She walked right by him, head in a book, coat buttoned up to the neck despite it being a warm September, hair in blonde ringlets framing her face. She looked so pretty, so innocent, even though she looked a little older than he was. She walked right by him without even noticing him, but he noticed her.
Every man who walked the courtyard noticed her, he'd heard the rumour of course, a woman studying at Oxford. To see her though was something else, smart and beautiful. He was intrigued, enchanted.
He watched her for a minute or two, following her across the grass, taking in her walk, the sway of her hips, the bounce of the blonde ringlets with every step. With a smile, he quickened his step to catch up to her, running around to stand in front of her and get her attention. She looked up from her book, closing it and smiling politely at him.
"Nikola Tesla," he said, with a slight bow, taking her hand to kiss it.
He expected her to blush, but when she didn't he was delighted, amused and even more intrigued in the woman before him.
"Miss Helen Magnus," she said, pulling her hand back, as politely as possible and waited for him to speak. She looked like she was bracing herself, for what he wasn't sure. An insult perhaps, for her very presence was unwanted by many of the men both teaching and studying at the college.
Nikola was not one of those men.
"I hear you are studying with us Miss Magnus."
"Yes, though I am not allowed to sit any examinations or gain credit for my work."
"Yet you go to the lectures regardless," he said. "I am impressed."
"I want to be a doctor," she told him.
"A medical doctor?" She nodded, ringlets bouncing. "I'm sure you would make a fine doctor."
He could tell she wasn't sure if he was making fun of her or not, her expression guarded.
"What about you, Mr Tesla? What do you study?"
"Oh, as much as possible," he said, making her smile. "I attend every lecture I have the time for."
"And now I am impressed."
She chuckled quietly, amused, and he was emboldened a little.
"Your accent?" she said, changing the subject suddenly, as if the answer had just come to her. "Serbian?"
"Indeed it is Miss Magnus, very good."
She smiled, nodding, bright and beautiful, and he stepped a little closer to her, delighted when she didn't back away. She was either bold or naïve, and he didn't believe the only woman studying at Oxford to be naïve in any way. Not knowing the battle she had ahead of her, as she so obviously did.
"I would like to continue our conversation Mr Tesla, but I really must be heading to my next lecture, it wouldn't do for me to be late."
"Perhaps I could escort you," he said, holding out his arm for her to take.
"I shall manage alone, thank you," she said.
"Of course, and I admire you for it," he said, "I only offer my company."
"I shouldn't," she said, resting her hand on his forearm anyway.
He smiled at her, baring his sharp white teeth, and she tightened her hold a little.
"Lead the way madam."
She smiled at that, and they continued to cross the courtyard together.
Helen walked into her office to find Nikola lying across her settee, head on one of the pillows, hands folded over an old book in his lap. He smiled at her when he saw her looking down at him.
"Helen," he replied.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"Do you remember when we first met?" he asked, as she moved around the settee to sit in the chair opposite and look across at him.
"Of course," she said, with a smile. "You were the first man to treat me with any respect. Even though I was sure you were trying to get into my petticoat at the time."
"I was," he said, grinning. "Not that I didn't respect you as well," he added with a grin.
"Good to know," she said.
He sat up, the book still on his lap, well worn and faded.
"I was going through some of my belongings," he started, standing up. "And I found this."
He handed her the old book, before leaving her office without another word.
Later that week, Nikola spotted her in the corridor outside her lecture theatre and made his way through the crowd of young men to reach her. She stood out, blonde curls among the straight cuts of the students, and when he reached her, she smiled in surprise.
"Mr Tesla," she said.
"I wish you would call me Nikola," he told her, gently urging her through the busy building and onto a quiet walkway outside.
"I couldn't," she said.
He reached into his leather satchel, and slowly pulled out a book, a single red rose tucked between the pages.
"A gift," he said.
She looked at the book, and he waited patiently for her response. He knew giving a woman a gift was a precarious move, and bold, but he had been unable to help himself. He was enamoured by this woman, already halfway to being in love with her.
She stroked the petals of the rose gently, looking at the book.
"I can't accept this, Mr Tesla," she said, emphasising the 'Mr' a little, handing back the book. "I'm sorry."
"I bought it for you Helen," he said, "Please take it."
"It wouldn't be appropriate."
"Neither is studying at Oxford," he said. "But you do so."
"Mr Tesla, we've only just met and I am courting," she said, pushing the book away. "I mustn't."
He stared at the rose.
She was already being courted, he should've known. She was brilliant, beautiful, how could she not be?
"Of course, I didn't realise," he said, carefully putting the book and it's rose back into the satchel.
"We can remain friends however," she said, almost desperately and he nodded, he knew she must be feeling a little alone at the college.
"And, should your courtship with this gentleman-"
"Mr. Druitt, come to an end, I would be honoured to court you myself."
He bowed, then took her hands, kissing it again.
"Miss Magnus," he replied. "I will see you on Monday."
"I hope so," she said, and despite her rejection, he truly believed she did want to see him again.
He smiled, he had hope for them yet. It was only the beginning of the chase.
Helen looked at the cover of the book he had given her, running index finger of the title. It was an old medical text, brand new when Nikola had bought it, but fragile now, and long out of date. She had been so impressed at the time, and she had desperately wanted to accept the gift, but she was had been trying hard to keep out of further scandal. She knew neither her father, nor John, would've approved of such an extravagant gift from a young man she had only just met, and while she often did as she wanted back then, she owned her father much for getting her into Oxford, and cared for John deeply.
The rose he had tucked inside had simply been further proof she she shouldn't take Nikola's gift.
She smiled at the old memories, opening up the book. Inside the cover, carefully pressed and preserved was the rose, petals dry, thorns dull, the stem faded greed and flat. She didn't dare touch it. Instead she closed the book up again and clutched it to her chest.
Of all the things for Nikola to keep.
She was heartbroken, for Nikola, over John, for the young woman with the blonde curls she had once been, but some things were different in this century, though obviously not Nikola's feelings for her. He had flirted heavily, as usual, since he'd moved into the Sanctuary, but hadn't mentioned his true feelings until now.
She was tired of being heartbroken.
She wondered if Nikola was too.
Taking the book with her, she went to find out.