Her father had bought her new boots. There was nothing, he had always said, like a good pair of boots to set your day off right – "and there was no way any girl of his was going off to Oxford without a decent pair of boots under her feet!"
She had appreciated the gesture for what it was: a nervous, yet undeniable sign of his love and pride. Her father, for all the love he had shown her in her life, was not a sentimental man. He would not, could not, wrap her up and wax poetics about her and the adventure she was about to undertake, nor would he tell her, for fear of a choked voice, how unbelievably proud he was of her for braving the unknown. No, that he could not do. But provide her with new boots? Ones that would carry her from their family home in London all the way to the hallowed halls of Oxford? That he could do.
And as she stepped out onto the cobbled street, feeling the too smooth soles of her new boots click and slide over the stones, Helen thought she had never received a more heart-felt gift.
The streets of London were busy today, the ebbing and flowing of traffic causing Helen's skirts to sway and drag with the motion pulling her ever forward. When a young boy barrelled past, his friend in fast pursuit, their movement was nearly too much for her to maintain her balance and she found John's arm wrapped securely around her waist, the boning of her corset compressing and digging gently as he pulled her to steady safety.
Looking up from the chest she was now pressed against she saw John's mischievous face looking down at her. "Are you okay, Helen dear?" he managed to ask with a near straight face.
She briefly considered pushing him away – they were in the middle of the street, after all – before deciding that their all-too-chaste morning had earned her a little leeway. She fixed him with a stern teasing expression. "Excuse me, Mister Druitt, but I believe you accompanied me on this outing to be of assistance?"
His eyes sparkled. "Am I not being helpful to you, Miss Magnus? After all, I would not want you to trip onto the street and have an injury befall you."
She gave him what her mother would have called an 'unladylike' smirk before moving away slowly, softening the blow by slipping his hand into his, their shared warmth heating the fabric of the gloves between their palms.
"Shall we continue, my love?"
Helen smiled as they walked on along the street. He was so fond of his affections: my dear, my love, sweetest. She had objected at first, thinking them to be mere jabs at Nikola's more inappropriate amorousness, or even a quiet reminder to James that, despite their friendship, Helen belonged to him alone. And Helen had not liked the idea of belonging to anyone, not even John. It had been Nigel who had set her straight, in the frank and forthright manner that was his alone, and it was with a much warmer heart that she now basked in his gentle familiarities.
Retrieving the carefully compiled list from her purse, Helen pointed out their few remaining stops to John. Her well laid out plans, however, were put aside as John – talking softly all the while – slowly guided her off her path. She soon found herself walking down one of London's more fashionable streets, its windows boasting silk and lace, the likes of which Helen's modest allowance did not allow. John however, did so like to dote and it was clear from the glee in his eyes that he had plans.
"John..." she started.
"Hush, Helen dear," he said happily, giving her hand a gentle shake.
"But John -" He ignored her with a shake of his head, leading her past the storefronts with a determined air. When they stopped, it was plain to see the excitement on his face.
They were standing in front of a large window display of women's shoes. There were leather boots and satin slippers, all arranged neatly and to their best quality within the display. Helen was surprised. It was not unusual for John to surprise her with small trinkets and fineries, despite her best efforts, but his taste usually ran to the decidedly more sparkling, far more exciting than a new pair of boots.
But then she saw.
Placed out of centre view, propped up behind a card that said 'sold' was a pair of white satin slippers. Wedding slippers. Fine embroidery laced through the satin, with small glass beads catching the light filtering past them – Helen had never seen a more beautiful pair.
John's voice had turned hesitant, "Do you like them?"
She turned and faced him, her watery smile putting him at ease. "Most people buy rings."
"Ah Helen," he whispered, wrapping his arms around her. "When have we ever been most people?"
Helen was in her thirteenth decade when she made the decision to bear Ashley to term – older than most first time mothers, to be sure, but still more than capable of chasing a toddler. After all, she had spent the far larger majority of her life chasing, studying, and cohabitating with abnormal – surely one small child would be incapable of disrupting her life in any noticeable manner.
There were no words to describe how wrong she had been. Ashley had more talent for disaster and chaos than any being Helen had ever encountered. She had considered studying her own daughter on more than one occasion – the thought had occurred to her that perhaps the combination of vampire blood from both her and John's genetics had combined to produce some unearthly child, a well-meaning hell raiser.
Today's mishap met her early in the day – which did at least eliminate the anxious anticipation that now accompanied Helen's waking state. She had simply opened her bedroom door to find evidence of Ashley's latest miscalculation. The bright red yarn stretched as far as the eye could see. From where it was wrapped twice around her door knob, the yarn weaved over the carpet all the way down the hall. There was not a single straight stretch in the lot.
Sighing, Helen followed the direction of the yarn, her eyes following the trail up and over the photo frames and welling in doorways. Stepping over a large mess of a knot at the entrance to Ashley's room, she found her daughter sitting in the centre of her bed, knitting needles flying all over the place, not a stitch to be found.
Helen had wanted to teach her daughter some of the skills her mother had taught her when she herself was young. And so, putting aside the fact that she had never been terribly fond of knitting at Ashley's age, she had sat her down and instructed her in the craft. Ashley hadn't been any more skilled than Helen herself had been, but she had, surprisingly, taken to it with gusto... which may have explained the hurricane like dispersal of yarn throughout their house.
Seeing her mother enter the room, Ashley's eyes lit up as she slipped the needles out of the very droopy loops of knitting. "Mum!"
Helen's frustration dropped in the face of Ashley's excitement to see her. The truth was that Ashley never meant harm; she just... let things get away from her.
"LOOK!" The five year old pulled her mother to the bed, scrambling up into her lap and depositing the tangle that was her knitting into her lap.
"It's beautiful, honey," Helen said, trying to discern its shape without giving away her total confusion.
"It's for you! Now you don't need to buy new slippers!"
Helen's heart melted. She had no idea how she would be fitting her feet into these 'slippers' but she knew she would be making it work somehow. She hugged her daughter tightly to her chest, the daughter she had waited for, and would not change for the world.
It was a crowded room, full of dignitaries and persons of repute; the world could be ruled or destroyed tens of times over by the titles and powers held within. They talked, negotiated, threatened and dealt, all with a shining glass in their hand.
All in all, it was a large group of people that made Will very nervous.
Despite his efforts to manoeuvre his way out of attending this function, Magnus had laid down the law and told him he was to be her escort. He had allowed the Big Guy to pick out a tux, he had endured Kate's attempts to teach him all the exits to the building for a quick get away, and he had suffered Henry's smirks and taunts that as the all-important 'tech guy' he was not required to attend black tie events. To add insult to injury, he had not even had the pleasure of actually escorting Magnus, a prior engagement resulting in her having to meet him there.
If he didn't know better he would swear she was trying to make an entrance. That or was punishing him for his lack of enthusiasm by leaving him to navigate this foreign world of politics without her by his side. But surely she would never do such a thing. Smothering his frustration, Will retrieved a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and resumed his attempts to look like he belonged.
He was halfway through his glass when the room quieted, all conversations petering out before dying out completely. Will was surprised, he didn't think there are anything that could ever make a room full of politicians ever stop talking. The sound of slow but purposeful footfalls floated through the crowd to reach his ears and he knew, without a doubt, that his boss had arrived.
Drawn to those steady footfalls, it was her shoes that he noticed first. Covered with tiny crystals, the light hit them and cast spotlights in her path. She walked tall and straight despite the thin spindle of a heel upon which she stood. They were beautiful, and elegant, and she wore them with a confidence only she possessed. She headed towards him, her added height pulling a few more centimetres over him. She gave him a smile, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
"Shall we dance?"