I can't believe it. It's over. Monster is complete. If anyone wants to know what Magnus's subconscious gesture means, and doesn't, you may ask.
OK, thanks: to my Mum for being my beta and giving birth to me. To the new wordsmith for being a pain. To Amanda Tapping, Damian Kindler and Martin Wood for giving us all something to write about. To Christopher Heyerdall for giving us such a riddle of a character. To my Grandmother for being an inspiration. Finally, to God, for creating the world and everything in it.
Will leaned against the edge of Magnus's desk. It had been an hour and a quarter since Ashley had come back. Druitt and Tesla were playing chess again. It looked like Druitt was losing. His king and bishop weren't holding against Tesla's king and castle. It didn't change his demeanour though. He and Tesla were both so determinedly laid back, dominant. The tension between them was tangible. They were fascinating to watch. They were competing for status and, on some level, for Magnus.
Tesla swore in Serbian. Druitt was sliding his bishop over to his castle and removing the latter.
"Draw." He stated simply. The two men glared at eachother.
Footsteps. All three looked up, then stood up as Magnus entered the room.
"Ashley?" Will asked before anyone else could. Downed eyes. Nervous, or more likely pensive, remembering. She halted by the dark window and turned to face him.
"She's fine. It's a lot to take in, but she'll get there."
"So I was right on both counts?" Tesla chimed in.
"You were." That same tone she'd used with the words `she does` when he'd gone and asked about Ashley on the Nautilus that time.
"That being the case," Druitt spoke for the first time. "I don't believe either of us are wanted or needed here any longer. I will be on my way." He and Magnus held each other's gaze for a long moment, their eyes a mêlée of tangled emotions that Will wouldn't have been able to name a tenth of in the time they looked at each other. Then Druitt turned and walked away. One of Magnus hands flew to her mouth momentarily. She probably wasn't even aware she'd done it.
"Helen, before I leave," Tesla began, "there's the matter of payment."
"What do you request?" Cold, closed down, eyes and voice. Tesla inhaled tentatively before replying.
"Nikola! You swore never to feed on humans?" Anger, disgust layered her voice, her face.
"No," He raised placating hands. "Not to drink, Helen. DNA."
"Whose?" Short, aggressive. "And what for?"
"OK, Helen just..." Tesla's placating gestures, as much as his voice, gave him the impression of one edging around an intimidating superior. Magnus. "just hear me out. Do you have any idea how many billions have been invested over the centuries into slowing the ageing process? Helen, by some chance, you and Ashley hold the keys that mankind has been seeking for millennia. In the right hands, do you have any idea what that's worth? What that could do?"
"And yours are the right hands?"
"I saved your daughter Helen, isn't that worth anything?" Magnus gazed hard at him for a full minute, her mistrust and her gratitude battling. Will knew that having Ashley back meant more to Magnus than anything else, but Tesla? That incident with the rehab, and Rome before that. There was no way he could be trusted.
"How do I know what you'll use the blood for?" She was playing for time.
"You have my word Helen. I will only use it to investigate your unique ability." Magnus made a quiet noise of disbelief in her throat.
"As if either of us think that means anything."
"I did save her Helen." Tesla knew that was his trump card. Magnus froze momentarily, again submerged in her mental battle.
"You can take one vial of my blood," Magnus replied decisively, "but you're not taking one drop of Ashley's." Tesla knew better than to try to haggle; he knew she had the power in just about every respect. He followed her meekly out of the room. Superior and inferior. Textbook example, once you forgot that the superior was 158 and the inferior was a vampire.
Seven AM. She hadn't done too badly. Everyone else would be starting the morning rounds. Ashley would do hers. Kate lifted her case, containing all her possessions, including about half her pay, but not the promised tusk, from her bed and headed for the door Where would she go? Back where she came from. The street, back to freelance work. Yeah, this place had started to feel like home, but she'd always known she was a temp.
She twisted the door handle and pulled. Magnus. Henry. Will. The Big Guy. Ashley, no claws, blue eyes. Standing in front of her, blocking her way.
"Where do you think you're going?" Magnus asked at once. Kate faltered for a second, then.
"I... I figured that... Y'know, I was always a temp, so..."
"Yeah, well," Henry grinned. "the Big Guy's only here 'till his bullet wounds heal up and he got those in, what? 53?"
"51." The Big Guy corrected.
"Like it or not," Magnus continued, "you're one of us now."
"Druitt and Tesla left last night," Will said, "so we're back to normal."
"Define `normal`." Ashley challenged.
"Having a lot of abnormals who want breakfast." Will must have planned that line. That was way too quick to be spontaneous.
"Do I just go back and do my round?" Ashley put in.
"You can take the morning off." Magnus replied. "You've had a hell of a week, Kate does your round at the moment. We'll sort out necessary adjustments once we've got everyone and everything fed."
"OK." Ashley didn't look at Magnus, she looked at Kate, and Kate had been freelance too long to mistake the hostility there. Ashley turned and walked away, determinedly casual. Too determinedly.
Kate dumped her bag and set off on her round. She and Ashley would sort things out eventually. For now, she had work to do.
There will be no sequel as such for some time. If anyone wants to do one for me, you can ask, but I want to beta. That's me being possessive.
That's all folks. Thank you so much for reading for months, and goodbye.