"Turkey… omelettes?" Will stared, a bit uncertainly, at the plate thrust into his hand.
The Big Guy grunted, and pushed the plate towards him again.
"You might as well take it," Henry suggested. Will glanced across the spacious kitchen to the slat board table where his friend sat, fork poised over his own omelette. "He's not going to take 'No' for an answer."
Will hoped his smile looked more genuine than it felt as he turned back to Bigfoot. "Uh… Thanks."
Satisfied, Bigfoot grunted and turned back to the stove. Will moved to sit across the table from Henry. He poked at his omelette with his fork. He'd had enough experience with the Big Guy's cooking to know it was probably better than it sounded. Still…
Henry laughed at Will's hesitation, and observed, around his own mouthful of omelette, "You weren't here last year, were you?"
Will shook his head, "No. I was out-of-town collecting the … I think it was the Ziggle Vine… from Nigeria for Magnus and missed Thanksgiving. Why?"
"Tradition, my friend. Every year. Omelettes are just the beginning," he warned as, done with his own meal, he brought his dishes up to the sink.
Henry was turning to leave the kitchen when Helen Magnus walked in. As she crossed to the stove where Big Foot was just slipping a freshly prepared omelette onto a plate for her, Henry asked, "So, Magnus, what time?"
She looked at him blankly as she accepted her plate from the Big Guy. "Time, Henry?"
"For the tree. When were you thinking we could put it up? It is the morning after Thanksgiving…."
Her confused look vanished, replaced by an apologetic smile. "Oh... Henry. It completely slipped my mind. I'm so sorry, but I've got a thousand things to do today. In fact," she gestured with her plate towards the kitchen door, "I'm headed to my study immediately to get to work. No time for the tree today, I'm afraid."
She paused at the threshold, and turned to Will. "In fact, Will, if you could meet me there when you are finished? There are some issues I'd like to discuss with you."
Will nodded, "Absolutely. I'll be right there." He grabbed his plate, preparing to follow.
She smiled, "No, please, take your time. Enjoy your meal. There's no hurry." He glanced back down at his omelette. Magnus must have sensed his hesitation because, laughing, she said, "It's really quite good. And something of a tradition…"
At her encouragement, Will cautiously took a bite. It really wasn't half-bad. In fact, it was actually pretty good. He took another bite.
"See?" Helen asked and, still smiling, turned and left the kitchen.
Will quickly crossed the Sanctuary's large front hall on his way from Helen's study to his own smaller office tucked into the back corner of the massive structure. As he passed the drawing room, he found Henry standing at its entrance, staring disconsolately inside. In the week or so since Thanksgiving Helen had kept him so busy on various projects that he had seen very little of his friend, and had no idea what could be troubling him.
He paused on the threshold next to Henry and looked into the room, but could see nothing out of place. "What is it?" he asked.
Henry turned, seemingly startled to find him standing there. "Oh.. Nothing."
"You don't look like it's nothing." Will observed.
Henry smiled at his friends perception, but the gesture failed to convey any genuine warmth. "It's just…. For as long as I can remember…." He pointed toward an empty space near the drawing room's large windows. "Right there. We'd always put it up the day after Thanksgiving. The Big Guy. Magnus…. Ashley… and me. I mean. I knew this year it wasn't going to be easy. But. Still…." He looked up plaintively at Will. "We should at least have a tree. Ya know?"
Will nodded, suddenly understanding. "Yeah," he agreed, and looked across to the empty space in the room. "We should at least have a tree."
He didn't get a chance to confront Magnus about the absence of a tree for another week. Their schedules were just too busy. Or - as Will was beginning to suspect - she was keeping their schedules too busy for anything more than work. Finally, though, in the time between getting one abnormal newly transferred from the Paris Sanctuary stowed safely away in the SHU and shipping another out to his new home in their slowly recovering Tokyo site, he found himself finally sitting with Magnus in her office with nothing more pressing to do than review a few reports from various agents in the field.
"So," he began, "I've noticed we haven't put the Christmas Tree up yet…"
She glanced up from the reports covering her desk, a momentary alarm crossing her normally controlled features before being quickly replaced by her usual cool calm. "Oh… Uh.. Yes." She gestured to the piles of paperwork on her desk. And surrounding her desk. "I just haven't had a moment to spare since Thanksgiving." She smiled apologetically.
"Are you sure that's the only reason?"
This time when she glanced at him, her mask remained firmly in place. "Yes. Absolutely. Why?"
And in that moment, Will was fairly certain Magnus herself had no idea she was even avoiding the issue. Or the holiday. "Henry misses having a tree. He says you've had one every year… And always, you've put it up the day after Thanksgiving."
She smiled. "That's simply not true, Will. He just doesn't remember. When he was very little, right after he came here, we would put it up on Christmas Eve."
Her eyes unfocused, gazing into the past as she answered, smiling slightly. "Oh. Yes. That's how we always did it when I was a child. I'd go to sleep on Christmas Eve, and in the morning when I woke, there would be an enormous fir tree laden with presents waiting in the parlor. It was the only magic Father ever made me believe in."
He gave her a moment to enjoy her happiness before continuing; he was fairly sure he knew the answer to his next question already. "What changed?"
"Ash…." She paused, and her face fell, the joy of the remembered Christmases of her childhood consumed by more recent grief. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to continue, "Ashley, Will. She loved Christmas. Especially as a little girl. And all her friends put their trees up so early… I just couldn't say no when she asked."
Her eyes glistened with tears when she looked back up at him, but the shadow of a smile still played across her features at the memory.
"We should put up a tree, Magnus," he said.
"I know." One solitary tear escaped to drop upon the report she was absently toying with on her desktop. "But I can't."
Helen paused as she crossed the front hall. The doors to the drawing room were always left open, but today they were closed. She could have sworn they'd been open when she'd retired the evening before. She'd have to make sure everything was as it should be in the room beyond. Why on Christmas morning, of all times, should she be forced to confront the room which, above all others, she'd been hoping to avoid even thinking about today…
She pushed the door open, just far enough to glance inside, and froze. Overnight, the room had been transformed. An enormous fir tree filled the empty space before the window, and the first rays of the rising sun, streaming through the glass, refracted off the hundreds of ornaments trimming the tree's branches, and the candles and the tinsel. The entire room had become a shifting kaleidoscope of light and color; she found it exactly as magical as she had all those years ago when a small child herself.
As unable to resist its spell now as she had been then, Helen stepped to the tree and found it to hold all that it should: the glass balls which had belonged to her mother, the bead-worked figures she herself had made as a child, and… The small clay star, part of the glitter glue fallen off, which had once spelled 'Noel' but which now said only 'Noe,' the popsicle stick picture frame with the smiling face of a 6 year-old partially toothless Ashley pasted inside, the porcelain 'first Christmas' baby shoes…
Those and countless other treasures of a life which was gone but could never be forgotten, all hanging together on the tree. Each an infinitely precious reminder of one of the happiest moments of her life; each giving back a piece of the child who had given them, if only for the space of a memory.
And yet, she hadn't wanted a tree. Hadn't thought she could face this tree - these ornaments - and everything Christmas represented. Not alone. Without Ashley.
How could she have been so wrong.
Will's voice behind her broke her reverie. "Merry Christmas, Magnus."
She turned to find her friends - her family - standing behind her. Her personal elves watching over her. Helen smiled at them through her tears. "Happy Christmas," she agreed.
And as they stepped forward to join her around their tree, she realized that maybe Father had been correct all those years before. Maybe Christmas really was true magic, after all.