Helen worries this is a love story.
She'd started out with a boy in her arms and now here they are again, all these years later and Will is breathing heavy into her neck and she has him pulled tightly against her, holding him as close as she knows how.
They're both drenched but he's shaking like he'll never get warm and she's shushing him softly, though he probably can't hear it over the sound of his teeth knocking together.
"C-cold," he says.
"I know," she replies. "We'll get you warm."
It hurts to get up but he needs her attention now. Her chest aches and her coordination is quite off. She nearly goes headfirst into the wall but catches herself awkwardly on one hand. She adds a throbbing wrist to the list.
"Magnus," Will moans.
"You're in shock," she says. "It's all right. Hang on."
She finds a blanket, rumpled on one of the cot and carries it back to where he is. She wants to move him to the bed, but that is a ways off yet. She drapes the blanket over him and then unbuttons her outer shirt and sheds it. It's too wet and cold and she needs it gone.
"You were dead," Will chatters.
"Only for a moment," she says, lifting the blanket. He moans in protest but she lies down on top of him and then readjust the blanket so it covers them both. "I know this is uncomfortable, but we can't move until you stop shaking, okay?"
"Okay," he says.
She keeps one eye on the creatures, frozen in place. She is not convinced that it is dead, only stalled, and when Will seems alert enough to move to one of the bunks, she sends him on his way and puts the creature into a containment unit.
Will is still miserable and exhausted when she sits on the edge of his bunk. He looks up at her with his big blue eyes and says, "I'll make you some tea."
She has to laugh. "All right."
They move to the table for a while. He puts a blanket around her shoulders and it appears that it's her turn once more for care.
She thinks this is quite indicative of what's to come in their relationship. They'll be tripping over themselves to make sure the other one is all right. She's taken care of him for so long that it's second nature; and in return he will never leave her side.
Or so she hopes.
Will has been missing for three weeks and finally, she goes into his office and sits at his desk and tries to exhale only to find that she can't. She's too full of worry and regret and she finds herself clutching at the arms of his desk chair and blinking faster and faster, trying just to live through this one single moment and then, perhaps, if she's lucky, the next.
Eventually, when she's managed to make it through whole minutes, she pulls open the long, shallow drawer over her lap and finds his journal. It's leather, wrapped in a rubber band, worn and well loved.
She doesn't hesitate in opening it, flipping through the pages filled with his slanted hand in dark ink. Much of it is patient notes and she doesn't linger on those, but toward the end of the more recent entries, she sees her own name and reads more thoroughly over his words.
Her heart speeds up, her face gets warm.
She presses a finger to her own lips while she reads and lets it trail across her jaw and down along her neck to her collarbone and cleavage. Her blouse stops it and she sits up straighter, feeling silly and distracted and caught off-guard.
Why had he never said anything to her? In all their long days together, all the night hours toiled away side by side. He'd kept this to himself, had stayed professional and distant. And all this time he'd been watching her with his deep and distant gaze, cataloging her part by part, word by word, piece by piece.
She feels a stab of guilt that he'd dedicated so much time to her and she'd withheld herself from him like it was some sort of game, making him dig and dig.
Bigfoot finds her a few hours later when he comes into the office to dust.
"No body yet," he says gruffly. It seems callous but he's reminding her in his own way that she shouldn't give up hope. Gone is not dead and even death, sometimes, can be reversed.
"No communication, either," she says. She leaves him to clean though and returns to her own office. Kate checks in later to say that they're still looking but they haven't found him yet. The connection is not very good and Helen doesn't keep her.
"Keep trying," she instructs.
"Of course," Kate says. She'll either come home with a body or not come home at all.
Two days later, he calls her cell phone from Cape Town like he's checking in on any other day and says, "Africa is crazy, Magnus."
He lets her work through it, does not rush her through the silence save for a choked noise from the back of her throat. Finally, her fingers tight around her blanket, she exhales.
"It can be tricky," she manages, "yes."
"I know it's late there," he says.
"Are you quite well?" she asks. "Do you need help?"
"We've already made arrangements to leave in a couple hours," he says. "But I didn't want anyone to worry. I'll give you a full debrief when I get home, deal?"
"Deal," she says.
"Hey," he says. "I'm fine."
"That's very good to hear," she says.
"Get some sleep," he orders before he hangs up.
She doesn't return to sleep. She rises, showers, dresses for the day. She does her hair and her makeup and decides on a new pair of heels since she's planning on spending the day in her office and can break them in slowly. When she's ready, she takes his leather journal from the drawer in her nightstand and detours to his office to return it.
She's not sure if he'll notice the disturbance. It will be subtle - a slightly different position in his drawer, a few pages more smudged than when he left it, but she thinks he will. After all, noticing things is Will's gift. But will he say anything? She thinks not.
It's well into a new set of wee hours before he finally returns home to their Sanctuary.
"You have dark circles under your eyes," he says from across the room. "Did you sleep at all while I was gone?"
It's hard not to be irritated at his casual tone, his little smirk, the way he still has his bag in his hand like he didn't spend three weeks hiding out underground and moving through the darkest night Africa had to offer, moving south, south, south with some of the best trackers known to man on his tail. He could have been captured, tortured, mutilated, murdered and he's standing in her office like he took a long weekend.
She wants to swiftly cross the room and smack him with the back of her hand. Life is temporary, she'll tell him. Don't you know that?
But of course, how can she say such a thing? If life is a finite length of string unfurling from its spool, then she is the spool. One day she will be alone and bare but she'll never cease to be.
"I thought you were dead," she says. "Perhaps we save the admonishments for morning?"
He straightens up, some. He drops his bag and meets her in the middle of the room. Her feet ache as she crosses it but she reaches out and steadies herself by holding onto him just below his shoulders. He's still travel worn - he'd come to see her first.
"I just had to ditch my phone and stay out of sight," he said. "I was okay."
"I was not," she says before she can help it. "Will, I was not okay."
He steps into her, hugs her, allows her to dip her head and touch her chin to his shoulder.
"I always knew you had a soft spot for me," he says. It's like it's supposed to be a joke, but he sounds serious enough.
"From now on we travel together," she says. It's a ridiculous request and one that will prove too difficult to uphold but for tonight, he lets it slide.
"You got it, boss," he says. And then, "I'll walk you to your room."
He's handling her now but she doesn't mind. They walk slowly, both tired, and he allows her to hang onto his elbow like an escort from lives past. In the elevator, he nudges her and she nudges him back.
"You sent Kate after me," he says during the ride.
"Yes," she admits, so quick to spill tonight. "I learned, after Ashley, not to go on manhunts when I'm emotionally involved."
"Ah," he says.
He thinks now that she loves him like a son, maybe, and she lets him think it.
She knows for sure after reading his journal that she is not the maternal figure to him that she once thought she was but perhaps if he thinks she loves him like a mother would a son, they'll stave off the inevitable for a while longer yet.
Will sends her a text message rather late. Early, even, because it's nearly two am. She replies, confirming she is awake because she is and then he calls.
"Where are you?" she asks. "I thought you went to bed long ago."
"I did," he says. He's whispering and she can't hear him very well. "But then I went to Abby's."
"Ah," she says. "I'm not your mum, Will, you don't need my permission to spend the night with your girlfriend."
"She's not... okay, so the thing of it is, she's not my girlfriend anymore," he says.
"Oh, dear," she says. "I'm sorry."
"Or at least I'm trying to get her not to be," Will says. Her eyebrows rise.
"Why is it that you're calling me?" she asks.
"Abby picked me up and then we had this long talk and I keep trying to... to end things but every time I do she just... cries and I end up feeling bad about it and then we say we'll talk about it another day and then I just don't... I don't get anywhere," he says. "And now I'm hiding in the bathroom because she finally fell asleep."
"Fascinating," says Magnus, glancing at her clock just as it switched over to two am. "I still don't understand what I have to do with any of it."
"I don't have a car here," he says. "I was hoping you could send a car for me."
"It's rather late - you didn't think a taxi would be more obliging?"
"Forgot my wallet," he says. "This is humiliating, Magnus, but I'm asking as a friend. Please."
"Yes, all right," she says. "I'll find someone."
She hangs up.
She puts on jeans and tall boots like she is going out into the field. She secures her hair with a simple elastic, a messy style more suited to what Ashley had liked. Simple, effective, designed to look like one doesn't really care. She slips on a leather jacket and sighs, suddenly weary now that she is going out though she hadn't really planned on going to sleep any time soon.
It's easy to make her way down to the back of the house, out the door that leads into the compound's massive garage. Her car is blocked in by the town car that Biggie drives around, the windows tinted dark. She decides instead to pull the cover off of the sports car. She doesn't drive it much because it is impractical - small and so-so gas mileage, but it's fun on a summer's day even if it does call far too much attention to her.
The keys are on the big pegboard and the car starts right up.
Her phone's navigational system directs her to Abby's apartment. She's never been, but she knows the building and Will is sitting on a railing outside the front entrance with his head in his hands. He looks up briefly when she pulls up but since he doesn't recognize the car or expect her to be in it, he puts his head back down.
After a moment, though, he realizes the car hasn't left and he looks up again. She pulls on the emergency break and opens the door, poking her head over the top.
"Need a lift?" she asks.
"Magnus?" he asks, his tone far too incredulous for her liking.
"Come on, then," she says.
"I didn't think you'd come yourself," he says. And then, "What is this car?"
"My dear friend blocked in my usual car," she says, but she doesn't answer his questions, doesn't tell him that this was a gift meant for Ashley except she'd died before Helen could properly give it and that it had been a selfish gift. She'd always worried about her daughter and that motorcycle.
"Thank you," Will says. "For the rescue."
"Do you want to go for a ride, Dr. Zimmerman?" she asks.
"It's late," he says.
"Oh," she says. "I'm not too tired."
She pulls back into city traffic and though she is heading back toward the waterfront where the Sanctuary stands, home is not her destination.
"I know it wasn't appropriate to call you," Will says. "Not professionally, anyway. I'm sorry."
"Is that all we are?" she asks, concerned. "Professionals? Colleagues?" He doesn't answer. "Partners?" she pushes.
"It's hard to say," he says. "With you, it depends on the day."
"Ouch," she says.
"Harsh, but fair," he defends. "I'd like partners, but I think that requires more give from you."
She pushes down harder on the gas and shifts into a different gear. They are speeding now and she blows past the turn to the Sanctuary. She's a fast driver on a good day and now her anger is making her feel a little reckless.
"Uh, where are we going?" he asks.
"According to you, I'm not likely to tell you either way," she says.
"Why did you break up with Abby?" she asks. She breaks just enough to turn off the main street and onto the road that leads into the woods. If they drive through the dense forest, eventually it will lighten enough again and they can get onto another main road that leads to a highway that if, followed long enough, will take them south into the states. But what she wants is the thick foliage and the dark night sky. What she wants is to be alone, but not so alone that Will is not by her side.
"I don't know," he answers, sounding weary. Their spat is on hold, it would appear. She has asked the right question to shelve it, for now. "It just... felt like time."
"And were you successful?"
"Kind of," he says. "We agreed to have some space."
"That's not a break up, Will."
"It's a break," he says. "I've never actually broken up with someone before. I've always been dumped. It's not as easy as it seems."
"It takes a certain amount of confidence," she says. "You can't back down when things get tough."
"How many people have you dumped in your time?" he asks. She glances at him, both surprised and strangely proud of the question. It's none of his business but at least they have progressed past him being starstruck by the historical figures of her past.
"A fair few," she says. "Some leave me. Knowing that I won't age along with them is often a deal breaker. And others I... simply..."
"Outlive," he supplies. "Yeah."
"The truth of the matter is, Will, that there is no one person who is right for you."
"You don't believe in soulmates?" he asks.
Another question easy to ignore. She slows down and stops. If it were the day, she'd pull the car off the road but it is unlikely anyone else will come along. He gets out of the car when she does and they both perch on the warm hood as it ticks and moans beneath them. She tilts her head back, back until she can see the inky sky. Slowly, as her eyes adjust, the stars become brilliantly bright.
"I believe," she says, even though some time has passed, "that you should love the people you are with when you are with them. When the time comes not to be with them anymore, you move on."
"What?" she says. "You disagree."
"I disagree with the notion that you believe that," he says. "You and Druitt have been circling the cosmic drain forever and even though you both know that the only end is the sewer, you just keep going round and round."
She takes a deep breath in.
"I am sorry that you and Abby are not meant to be," she says.
"I'm sorry you and Druitt aren't either."
"But look around you, Will," she barrels on. "There are people who care for you. People who will always stand at your side. Even when you're hurting. Even when you're misdirecting your anger at the woman who came out in the middle of night to rescue you."
"And then drive me into the middle of the woods," he says.
"What I'm trying to say is I'm here," she says. "I'm not just your colleague. I'm not just your partner, anymore."
"Then what are we, Magnus?" he asks.
She slides her hand across the metal hood of the car and touches her fingers to his.
"I can't say exactly," she says. "I've never had someone like you in my life before." She smiles at him, though he's not looking at her. He's looking up. "To me, you're something new."
This catches his attention and he turns to her, searching her out in the darkness and after a moment, he leans in a little, mesmerized, but then he snaps out of it and pulls back.
"Thanks, Magnus," he says and slides off the hood. He gets back in the car.
She's trying to figure out how to be closer to him, how to take his advice and make her life worth something again by connecting but he certainly isn't making it easy on her.
Bigfoot is already up in the kitchen when they return. Will goes right to his room and Helen eases into the kitchen.
"Tea," Bigfoot says, setting a delicate cup in front of her like he knew just when she'd arrive.
"Thank you," she murmurs.
"Everything okay?" he inquires.
"Will is going through a bit of heartache," she says.
And when her own bottom lip begins to quiver, her old friend simply pushes the cream toward her and sits down.
He doesn't make her talk about it but he doesn't leave her side.
Helen has already missed Will for longer than he'll ever be alive.
She'd almost taken him home with her when he was eight years old and trembling in her arms. He was a bit older than Ashley and she'd taken in Henry with no real problems, so what if she took one more scared child, a boy right to be afraid of the dark?
But the boy's father had come and claimed him so she'd sent him on his way. At first she checked in on him every few months to make sure he was doing well enough, coping with the trauma. When she found he wasn't, she started watching a little more closely. He was a smart boy, gifted and erudite and by the time he was in high school, she'd decided that perhaps the abnormal who'd crossed his path early in life and taken his mother was a blessing in disguise.
Not that she'd ever tell him that.
Off he went to Harvard. James complained about the tuition, writing her letters that always started with, Honestly, Helen, and then went on to complain about the rising cost of grain or the derelict state of the Berlin Sanctuary and where would they find the money, now?
Perhaps, in retrospect, he'd been jealous. But then, Helen hadn't even know Will Zimmerman. All he had been up until the day she'd struck him with her car was an expensive hunch.
It's odd to design the new Sanctuary without him. To plan out all the steps. When she first begins, she catches herself turning to look over her shoulder and say, "What do you think, Will?" But of course Will isn't there because Will won't be born for another 75 years and she is dreaming up blueprints next to a gas lamp in a corset and petticoat.
She gets used to him not being there, but at some point, she just stops trying to make herself not talk to him. She just asks, "What do you think, Will?" and then lets herself answer whatever she thinks he would answer.
At one point she realizes that Will actually is alive now. A toddler at fourteen months, but alive nonetheless and the thought is comforting enough that she stops talking to him - to herself.
The first time she looks over her shoulder and says, "What do you think, Will?" and he answers, "I dunno, Magnus, it seems risky," her grin is so inappropriate to the context of the situation that he actually takes a step back.
"You okay?" he asks.
"Yes, of course," she says, smoothing her skirt and letting her hands rest on her desk. "I just waited a long time for that answer."
Will rolls and eyes and smirks like she's teasing him. "I tell you stuff is too dangerous all the time and you ignore me. What makes this any different?"
"You don't think we can pull it off?" she asks ignoring his question.
"I said it was dangerous, not that we couldn't do it," he says.
She smiles. Just what she hoped he would say.
She and Will don't really talk about their lost year.
He'll say, "Magnus I've given you four years," and she'll agree yes, that's a lot of time but she thinks just because the time dilation field collapsed doesn't make those 260 odd days just go away. It doesn't make Ravi a young, living man again. Ravi is gone, Anna and Josie, and the people of Carentan are gone but that time, those days, were real.
It seems wrong to sweep it all under the rug now.
She has no keepsakes of Carentan save what she was wearing and the burnt out hull of the device they'd created to collapse the field.
No, her true keepsakes of Carentan are her dreams. It's not every night and it's not very often, but it's a dream she has over and over again. Except in her mind, she's watching the last rays of the sun hand in hand with Will. She doesn't tell Will about the dream - it feels like a betrayal to Ravi who gave the rest of his life to the dome.
Sometimes she thinks about if they'd stayed through the dark period. She wonders if they would have been strong enough to make it. Not their bodies, but them. Helen and Will. Would the struggle have held them closer together or would Will have drifted away? To Josie, to another young woman, out of the orbit of Helen who could never grow old and would never be young.
Will finds her on the roof with one of her warm coats. She thinks about where the coat had been hanging in her closet, thinks of Will entering her private bedroom and standing in her walk-in closet until he found something he thought would keep her warm enough in the biting wind. She doesn't call him out on entering her bedroom without her permission, just lets him help her put the coat on and murmurs a soft thanks.
"It's been awhile since you've come up here," he says.
"Sometimes the old ways are the best ways," she says.
"You want to talk about it?" he asks.
"Are you asking as my employee or my therapist?" she asks.
"I'm asking as your friend," he says. "But I can ask as your therapist if that makes you feel better."
"No," she says. "Friend is quite all right."
"So spill," he says.
"How did you know I was up here?" she asks, dodging his request.
"You weren't anywhere else," he says.
"You looked for me?" she asks.
"Stem to stern," he says, a slightly sheepish grin. "By the time I realized, I figured it had gotten pretty cold up here, so..."
The sun has long set and the night sky is black above them, but slipping her hand into his feels enough like her dream to settle the worry in her stomach for another couple hours at least.
"How long has it been now?" she asks. "You and I?"
"Let's see," he says, giving her hand a squeeze. "I was eight, plus you hitting me with your Benz plus you going crazy from a bug in your head plus me dying not once but twice-"
She elbows him a little.
"Plus one very tricky time dilation dome plus our stint as secret neighbors who hated each other plus you disappearing onto a mountain top for over a hundred years. Let's see, that makes... oh damn, I lost count. At least a lifetime together now, though, don't you think?"
"Give or take," she says.
"But on paper I think it's about four years," he says.
"On paper," she says. "For whatever that's worth."
"Yeah, we all know how much that is. On paper, Tesla's dead and you're 37 and Dr. Jekyll is just a story in a book."
Will lets go of her hand.
"Do you think you're ready to come in?" he asks. "The big guy made Beef Wellington for dinner."
"I'll meet you in there," she says.
"No," he says. "I'll wait until you're ready."
He takes her hand again.