The Magnus household ran to a tight schedule. For all of Gregory's oddities and disregards for fashion, his late wife's attention to punctuality had endured her passing; everything had its own time and process. Which was why, at precisely the seventh hour of the day, he sat perplexed at his solitary presence at the dining table. He had yet to dine alone within these walls; he and his daughter coming together for meals despite whatever interruptions had or would befall them throughout the day.
His hunger (not to mention curiosity) finally overcoming his patience, he was just about to set forth to investigate when the door to the kitchen crept open. Not the hasty swing of the cook running behind schedule, nor even the brisk shove of the houseboy as he passed from room to room. No, the door opened slowly, shyly, in a way Gregory couldn't remember seeing before.
When his daughter stepped out from behind the door, he was confused, what reason would little Helen have to be so cautious in her own home? And then he saw. Gone were the lace ribbons he had purchased with private delight, awaiting the smiles they would bring. Gone were the tangled blonde curls, too long untended by a mother's hand, trailing down her back. His daughter's youthful locks were now captured in invisible netting, secured tightly at the nape of her neck. Plain but serviceable combs were tucked behind her ears, a humble concession to adornment that could only have been delivered by the cook's kindly administrations.
She said nothing, but swept quickly to her seat, a faint blush staining her cheeks. Gregory wished the words would come to him, but he too found himself held in uncomfortable silence. His little Helen was little no more. Without his knowledge or invitation, a young lady had joined him for breakfast and, as she reached for a roll with downcast eyes, he could not shake the image of her mother. Stopping her hand mid reach, he held it in his own, marveling at the size to which it had grown. Slowly lifting it, he softly kissed the back of her hand before patting it gently and returning it to her.
Nothing more was said on the matter.
Every night she felt his fingers tracing her body; skimming up her long legs, tracing circles across her abdomen, crawling up her neck to rest in her hair. His hands slowed as fingers worked their way through her curls, tugging and teasing the long tresses as he kissed her again and again. Every night it was the same.
And every morning she woke alone. Alone in the bed they had shared, alone with the tattered remains of her their life together.
Fingering the curls falling over her shoulder, she starts as a hand comes to rest on the small of her back. James. His face hovers above hers in her mirror, matching masks of disguised grief. He, more so than any of the others, shared her pain at John's betrayal. It had bonded them together in a way they would have never asked for.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
Helen sighed a final sigh, before meeting his eyes above hers and nodding gravely. Curls were for the young, the free – the loved.
She felt the sharp coldness of the scissors through the fabric of her dress, felt the metal blades sever each strand of hair with its slow but final closing. She tried to ignore the whisper of falling hair as it fell about her, covering chair and floor with strands of gold.
She pretended she did not see James catch the last curl before it could descend, tucking it away in his waist coast, never to be seen again.
Her mother had been thirty-two when she had died. Her father fifty at the time of his supposed demise. Her grandmother had been sixty-eight. And Nikola, he had been eighty-seven when last she had seen him, heavily embroiled in plotting his own cunningly devised 'death'.
Helen Magnus was one hundred years old. The sun had risen on her birthday and fell on a face that had not changed in seventy years. Not a line, not a wrinkle; her face was as youthful as ever. It was the face that had studied at Oxford, that had been courted by John, that had established the Sanctuary network - a legacy to her father's great work...
Those around her aged and fell with the grace life intended. But she continued onwards, ever unchanging, an affront to the natural order of things. An artificial abnormal.
She did not celebrate birthdays, instead choosing to work her way through them stubbornly unacknowledged. But this year she had bought herself a present. Her box of change clasped firmly within her hands, she sat in front of her mirror staring at the dark waves framing her suddenly so pale face.
She imagined it made her look older. That was her gift to herself.
There were few things Helen Magnus did that she regretted. Sure there were some over the course of her extended lifetime, but on the whole, much thought and consideration went into her actions that regret was rarely a factor.
She regretted this.
She could feel tiny fingers weaving in and out above her head. The pulling of hair and the skin curling slide of elastics up bunches of hair. Helen had been sitting in this seat for near on an hour, a moment's indulgence in her daughter's play having gotten the best of her. She could only imagine the state of her hair right now.
When her butler and friend - supposed friend, she thought as she caught the barely concealed smirk on his face - opened the door, Ashley revealed her mother with a proud 'ta-dah!' and scampered off to find her next victim.
The rooms remaining occupants stared each other down and Helen just dared him to comment.
Helen's ability to always look immaculate was a constant point of amazement for Will. Not to mention, a constant point of concern, with his worries of her state of mind never too far from the surface. It didn't matter what the situation - formal dinner, country hike, traipsing through the sewers of Old City - whatever the setting she was always oh-so-appropriately dressed and managed to pull it off with such grace.
Which was why he treasured moments like these ever so much.
It was not uncommon for the pair of them to find each other after their evening meal, quietly and comfortably holed up in the Sanctuary library. Research (whether frantic or enjoyably sedate) was a necessary part of their work even for her. She had started the evening in her usual fashion, but Will had found it more and more difficult to hide his enjoyment as the night progressed.
Evidently her research was not going as planned, and her frustration was beginning to manifest. She reached up and knotted several sections of her hair to keep it out of her eyes. Minutes passed and she tied half of it up on the top of her head with a tie she had magicked from somewhere. Several books later, her pen was enlisted as the remainder of her hair was scraped back into a messy bun, held firmly in place by the interlacing fountain pen.
Will snuck gleeful glances as, bit by bit, writing implements were sacrificed and disappeared into the veritable nest that had become her hair. It wasn't her usual look, but Will had to admit, he rather liked it all the same.