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1.

He’s afraid of spiders.

It’s the dumbest fucking thing. Magnus is big and strong; he’s supposed to fight off scary things and protect the weak. That’s how it works. For god’s sake, he’s fought bears.

But spiders are terrifying and Magnus can’t rationalize it and it fucking sucks.

 


 

2.

He’s frozen. He wants to run but he’s afraid of what the others think. His jaw locks. His shoulders tense. His limbs are buzzing and his chest is tight with rapid breaths because he can’t seem to get enough air because there it is, in the corner of his room, up on the ceiling where it could drop down on him at any time oh no—

Fuck it, thinks Magnus, and bolts.

He sleeps in the common room, all curled up on the couch, because at least this room has less corners for the spiders to hide in.

When he wakes up, his jaw is stiff from clenching and his head hurts from too little sleep. He quietly asks Barry to handle the spider because he thinks Barry is the least likely to make fun.

Magnus is afraid of spiders.

 


 

 

3.

Magnus turns another page in his book, reading the words but not really taking in the story. It’s the calm steadiness of the book in his hand, it’s the world he can get lost in if he just relaxes, it’s the distraction he finds in the turn of the pages.

There’s crawling all across his skin. He keeps twitching and brushing off invisible pests and squinting at dark spots in the room that could be spiders. He’s on the couch again, and the sky is dark, and he’s not sleeping.

There was a spider in his bed, under the sheets. It had brushed his leg when he lay down to rest. It’s like every boundary wall or clung-to security is torn down, leaving him drowning. They’re out there, but not in my room. They won’t move off the wall. They won’t come into my bed. They won’t bite me while I sleep.

He’d been bitten just over a month ago. He’d been completely fine, and that should have been a reassurance, but there’s still a faint red mark in his leg and when he thinks too hard about it, Magnus kind of wants to cry.

He bites his lip and turns another page.

 


 

4.

There are footsteps in the hall, padding to a stop, and Magnus looks up into wide violet eyes and a blanket wrapped close around a live-wire frame buzzing with tension. “Lucretia,” says Magnus. “Why are you awake?”

He watches her bite her lip and look anywhere but him. He watches her shift her feet and tense her shoulders. He sees the look she sends behind her at the shadows in the hallway before padding so very softly across the room to sit beside him, putting her feet up on the couch with her and curling up tight, hugging her legs  and head buried in her knees.

Magnus is the protector. Protecting is the best distraction from spiders. He reaches out a gentle hand and rubs circles into her back, and Lucretia melts into it. Her glasses knock against her knees and she pulls them off.

“Hey, what’s up?” asks Magnus.

Lucretia sighs a long, long sigh. She seems exhausted. “You’ll think it’s dumb.”

“No, I won’t.”

She’s silent for a long moment. “It’s the shadows,” she says. “Sometimes they’re too big. Sometimes the, the ship is too quiet and the world outside is too unfamiliar and I don’t, I can’t….what if there are monsters?” She makes a wordless noise of distress and pulls her blanket up from her shoulders and over her head. “It’s dumb.”

“It’s not,” says Magnus, and thinks of the spiders. “It’s irrational, and that’s not your fault.”

“But I’m a grown ass woman! Monsters aren’t —it’s a child’s fear and it’s dumb but I….I just…”

Magnus hugs her. Lucretia squirms in closer and buries her head in his chest and Magnus feels safer now that he’s protecting someone. Why is it so much easier to give advice than to follow your own rationality?

“Let’s make tea,” says Magnus, “and have dumb fears together.”

Lucretia pulls her head out of the blanket cocoon and peers up at him. “What are you afraid of?”

He looks away, feels the blush prick at his cheeks, but she opened up to him and it’s only fair he reciprocate. “Spiders,” he says. Lucretia laughs incredulously and buries her head back into his shoulder.

“Human brains are weird,” she says.

“Yeah,” says Magnus. “Let’s go make tea.”

 


 

 

5.

It helps to know someone else has dumb fears and you’re not the only one with a brain gone wild. It’s nice to have a friend to chase the monsters from the shadows or kill the spiders in your room.

Magnus and Lucretia sleep on the couch together a lot.

It helps.

 


 

 

6.

After he forgets, it’s worse. He’s afraid of spiders and he’s lonely at midnight on the couch and he doesn’t know why.

Julia helps. She doesn’t have a dumb fear but she’s gentle and understanding and he loves her and she helps. She doesn’t fix it. But she helps.

Then she dies.

 


 

7.

“Evening, Madame Director,” says Magnus, voice, weak, and she turns to him in the shadows of the kitchen with tea clutched in her hands and looks younger and more afraid than someone her age should.

“Evening, Magnus,” she says, and leaves, and they are both alone and afraid tonight and it’s worse.

 


 

 

8.

He remembers.

 


 

 

9.

The shadows are worse for her. She’s been alone for so long and she’s had so much to fear; actual monsters have loomed from the shadows and she’s hidden from them in solitude. She’s still alone, in that empty house she’s built, and Magnus wonders if her shoulders are bowed from age or constant tension.

It’s a year since they won and Magnus watches everyone relax, but not Lucretia. Lucretia is a live-wire, buzzing with tension, and she’s alone. It’s a year since the Hunger and Magnus has had enough.

He knocks on her door at midnight. She opens it with wide eyes and her staff clutched close. “Magnus,” she says. She looks afraid.

Magnus steps in and embraces her. The door swings shut behind him. “You shouldn’t have to be alone.”

“Magnus?”

She sounds so young, even though she’s not, even though neither of them have been young in a very long time. “Let’s go make tea,” says Magnus, “and be dumb and afraid together.”

He pretends he doesn’t feel her start to cry.

 


 

 

10.

She moves in with him. They are still dumb and afraid, but they are no longer alone, and when they sit on the couch together at midnight, the shadows are smaller and the spiders stop crawling over their skin.

It helps. It’s not fixed, but it’s better, and better can sometimes mean so much.