"Why do I get the distinct impression you're hiding something from me?" She asks.
Because , Will Zimmerman thinks to himself, I am.
He shifts uncomfortably from one foot to the other under the scrutinising gaze of Helen Magnus. He feels almost violated as her calmly seeking eyes probe the depths of his troubled soul.
Opinion had been divided as to what, if anything, they were going to tell Magnus about the trip to Australia. Will remained torn. On one hand she had every right to know. On the other hand, he wanted to protect her. At this point in time it seemed the news would only bring her more pain. And so for the past week they had all kept their silence. The one thing everyone else had seemed certain about, was that if they were going to tell her everything, it would sound better coming from Will.
Whether Will agreed or not seemed irrelevant. Whether he had any intention of telling Magnus even one single thing about their trip, Magnus had ways of getting a person to say and do things they really didn't intend to do. Will had no doubt she would have the whole story out of him before the hour was over.
"You've been hiding something from me this past week, since you returned from Australia. All of you." It wasn't an accusation, just a statement of fact.
Yet Will feels the guilt rising, and finds himself uttering in his defence "We thought it was best."
Instantly he realises he has lost already. With those careless words he has admitted to her that, yes, they have all been keeping something from her.
"Deception is never for the best." She rebukes him gently. "The truth will reveal itself, it always does."
That, Will thinks to himself, Is what I am afraid of.
She smiles reassuringly at him. In 158 years of life she had seen an abundance of shocking things. What was he concealing that could possibly be so unspeakable? He was so young. So untainted. She had experienced more in her years than he could ever dream of.
She remains calm, composed. She isn't begging him to tell everything he knows. If she is hurt or frustrated about being kept in the dark this past week, she makes no sign of it. She is just standing there. Looking at him. Looking right through him with her penetrating gaze.
And that's all it takes to loosen his tongue.
"Something happened. In Australia." He begins.
"So I gathered."
"I don't know how to say this." He shakes his head, losing his nerve.
She sighs, losing patience. "Alright." She concedes, turning away from him.
It was an undeniable fact that Helen Magnus had not been the same since Ashley's death. No one had expected her to be. It never occurred to anyone that she might break. How many years had she lived through, how many heartbreaking scenarios? She survived. She was a survivor. A leader. They needed her to be. She was weary, but not broken. Helen Magnus had pushed aside the guilt and grief that threatened to overwhelm her. And she forced herself to live on, although she could never bring herself to truly let go.
And in return, they all turned a blind eye to her occasional lapses in concentration. Pretended not to notice that the light had faded from her eyes. Life went on. Magnus stepped up when she was needed, as always. She remained one of the most intelligent, compassionate, resourceful people that Will had ever known. But something was still missing. Something Will could never quite put his finger on.
Will knows it by the way Magnus stands there, turning away from him, from this secret. The old Magnus wouldn't have let him away with that so easily. Will thinks to himself that he could walk out of that room right in that moment, and never say another word about Australia, and she would just let it go. No questions asked. And Will is tempted to do it, to let the whole thing rest. But one thing stops him.
Will misses her, the old Magnus. The one who died that night right alongside Ashley.
Ashley who left such a massive hole in the place, a void that could never be filled. Not by Kate. Not by John's quest for revenge. Something had been taken from them all.
It is his desire to bring Magnus back to life that finally causes Will to swallow his reservations and utter the words. "We saw someone."
Two weeks prior
She is gasping for air as she runs through the streets of Adelaide. Telling herself she is seeing things. Telling herself she long ago left all that behind- The sanctuary, her heritage. She left it all behind and stepped into a normal life in South Australia. It had felt like acting at first. She felt displaced. Felt like an imposter, and that everyone who saw her would know instantly that she didn't belong. But running through those streets, fear coursing through her veins, with Will quickly gaining on her, she realised how thoroughly she had settled into role. There was no longer a single part of her that felt, or acted, like Ashley Magnus.
Because Ashley Magnus was afraid of nothing. And if Ashley Magnus was afraid, she wouldn't turn and run. And if Ashley Magnus did run, she could out run the best of them. She could have out run and outsmarted Will Zimmernam with her eyes closed and her hands tied behind her back. She had become lazy and complacent since living in Australia. She had stopped looking over her shoulder, stopped waiting for someone to find her. Stopped hunting for unexplained, unexpected things.
Finally she stops running, the need to breathe outweighing the need to escape. Within seconds he is upon her, grabbing her by the shoulders, holding her a few inches from his own face. His confused eyes search her own.
"Ashley?" He mumbles. "Ashley, is it really you?"
No, She wants to tell him. No , It's not me. I'm not the same person you once knew. I'm not Ashley anymore. Leave me alone.
But she makes no answer. Evidently Will finds something in her eyes. Behind her icy silent stare, he finds familiarity. He finds something that he recognises as 'Ashley'. And he pulls her into a tight embrace. Over and over again exclaiming "Ashley."
She pulls away from him finally, Acknowledging him with a slight nod. "Will."
There was little point playing dumb now. Little point in pretending she wasn't Ashley, pretending she didn't know who he was. She had run the second she laid eyes on him. But it was too late. He had seen her first, recognised her first. Playing dumb would only cause him to deduce she had been brainwashed. Only force him to drag her back to the sanctuary, back to her mother. To lock her up until they could turn her back into the person they wanted her to be. The person she used to be. That person was long gone. She knows she has to find some other way to convince Will to leave her alone, to convince him that the Ashley Magnus he knew is long gone.