"I can't." Kate shift uncomfortably, trying to twist far enough around on the stool to meet Magnus' eye, but Magnus has her hands buried in Kate's hair, forcing Kate to meet her gaze in the mirror.
"You don't have to do anything you don't want to."
Kate pouts as Magnus pulls another lock of hair back into the ponytail that she was constructing in the most painstaking manner possible. Kate knows she's cranky. She had been up half the night talking shit with Will and had gotten up later than she had intended. Even so, Magnus could really speed things along.
Magnus pulls the last of Kate's hair back and slips the hair tie from her wrist into place at the back of Kate's skull. "Almost done."
"Oh no." Kate reaches back to tug Magnus' hands away. "I'm not some hipster chick. Don't you dare."
"Let me finish." Magnus brushes Kate's hand aside and winds a section of hair around the base of the ponytail. "Hold still and I won't have to poke you with any bobby pins."
"Fine, but you're not putting ribbons in my hair."
"Only the one, for a moment."
"Magnus." She whines but she knows it's useless. Magnus and Will had gone insane, the pair of them needed to spend a weekend in the loony bin for this one. Sure Kate had never bothered to tell them no, veto the whole thing before it got started, but she hadn't ever expected them to consider something like this.
"I'm asking you to try, Kate. If you'd rather not I'm sure the two of us could come up with a suitable welcoming."
And there it was, the damn Sanctuary messing things up again. This was supposed to be a long weekend for the three of them. Declan had flown in from London to take over for a couple of days and they weren't supposed to have to deal with the job. Something had come up, however, and Will had headed back to Old City for the day in lieu of Magnus. He had promised to be back in time for dinner barring anything but the globe exploding, and had made both she and Magnus promise they would have something special waiting in return.
Kate grimaces at the sight of the pink bow in her hair. "I'm not dressing up as a pretty princess or whatever, okay? I made mudpies and stole cookies from the neighbors as a kid. I don't do girly."
Magnus laughs, brushing a kiss over the top of Kate's head. "I didn’t expect that you would."
"No tutus then?"
Magnus gathers several of the shopping bags from the corner and sets them on the bed before reaching in and pulling out a t-shirt. It's mottled grey with a lace hem and some sort of lace patch across one of the shoulders. It looks a little big and it's not exactly Kate's style but she'd throw it on under a decent leather jacket in a pinch.
The shirt's apparently going on before Kate gets to see what else is in the bag because Magnus is holding out a hand, waiting. Kate walks over and frowns when Magnus pulls up the bottom of Kate's shirt.
"I can dress myself."
Magnus doesn't respond, standing to pull the shirt over Kate's head, forcing Kate's hand away from the t-shirt. The t-shirt on, the rest of the clothes go on in a blur: a blue hoodie with something that looks alarmingly like a cartoon elephant, a pair of pale, untarnished, and slightly flared jeans, and a pair of rainbow socks.
"These are disgusting." Kate whines picking at the toe of one of the socks. She doesn't dare pull it off, but she's sorely tempted.
"They're cute." Magnus smirks pulling on a long sleeved lilac shirt. Her arms settle to her sides and Kate realizes it's cropped, leaving a sliver of her stomach exposed along with the faded rainbow belt she's pulling through the loops on her tattered jeans.
She takes a seat on the bed next to Kate and draws on a pair of white ankle socks and purple tennis shoes, which match her shirt with alarming accuracy.
"You look like someone suggested they spew slime in your face." Magnus joshes her shoulder and Kate frowns.
"You look cute with the pigtails." Kate offers, but Magnus isn't buying her lame attempt at a distraction. "I'm not calling him Daddy and I swear if he-" Kate stops when Magnus laughs.
"What do you want?"
Kate considers for a moment, reaching to pick at the frayed threads stretched across Magnus' knee. "He's going to want to stick his tongue down someone's throat. You can be his girlfriend, but he's older. You can be the jailbait for a change." Kate smirks, pleased she's managed a twist on her usual sarcastic barb regarding their relationship.
"And you?" Kate shrugs watching Magnus pop the foil on a blister pack of gum. "We've time yet. Why don't we wait and find out. Gum?"
Gum? Kate raises an eyebrow and Magnus laughs again, tousling Kate's hair.
Kate's about to ask what's gotten into her when she realizes Magnus has already started slipping into her role. It's always seamless, Magnus- Helen- is a pro, sliding in and out of roles like she slips into her favorite dress or pair of heels. Kate's not half bad by comparison, but today the mindfulness she usually relies on has turned on her.
"Why don't we go downstairs and play?" Magnus' accent has softened, drawn itself out.
Kate's considering refusing, this is still too weird, but there's that easy smile she loves so much and she had promised to try.
Magnus grabs the two remaining shopping bags and heads down the stairs, herding Kate in front of her until they reach the center of the living room.
She spreads out a blanket, something mint green and impossibly soft looking before waving Kate over. "Will bought you a present before he left."
Kate's about to roll her eyes when she catches sight of the photo on the front of the book Helen's holding out. It's a cartoon version of the three of them on their last vacation, a two day extended stay in the tropics. Kate drops to her knees at the edge of the blanket and grabs for the book, tugging until Magnus releases it. There's page after page of photos turned mazes of black lines. The three of them on trips, on missions, goofing off in the Sanctuary. Kate flips to one of Magnus and Will bent conspiratorially over Will's desk and looks expectantly at Helen.
Helen produces a box of crayons, one of the ones meant for toddlers with animal prints on the labels. Kate snatches the brown crayon as soon as Helen spills the box out onto the blanket and sets about trying to figure out how to hold it. It's too big to hold comfortably like she normally would, but holding it in her fist doesn't feel right either. She settles eventually on something halfway in between and resigns herself to doing a lot of scribbling. The desk doesn't look half bad, but by the time she starts in with Will she's given up on blending colors, there aren't enough options. He ends up with blue hair topped of with a red squiggle or two. She figures it's somewhat appropriate given she's pretty sure that's what his head would look like if she stood too close and flicked her lighter. Helen for her part in this is amused, and evidently pleased with Kate's departure from modern artistic aesthetics. She squeezes Kate on the shoulder and leaves her to her coloring, humming something that sounds oddly like U2.
Kate colors in another page before boredom settles in. Helen's curled up on the couch with a huge volume of something Kate can't see the spine of. This isn’t surprising. It's Magnus' usual MO, but there's something different this time. Kate throws her crayon aside and scoots over until she's sitting before Helen's elbow trying to catch a peak at the spine. Either there's nothing written there or it's faded into oblivion; either's a viable option given Magnus' usual choice of reading material.
"Read me a story." Kate demands hardly hiding a smirk when Helen starts, snapping the book shut. "Story." Kate demands again and Helen's recovered herself enough to shake her head.
"We have to eat lunch first." Helen's voice is as smooth as silk, but as she slides her feet to the floor Kate catches sight of the faint blush ringing the neckline of Helen's shirt. Whatever she had been reading she wouldn't be surprised if Will approved. Teenage Helen had a thing for erotic literature; Kate would bet her life on it.
"I'm not hungry. I want a story."
"You can have a story after your chocolate pudding." Helen smiles as Kate pouts. That wasn't fair and Helen knew it. Will had banned Kate's usual list of junk food for the weekend and she'd been dying for something sweet, or greasy and salty since they had arrived.
"Can I have pudding?"
"After your lunch."
"Katie." Helen's voice stiffens and Kate huffs out a sigh.
Kate sits and watches a roly poly by the back door while Helen puts lunch together. It smells pretty good until she pops open a frozen bag of peas and dumps them into a pot on the stove. Kate shoos the bug off than kicks at the door with her bare feet. Helen knows she hasn't eaten peas since she left her mother's house. Kate has a feeling though, there's not much use in raising the issue. She is, she assumes, allowed to throw them or whatever it is young kids do when they don't want to eat their veggies and there isn't a dog around.
Helen settles a pair of plates on the table, snapping the gum she's still chewing between her teeth. "When you're done assaulting the door come eat your lunch before it gets cold." A bit of Magnus slips into Helen.
Kate pouts a moment more and then heaving herself off the floor wanders over to the table. There's only one chair not covered in camp gear. It's the short awkward chair they usual stow in the mudroom for putting on boots, and in Kate's case reaching the upper row of shelving. Today, however, it's stacked with a series of books, presumably to compensate for the chair's lack of height.
As awkward as it is, right now Kate's not going to argue with Helen's choice of seating arrangements. Whatever time it is, it's well past noon and Kate's glad Helen had insisted on lunch when she had.
Lunch as it turns out is a bit of an understatement; it's a junk foodie's heaven, as close as you could get when Magnus did the shopping anyway. There's dinosaur chicken nuggets, tater tots, cinnamon apple sauce, carrots with ranch dressing, and the peas.
Kate picks a t-rex nugget up from its segregated compartment on the pale blue plate and bites its head off with a smile. Across the table, Magnus hides a smirk behind a spoonful of applesauce.
Lunch goes off without a hitch although Kate finds using the miniature silverware Helen had set out of her too tedious and scoops up the majority of the food with her fingers. Kate waits for Helen to comment, but when nothing comes Kate carefully begins dropping the peas one by one onto the floor. There's no four-legged creature to come carry them away, the ruse won't last long, but Kate's beginning to understand that's not the point of the game.
Magnus isn't Magnus, she's Helen who's more concerned with the boyfriend she's missing and the brat of a girl she lets get away with too much. On the surface it's not all that different than it was at other times, but sitting dropping peas on the floor, Kate realizes there's a certain freedom to it. There aren't the rules, the expectations.
There's nothing that says Kate can't throw her plate up against the wall and scream for her pudding. There's no expectation that she won't do that either. She doesn't have to be Kate the girl who's forever trying not to mess up the one good thing she has. She can be Kate the petulant, greedy child and if there's anything Kate likes to be from time to time, that would be it.
"All done." She bangs her spoon down onto the empty plate to draw Helen's attention up from her phone. "Pudding now!"
Helen raises an eyebrow at the empty plate and the applesauce still stuck to Kate's finger and then glances at the floor by Kate's feet. "What did I tell you about throwing your veggies on the floor?"
"Bad Katie." There's glee there as she bangs her fist back against the table expectantly.
Helen slips her phone into her pocket as she stands before grabbing Kate's plate. She doesn't head to the sink like Kate had expected, but back to the stove where she scoops out another spoonful of peas before heading back to the table.
"You have to try some." Kate shoves at the plate and shakes her head, but Helen's not budging. "Just a little bit."
Helen reaches over with her spoon and slides some of the peas into the adjoining compartment. "Eat those and you can have your pudding."
"No," Kate whines, stabbing dolefully at the peas, but she knows it's no use. When push came to shove Helen would be more than happy to sit and eat her own pudding, spoon by spoon, while Kate glared at her peas.
Kate manages to slip a couple of peas onto her impossibly small spoon and slip them into her mouth. She's chewed them into mush before she's forced to spit them out with a disgusted "uck."
She looks at Helen pleadingly and is surprised to find she's softened a bit. "Here." She scoops up a bunch of the peas and holds them out to Kate. Kate's no more interested in them than she had been the moment before but she complies with a twisted frown, nose crinkled as she chews. She's about to spit them out again, they really do taste disgusting, when Helen shakes here head. "Swallow," she coaxes. "You've done the hard part. They won't taste any worse going down."
Kate swallows with a grimace and Helen looks so pleased, Kate finds she's smiling bashfully.
"Time for pudding." Helen announces, whisking the plate away and Kate's face breaks out into an all out grin.
Her spoon's no bigger than before, so Kate makes due with scooping the pudding out of the cup with her index finger, Helen laughing all the while as the effort leaves Kate’s mouth smeared with chocolate.
"You're a right fine mess." Helen's still laughing as Kate eyes the empty pudding cup suspiciously, wondering if there's a way she can lick the bottom without cramming her nose into the corner of the plastic cup.
"More?" She asks.
Helen shakes her head, wiping at the corners of Kate's mouth with a damp cloth. "After dinner."
Kate's about to whine when Helen's phone goes off in her pocket and she turns away to fish it out. "Will," she sounds a little breathless when she answers, excited, exited enough that Kate at any other time would have laughed, today though she watches quietly, sliding off her chair to follow Helen into the other room.
Helen settles onto the couch, feet tucked up next to her, and Kate settles in beside her, ear pressed to Helen's shoulder listening for any snippets of the conversation.
"It's a bit of a nightmare." She can hear Will's voice, far away and somewhat distorted by the phone, as Helen makes a sympathetic sound. "I should have it straightened out soon. How are you two holding up?"
"Just fine." Helen smiles running a hand over Kate's hair. "We just ate lunch. Katie even ate her peas."
Will laughs and Kate's surprised by how much this seems to brighten his mood. He says something else that Kate doesn't catch and Helen slips her arm down to Kate's shoulder to squeeze lightly. "She colored you a nice picture. Lit your hair on fire." There's laughter from the both of them, a smattering of chuckles and then Helen sighs. "I know you have to get back to work. Did you want to talk to Kate?"
Kate sighs into the phone, shifting her grasp on the warm metal so Helen will let go and relinquish the phone to her. She curls down into Helen's side, sighing again, this time contentedly as Helen rests her hand lightly on Kate's side, warm fingers splayed over blue fabric.
"Helen says you've been good."
Kate nods. "Uh huh. I ate peas!" She's proud of herself Kate realizes as Will's smile transmits through the phone as another rumbling chuckle.
"Yeah." Kate bats Helen's hand away, clinging tighter to the phone and then whines when it returns, carefully prying Kate's fingers away.
"Nap time." She murmurs and Kate shakes her head vehemently.
"No. Will-" she pleads but the phone is gone, Will's voice once again turned into a staticy representation of the real thing.
"She's tired." Helen soothes away Will's confusion as Kate kicks at the end of the couch with a indignant shriek. "She hasn't been down for her nap yet."
"No nap!" Kate insists, but the phone is gone, set aside, and Helen's pulled Kate, flailing limbs and all, back toward her side of the couch.
"I promised you a story." Helen sounds cheerful, as she runs slow circles over Kate's arm. "How about I tell you the one about the princess in the castle. There's even a friendly monster. He has a funny name."
"No." Kate sighs, but Helen's right she is tired, exhausted, the space behind her eyes aching slightly from the energy expended in her sudden fit. It wouldn't hurt to take a rest, let Helen lull her with whatever ridiculous tale it was she intended to tell. It wasn't often they got time like this, just the two of them, away from work, time filled with quiet caresses and silent lullabies.
Kate rubs her eyes with her fist, earning her an amused smile from Helen who draws the blanket down from the top of the couch to cover them both. "Go to sleep," she whispers, "and Will will be home soon."
If there was a story, Kate was asleep before it started. When she wakes, Helen's not there, but the space she had been occupying is still warm, a pillow tucked under her head where Helen's leg had been. The room smells faintly of fried food and there's a lightness, something almost jovial, that suggests Will is there too, but it can't be that late already.
Kate yawns with a whimper and curls back into the couch. She hears Will, "if you let her sleep much longer she'll be up all night." and then a sigh before, Kate assumes, Helen silences him with a kiss.
"Don't want to share," Helen grumbles as she slides of Will's lap before crossing the room. "Katie," she shakes Kate's shoulder lightly. "Will brought home a surprise for dinner."
Kate opens an eye just enough to check that Helen isn't joking and then groans, stretching before curling back up.
"We could always eat it all without her."
Kate opens her eyes enough to glare at him before stretching and kicking off the blanket. Whatever it was, fish and she was hoping onion rings from the smell of it, it smelled amazing. She may not be a morning person at any point during the day but she wasn't about to pass up good food, especially not when it'd been Will's idea.
The fish and chips, onion rings for her, turn out to be amazing. Although, Kate discovers begrudgingly it was a bit of a tradition for the pair of them that they hadn't shared with her.
"Little girls need to eat their veggies." Will says in a tone that clearly indicated he knows just how much he was getting away with as Kate tears an onion ring in half with her teeth before reaching with greasy fingers for another piece of fish on the platter at the center of the table.
As dinner wraps up Helen offers to deal with the dishes and the grease covered sheets of rough brown paper from the fish market. Will thanks her with a kiss, nipping at her bottom lip and she swats him, scolding. "I told you, not in front of Kate."
He frowns but doesn't argue, smoothing a chaste kiss against her forehead before he rounds the table to grab both of Kate's hands, fingers wrapped around her wrists. "I've got this one."
Kate's still holding out for dessert, despite the fact she knows after all the fried food there’s no dessert coming, so she whines a bit as Will leads her away from the kitchen and into the adjoining bathroom.
"Let's get you cleaned up."
She squirms as she sits perched on the edge of the tub because she can, enjoying the way his eyes shine when he catches her chin between his thumb and forefinger to wipe her face clean. "Finger food looks good on you."
"Yummy." She interjects, smirking when he turns away to rinse the washcloth in the sink.
"I thought you'd think so, my little junk food junkie."
She wipes her wet hands across the back of his jeans in retribution and laughs when he turns to roll his eyes at her.
"Did you miss me?" He's still smiling although there's something more serious there and she nods sweetly, holding out her arms so he can step into her embrace, her arms wrapped around his waist.
"Missed you." She mumbles against his hip, squeezing tightly for a moment as he smoothes her hair down with his damp hands.
"I like the pretty bow." He says quietly and Kate finds she doesn't mind the fact she's still wearing the damn thing as much as she thought she would. It seems to make him happy and that's all she wants right now, for him to smile away those tired lines that are forming around the corners of his eyes. "It was very nice of you to sit still and let Helen do your hair all pretty."
'Very nice' was an understatement but she finds herself smiling at the praise all the same. She wasn't prone to cooperating, not when it came to ridiculous or girly things. She found them frivolous even now after Magnus had had a chance to worm her way into Kate's head and into her closet. "She did it for you." Kate says solemnly, ignoring the fact she can't seem to stop the corners of her mouth from quirking upward.
Will nods and slips a hand around her shoulders, guiding her to her feet. "Why don't we go play some games before bed?"
'Some games' ends with Kate stealing half the deck of cards they had been playing war with and shrieking, tucking them into various hiding places around the living room while Will races behind her collecting them and tickling her at equal intervals. By the time they collapse onto the couch beside Helen she's out of breath and tired and Will's eyes are shinning, glowing as Helen strokes a hand fondly through his hair.
"You two are ridiculous." She sighs with a bit of a laugh and Will grins.
"You know you love it."
She tips her head to the side and gives him a bit of a look, one of the ones they never share with Kate. Whatever it means, Kate's never been quite sure, it'd been established long before she had stepped into all this with them. It's one of those looks that usually makes her a bit sad, thinking of the two of them without her, her without them, but today it makes her smile softly. She's the reason for that look today. She's not the third wheel or a convenient fit to what they already had, she's a part of this, of them.
She presses the side of her face against Will's shoulder and Helen smiles at her before patting the sliver of space between them. It takes a bit of figuring and an elbow to Will's ribs but she manages to tuck into the gap, toes curled against Will's thigh, her head tucked under Helen's chin.
Helen laughs again and Kate realizes she's drifting off, lulled by how easy things feel here, tucked away in the woods, nestled between the two of them. It sounds like a bad cliché but Kate doesn't care. It's not as if they're not happy most of the time, because they are, but there's always something pressing, someone wanting, but right now, just this once, it really is just the three of them.