The person in front of Magnus wasn't a stranger, though he may as well have been one. Lit only by candlelight, Magnus studied him. The human man seemed to be in his forties, wrinkles forming around his eyes and mouth that showed he'd had many moments of laughter. Faint lines etched in his forehead and between his brows that showed he worried just the same. The man ran a hand through his hair. It was brown but beginning to grey, silver strands creeping through it. This man watched Magnus intently. Magnus stared back. He sighed at his own reflection in the mirror. It was easy to forget sometimes the things that Wonderland changed about him.
With everything that happened in there, Magnus felt bad for focusing so much on his face. If he'd just lost 10 years off his lifespan then he wouldn't mind it so much, but ageing 10 years was a totally different ball game and that's what bothered him. Even though he was still recognisable, Magnus didn't see himself as himself anymore. He saw an older twin, maybe; a man with more life experience, a man who'd earned the marks upon his face. Those moments that would've usually carved him into what he was now, he never got to experience. Maybe that's what got to him the most. Either way, any time he passed a mirror now, his reflection always caught him off-guard. He didn't know how long he'd been staring at himself until he heard a knock, then saw the door behind him open slowly, bright light falling from the hall into the otherwise dark room.
"Hey Magnus, what's- Gods it's dark in here!" a voice came from the door, unmistakably belonging to his fellow adventurer and good friend Taako. Magnus watched him through the mirror as he walked over to the curtains covering the window on the other side of the room. "Let me just- can I open these?"
"Go for it," Magnus replied. As he spoke, he suspected even his voice had changed a little bit, though he wasn't sure. Maybe he was just imagining things but he could swear it was rougher. He wouldn't mind that so much.
"So, uh," Taako began as he tugged at the curtains, daylight spilling in. Magnus continued to watch as he bounced over, joining him in front of the mirror. His cosmetically enhanced face flickered with a moment of concern. "How you doin' buddy?"
"I'm good," Magnus sighed unintentionally, making that look show on Taako's face once again. "Honestly. I'm just tired."
"Have you been out of this room at all today? Smells bad, man," Taako joked, adjusting his hair in the process. However, when Magnus shook his head in response, that look of concern returned for a third time. After a moment of silence, he turned to him with a smile, leaning his elbow on his shoulder. "You know, I am so fucking hungry right now. How's about we leave this joint and go get some lunch?"
The two adventurers made small talk as they took a casual stroll through a park together, Taako finishing off his lunch as they walked. He contributed most to the conversation by finding random things to comment on whilst Magnus, for once, held back. He didn't mean to be so quiet, he just kept zoning out. They were both avoiding the elephant in the room.
"Your haircut looks good," Taako remarked, taking the last bite of his sandwich.
"Thanks," Magnus replied. His hair was short and neat, a stark contrast to what it was just a day ago. Magnus had always kept his hair short, and ever since he started growing facial hair, he'd always kept that in check too. He liked looking neat, though the amount of adventuring he'd been doing lately made him put that to the back of his mind. After Refuge, he'd just forgotten entirely about self maintenance, letting his hair grow much longer than what he was used to. When he arrived back after escaping Wonderland, he decided to finally cut it again, hoping it might make him feel more like himself.
"No problem, my dude. You suit this better, it was getting way too long."
"Uh, coming from you?"
"Yeah, but long hair is my thing! My brand! You look more like you again. Well, given the recent circumstances." When silence fell after his comment, Taako took a huge slurp of his fruit juice. Magnus didn't want those circumstances brought up at all... Though maybe that was the wrong way to go about it. They both went through Wonderland, they couldn't just pretend it never happened, could they? He debated the topic in his head for a bit. After a moment, he realised maybe he needed to talk about it to get past it, and he wanted to get past it so badly.
"Taako, can we sit down for a minute?" Magnus asked, slowing down as they neared a bench. The two stopped in front of it.
"Of course, old man! You got some knee pain? Need to take a little breather?" Taako teased, much to Magnus' chagrin.
"My body's only in it's forties," he responded as he sat down on the bench, "And that's not why. Kind of."
"I don't know human ages, I thought 42 was ancient for you guys." Magnus glared at Taako. "Okay, sorry, I'll stop with the jokes. What's up?" Magnus took a moment before he spoke, wanting to get the words right, not wanting to seem like he was just complaining or making it all about him.
"Do you ever find it difficult?" he started. "Like, seeing the way you look now after they took what they took? When you're not using your magic makeup, I mean." Taako seemed to realise that it was time to be serious now, and joined Magnus on the bench.
"Big time. I just... I try not to look at myself," he confessed hesitantly. "If I only look at myself when I'm using- what did you call it? My magic makeup? Well then, I get to pretend nothing's changed." He held his drink in his lap, tapping his fingers against the carton. Magnus was a little bit taken aback by the honesty; he was expecting Taako to make some remark about how he still looked better than most people anyway, or something along those lines. It was a happy surprise that he didn't.
"But what about when you're not doing that?" Magnus asked, "Do you think you'll ever accept that version of yourself?" Taako fell silent for a moment, leaning against the back of the bench and looking off somewhere in the distance, deeply in thought.
"I don't know," he eventually answered, his voice quiet and almost vulnerable sounding. "I don't have to, so I don't think about it. I guess maybe one day, but that's not me right now." Magnus wasn't sure how to reply. He wasn't used to seeing this side of his friend. Yeah, they all had their serious moments, but as a group (Merle included) the three just always preferred to laugh through things together. They never really just talked like this.
"It's weird," he sighed, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. "I know I still look like me, but to me I don't. I don't know if it's the same with you? I mean, I saw in there what your face was like, and in my opinion you didn't look that different. Yeah, there were changes, but you were still Taako." In response, Taako actually laughed. Magnus looked up in confusion, "Did I say something funny?"
"No, no, not really. Just, to me, I look like a completely different person underneath this spell. I've watched this face grow my whole life, you know? I've lived with it for so long. Considering I'm over a century old-" Magnus interrupted with a scoff. Taako never told the truth about his age, and he probably wasn't here either. He smirked a little before continuing, "Well, no matter what age you are - for your face to be suddenly changed like that? It's so jarring."
"So it does bother you?"
"Yeah, it sucks! I'm the first to admit it alright, I care a lot about my looks. I did TV for crying out loud, if I wasn't up my own ass there would be something wrong." Taako paused, sighing deeply. "But yeah, it does bother me a lot. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, though."
Magnus pondered that for a moment. He'd been trying so hard to get used to his ageing, to get used to his face, to get past everything that happened in there. He felt he couldn't complain, that to do so would be superficial and wrong. But Taako? He'd been going about it a completely different way. He could admit that he cared, that things sucked, and that your actual appearance changing in an instant was a valid thing to get caught up on. As for getting past it, he wasn't rushing that. It would take time, but for now, it was inevitably going to be strange. Maybe accepting that would be a lot easier than trying to heal too fast.
"I'm glad I'm not alone in that," Magnus replied. "I felt bad for feeling bad, what with Merle losing his freaking eye and all... But I guess it's okay for it to bother me."
"Of course it's okay!" Taako exclaimed loudly. "You're the one who told me that it was fine to want to turn down the beauty sacrifice because no one was going to tell me that their problem was worse than mine. We all lost things in there, we all have every right to complain."
"I'm going grey, Taako," Magnus chuckled, brushing a hand through his hair. "One moment every single strand of hair on my head is brown, and the next moment I'm very noticeably going grey. I am so not gonna get used to that."
"Hey, if you ever want some of that magic makeup just hit me up, I'm sure I can find a spell for you," Taako offered, glancing up at Magnus' hair. "For what it's worth though, I think you rock the silver fox look."
"Yeah?" Magnus laughed.
"Yeah! Like Fantasy George Clooney."
"I think I could live with that."
The two smiled, falling into silence as they sat on that bench, turning their gazes to the rest of the park. It was nice at the Bureau of Balance, but everything was so artificial. The grass and the trees, though real, were all planted there by man. Magnus longed for the forests back in Raven's Roost. There was an eerie silence here, no sounds of wind or children laughing or birds twittering; the only noise was the occasional passerby. He missed home a lot. He missed Steven. He missed Julia. Thinking back to what happened then made his head hurt. They died in the attack on the Craftsman Corridor... but who was it that attacked them again? His mind went blank and his headache got worse. He couldn't remember. Was he getting confused? Was it just an accident? Why couldn't he remember?
"Wait!" Taako suddenly piped up, his voice cutting through Magnus' thoughts. "Can I take that thing about Fantasy George Clooney back? I wanna say something funnier."
"Go for it," Magnus replied, feeling a little bit dazed.
"You're starting to look like Merle."