Reaching the riverside, they turned to follow the frosty banks. They wandered in the snow silently enjoying each other's company, each lost in their pleasant musings. Until Helen's thoughts interrupted the peace.
She stopped abruptly and turned to him. "There was only 11," she said.
"Hmm?" He was distracted by the snowflakes sparkling in her dark hair.
"11 gifts. 12 days of Christmas but I count only 11 gifts, unless I missed one." Helen started thinking back, trying to pinpoint the gap.
"Ah, yes." Nikola took her elbow to distract her, guiding them over to a railing above the river that reflected the lights of the city. "I had to go a bit out of the traditional order but for good reason, I hope you will agree."
If Helen noticed the slight tremor to his hands as he pulled off his gloves and reached into his breast pocket, she didn't remark on it. Perhaps chalking it up to the cold.
" You see," he said, pulling out a small object that flashed with a gleam that outshone the sparkling snow and the reflections dancing on the water. "I have only one golden ring rather than five. But i thought it might upstage the other gifts so i saved it for last."
Nikola held the ring between them. He didn't reach for her hand to slip it on her finger or press her hand to his chest so she could feel the wild beating of his heart. Feel the tangible evidence that his love for her was not simply century-old lust. But things had never been settled between them. Even as they had grown closer, he had grown more unsure of their situation. Their flirtatious friendship had been easy to define in comparison to whatever they had become. He hated feeling so damned unsure.
Helen Magnus was too bloody magnificent, he had to try to show her that his heart belonged to her. But he needed her to reach out, take the ring, take his hand, say something. Anything. When she didn't he almost gave up all hope, for himself and the potentially bleak centuries to come that he must face without his queen by his side.
Helen stared at the ring, for a moment unable to process what was happening. It wasn't even unheard of for Nikola to present her with jewelry but a ring, especially that stunning bit of glimmer, made a singular statement. One she had never expected from Nikola Tesla. She looked up to search his eyes but found none of his usual mischief or saucy merriment. In fact, he looked on the very edge of despair; an expression she remembered only too well from his time devamped.
Her expression softened and her hand cupped his cheek, an instinctual reaction to seeing him in pain. Her tenderness brought a quickly-suppressed wonder to his face. Nikola took an unnecessary but bracing deep breath before lowering himself and his pride to one knee before her. The traditional gesture was not to Nikola's tastes at all but in the moment it felt right, almost as if he was humbling himself before her, this woman he loved with a depth no mortal could match but who had hurt so many times.
Helen swallowed convulsively as he knelt. Her hand slipped from his cheek and she folded it against her chest.
"I have not said the words often since Rome because you have never owed me the consideration of listening to or believing them. But I love you, Helen. I have since our days at Oxford. There has never been a woman that captured a fraction of my interest; only you. If you like I can tell you stories of how I yearned for you in the days, years, decades we spent apart. All the plane tickets I bought when missing you became too much, that went unused when i talked myself out it again."
Nikola dipped his head self-consciously for a second. He hadn't actually meant to ever reveal that information to her.
"But the important thing is: I don't want to yearn for you anymore, Helen. I want to be by your side, whether that happens to be in a Guatamalan jungle tracking a Quetzalcoatl or even god forbid mucking out that hideous SHU of yours." He managed a nervous smile as a bit of his usual wit returned. It was so horribly cliche to quote but it would surely jar his quick-minded Helen out of the silent shock she'd been in these long minutes. "I love you. Most ardently. Please do me the honor of accepting my hand."
"Are you serious?" she asked abruptly. Helen was not at all unsure about what was happening here but it all seemed so implausible she had to question it. His borrowed words didn't entirely help her confusion.
"I assure you, Helen, I have never been more sincere. Nothing in my life has equaled the importance of this moment." he said, practically with bated breath. Too anxious to even mention the many, many important moments and works of his long life. They were irrelevant; she far outstripped them.
"You know I love that movie." Helen need a moment to gather her wits and sought refuge in banter.
Nikola snorted, but with a smile because he saw the lightness about her face, the gleam in her eyes. Hope leapt like flames within him, stoking his heart, but he tampered them down, not about to get ahead of himself.
"You love Darcy." he corrected her.
"Yes," she mused, "Matthew is rather handsome in that one, isn't he?" But her cheeky smile wasn't for the actor but for the impossibly handsome vampire before her, pledging himself to her.
It would seem utterly ridiculous to anyone else to be talking about movie stars in the middle of his proposal, but in the moment it only highlighted the unique and unpredictable relationship between them. Nikola had never bored her and he never would. And she could always keep him on his toes too. If occasionally trying to kill each other hadn't severed their bond, surely nothing could. And she hoped nothing ever would.
Nikola felt Helen's hand brush his. Looking down, her saw her slip her finger into the ring and wrap her hand around his to squeeze. His eyes flew to hers, unable to credit, unable to believe. His most precious, loftiest goal in life (surmounting even his old desire to revive the Vampire race and rule the world) has been to be a man worthy of Helen's devotion. He'd never truly thought it possible. But could it be?
"Yes." Helen said.
Her simple answer was sweet music to his ears and he closed his eyes to drink the moment in. However long he walked this earth, Nikola knew he would never forget the scent of the icy river and the falling snow, the sound of the drums so distant now as to be soft as a heartbeat. The warmth of her hand in his.
Her hand squeezed his again with a gentle tug.
"Stand up and kiss me, you impossible man. Your trousers will be ruined from the snow."
He needed no more encouragement to rise to his feet and sink his fingers into her glorious hair. With the determination to show her she would have no regrets in accepting him, he kissed her with a thoroughness she had never encountered from him before. Their kisses were too often snatched in the face of danger, no time for more than a hasty press of lips.
But now Nikola happily took his time. For once he didn't have to restrain himself to avoid betraying his true feelings for her. He poured every ounce of passion stretching back 150 years into her lips. He filled Helen's senses, stealing her breath as he devoured her lips. She melted against him, her hands gripping his waistcoat to keep herself upright when her knees buckled. To his credit, he didn't even chuckle as her body gave in to him. He wrapped an arm around her waist, supporting her and drawing her tight against his chest, never losing her lips.
When she finally had to break free to breath, Nikola counterpointed the fierce kiss with most delicate fingertips stroking her cheek. Tracing the lines of her face, brushing aside snowflakes before they had a chance to melt. His expression was full of a soft wonder that rivaled any scientific amazement for the beauty it brought to his face. Helen raised a hand to cup his cheek again. When he nuzzled into it, she embraced the full depth of love she had for the man that she had kept at bay for an age. Too afraid of getting hurt again to ever take him seriously.
Helen didn't worry about wasted time in the past. The entire future was theirs.
[AN: there's those golden rings..]