A/N: I know, I know, it's not Stargate or NCIS, and thus shouldn't be posted until I finish one of the others. But it refused to leave me alone, so I had to get it out of my system. It'll be a short little three-shot, don't worry. Nothing epic. :)
When Addison had gone and Erica comfortable in Henry's arms, Will was surprised to find that Magnus had disappeared. He checked her office, the infirmary, even the Shoe, in case she was getting contemplative over their newest, non-consenting guest. He knew she didn't really like the idea of the Sanctuary being a prison—it was a slippery slope, and they both knew it.
But she wasn't anywhere he could think of. Her study was empty, Biggie hadn't seen her, and her lab was dark. On a whim, he even checked the old chapel, in case she'd had the urge to… pray, or something. Meditate.
As soon as the thought occurred to him, he felt like smacking himself upside the head. Of course.
Magnus didn't meditate in the chapel. No… she went up for that. He took the stairs to the roof two at a time, suddenly sure that this was where she was. And true enough, he opened the door to find Magnus perched on the parapet, looking out over the wide expanse of the City stretching out in front of her.
For the past month, he'd been ribbing her for hanging out on a mountain somewhere, getting her inner peace on. And more than once he'd pointed out that she must've gone crazy, for a woman who could barely stand to take a long weekend every seven years.
But looking at her now, with her heavy features and burdened shoulders, he realized it hadn't been quite so simple.
There were layers to the situation, more than he could ever fathom; just like Magnus herself. She'd never had any qualms about admitting her mistakes—and it'd never been secret that she considered quite a few of her decisions to be wrong in the long run.
Which meant she'd had to sit on her hands for 113 years, letting herself make all the same mistakes, every wrong decision she wished she could change, all for the sake of preserving the timeline. It must've gotten to her.
And it had. He could read it in her eyes, when she turned to look at him.
"Will…" Her voice was strained—almost shaking. Her eyes were bright, and he knew that he'd interrupted… something.
"Hey," he returned softly. "You okay?"
Her gaze dropped, but her head nodded minutely. "Fine."
Setting himself down on the parapet next to her, he looked out over the city with false interest. His focus remained on the quiet woman beside him.
"It's weird being home, isn't it?" he asked carefully.
To be honest, he was still trying to wrap his brain around it. She'd only been missing for a few hours his time. But she'd spent more than a century years in seclusion. Now she was home, trying to pick up where she'd left off, despite the decades between.
Magnus huffed lightly, her breath misting in the cool night air. Her eyes lifted to search the stars, sparkling in the pale light of the moon. "More than I thought it'd be," she admitted reluctantly. "Everything's the same, and yet—" She sighed. at the same time—everything's changed."
Will wasn't sure what to say. What could he say? Countless clichés ran through his mind—time heals all wounds, time flies when having fun, all in due time… But none were even close to appropriate. In the end, he settled for sliding a discreet arm around her, maneuvering him closer to where she sat.
He didn't miss the way she stiffened under his touch, or the way her breath hitched ever so slightly. But instead of pulling away, he scooted even closer towards her, until her hand pressed against the side of his chest, keeping him away.
"This is terribly inappropriate, Will," she hedged nervously, taking it upon herself to maintain the distance between them.
But Will stubbornly refused to relinquish his grip, and his arm remained across her shoulders.
"Yeah," he agreed lightly, looking at her sideways, "maybe." His head tilted to the side in mock concession. "It might be, if—you know— this was a normal workplace, and you were a normal boss, and I was a normal employee." He paused for dramatic effect. "And if, of course, you hadn't just spent the past century or so isolated from everyone and everything you knew…"
She didn't say anything, but her shoulders tightened even more, betraying the truth of his words.
"When was the last time you let someone do this?" he asked, looking at her profile, which stared passively out across the view. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing it's been, what? A hundred and thirteen years and some change?"
Her head bowed, exhaling heavily. A long moment passed, and then, finally, her head bent to rest against his shoulder. It was as if a dam had been broken—all of a sudden he could feel the chill of unspeakable loneliness, the burden of guilt.
It was all hers, though she didn't say a word.
Will hated time.
It messed with his head, even if he didn't try to figure it out. And if he did think too hard about it, it threatened to make his explode. He didn't know how it worked, and just the months he'd spent in Carentan with her had done a number on him.
He couldn't even fathom a century of it.
"I'm sorry you had to go through that alone, Magnus." Nobody should have had to go through that, period. But the fact of the matter was, she was the only person on the planet who could do so, and survive to tell the tale.
What amazed him the most was that she had survived relatively whole. He knew the effect isolation had on the psyche. It left people neurotic, paranoid—hallucinating. There was a reason it was used as a method of interrogation, and also as punishment.
It made him wonder, if maybe…
"I wasn't alone," she whispered, her voice shaking.
Will blinked, mildly surprised that she had somehow followed his internal musings. "What do you mean?"
"James kept detailed records of the happenings across the globe. Whether it was Sanctuary business or not, he made a note of it as best he could," she explained, her head still leaning back against him. Only her fidgeting fingers betrayed her anxiousness. "And then once every ten years, he personally delivered his journals to me, let me read them."
"So you could know for sure nothing had changed," Will supplied. Magnus nodded. "And did anything change?"
She sniffed, clearing her voice of the emotion that had thickened it at the mention of her oldest friend. Will's heart went out to her—in the end, she'd lost Watson twice. He wondered if she'd known the exact date, and realized that her friend would no longer come to visit.
"It's impossible that something hasn't changed. Unless, of course, our own timeline was already affected."
"Already affected…?" Will groaned with a shake of his head. "This is going to give me headache, isn't it?"
"Think about it, Will," she said, straightening and turning to face him. He recognized the spark in her eye—she was in teacher mode. "I had to wait 113 years for me to enter Adam's portal before I could return to the Sanctuary. It puts our world into a continuous loop, and therefore it is entirely likely I was not the first Helen Magnus to travel back in time. Which means that the world I knew, the one I was trying to preserve, might have already had been affected by a Helen Magnus lurking in seclusion, as I was."
Will considered it for a moment, then nodded very slowly… he wasn't sure he understood completely. "I suppose that makes sense. Kind of…"
Her gaze fell to her lap, where her hands twisted themselves worriedly. He noticed the motion for what it was—113 years had done a number on her ability to hide her emotions, it seemed. She had something to tell him, and she wasn't sure how he would handle it.
He immediately braced himself, dead set on not reacting like he had when she'd told him the truth about Adam. Whatever it was, she didn't need judgment—she needed support. She needed a friend, when for a century she hadn't had anything more than once-a-decade visits from James Watson.
"I have a confession to make, Will." Her voice was husky with nervous energy, uncertain guilt clouding her features. But he let her continue, knowing better than to interrupt. "The closer I got to the end, to the point when I could return, I— I wasn't exactly as… isolated as I should have been."
For a long moment, the only sound heard was the whisper of wind scraping across the rooftop.
"By then—" Her voice caught painfully, but she powered through it. "By then even the smallest changes I might have made in 1898 would have had massive repercussions, and… I kept thinking of everything that might have gone wrong since James' last visit—"
She sucked in a deep, steadying breath.
"I had to be sure."
Will swallowed thickly. He wasn't sure what was coming, but her pain was tangible, and he could feel it as sharply as if it was his own.
"So you checked up on us," he guessed softly. "You made sure things were right." When she nodded, he nodded back. "And they were?"
For the first time, he wondered whether this really was the future she had waited for. If he was the same person she had known. Indescribable relief flooded him when her head bobbed in affirmation.
"That's good… right?"
A choked sob escaped her, sounding almost like a cough—but he knew better. Tears gleamed down her cheeks in the moonlight, and her shoulders trembled. Her hair fell across her features, hiding her from his view, but her anguish filled the air with a palpable tension.
"I saw her, Will," she whispered. "I shouldn't have, I know that. I do, I just—I couldn't suffer all that loneliness and not see her one last time, and…" Her fingers clenched into fists in her lap. "I wanted to save her, Will. I came so close to just sweeping her up and spiriting her away, and I—"
She cut herself abruptly, as though ashamed of her weakness. He didn't know what she expected him to say—blow up, probably, spouting the virtues of the time-space continuum. But there was no way in hell he could ever fault her for this.
His arm snaked around her again, and this time she turned into him willingly. Her arms wrapped around him, embracing him with a strangled, wordless moan. Her chin rested over his shoulder, and when he heard a sniff issue from somewhere below his ear, his heart broke for her.
His eyes closed, as though it might shut out the trembling of her shoulders or her shuddering breaths. It didn't.
"Why?" he asked softly. "Why do that to yourself?"
She pulled away, and he was suddenly afraid he'd said the wrong thing. "I needed to. I needed closure—I had to say good-bye. I never got a chance, and when it fell into my lap I—I just couldn't—"
"You're right," he said, desperate to ease the anguish that poured from her in waves. He put a hand on her shoulder, steadying her. "I get it, I'm sorry. It's just—"
He wasn't used to seeing her hurt so much. And to see her so vulnerable… it unnerved him. But he couldn't tell her that, and he had no idea what to say that wouldn't sound false in the face of so much emotion.
"I left the country," she continued, her voice husky—flat. "When the time came, I— I couldn't be close. Not then. I couldn't watch it happen again…"
"I know. It's okay, Magnus…" He took her hand, covering it with his. "The important thing is that it helped you." He looked her in the eye. "Did it?"
There was a long beat of silence, and then her eyes closed. Her head nodded slowly, and peace stole over her features. She exhaled gently. "I think it did."
"Good," Will deemed. When she didn't meet his gaze, he ducked his head. "Look at me."
Blue eyes tracked to his, and he held them unwaveringly.
"If there is one good thing that came out of all this, then you hold onto that. Forget everything else, you hear me? Hold onto that one good thing."
She didn't respond for a long minute. But just when he thought she might burst into tears, her features softened, and her lips curled into a tremulous smile. Her hand—chilled, but welcome—cupped his jaw, and she leaned in to press a kiss to his cheek. It affection was tender, and when she pulled back her eyes glowed with warmth instead of tears.
"I missed you too, Will."
The confession was, and before he had a chance to respond, she continued.
"Come to my office later," she instructed him firmly. "I have a gift for you."
His intrigue was instantly sparked, but before he could ask any questions she was gone, gliding away with her mask of zen in place, only this time, the zen didn't seem forced. This time, her peace was an honest one.
Her smile was small but clear, devoid of the mysticism that had plagued it for the past month. Maybe it was because she had lightened her burden just that slightest bit, or maybe because she was able to share the truth of that peace to one person whose opinion she cared about.
Will didn't know. He honestly didn't care.
All that mattered was that she'd smiled at all.