Will Zimmerman hated tea. He hated the bitter taste and the texture of the leaves on his tongue. He hated the tiny cups he was supposed to drink it out of; far too fine, too delicate. He hated the way the aromatic steam fogged his glasses, casting the world around him into a foreign haze. And he hated, hated, the way it reminded him of the woman that had been Helen Magnus.
Every Wednesday at ten o'clock exactly – never five minutes early, and certainly never late – Will would drop whatever he was working on and make his way to Helen's quarters. He would knock gently on the hard wood, once, twice, three times (always, always, three times) before she would answer. His entrance provided, she would promptly return to her chaise lounge, where she would carefully re wrap herself in a quilt so old that even she could not have remembered where she had attained it.
The two rooms that made up her quarters were spacious and well furnished. They were as tidy as ever and still housed the fresh flowers that he knew she so enjoyed - and yet the fastidiousness he had always associated with her was now lacking. The cover on her bed was rumpled on one side where she had been sitting. A cushion had been knocked to the floor without being immediately retrieved. And the table at her side, a piece that had slowly turned antique in the years of her possession, was now forever marred with countless tea-stained rings. This was not the woman he had known.
Helen Magnus had a spark that Will had never seen before. It shone through her eyes, sang out through her voice and could be seen in every move she made. It was this spark, not her cause, that he had become so enthralled with. The woman sitting beside him was but a pale shadow. A shadow forever trapped within walls of her own making, walls that he knew he could not break. Not this time. The large eyes that turned to his had lost their clear intelligence, the wit and confidence having been slowly eaten away by the monster lurking within. It was as though she looked past him, but at what, he didn't know. And she wasn't about to tell him.
Helen spoke rarely these days. The woman who had once addressed the world's leaders often had days where the words needed to express a need for the bathroom eluded her. Whole days would pass with only one-sided conversations being held in these rooms. But then something would connect - a word, a scent, the brushing of an arm - and a story pulled from the library of her lifetime's memories would fall from her lips.
Will had learnt many a thing about his mentor from these escaping memories, things he knew her right mind would never have shared. But then, her right mind wasn't around to make any due protests. He had shared with her the night of her first dance, her meeting of John and the others, Ashley's first steps... but for every joyful memory that surfaced came three more that would chill him. Horrors gathered from a lifespan of over a century and without the usual privacy that Helen had always employed. In a voice unnervingly disconnected, she related events that left Will weeping.
He didn't want to know, hated knowing, and wished beyond all belief that these memories would be the ones next eaten by the beetle nestled inside, but they never were. And he was left waiting, week after week, for the next lucid moment, his body tense with the weight of a combined hope and dread. And worse yet, there was nothing he could do, nothing except drink his tea.