Author's Note: Whew, longest chapter of this fic I've ever written, but I didn't like the idea of breaking it up any farther. Also, this is the last chapter. This adventure is over, the rest left to your splendid imaginations to contemplate. Thank you all so much for taking time out of your busy schedules to read, review, and favorite/alert. It makes me feel very special and extremely grateful. Hope you enjoyed. Loves to all.
Disclaimer: I do not lay claim to anything from the show, only my own work and creations. Mostly just Dr. Telares, Dr. Gering, Dr. Marks and the accolo-nexum. Oh, and the Oolues, Serpiente insecto, and Sealatrinons, which don't actually exist, even in myth.
Survival of the Fittest
Part Eleven: Things Felt
Will watched thoughtfully from the safety of the glass. Magnus was laying on the bed they had brought into the habitat, the base surrounded by the accolo-nexum and the little one snuggled close to her chest. She looked vulnerable, yet strong, and beautiful. Without her make-up on she looked less intimidating than normal, but also harsher, like the smokiness around her eyes usually softened the lines of fatigue and worry. It had been several days since she had finally woken up. Will had spent most of those days here with her, the Big Guy sometimes coming around for company, making sure she wanted for nothing and her recovery continued. How could they not? Besides, Henry and Kate were capable of watching over the Sanctuary for a few hours a day. Thankfully, there seemed to be no new complications with Magnus' health. He didn't know how much more his heart could take. When he had arrived to see her today, she was still sleeping peacefully, and he didn't wish to wake her. So much sleep was rare for her.
They had moved her into the habitat slowly and carefully after Dr. Gering cleared her for slow, measured movements. Each of them had been conscious of Montague's hovering presence.
Luckily, Magnus was a fast healer. Walks exhausted her, but seemed to be doing her some good. Her condition was markedly improved. Even as he stood watching her, she stirred. Gingerly, she stretched her limbs a little. The little one woke too. Will started in surprise when the baby's eyes opened. They were a startling blue.
Magnus smiled at the little one, her lips spreading even wider upon seeing the open eyes. She pet the gentle fuzz that had come out over most of his body. Her face took on a gentleness, a sort of empathetic vulnerability that Will had never before witnessed on her. He added it to his growing list of new things Magnus had surprised him with over the course of this condition. If he remembered correctly, his mother had given him a similar look a few times when he was young. Just the thought made his throat close up a little, but it also filled him with a happiness free from worry such as he hadn't felt in months.
Smiling, Will stepped away from the glass. Dr. Telares seemed to have established permanent residence in the observation room, in a large chair that reclined. When Will had first questioned her, she had simply asked if he could predict when she would get another chance to observe an accolo-nexum baby's growth or the effect its presence had on the behavior of the adults. It wasn't something he could argue with, nor did he care to try. He turned away, passing through the door quietly so as not to disturb the woman's scribbling. Walking down the hall, Will could hear Dr. Gering working in the lab room. The man had been almost frantic, putting together all of Magnus' recent medical information so that when she was a bit more recovered, Dr. Marks could monitor her condition so he could finally go home to his family.
Will arrived at the habitat doors just as Magnus hobbled out. "Here." He offered her his arm and she took it without protest. "Is Montague babysitting? He can give the kid yet another tongue bath."
She chuckled lightly, walking slowly beside him. "Just so long as it doesn't need to be me. I'd rather avoid that particular responsibility. Actually, they are both sleeping still. It seems all of their schedules have reverted back to primarily nocturnal. Elder is watching Jean."
"Hmm..." The sound was noncommittal, as he didn't really know which accolo-nexum was 'Elder', not that it made much of a difference to him.
Dr. Gering stuck his head out of the lab. "Helen, I have something for you." The doctor handed over a card with bright colors scrawled all over it. "From Abella."
Magnus looked touched. "How is your daughter Elio?" She opened the card and immediately grinned. "There's a photograph."
"Ysabel's idea. Abella has grown so much since you last came to visit us."
Her expression turned chagrined. "I have let myself get too busy. You must extend my apologies."
Dr. Gering shrugged. "There is no need for them. We all understand. Abella just insisted she get to send you a get well card. According to my wife, she said it will help the two of you to get better."
"She drew a picture of a puppy." Magnus' eyes crinkled as she held it out.
Will had rarely seen her so happy.
"I am under order from both Abella and Ysabel to bring a picture of you and the little one when I return."
Magnus sobered a little. "When do you leave?"
"Not for another week. I must be sure my daughter's favorite person in the world is going to recover fully before I go." He bowed a little and returned to the lab.
They resumed their slow walking. After a few minutes of observation, Will cleared his throat. "You'll miss him. Dr. Gering, I mean."
She glanced at him, then back down at her feet. "Yes. He is a dear friend. But to stay as long as he has goes above and beyond anything I deserve."
As they finally passed outside, he gave her a look he hoped conveyed how much he disagreed with that.
Though most of her face was in shadow, Will could still see her smile a little. "I guess I have been rather selfish."
He snorted. "If letting other people look after you for once, after all you have done for them, is selfish, I think you should try it more often."
Her smile was crinkled as she rolled her eyes toward him.
"No, I mean it. You dedicate your whole life to others, so much so that you often neglect yourself. You deserve a little attention too, you know."
She gave him a look.
He decided to drop the issue while he could. She got his point, but that didn't mean she was comfortable with it and he didn't want her in distress. These walks were supposed to be good for her. Fishing around for another topic of conversation, he decided that now was as good a time as any to bring up what he'd wanted to talk about. "Jean looks like he's doing very well."
She made an assenting sound.
"But that name makes me a bit uncomfortable."
She stilled. "Oh?"
He turned to look at her, saw her frown, and held up his hands defensively. "It's just that... well, 'Jean' sounds a bit too much like 'John' to me."
One eyebrow arched toward her hairline. "Really? Well, I am sorry." She answered, not sounding sorry at all but disdainful and sarcastic. "But to me they are two very separate and distinct individuals."
"Alright, I see your point." He backtracked a little. Without meaning to, he once again was sounding, even to himself, like a complete ass. "But I just voice that so I can ask you..." He hesitated, then tried to begin again. "Hey, you did name the little guy for two Jean-Baptiste's, right?"
She gave him a look that clearly said he needed to get to the point, and quickly before she lost all patience with him.
"So, can I call him 'Jean-B'?" He finished.
"Jeanbie?" She asked incredulously, running the whole thing together.
"Yeah. It's fun, it kinda fits him. At least, while he's still a- a... puppy." He tilted his head. "Cub? Baby?"
"I believe the correct term is nexlet, but pup, or any other term, works just as well." She answered flippantly, like she wasn't really paying attention. Her expression was thoughtful. "Jeanbie." Her mouth twisted, trying the name on for size, while her head tilted. "I suppose that would be alright. Nicknames are rather important in many cultures. Usually it is used as a sign of endearment. I had a friend in the late 1960's who came up with a rather colorful one. A play on words, so to speak. Called me 'Helen heals', or as the joke, 'Hell-on-heels'."
Will couldn't help it. The second his mind caught up with what she had just said, he snorted.
Her grin returned as he nearly bent double laughing. "She was of the rather irrepressible sort."
Will was too busy to listen, laughing so hard his sides ached.
The weeks dragged by. Dr. Gering departed, a picture of Magnus and the little one tucked firmly in his jacket pocket with a short note from Magnus. If the weather held clear, he should be home for his daughter's birthday. He had presents from almost everyone for the little girl packed onto the plane with him, mostly as thank you's for loaning her father to them for so long.
Magnus was soon back at work at the Sanctuary, though her movements were restricted. Will was amazed that they had managed to keep her away for as long as they had. The woman was a complete workaholic. Everyone seemed happy when she brought the little one with her. Kate was known to peek into the office at least thrice a day to see Jeanbie, a name they had all taken to calling the baby. Even Magnus called him that more often than not.
A week after she came back, little Jeanbie was walking around, making trouble. The residents and patients of the Sanctuary normally bore the nuisance with good grace. Most were too happy to have Magnus back to care about the little shadow or his mischief.
Will's favorite incident occurred when Jeanbie was four weeks old. The little guy had just started eating food chewed and fed to him by the others in the group, his edge teeth sharpening with use. Will was on his way to shower after an overnight mission to the mountains to capture and relocate a cougar-like beast that had strayed from it's remote home in search of food. When he saw Magnus heading for the infirmary, he was about to call out to her, but stopped and almost laughed. Little Jeanbie was pattering along behind her, tongue lolling to the side, his feet far too big for him still.
Suddenly, Magnus turned about on her heel and faced the plodding little guy sternly with her fists on her hips. "No."
He whined, his ears flattening back against his head, little tufts of fur on the end quivering.
Magnus didn't appear to be swayed. "I said, no. You may be an omnivore, but you are also a predator and just because you are a baby does not mean that I am bringing you in to scare my patients. These Sealatrinons are too skittish as it is. You may go back to my office or wait for me out here." She turned and walked into the room and Will was left to watch in amazed bemusement as the little one plopped down on the ground near the door with a melancholy expression in his eyes.
Another night when Will came upon Magnus working late, he saw Jeanbie wrapped firmly in a ball around her bare feet. Her shoes sat to the side of the couch, obviously discarded for comfort. The scene was one Will knew he would never forget.
However, it was too good to last.
At 12 weeks old, Magnus began leaving Jeanbie at the lab more and more often, especially as his presence became more and more of a hindrance as he grew. It was inevitable really. Will knew Magnus wanted Jeanbie to live and grow with his own kind. However much he viewed Magnus as his mother, he wasn't a pet. As Magnus recovered, her duties slowly returned as well, piling up as they had always seemed to do, so that it was harder for her to find the time to take away.
Will found Magnus at the large glass window in the observation room of Dr. Telares' lab one early morning. It was so early, the sun was still an hour from rising. He had meant to just peek in on Magnus, maybe watch her sleep for a while if he was completely honest with himself. She seemed so much more at ease when she was sleeping. He cleared his throat a little to announce his presence, but she didn't react. Feeling apprehensive, Will joined her, his shoulder brushing hers lightly. Jeanbie's smaller feet could just barely be seen on the other side of one of the larger accolo-nexum. After watching the sleeping forms within for a few moments, Will turned slightly to observe her instead. Even with her face in shadow, he could tell she was sad. "Jeanbie- He's not coming back to the Sanctuary again, is he?" Will kept his voice low.
Magnus just gave him a sad smile and matched his whispered tone. "Did you really expect it to last?"
He shrugged. "For your sake... a little."
"I'm fine, Will."
"You always are, but being fine isn't everything. Sometimes being happy is more important." She didn't reply and Will's heart ached for her. "Why now?"
By way of an answer, she held something out for him.
He felt the thing drop softly into his hand. In the dim lighting, he could just make out its shape. "A tooth?" He questioned.
"The last of Jean's edge teeth. He has been weaned off of my milk completely over the past few days. Tonight was the last I will ever feed him."
Will tossed the tooth lightly in his hand, then handed it back. He didn't miss her hand surreptitiously slipping it into the pocket of the jacket she had on over her white top. "So... what? You're never gonna visit him again then?"
She shot him a cold look. "He doesn't need me anymore. Maybe I shall watch him play once in a while from here, if my duties allow, who can say? My presence would just disrupt his life here with his family."
"You are a part of his family."
Magnus scoffed. "Hardly."
"You're his mother."
She turned away from the view of the habitat. "Technically, he has no mother."
Will allowed his face to scrunch up in disgust at the cop out. His whisper turned fierce. "You carried him for five and a half months. You almost died just doing that, not to mention giving birth to him. Hell, you even fed him your milk! If that's not a mother, than what is?"
"Will, we aren't discussing this. It's best just to end this now." She had her back to him, but Will could still hear the tremor in her voice.
It was difficult to tell if it was anger or pain, but either way, he didn't like it. "So that's what it's come down to, huh? Leave others before they can leave you?"
She turned on him, anger and hurt warring on her face for dominance. It curled her top lip just enough to showcase a flash of her white teeth. "Don't even begin to speak as though you are fit to judge. You've no idea what you are talking about."
"I'm talking about walking away, because you're afraid of getting hurt."
"He belongs here, with his own kind!" Her voice rose to a shout.
The sound of the accolo-nexum, awake and worried could be heard, but Will barely acknowledged it. Magnus so rarely rose her voice, it was taking all his concentration to focus on what he'd been saying and keeping his own voice level. "I'm not saying that he doesn't. I'm saying he still needs your presence. Magnus, you can't just decide that it would be better to cut yourself out of his life completely. You need the connection as much as he does." He could see her jaw bunch together as she clenched her teeth.
"I'll be perfectly alright, as will he."
"You don't know that? He's still just a puppy!"
"He's old enough now to be on his own, he's capable!"
"Being capable of surviving and actually having something worth living for, are two different things!" Will let himself shout. "You should know that better than anyone, Magnus!" Breathing hard, he wanted to take the words back the moment they slipped from his mouth.
She was looking at him like she had never seen him before. Her ragged breath made her whole body shake, almost like she was on a precipice and a simple nudge would make her fall. The silence stretched on and on, seeming to echo and grow as the seconds ticked on into minutes. Finally, she broke it, her voice back to that same pained whisper. "Yes, Will, I do know. But we aren't discussing Jeanbie anymore, are we?"
He flinched. The subtext of their shouting match hadn't seemed obvious till a few seconds before, when it was too late to change the course of their words and their meaning. He closed his eyes and breathed out sharply. "We were supposed to be."
She looked away off to the side. The dull light glimmered on the tears hovering in her vision.
At last, he realized it was his turn to break the silence between them before it widened into a chasm too massive to span. He decided to cut to the heart of the direction this conversation had taken. "Just because I could do well enough taking over for you, does not mean that I will ever stop needing you, Magnus."
This time, she flinched.
"You can't just disconnect, however much you want to. I can't do this on my own, especially knowing you could be with me if you wanted." She didn't react to that at all, so he pressed on. "Jeanbie... he loves you. His face and eyes light up every time he sees you."
"I just did it so that he would survive." Magnus answered tightly.
Will tilted his head. "Like you did for me?"
That got her to look at him. Even though she still had a scowl planted over her features, at least it was some progress. "What are you talking about?"
"You brought me to the Sanctuary to save me. To make sure I wasn't squandering my gifts, to give me a reason to keep going. Something to live for. Maybe you didn't expect us all to be a family. Maybe you even hoped that wouldn't happen. Just like with Jeanbie. You never expected to become a part of that family." He gestured off to the side at the glass where several pairs of green eyes and one set of blue were watching them closely. "But you did. And now that you're in, you can't just quit. You can't say stuff like, "They'll be fine without me" and just leave! That's not the way families work."
"I never asked to be a part of a family!"
Holding Magnus' gaze had just risen from difficult to downright painful for him. The knot in his throat he had been struggling to speak around had traveled down into his chest and expanded to fill the cavity.
Her shaking had increased and when she spoke, her voice cracked a little. "Ashley was my family. James was my family. My mother and father, Nikola, Nigel," She took a deep breath. "John. They were my family. And yet still, they got to leave. They got to leave me behind, alone." A tear slipped slowly down the outside of her cheek. "Jeanbie's lifespan is only 30 or 40 years, at best. Every day I spend with him means it will be that much harder to survive losing him." Her voice was rising again. "You cannot imagine how much that hurts. How slow and cruel and agonizing it is to watch those you care for most slip from your presence like endless sand through a bottomless hourglass!" She was now shouting, quivering with fury, glaring at him with such a depth of rage and pain, he felt overwhelmed. "Nor can you comprehend how hard it is to endure again and again, lifetime after lifetime, knowing you will continue on unchanged and so wretchedly alone you would welcome the shadow of death to steal over you!"
"So tell me, Will, what you would have me do? What?"
He couldn't find his voice; he couldn't breath. Instead, his body reacted for him and his hand snaked out to clasp around her wrist, hard.
She tried to fling him off, but he held tight. Her fiery eyes met his. "Let. Me. Go."
He swallowed nervously, sensing the threat in her voice, but still shook his head.
"Will, I said 'let me go'. Now." Her voice had dropped lower and Will felt his gut twist in fear.
Finally, though, his voice returned. "Never." She tried again to pull herself free, but his hand had locked in place. In all honesty, he couldn't remove it even if he wanted to.
"Will!" She gripped his thumb, prepared to remove him with force.
"I said, 'never' and I meant it." He wasn't sure if it was his broken voice or his actual words that made her pause, but he wasn't about to waste the opportunity. "You mean too much to all of us, Magnus. Maybe it isn't fair. Maybe your life has been a hell no one else could possibly imagine. One that no one deserves, least of all you. But you can't make me regret the fact that your longevity gives me the chance to know you. To work beside you; one of the greatest doctors in history! To be your friend."
Her blue eyes were locked with his.
"You can't ever make me regret that I get to stand with you through all of this. That I'm the one you trust with your work, your secrets, your life. That is precious to me. You are precious; to all of us. I won't let you throw away everything that matters to you. I won't let you isolate yourself because you're afraid." He pulled her closer to the glass, so that she could see the accolo-nexum trying to be sure she was all right and for some reason, she let him. "People can't stop living, can't stop loving and fighting and being, even when they get tired. Even when they have every right to want to give up. Survival isn't enough, and I won't let you give up."
Seemingly unconscious of the movement, Magnus lifted her hand to the glass. Both Montague and Jeanbie licked it happily.
For a moment, Will let his words sink in. Then he put a hand on her shoulder.
She looked at it, blinking hard and rapidly.
"You told me to never stop pushing you and I never will. Even when you don't want me to."
Her eyes closed and another tear skimmed down her cheek in the path of the first.
"I'll talk to the Big Guy, Henry, and Kate. We'll all pitch in, make sure you get to come here at least once a week, maybe twice, no matter how busy things get. And that's actually going inside, not just watching from here."
She shook her head. "Are you actually encouraging me to expose myself to a potentially dangerous abnormal?" Her voice sounded thick, but teasing too.
He wanted to shout for joy, or maybe kiss her, he wasn't quite sure, but instead settled for grinning at her cheekily. "Monty and I have an understanding. I ditch the worry and accept that these guys don't hurt family, and he restrains from showing me that I am not included in that group. With his teeth."
Magnus laughed. It was a full belly, tilting her face toward the ceiling, laugh. If it sounded a little bereaved and slightly manic, more like a sob than a laugh; well, there was only Will, the accolo-nexum, and a quiet Dr. Telares slipping from the doorway to notice. The rest of the world would remain oblivious.