Author's Notes: Il Cibo per L'Anima – Food for the Soul
I decided on 1949 for the inception of the Old City Sanctuary because of Biggie's comment in "Haunted", about the elevators being new when he moved in in 1951. I'm going with the idea that Magnus bought the place in 1949, and immediately renovated and modernized it. Biggie was one of her first new residents. Also, in "One Night" Kate says "…in 30 years, they've never had a no-show" which kind of implies the restaurant has been there for 30 years, but I've decided to take liberties here and say it's been 30 years SINCE they've had a no show. It was probably Magnus herself that time ;) Maybe I'll write a story about that night as well…!
Thanks be to the Beta of the year, NoCleverSig, for her quickest turnaround time yet!
Il Cibo per l'Anima
(Copyright 2011, MajorSam)
When Magnus first moved to Old City in 1949, she'd been a bit wary. The location was perfect for her new Sanctuary; in an area people tended to think of as somewhat disreputable, so she wouldn't have too many curious visitors. The building itself was certainly large enough to fit all the necessary labs and habitats, as well as living quarters for her staff. Being right by the water afforded easy transport of certain materials and creatures. Her main concern, ironically, was the seclusion it would afford. She knew was somewhat of a recluse, either cooped up in her labs or off gallivanting around the world. Truthfully though, she enjoyed taking in the local culture when she could, and she feared she wouldn't get that here.
That all changed when her friend Leonardo had taken her out to dinner. He was an Italian biologist whom she had met several years before when she'd visited her villa on Capri. After the war had ended she'd needed time off to think, and rebalance. She had been out wandering the fresh market stalls and had been jostled from behind. As she'd bent down to pick up the lemons that had fallen out of her basket, a strong, tanned hand reached down and grabbed them first as apologies in Italian started to flow. She'd looked up to see an incredibly handsome Italian man looking very upset at having disturbed her. She had assured him it was fine, but he had insisted on taking her out for lunch to apologize for his carelessness. The definition of tall, dark and handsome had led her to a quintessentially quaint Italian bistro with good food, wine, and conversation. She'd been very surprised to find out the man with the dark, slightly curly hair and deep green eyes was a biologist who worked at one of the top research labs in Rome. Apparently Capri was his favourite place to get out of the dark, lonely labs and relax. Lunch turned to dinner, which turned into a nightcap at her villa, which then led to several days spent in her bedroom.
During those days, while they ate fresh fruit, breads and cheeses while lying in her bed, she realized he was a perfect candidate for her Sanctuary team. She told him just enough hint about the uniqueness of her work to intrigue him, and was pleased when he jumped at the idea of something beyond the job he was doing now. When she left Capri to return to her London Sanctuary, he went with her. He had been a valuable member of her worldwide network ever since, and when they met in person, once or twice each year, well… work was not always at the forefront of their minds. They knew a serious relationship wasn't plausible given their work and working relationship, but both were quite happy with the arrangement they had.
Leonardo had been the one to find this location for her new North American Sanctuary. The facilities in New York simply couldn't handle any more. The influx of new abnormals seeking asylum after the war was still keeping everyone on their toes, and she had needed more space. Leo had always been an avid traveller and had actually requested the job of scouting out new locations. He had raved about Old City, and when he proudly walked her in the front door of a restaurant called "Alfredo's" and she smelled the first hint of truffle oil, she knew why.
It had been one of the top culinary experiences of her life, and for Helen Magnus, that was saying a lot. If the Sanctuary had been a crumbling old shack she would have probably still kept it just to be close to this restaurant. They had dined on no less than the proper nine courses, over four hours, and then had stumbled back to the Sanctuary, in which they'd been given permission to spend a night. They were fully immersed in a food and wine haze. The brilliance of the night had continued in the sparsely decorated room which would later become the office of her protégés.
Magnus now made it a point to visit the restaurant at least once every few years. She would go every week if she could, but unfortunately her schedule didn't often allow for a four-hour dinner. Plus if any of the patrons saw her repeatedly throughout the years and noticed that she always looked the same? It was hard to be a regular patron at any restaurant or store in general. Thankfully Alfredo, the man himself, had never asked her about it. He had been a very young man, opening his first restaurant when she'd arrived in town. Alfredo had grown old and had since passed the reigns of the restaurant down to his son, but he was still there every night to greet his guests. The décor changed slightly throughout the years, little modern touches adding to the classic, homey Italian feel, but Alfredo remained a constant. Every time she went there and was met by his smiling, ever-wrinkling skin he would simply light up and exclaim "Helen, mi amore! Lei guarda per estasiare, come sempre!" Helen, my love, you look ravishing as always, and then lead her to her favourite table.
That had, in fact, been the exact sequence of events tonight, when she and Will had showed up to make personal amends for his missed reservation a few nights before. He had led them to her table, but Helen left Will to settle in while she went off with Alfredo to apologize. Will could see the pair talking very fast in Italian, full of energetic arm waving and gesticulation, as they walked into the kitchens. He didn't understand what they were saying but heard a few names being repeated. Magnus had returned several minutes later with a smile on her face, and sat down calmly.
Magnus had informed Will of their "date" just that afternoon, claiming he needed to not only be there to apologize, but to be properly trained on fine dining habits so that he wouldn't make a fool of himself when he brought Abby there. Will had certainly not expected Magnus to be his love-life advisor, but wasn't going to pass up a 5-star meal, even if it had been more of an order than a request.
Magnus knew that she would love anything Alfredo cooked, and thus had a standing agreement that she would never order anything. He was free to entice and delight them with anything he wished. The first thing to arrive at their table, besides their aperativo of a bottle of prosecco, were some little olives, the start of the antipasto. Will almost scoffed at the look of delight on Magnus' face, but when he put one in his mouth, he understood. He had no idea what had been done to it, but that olive could save a man's soul. Plates of caprese salad and prosciutto with melon followed. Will had had both before, but once again, his view of them was reinvented. Magnus watched him carefully as he ate, gauging his reactions. She grinned when she saw him close his eyes, his jaw go slack as he let a piece of prosciutto melt in his mouth.
Her mind flashed back to her first visit to the restaurant and the way Leonardo had teased her about the look of shock and bliss on her face as she tried the various dishes. When Alfredo had brought out the primo of homemade tagliatelle in a rich, creamy truffle and black pepper sauce, Magnus thought she'd died and gone to heaven. Leo had outright laughed at her, before leaning in and claiming her lips in his. The taste of the silken pasta mixed with the wine on his tongue had made her moan.
Will's voice interrupted her musings and she hoped she hadn't said anything out loud.
"Yes?" she asked, eyes wide and innocent. Will's eyebrows creased as he looked at her.
"Little trip down memory lane?" he asked.
Damn him for his perceptiveness, she thought.
"Sorry, Will. This place just holds a lot of fond memories for me," she admitted rather wistfully. Then something dark passed across her eyes and she looked down suddenly. Will was honoured that she'd let him share this special place with him. He didn't think she'd been here in the time since she'd hired him, but she talked about it often enough to garner his attention. If Magnus raved about something, it was worth investigating!
A bottle of Amarone appeared on their table, and in their glasses, the well trained wait-staff having arrived and left with barely a whisper to disturb their dinner. The bottle of wine probably cost about a month's worth of Will's salary, but he chose to ignore that. Magnus brought her crystal goblet to her lips, swirling the deep red liquid about before bringing it up to her nose and delicately sniffing. She took a sip and hummed, letting its rich flavor coat her throat and slide down to warm her heart. Will watched her as her eyes closed and her mouth quirked up in a barely-there smile. He shook his head, looking away, remembering he was supposed to be learning etiquette for when he brought Abby here.
"Alright, Will," Magnus said, getting back to business after a few sips of wine. "Do you remember the names of each course of dinner?"
"Yup!" he replied, "Aperativo, antipasto, primo, secondo, contorno, formaggio e frutta, dolce, caffe, and digestive, right?"
She grinned at him, nodding "Very good. And how long will you two take to enjoy all these dishes?"
"At least three hours."
The waiter arrived with their next course. A small plate of some kind of pasta in a tomato sauce, and a similar serving of the signature dish, fettuccini alfredo. Will enthusiastically transferred a portion of each onto his plate, tasting the alfredo first. He was shocked to discover how different it was than the "alfredo" one usually got in commercial, North American restaurants. There were no little bits of herbs or spices that he could see. The pasta was perfectly al dente, and obviously freshly made. The sauce was incredibly rich, creamy, and smooth. The rustic parmigiano reggiano used had a distinct, sharp taste to it that he'd never encountered. The entire mouthful literally almost melted in his mouth.
"What is IN this!" he asked, amazed.
"Pasta, butter, and cheese," Magnus replied.
He swallowed before speaking again.
She nodded. "That's it."
He shook his head again as he went for another bite.
"Incredible how a few simple ingredients, prepared properly, can be the most delicious of all?" she remarked, starting to eat her own. She couldn't help a noise escaping her throat as the taste exploded in her mouth. She hoped the soft strains of Italian aria's playing in the background would cover the noise. There was often live music, but she was glad not to have that distraction this evening.
"The only place comparable to here is the restaurant Alfredo's in Rome," she told Will. "It's been there since 1914 and was actually the birthplace of fettucini alfredo."
"Any relation to the man who runs this place?"
Magnus smiled as if he'd said a joke. He wondered if he would ever even scratch the surface of the experiences, people, and places she had been to and had.
"I suggest you not ask that question where Alfredo might hear you," she said, leaning in and whispering conspiratorially. Will itched to find out the story behind her statement but contented himself with trying out the other pasta. Once again he had no idea what the ingredients were, but he swore he would never eat anything resembling spaghetti again.
They ate in silence for a few minutes, interrupted only once by a polite waiter inquiring if everything was to their satisfaction or if they needed anything else. They both assured him everything was more than fine. The prospect of a nine course dinner had at first frightened Will, but the portions were small, and so packed with flavor that one had to eat slowly, savouring each bite.
"Now, Will," Magnus said, restarting their conversation. "Dinner at Alfredo's for a first date is setting the bar rather high."
Will tried to speak, but she kept talking.
"However, I do commend your determination to impress. I wish more men could be as upstanding as you."
Will's eyes widened, surprised at such a compliment from her.
"I do admit your style of dress doesn't always seem age-appropriate, and your taste in music could use a little refining," she continued with a grin. He smiled back, knowing the compliment was real, but also recognizing that she couldn't do with inflating his ego too much. He was rather proud of the outfit he'd put together for tonight. Dark grey slacks with dress shoes, a deep blue dress shirt and a matching grey suit jacket. He was saving the black for his night with Abby. He wondered what the blonde would wear. Magnus was wearing a deep purple dress that hugged her curves without being too tight. The neckline dipped low enough to stay demure, yet be enticing. Silver and diamond earrings sparkled at her ears, sometimes covered by the lush, wavy hair that rested easily on her shoulders and tumbled down her back. Her three inch heels had not slowed her down as they'd walked together to the restaurant.
"This all being said," Magnus continued, ignoring Will's subtle perusal of her, "I'm sure your date with Abby will go splendidly, so I won't expect you back at the Sanctuary until the next day. No later than 4 o'clock or so, shall we say?"
Will set his glass down heavily on the table as redness arose in his cheeks.
"Sure," he replied, tensely. "Great… thanks."
She smiled and reached out to touch his hand.
"There's no need to be embarrassed, Will. I'm well aware of what usually happens after an extravagant dinner date."
"Is that what happened with you and Leo?" he asked.
Magnus' face suddenly went cold.
Will flinched a bit at her tightly controlled voice.
"I'm sorry, it's just… I heard that name a few times when you were talking with Alfredo, and…" he trailed off. He hadn't meant to hit any nerves.
Magnus' face relaxed, marginally.
"No, I'm sorry Will," she replied, taking another sip of wine. "It was just an unexpected question."
Will kept silent as she deliberated whether or not she wanted to continue.
"Leonardo was the man that introduced me to this restaurant," she finally said. "He worked with me and actually found the site of the Sanctuary here. We first came here the night before I signed the deal to buy the property."
Will saw that her thoughts were suddenly elsewhere, drifting back over the decades.
"We spent at least four hours here," she said. "I felt like a child being introduced to candy. It was a revelation."
"I can certainly agree with that," Will commented, raising his glass to clink against hers.
"Afterwards we went back to the empty Sanctuary and…" she trailed off. Will was blushing again, and she didn't think it was necessary to tell him they'd made love in his office.
"We came back here several times together," she informed him. "Alfredo was very fond of him."
"I'm sensing there's a "but" here," Will said softly.
"It was a long time ago. Leo started to age."
She cut a piece of the roast duck that had arrived. She moved to raise it to her mouth, but set the fork down, sighing.
"He came down with cancer. Neurofibrosarcoma."
Will had no idea what type that was, but didn't ask her to elaborate.
Magnus took another long sip of wine. Will realized they were on their second bottle.
"He passed away in 1968. He was only 51."
Will reached out and placed his hand over hers.
"Far too young for anyone, never mind someone so brilliant," Magnus added quietly, fingering her wine glass with her free hand. "Alfredo, though, as I said, was very fond of him. He thinks bringing him up each time I come here will remind me of the happy times." She smiled, thinking of the dear old Italian man, but Will could see her eyes were bright, watery.
"It's fine Will," she said crisply, pulling her hand from underneath his and taking in a deep breath, suddenly smiling.
"The duck is getting cold," she admonished him, picking up her silverware. He got the hint that the conversation was very much over and started on this next course. As they ate, he wondered how many other places in this city she had such memories of. The Sanctuary had been here for over 60 years by now, and while he was sure she hadn't lived here the whole time, she must have strayed into the city many times during the years. He couldn't imagine what must run through her mind whenever she went for a walk, or drove about. In all the years he'd lived and worked in Old City, his most vivid memories were from the time since he'd started his tenure at the Sanctuary.
By the time the "Dolce" – the classic dessert course of such sweets as cakes and cookies arrived, enough wine had been drunk, and other conversation had, that Magnus was laughing and smiling again. She found it particularly humourous when Will tried to repeat the Italian phrases she was teaching him. He was an earnest learner, but maybe it wasn't very wise to try to teach him while his mind was cloudy with good foods, company, and wine. Will's vision was swimming a little bit, and he was glad that the coffee course was coming soon. He suddenly realized that he had just spent several hours of mostly casual, culture-filled time with Magnus. With a start he looked around at the other tables in the small, dimly lit restaurant. Everywhere he looked there were couples. One or two tables had a small, upscale looking family, but otherwise it was couples holding hands, whispering together, feeding each other delicious bites of Italian heaven. They were on a date.
"Magnus!" he nearly shouted, interrupting whatever it was she had been saying. She frowned at his loud tone, and he quieted down as he continued.
"We're on a date!" he blurted out. Her eyes widened and she straightened in her chair.
"No we are not," she protested.
"Yeah we are!" he pressed. "It's just the two of us. For hours. With lots of wine. We're on a date!"
"Will, don't be ridiculous, we both know that we're…"
"But Alfredo will think we are!" Will proclaimed, thinking back to when they'd entered the restaurant. The small man had smiled knowingly at him, and nodded his head as if in approval. "What's he going to think when I bring Abby here next week?"
"Will," she said, gathering both his hands in her own. "Trust me when I say you must pay no attention to Alfredo when it comes to romance. He is a hopeless romantic, and will think whatever he pleases no matter what we tell him."
Will looked stricken. He didn't want to be thought of like that… as a womanizer. To have anyone think that Magnus would carry on in the same fashion was unacceptable.
"I think he'll actually be quite proud of you," she told him, smirking while she popped another amaretto truffle into her mouth. As the rich, dark chocolate melted in her mouth, Will watched the play of her lips. By this time of night the restaurant was lit only by candles, and they made lovely, soft waves against her skin. Will shook his head, growling at himself in his mind, thinking of Abby. She really was an intelligent, attractive, sweet, if somewhat naive, woman. She didn't deserve to be compared to Helen Magnus. No woman alive could be fairly compared to Magnus.
"Please don't let that thought ruin the rest of the night," Magnus implored. "Let's just move on, and get to the part where you realize you're just thankful it's me paying the bill this time."
A shiver went down Will's spine at the thought of how much his date would cost.
Ah well, he thought. When else do I ever spend any of my paycheck? And it's not like I have to pay rent. It will be worth it.
He nodded and picked up a truffle of his own, raising it to her in salute before popping it into his mouth. He groaned, and she smiled.
"My god Magnus," he said, shaking his head. "I really didn't think it would be that good, but…"
"I told you so," she said smugly.
"But what about the next round?" he questioned.
"What do you mean?"
"The caffe? It's coffee!"
"Ah," she said, understanding his concerns. "Don't worry about that."
She looked over his shoulder, bobbing her head in indication and he turned around. A waiter was approaching them with a silver tray. He placed a small cup of espresso in front of Will, and a steaming cup of Earl Grey beside Magnus. The server waited to see if they needed anything else, but Magnus smiled and nodded his dismissal. He bowed slightly and walked away. She immediately picked up her cup and inhaled the fragrant aroma of her beverage.
"You have no idea how many years it took me to convince Alfredo that I wouldn't try even hiscoffee," she said as she blew some cool air over the top of her mug. The gently rising steam blew off for a moment, before the heat of the drink brought forth a new wave. Will laughed as he took a sip of his drink.
"Only you, Magnus," he said. "Only you."
Another half hour later, after their final "digestivo" of Alfredo's own Sambuca, Magnus and Will exited the restaurant. The nine, small courses over so many hours had left them pleasantly full but not stuffed. It was a perfect balance of satisfaction without having overindulged. Each course had complimented the previous so that no one taste, richness, or flavor ever overwhelmed or stayed too long. Will tripped slightly on a stray rock a few minutes into their walk home, and Magnus grabbed his arm. Their arms linked together as they helped support one another, zigging and zagging ever so slightly. Will had no fear of walking through the alleys again, knowing his luck couldn't be so bad as to be kidnapped twice in less than a week. He paused for a second. Well, maybe it could be, but he had Magnus with him this time, and as he had told the Vendetta group, there was no way anyone would take her unawares, even if she was slightly tipsy and wearing three inch heels.
The fresh air was just cool enough to be invigorating without being cold. Will offered Magnus his jacket but she declined. The pace they set was slow, a nice, leisurely walk. It was a relief to just stroll, with the amount of running and chasing they did.
"Hey Magnus," he said, breaking the comfortable silence.
"Have you ever been to Alfredo's twice in one week?"
He glanced over, and saw that her eyes had narrowed. She looked back at him with a sultry gaze.
"Yes," she replied simply. He didn't push for details.
Around 30 minutes later they arrived back at the Sanctuary, which loomed rather darkly in the night. At this hour most of the residents were asleep or hibernating. It was difficult to try and regulate the sleep patterns of so many creatures from around the world, but Magnus kept most of the nocturnal abnormals downstairs. The above ground levels functioned on a rather normal, human clock.
As the front doors closed behind them, Magnus turned to Will.
"I hope this night was instructional for you?" she asked.
"Oh, very," he assured her.
"I'm glad," she told him, truthfully. She wanted his date to go well. He deserved to have some happy normality in his life. She knew she would never achieve it, but that didn't mean the people around her shouldn't. For a brief moment she wished she was still willing to engage in relationships with her coworkers. She shut that train of thought off immediately. She hadn't done that in decades. She already had more invested in her current team than she'd had in years. None of them deserved the heartache and pain that those kinds of affairs led to. Will was a good person. He deserved his date.
Will watched the moonlight streaming in through the high windows. It highlighted the fairness of her skin as she thought, her arm still linked in his. She suddenly smiled softly, leaned in towards him, and pressed her lips lightly against his cheek. She pulled back after only a second or two.
"Abby's a lucky woman. I had a wonderful time tonight."
She walked away, off to her room. Will sighed and started towards his own.
As he went through his nighttime routine, changing, brushing his teeth, he reflected on the evening, the conversation they'd had, and the little insights he'd gained into Magnus' past. As he lay down in bed and pulled the covers up, his mind finally came to rest on the food. Had it helped her to open up? He wasn't sure. He just knew that he couldn't wait to make some more memories of his own, in that little restaurant. He grinned as he started drifting off to sleep.
It really was that good.
Well… what'd you all think! Anyone interested in a 1940's story about Leonardo/Helen? Or some of the other people she's been to Alfredo's with? Please let me know with that wee button-de-Review!
Thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed! :D MSam