For a minute, Will thinks Magnus is going to try to take a plane out into that storm, but she must see the look on his face because she sighs, nods once curtly, and asks about lodgings.
Lodgings turns out to be a room in the facility with a double bed, a lamp with a single bulb, and a bunch of empty packing crates.
“The storage suite,” Will comments, dropping his duffel to the concrete floor. “Nice.”
“I can’t complain about the price,” Magnus says, setting her things to the floor a little more gently. “They could have sent us back into town.”
Town is a twenty mile drive, treacherous on a good day and the sun is already setting.
When they finally climb into the bed, the lamp extinguished, the howling wind keeps Will awake. He can’t even be excited about sharing a bed with Magnus because it’s so cold that they’re in socks and sweaters and still, his nose is freezing. He can hear her teeth chattering.
“Will,” Magnus says softly. “Are you awake?”
“Yeah,” he says.
“I hate to ask,” she says. She hates it so much that she doesn’t ask. But this is Magnus and Will makes it a point to know what she needs when she won’t ask for it, so he clears his throat.
“Sure,” he says. “Come here.”
She rolls, trying not to upset the comforter too much and he tucks her against him, her back to his front. It takes long minutes, but they do get warmer. Her hair smells sweet, even after the day they’ve had.
“Thank you,” she mumbles as she drifts to sleep.
The next night, she doesn’t even ask. She just cuddles up to him, her fingers cold against his forearm. Some time in the night, she rolls and faces him, slips her hands under his shirt. It wakes him up and he suspects she is not fully asleep either, but he doesn’t call her on it. He’s cold, too.
In the morning, the weather has broken some and when Magnus inquires about flight clearance, it’s good news. It’s still snowing, the wind blowing hard. Earlier that day, Will had watched Magnus pull her hair back and secure it with an elastic band so it would be easy to tuck into her hood. He’d held her coat for her as she’d shrugged into it. They travel well together after several years, an easy patter of give and take.
She squints through the windshield of the plane as they move through pre-flight. He curls his fingers into his palm and thinks about pulling his gloves out of his pocket.
“I hope this clear weather holds,” she comments, buckling in. “I don’t fancy Declan and his team want to stay on that ship any longer.”
“Or you?” Will asks with a smirk.
“Well,” she says, smiling. “One more night with you is not the worst of fates.”
He knows she’s teasing but it still makes him feel nice.
As they take off, he says loudly, to be heard, “Bumpy ride!”
“Always is,” Magnus says.
Magnus can’t stop shaking, even after they’re fished out of the water. Will’s legs are cramping fiercely and he watches Magnus get wrapped in blankets before he passes out. It doesn’t last long. Someone sticks a needle in his arm to give him fluids and it wakes him up again. He’s never been so cold, so tired, so aching before.
He wishes they weren’t on a helicopter, but rescue is rescue.
“Who are you?” Will manages finally, to the man crouched between them in the small bit of space behind the pilot’s seat.
“Kate sent us,” the man says. “We’re taking you to a hospital.” He manages to roll his head over and looks at Magnus.
“Is she okay?” Will asks. Her eyes are closed.
“She’s unconscious, but alive,” the man says. “You saved her life.”
Will doesn’t remember any of that and it’s too hard to keep his eyes open so he lets them slip closed again.
When he wakes up, he can still feel the rocking of the waves and it’s disorienting to see that he’s in a hospital bed on dry land. Magnus is at his side in blue scrubs, sitting in a hard chair.
“Will,” she says. “How do you feel?”
“Tired,” he says. “How are you?”
“Fine, thanks to you,” she says softly. “They say after I passed out, you held my head above water for hours.”
He remembers a little bit of that, of one arm over his flotation device, one arm around Magnus. His forearm fitted between her breasts so he could make sure her head was tilted back, away from the water.
He wasn’t about to let her go.
“What day is it?” he asks.
“Tuesday,” she says.
It hurts to move, his muscles still tender, but he manages to flop his arm over the edge of the bed. She takes his hand carefully and he feels her thumb move in small circles on his skin. He’s about to fall asleep again, but he thinks maybe he feels her lips against his knuckles.
Then again, maybe not.
They don’t often fly commercial. It’s time consuming and can be expensive when booked last minute and commercial planes don’t always fly to the locations they need to go. Airports don’t usually go to those locations either. But this time, Magnus had booked three tickets well in advance.
And then Henry backed out and Kate was in Hollow Earth and when Will asked Biggie, he just got laughed at.
“What about Tesla?” Will asks.
“Do you think we need a chaperon?” Magnas asks, bemused.
“No, I just... three tickets,” he says. “Seems like a waste.”
“I’ll just transfer the balance, Will, it’s not a problem,” Magnus says. “Unless you wish to back out, too. I can certainly go alone.”
“You’re not going alone,” Will says. She hides her smirk behind her teacup and swivels her chair back to face her monitor.
“Good,” she says.
Biggie drops them off at the airport. Magnus is wearing a dress and a sweater, not her usual travel wardrobe. No dark jeans, no boots up to her knee, no knapsack of weapons and medicines. It’s a conference, not a bag and tag, so it makes sense, but the whole trip begins to feel more like a vacation than work. It would be easy to be lulled into that feeling. Stop in the airport bar for a pint, pick up a glossy magazine to leaf through.
They roll their little black suitcases behind them. Will’s old bag had finally bit the dust, so Magnus had given him a piece of her set for the trip. Her suitcase is the same as his, only a bit larger. Both are small enough not to check.
They sit next to one another in the waiting area before their flight boards. Her legs are crossed and he tries not to stare at her bare knee or the way her heel keeps popping in and out of her shoe as she reads something on her phone.
“Want some tea?” he asks. There’s a Starbuck’s kiosk not too far down the hall.
“That would be lovely,” she says, smiling at him. She hands him her wallet. The first time she’d done it, he’d been offended, but she likes to write little purchases like that off, so he takes it with no fuss and heads towards the kiosk.
Waiting in line , he looks at her driver’s license. Her picture is amazingly good - only Helen Magnus could achieve that feat - and it lists her age as 38.
He orders her a black breakfast tea and gets himself a vanilla latte and buys them a croissant to split. She won’t eat one of her own, but she’ll happily eat half of his. She takes the tea gratefully.
“Just in time,” she says. “They’re about to call for first class.”
On the plane, he gives her the aisle seat.
“Long legs,” she says, smirking.
“Don’t I know it,” he says which actually makes her eyes get wide and she breaks into a grin.
“Going to be one of those trips, is it?” she says, her voice dropping an octave.
He immediately feels warm and shifts a little in his seat. “You’re the one who didn’t want a chaperon.”
It’s not a long flight, maybe two hours. They’re half way through it when Magnus, the least clumsy person in the world, manages to knock over her glass of wine with her elbow in a way that not only dumps it into her lap but across his leg as well.
“Oh,” she says. “How terribly clumsy.”
“Yeah,” he says. “Yikes.”
“Come on, then. We’ll just go mop up.”
Looking back, this is the point at which he should have started to see through her little ruse but part of the problem with trusting Magnus implicitly is that when she’s very obviously lying, it doesn’t occur to him to suspect her until much too late.
He lets her step into the small bathroom first. She reaches for the paper towels and starts blotting ineffectively before pausing and glancing up at him.
“Squeeze in,” she orders. “We’ll both fit.”
He glances behind him but no one out there seems to be paying them any attention so he shuffles in and just manages to lock the door.
“I could wait,” he says. “It’s not even... mostly it’s all over you.”
“Mmm, yes,” she says, affecting a small but adorable pout. “The sacrifices one must make to get you alone.”
“I... what?” he says.
“Come on, Will,” she says. “An unimportant conference, convincing Henry not to come, these shoes for flying? You seriously are not that dense.”
“This is... what is this?” he asks.
“You’ve been complaining about wanting a vacation for months!” she says. “I know it’s not perfect, but two birds, one stone.” She tilts her head in a way that means he really ought to start catching on at any moment.
“But then, you spilled so... and the bathroom?” he says. “Why are we in the bathroom, Magnus?”
She grins at him, takes his coat lapels, and pulls him ever closer.
“For this,” she says simply, and kisses him.
It’s nearly ten minutes before they go back to their seats and while Magnus walks breezily down the aisle, Will can’t seem to look anyone in the eyes.
“There,” Magnus says, settling back into her seat and speaking loudly enough that it’s suspicious. “All clean.”
Will’s cheeks burn, but he can’t help smiling. Just a little.
It’s dark when they board the flight. Helen has sent Declan and Kate on ahead, tired of being hovered over. Declan had arranged their travel for them, had offered to charter them a flight, but it’s faster to fly commercial at this point and Magnus just wants to go home. Will does, too. They’ll have to get new phones - Magnus had dismantled theirs long ago for parts.
It’s a red eye, meant to get them home sometime tomorrow.
Magnus dozes a bit beside him, off and on. Will can’t sleep. He thumbs through the magazine in the pocket in front of him, intent on catching up with what he’d missed before he realizes how stupid that is.
He tries not to think about Abby, about how he’ll explain this to her, about the apologies he’ll have to make. About Josie, about losing Ravi, about the slow yet frantic life they lead within the field.
He looks at her now, her chin drooping toward her chest. She’d hardly slept during their exile, only a few hours a day on average, but she’s been exhausted since they woke up in the hospital. She looks pale, her hair more unkempt than he’s ever seen it - her roots golden, woven in with the dark brown. Her little secret.
Eventually, the flight attendants stir, pushing their carts down the narrow aisle, ready to serve coffee and breakfast. People start lifting their window shades, blinking and looking around. Will lifts the shade next to him. The sky is a rosy pink as the first tendrils of the sun reach toward them.
“Hey,” he says. “Magnus.”
She jerks her head up, abruptly awake, and looks at him.
“The sun is rising,” he says. She cranes her head and looks past him, out the little window. She smiles softly.
“So it is.” She touches his hand. “Thank you, Will.”
“Is this about the beard?” Will asks. It’s hard to keep the note of exasperation out of his voice. Helen rolls her eyes.
“Of course not,” she says. “Don’t be absurd.”
“I’m not being absurd,” he says, mimicking her accent perfectly. He knows she hates that.
“You're the one who is insecure about it,” she points out. “Why you wear it like a martyr instead of just shaving it off is a mystery to us all.”
“Insecure?” he says. “Now who is being absurd?”
She snorts. He doesn’t hear it over the engines of the small, two-seater plane, but he can see it in her movement, her expression.
So Will had decided to grow a beard and the majority of it had come in gray. So what?
“I think it makes you look distinguished,” Helen says now. She’s told him this four times already in increasingly patronizing tones.
“It makes me look old,” he mumbles.
“Then shave it for heaven’s sake!”
“That doesn’t fix the problem!” Will says.
“Good lord,” she says.
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” he gripes. This earns him a stony silence. She makes a great production of inspecting her instruments and making a slight correction to their flight path. Finally, he cracks.
“Why don’t we just talk about the real issue here,” she snaps. “The problem is not that you look old, the problem is that you look older than me.”
He stares at her, his mouth open. He wants to tell her that she’s being ridiculous but as soon as she says it, he knows that she’s right.
“Close your mouth,” she orders, her fingers tightening on the throttle.
“It is,” she cuts him off. “It always is.”
“Great,” he says. “One more way I’m just one more in a long line of men parading through your endless life.”
“It’s astounding how much I want to slap you right now,” she says, her jaw tight.
“Why you feel the need to remind me that I’m not unique all the time...”
“We are not having this fight again,” she interrupts.
“I’ve given you twenty years, Helen, you’d think that would mean something but no, on your radar it’s hardly a blip!”
“It means everything, you gigantic arse, but it is not my obligation to continually remind you of your worth to me nor to convince you that you are a very special snowflake!”
“Augh!” he says, throwing up his hands, which is not the dramatic gesture he hopes it to be since he’s restrained into his seat.
“Will,” she says, a little more calmly. “I’ve given you twenty years, too, you know. Just because my number of years isn’t as finite as yours doesn’t make that any less important.”
“I’ve given you my home, my life’s work, my friendship, my bed, my love,” she says. “I’ve given you everything I have to give. It would go a long way if you could acknowledge that every once in a great while instead of simply comparing yourself to those who came before.”
“God,” he says. “Helen, I-”
Something grinds, there’s a loud bang, and then smoke starts issuing from one wing.
“We lost an engine!” she yells. “I’ll have to put her down!”
“Of course we did!” he yells back, bracing himself. “How do I keep getting on planes with you? How?”
“This is going to be bumpy,” she says. “I’m going to try to put her down in that field but we’re going to come in too fast!”
“Helen?” he says, as they careen toward the ground. “Helen, I love you!”
She spares a precious second to glance at him and she raises one corner of her mouth.
“I know you do!” She turns her attention back to the panel before her. “Here we go! Get ready! Hold on, Will, just hold on!”