Toast of Forgiveness
April 25, 2012 5:26 pm EST: A small café in New York City, occasionally visited by one Helen Magnus, and now to make up for one long-overdue supper date. Second in the "Toasts" collection.
Rated K+ for a teensy bit of language.
Disclaimer: Come on, we all know that if I owned Sanctuary, Teslen would be the sub-plot to the series.
A/N: Yay! Finally shippiness! I have to say that I much prefer this one to the previous one, and I rather liked "Friendship". This one certainly has, IMHO, much better Teslen-banter.
Dedicated to my new friends on the GW Teslen thread; you guys are awesome and awfully welcoming to my newbie self.
A hundred years later, and nothing had changed. He was still staring at her.
Nothing, really, was an oversimplification of the situation. Everything had changed, and yet, in this café that didn't look at all the same, on a different side of the park which had become little more than a few trees, a lot of grass, and a small patio, in a completely new century, for goodness' sake, things were more or less the same as they had been a hundred years ago.
Helen Magnus was sitting across from Nikola Tesla, who had taken her out to dinner to make her feel better about the loss of someone she loved that was so weighing her down, even after it should have been a wound dulled to time.
But there were certain things, like losing your only child after she had been mind-controlled by your enemy, or finding out that your husband was Jack the Ripper, that weren't exactly easy to get over. Not, of course, that Nikola minded too terribly; after all, this was his oldest friend in front of him, and he would do whatever it took to make her feel better.
And, how could he forget? She was the one who had asked him on this date.
"You know, it's customary to give your date flowers," he teased while they waited for someone to take their order.
"It's not a date," she replied tartly.
Nikola grinned at her widely. "Oh, but I distinctly remember it. You, me, a bottle of wine, and a certain insistent demand that I make up the date – which, if I remember correctly, you ran out on."
Helen's only response was a glare, although it suddenly changed into a rather mischievous smile as his words sparked a memory. "You can't forget the loaf of bread for the pigeons that never showed."
It was now his turn to glare, although she couldn't say that she minded all too terribly if she was being honest with herself, because he was really rather attractive when he pouted.
He was more than capable of recognising the personal berating that followed, if only because he knew her so intimately from so many interactions. "Your dirty thoughts are showing, Helen," he teased.
She blushed and then promptly berated herself for blushing at one of the comments she could have expected from him, while the twice-turned vampire simply laughed and noted how much more appealing she was with the innocent red flush on her cheeks.
A waiter finally arrived to inquired after their drinks. Helen let Nikola order the wine – as if she would have had a choice in the matter – and, when it was her turn to speak to the waiter, chose to hand him a small slip of paper she kept hidden from the view of her date.
When the waiter frowned in confusion, Nikola's interest only spiked drastically. Although the waiter assured his guest that he would be able to find something to fit her needs, her date could only speculate as to what those needs actually were, and of course, being who he was, he could only be satisfied with the most inappropriate answers his own rather twisted mind could come up with.
"Don't look at me like that," she snapped.
"How else would you like me to look at you, but with my eyes?"
Her responding sigh was rather more exasperation than sigh. Just then, their waiter returned, a confused if somewhat intrigued expression on his face, with a small soup pot maybe six inches in diameter and eight inches tall and, judging by the sloshing sound coming from it, half full of water.
Nikola was staring at it as though it was the strangest thing he had ever seen, which, considering he was a half-vampire inventor who had created things even Helen Magnus couldn't dream of, was certainly saying something significant. Meanwhile, she was watching his expression and had decided that the look of utter confusion on his face was the cutest thing she had ever seen. But, before he could spare a thought to bother her about the bemused look on her face, she spoke up. "Close your eyes," she ordered.
He frowned, and his eyes searched her face for some indication of what she was planning but couldn't find any ground to go on.
"What, don't you trust me?" she asked with a teasing smile.
Although he followed her directions, he didn't do so passively. "Helen, you could be planning all sorts of awfully inappropriate things now that we're away from the children."
She let out a breath of air in a "pfft" of indignation, or she tried to; the sound that escaped her lips was more like a breathy sigh, something which could never have escaped the vampire's notice, even when he was, temporarily, human.
Reaching into its secret hiding place, she removed the surprise she had brought for her old friend and placed them into the bucket of water. He began to question her on this part of the development, before her order came to open his eyes again.
Half a dozen large roses, two each of white, yellow, and red, leaned gracefully out of their makeshift vase. For a moment, his expression was mystified, caught in some indescribable place between a schoolboy's amazement and a lover's expectance that she should give him the most well-known symbol of love. "You brought me roses," he said incredulously, plucking one of the brilliantly red flowers from the bouquet, for a short moment remaining lost in simplicity of admiring the gift. However, when he finally remembered his usual demeanour, he added, "And red ones, too," with a cheeky grin. "Has someone finally come to the realisation that she's been too long without a proper lover?"
"Nikola," she said warningly, but anyone would have known that her heart wasn't in it. Not when so simple a gift brought such abounding joy to his eyes – and for once, she found herself thinking, without an inappropriate comment or coming near to destroying something priceless.
Suddenly, the waiter arrived with their wine, and two glasses, which he poured for them into two fine glasses. "That is a beautiful bouquet," he said smartly to Helen. "It's certainly the most unusual use that pot has ever been put to."
She smiled at him and out of the corner of her eye noticed the jealous look Nikola gave the waiter. "It makes a wonderful vase. Thank you for getting it for me."
"My pleasure," he answered. He took their food orders before disappearing once more and leaving the diners to one another's company.
They sat in silence together, not uncomfortable, but after the interruption unsure how to return to their conversation, which would require skipping half of their usual banter. However, thanks to the genius at his disposal, no doubt, Nikola came up with a plan to break the silence.
He carefully removed one of the white roses. Making eye contact with Helen, he said, "She loves me not," brandishing the white rose as if it were proof. After this rose was placed on the table, he selected a yellow and told his date, "She loves me." This was followed by a red, and, "She loves me not." The other white: "She loves me." Another yellow: "She loves me not." The final red: "She loves me!"
His last phrase was joined by a grin, and infectious as his moods could be, Helen couldn't help her own lips from spreading into a grin. "You're doing it wrong," she pointed out, but lightly, with none of her earlier exasperation leaking through.
"Oh, yes, you're right," he agreed. With a smooth movement, he scooped up all of the flowers and returned them to their makeshift vase. Plucking one from the group at random, he informed her, "She loves me." Another chosen with as little care was also used to prove, "She loves me."
She reached across the table and smacked his shoulder, but her smile hadn't wavered.
"Hey! I wasn't finished yet!" He continued the process of randomly choosing roses and using them to prove her love. His final choice was a red rose, which he handed back to her rather than laying it on the table with the others. "Well, my dear Helen, by a vote of two to zero, it appears that you love me."
"Cheeky bugger," she replied.
They sat grinning at each other for some Helen decided that she had better make sure that Nikola understood the true intention behind her gift, and not the one he chose to impose upon it. "You do know the meaning of these flowers?" she asked.
If he were any other man, she would have laughed herself silly at the insulted expression on his face. As it was, the expression was one she saw quite frequently: whenever she asked him if he understood anything related to whatever the Sanctuary's latest technological project was.
He whipped one of the white roses out of the pile on the table and presented it with the exaggerated flourish he reserved for his prized new creations. "White," he said. "The colour of innocence. I have no idea what this is doing in bouquet for me."
"Ego, Nikola," she reprimanded, but like so much of her attempts to restrain him tonight, the effort was half-hearted at best, and was accompanied by a restrained smile.
"Though I suppose truth is also associated with the colour white, but that doesn't make it any less silly of a symbol to give to me." He placed this rose gently back in the vase of sorts, before selecting one of the yellow roses and brandishing it with the same flair as before. "Yellow. The colour of happiness, certainly, and friendship, I believe, or something like that."
She shook her head slightly, biting back the quips that were forming in her mind. How exactly was she supposed to tell the vampire in front of her that she was here because his friendship mattered to her, when all he could see in her actions was a secret desire for him to bed her?
"And, of course, red," he said with a low emphasis, waving the rose with an even more ridiculous flourish and flair. "The colour of love, and passion, and desire," he continued, pouring each of those emotions into his words and his over-exaggerated hand-gestures as he said them.
"And respect," Helen added. As he was putting the remaining roses back into their vase, he waved her foolish suggestion off as if it were nothing. She simply rolled her eyes, waited until he had returned the flowers to the water, and then asked, "But altogether?"
He looked stumped for a moment, as if it hadn't occurred to him that a combination of colours could have their own sort of meaning. She smiled, privately, the little self-satisfied smile of someone who had stumped a self-proclaimed genius.
"Bonding and harmony," she explained.
By the look on her face following this gentle explanation, she found Nikola's expression completely unreadable. And it wasn't just blank; he knew she could read through his emotionless mask when it cropped up. It was an expression completely unknown to her, and he couldn't say he knew what it was all too clearly himself. It was something like shock, and amazement, and happiness and joy and regret and confusion all mixed up into one strong, conflicting emotional battlefield that even the brilliance of Nikola Tesla couldn't assign a name to.
He was stuck in this expression for so long that Helen began to worry that she had said or done something wrong, that she had come too close to professing her love for him, that she had come too close to being romantic in the way she was telling him she loved him like all of the Five had done all those years ago at Oxford, that she was, a secret part of her mind worried, ruining her chances at telling him how she really felt.
"Nikola," she began, the concern in her voice and her eyes overwhelming the confusion he had seen there not all that long ago.
And then he recognised it. The irrational, self-destructive impulse disguised as joy. He opened his mouth to say her name, ready to pour out the beauty and poetry and sincerity this crappy emotion made him feel, yet she stopped him before he could speak.
"I'm sorry," she said.
There was more she wanted to say, more she meant to say, more she had to say; they both knew it, but they pretended they didn't. They didn't need to announce that she was apologising for something he had wanted from her since the moment they met. They didn't call attention to the fact that they both knew that what was left unsaid could have made them so much happier a century ago. They simply continued, out of habit, what they had been doing for so long it was second nature: avoiding mentioning anything close to what they really meant, while still making it blatantly obvious for the other party.
"A toast," proposed the vampire, raising his glass. "To forgiveness."
With a gentle nod, Helen raised her glass to his.
"May it forever taint our immortal souls."
She smiled wryly as she sipped the wine through pursed lips, and rather more than a small part of her hoped that the forever his words promised would include more moments like this one.