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Just a Cut

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Magnus hadn’t forgotten about his son, or that his son was at home – he simply hadn’t been thinking about him. Arguably that was just as bad, and later he might detest himself for thinking about it, but he was lightheaded. The blood loss, though not serious, were enough to cause Magnus to take for granted things he should have kept in mind.

Reasonably, there was no reason to believe that Tom would be awake when Magnus walked through the front the door. He took his shoes off, turned on a light. After that he made his way to the bathroom. Something about sneaking through the house while his wife and child slept always made him feel like a child himself, although he hadn’t been the sort of child so inclined to sneaking out and struggling to slip back in unnoticed. For a start, with the exception of a handful of circumstances no one ever had cared where he went. It wasn’t as though anyone else growing up kept to a conventional sleep pattern, apart from being awake when it was expected of them. But as a child everything he did felt like sneaking around – keeping his light feet on the ground; being careful not to stumble or be heard.

Somehow, he hadn’t heard Tom descend the stairs. Perhaps it had been the sound of the water as he cupped it in his hand and splashed it on his face, trying to return to something of a sharper, clearer head before he began scrubbing at the dried blood on his face. When there wasn’t so much of it, he would be able to see where it came from, and do what he could to stop it from bleeding more.

When he looked into the hallway he saw the small, astonished face of his son. He was in his pyjamas, and he looked tired.

“What are you doing awake?” Magnus quietly asked.

Tom blinked. Magnus wasn’t sure what he expected of Tom, but his son held his ground and raised his head up to look at him. “What are you doing here?”

“I live here, Tom,” Magnus said. “You’re the one who isn’t here nearly as often as I am.”

“Well, I live here too.”

“Yes,” Magnus agreed. “Why don’t you go upstairs? It’s late. If you’re still awake when I’m finished, I’ll read to you for a while.”

But Tom’s attention wavered away from Magnus’ words and up to his face. Magnus frowned. Then he reached up, gently fingering the blood beginning to streak down his face. He cupped his palm over it, hiding what he could from Tom.

“I’m fine,” Magnus said. Tom’s eyes snapped back to Magnus and he looked as though he had been caught in the act, as though he had learned some terrible secret he was not meant to know, and had not yet decided how he would now live with this knowledge.

“Tom,” Magnus said, his voice soothing. “It’s just a cut. Really.”

Tom nodded, but remained silent.

“Do you want to see?” Magnus asked.

Tom looked hesitant. Magnus waved him into the small bathroom, where they would share the wound on Magnus’ head like a conspiracy. Kneeling, Magnus moved his hand away from his forehead. The cut was just below his hairline.

As with any exchange of information, he kept a careful eye on Tom’s reaction for any signs of distress. He watched Tom raise a hand and wondered if the child would touch the wound, but to his surprise he touched the area just beneath Magnus’ eye instead. Despite himself, Magnus winced. He pulled back slightly.

“Be careful, please,” Magnus said.

“What happened?”

“I was punched, Tom,” Magnus said. He stood up again, washed his hands, and then began the process over of washing his face and trying to take care of the blood.

“How hard?”

“Not too hard,” Magnus said. “This man had very weak arms, as it turned out. But he wore a ring, and that’s why my forehead is bleeding.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Why did he do it?”

There was no answer anywhere near the truth that Magnus thought would be simple enough to explain to his child, or indeed that he thought he should be telling his child. Magnus hoped Tom never had to understand how complicated agents were, and the risks that came from running one.

“He was angry, Tom,” Magnus said. “I don’t think he was angry with me, but sometimes when people are stressed they lash out. They might hit someone.”

“Was he drunk?”

“I don’t know if he was drunk,” Magnus said. “Had he had a few drinks? Well, yes. I think so.”

“Okay.”

Tom filed this information away, storing it for a later time when it was safe to analyse. He then looked back up at Magnus, his attention now fixated on the methodical process with which Magnus used to clean the wounds on his face. Every detail was committed to memory; Magnus had no doubt that if, in the near future, Tom happened to injure himself, he would replay this memory and extrapolate from it all the necessary information for how he ought to treat his own wound.

If Tom were an agent, Magnus decided, he would want to run him.

Sometimes Magnus thought that children really might really be the best spies, between their determined observance of the world like a religion, to their unwavering loyalty; from how they hoarded memories, to the ease with which they fabricated it in the future. Their unpredictability could either be an asset, or highlighted one of the many reasons why agents were often regarded as trouble. He thought back to the sharp stab of pain when Tom touched what would eventually be a serious bruise under Pym’s eyes, and how Magnus had not anticipated that.

Earlier in the evening when his joe lashed out at him, first verbally and then with his fist, Magnus had moulded himself to be the recipient of that punch, accepting it graciously as he searched within himself for a reason to feel sorry for this man. What more reason did he need? Something in his life already led him to betraying his country. It hadn’t been hard to sympathise with him.

He hated to imagine that life for Tom.

When Magnus finished, he stepped back to admire his work. In exchange for Tom’s promise that he would go upstairs once they were done, Magnus allowed Tom to fit the plaster over the wound. For such small hands, Tom did a remarkably good job of it.

“Are we done?” Magnus asked.

“Yes?” Tom guessed.

“Yes,” Magnus agreed. “Except I need to clean up in here. Why don’t you go upstairs? If you’re still awake when I’m finished here, I’ll sit with you. Is that good?”

Reluctantly Tom agreed that it was, and made his way upstairs.

When he was gone Magnus took the opportunity to stare at himself in the mirror. He examined the eye that he knew would bruise and his face, which was surprisingly unharmed considering how much worse things could have been. He allowed his hand to hover over where Tom had touched him, not yet committing to wiping away the gentle, concerned touch of his child as he tried to understand what was wrong with his father.

Finally, Magnus pulled away, grateful this part of the night was over. As he went upstairs he briefly found himself trying to imagine a scenario that would cause him to lash out at Poppy like this, but could think of nothing.