Informal

Summary: Undercover at a dinner party, Magnus decides that she prefers Will when he's being casual rather than deferential. (Will/Magnus friendship)

Rating: G

Author's Note: Okay, this one has a couple of inspirations, all of which tie back to Livejournal in one way or another. The SyFy "House of Imagination" promo vid sparked Shelma32 to create some rather shiny icons featuring Amanda Tapping and Robin Dunne in formalwear which got me thinking of Will and Magnus in formalwear (and who wouldn't run with a mental image like that?). Also, Talkofcake and I have been really discussing Season 2 possibilities and hopes. A big one for us both is that Will needs to stop putting Magnus up on a pedestal because that doesn't really do either of them any favors. Now that Will's been exposed to her world long enough to no longer be in awe of Magnus, respect can be tempered with genuine friendliness and playfulness. Thus a fic where circumstances force a degree of informality. I don't consider it shippy, but it could probably be taken that way if you do the head-tilt.

Informal

"Okay, Magnus, I'm rea--"

Will trailed off as he entered her office, eyes widening as he took in her dress. She allowed herself a knowing smirk at the flush of pink creeping up his neck. His mouth fell open when he saw that expression, color flooding his cheeks.

Her black dress, perfect for too many occasions to count. Not that hers was much like the 'little black dress' most women kept in their closet for special occasions. Then again, Helen Magnus had long since accepted that she was most decidedly not like other women and her wardrobe tended to reflect that.

Instead of falling short of her knees, the black fabric, woven through with just enough silk to suggest a shimmer without being blatant about it, fell to her ankles, pooling there just slightly. It clung to every curve without being particularly suggestive about it: just barely hinting at grace and power and femininity, sheer but substantial enough to come across as almost modest in the degree of inaccessibility it suggested. Slit to just past the knee on the right side, it let her conceal an easily-accessible gun on her left ankle.

Her tailor had also worked in some features that meant she could quickly and easily rip the thing off three-quarters of the way up her leg if running or fighting became necessary. The result was rather shameless, but the feature had saved her life on at least three separate occasions. After the first time, she had taken to wearing spandex biker shorts under her formalwear. It tended to lessen the distraction her companions experienced when she casually tore off her skirt and, as Ashley so quaintly put it, 'went Buffy.' She didn't think it was likely to come up tonight, but she'd still taken the precaution of wearing the shorts just in case. She loved Will dearly, but he had not earned the right to know what kind of underwear she wore.

She cast her eye over him, glad she had made him use her tailor instead of picking up something off the rack like he'd wanted to. He looked good in most things but, if he wanted to fit in tonight, his suit needed to be worth more than he made in a month. She'd been more than happy to cover the cost herself, dismissing his offers of repayment and reminding him that this was a professional expense.

He wore the suit like a second skin. Not that it was tight, but it was clearly made to his measure by a master of the trade. He'd gone non-traditional and she liked the effect. Deep, rich gray instead of black for the slacks and jacket were a nod to the formality of the function they were about to attend without conforming to the typical black-tie standard. For that matter, he'd dispensed with a tie and gone for a crewneck shirt instead. In sharp contrast to the darker jacket, the shirt was that shade of pale blue that Will, presumably, knew exactly how good he looked in. He certainly wore it often enough to suggest that he knew precisely how well it brought out his eyes. It was a shame the color also made him look about 15.

"I take it the fact that you're salivating means you approve?" she teased gently.

He cleared his throat, nodding and not quite meeting her eye. "You look beautiful, Magnus."

"Ah!" she answered, waggling her finger. "We're going undercover, Will," she reminded him.

"Sorry, Helen. Won't happen again."

"It had better not," she answered firmly, but she did give him a reassuring smile. "The suit's lovely, Will. Excellent choice of colors. You clean up quite well."

He colored again, bowing her head and only reinforcing how damned boyish he sometimes looked. She smiled, amused.

"Going to a party with a man young enough to be my great great-grandson on my arm? I must say, I'm feeling quite the cougar at the moment."

Will laughed, grinning up at her. "Does that make me the trophy-husband?"

Better. A relaxed Will was a Will more able to keep his eye on the prize.

"Well, we always did know I only keep you around for your good looks," she answered with a smirk.

"Thank you, Nikola Tesla, for your ability to put your finger on the point," he snorted.

"Dignified," she murmured, shaking her head and looping her arm through his. "Come on, Will."

"You've got it, babe."

"If you call me that at the dinner party, I will sack you," she threatened, half-serious.

He grinned. "Guess that means doll is out, too? How about cupcake? Sweet-cheeks?"

Magnus sighed and shook her head. "Try to take this a little seriously, Will."

"Sorry, M- Helen. Just trying to get in-character. We're married which I assume means I'm allowed to tease?"

"Well, when you put it that way. Still, kindly find another topic to tease me on. Generic endearments aggravate me no end."

"'Generic' endearments, huh? Does that mean the specific type are allowed?"

"Oh, yes," she answered, grinning. "I fully plan on calling you my cheeky monkey at least four or five times tonight."

Will's eyes widened and the color was back in cheeks. "Is that entirely necessary?"

"Just trying to get in-character," she retorted. "We're married, which I assume means I'm allowed to tease." Turn-about was a beautiful thing.

He chuckled, looking equal parts amused and mortified. Then he grinned, eying her with an evil glint. She adopted an insolent leer, enjoying the oasis of calm and friendship they seemed to have found for themselves this evening. Their problems with the Cabal were by no means forgotten, but they were allowing themselves to relax and have fun in spite of them.

"Do your worst, Will."

He smirked. "I will, angel."

She took a step back, startled. Resisting the urge to lift a hand to her suddenly jackrabbiting heart, she stared at him with wide, confused eyes.

What on Earth?

"That's how you see me? As some kind of angel, Will?"

She shook her head uncertainly. He knew her well enough to know there was nothing of innocence or purity in her, yet the word obviously had a very personal connotation to him.

He frowned, obviously confused by her reaction. "My guardian angel since I was eight, yeah." He nodded. "Just with a gun instead of a flaming sword. I won't use it if it bothers you."

She smiled and shook her head, full of warmth towards the young man. So often he treated her like some untouchable goddess instead of like a human being. She liked him better when he forgot that there was anything different about her. Angelic metaphor aside, he was getting more comfortable with the idea of her as a person as opposed to merely some symbolic entity. It said a lot that he felt comfortable admitting such a sentiment to her.

"Will, that's just lovely," she told him. "Feel free to use it all night."

He smiled slowly, still looking perplexed over her reaction. Or, perhaps more accurately: perplexed by her overreaction. Foolish, really, to respond so strongly to something so innocuous. Then again, it had been decades since anyone had given her a nickname out of affection. Her enemies had quite a few choice phrases for her, but those were hardly fit for mixed company.

"Let's go, Will," she suggested.

"Okay, Helen."

She smiled. There he was treating her like a regular person again, and doing so quite naturally. Which could make a night of what had promised to be rather tedious recon a chance to enjoy the company of a dear friend as well.

0101010

"Helen, you made it!" the Senator greeted her with a smile. "I'm so glad."

She smiled because it was expected. She had met the man once in the process of garnering this invitation and that for less than five minutes. She had no difficulty picturing the man as a Cabal puppet. Disturbingly easy to manipulate.

"Well, I did promise to try, Andy," she answered. "My husband Will Connery." He had wanted Bond for an alias, but she had firmly quashed that idea.

Will held out his hand. "Nice to meet you, sir. Helen tells me you were just appointed to the Homeland Security Committee? Congratulations. I hear there was a lot of competition for that vacancy."

"You have no idea," he laughed, giving Will's hand a squeeze.

Magnus could see Will timing the handshake and, no doubt, gauging its strength as well. He had been really studying up on how to read people since the incident with Nomad. Coupled with his keen powers of observation and his advanced deductive and inductive reasoning skill, his new knowledge of microexpressions, body language, and other nonverbal cues had turned him into an excellent cold reader.

"Lots of behind the scenes machinations, were there?" Will asked 'casually'.

"It's Washington." Andy shook his head. "You get behind the scenes political machinations every time you excuse yourself to go to the head."

"The head? Former military?" Will 'guessed', nodding. "Can see why the appointment was important to you."

The senator's eyes narrowed.

"Will, don't be nosy," Magnus murmured, giving his arm a squeeze.

"Sorry, dear."

She pursed her lips faintly at that. When Will's expression was appropriately contrite, she turned her attention back to Andy.

"Will's always had something of an interest in matters of intelligence," she told him. "Too many spy movies as a child. Don't let him get started or he'll be barraging you with questions for the rest of the party." Laughing, she added, "Before the night was out, he'd be quoting the Moscow Rules at you."

Will chuckled, bowing his head and doing a damned credible impression of real embarrassment. Then he looked at Magnus with a knowing smile.

"Don't look back; you're never truly alone."

If she'd known that her unpredictable protégé knew the Moscow Rules, she would never have mentioned them. Her cheeks flooded with color at his reference to her hovering presence for so much of his life, and she quickly decided to go ahead and play that up rather than lamely pretend she wasn't bright red.

"You cheeky monkey!" she laughed, mock-glaring at Will.

"I am. And you love that about me, angel," he reminded her, expression playful.

She decided not to dedicate any time to examining the something akin to physical pain she felt in her chest at that, but she was still vividly aware of her anger. He had taken that beautiful endearment and made it into a joke! Her smile faded.

"Enough, Will," she whispered, barely managing to keep her voice from shaking.

His eyes widened. "Sorry, M- Helen. Helen, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to…" He trailed off, touching her arm and shaking his head, expression apologetic and frankly mortified.

She stared down at his hand, startled both by her own irritation with him and by how completely he had drained it with just that simple touch.

"It's okay, Will," she answered, smiling weakly. "Don't mind us," she added to Andy who was staring. "I'm afraid we've been together long enough to find bickering a rather diverting form of recreation."

"What she means to say," Will added, "is that her husband was born with a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease."

"That as well," Magnus conceded, resting a hand on Will's shoulder.

The young man absently lifted his own hand to cover hers and she had to resist the urge to squirm free from the unexpected intimacy. He most have noticed a sudden tension in her, because he immediately let his hand fall away, making it seem as if, perhaps, he had only ever meant to brush her wrist with his fingertips after all.

"Don't let us keep you from your other guests, Senator," Will said as she reclaimed her hand. "Helen is nothing if not good at mingling. She'll make sure I'm not too much of a wallflower."

He smiled, shaking hands with both of them again before leaving. Will moved close to Magnus, closer than he'd ever stood to her when not bending over her shoulder to scrutinize something she was looking at.

She wouldn't have credited someone as open and honest as Will with being so good at undercover work. It was almost scary to see him capable of such guile. It made her wonder, not for the first time, what kind of man she was turning the beautiful eight-year-old boy she had saved into.

"You okay?" he breathed.

"I'm fine, Will," she assured him with a weak smile.

"I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking. I didn't mean to cheapen or…"

"It's fine, Will. A public spat lends a certain credence to the idea that we've been together for some years," she murmured, smiling and lightly touching his chin. "You stayed in-character. That's what counts."

"I came this close to breaking cover when I saw how upset you were."

"But you didn't," she answered, smiling and squeezing his shoulder. "You were wonderful, Will. I no longer have any doubt that we'll make it through the night without raising notice. Now, let's go mingle before we attract too much attention to ourselves pretending to be the only two people in the room at a function being held for networking purposes."

An embarrassed smile and a weak nod. "You've got it, Magnus. Helen…"

He offered his arm and she took it with a smile, weaving with him through the crowd. Mingling. She'd been a little worried about this part. Will was always so enthusiastic about history, even the living kind, and if he started reacting to top scientists and politicians like some kind of overly enthusiastic fanboy instead of a skilled scientist in his own right, their cover would be ruined.

He had a lot of knowledge at his fingertips, but he handled meeting several rather famous men and women as if he travelled in these kinds of circles all the time. She was impressed by his restraint and eventually drew him into a side hall to tell him so.

He shrugged, grinning. "They just don't seem all that impressive when they're standing next to you."

"Now you're trying to make me blush."

"Calling them like I see them is part of the job description."

"If you say so, Will." She looked around to make sure they were alone, then drew him close, lowering her voice. "Your assessment so far?"

"The senator's buddy the statistician looks good for a possible Cabal scientist. The microexpressions when I mentioned genetic drift indicated pretty significant levels of disgust."

"Damn," she muttered, shaking her head. "I was hoping we might have an ally in Andy."

"We still might," he assured her. "Just because the Cabal's taken an interest in the Senator doesn't automatically mean he's in bed with them. We'll need to talk to him more to get an idea."

"Fine, but bear in mind when we do that the man's a politician."

"I know," he assured her. "His actual beliefs don't mean a lot in the final equation. He doesn't have to be in the Cabal's ideological corner to be willing to take their money."

She nodded and drew him back out into the main part of the house where the party was taking place. Will liberated two champagne flutes from a passing tray and handed one to her with a smile.

"Thank you, Will."

"My pleasure, Helen."

She smiled, liking the way her name sounded on his tongue. Again, like he was starting to see her as a person as opposed to an icon. When you felt lonely all the time, you sometimes forgot how lovely it was to be treated as something akin to an equal. She'd missed the sensation.

"You should call me Helen more often. In other contexts, I mean."

He looked startled. "Using your last name always struck me as more respectful," he told her in an undertone, eyes scanning the crowd.

"We're friends as well as colleagues, Will. There's no reason to stand on courtesy all the time."

"Okay. If you're sure you're comfortable with that?"

"Why wouldn't I be, Doctor Zimmerman?" she teased, grinning at him.

He smiled in answer, shrugging and turning his attention back to the crowd.

"Anything suspicious?" she murmured into his ear.

"Pretty sure the Senator's wife is having an affair with that Circuit Court judge, but I seriously doubt that has anything to do with anything. Lots of poorly-concealed animosity and secondary motives, but we're also dealing with a lot of politicians and bureaucrats." He shrugged.

She smiled and shook her head. "See what I mean about dinner-parties being hell?"

Will grinned.

"Ridiculous, isn't it?" she murmured. "Men and women with so much potential to change the world in a positive manner and what do they do with it?"

"I think I prefer our line," he answered.

She smiled and lightly touched the rim of her glass to his. He answered with that grin of his that was sweet and sincere and made him look all of twelve. Giving his arm a squeeze, she scanned the crowd.

"It's weird," he breathed. "I look at you every day and I see a scientist and a crusader. Watching you travel in these circles is more than a little jarring."

"I hope you don't think less of me for the hypocrisy."

"No, not at all." He shook his head. "Shows how much you're willing to sacrifice in all this when I know your integrity means so much to you."

"Well, that's kind of you to say, at least. Back into the breach?"

"I guess so."

She smiled and patted his arm. "You'll get used to this aspect of our work, too, Will. It's less exciting, I'll grant, but no less important."

"More so in some ways."

"Precisely." She nodded. "Shall we?"

"Like we have another choice?"

More judges, politicians and bureaucrats, one or two more scientists. The pair 'innocently' kept the small talk wide-ranging and she could see Will's mind at work although that was certainly lost on the others. He was nothing if not shrewd. No one who didn't know him would have realized how many hundreds of thoughts and ideas per minute were going through his head, but Magnus knew better. Will never stopped observing, never stopped inducting and deducting. Even when he had a lazy smile on his face and the conversation seemed to have nothing to do with anything, his wheels were turning.

When dinner was finally served, Will directed the conversation without a single other person at the table being aware he was doing so. Segues that seemed random or stream-of-consciousness to everyone else had clear meaning to Magnus. He covered everything from political graft to eugenics to medical ethics with stops thrown in along the way covering everything from travel and global warming to the best kinds of coffee and what was new in Prime Time this season.

She listened and observed in near-silence, probably seeming smitten rather than merely fascinated and impressed by his skills. Working with an individual patient or witness was one thing. She'd never seen him work a crowd before and she was duly impressed.

There was some small talk with the Senator, the judge, and one or two others afterwards but, as soon as Will seemed to be losing active interest, she drew him out to the dance floor.

"It's been a couple… okay, more than ten years," he whispered by way of apology.

She smiled in answer. "The music's slow; we'll be fine as long. You were superb back there. Anything?"

"The Senator doesn't have any of the kinds of attitudes that would suggest he shares an ideology with the Cabal, but I wouldn't put it past him to take bribes and influence Committee meetings for a price."

"Damn."

"His loyalties aren't blanket. He can be convinced to side with the Cabal one day and the Sanctuary the next but, as soon as that next vote rolls around, his 'allegiance' is up for bids again," Will murmured, expression apologetic.

"Then we discredit him so he can't be of use to the Cabal either," she informed him.

"How?"

"The tracking software Henry gave us to install on all the Senator's computers. We'll soon know precisely what circles the Senator travels in and, eventually, we can use that knowledge against him."

"Trust Henry," he answered with a grin. "Let's go find a computer. Henry says this whole place is on one wireless network, so we only need to install it in one."

"Wait a little longer. I don't want anyone noticing our absence too soon."

"Hey, I'm your husband instead of your coworker for a reason," he pointed out.

"Yes, but the later it is, the more likely it is that we both had too much to drink to be able to restrain ourselves from a little tryst in some empty side-room."

"Fair enough," he answered, falling silent and scanning the crowd with his eyes again as they danced. Suddenly he let out a chuckle, low and almost incredulous.

"What is it, Will?" she asked, curious about his look of mingled uncertainty and humor.

"Dancing with you; I just realized that this is the first time you've ever let me take the lead in anything…"

Then she was laughing, too. "So it is. Enjoying yourself?"

"For the time being. I know you'll put me in my place again eventually."

"I'm rather tempted not to," she told him. "You seem more self-assured this way."

"I don't know," he answered with a shrug. "I like to think that I've been getting more self-assured overall lately."

"Probably," she agreed, letting her own gaze travel the room.

Her contact in Health and Human Services locked eyes with her for a moment before letting himself be 'distracted' by what the man he was talking with had to say, doing her the courtesy of pretending they had never met before when, in fact, she had saved his sanity thirty-odd years ago.

"One of ours?" Will murmured.

"Mmm. He'd fallen victim to a predatory empath," she whispered in his ear.

"That's always a nightmare," he answered, angling his face slightly so it would look as if he were nuzzling rather than talking. She resisted the urge to tremble at the feel of his breath hot across her neck. They had practiced the maneuver for exactly that reason. They could not afford to have it seem a remotely unusual occurrence between them. "You get him squared away?"

"As much as anyone ever can be under the circumstances," she agreed. "After that, he insisted on staying in touch and helping out from time to time."

"You inspire gratitude in most of your patients, so that doesn't surprise me one bit."

She smiled warmly in response to that and, for a moment, Will looked like a man not entirely sure what he was thinking and feeling. Then he smiled, wide and genuine and more content than she'd seen him since the release of the Cabal bioweapon.

"I know we're on the clock here," he told her hesitantly, "but I'm really having a good time tonight, Helen."

"And there isn't a thing wrong with that," she assured him. "It's honestly nice to see you so far out of your shell."

"Hey! What's wrong with my shell?" he protested with poorly-feigned indignation. "It has a really nice pattern on it and everything!"

Momentarily forgetting that they were in a room full of strangers, she laughed and told him, "You, my cheeky little monkey, will stop being so contrary!"

She said it rather more loudly than she should have done and heads turned. Damn. But Will, bless him, sprang to her rescue, wrapping his arms around her waist and drawing her body to his, expression playful.

"What have I told you about bossing me around in public?" he chuckled, shaking his head. "People are going to start thinking you only keep me around for the high eye-candy factor…"

Her smile grew as Tesla's accusation was aired for the second time that night.

"Oh, yes. When we both know it's so obvious I only love you for your mind."

People were losing interest and Will drew her out of the crowd and onto the fringes.

Expression rueful, he admitted, "That was a little close to home."

"Thank you for enduring it anyway." She smiled weakly. "I'd say enough people are now convinced that we can't keep off of each other, wouldn't you?"

A nod. "The floor plans Henry got indicated an office this way. Not sure who uses it, but it's in the public area of the mansion, so I doubt it's used by the Senator or his family."

Her smile widened. "Perfect. It can infect the other computers in the building and, if we're caught there, it won't be as difficult to explain as if we were in the family quarters."

They quickly found the room in question. Magnus pulled out the flash-drive Henry had given her and directed, "Watch the door while I upload this."

"You've got it, angel."

Her head shot up and she stared at him with wide eyes.

He blushed and looked away. "Sorry, Helen."

"Nothing to apologize for," she answered, turning towards the computer and waiting to smile until her back was to him to spare him further embarrassment. "As I said, it's a lovely nickname. I'm just not sure how I'd explain it to Henry and Ashley if it became common currency."

"Then I won't use it again."

"You can use it," she assured him, fingers flying over the keyboard. "Just not in front of them."

"You really like it that much?"

"As endearments go? Given how much is says about what we have?" Which was probably more than she should have said, but Will didn't seem to notice.

She was just finishing when Will hissed, "Someone's coming."

Magnus acted quickly, mostly closing the door and forcing Will bodily into the corner. He looked terrified that she might decide to kiss him, but she had more consideration than that. Besides, there were better ways of conveying intimacy than anything quite so vulgar.

"Will, I hardly think this is the time or place to discuss such things," she told him firmly. "Besides, aren't Henry and Ashley enough of a handful?"

His eyes widened, then his features rearranged themselves into a suitably resigned expression. "I'm just saying that one more kid might be nice. It's not that I don't love Henry and Ashley, but I wouldn't mind having children of my own, either."

She swallowed hard at the thought of a child of Will's, raised in her world, of the good such a child could do. Its intelligence and openness to every last thing the world had to offer. Its kind and loving and passionate nature. Its adorable dimples.

"Sounds like they've moved past," Will breathed. "We're done here unless you want to mingle some more, gather some more Intel."

"Seems the prudent thing to do," she managed, clearing her throat.

He frowned thoughtfully. "Are you okay? You look a little out of it."

"Not at all. I was just considering what a good father you'd make. The mental images are quite affecting."

Especially those of him on all fours chasing around the infants that were so obviously his own and the toddlers that obviously belonged to Ashley and Henry and a half-dozen other children, human and abnormal, all reveling in the loving affection of their Uncle Will.

He smiled, looking flattered. "Thank you. We should get back."

"We're already here; we might as well make the most out of it. I'd like for you to start looking at people with an eye towards individuals we may be able to recruit down the road."

He looked somewhat reluctant but, eventually, smiled and offered his arm. "Words that, a year and a half ago, I thought I would never say and proof of how thoroughly you've corrupted me, but… let's go make friends with some lawyers and politicians, Helen."

The End