A/N: Don't worry. Not a trick, just a treat! ;) Happy Halloween!
"Oh, good, Will, you're here."
Magnus got to her feet as soon as he stepped into her office. For once, she wasn't buried in paperwork, scribbling away at her desk. Instead he had found her relaxing on one of the narrow couches in her office, casually pose with a well-worn novel lying open in her lap.
Now that he could see her in the light—as opposed to the shadows that had hidden her on the roof—he could see her with an unbiased gaze. She was… healthy. Happy. Relaxed and rejuvenated—which was strange to say, considering she was 113 years older than she'd been a month ago.
As she crossed the room to meet him, he noticed a lightness in her step that spoke to her inner peace.
It was like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and the difference it made was incredible. Her features creased into a broad smile, and he couldn't help but return it with one of his own.
She took him by the hand and pulled him back towards the couch. When she pulled him down to sit next to her, he didn't put up a fight. As soon as he was settled, she retrieved a wide book from the table in front of them. She presented it to him without any sort of flourish whatsoever.
"For you," she said, her voice soft.
He took it, lifting the cover open. "What is it?" he asked, before he even really looked at it.
She smiled lightly. "A little project I've been working on…"
A non-answer if he'd ever heard one, but instead of calling her on it, he obeyed the implied instruction in her voice. He turned his attention to the gift, and lifted the blank first page.
It was a photo album.
But not just any photo album. Each page was artfully decorated with four, sometimes five pictures. Each picture was labeled with a location and a date, carefully scribed in flowing script. But it was the subject of each picture that took his breath away.
The book started with pictures of her hugely pregnant, pregnant with him, the dates mere weeks before his birthday. They showed her walking down the street, sitting in the park, shopping for baby supplies. Then, as the he delved farther into the book, he saw more people creep into the pictures.
First and foremost—he was there. As an infant, then as he grew into a toddler, into his fives, sixes, sevens… Holding his mom's hand, being held in her arms, chasing each other on the playground.
Sometimes his Dad was there, but not often. The man had always traveled, even when Will was growing up. It had always been just him and his mom, and that fact was clearly evidenced in the dozens of photos that had found a home on the expansive pages inside the album.
All of the pictures were taken at a discreet distance, using long angle lenses and the technology of the time, which meant none of them were so perfect as what they could get nowadays.
But it didn't matter.
He could see the love in his mom's eyes whenever she looked at him, the joy in her smile as she laughed at whatever antics he'd been up to. And looking at the pictures of them, he could see the adoration in his own eyes.
And he never strayed far. Even in the pictures where he was obviously daydreaming, he remained close to his mom. They were two of a kind.
His mom had loved taking pictures. There were albums still in the back of his closet filled to the brim with pictures. But those pictures were all of him. By himself, with his mother behind the camera. He had only a couple of pictures of her, staged and posed and capturing nothing more than a shallow likeness of the mother he'd adored.
He looked at Magnus in surprise, speechless. She'd settled back against the cushions, happy enough to watch him investigate each page at his own pace, a smile playing on her lips.
"Magnus…" he breathed, speechless. His jaw worked, struggling to put together something more than a few vowels. "This—this is…"
Amazing. Wonderful. Unspeakably thoughtful.
All words that were horribly insufficient.
"I took liberty, I know," she said lightly, straightening slightly. "I hope you don't mind."
"Mind? Jesus… I don't even know what to say…"
Her eyes sparkled. "You don't have to say anything," she assured him. "I'd noticed on several occasions that you didn't have many pictures of your mother."
His eyebrows lifted in helpless affirmation. "You're right. I don't."
"I couldn't change her fate, Will. No more than I could change Ashley's." He could hear the regret in her voice, the way her tone softened, deepened. As though she were apologizing for something she had no business apologizing for. "But I could change the way you remember her."
He nodded solemnly, his eyes falling back to the book that still lay open in his lap. His fingers trailed over the images, tracing the lines of his mom's face.
A warm hand covered his, a thumb rubbing gently across the back of his hand. She gave a comforting squeeze, reassuring him.
"She loved you very much, Will."
His throat tightened, and his eyes stung with sudden tears. For a long moment he remained absolutely still, not trusting himself to speak, blink, or even breathe. But then the next instant he surged towards her, wrapping her in an embrace that pulled her close.
He'd surprised her; he could tell from the she remained stiff for a brief moment. But then she relaxed, and wrapped her arms around him in return. He sucked in first one breath, then another, trying not to lose it completely.
For all his effort, his voice was still strangled with emotion, but he knew she wouldn't judge him for it. Of all people, she would understand. And she did.
She hugged him firmly, squeezing him lightly in support.
"It was my honor," she whispered back.
He hadn't done anything to earn this. He didn't deserve it. And he certainly didn't deserve a boss as phenomenal as Helen Magnus. No one else on earth would have done this for him, and not just because no one else on earth would have survived a repeated 113 years. But no one else would have thought of giving him a gift such as this.
Only Helen Magnus.
He'd doubted some of her decisions in the past. He'd openly criticized her, reacted off the cuff on situations he'd barely known anything about. But whenever he actually stopped to think, he remembered that no matter the eventual ramifications, she always made her decisions with the best of intentions.
Because, in the end, she had to make the decision that let her sleep at night. That was what the album was. It was her way of making amends— for not being able to change his life, to give his mother back to him in living form. That was why she'd given him this album.
So that she could live with the fact that she'd failed to save his mother twice.
So that she could live with herself for allowing her daughter to die. Twice.
"I'm sorry, Magnus." For everything.
She sighed against him, and she nuzzled him slightly as though she were ready to pull away. But in the end she simply hugged him closer.
"As am I," she whispered. This time, her voice was strong. She'd cried all her tears. "As am I."