Disclaimer: I do not own Santuary. Or Valentine's Day.
A/N: This was a challenge presented by Sonea27. She wanted a Valentine's Day fiction with Magnitt levels, and so here is a response to said challenge.
This setting will take place in my Almond Wafer's alternate universe. Simply because, canon-wise, there is a significant lack of even Magnitt flirtations, and thus I will be tangling with my muses in an alternate reality. Helen Magnus is young here, early 20's and John in his mid-20's. So yes, she is in her Oxford years along with John. Basically they are in their dating/fledgling relationship stage.
Also, special thanks to Steph-Schell for helping me muddle through by brain farts.
The air held a distinct scent of rain, much like the light tinge of grass that permeated the air with a refreshing dose of healthy earth. Helen Magnus leaned against the white French window overlooking the Pompidou Centre. In the distance she could see the Notre Dame Cathedral with its gothic prestige amongst its nearly modern neighbors. Though it was not her first time visiting this city, Helen felt as if she were observing the familiar locale with fresh eyes. Perhaps, it was the added sensation of romanticism that seemed to engulf the streets and her people, especially considering the day that neared with each passing hour.
It certainly was difficult to overlook.
John and she had been here for two days and Helen found herself still transfixed by the sight of the Notre Dame. Although only a scant few inches to the left of her view was the distant yet still prominent display of the Eiffel Tower, Helen remained with her gaze fixed on the gothic architecture. She could not face the majestic symbol of love, not yet.
The hotel, the Villa Mazarin, which he had acquired without her knowledge was quaint but impressively beautiful. The rich royal blue of the wall contrasted well with the white wooden bed along with the matching nightstands. The room gave the airs of luxury but humbled with such a cozy simplistic structure that one was not left drowning in the feeling of stiff upper-class-ness.
The chosen location was stereotypical, to say the least, but John had reassured her that the choice of their stay was nothing more than mere coincidence with the allocated date. Their trip to Paris was work-related for John. The law firm in which he was currently working part-time at had sent him to review the living will of one of their more prestigious clients. They expected him to review every minute detail and report back upon the woman's considerable assets so the current will could be revised to negate any future possible legal actions.
In the two months they had spent in each other's company, Helen had found a sense of freedom she could never capture with any of her former prospects. John's vigor filled her with an energy she never knew she had possessed. A simple act such as walking hand-in-hand along a park became an adventure of seeking various shortcuts within the streets. A last-minute lunch date turned into a wonderful exploration of the local areas for delicious homemade meals. Everything John introduced to her was new, nearly always bursting with this mystery that needed to be unraveled.
Moreover, John challenged her. She had been taught to respect and trust in her father's judgment and followed every word he had ever spoken. Despite her personal desires to follow a different path, the automatic response she had when faced with her father's possible disappointment was to always do what would please him the most.
Since she had begun this relationship with John, Helen began to question her own choices - questioned them only because he had questioned them. He had seen her passion for art, the difficulty she faced when she had to turn her attentions away from that passion and return to the linguistic rationality of her medical texts. She had been unhappy. The topic had been difficult to broach on his end, she was sure. But he didn't run from her temper.
He never walked away. He never grew irritated at her obstinacy and rage; rather he provoked them. He encouraged her display of raw emotions; and seeing it unfold before him seemed to be a hidden pleasure. And after every burst, every vulgar word, every draining expression of frustration, he was there to offer his arms. His embrace and comforting words deactivated her fury no matter the level of wrath she displayed.
She recalled a time nearly a month ago, when John had convinced her to slip away from her father's careful eye and brought her to a warehouse along the outskirts of London. She had been scared, but the reassuring pressure of his hand upon hers drained most of the fear. He had turned on the lights and she was surrounded by various vases and pots that were haphazardly disfigured. He had handed her a cricket bat and had urged her to vent her frustrations on the pottery. Never had she felt so alive. As a reminder of that moment, Helen had collected various pieces of broken shards in various shades and created a framed collage. She had given it to John as a thank you.
When she had visited his apartment for the first time, she found her artistic work displayed in the entrance hallway to his apartment. It was literally the first sight a guest was introduced too when entering.
"I enjoyed the idea of coming home and seeing a form of you here first as I enter," he had said.
She had enjoyed her time. Repressing emotions were dangerous, and it was the path she had travelled more often than naught.
For once, in her entire life, she felt young and vibrant. For the first time in years, she felt content and fulfilled.
The sound of the door opening brought a tickle of a smile to her mouth as she turned her gaze from Notre Dame to look at John Druitt. His wear was formal. A pressed and tailored navy blue suit, crisp linen shirt, and subdued golden tie, created a breathtaking image of professionalism. Paired with flashing sapphire eyes, closely trimmed jet black hair, and well maintained and trimmed goatee, John gave the look of a professional barrister rather than a part-time paralegal and university student.
"Bonsoir," she greeted.
"Bonsoir mademoiselle," he greeted in return, pausing only to give a courteous dip at the waist, "J'espère que votre journée s'est bien passée?"
She had only learned French in passing, her father having held a level of distaste for the country and thus robbed her of learning the language properly. It was yet another layer to coat the ever growing connection between John and her. He urged her to lavish in the culture of Paris and introduce her to the subtle appeal of French. He offered his knowledge of the language, helping her in both pronunciation and enunciation. And through it all, there remained that underlying feeling of eroticism. His voice, magnificent as it was with the English accent, regained a rich and sensational tenor when he spoke French.
"Il a très bien."
"Parfait. Si vous voulez manger avec moi ce soir?"
Another tug of a smile on her lips, "I would like that."
A charming smile broke the stern angles of his face as he approached her seated form. With a gentleness that she had come to associate only with him, he lifted her hand and kissed the center of her warm palm.
Helen felt her heart clench at the sight.
Drinking in the sights with renewed vision, Helen savored the wonders of the city with a liberated energy. Obvious attempts at exaggerated romanticism could be seen by various restaurants for the imminent Valentine's Day. Anywhere else, such superfluous notions would only incite annoyance, but this was Paris, where nothing could be overexerted.
As they strolled, the chords of La Vie En Rose followed. She found herself lost in the beautiful melody. Although the song, she knew, was played constantly for the sake of tourists, Helen could not help but appreciate the simplistic harmony of the song. It was the first song she had heard upon entering Paris and it ignited a desire to reacquaint herself with the familiar city and its rich culture and history.
Here, walking the streets with her John, Helen felt distanced enough from her old life to ignore the gnawing claws of inevitability and frustration. The late nights of studying, the hour long tasks of preparing notes – all an isolated dream. Here, with her John, they were intangible. Nothing but a mere myth that held no place in her life.
Droplets of rain scattered the ground; nothing to hinder their progress to his choice of restaurant, but enough to make her feel this bubble of insanity within her chest. Breaking from the light hold on his arm, Helen pranced ahead of him; her steps light like a ballerina's as she twirled in the gentle shower. Laughter spilled from her mouth like the peals of a bell.
She knew it was silly, knew that onlookers would stare at her display and shake their heads while muttering a rude comment regarding foreigners. She could not bring herself to care. The reservations she held while in London had no hold over her in Paris. There were no responsibilities or expectations of her due to her name and affiliations. She was merely Helen here. Still laughing, she twirled to face John, the carefree smile on her lips shining like a beacon. And there she found him, still and poised.
His eyes had locked fully on hers, not reacting to movement. Those sapphire eyes were observant, his form quiet. She had often caught him staring at her, unrestrained in his display of emotions through his eyes. It was as if he feared that she would disappear entirely if he blinked. There were moments where she could feel his imploring gaze upon her, an impression she felt even after his eyes fluttered and looked away.
It was her artist's eyes that reacted to the sight. She had grown to enjoy suspensions in time; it was a counterpoint to the hasty speed of her usual life. Taking time to savor the richness of a moment was a pleasure she had never fully indulged. Perhaps, on some level, she expected the calm to never last.
John stood there, his bearing straight, his face kind, and his eyes blazing with something she could not identify. Helen could see the crystalline drops of water in his short hair, see them clinging to the sides of his face and overcoat. In that brief moment, she felt a rush of need to paint the scene so splendidly displayed. To capture this moment, the way he stood before her now, in an eternity of pigments and binders.
He reached for her then, long limb stretching for her own. Strong fingers curling around her smaller hand and together they walked with the sounds of La Vie En Rose floating in their wake.
The Bistrot du Dome was a quaint restaurant in Montparnasse. The food was fresh and delicious, the atmosphere subtle. There was no excessive display for the coming Valentine's Day, the décor neutral with just a hint of romantic flair.
They ate with snippets of conversation. One thing she enjoyed in John's company was the natural ease she felt around him. It was rare for either to feel the strains of awkwardness when silence floated between them. The level of comfort always allayed those natural fears.
She watched his face as he spoke, regaling her with the tale of how he had found this restaurant years ago. She learned, from their short experience together, he enjoyed using his body to emphasize points in his recollections. However, his face held all the emphasis she needed. Whether it was a slant of his brow when he spoke of an argument, the quirk of his lips when he recalled a joke, or that shy twist of his head when he revealed embarrassing memories, Helen only ever needed to look at his face to be enraptured by the descriptions he weaved.
Weeks of reflection, of intimacy and exchanges of secrets had led Helen to several conclusions. She knew she loved him, there was no questioning that, and the thought of it scared her. Not the revelation of love itself, but the unequivocal lack of doubt in the fact. For years she had felt lost with only determination of academic achievement as her balm. And then she had found him.
What she feared was not the emotion of love that she felt for John or its depth, but rather the possibility of that period of routine and loneliness falling on her again – abruptly and without warning. Life, with all its miseries and complications, were easier to deal with when one had nothing to lose.
Yes, she was in love with John Druitt, but she would never say it. She would not make that mistake. Years of hearing her schoolmates' sob stories of how they meet the right guy and speak the forbidden words almost always leading to them waking the next morning only to find their partner gone and their calls unanswered, petrified her. How could a simple phrase be capable of enhancing and destroying a relationship?
Helen continued to watch John as he paused to take a sip of wine. She could not credit him with the same thoughtlessness of other men. His persona towards her did not hint of such callous disregard. Yet, she understood that any admission that forced affection to love would be a startling confession. Helen knew herself enough to respect the levels of love. As it stood, her inward acknowledgement would remain as such. However, she would never vocalize it.
Not until he vocalized it first.
She needed assurance that her confession would not drive him away. In a relationship as fledgling as theirs, there was too much weight on three little words to foolishly risk an admission.
"Is something wrong?"
His voice cut through the fog of her reflection and Helen, startled for a moment, looked into those deep pools of blue. They were questioning, curious, and apprehensive.
'Don't you know? You must know…even an inkling…,' she thought. She silently begged, hoped, prayed that her eyes would reflect her innermost assertions and fears.
"No. I'm sorry. I was just thinking."
Had she stared a fraction of a second longer, she would have seen the flash of sadness in his eyes. But her embarrassment at being caught with such thoughts disallowed such a revealing find to be made.
John paid for their dinner and they exited the French establishment.
Outside, the air was thickly tainted with the scent of flowers and freshly poured rain. She felt his arm encircle her waist, his side attaching itself to her own, and his cheek press against her warm silken ones. The familiar soothing feelings that his arms coaxed filled her with unmitigated joy. She felt her body pulled tighter against his taut frame, practically feel the beat of his heart as it exerted a gentle and steady thump against her arm.
She moved to turn her head, to gaze at him, to find peace in the familiar contours of his face. But he hindered her movement by taking the first step forward. She followed his silent instructions and drowned the feeling of hesitancy that filled her heart.
Then she felt the vibrations from his throat against her cheek.
He was humming and she found herself lost in the beauty of the melody.
They walked towards their hotel with the sound of John humming La Vie En Rose in her ear.
Nights were the most telling moments for Helen. She found respite in the haven of her thoughts and soothing calm in the warm embrace of John Druitt. With his chest pressed against her back, Helen could easily be lulled to sleep with his even breathing as her lullaby. On rare occasions, his hands would softly caress her skin when he believed she was lost in the realms of dreams. She fancied the thought that such an intimate action was his way of ensuring himself that her physical body was there, that his desperate desire to have her by his side was as powerful as hers to never leave it.
She wondered what expression his face would portray if she spoke such words to him. Would he chuckle in that embarrassed manner and peck her cheek? Or would he reel in revulsion and walk away?
John would never run from her; that she rightfully knew. He was no coward when facing her in an argument.
But would he run from love?
Helen maintained deep and even breaths, all the while debating with the dark passages of her thoughts. She could feel it. John's hands. They were caressing her arms with soft strokes. Perhaps he suffered from the same insecurities that haunted her? If Helen could have, she would have barked out in laughter at such a notion. As she was trying to maintain the façade of sleep, she could do nothing but mentally scoff at the image of John insecure in words and action.
No. John was always forthright with his words. Never did he dawdle or stutter over his explanations and expressions of affections towards her.
Soon, she felt his hands falter before stopping completely. Knowing how deeply he would slumber, Helen carefully slid out of bed, out of his arms, and approached her suitcase. Sleep was elusive tonight.
She needed to place her thoughts aside and simply feel. With deliberate care, she withdrew her sketchpad from her case. The medium sized leather pad already filled haphazardly with papers of various colors and textures. Helen seated herself near the window she had looked beyond from earlier in the day. But tonight, the scenery was not the sight she wished to fill her senses with.
No. Tonight she wanted to lavish her perceptions on John Druitt.
Legs tucked demurely beneath her body, Helen kept her gaze locked on John's sleeping form, her hand working feverishly to recreate the image of him in the soft rain.
She knew she would paint this sketch the moment she was alone in London. Her mind was already creating the pastels that her hands had no access to. Sitting here forever, frozen in time, making endless sketches of him would have been divine. But would this last? This feeling? This haven? Would she have to say goodbye after whispering those forbidden words?
As her mind warred her hand worked. Lines and smudges slowly took form.
Helen understood why sleep was suddenly elusive. Valentine's Day was only a slumber away and the urge to vocalize her desires grew with each passing moment. The confession beyond all other confessions. Her fear of losing all this, losing him, prevented her from seeking respite. If there was to be the day she found herself alone, Helen wanted her mind full of enough memories to last forever.
So she would sit and she would sketch until her heart felt content.
Unbidden, Helen's gaze followed the lines of John's body. She enjoyed the sharp yet smooth angles of his physique. He wasn't lanky, as some men of his height were prone to. Instead he was fit, athletic with long limbs.
He was beautiful.
A serene smile formed over her lips as she watched his bare arm stretch, seeking her solidity. He often did that at night, reach for her and pull her closer. They had never gone beyond the occasional kiss at this stage of their relationship, but the feel of his lips and the restrained passion she felt behind the touch was assurance that indeed he did desire her.
Exhaustion quickly overrode her anxieties and Helen found herself trudging back into bed. The moment her body fully rested against the mattress, she felt John's arms encircle her waist. Assuming she had awoken him, she turned to apologize only to find he was still in the throes of deep sleep. His body had moved on pure instinct, reacting to the warmth her body offered.
Her fingers reached for his cheek and stroked the slight growth of hair.
'I love you,' she thought, 'but will I lose you for it?'
Before exhaustion could grab ahold of her consciousness, Helen could not help the smile on her lips as her mind registered the muffled sound of La Vie En Rose being played by their neighbor.
The Parisian atmosphere, despite other claims, truly tainted the air with exaggerated sense of romanticism for Valentine's Day. Lovers from the far ends of the world still flocked to the shades of the Eiffel Tower for professions of love. Marriage proposals along the Seine still uttered. And the occasional lonely wanderer could be spotted here and there. It seemed a crime to be alone in Paris on such a momentous occasion.
John, she had come to notice, treated the day as though it was any other. Although his affection and attentions on her person had increased, Helen still felt something akin to disappointment in her chest at the manner in which he regarded the day. Still, she felt relief flood her at the thought that he was not placing pressure or emphasis on the expected celebration. She could keep her confession closer to her heart without the added pressure and accidentally letting it slip to her sleeve.
And John being John, he still let her know, subtly, that he was aware of the holiday expectations. Before their journey onto the streets he had gifted her with a single rose upon the pillow he laid upon the previous night. She had found the gift nestled next to her face this morning. The gift was such a counterpoint to the spending he had showered her with the past few days. She had yet to expense any of her savings during this trip.
Simplicity and thoughtfulness were far more superior than cost. Yes, a rose would suffice nicely.
A rose would be as close as she could come to having her innermost desires satiated.
They dined at another local restaurant he had found during his youthful adventures. This establishment as fine as the one they had visited the night prior, the atmosphere just as casual, which was fine by her. Together they strolled hand in hand along the streets, visiting the museums they had missed, toured the Notre Dame – an experience that had taken her breath away, and finally found themselves situated at the base of the Eiffel Tower.
As was expected, various couples were already exchanging healthy kisses underneath the structure. Helen winced at such gaudy and public displays and felt comfortable with John simply embracing her from behind.
To her relief, he had not brought the camera to click at the image of the steel structure like some avid tourist in loud shirts. She preferred to use the halls of her mind as the canvas to permanently recall such a view, even going as far as encouraging and training John to pursue the same style of photography. It brought a sense of happiness and fulfillment to know that he was heeding her tutelage.
Not far off, a group of musicians began to orchestrate the first strands of La Vie En Rose. Couples, having professed their undying love, began to dance to tune. Helen felt the music flow through her; she could never tire of this song. After days of hearing it played, she realized that her school girl French had blossomed to full understanding. Her mind weaved the words easily as she swayed to the sound.
"Would you care to dance?"
His voice, it was so soft, so filled with promise. Her heart fluttered as her mind prepared to say the words.
Helen's eyes snapped open, her body rigid, forcing her throat to close, to stop the utterance of her doom.
He felt it, she was sure he did. His arms had tightened a fraction around her waist.
"Helen," he murmured into her hair, "what's wrong? Please, tell me."
'I can't. Not here,' her mind pleaded, 'not until you tell me first.'
She shook her head vigorously; the pooling of unshed tears burned her eyes. But she would not, could not, concede to her desire. She needed to hold onto him, for a year, for a month, even for a day longer.
"If we do not have honesty, Helen," he began when she showed no sign of speaking, his eyes whirling with an emotion that she could not latch onto, "then we do not have anything."
"Please…John. Please…," she whispered softly, barely enough for him to hear. Yet he did and he nodded, reaching for hand to clutch tightly.
When they had resumed their walk back to the hotel she could see the puzzlement and disapproval in his eyes at her negligence of informing him as to the cause of her distress at the Eiffel Tower. The words tickled her mouth, aching to be released. But Helen withheld. As they walked, she clutched his hand in return and withheld her heart.
Foolishness. Just waves of foolishness. The last thing she had wanted was to show any indication of her fears. By now her actions had galvanized his worries. In honesty to herself, Helen admitted that her mindset was partially accredited to the time of year. The day in which love was exposed and spoken openly.
It was the first Valentine's Day in which she was not alone. No awkward stares and giggles from other girls who had received their own fist full of cards and candies. No embarrassing comments about her lack of a personal life. No pitying stares. No feeble attempts of dating offers from other single, and at times not so single, males who had learned of her lack of a love life. She was with a man who, despite his lack of verbalizing the feeling, she knew loved her unreservedly.
The fact was simple. Helen Magnus was beyond happy. And she feared that a confession of magnanimous proportions as hers would destroy that happiness.
They had eaten in relative silence; she had hinted to John earlier that a quiet and private meal in their hotel was more agreeable for her than dining out again. The ease and comfort of that silence had been robbed tonight. She could sense his anxiety as much as she was sure he could sense her fears. Had it all come to this? Awkward exchanges and spiked conversations?
John inhaled deeply over a glass of white wine before giving her a thoughtful gaze. He regarded her for a moment, taking in her increased respiratory rate and the elevated pulse that thrummed at the base of her neck. His mouth was tilted in a kind, soft smile, but his eyes held a note of sadness as they reflected the orange flames of the candles. A minute or so passed before he stood. His gaze, unwavering, commanding hers to remain locked with his own. He approached the window she had sat and sketched on last night and deliberately pushed it open.
From the streets below, the sound of La Vie En Rose floated into the room. He smiled fully and she found herself incapable of anything else but returning that smile as he reached for her hand and beckoned her to join him.
They danced forever. Not a single corner of the room untouched.
The music engulfed her, engulfed them.
It was moments like these that charged her with the hope that this might last forever. That her desire to suspend time for eternity was plausible. With him.
Soon, much too soon for her tastes, the music stopped. She had expected John to break away, to kiss her hand and lead her back to the table for another attempt at small talk. Instead, he kissed her. His hands moving from her waist to cup her face and kissed her with such desperateness it bordered on the edge of possessive, nearly brutal.
She was weakened by the raw honesty in the kiss. Shock forcing her to clutch at the lapels of his jacket, needing to taste more of him, explore his mouth as thoroughly as he was hers. When the need for air necessitated their separation, Helen pressed her face into his chest. Heart beating rapidly, mind moving through a roller coaster of emotions, whirling and dropping with the surprise of his kiss.
Words. Scratching, hissing, clawing, fighting to be released, climbed up her throat. The forbidden words. And then she heard it. Slow in its vibrations when spoken that it only served to emphasize every syllable.
"I love you."
No. No. No. She had come so close. Midnight was half an hour away and she would have managed to elude the day in which such proclamations were encouraged. Her body tightened, freezing, waiting for the inevitable as fear clamped against her like a rain soaked blanket.
Her fingers clawed deeper into the lapels she had clutched fervently too during the kiss.
'No,' her mind hollered, 'I am not going to lose you! I will fight!'
A cool hand gently swiped the strands of her hair from her face. When courage filled her, she opened her eyes and stared into those familiar sapphire orbs. What she saw took her breath away. Compassion. Understanding. Sincerity. And…hope…
It dawned on her.
They were not her words.
They were his.
Then, with deliberate care, John dropped his head to kiss her lips softly, gently, delicately, as if her were discovering her for the first time, relishing the flavors of her mouth. When he pulled back, he stroked her face and nuzzled her neck before speaking again, "I love you."
She quivered for only a moment before this burst of energy surged through her. She threw her arms around his neck and clutched at his body. The burden was gone. She was free. Her secret. Her fears. Gone. She was no longer bound to such confinement.
"I love you too," she whispered into his neck. Understanding dawned on her. He had been as entangled in the web of fear as she was. His expressions, his eyes, his voice the past few days all spoke of his insecurities.
She was, and always had been, loved.
Laughing, relieved, joyful, the couple kissed once again as the group of musicians from the streets below began to replay the harmony of La Vie En Rose.
The song floated faintly to their room and engulfed them in its beauty.
A/N: I hope you guys enjoyed this story. It's always hard to be the first one to say 'I love you.' So Happy Valentine's Day to all of you guys out there. I hope you all find or spend this day with a special someone.
I was thinking of writing John's companion piece to this story. What do you guys think?
The Bistrot du Dome is an actual French restaurant in Montparnasse. It is a local eatery that specializes in preparing fresh seafood meals. They have an array of selections to choose from and have daily specialties depending on the catch of the day.
Bonsoir mademoiselle. J'espère que votre journée s'est bien passée? = Good evening madam. I hope that your day went well?
Il a très bien. = It went very well.
Parfait. Si vous voulez manger avec moi ce soir? = Perfect. Would you care to dine with me tonight?