"He liked the feeling of safety here in this warm and quiet room; he liked the expression of trust on the woman's face as she lay in the water unprotected, exposed, and free."
-Lois Lowry, "The Giver"
There's something seriously wrong with the plumbing. Drains keep backing up all over the compound, and then the toilets, and then there's no hot water and then, no water at all. They're lucky that it seems to be just one side of the massive building. The SHU is on its own system, so that's fine, but it's the sort of problem that's too trivial for Magnus to handle personally so it falls into Will's hands.
Will sends a memo around letting everyone know when the plumber will be on the grounds so the Big Guy can make himself scarce. The plumber obviously doesn't like the way Will hovers, the way Will reiterates that the plumber shouldn't wander, the way Will has printed him out a map of the sanctuary and highlighted the routes and areas he is allowed to be in and blacked out places that are forbidden.
"What the hell goes on in this place, anyway?" the plumber, Phil, asks, looking down at the map. Magnus's preferred plumber had passed away some months ago now, so Phil was new and they were trying him out.
"Research," Will says because it could mean a lot of things and because it means nothing.
"Like on animals and stuff?" the plumber asks, looking not entirely pleased with the idea.
"No," Will responds, glancing at his watch. "Of course not."
It's decided, after Will has wasted his entire morning on trailing this man, that the problem begins with a tree root upsetting the pipeline. The tree will have to come out and the repairs will take several days, at least, and include more workers than just Phil. Phil suggests a company for the removal, says he can work along side the team that takes out the tree. Will schedules him to come back the next day, but informs him that he'll have to check with his boss first.
"I was kind of wondering what kind of guy runs a place like this," Phil says, closing up his tool box.
"Doctor Magnus has had the building in her family for generations," Will says, ushering Phil out the front door. He feels like he's making a joke, if only for his own benefit.
"A broad runs this place? No kidding," Phil says. Will watches him walk to his truck, watches until the truck has left the grounds and the gates close behind it. Magnus is in her office when Will goes to find her as she usually is. The room smells like fresh tea which means the Big Guy is already roaming free again. The morning sun is slanting through the curtains and when Magnus looks up at him in greeting, her face is warm and glowing.
"You have good news for me, certainly," she says in a tone that will accept no other sort.
"That'll depend on your definition of good. I have news," he says, slipping into the chair across from her. "The old oak tree has to come out."
"No!" she says. "That tree is older than I am and that doesn't happen a lot anymore."
Will smirks. "The roots are upsetting the pipes. If you really want to salvage the tree, we could just trim them back but you'll just have the same problem later on down the road." And with Magnus, later on down the road never translates into 'a problem for someone else.' He he hands her the estimate and she studies it for a moment and then sighs and nods.
"All right. See to it, then."
"The kitchen and the SHU are both fine, at least," Will says. "And Kate has water and so do I - I haven't heard from Henry but I figure no news is good news."
"The Big Guy moved into guest quarters last night," Magnus says. "I'm afraid I will have to do the same until this problem is solved. It's awfully inconvenient to walk to a different wing to use the loo at three am."
"Big guy's in the green room?" Will asks. She nods. With Kate living in the Sanctuary full time now, plus him and Henry, that meant the only rooms near functioning facilities left were Ashley's room, a no-man's land that no one dared enter, or the last guest room, a small room with a twin bed and no attached bath, often given to children on the rare occasion a child had to spend the night in the Sanctuary.
"I can sleep on the cot in my lab," Magnus says, swiveling her chair back toward her computer monitor.
"No," Will says. "Not for a full week."
"The guest room then," she says. "If necessary."
"That hardly solves your immediate problem," Will says.
"It's your house," Will says. "You shouldn't be sleeping on a cot."
"When I was little I had a chamber pot under my bed, Will, this is hardly roughing it," she says.
"Take my room," Will says. "I'll take the little guest."
She looks at him, her wide eyes studying him but betraying no real emotion or reaction to his offer. She studies him long enough that he wants to shift in his seat, but he doesn't. He matches her until she slumps back a little and picks up her tea cup.
"Why does it matter so much to you where I sleep?" she asks.
"You're the Doc," he says. "There's a hierarchy, a structure to things. I don't like the way this has shaken out for you."
She smiles at him. "Sometimes I worry you're in the wrong century, Will," she says.
"You too?" he grins.
"Off with you now. We both have work to do." It's a kind dismissal and he doesn't bother to point out that they still haven't solved the lodging problem. If she wants his suite, she'll simply tell him so.
"It's almost lunch time," he says as he heads for the door. "Please don't forget to eat something."
"Nagging me never helps," she mutters but she does so affectionately.
Kate is standing in the hallway looking twitchy. Will is on the way to his room and slows to talk to her.
"What's the matter?" he asks. Kate crosses and uncrosses her arms and then points to the ajar door of her bedroom.
"Magnus is in there," she says and then sticks her thumbnail into her mouth and starts biting worriedly.
"Uh," Will says. "Checking for drugs or something?"
Kate rolls her eyes. "No, she's in the bathroom. Brushing her teeth or whatever, I guess."
"You know the plumbing is all messed up in her room," Will says.
"I know, I know, it's cool and whatever but it's just... Magnus is in my room."
"Technically, you're in her room, in her house, in her city, really," Will smirks.
"What if there's something embarrassing in there? What if she sees dirty underwear or something?" Kate asks.
"I've been in there, Kate, and if she doesn't see something disturbing it will be a miracle."
"Aren't you supposed to be helpful shrink guy?" Kate demands. "Stop giving me shit!"
"Sorry," he says. "I told her to take my room but maybe she's more comfortable with you because you're a woman."
"Maybe," Kate says. "But she's Magnus, all elegant and fancy and I have towels with cartoon butterflies on them. Not the same thing by a long shot."
"She's just a person. She brushes her teeth and showers and pees just like the rest of us," Will says.
"Who will live forever, yeah, just like us," Kate mutters.
"I think if you'd just..."
"Shut up, she's coming," Kate hisses and then leans against the wall like she always stands around in the hallway in her pajamas, like this little corner of the hall is where she catches her bus and she has every right to loiter there at eleven-thirty on a Wednesday.
Magnus appears in her blue silk robe, holding a toothbrush.
"Thank you, Kate," she says. She looks at Will.
"Evening," he says.
"Will," she nods. "Off to bed?"
"Yeah," he says. "You taking the little guest?"
"For now," she says. "Feels a bit like boarding school with you lot right down the hall."
"Yeah, loads of fun," Kate says. "Every night is a party!" Will elbows her and she looks at him desperately, like she doesn't know why she's cracking lame jokes like a freak either.
"I have clean sheets on my bed," Will says and Magnus raises an eyebrow, smirking. Kate gapes at him. "No, I just meant if you wanted to sleep there."
"Will!" Kate hisses.
"If you wanted to swap rooms," he clarifies, his cheeks growing warm. "She knew what I meant!"
"Of course I did," Magnus says a little too knowingly. "Goodnight."
"Night," Kate calls. They wait until they hear the door close down the long corridor. Then she shakes her head at him. "You are such a dork."
"There was context to that statement," Will says but Kate just goes to her room and shuts the door. "Context!"
It's barely five am when the knock on his door sounds. There's no alarm klaxons blaring which is probably his least favorite way to wake up, but he's still sitting up reaching for his glasses and trying to decide if he should call out or dress and open the door himself when the door opens and someone steps in. He puts his glasses on, squinting into the darkness.
"Magnus?" he says. He's bare-chested and tugs his blankets over his waist protectively. "What's the matter?"
She steps fully into the room and shuts the door softly behind her.
"I have a conference call at 6:00," she says. "I thought I might take you up on your offer of your facilities if you don't mind horribly."
He stares at her, utterly confused and still half asleep and she smiles at him enough that he's sure he's being teased.
"I want to use your shower," she explains patiently.
"Right!" he says. "Yeah, of course. Help yourself." He can see now she has a folded towel hugged to her chest.
"Thank you," she says. "I would've asked Kate but I think I upset her a little last night and you tend to be the least violent of everyone at such an early hour."
"Okay," he says. He likes to think he's the least violent of everyone at any hour but it seems pointless to bring that up right now.
"Go back to sleep, Will. I'll be gone before you know it," she says and makes her careful way across his floor and slips into the bathroom. He stares at the thin line of light coming from the bottom of the closed bathroom door. He takes off his glasses and tosses them back on the nightstand and pulls the covers back up to his chin. He could get up, but other than Magnus the house is asleep and he doesn't have anything pressing until staff at 9:00 and then the team to remove the tree at 10:00, so what on earth would he do for four hours? Magnus had given him permission to stay and he kind of wants to see her leave his room in the early morning hours in a perverse sort of way. It doesn't really mean anything, it's not a true walk of shame, it's just that it thrills Will a little to see Magnus less than perfect.
He lets the sound of the shower lull him back into a dreamy, dozy state and he almost doesn't notice the sound of the pipes squeaking off and then the noise of the shower curtain being pulled back. Magnus is in there, naked in his shower.
He curls into a smaller ball, presses his face into his pillow so she won't easily be able to see him, so he can watch her through mostly closed lids. It's long, agonizing minutes before the door opens with a rush of warm air. He can just barely make her out. She has her robe on and is using her towel to dry the ends of her hair. He's seen Magnus soaking wet a number of times now, and she's seen him look like a drowned rat as well, but this isn't filthy, freezing, and perilous. She crosses the room silently and hesitates only when her hand is on the doorknob.
Maybe she knows he's faking or merely suspects, but either way she whispers, "Thank you," and then is gone.
Will doesn't see Magnus much that day. He sees her in staff, but the meeting is brief and then he doesn't see her again until dinner. She's already mostly finished by the time he gets to the dining room. He's had a long day of boring tasks, paper work and overseeing the removal of the old oak tree. It was a shame to see the thing uprooted but until it was gone, the issue with the water could not be mended.
"I thought the chainsaws might never cease," Magnus murmurs, glancing up at him as he settles into the empty chair across from her. Henry tends to eat late, raiding the kitchen for the cold leftovers from dinner and Kate is out. He can hear the Big Guy down the hall in the kitchen, probably starting the washing up. There is food warming along the buffet but Will just wants to sit for a moment first while Magnus sips at the last her wine.
"They got it out in one day," Will says, as if they should be grateful they'd endured the noise at all.
"We won't want for firewood," she says. He doesn't say anything, just thinks about where they're going to store that much firewood and then her voice calls his attention back. "Ashley and I used to picnic under that tree. When she was small."
"Oh," he says. "I didn't... If I had known, maybe we could've..."
"No," she says. "The world changes. It's supposed to. We must change, too." He nods, despite the irony because, outside, Magnus hasn't changed in over 100 years. She fingers the stem of her wine glass. "Eat something."
He stands and fixes himself a plate, moving behind her chair.
"Your shampoo is appalling."
She says this just as he is sitting down and he hovers a moment, his ass hanging in the air, out of sheer surprise. When she doesn't apologize or explain, he seats himself and picks up his fork.
"That's your opinion, I suppose."
"For someone who clearly takes care in the appearance of his hair, who goes to great lengths to style it to not look styled, I didn't peg you as a two-in-one shampoo user, Will," she says, a smile flickering on her face. If teasing him is what she needs to move on from that moment of confession about Ashley, he'll play along.
"First of all, this is what it naturally looks like," he says and she rolls her eyes drastically. "Secondly, I did not buy my products with the intention of you using them."
"Ah, so had you known we'd be sharing, you would have bought something better?" she asks. "Tell me, Dr. Zimmerman, what does it say about your own sense of self-worth if you won't treat yourself at least as well as you'd treat me?"
"So bring your own stuff over," Will says, refusing to bite at her pop psychology. It's not some sort of shocking self-realization to discover that he would treat Magnus better than he does himself. Magnus is family now, in a way, and he'd go to the end of the earth for her. In some ways, he's done that and will go again, will go farther, should she ask.
"I have already," she says, draining the last of the wine from her glass and returning it to the table with finality. "Hope it's not a bother. I'm working late but I shall try not to wake you if I come in."
"No bother," he says. She touches his shoulder as she walks by him and out the door. The Big Guy comes in to shut off the warmers and collect the leftovers and looks at Will who is still watching the door.
"Doc already ate," he says gruffly.
"Yeah," he says, snapping out of it and looking back down at his plate.
"You fix my shower yet?" Bigfoot asks.
"Couple more days," Will says apologetically. The Big Guy growls something that sounds decidedly like a swear and heads back to the kitchen. Will is just happy he didn't get his ears boxed.
Will is in bed reading when Magnus comes in. It is late, past one, but he can't sleep. Something from dinner isn't settling and every time he lies on his back, heartburn creeps up his chest and threatens to strangle him. Magnus opens the door without knocking, expecting him to be asleep and then starts at the sight of him and his dim bedside lamp.
"You're awake!" she says.
"You could've come to my office," she says. "I might have liked the company."
"Next time," he says.
"You look a little peaked," she says, coming over to sit on the edge of his bed. Her face has changed and he knows he speaking to his doctor, not his boss. He sets his book aside and she reaches out to touch his cheek with the back of her fingers. "No fever."
"Heartburn," he says.
"Did you take anything?" she asks. "An antacid?"
"No," he says. She tsks, her tongue light against her teeth.
"I'll get you something," she says.
"You don't have to," he says. "It's really... it's fine."
"Don't be a martyr," she scolds. "I think I saw a bottle in your medicine cabinet."
"Snooping, were you?" he says, but follows her into the bathroom anyhow and sits tiredly on the closed toilet while she opens his mirror and rummages around.
"A little," she says absently. He can't blame her. If he had the opportunity to be alone in her bathroom, he'd probably peek in a drawer or two himself. Looking around, he feels like he's in her bathroom now. She's moved her shampoo, conditioner, and a few other mysterious bottles into his tub and several more line the lip of the sink as well as a blow dryer on the back of the toilet.
"It's been a while since I've lived with a woman," he says, picking up one of the bottles. It's a lotion of some sort and when he brings it to his nose to sniff, it smells like her, like white flowers on delicate stems in the spring time. She's staring at him, her hand still in the cabinet, unmoving. "I just meant, like, sharing the counter space."
"It's all right," she says. "You and I do maintain a peculiar sort of intimacy. I told you when you took this job that it would be unlike any other."
"You did and have kept your word admirably," he says.
"I was pleased when you decided to let your apartment go," she says, finally finding what she is looking for. She studies the label for a moment and then hands it to him. "It's so much easier on me having you here."
He takes the bottle from her and puts one of the tablets in his mouth. It's chalky and unpleasant, but as soon as he starts to swallow, it begins to soothe the burn.
"At your beck and call?"
"No," she says. "It's hard to build the level of trust I require if you aren't here for moments like this. Sitting in your loo in the middle of the night." She leans against the sink and crosses her arms. "Sharing meals, watching movies, listening to whatever Henry has filtering through the sound system together."
"It makes us a family," Will says. "I understand. It builds trust. It bonds your team."
"Right," she says. "So when our helicopter crashes, I don't have to worry about you having my back on top of imminent death. It's helpful."
"I'm still never getting into a helicopter with you again," he says.
"We'll see," she says. "Now, if you don't mind, may I have the room?"
"Oh!" he says. "Yeah. I'll just be..."
He closes the door behind him.
When she emerges, he's got his nose back in his book. She retakes her seat on the edge of his bed and he looks at her expectantly.
"I meant what I said earlier," she says now. "I've been having some trouble sleeping lately. If you find yourself awake, don't hesitate to find me. Nights can be long."
This is strangely, uncharacteristically honest of Magnus. She confesses to him only when he presses her to, only when he dogs her, patiently asking question after question and ignoring evasive efforts.
"You tend to sleep less than the rest of us anyway," Will says. "But this is different than that? Insomnia?"
She nods, once.
"How many hours of sleep a night?" he asks, slipping the bookmark back into his book and letting it rest, closed, on his lap.
"Oh," she says, looking up as if mentally calculating large figures. "One or two, perhaps."
"Magnus," he says. "That's not enough."
"I"m not proud or doing it purposefully," she says. "These things happen. It will pass."
She's still in her work clothes - today a navy pencil skirt and a light blue blouse. At some point, she'd slipped off her heels - probably so she wouldn't wake him when she'd crept in to use his bathroom. Her toes are ruby red.
"It goes both ways, you know," he says, looking back at her eyes. "You can always just wake me up."
"Misery loves company?" she asks. "Hardly seems fair to rob you of sleep, too."
"Life's not fair," he says. "Didn't you know that?"
"In fact, I did," she says, laughing. "A phrase I used to say to Henry quite often when he was small. He always claimed Ashley got preferential treatment, Ashley always said that I liked Henry better because he was an abnormal."
Her smile falters a bit, but does not fade completely.
"They were both wrong, of course."
"Do you want to go watch a movie?" he asks. "I'm up for a movie."
"At this hour?" she asks.
"You can't sleep, I can't sleep, and how often do we get to pick something without the Big Guy complaining about it?" Will asks. She considers this a moment and then nods.
"All right," she says. "I'm going to change. I'll meet you in the media room in ten minutes."
Will picks out Without Love because he knows Magnus likes the old Hepburn-Tracy movies. She sits next to him on the sofa, her feet tucked under her in pale green pajamas. Will falls asleep part way through and wakes up again right at the end. When he looks over at Magnus, she is still awake, watching the screen with big, tired eyes.
Magnus and Bigfoot are gone all day, off on some errand. Henry is working in the SHU and Magnus has Kate cleaning weapons. Will isn't exactly sure what Kate did to warrant the grunt work, but he knows better than to ask. He's still stuck on the grounds, monitoring the repairs. He can just let Phil work and his assistant work - neither seem inclined to wander, but still, Will stays close and works from his tablet instead of the computer in his office.
It's almost dinner time when Magus pops her head into the small sitting room that Will has claimed.
"We've brought take-out," she says.
"In a minute," he murmurs.
"Will," she says. "Have dinner with me, please."
He looks up, sees the twinkle in her eyes.
"Since you asked so nicely," he sighs, giving in. "What did you bring?"
"Curry," she says. "Warm naan."
He touches his hand to his chest, right over his heart. "My favorite."
"I know," she says.
Dinner can be a fairly formal affair in a way no other meal is. Breakfast is a sort of fend-for-yourself type experience and lunch gets skipped more often than not, but if everyone is home for dinner, Magnus likes them to eat seated at the long table with real dishes and the nice silver. Magnus is always dressed well and while she won't send anyone away for jeans and a t-shirt, Will did see Magnus send Ashley back to change when she showed up with a t-shirt tattered and bloody.
Take out, however, is another thing entirely. Will loves when someone brings home take out. Everyone sits squashed around one end of the table, sharing containers, reaching across one another for the last bit of yellow chicken or just one more scoop of rice. Tonight, they listen to Henry talk about working with Sally all day and laugh when he admits that he's developed a little intellectual crush on the mermaid.
Magnus leans back in her chair and takes the last piece of naan. Kate and Henry are bickering a little, nothing real, just picking at one another like brother and sister. Magnus tears the naan in half and hands the other piece wordlessly to Will. He accepts it, their fingers brushing in the exchange.
"Thank you," he says. He doesn't mean the naan. He means for everything - for the work, for the Sanctuary, for this little slice of family life playing out before him. Inside him still lurks that little foster kid who believed families were for other people and never for him. But Magnus is Magnus and she seems to know what he is thinking and feeling, perhaps better than he does himself.
"Let's go out," she says, leaning toward him conspiratorially. "All of us."
"Out?" he asks. "Where?"
"I know the perfect place," she promises.
It's late when everyone gets back. Henry and Kate are wired from the sugar rush of an ice cream sundae each and both hurry off, talking loudly over one another. Bigfoot heads toward the dining room to clean up the mess they'd simply abandoned when Magnus had announced that they were going out for sweets. Will and Magnus stand now in the foyer and she turns to face him. She looks a little flushed; the skin across the bridge of her nose and between her collarbones is pink.
"You got some sun today," he comments.
"We had the sunroof open," she says. "The Big Guy likes the nice weather."
"I know you're kind of old fashioned, but sunscreen isn't really a new invention," Will teases and she smiles.
"One can't help being fair, I'm afraid," she says. "Will, would you mind terribly if I usurped your bathroom once more. I was hoping for a soak."
"I wouldn't mind at all," he says. "I can't say I have much in the way of bubble bath."
They start to walk, headed toward his room.
"I prefer just hot, clean water," she admits. "Perhaps Epsom salts if I've had a particularly thorough beating."
"Is that what you and the Big Guy were out doing today? Getting your asses kicked?" he asks, giving her an exaggerated once over but besides the bit of coloring from too long in the sun, she looks the same as always. Tailored and elegant and strong.
"We were not," she says. "I believe this particular ache comes from sleeping in a small bed on an old mattress."
"That's it, you're sleeping in my bed tonight," he says.
"Nonsense," she says.
"You haven't been sleeping at all, you already admitted that! I am going to make you get some even if I have to tie you to the bed and watch while you do it," he says.
They turn the corner to see Kate who is standing and staring at them with her mouth open. Will rewinds his words in his head and realizes how that might have sounded.
"Um," he says.
"I was just..." Kate says, holding up her running shoes. "Gonna... but you guys should totally... I'll just..."
"Kate!" Will says, but Kate is already booking it down the hall at an impressive speed. "There was context!" he says weakly.
Magnus, for her part, looks terribly amused.
"My, you do have a way with words," she says. "Tell me more about how you plan to tie me up?"
"I might be having an off day," he admits, opening the door to his bedroom and allowing her to walk through first.
"Oh, I don't know," she says, already stepping out of her heels. "It almost sounded fun."
"Are you flirting with me?" he asks, glancing at her bare feet with a swallow. Her heels sit pristine by the door, clean and gray and pointed.
"A little," she says. "Would you like me to stop?"
"It's okay," he says.
"We flirt all the time, Will, I thought you liked it," she says. And it's true, they do banter like this often, skirting the line between employee and friend, between man and woman. Never when it's inappropriate, only in moments like this when they're home or they're somewhere safe.
"I do, we just don't usually do it in my bedroom," he says.
"Where would you like to do it?" she asks, shrugging out of her blazer.
"That's not... fair," he says. "You're getting undressed and it's distracting."
"I told you I was coming to take a bath. I can't help that you followed me," she says.
"I didn't follow you, I escorted you," he says. "And we're not finished with our argument about where you're sleeping."
"It's only a few more nights," she says. "And if it truly bothers you, I can always sleep in my own bed and just endure the trek to the loo should the need arise but I can't see how where I sleep should affect you one way or the other."
"I just care is all," he says.
"I know," she says, removing one earring and then the other. "You always do."
"Why do you do it?" he asks, quickly, before he loses the nerve.
"Flirt with me," he says.
"Because I like you," she says. "Isn't that reason enough?"
"You don't flirt with Henry," he says a little petulantly.
"I raised Henry as my own," Magnus says, scrunching her face up a little.
"That's a good point," Will says. Will wonders about Henry, about growing up with Ashley like a sister, whether Henry has always called Magnus 'Doc' or if he called her mom, like Ashley did, when they were young. It seems the wrong time to ask. And anyway, she's turning her back to him and moving her hair over one shoulder.
"Well if you're going to stay, you may as well unzip me," she says. She has a dress on, the same fabric as her blazer, steel gray and perfectly fitted to her long body. Will swallows.
"This feels like a test," he says. "Like you're wondering just how far you can push me before I run."
"You last a little longer each time," she says, but does so clinically like she's performing an experiment and he is her test subject. "Please, unzip me." This, too, is reissued as an order instead of a suggestion and he finds his fingers at her back before he can even really consciously decide whether he wants to oblige her or not.
"Not fair," he mumbles and though she says nothing, he can imagine the expression of her face quite clearly. There is a small hook just above the zipper that must be undone first. He does this carefully, the tips of his fingers brushing the soft, pale skin at her nape and she breathes in, steady but noticeable. The zipper is next and he pulls it down, past her shoulder blades, over the band of her bra, and when he gets to her lower back, she arches her body a little but he still has to place a hand on her hip to keep the zipper moving smoothly.
Her bra is black lace, he can see, and he suspects a woman like Magnus has quite the elaborate lingerie collection. The lacework on the little bit he can see is delicate, her white skin showing through.
"Thank you," she says after a moment, perhaps a slight indication that he's been staring, that he's still awfully close to her, that his fingers are squeezing, just a bit, into the curve of her hip.
"You're welcome," he says but doesn't move away.
"Have I pushed you too far this time?" she asks.
"I don't know," he says. "I'm just not sure I see the point. Is it just curiosity? You're just curious what I might do?"
"Will," she says. "You think I'm being cruel."
He reaches out a hand, runs a finger down her spine to where the zipper starts. She wasn't expecting this, she jumps, spins around, holding the dress in place across her breasts with a forearm.
"I can be cruel, too," he says.
"Too true," she says. She looks a little concerned now, at the corners of her eyes and the way she moves her mouth but instead of saying anything else she goes into the bathroom and closes the door. He hears the water come on and the sound of the tub filling.
He decides to go to the gym, to run off all the nervous energy that has built up inside him in the last ten minutes. He pulls off his polo shirt and his jeans and is rummaging around in his dresser for a plain t-shirt when the bathroom door flies open.
"Will, I think I should apologize, I really didn't mean - oh."
He turns to see her, still holding her dress on but her hair is in a loose knot and the dress is rumpled, like she took it off and then hastily put it back on to catch him.
"Do you ever get the feeling that if your life were a television show, the best you could hope for would be comedy but you know it's probably an awkward reality show?" Will says, sounding far calmer than he feels.
"I always suspected science fiction," she says. "Assuming our viewers didn't think the abnormals were real."
"I was changing to take a run," he explains.
"Yes, I see," she responds. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make things uncomfortable. Or to increase that discomfort now."
"I'm sorry, too," he says because he does feel sorry though he isn't sure what for. For reacting to her? For finding her beautiful? For trusting her enough to change his whole life and then hoping she might trust him enough to change hers, too?
"James," she says, leaning against the door frame a little. "He used to read to me in the bath when I was pregnant with Ashley."
"James?" Will asks, confused.
"Well, I was never exactly his preference so I felt quite safe. By the time I was in my last month, I was so heavy that the only place I still felt human was in the tub," she says. "I gained over 50 pounds with that pregnancy."
Will, ever aware he is still standing in his socks and his underwear, makes himself not fidget. "What did he read to you?"
"Oh, anything really," she says. "I liked things that never required much thought. Pleasure reading - fairy tales, romances, adventure stories." She looks at him, her head cocked. "When I hired you, I thought you might fill the hole in my life that used to be filled with James. I hoped even more after he died but that isn't fair to you."
"It's flattering that I remind you of him," Will says. "I like that."
"You remind me of him," she confirms. "But I'm different. I react to you totally differently than I react to James and it... throws me off sometimes."
"We I don't prefer to sleep with men," Will says. "Maybe you don't feel as safe with me."
"Maybe," she says but Magnus isn't usually one for too much introspection. "All right, enjoy your run."
"Actually," he says, reaching for his discarded jeans and holding them against his body. "I could read to you, if you'd like."
She moves her head, looks at him hard like she's trying to figure out if he's putting her on. "I don't want to push you too far," she says.
"If you pull the curtain I won't see a thing," he says.
"Do you promise not to peek?" she asks.
"No." He grins. "I'll go pick something out."
In the library he has a slight bout of uncertainty and panic as he's standing in front of the fiction section. Squinting, he notices something on the bottom shelf he hasn't before, a small collection of little, but tattered paperbacks. Some of the books aren't in the best shape but they're obviously well-loved, so he chooses a title and heads back to his room. The bathroom door is cracked, but he still knocks anyway. The curtain is drawn and the room is steamy and warm. Her dress is hanging from the back of the door. He doesn't see her undergarments and maybe that's for the best.
"All settled?" he asks, sitting on the toilet. He hears the water move and her sigh.
"Yes," she says, drawing the word out. "Showers are never the same. What did you choose?"
"Just listen," he says.
"Will, before you start..."
"Magnus," he cuts her off because he knows that tone in her voice. "Let me take care of you. I like to do it."
A pause, more water splashing, like maybe she's lifting a leg out of the water.
He can't see her through the shower curtain and it's just as well because he's not sure he could focus with the outline of her. Like this, she's just a disembodied voice and though he knows, roughly, what's behind that curtain, it's easy to focus on the words on the page. He clears his throat.
"It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No. Wrong word, Jonas thought. Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen. Frightened was the way he had felt a year ago when an unidentified aircraft had overflown the community twice."
"Oh," Magnus breathed out softly. "Will."
"What?" he says, worried and her tone. "What's wrong."
"You found Ashely's books," she says. "This was one of her favorites, I read it to her one summer when she broke her leg and was in a wheelchair."
"Do you want me to stop?" he asks. "Pick something else?"
"No," she says. "Continue." One of her arms appears from behind the curtain and hangs over the edge of the tub, pink and dripping.
He is still reading when he begins to wonder just how long she can sit in there before the water got too cold.
" "Jonas has not been assigned," she informed the crowd, and his heart sank. Then she went on. "Jonas has been selected." "
"I think that's enough for now." Her voice breaks him from his reverie and he looks up. "Hand me the towel, please?"
"Sure," he says and presses it into her extended hand. He hears her stand, the water falling from her body as he lets himself out. His voice is tired - he read to her for a long time. It's late now and when he wanders down to the kitchen for a glass of water and maybe a cookie if there's one to be found, the house around him has settled into night. It's not quiet, exactly, because there are always distant sounds from the SHU and some of the more nocturnal residents and the creaking of an old structure battling the wind, but it's dark and warm and he doesn't encounter anyone on his journey.
He drinks a whole glass of cool water and then, deciding that tea is always welcome where Helen Magnus is concerned, puts on the kettle.
When he brings her the tea, he puts it on a tray like a proper service and piles on enough cookies for the two of them. He walks past his room, which is empty, and knocks on the door of the little yellow guest room. She opens it, dressed in her pajamas, her open robe, with her wet hair braided over her shoulder. She looks at him and the tea and then back at him.
"Thank you, Will," she says, opening the door.
She looks like she has been crying. Her face is dry, but her cheeks are flushed and her eyes seem glassy and a little swollen. He wonders if she had been crying in the bath, silently, while he read to her from one of Ashley's favorite stories. He sets the tray down on the dresser and fixes her tea exactly as the Big Guy had shown him during his first week at the Sanctuary. She watches him, he can feel it.
"You're not tired?" she asks, accepting the cup.
"I'm always tired," he says.
The room is small and she's already perched on the narrow bed. There's also a dresser and a small round table that serves as a nightstand. There's fresh flowers on it, because even in less than decadent quarters, she's still Magnus. She has standards. He makes another cup for himself, less careful about how much sugar and cream he splashes in and then he stands.
"Will you sleep tonight?"
"I'm not sure," she says.
"I should have picked something else," he says. "I thought maybe a story meant for a child would be relaxing but I've upset you."
"No," she says quickly. "I just severely miss my daughter."
"Of course you do," he says, which isn't at all helpful but he wants her to know that how she's feeling is okay. "How can I help?"
"It's odd how this feeling ebbs and flows," she says, her hands wrapped tightly around her cup. "Of course, I always miss her, that never completely fades but there are times, like earlier tonight with you where I feel just as myself and times, like now, where this feeling becomes paralyzing."
He sets his cup down on the dresser, like he's going to go over to her, but then he doesn't. "Do you think it was The Giver that set this off?"
"No," she says. "It was... more than that."
"It was me."
She looks up at him, her eyes a clear gray at this hour, her bangs obscuring them just slightly like she needs a trim. "Yes," she says. "It's been a long time since I've allowed myself to start getting closer to someone and in way it feels like..."
"Like you're letting Ashley go," he supplies.
"Yes. But that hardly makes rational sense," she sputters.
"It doesn't have to," he says. "Allowing yourself to love someone doesn't mean you love Ashley less. That you don't need her."
She sips her tea.
"When I went into labor, I was out," she says. "In public, I mean. It was silly of me but I'd been trapped in this house for weeks, the size of a barge, and I just needed to get out. So James took me to the market to buy fruit for a salad. I was standing in the produce section, looking at melons, and my water broke."
She smiles faintly at the memory.
"James was... thrilled. I think he would have stayed and raised her with me had I asked him but I never did. He wanted to take me to a hospital but I was worried that Ashley wouldn't come out... I thought because of her parentage..."
"She'd be an abnormal," Will supplies.
"I'd arranged for a midwife to come to the Sanctuary and so we simply headed home and I had Ashley in my bedroom with James and the midwife and the Big Guy pacing the corridor and when I held her I thought, yes, this feels right, I won't need anyone else but her for a very long time."
"Magnus..." he says.
"But now she's gone and I'm alone again."
"You aren't alone," he says.
"No," she says, looking up at him. "You're here, aren't you?"
"I will always be here for you," he promises. It's a tricky thing, such a promise, but he wants to believe he can follow through on it.
"I was prepared, you know, for Ashley to grow old and die. This, though, this I was simply not prepared for."
"No one ever is," he says.
"I could have more, you know," she says. "I remain as fertile as I was the day I injected myself with the source blood. I could have child after child, I could fill this place with children but I will always, always have to watch them die."
He moves quickly, sitting next to her on the bed, putting his arm around her, allowing her curl into his shoulder. She sobs, a low and mournful noise.
"I want my daughter back," she says. He hugs her tightly.
"I know," he says. This, he thinks, has been a long time coming. He thinks about how, lately, one day she'll be flirting with him more and more outrageously and the next she'll dismiss him from her office, calling him Dr. Zimmerman. He thinks about how she eats so little, sleeps less, how when Big Foot carried in wood for the fire, she'd realized it was from the old Oak tree and said that she didn't feel like a fire that night. He thinks about how she's been punishing herself, shuttered away in this little room, letting Will fret over her but never giving him the satisfaction of it doing any good.
She's been gearing up for this one for a while now, he thinks. Moving closer to him and then, as if ashamed by herself, pushing him away again.
"Maybe you should think about moving up that vacation to this year," Will offers once she's pulled away and wiped at her face with her hands.
"What good would that do?" she says, her voice thick.
"It's okay to need things that are for you and not for the entire Sanctuary network," he says.
"I've been alive a long time, I know what I need," she says.
"You've only ever lost one child, though," he says. She doesn't say anything, instead focuses her energy on not once more dissolving into tears. "Let me take you somewhere."
"You?" she asks.
"Sure," he says. "Someplace warm. I'm sure there are whole bodies of water I could read to you next to."
"I don't know," she says hesitantly.
"Henry and Kate can hold down the fort, and the Big Guy can watch over them," he says. "Just a long weekend."
"You honestly think it would help?" she asks.
"I honestly do," he says. "Even if all you do is take a big sleeping pill."
"I'll think about it," she promises which, with Magnus, is all he can hope for.
When the invoice comes, Will hands it over to her. It seems like an exorbitant amount to refit some pipes but then, the Sanctuary is old and there's no amount of money too large for properly functioning indoor plumbing. Apparently Magnus agrees because she only glances it before handing it back and muttering, "Worth every penny."
Later, when he stops in his room to get a sweater - he really hopes the heating isn't on the fritz - he notices that all signs of Magnus have disappeared from his bathroom. In fact, the Big Guy is down the hall, stripping the linens off the guest beds for the wash.
In the staff meeting, Kate plops next to Will on the sofa, upsetting the tablet balancing on his knee. He reaches for it, steadying it and she doesn't apologize, just smirks at him. The thing beeps and they both glance at it - Magnus has issued an updated calendar to all of them.
"Wait, wait, wait," Kate says, snatching the tablet right out of his hands and staring at it with what can only be described as horror. "How did I get grounded for Halloween weekend?"
"You're not grounded," Magnus corrects. "I just need you and Henry to be on the grounds that weekend."
"What about Dr. McDreamy over here?" she exclaims, poking Will. "What do you even pay him for? Halloween's on a Saturday this year, come on Doc!"
"I'm sorry, Kate," Magnus says. "Will and I are traveling for those dates."
"What? What?" Kate says. "For what? To where?"
Magus looks a touch uneasy, but doesn't lie. "Cabo San Lucas."
This only renders Kate completely speechless, thankfully, but Henry now takes up her mantle of disbelief.
"I haven't heard anything about abnormals in Cabo. At least not dangerous ones. What will you be tracking?"
"It's more of a research trip," Will says and Magus looks at him gratefully. "I have a few academic contacts down there."
"In Cabo," Kate says, recovering.
"Yep," he says.
She looks wholly unconvinced. He wills her to just let it go. It's Henry, though, who seems to understand. His sharp gaze flits between Magnus and Will and and Will thinks Henry can probably smell it on them, their subtle deceit.
"We'll stay in," Henry says, looking at Will. "Pass out candy."
For the trick-or-treaters who make it through the EM shield and over the gate. Right.
"Thank you, Henry," Magnus says. Henry nods at Magus and then, when her back is turned, glares at Will.
After the meeting, Henry catches up with him, slipping into the elevator just before it closes.
"I know this was probably her idea," Henry says. "Because she's Magnus and you're... you know... just some dude, but that doesn't mean I still won't blame you if something goes wrong."
"She's still aching over Ashley," Will says. "She just needs to get away."
"We all miss Ashley," Henry says. "I lost my sister, man."
"I know you did," Will says. "But Henry, Magnus watches everyone she loves grow old and die. Everyone. You were what, ten when you came here? Does she look a day older than when she found you?"
"She already knows she's going to have to bury everyone sooner or later, but she didn't even get to watch Ashley get old," Will says. "I think she's just starting to really get that. And she needs a couple days away from her life to process it."
"Are you going to sleep with her?" Henry asks. Will is pretty surprised that Henry has asked and thinks for a few moments before he answers. The elevator is already slowing to a stop.
"I'd give her anything she asked for. Wouldn't you?" Will asks.
The doors open to Henry's floor.
"Yeah," he says, and walks out.
They fly commercial. First class, but commercial. Will takes the seat by the window. Magus asks the flight attendant for two glasses of wine. It's not even 9am and he stares at her, a little surprised but she just beams at him.
"Vacation, Will," she says. "It can start on the plane, can't it?"
"It can," he relents.
She lets her head rest against the back of her seat and slyly slips her hand into his.