Title: Numbered Days
Spoilers: Seasons 2&3, Kali Pt 1-3
Genre: Angst, Drama
Word count: ~3,802
Pairing(s): Helen/Will (friendship/UST), Will/Kali
Summary: After his experience with Kali, Will has changed in ways he can't explain.
Author's Notes: Here's hoping this story isn't too odd. Let me know what you think if you're so inclined. This includes concrit if you're up to it. If not, I'm just happy you're reading.
Disclaimer: I don't own any characters recognizable as being from Sanctuary. They are the property of their actors, producers, writers, and studios, not me. No copyright infringement was intended and no money was made in the writing or distribution of this story. It was good, clean fun.
He sought her out while sleeping. The remnants of her presence still colored the edges of his dreams, sharp in destruction and fading in peace. She'd been glorious and he couldn't let her go. Kali, clung to the tip of his tongue, though he knew what she was and what she stood for. She would have destroyed all things in her rage and, had his loyalty to Magnus been weaker, he might have stood by her as she had.
But he'd already had his guru and his altar at which to reflect. He didn't need a false idol, not even one that made him dance. He needed even less a god that would kill him. Yet, she lingered and he let her. He doubted he'd ever come that close to heaven again.
However, it wasn't until after evening tea with Magnus that he began to see the numbers.
She'd been speaking about something dear to her, though what he didn't know. His mind had been elsewhere, where it had resided near-permanently in the weeks after the Big Bertha debacle. He was thinking about falling and daydreaming about it, clinging to his fragile teacup as though it might show some him some mercy. No matter how far he fell there was still farther to go. His heart thundered in limbo between the air and the ground, headed for maximum overdrive. Had he been attached to a heart monitor the beep would have become a song, one he knew the rhythm of far too well. He kept his feet still, but it was a near thing.
Suppressing a sigh that would have said too much, Will let his eyes momentarily fall closed. He saw the throb of the beat from behind his eyelids, as though his very blood had taken to the sound. He pushed it to the back of his mind, along with every image that wasn't Gregory Magnus and the mysterious city of his gifting. That was all the information they needed, not the avatars of earthly gods and not that unforgivable, horrifying reality of his fall. They didn't need to know that he'd never risen again and that he'd been pretending ever since. They didn't need to know.
Kali's fateful music softened if not silenced, Will took a slow, even breath. He was alive for now and that would do; it would have to. He opened his eyes to find himself the unlucky recipient of Magnus' concerned attention. Blue eyes that put his exhausted set to shame picked elegantly at the armor he would have donned were he just a little stronger. But, he wasn't even strong enough for that. He could only smile and sip his tepid tea with unconvincing equanimity.
"I'm fine, Magnus," he didn't say, owing her much more than the easy lie he had on hand. He presented her with his silence and waited for her story to continue. She ignored his cue and he knew he was caught.
"Sorry, I haven't been getting much sleep lately." And that wasn't a lie. As far as rest was concerned, he hadn't had much, not given how agonizingly he dreamed.
She frowned. "I thought the procedure you underwent had put paid to your sleeping difficulties."
Will shrugged and took another unpleasant sip. More drinking meant less talking and he was all for less talking.
Magnus exhaled calmly and set aside her own beloved cup of tea. From behind her desk, she was every bit the powerful woman he respected, every bit the woman for whom he had leapt from the cliff of the living into canyon of the dead. He thought he should have had more regrets; he had none.
"Will, I can't help you if I don't know what's wrong."
His cup empty, he made to sit it aside also. His first regret as he suddenly had nothing to occupy his hands; his reports abandoned to the center table and his notebook and pen with them. Grimacing minutely, he reclined and draped his arms along the back and side of the couch. Tangling them together the way he was desperate to would smack of tension—Will wasn't tense at all.
"There's nothing wrong, I just need time."
Magnus nodded slowly, dubiously, tilting her head in her oh so understanding way. He really didn't need this and not from her. He'd skydived for faith in her name, he'd be damned if he'd stand by and be questioned. He couldn't be here; this was a bad, bad idea.
"Speaking of time, I think it might be time I turned in. You know, early day tomorrow." Nevermind that it was Friday, he rocked to his feet promptly and began gathering all his work into a stack, a neurotically rendered stack of flattened pieces of wood covered in ink markings he suddenly couldn't believe he'd ever understood. He was in a daze.
Was she…could he hear her laughing? Flickering his eyes to Magnus' uneasy expression, he realized she wasn't the one, not at all.
It will not be long now, my Will. You may count the moments in heartbeats. Until then, my brave herald. Until then.
He clutched the papers to his chest and refused to look askance for the owner of the rich tones that threatened to overwhelm his psyche. She remained even in sleep, she waited. It was almost a relief.
"Will," another rich voice called for him and he instinctively pulled away, away from the scorching touch of one more long-lived Magnus. It burned still.
When he looked at her, now so much closer, he read dismay mixed in with her concern, and her hands fell uselessly at her sides.
"You're clearly not all right. Please, let me examine you."
"I'm fine." The lie came more easily than he'd expected, owed debts or none. He'd never expected guilt to taste bitterer than black tea.
She smiled blandly and it was an attempt wasted on a face capable of greater expressions of joy. "Perhaps you are, Will, but it would do a great deal to put my mind at ease."
He curled his hands into fists where they tucked against his arms. He could feel himself changing in her eyes, his demeanor darkening and temper rising. He didn't want this.
"Magnus, I'm fine. You've poked and prodded me from head to toe and back again. I'm fine, you said so yourself." He stepped away from her and made his way to her office door.
She met him there, grasping his elbow to keep him from leaving. "There's always the chance that I've missed something, Will. I am only human, after all."
Sullenly listening, Will found himself staring at her, then through her. All of the sudden, he was inexplicably aware of a time when there would be no Helen Magnus where she stood. This room would change quickly in her absence, the sum total of bedlam she'd prevented in her time falling guillotine-like on each subsequent occupant, until it was a mere shadow of the haven it had been. It would never be the same and her end would see the change.
It will be some time, the lilting voice remarked, pitched soothingly low. He could tell it was supposed to be a comfort, but it was drowned out by the pulse that began to drum beneath his feet and into his bones, that rattled his teeth. He could hear her heartbeat and count every one. Something flashed viciously in sight and he was struck by the knowledge that it was a number and that, now, he was counting backwards. She couldn't know it, and he was unsure how he possibly could, but Helen Magnus had one hundred and twenty-three years of heartbeats left in her.
With a step back, he doubted she'd appreciate the revelation. He wasn't so fond of it either, not her shifting sands laid bare before him, glimpses of those who'd leave them both, then leave her. He could not see the number, but he could sense the distance. It's gonna be a while, he concluded. Their shared journey would be a lengthy one; he could only hope the ending would be good.
"Will," she began, clearly steeling herself for a battle.
He nearly raised a hand, but resorted to a less tactful, "Hold on!" She raised a cultured eyebrow and he almost apologized. Deciding to leave it be, he moved on, "I know what you're gonna say. I know I'm not at my best right now. I'm sorry. I just…need sleep." Seeing her about to protest with gusto, he beat her to it. "And I intend to get it now. If you let me have the night, I promise I'll submit to all manner of Magnus torment, torture, and terror first thing in the morning. I solemnly swear." He lifted his right hand the little bit he was able and waited for her concede. Somehow, he just knew she would.
"Just sleep," she asked sharply. It was her turn to look through him and he wondered what she saw that made her rest her hand at the curve of his neck. He felt her thumb drift purposefully to his pulse point, knowing she would feel its tremor. He nodded and she frowned, her brow furrowing with more worry than he thought strictly necessary, but he didn't pull away. They'd be together for decades; this was only the beginning of the kinds of intimacies that could bring.
"Just sleep," he vowed, leaning into the gentle but clinical touch of her hand. It was almost like hovering rather than falling and he'd been falling for such an unbearably long time. Maybe, soon, he'd be able to land. She carefully extricated herself from the contact and he was left to wonder, the cruel air currents of his dreams assaulting his eyes and leaving him blinking as he once more began to plunge.
"Then, I suggest you get to it. It's rather late already."
He surrendered with ease, avoiding her gaze and making his escape. He couldn't conceive of the hour nor convince himself to care. He missed Kali's dulcet tones, which as quickly as they'd come had gone, and he missed the ephemeral relief of floating securely on air. Will wasn't okay; he was as far from it as he could come. There was something in him shifted, something changed. God help him, he almost believed he'd seen the future in his head, counted the days left in Magnus' life. This wasn't who Will had ever been, but it was the man he'd become.
Following the trail laid by the runners on the floor, Will wondered at who and what that man was. He wasn't the same, Kali and the Makri had seen to that, but he was only beginning to understand exactly how different they had left him.
He heard that laugh again, felt it wrap around him like the finest of imported duvets. He could have sunk into the comfort it offered and contently fallen forevermore. His feet had stopped, leaving him to stand and simply feel.
Sleep, Will, she whispered fondly. Obedient as ever, his knees gave and he began to drop at her command. The carpet awaited him, but before he met it, he was caught. Warm, strong arms gathered him close in their keeping and lowered him to the floor that was nowhere near as fearsome as the rocks he knew.
Tender fingers stroked his cheek and that number flashed again, descending faster toward its conclusion. Still, it was a long number, almost longer than he could imagine. There were so many things he couldn't have imagined once upon a time.
"Oh, Will, why can't I help you?" Magnus whispered. Her fingers lingered in his hair as she called for backup on her ever-present walkie-talkie. He wanted to open his eyes and tell her not to worry. He wanted to tell her they'd be okay and that he'd found a handhold, but it would be a lie. She was all he had besides the voice that he doubted existed beyond his desperate need. He needed to float for just a while longer.
The carpets failed the fully mute the sounds of the cavalry arriving. The Big Guy still managed to be quieter than Kate and Declan, though Henry was a close second. The words of worry and inquiry flew over his head and he let them. Her touch remained, moving from his hair to his carotid to feel for certain that he lived. He knew she knew, but that she feared; she, too, could sense the change.
He gasped as his reprieve was violently ripped away with the ground and his body took to air. Arms flailing for purchase and eyes squeezed shut against the truth, he was dying and the quaking chant was all around him. He was alone and Kali was silent.
His goddess had deserted him.
Numbers tumbled to and fro over each other in his head, some short and others shorter and he must have screamed because he could see every face with them. His best friend—no, there needed to be more time; he deserved more time. Kate, Kate was coming to mean so much, and she'd be here so briefly. Declan, who would have luck and luck and then none. Biggie, there'd be no one left to carry him, to put him in the mausoleum that already bore his name in stone. Magnus was only so strong.
They would leave them and he could feel their loss barreling down as another tidal wave, dozens, hundreds of heartbeats fleeing in the offing. He'd rather die than watch, rather die than be there. He wanted to touch down, now. He wouldn't ask to float or hover or any other word for waiting for the end. He'd take the fatal crash, the blinding agony if he could just miss this. He didn't want to see anymore.
Please, he entreated, thinking to Kali. Please, not them. It had been one thing to catch impression of the end, but to see the numbers…Compared to Magnus' own, they were so small. It would destroy her and this place needed her and them more than it could ever need him. Please.
He felt her presence in the air, reaching for him; he could sense her crying. He didn't want her to cry, every tear was a hundred of Gregory's burns to the skin. Please, don't cry.
My herald, she began, and he thought that must have been her cheek against his chest, against his heart. The pressure was reassuring. He wished he had the strength to stop flying and touch her. My herald, she said again, you have served me well and for that I shall not allow you to suffer further, tomorrow or today.
Thank you, he might have said if words were real here. He would have shouted them if they were.
Suddenly, the pressure of her on his heart was excruciating and he couldn't breathe. The force was familiar, jarring…death-defying. He couldn't breathe and he couldn't fly.
Kali? He reached out for her, more feeling than exalting. She was all around him and it still hurt. God, is this landing? The impact sizzled from the top of his head to his toes, but he couldn't scream. Kali, please don't leave me. Right as he was about to surrender to the hurt, he felt the lightness of her presence again, soft as a listening ear, affectionate as a resolute kiss.
You will live, she informed him sternly. It was a demand, a command that he could not disobey. Still, he read sorrow.
They will live, she interrupted, and the numbers returned. There was order this time and they lined up, serif to serif, before his proverbial eyes. They were greater, some much so, than before. None would live so long as Magnus, but these gaps lacked the ability to cripple. This smile would never die, he believed.
Good, he told her and it was.
You have given them this gift. Her fingers were in his hair, he was nearly sure of it. He basked and decided not to worry. Listen to me, Will. He listened without relinquishing this sanctuary he had found. You have given them these days at cost to yourself. He didn't care, couldn't begin to remember how. They were your days. She was crying again, in mourning rather than rage, and all he wanted was to stop it.
Shh, he soothed, fingers over her over his heart. It made sense in a way, perfect sense. He wasn't falling anymore because there was nowhere further to fall. At the thought, a number flared behind his eyelids and it was a modest one. It was his own, ticking lower by the second. It's all right.
It is not, she whispered. You will not be here when next I wake, she confessed with no small amount of fear.
But Magnus will be. That was a comfort to him and, he felt, a comfort to her. Her tears dried.
She will be, my herald. Dancing her fingers along the sides of his face, she soothed him now. It is time for me to finally rest, Will, and for you to wake. Her goodbye was a warm kiss against his lips; then, she was gone. Though alone, he felt strangely exhilarated and enlivened. He could have danced, so to speak.
The world came alive without fanfare, the whistling air that heralded—no pun intended—his fall suddenly a calmer ghost. He blinked to clear his vision full of numbers without end to see the people instead.
Magnus was right as his side, her hand just descending from his carding through his fringe. She was his first reason to smile. That touchstone of contact had been her. He turned slightly to find Kate pulling her hand away from his chest. His skin there felt tender and sore. In fact, his whole body felt off, like he'd contorted himself in the worst possible way and only now straightened up. He looked to Declan who had raised his eyes to the ceiling with no little significance, to Biggie who only grunted, and Henry who was hugging himself tightly enough to bruise.
They glanced at one another in silent answer. Magnus, as the leader, stepped impossibly closer to tell him, "You died, rather, I should say you went into cardiac arrest in the corridor outside my office." Her eyes were glassy and he convinced himself those weren't tears.
He blinked up at her, then looked down to the red blotches on his right upper chest region and lower left quadrant, the standard placements for defibrillation paddles. A couple of things made a bit more sense.
"Oh," Henry mimicked incredulously from the end of the bed. "Man, I think this warrants something a little more serious than 'oh.' You died!"
"I know." He'd gotten that dying part the first time; he saw no need to dwell.
Kate crossed her arms Henry's way. "How can you be so calm about it? One second you were heading to bed and the next you were nearly pushing up daisies. How are you just okay with that?"
Will had to squint to get an idea of the expression on her face. His glasses were definitely not on his face anymore. "Once you've 'kicked the bucket' once, the thrill is pretty much gone." He shrugged, it hurt; he wouldn't be doing that again for a while.
Magnus dropped a hand onto his shoulder to keep them still. "I'm afraid we might have cracked a couple of your ribs in our zeal to resuscitate to you. I strongly suggest you remain still until I've had the opportunity to fully examine you." Sighing, she amended, "As I should have in the first place."
"It wasn't your fault, Magnus." And it wasn't, he should know.
"When a member of my staff is ill and that illness is not seen to, that it my fault, Will." She laid a hand on his forehead and he demurred rather than risk her removing it. This was still a relief. "I haven't yet determined what caused this, whether it was a delayed result of your being inhabited by the Makri or your brush with death thereafter, but I assure you that I will find out. If I can in any way prevent it, this will not happen again." Her vow was a prayer and wasn't a sanctuary just the place for one? "I'm sorry, Will."
She carried on caressing him gently despite their audience. Helen Magnus was the soul of propriety most of the time, save when her heart and conscience guided her. He didn't mind so much being her destination.
"Not as sorry as I am."
Looking towards the others in confusion, Magnus narrowed her eyes. "I don't understand."
Will smirked with what little strength he found himself with once the rest had gone. "I'm pretty sure the torture's begun," he pouted with a nod to their conversation from earlier in the evening.
Her eyes remained narrowed, though no longer in confusion. She poked him sharply in the shoulder causing him to yelp indignantly. "Cheeky monkey."
"Present," he quipped and squirmed immediately to avoid the next poke—nope, it was a pinch this time. "What happened to 'first, do no harm'?"
"I hardly think they had you in mind when they wrote that one." She caught him before he could get away and held him in place firmly by the shoulders. She was hovering dizzyingly overhead to keep him still and he could have imagined a worse view. Head shaking in disbelief, she was the most beautiful goddess in the pantheon, in his limited experience with the whole. He could live with this face for the rest of his days and those of the rest. It would be a good life.
She lightly brushed the back of her fingers against his cheek to draw his wandering focus. He hadn't realized how hard it had gotten to think. So much of his energy had been devoted to functioning while he plummeted that he'd forgotten how to function while standing still. Maybe, he conceded, there wasn't much left for Kali to save. If so, he was more certain than ever that his decision had been the right one.
"Rest, Will," she ordered him, "I'll be here when you wake up." She grinned wickedly, "Then, the torment can truly begin." He had no doubt it would.
Content, his eyelids fluttered shut and he was lost amid flashes of what might have been once and what could still be with her grin as the ever-present constant. He saw a mostly happy life filled with that smile and their closest friends; them and him and her. Perfect.
They wouldn't have decades, but they would have time.
It would have to do.