Will's so distracted that he nearly walks right into Magnus when she appears around the corner ahead of him, head bowed over the screen of her cell phone. At the last minute, he veers, she side-steps--but they pick the same side, and almost collide anyway. He raises a hand to steady her, but she's fine without him. Over a century of negotiating high heels gives a person pretty good balance, he guesses.
Magnus gives him a rueful half-smile. "I had hoped to run into you, but not quite so literally."
"Totally my fault," he says, and raises a hand to rub the side of his neck. "I--" There's a noise down the hallway behind him, and his tension ratchets right back up.
Before he's even really thought about what he's doing, he's pulling her back with him into the alcove of the window seat, against the wall, behind the loose curtain.
After a moment of barely breathing, Will takes a chance and peeks back into the hallway, but it's empty. It says a lot about how thrown he is that it takes him so long to realize how presumptuous he was to manhandle Magnus like that, and he drops her elbow, snapping his hand back. "Oh, God. I'm sorry."
"What is it?" she asks, keeping her voice low, glancing from him to the curtain blocking her view of the hall. Her eyes get that wary, detached look like she's assessing a threat, and Will shakes his head quickly, trying to keep her from getting to DefCon 1.
"No, we're fine, it's nothing like that. It's just--" Damn. There's no way to say this without embarrassing himself, so he just takes a deep breath and spills it. "Everyone was right. Everyone was totally right. The Gorulak are driving me insane."
Her eyes widen, and a muscle at the corner of her mouth twitches. Yeah, he's got no dignity left. She asks, a little too brightly, "Would you like me to get someone else to--"
"No!" He folds his arms over his chest and tries to wrestle his humiliation under control. "No, I just--needed to take a break."
"You do have an office you could take advantage of," she says. She raises her eyebrows at him. "For that matter, I have an office."
"Yeah, but then they'd be able to find me."
Magnus's eyes get very shiny, and now she's ever-so-gently pressing her lips together. Oh, wait. He did have some dignity left to lose, after all. There it goes, scampering off under the smile she's resisting, like a skittish lizard. "With your professional experience, I wouldn't have thought that liaising with the Gorulak would present you with such a challenge."
"It's not really the Gorulak. Well, okay, they're..." If they were human, he'd call them high-functioning obsessive-compulsives, but they're not. "Comparatively high-maintenance," is what he settles on. Magnus drops her chin a fraction--approval for shedding his anthropocentric viewpoint, he knows, but that almost makes it harder to explain his real problem.
He tightens his arms and braces himself. "Annalak, the first daughter of their matriarch, keeps coming on to me." He can feel his cheeks starting to burn. "Aggressively."
It's the most delicate way he can come up with to avoid saying, While most of her people are updating the Sanctuary records of their clan history, Annalak has been attempting to literally get into my pants about once every three minutes. And, unfortunately for Will, the Gorulak seem to have no taboos against getting really friendly with a complete stranger in front of their extended family.
Relations-wise, it's good that Annalak hasn't been at all offended by his attempts to put her off. On a personal level, it completely sucks that she hasn't been remotely deterred by his attempts to put her off. He's actually got scratch marks on his belt from having to pry her foreclaws away, over and over again.
"And since the Gorulak tend to get somewhat fixated on the objects of their attention..." Oh, Magnus is definitely trying not to laugh at him now. On the up side, it's better than having her actually laughing at him. "... you've decided to go into hiding."
"I'm not hiding. I'm just taking a breather." He starts to smile, himself, because it really is funny, in a mortifying kind of way. "You know, away. Out of sight. For several minutes."
"Of course," she says, nodding, and it's just about worth feeling like an idiot to see the merriment in her face. They've been through a lot lately, and if his feeling like a fool lightens up her day, he can't begrudge her that.
In fact, he'll play it out, try to keep that lightness in her eyes as long as possible. He settles his shoulders against the stone wall and says, "I bet Kate wouldn't be having this problem."
"Debatable, considering what I've read about the Gorulak," she says, and he nods. It's news to him, but not shocking, considering. "But judging by how fast she called 'not it', I would guess she's had some kind of contact with the species that she's not eager to repeat."
"I can't imagine what that might have been," he says, rolling his eyes. "Yeah, that was low. I didn't know we were allowed to call 'not it.'"
She's not giving him anything, now, just watching him.
"Mmm." It's not agreement, just acknowledging that it happened.
"And the Big Guy," he says, and wonders who the hell taught the Big Guy the finger-on-the-nose thing.
Magnus nods. "It's good for you, though. Exposure to other cultures can be such a fruitful experience."
He raises a hand to point at her, and she cracks, starting to smile. "I cannot believe you just went there," he says, but he can't help laughing.
"I've always found hands-on learning leaves a strong impression," she says, and now she's really grinning.
"You're terrible. You are completely awful," he says, and shakes his head.
And then his spine snaps straight and he sucks in a breath, pressing himself hard enough against the wall to feel the stone chill seeping in. He holds his hand up for quiet, because that was absolutely a goddamn noise out in the hallway, and he's apparently nowhere near as sanguine about the whole thing as he was trying to convince himself to be.
It's childish, and it's ridiculous, and it's amazingly unprofessional, but he really, really isn't ready to fend off Annalak again. He closes his eyes to hear better, and concentrates on stillness, on not giving away anything that will get him caught. The curtains aren't really all that thick.
There's the faintest sense of displaced air and warmth along the side of his body, and he knows Magnus has stepped up beside him. Then, her fingers close around his still-upraised hand, her thumb settling into the crease of his palm.
He opens his eyes and looks back at her, startled, and she holds one finger up to her lips. Then she leans in close, so close that her hair tickles his cheek, and breathes into his ear, "Poor Will. You have had a trying time of it, haven't you?"
A shiver runs through him, and it's partly a memory of the Bermuda Triangle, but only partly. Magnus now has his arm pinned gently against the wall, her hand still wrapped around his, but there's no force behind it at all, and he could break away any time he wanted.
What's really holding him in place is the look in her eyes when she draws back to see his reaction, a look somewhere between amused and possessive and--something else he can't put a name to. Something he's started seeing there from time to time. It's like he's passed a test he doesn't remember taking, or been giving the right answers to questions he hasn't been asked.
Like he's getting the approval for something somebody else did.
Which would be just a little bit crazy.
But when Magnus leans in again and whispers, "Best be quiet, if you don't want anyone finding you," and scratches her thumbnail ever-so-lightly across his palm, Will decides that he needs to send Imaginary Guy a thank-you note. She looks him over again, making sure he's okay with this, and he almost laughs.
Instead, he dips his chin, and curls his fingers to brush them over the back of her thumb without breaking her hold. She gives him a grin that's somehow warm and sharp at the same time, and then shifts across him to whisper in his other ear. "You know, it's been a very long time since I've been pulled into a clandestine meeting behind a curtain."
Her breasts rub against his chest, but with the wall behind him, he couldn't give her any extra room if he wanted to. Not that he does. He mirrors her, cheek brushing hers as he whispers back, "That's a shame. Are you sure you remember what to do here?"
She feigns silent outrage, lips parted and eyes round. Then she narrows her eyes at him. Without taking her eyes off his, she slowly brings his captive hand forward to brush a courtly kiss across his knuckles.
Then she sucks his index finger into her mouth, and heat flashes over his skin like summer lightning.
It's all he can do to keep his ragged breathing quiet, and he can't look away from her. She stares right back at him as she plays her tongue over the pad of his finger, then changes her grip and traces his finger wetly over her own lips. She laps at his fingertip one last time, then lowers his hand and tugs, and even as she's leaning in, he's burying his other hand in her hair, and her mouth is hungry and hot and wild.
He already knew Helen Magnus never did things halfway, but Jesus. Will hasn't been this turned on, this fast, since he was a teenager, and Magnus seems to be right there with him, molding her body against him, one hand gripping his shoulder hard. He dimly registers that there's no more sounds of movement from the hallway, but honestly, at this point the whole clan could troop in for floor seats and he wouldn't care.
Just as he's starting to get light-headed, she lets him up for air. There's a flush across her cheeks, and her eyes are glittering darkly. She rubs a hand down his chest and murmurs, "I think I've taken unfair advantage of your agitation, Will."
"You certainly have--an interesting way of taking my mind off of amorous abnormals," he says in a low voice, and grins at her, as he catches his breath. "As for taking advantage of me, I think you could be more thorough."
She leans back in, deliberately trailing her lips across his cheek before whispering in his ear, "Oh, you have no idea." He swallows, mouth suddenly dry, and she gives him a grin, way more suggestive than his own had been. Then she runs her hand along his belt, pausing at the claw marks, and looks back up at him. "You weren't exaggerating."
"Magnus," he breathes, and catches her hand with his. Playing with his belt is really not helping his control at all; he's trying to play it as cool as she is, but every inch of his skin is tingling. She kisses him again, like she's planning to take him apart a piece at a time, and he just gives up any pretense of cool.
He's really glad he's got a wall to hold him up.
When she lets him up this time, he must look as wrecked as he feels. There's an impish glint in her eyes, and she presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth, then his cheek, then his jaw. "You certainly can't go back to the Gorulak looking like this. They'd eat you alive." She scrapes her teeth along the line of his neck, and he barely stifles a groan, deep in his throat. "I'll tell them that you're not feeling well," she says, and hooks a finger behind the top button of his shirt, tugging gently, fanning him with the fabric. "A bit feverish."
"It's not really a lie," he says. At some point his hands settled on her hips, and he can't keep them from flexing, nervous and restless.
"But we should keep you somewhere out of sight, just in case," she says, and trails her nail softly up his throat, under his chin. "Wouldn't want to tempt fate."
He gives her a brief smile, but he can't keep it in place. "I'm open to suggestions."
He's not trying to be coy, it's just--he's really not sure how far she wants to go with this. There are times when he feels like they're totally in sync, and times when it really comes home to him that his boss has had a sesquicentennial, and he wonders how impossibly young and foreign he must seem to her. And then she'll come out with a terrible joke, or wrinkle her nose at him when the steam from his coffee mug wafts her way, and it just feels natural to be around her, the most incredible thing in their incredible world.
And sometimes he can't read her at all, even when the situation seems damn hard to misconstrue, even when she's warm and apparently willing in his arms and she has to feel that he's hard against her hip.
Which means that even with his pulse pounding, it takes all the nerve he can summon up to reach out and lift a curling lock of hair away from her face, to trail his thumb and forefinger under the corner of her jaw, to tip her head forward and kiss her with longing--no bravado, no hiding, no walls.
Nothing but honest want, and hope.
She lets him lead, and this time, when he breaks away, she sucks in a shallow breath. Meeting his eyes, she says, "Since you're feeling so poorly, perhaps you should go lie down," and presses something small and hard and metallic into his palm.
He doesn't need to look to know that what she's handed him is a small brass key, worn shiny in places by years of use. There's another from the same set in his own pocket. He looks into her clear, open gaze, and nods. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea."
"I'll check in on you once I've seen to our guests." She pushes away from him, both hands on his chest, taking a careful step back.
"I'd appreciate that." He snags her right hand before she drops it, and presses a kiss just above her knuckles. "Really."
She smiles at him before pulling her hand away. "I won't be long." She squeezes his hand, then vanishes into the hallway.
Will leans forward, hands on his thighs, and draws a deep, steadying breath. "God, I hope not," he murmurs to himself. Then he scrubs a hand over his face, tries to unrumple his shirt, and makes a beeline for the residential wing.