Biggie made a cake and everyone was too afraid to say anything about it. Will flinched when Biggie carried it out and set it on the table, side eyeing Helen to see if she was going to visibly react in any way. Everyone was tense and silent, except Kate who was new enough not to understand and said, "Sweet, cake!"
Will elbowed her and shook his head as minutely as he could and she fell into line because while Kate didn't always care about much, it didn't mean she couldn't read a room.
The cake was chocolate with a layer of caramel and butter cream frosting and clearly homemade because it wasn't quite level and had some lopsided roses here and there, but it tasted really good. They all ate their whole slice, even Magnus who generally resisted the temptation of sweets.
"Thank you, dear friend," she said, clasping Biggie's hand before retreating not to her office, but to her rooms for the night.
"It seems a little cruel, no?" Kate asked him later, long after everyone else had dispersed for the night. Kate had followed him to his office and had collapsed into the squishier of the two armchairs, her feet dangling over the side in big, heavy boots.
"Why?" Will asked.
"It's like, here let the sugary goodness of this birthday cake remind you that your only child is extra dead, congratulations," she said, pulling a face. "It seems like the Doc is the type to mourn in peace."
Will agreed that Magnus was more private with her grief because it was a long, ongoing, unending process for the woman who lived eternally, but he thought perhaps this was different.
"Henry and the Big Guy weren't related to Ashley by blood, but she was still their family," Will said. "I think it's just their way of remembering and celebrating her life instead of her death."
"Is that your professional opinion?" Kate asking mockingly.
Will rolled his eyes. "Yes."
Kate was quiet for a few minutes, fiddling with the zipper on her leather coat. Will was happy to let her stay if she was quiet and went back to signing his name on reports. He made a pile to carry to Helen's office later so she could sign them, too.
"Once," Kate said and then shook her head. "Never mind."
"It's okay," Will said. "What is it?"
"Um, it's just... one time Hank called me Ashley. By mistake, obviously. We were just like... messing around in the armory and I guess maybe I like... reminded him of her or something and it was..." She shook her head and fell silent.
"I think you would have been friends," Will said. "I would have worried about you guys taking over the world, actually, but you would have gotten along."
"Yeah?" she asked, hopefully.
"Kate," Will said, setting his pen down and giving her his full attention. "You're not a replacement for Ashley."
"I know," she said but it came out so quick and so relieved.
"Good," Will said.
"Thanks, Doc," she said. She never called him by his title, saved that exclusively for Magnus and he beamed a little.
"You're welcome," he said.
"I'm gonna go see if there's more cake," she said. "In honor of Ashley, of course."
"Of course," he said.
When he went to Magnus's office to leave the stack of files, the room was empty. Biggie had already been through to draw the curtains and extinguish the lamps and the room felt deserted and cold.
He didn't linger.
"Oh good God," Magnus said, pausing in the middle of the hallway, her tablet close to her chest. Will stopped and backed up a few steps.
"It's the tenth," she said. "Damn."
"So?" he asked. He'd looked at their office calendar that morning and she had a couple meetings and he had his regular Wednesday standing appointments with the residents of the Sanctuary who sought him for counsel, but there hadn't been anything glaring.
"July tenth," she repeated.
"Magnus, that doesn't mean anything to me," he said.
"It's Nikola's birthday," she said, closing her eyes.
"We haven't seen him in months," Will said. "He's probably off getting debauched as we speak."
"I usually post him a gift," she said, resuming her walking at a faster pace. He tried to match it and had to jog a few steps to stay with her.
"And you forgot this year?" he asked.
"After the last computer malfunction, my person calendar got damaged and I haven't been receiving all my reminders," she said. "It's a poor excuse for someone I've known so long but..."
"Hey," Will said. "It's been crazy around here. Don't beat yourself up."
"I don't think you understand," she said. "When he realizes I've not sent him anything, he's going to turn up here."
"Oh please no," Will said. They turned into her office and she set her tablet onto her desk and made straight for her bank of computers. "Just... tell him it was too big to mail," Will said.
"I once had a grand piano delivered to him," she said. "The delivery men had to carry it up nine flights of stairs to his New York apartment. I don't think he'll buy that."
"Well, what are you going to do?" Will asked.
She pulled up her e-mail and sighed.
"Damage control," she said. "What else can I do?"
Tesla arrived three days later with a vicious smile on his lips.
"You haven't thrown me a party in years!" he said, his voice echoing through the foyer. Will was at the top of the stairs. Henry came up next to him and made no comment on the fact that Will was loitering just out of sight - otherwise known as hiding. Henry was doing exactly the same thing.
"Are we really throwing him a party?" Henry whispered.
"Magnus sent out 100 invitations," Will said softly back. "But if no one comes..."
"Nah," Henry said. "When Magnus calls, people come. Tesla won't ever have to know."
"I don't see why it matters so much," Will said. "He's an ass. Who cares if his feelings get hurt?"
"He's one of her oldest friends," Henry said. "One of the few she's not expecting to die off. It matters."
Will nodded. "I get that," he said.
"Anyway, he hates me so maybe I won't have to go," Henry said with a quick grin.
"You have to go," Will said. "Magnus said mandatory and black tie required."
"Son of a bitch," Henry said and stormed away.
Will decided not to hang around, either.
Helen slipped into his office later and quickly closed the door, leaning against it.
"You know, if he's one of your best friends, you shouldn't have to put on this big show," Will said.
"I do love Nikola," she hedged. "But he's in a trying mood, today."
"Yes," he said dryly. "Today. Should I even tell you how much throwing this last minute extravaganza is going to cost us?"
"I know," she said, waving it away.
"Not to mention the fact that Tesla is supposed to be dead," Will continued.
"A minor detail," she agreed walking over and perching on the corner edge of his desk.
"And you still think all of this is worth it just to save a little face?" he asked, trying not to look at her legs.
"Oh, I'm not saving anything," she said. "He knows I forgot and is putting me through my paces as punishment."
"Because, Will," she said. "Just... because."
"Fine," he said, giving in. "Do I have to get him a present?"
"It'd be nice," she said.
"Can it be a gift-wrapped box of wine?" Will asked, smirking.
Helen smiled. "Absolutely."
Will turned 35 in an underground tunnel with Kate and her broken ankle.
His watch beeped and he cursed, slapping his hand over it to muffle the sound and struggling for a moment to find the button to silence it. They both listened hard, holding their breath but when nothing changed, Will exhaled and Kate went back to her own silent agony.
"What was it?" Kate asked, looking desperate for something to take her mind off the pain.
"My watch," he said.
She rolled her eyes. "No shit, John Watson."
"I was born at 5:36," he said. "It's 5:36 back in Old City."
"Yeah," he said.
"Bummer," she said. "Happy Birthday anyway."
"It's going to be okay," he said. "We'll miss check in and Magnus will come looking."
"There's miles of tunnel to search and we're pretty far from where we entered, Willis," Kate said. "Not to mention that Velociraptor is trying to eat us."
"It's not a dinosaur," he said.
"I'm not sure we'll be able to tell the difference when we're between its teeth," she said, shifting a little on the ground and wincing.
"I have one more dose of painkillers in my medkit," he said. "Tell me when."
"Better save them," she said. "What if running from the dino breaks my other leg? I'll have wasted it."
"Nice to know you can keep your spirits up," he said.
"Kate," he said. "It's gonna be okay. Stay with me."
"I was just about to run out," she gasped, her voice thinning. "But since you asked so nice."
Will took a few things out of his pack and then tucked it under her head and instructed her to get some sleep. She complained that she'd never get any shut eye in underground Jurassic Park and then promptly started to snore.
Will pulled up the file on their abnormal on his phone with what battery was left and tried to see if he'd missed anything. Their weapons had barely slowed it down - the bullets had bounced off and after several concentrated bursts from their energy weapons it had seemed to stagger but it never fell. That's when Kate had gone down and Will had decided there was no shame in retreat.
Magnus had sent them down after one of the eggs of this endangered species but now he was beginning to think that only a mad woman would want something like this frolicing around her sanctuary. He'd be willing to scrap it all and just go home except they'd rappelled down into the tunnels and it had been hard enough going down in once piece. Going back up with a broken foot was not gonna happen.
And he just couldn't leave Kate down here with a damn raptor while he went for help.
His phone died and he sighed and shoved it back into his pocket. He'd turned on the emergency beacon at the first sign of trouble but they were under a lot of rock so he wasn't going to hope for that. All he could do was try to find another way out once Kate got a little rest.
She moaned in her sleep.
Somewhere, deep in the cavern, he heard the creature roar. He flinched and waited, but it didn't sound close and he had that, at least, to be thankful for. He thought back to getting this assignment, glancing up at Magnus who'd looked like she was waiting for him to challenge her but he'd worked through many birthdays in the past. Birthdays were just another day. He hadn't said anything. Now he kind of wished he had.
Will was just starting to drift off, too, when he heard a scrape and a shuffle. He jumped to his feet, his gun pointed in the direction of the sound. His hand was shaking and it wasn't going to do much good anyway because the weapons were useless but he wasn't going to go down without a fight.
And then Tesla walked around the bend.
"Tesla?" Will asked in disbelief.
"I'm here to rescue you," he said, sounding bored. "Happy Birthday, dumbass."
So not his best birthday, all in all.
Abby was moody the moment he picked her up. He'd borrowed Magnus's Mercedes because it was nicer than his car and also his car was in the shop from getting accidentally partially blown up by Henry and letting him borrow a car was like the least Magnus could do after his car was partially blown up.
He wished her a happy birthday; there were a dozen roses for her waiting on the seat. Her thank you was thin, however, and she put the roses in the backseat and rode with her arms crossed.
"You okay?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she said.
"I got reservations at that place you like," he said. "A little dinner, some drinks, some dancing. You'll perk right up."
She turned to look at him and it was a bad expression. "I'm plenty perky, Will."
"I didn't mean-"
"I had a long day," she said. "But you wanted to go out."
"It's your birthday," he said. "We should celebrate."
"And so we are," she said. "For now."
"For now, what does that mean?" he asked.
"Nothing," she said.
Dinner went all right. She seemed to relax a little with a drink and even smiled once after he got some food in her. She was watching the couples on the dance floor with a wistful expression and he was about to ask her to dance when his phone beeped.
He'd been clear - this was his night off. He didn't care if the world was burning and they were all about to be swept off in a tidal wave of lava and charred human remains, no one was supposed to call him.
Abby sighed. "What does she want?"
"What?" he asked, the phone already back in his pocket.
"Helen," Abby said, somehow adding an extra syllable to elongate the name. "Go ahead. Answer it, I know you want to."
"It wasn't work," he said. "And it didn't ring. What's gotten into you?"
"Who was it?" she demanded.
"It was an ESPN update on the Blue Jays game," he said.
She fiddled with her drink. "Oh."
He suddenly didn't want to dance, anymore.
"Is that was this is about?" he asked.
"What what is about?"
"Your mood," he said. "You think I'm going to ditch you for work?"
"You like to be the hero," she said. "And it's not like it hasn't happened before."
"I don't like doing dangerous things, Abby, but sometimes I have to because it's my job," he defended. "But you're kind of ruining this date by expecting the worst of me."
"Ruined dates are our specialty," she said.
"Sorry," she said. "I just... don't want to get my hopes too far up because the second she calls, that's it. You're gone."
"What are you talking about?" he demanded.
"Helen Magnus," Abby said.
"She's my boss, sometimes I have to work, I'm not seeing what your issue is," Will said.
"It's not just work," Abby said. "You live there at her beck and call twenty four hours and it's just... hard to compete with her."
"It's not a competition," Will said. "That's ridiculous."
"It's not ridiculous," she said and stood up. "I'm going to the restroom."
Will pulled out his phone when she was out of sight and pulled up his text messages. He'd lied, just a little to avoid the fight they were already in the middle off. It was hardly work, just Magnus looking for a folder. He texted her back quickly its location and pocketed the phone before Abby got back.
When the waiter came by with the dessert menu, Abby waved it away.
"I think I just want to go home and get some sleep," she said.
"I was thinking maybe you'd spend the night?" Will asked.
"I have to work in the morning," Abby said. "I guess you could stay at my place."
Not exactly the sexy invitation he'd been hoping for.
"Maybe we can go out this weekend?" he asked.
"Maybe," she said. He dropped her off - she rebuffed his offer of walking her to her door. They kissed but it felt perfunctory and Will just didn't know where it all went wrong.
At home, Helen's office light was on. There was a moment of surprise at the sight of him darkening her door so early on his absolute-night-off-no-matter-what, but she recovered quickly and stood up. She walked around her desk to the small round table in the corner by the window. He took this as permission to enter.
She poured him a drink and then, surprisingly, one for herself too and they sat together on the couch.
She said nothing, just softly clinked her glass against his.
Helen spent the morning in her garden and most of that time trying to figure out the date. By lunch, a hunk of bread and a salad full of fresh vegetables, she has concluded that yes, today was in fact her birthday and she was 220 years old.
The novelty of birthdays was long gone. She tried to remember what the other Helen (the real Helen?) was doing for this specific birthday, but it was too far back now and everything sort of ran together. Still, it was her personal tradition to celebrate on the decade and it had been weeks since she had been to town, so she decided that yes, this was as good of reason as any.
She loaded up her basket with bright red tomatoes and walked the several miles into the village. The walk back was always far more difficult because it was uphill, but she didn't mind and the exercise was good for her. It would be good, too, to talk to someone. The language was fairly new to her but she'd picked it up well enough to trade for things she couldn't grow or make herself.
She missed her life, her regular life, but this little life was not entirely bad.
She traded her tomatoes for a sack of sugar and a bar of scented soap. Both indulgences but it was not every day one turned 220.
She heated enough water to comfortably fill the bottom of her wash basin and scrubbed herself clean and warm.
She added a little more hot water, just enough to keep her comfortable while she sat with her knees pulled up to her chest, her chin on her knees.
She ran through the list.
Ashley. John. James. Nigel. Nikola. The Big Guy. Henry and Kate.
She wouldn't forget. She would keep them alive inside of her until she caught back up with herself. She would remember their faces, their names, their histories. She wouldn't miss a beat.
It was dark out, but just before bed she pressed the pad of her finger against her tongue and dipped it into her small sack of sugar.
A little taste of something sweet before her birthday was completely gone.