the bottom of the table. She’s saving that one if she ever needs something good to tattle. Not that Magnus ever punishes Diego, which if you ask her isn’t fair. Maybe he would if he knew that, though. It’s a nice table.

“What kind of scavenger hunt?” Five asks.

Klaus raises his hand. “What’s a scavenger hunt?”

“It’s when you go looking for clues that lead you to more clues, dummy,” Allison tells him.

Magnus claps his hands together again. “That’s right, Number Three. Although we could do without the insult to your brother, yes?”

Allison’s face goes red hot all the way up to her ears. It doesn’t help when Klaus smiles and winks at her, just to rub it in. She crosses her arms and decides not to talk for a while.

“It’s come to my attention that you kids may need a bit more... stimulation,” Magnus continues. “Our routine is good, but I don’t think that leaving you alone for free periods without a task is working out.”

He means yesterday, when he told them that they had an hour to play however they wanted, as long as it’s safe. When he came to check on them, Diego was throwing knives into Magnus’s couch cushions as Luther practiced lifting it up and down. Allison can’t rumour anyone in this house so she was mostly watching, and practicing her kicks. Magnus frowned at them told them that Ben and Klaus tossing paper airplanes at each other in the corner was close, but he didn’t ask the rest of them to train, he told them to play.

Allison wanted to tell him that they didn’t really know how to play. But then she thought of a fort made out of blankets, and pop cans, and dancing, and she kept her mouth shut. Maybe Luther just didn’t want to play with her anymore, and she wasn’t going to be a baby about it.

It wasn’t fair that Vanya hadn’t gotten told off too, though. All she was doing was sitting in the other corner humming and counting. That’s not even close to playing.

(Actually, Allison felt a little bad for her, being all alone. But every time she thinks of Luther’s face when he told everyone what Vanya did, the feeling bad goes away).

“I’m giving you a task this time,” Magnus says. “If you finish the scavenger hunt by the end of the day, you’ll get a reward.”

Klaus hand shoots up again. Allison rolls her eyes. “What reward?” he asks.

Magnus smiles. “It’s a surprise. But you’ll like it, I promise.”

“And if we don’t finish in time?” Five asks. They all look at Magnus.

He frowns-- he does that an awful lot. “Nothing,” he says. “You just won’t have earned your reward. But,” he adds, a little more urgently, “there is no punishment for not finishing in time.”

Five stares at him with a bored expression, which Allison knows means that he’s suspicious. Their dad was big on punishments for not finishing things, especially for Five.

“Rank is in order of our numbers, right, sir?” Luther asks. It’s sort of dumb that he calls Magnus sir, but Allison gets why. “That means that I’m in charge?”

“Actually,” Magnus corrects, “this time, I would like Vanya to be in charge. And your numbers won’t mean anything otherwise. You’ll all be a team, with Vanya at the head.”

Vanya looks up, startled. She picks at some skin around her nail and then says, quietly, “do I have to?”

“I don’t think that’s wise, sir,” Luther adds on hurriedly. “Number Seven has never lead a mission before. She doesn’t have the experience.”

Magnus gives Luther a knowing look. “Then it’s about time that she gained some, don’t you think? So, what do you all say?”

 

 

Magnus gives them the first clue, right into Vanya’s hands. Then he wiggles a finger at Allison.

“Number Three, may I speak to you a moment?”

Allison looks at Luther, who’s frowning nervously but still nods at her. She trails after Magnus, wary.

Today his outfit is what Reginald would have called ridiculous and frivolous, but which she actually kind of likes, even if it is ridiculous and frivolous. He’s wearing a bright robin’s egg blue jacket with a scale pattern, open over a shiny black shirt with a high collar. He’s also wearing a ton of jewelry and make-up and for a second she wonders if he would ever share with her. She feels so plain, even in the demin skirt she bought.

“I wanted to thank you,” he says, as soon as the others can’t hear them. He reaches up to play with the cuff on his ear. “I’ve noticed the way that you’ve supported your sister these past few days, organizing everyone to keep watch over her. That’s really wonderful, ladybug.”

She wants to tell him not to call her ladybug. Instead she says, “I didn’t do it to be nice to her.”

She didn’t. Magnus is right-- she’s been organizing all of her siblings the past few days to make sure that Vanya is never alone during the day-- but it’s not for the reason that he thinks. It was something that Luther said; to make sure that Vanya can’t hurt anyone else, they need to be with her all the time.

So at least one of them always picks the same activity as Vanya in the schedule. Even Diego did it once, with a lot of pouting and kicking things first and a little bribery. Luther volunteers for a bunch of the shifts, even though it clearly scares him to be around Vanya. It scares Allison too, but she’s not going to think about that either.

Magnus’s gaze suddenly gentles. He smiles softly at her and she crosses her arms, feeling itchy.

“No, of course you didn’t,” he says, but it sounds like he means something else.

Except that she’s telling the truth. She wanted to keep everyone safe from Vanya, that’s all. Magnus always thinks there’s more to things and sometimes there just isn’t.

"I know that it's been hard for all of you to feel safe around Vanya since you found out about the accident," he adds, almost quietly enough to not be meant for her. Allison doesn't answer. It seems like a stupid thing to say. Too obvious, too patronizing. He seems to realize that.

“Can I trust you to keep watch of Vanya during the scavenger hunt?” he asks. “I have a feeling that she’ll need someone to encourage her to make decisions for the group.” Allison sighs. Vanya shouldn’t be making any decisions in the first place. But that argument won’t work. She knows what Magnus is trying to do; Vanya has hardly spoken to anyone since Luther told everyone the truth, and when she does, she's nervous and distant. There's no way that she's going to make any decisions for any of them. They'll probably just have to get this whole stupid day over with, and get whatever their stupid reward is.

“I guess,” she says. Magnus’s answering smile is huge.

“Great,” he says. “In that case, you’d better catch up to your siblings. It looks like they’re already three or four clues in.”

 

 

The scavenger hunt takes the entire day.

There are all sorts of clues and every answer is totally different. Some require them to find the next one in a special location. Some are riddles. Some require an activity to get the next clue, which Magnus somehow set up with his magic so that the clue would release when the activity is completed.

One clue instructs them to get from one end of the loft to the other without ever touching the ground. Five just teleports but the rest of them spend two hours figuring out how to build a path out of blankets, pillows, and books. No matter how hard they try to cheat or work around it, it doesn’t work. Only when all one two three four five six seven of them touch the far wall without ever touching the floor does the next clue finally materialize, right out of thin air.

They all implicitly decide to ignore that Vanya is supposed to be the leader. She barely talks. Whenever Magnus pops back in to supervise, they all pretend to be listening to her. Otherwise they just do their own thing like always, which means Luther leading, Diego fighting him, and Five and Allison figuring out most of the answers while the rest trail behind. At one point Klaus asks a ghost where the clue is and finds it, and it’s the first time that they all smile together.

They break three vases, have two screaming matches, and eat most of the snacks in the house before they get to the last clue. All it says, in fancy cursive, is one word that Allison doesn’t recognize.

“Griddy’s... It’s a doughnut place,” Vanya mumbles to herself. It’s the first time she’s spoken in over ten minutes. Then, a little louder, “I saw it on the street before, on the way to the department store.”

“Do you know the way?” Five asks her. She pauses, one finger bent at her lip, then nods.

“Then let’s go!” Klaus says. “What are we waiting for? These boots are made for walking!” He clicks his bare heels together.

“There’s no way that Magnus would let us go there by ourselves,” Ben says. “We’re probably supposed to go get him so he can take us in that car again with him.”

“No way,” Diego mutters. “Let’s go ourselves. He’s not watching, he won’t even notice that we’re gone.”

“That’s true,” Five confirms. “He’s always worried about his job when he’s in his office. We just have to go quickly.”

“We can’t leave,” Luther protests. “We’ll get in trouble.” He shoots Allison a look, hopeful for back up, but she pretends not to see and quickly looks away. She doesn’t know what to think.

Luther’s right; they could get into trouble. Magnus hasn’t been nearly as focused on work since he visited his friend, and there’s a good chance that he’ll come out to check on them and notice them missing. Luther still thinks of himself as their leader, even when he’s not leading the mission, and if they all get punished then he’ll take that on himself and feel guilty even though he doesn't need to. Plus, bringing Vanya to a public place without Magnus could be disastrous. Luther will be on constant guard. And it's not like they can go without her.

But on the other hand, she wants to tell him to stop being so serious all the time. Doughnuts sounds fun. And what’s Magnus going to do to them? It can’t be that bad. They need to do something fun, something that real kids do, this one time at least. Even if Vanya does have to come along.

Instead of making her mind up about it, she tries something else, remembering her agreement with Magnus. “Vanya is our leader,” she says. “Let her pick what we do.”

Vanya’s eyes go wide. So do everyone else’s. “I uh, that’s okay. We can vote?”

“No,” Allison insists. “You’re the leader. You have to choose.”

Vanya gulps and looks around at all of their faces, holding her breath and tapping her knee. Everyone waits. It feels like a test. Finally-- after so long that Allison almost nudges her with her foot-- Vanya nods.

“Okay, we’re going. Without Magnus.”

Chapter Text

“Griddy’s... It’s a doughnut place,” Vanya is saying, quite suddenly. “I saw it on the street before, on the way to the department store.”

Magnus smiles, carefully inserting his waiting bookmark in between the pages of the spell book. He was hoping that she would pick up on that. Vanya is more observant than her siblings-- has had to be.

“Do you know the way?” Five asks. There’s a pause in which nobody speaks, but presumably, Vanya nods. Magnus pushes the spell out a little further. He’s eavesdropping, technically speaking, and despite the fact that many adults would consider it acceptable to spy on children’s activities, he believes otherwise. He respects privacy, including theirs. This clue is the one exception.

“Then let’s go!” Klaus says, a little too loudly. “What are we waiting for? These boots are made for walking!”

“There’s no way that Magnus would let us go there by ourselves,” Ben counters. “We’re probably supposed to go get him so he can take us in that car again with him.”

Magnus’s smile widens. He feels strangely humbled by Ben’s defense of his rules, even in his absence. It feels something like trust; if only a little bit.

“No way,” Diego mutters. “Let’s go ourselves. He’s not watching, he won’t even notice that we’re gone.”

“That’s true,” Five agrees. “He’s always worried about his job when he’s in his office. We just have to go quickly.”

Magnus rolls his eyes to himself, but it’s lighthearted. It was easy to guess that either Diego or Five would be the catalyst of this micro rebellion. He shouldn’t be surprised that it’s both of them.

At the same time, there’s a slight tightening in his chest. He may not be as good at balancing his work life as he’s thought. The kids seem to have decided where Magnus’s priorities lay, and it’s not with them.

They’re not exactly wrong, are they?

“We can’t leave,” Luther protests. “We’ll get in trouble.”

There’s an even longer pause this time, heavy with anticipation, and then Number Three says, “Vanya is our leader. Let her pick what we do.”

“I uh, that’s okay. We can vote?” Vanya tries. Magnus holds his breath.

“No,” Allison asserts. “You’re the leader. You have to choose.”

Come on sweetling, you can do it.

“Okay, we’re going. Without Magnus.”

 

 

He follows them to the door. Watches as all seven of them bundle up into unfamiliar winter gear, scowling at snow pants and rejecting scarves. Diego opts for the Shadowhunter’s leather jacket instead of his winter coat. Klaus is coerced into wearing shoes. Five has an extra pair of mittens from somewhere. For one aching moment they look like a real family, and Magnus’s stomach draws itself in and squashes out his breath.

None of them see him. That was his intention, of course, but he’d wondered… he’d considered that perhaps one of them might have powers that would cross over with the downworld. But none of them notice him. There’s a minute where Klaus’s gaze is drawn to where Magnus is standing, cloaked, and skates past him. Klaus’s eyebrows draw together, but then he’s distracted by the chatter of his siblings, and nothing more comes from it.

It’s clear that they’ve never snuck out before, at least not as a group. They’re terrible at it. They all keep shushing each other, but none of them seem to abide by it. Diego relocks the front door with his knife before they leave.

Magnus waits three minutes, and then follows them out.

They skate through the streets easily enough. It’s a little past dinner time now and the streetlamps are turning on as they walk under them, a sliver of mundane magic born from coincidence.

Slowly but surely, with little other choice, Vanya ends up at the front of the group. She leads without confidence, unaided by Luther hovering beside her, watching her like a hawk.

At one point, a man passing them on the street stops in his tracks.

“You’re that Academy thing, aren’t you?” he asks, peering at them through heavily lidded eyes. The kids stop and straighten their stance, visibly preening.

“Sure are,” Klaus says, and it sounds nearly sarcastic.

“Are you a fan?” Number Three asks. The man frowns.

“Well sure,” he says, “who isn’t, really? You kids are quite something. Well, the big one is, in any case. Not sure what the rest of your powers are, are we? But those robberies you stopped were impressive in any case, I’d reckon.”

“Thank you, sir,” Number Three says, at the same time that Number Five says, tightly, “thanks.”

“No problem kids. Anyway, what are you doing out here all alone in the evening like this? Where’s your father-- what was his name? Good man, him. Ronald? Reg-”

“I heard a rumour that you forgot you ever saw us and left,” Number Three interrupts. The man blinks, cut off mid sentence. He shakes his head.

“I better be going,” he says. Then he walks off into the gloom. The kids relax.

Magnus winces.

“It’s nice not to be in that loft anymore,” Number Three says. No one else comments on what happened. After a moment, Vanya starts walking again, and their little line continues, a silent procession through the snow.

 

 

It’s another ten minutes before they reach the diner. The kids appear buoyed by the warmth, shedding layers as they step with false bravado up to the counter. Klaus pats Vanya on the back as he steps past and she smiles, hair falling forward into her face.

“I think Vanya should order first,” he says. “She is our fearless leader after all.”

Vanya appears momentarily speechless. “That’s okay, Number Four.”

He shakes his head, curls bouncing. “No. You order first. It’s only right.”

Vanya bites her lip, sending a searching glance over her shoulder at Diego, as if expecting a sneak attack. Then she sighs noiselessly. “Okay. Uhm, I think I’ll have a chocolate doughnut, please,” she says quietly, in the general direction of the counter. The server doesn’t hear her.

Number Three smacks a hand to her forehead. “Let me handle this,” she says. She steps up to the counter.

“One chocolate doughnut for my sister, please,” she says, her voice falsely sweet. “Klaus, what do you want?”

Magnus steps out of the diner just as Klaus shouts “SPRINKLES!” loudly enough to cover the noise of the door closing behind. He collapses into the bench out front, wracked with giggles and feeling strangely light.

He leans back on the bench, dizzy with too many emotions, and props his feet up on a small pile of snow in front of him. Inside, he can still hear the kids shouting and giggling, no magic needed.

It’s exactly what he’d hoped for.

And yet--

And yet it feels tinted with melancholy. It feels like defeat, somehow. Or betrayal. A betrayal to himself.

He’s shown himself something that he’s always wanted-- family, his brain whispers, urgent and merciless-- but he’s walked himself into yet another trap. Because this is something that he can’t keep.

Something that he doesn’t want to keep, he tries to tell himself, but he knows that it’s a lie.

Certainly, there are numerous reasons why he might not want this life. The kids are more than a handful. He’s exhausted and overwhelmed and neglecting the rest of his life, including his community. He’s not ready for this responsibility, not even after all of the other downworlders he’s looked after. He never asked for it.

And yet, and yet.

You’re in love with the idea of this family, Ragnor told him, when Magnus had shown up on his doorstep three days ago. You’re in love with the safety of being needed. But you also love these children, that much I can see. Stop fighting it, my old friend. It won’t last forever, but when has that stopped you before? Love them while you can, Magnus. They need it, and so do you.

Ragnor was right, the bastard. Magnus can't keep these kids forever-- the war will assure that more certainly than any decision he might make-- but he has them for now, and while that isn’t enough, perhaps it's something.

Magnus contemplates this under the light of the streetlamp, to the sound of Five’s raucous laughter.

Chapter Text

After some time, listening peacefully to the excited chatter of the children, Magnus realizes that Number Three has been noticeably quiet.

He had sensed her agitated reluctance earlier, mingled with her desire for freedom, and he understands. Her heart, it seems, is split into three-- one half for Vanya, one half for Luther, and one half for herself. Her love for the rest of her siblings exists as a background hum as she shifts the three around like puzzle pieces that won’t all fit together, carefully choosing which to discard at any given moment. For this outing it was Luther.

Perhaps he can make her feel a little bit better about her decision.

He waits, watching, until he sees her look out through the window, and then he drops the cloaking spell. It takes a second for her to see him, and when she does she doesn’t realize what she’s looking at right away. And then she smiles-- it seems to be startled out of her, genuine and open-- and raises her eyebrows.

He winks at her. Puts a finger to his lips, briefly, and then flashes her a thumbs up. She ducks her head and grins.

Magnus grins back, feeling lighter than he has since the children first came home with him.

There’s a noise to his right, and Magnus freezes. He ducks out of sight of Three, coiling in on himself on the bench, ready to spring.

It’s one of the Shadowhunters he’d met when Diego was missing. It takes a second for his brain to locate the name. Jace.

“What do you want?” Magnus calls out to him. Jace pauses under the light, rocking forward onto his toes.

“I come in peace,” he says. He raises his hands up in a gesture of surrender, unleashing a cocky smile and tilting his head so that his blond hair shifts forward over one eye.

It’s as carefully calculated as it is genuine. This boy is used to getting what he wants.

Trauma survivor? Narcissist? Magnus is making assumptions, but he hasn’t lived hundreds of years by ignoring his instincts.

“Your kind rarely come in peace,” Magnus counters, emboldened by the evening he’s had. Jace frowns.

“Look, I was just out for a walk, okay? I saw you sitting here. Can’t a guy say hi?”

Magnus examines the boy’s tattered t-shirt and jeans. He was doing more than walking.

“The kids look happy,” Jace remarks, sauntering over to sit next to Magnus on the bench. Magnus scowls.

“I suppose you’re surprised by that.”

Jace’s eyebrows draw together. “I wouldn’t say that. Sure, you don’t really seem like the parenting type, if I’m being honest, but you were good with that kid before. How is he?”

“He’s fine.”

“You know,” Jace says, grin turning a touch wicked, “Alec hasn’t stopped talking about that. About you. He’s a little… obsessed.”

Magnus’s guard slams back into place. “He should refrain from poking his nose into business that doesn’t concern him,” he says through gritted teeth.

“That isn’t exactly what I meant,” Jace mutters. “Anyways, he’s… got a lot on his plate, right now. Your little gang of kids is the least of his worries.”

With a deliberate breath, Magnus relaxes his shoulders. He keeps his spine stiff and straight. “I’m sure life is very hard for you young, attractive Shadowhunters.”

It’s meant to be sarcastic, but Jace seems to either not notice, or decide to ignore it. “It is, sometimes,” he agrees quietly. “Especially for Alec.” He takes a shaky breath, and looks at Magnus closely. “You-- you’re gay, right? Not to be presumptuous, but I mean, the way you’re--”

“Bisexual,” Magnus interrupts. He raises an eyebrow.

“Right,” Jace says. “Bisexual. Right. Anyways. Thanks for the chat, I should get back.”

He stands slowly, subtly favouring his left wrists as he hauls himself upright. When he sees Magnus looking at the injury, he looks away quickly and clears his throat.

“Uhm, one more thing,” he says once he’s standing. He hesitates, tilting his body back in Magnus’s direction. The lights from the diner make his eyes look like blue green flame. “You’re uh, you’ll probably get official notice of this soon but… a warlock was killed this afternoon. Ragnor. Ragnor Fell? It was a--”

Magnus blood goes cold.

He misses the rest of whatever the shadowhunter is saying; the pounding in his ears drowns out everything but the intake of his own breath. He scrapes a dry tongue over the roof of his mouth.

“Ragnor Fell?” he chokes out. “Are you sure?”

It’s impossible. Isn’t it? Ragnor’s home is one of the best guarded secrets in their community. To even enter his property, one has to walk through a ring of magical fire. Besides, if it were true--

If Ragnor was dead, surely Magnus would know. Surely he’d feel it. Surely--

“Yes,” Jace is saying, somewhere in the background of Magnus’s awareness. “I’m sure. It was demons, they managed to get through the fire by following--”

Oh god. Oh god.

Magnus can’t breathe.

He can’t--

Ragnor is dead.

Ragnor is dead.

Ragnor is--

It takes less than a second for him to make the portal. He’s in Ragnor’s living room before he can realize that he’s choking, that he hasn’t taken a breath since he first heard Ragnor’s name on that shadowhunters lips. He coughs and pulls in air frantically. Then he starts screaming his best friend’s name.

There’s no sign of him anywhere. A few chairs are knocked over, a scattering of papers covers the floor. A post from the guardrail on the second floor is hanging halfway out, the wood split.

There’s blood on the floor. The Shadowhunters didn’t even bother to clean it. But they took his body. They’ll take everything in this house, ransack it for all that it’s worth. They like to pretend that they have respect for the dead, but that only includes their own kind. This place will turn into a mine for their greed; it’s not a home anymore.

Because Ragnor is dead.

A blast of magic cracks through the air and all of the glass in the building shatters at once. The noise is like a hurricane. The lights rain sharp shards down on Magnus’s arms but he pays it no mind. The darkness is a comfort.

He sinks to his knees amidst the glass. Then finally, finally, he cries.

Chapter Text

When Magnus was 26 years old, he lived for three years in the streets of Madrid, in Spain.

The last few months of that time were not with Ana.

When Magnus showed up on Ragnor’s doorstep, rain-sodden and angry enough to be dangerous, Ragnor welcomed him into his life once again with no more objection than a single, teasing head shake. He bustled Magnus inside, sat him down, lit a healthy fire, and told him stories in a gentle, lilting voice. He talked and he talked as he stoked the fire that warmed through Magnus’s veins. Magnus could never recall any of the stories later, and Ragnor never told him them again. But his voice was soothing. Safe.

“You see, Magnus? No pain is borne alone. No story is lived in isolation.”

But how can that still be true? Magnus is alone now. Truly, deeply alone, at least in this moment of grief, bent over on a dirty floor with his eyes squeezed tightly enough to see stars.

There are no stories about this. There is no story here. No beginning, middle, or end that he can travel through. There is only this. Emptiness.

It takes him 15 minutes, 176 whole breaths, to realize that he left the children behind.

He curses and then clenches a fist, feeling too late when glass bites into his palm. Stupid, stupid mistake.

Not only are they alone, but he’d left them with a Shadowhunter.

He rises to his feet, pulling in air and trying to regain his bearings. He owes them that much. They can’t see him like this.

But he can’t leave Ragnor’s home like this, either. It’s only a matter of time before the vultures start circling.

Summoning his strength and his magic-- which feels hollow now, in this space, without Ragnor’s magic here; it’s like a jar that’s been emptied and now feels too light, too spacious for just him. It’s the final proof, without a doubt, of the truth of what’s happened-- he blinks and claps at once, then raises his arms. In a moment, all of Ragnor’s belongings are gone. Safe, in a storage facility outside of the city. It’ll be their new home, for the time being, until Magnus can face them.

He sighs. Takes a second to wipe his face. To heal, as best he can, the wounds on his hands and knees. To clean the blood.

Then he looks around Ragnor’s home for the final time, thinks of another home in Madrid, so similar and so, so different, and jumps himself back to Griddy’s before he can change his mind.

The kids are still there. His eyes are drawn to them with a wild urgency, and when he sees them, his heart starts beating again. They’re still here. They’re safe.

The Shadowhunter is here, too. He’s glamoured, sitting on the bench, watching the children with a nostalgic expression. When Magnus hits the ground, he looks over, seemingly unsurprised by the entrance.

“I knew you’d come back,” he says. “They’re fine, they haven’t moved. It looks like they’re having fun.”

Before Magnus even realizes what’s happening, his hand is around Jace’s neck. “If you touched them...”

Jace’s eyes go wide, but his body goes limp. He doesn’t try to pry Magnus’s hands away. “I didn’t,” he whispers. “I swear that I didn’t.”

Magnus stares at him, searching his eyes, but sees nothing suspicious. He lets go. “I’m taking them home.”

Jace rubs his throat wearily. “I wouldn’t,” he says. “They don’t need to see you like this. Besides, I think they’re almost done.”

Magnus’s fury at this boy’s presumptuousness almost shatters another light bulb. What does he know about anything? He’s a child, a stupid, shadowhunter child.

But then Magus is hit, suddenly, with the expression on Jace’s face. With the way that he’d gone limp when threatened. The way that he watches the children, even now, with something akin to jealousy.

Trauma survivor? Or narcissist?

Perhaps the shadowhunter does know something about this.

And he’s right-- the children can’t see him like this. They shouldn’t have to.

Magnus deflates. “I’m sorry,” he says. He forces himself to pull his hands behind his back.

Jace watches the movement carefully. “It’s alright,” he says. “I guess I deserved it.”

“No,” Magnus sighs. “No, no you didn’t.”

He sits down next to Jace, and the two of them watch and listen in the half-darkness. The children are stuffing their faces with the last of their haul, tossing sprinkles at each other and giggling into napkins.

At some point, Magnus pries his eyes away from the window and looks over, but Jace is gone.

 

 

The children come home, exuberant and flushed. Magnus almost forgets that he’s supposed to still be in his office.

He decides to sit on the couch instead. He wants them to know that he noticed their absence.

There’s a fair amount of shushing and laughing as they walk in, but less than before. Likely, they’re tired, and realizing how late they’ve been out. They stop when they see him, all of them swinging immediately to attention. The whole group lines up like bowling pins, just waiting be tossed.

“Magnus,” Vanya says. He nods and clears his throat.

“You went to Griddy’s,” he says. “I’m guessing?” He’s forgotten how this was supposed to go. He had a whole plan, a whole scenario on how to greet them, how to ensure that they felt both chastised and congratulated. To wrap everything up nicely.

Now it’s all left hanging.

Luther steps forward and nods. “We did. We were following the clue. But we should’ve come to get you. It’s my fault.”

“No it’s not,” Number Three says. She shoots a look at Magnus, and he tries to meet her eye. “It was all of our decision.”

Magnus sighs, and scratches at a spot above his eyebrow. “That’s okay. I suppose it’s my fault; I didn’t tell you that you had to come to get me before leaving. Just… please don’t do it again, yes? This time is okay but next time there will be an appropriate punishment.”

The kids nod, hands clasped behind their backs. They stare at him warily, and he knows they don’t believe him. They’re still waiting for the blow to land.

After a moment, Klaus pipes up. “Are we in trouble?” he asks. His new shirt is stretched down to his knees.

Magnus shakes his head. “No. You’re not. Did you have fun?”

Number Three steps forward again. “Yeah, we really did,” she says. Behind her, Ben nods.

“I’m glad,” he says, and tries to smile. Tries to remember how he felt before his world cracked open. The pride, the victory. Family. “You’ll have to tell me all about it tomorrow. I think it’s time for bed, now, though.”

There are no objections. They still don’t believe him. There’s too much fear and suffering in this room; it’s a wonder that he doesn’t split right through the middle. They strip out of their winter clothes noiselessly, then shuffle off down the hallway to get ready for bed.

Magnus reaches for his liquor cabinet. No, not yet. He’s got to say goodnight first. They can’t see him like this.

 

 

Ben finds him three hours later, still in the spot on the couch, this time with four or five drinks in his system. He’s not drunk-- that would be irresponsible, given the nature of the children under his care-- but he’s taken the edge off of the sting, the loneliness.

Ben comes padding into the hallway, a long blanket clutched in his hand rather like Lionel and a fiercely determined expression on his little face.

Magnus startles, shoving his drink onto the table and out of the way. It’s only now that he realizes that the lamp isn’t on.

“What’s up, tater tot?” he asks.

“Magnus?”

“I’m here, my dear.” He flicks the light on.

“I need to tell you something,” Ben says, “but you can’t tell anyone else, okay?”

“What is it?” Magnus asks. He’s not sure how much more news that he can deal with, tonight. But Ben, gentle Ben, rarely confides in him.

“Klaus pees the bed.”

It’s not exactly what he was expecting. “I see.”

“He won’t ever tell you, so I’m telling you.” There is a grim sort of fire behind Ben’s eyes, protective and stubborn, which lends credence to the seriousness in the posture of his tiny body. A surprising contrast from Ben’s usual, intentionally invisible demeanor.

It might also already be the most that he’s ever said at once, directly to Magnus, since arriving in his home.

“How long has this been happening for?”

“Since we were little. It doesn’t happen all the time, it’s mostly when he’s... stressed.”

Magnus chooses to bypass that part, for now. “What has he been doing with his soiled sheets all this time?”

Ben shrugs, wringing his blanket between his hands. It drapes to the ground, and Magnus tries to not to picture shattered glass. “What he always does. He washes the sheet in the sink with hand soap, then lays it flat under his bed during the night to dry, while he sleeps on a different sheet. He keeps on switching.”

“Switching? How did he acquire a second sheet?” There are plenty there in the linen cupboard, but Magnus is pretty certain that the shelf is too tall for the kids to reach without assistance, and nobody has asked him for anything.

“It’s mine,” Ben says simply.

Magnus raises his eyebrows. “That was very generous. To give yours to your brother.”

“It’s not like I need the one in between me and my blanket.”

“Does anyone else know about this?”

Ben shrugs again. “It’s always been me. But I think Five may have figured it out because he always sees everything. And yesterday his sheet was on Klaus’s bed when we went to sleep. Which is not good because Five needs his sheet, because the blanket is too heavy for him.”

Magnus takes that in for a moment, searching for and choosing his words carefully. “Five doesn’t like his blanket?”

Ben just shrugs a third time. Magnus sets that aside as well, for now.

He tries a different route. “It can’t be comfortable sleeping in soiled and damp sheets.”

“Sometimes he gets rashes,” Ben admits. “Or smells bad. It’s usually okay unless we’re out of hand soap or Klaus forgets to dry it properly.”

Magnus’s heart constricts. Has Klaus been sleeping in half-washed, damp sheets for weeks now? How often must he be creeping around in the middle of the night, trying to deal with this all by himself? And Magnus hasn’t noticed.

Magnus has already been failing, even before tonight.

“Thank you for telling me, Ben.”

Ben hesitates. “They all don’t trust you yet. But I… I think that you can help us, maybe. You want to.”

Magnus stares at the amber filled glass on the table. “I’m going to try.” He takes a breath, then meets Ben’s eye again. “You seem to keep a lot of your siblings secrets,” he remarks carefully.

Ben crosses his arms. “Some.”

“Don’t worry, you can keep the ones that I don’t need to know. You were wise to tell me about Klaus. I just wonder if maybe it’s hard to keep so many secrets like that all by yourself.”

“I don’t mind.”

Magnus nods. “Fair enough. Just make sure that you know that you count, too, okay, my dear?” The words barely push past the bile in his mouth. They’re true, but he’s a hypocrite. Ben narrows his eyes.

“We’re not actually in trouble for tonight, are we?”

“No. You’re really not. No tricks or surprises or grudges. I promise.”

Ben takes that in with a nod. He seems to relax, just slightly, and Magnus can’t help but mirror it.

“You seem sad,” Ben points out. His gaze shifts carefully to the glass on the table, and to the tissues lying beside the couch, and then back to Magnus's face. The observance is almost depressing, for someone so young. He's a caretaker.

They have something in common.

“I am,” Magnus tells him, after a moment’s deliberation. “But it’s not because of you or your siblings. I… I lost someone tonight, a dear friend of mine.”

“You didn’t tell us that,” Ben says. He sits on the couch next to Magnus and tosses one end of the blanket over his legs; the gesture makes tears prick behind Magnus’s eyes.

“I guess I have some secrets too,” Magnus admits.

“That’s okay,” Ben says. “You can keep yours, too.”

Magnus ruffles his hair, unsure of which he feels stronger: the ache, or the awe of this blazing, kind-hearted child.

Chapter Text

Before Ben heads back to bed, he pauses, turning to face Magnus in the shadowy hallway. Magnus insisted that he take his blanket back and so it’s clutched in his hands again, tail thrown over his shoulder like a cape.

“I told Miss Catarina what my powers are,” he says.

Magnus smiles. “That’s lovely. I’m glad that you felt safe enough to confide in someone.”

He doesn’t have to ask how Cat reacted. She’s a nurse; Ben could tell her that a live chicken lived in his abdomen, or that he can pass gas at gale force winds, and she would keep her poker face. She was the perfect person to tell, really.

Ben nods slowly, taking in the scene around Magnus once more. He seems to come to a decision. “You can ask her what it is, if you want.”

Magnus blinks, surprised. “Are you sure?” he asks.

“I’m sure. Goodnight, Magnus.”

“Goodnight, Ben.”

It’s only later, when Magnus is sobbing into the phone, breaking the news to Cat that he’s been so afraid to speak aloud for fear of shattering something important, that he realizes what Ben’s permission really meant.

He already knew that he had one child in his care more powerful than him; now, it seems, that he also has one who’s wiser.

 

 

“Christmas,” Magnus declares the next morning, when the children are milling about in the living room. They all pause, putting down their various home-made weapons and toys, to regard him warily. Luther stops with the couch a few centimeters from the ground.

“I think that we should celebrate it this year.”

He’s met with silence. By this point, the news that Magnus truly isn’t going to punish them for the diner trick should have been disseminated throughout the group, but they still don’t seem convinced.

It dawns on him that none of the children asked about their reward for finishing the scavenger hunt; perhaps because they forgot about it in their fun, or perhaps because they’re trying not to push their luck.

“Eventually, we can celebrate a variety of holidays to represent all of the traditions from where you children were born. But I thought that since Christmas is a holiday that a lot of mundane kids celebrate, and it’s coming up soon, that it could be a good one to start with. What do you think?”

There’s some glancing around at this; Klaus is already nodding.

“All of you can think of one present that you might like to receive.”

“A lazer,” Diego mutters immediately. He seems surprised to have spoken. Magnus smiles.

“No weapons, chickpea. But that’s a good start.”

“Price range?” Five asks, ever the pragmatist. The glint in his eyes seems to indicate that the answer will be crucial as to whether or not he deigns to participate in the festivities.

“Mid-range. Nothing too extravagant but you’re always welcome to ask and I will let you know. No promises on results, but I’ll do my best. Likely there will be a couple of surprises as well, and who knows, maybe Santa Claus will visit.”

“Santa’s not real,” Diego counters. Number Three elbows him.

“Shut up, dummy. Don’t be rude.”

“Well he isn’t,” Diego insists, arms crossed. He glares at Magnus with a challenge in his eyes. “Is he?”

Magnus shrugs, quirking an eyebrow. “Most people think magic and superpowers aren’t real, don’t they? Who knows.”

Klaus looks vaguely mystified from his spot on the couch. “We should catch him!” he declares.

“He doesn’t come until you’re asleep,” Magnus chides, biting back a laugh. “Now, you can all think about what it is that you want--”

“I’d like a car battery,” Five interrupts. At Magnus’s bewildered pause, he heaves a sigh much too large for his small body. “Fine. Some textbooks on theoretical physics, then. I’ll write down the details.”

“Great,” Magnus says, still feeling a little off balance. He suspects that that was deliberate on Five’s part. “Anyone else already know? Don’t rush to a decision though, you have a few days.”

No answers. Magnus smiles again. “Alright. Let me know! Oh, and you’ll all have the option to send a letter to Santa, if you’d like. All of the letters will be in sealed, unlabeled envelopes. No one will read them and no one will know who participated or not. Does that seem fair? I have paper, pencils, and envelopes out on the kitchen table and I’ll leave them there over the next few days in case any of you would like to write something.”

“I’m gonna tell him to come while I’m still awake,” Klaus stage whispers. Vanya giggles.

“I’m not sure that that’ll work, my dear, but I suppose it’s worth a shot. Now, it’s almost time for lunch,” Magnus notes, steering the conversation back into more serious waters, “and then my friend Catarina will be coming over for a visit with me in my office. In the meantime I’d like to speak with a few of you individually. There are… a couple of things that I’ve been neglecting, I now realize.” More than a couple.

The words ripple through the group like a cold wind. Luther puts the couch down, rising to attention. Five freezes and whips his head around, no longer feigning inattention.

Nobody moves. They stop breathing.

Magnus frowns. Do they still think that he’s planning to punish them? Individually?

It’s clear that they’re afraid. Afraid, and ready for a fight.

“It’s just for a chat,” he says, feeling rather out of his depth. “Five, why don’t we start with you?”

Five stands immediately, moving to put his body in front of his siblings, fists clenched at his sides. There’s a sharpness to his body language that Magnus hasn’t seen since he brought them all to Luke’s restaurant on that first day.

“Fine,” Five grits out through his teeth. “Let’s go.”

“Wait,” Ben says. “Magnus, do you need to speak with me too?”

“Yes, I’d like to,” Magnus answers. He hadn’t actually intended to, not this early, anyways, but it feels important to go along with whatever this is. “If that’s alright.”

Ben nods. “Then I’ll go first.”

Vanya grabs his arm. “No,” she hisses. “Not after what you told him.”

Ben pulls his arm out of her grasp gently. “I’m going to prove that it’s fine,” he says. “I’ll be back in a bit, okay?”

He gives them all a reassuring glance. Five doesn’t take his eyes off of Magnus, threat clear in his stance. “Fifteen minutes,” Five says. Magnus has the feeling that he means it.

 

 

“You’re not going to make me show you it, are you?” Ben asks, as soon as they’re in the study.

Magnus shakes his head, trying not to get to stuck on the word it. “Cat figured that it would be best if you told me about your powers yourself,” he says. “She did tell me that they aren’t dangerous, but that’s all.”

“They are dangerous,” Ben says quietly. He clutches his stomach, and Magnus is reminded, suddenly, of how he used to think of the child as ‘the boy with the stomach ache.’

“Why don’t you tell me, and then I’ll tell you what I think?” he nudges.

Ben takes a deep breath. “They’re called the horror,” he says. “I don’t want to show you.”

“You don’t have to. You have my word.”

So Ben explains.

 

Fourteen and a half minutes later, Magnus walks back in to the living room with Ben, the interdimensional octopus monster who lives in his stomach, and a clearer idea of the children’s reason for fearing his conversation.

He also walks in to the smell of smoke.

Five is holding matches.

“Okay, Five,” he says, dragging a hand down his face. “I think it’s time that we have a chat about your hobbies.”