Charlotte’s sure she’s not imagining the look of warmth Helen momentarily affords her before dropping her eyes down to her desk again. She’s alone, so Charlotte’s not sure why she’d mask her feelings in such a way, but Helen still puzzles her in more ways than this.
This time, Helen doesn’t hide the smile—glances up again with raised brows and an inviting expression. “Hi.”
Stupid question: Helen’s always busy. Still, she doesn’t seem too occupied.
Charlotte drops into the chair opposite Helen’s, tracing her fingers across the lightly worn material. The chair—no, the whole office—feels broken in, but not overused. Pristine, but not unyielding. The whole place does, and she finds herself continuously stopping to marvel at it. She remembers Dr. Zimmerman’s approving looks around the corridors when he brought her here, and imagines she, too, will be in wonder for a very long time. The ocean has a similar charm; she’ll always be in wonder at the waves and its vastness, no matter that she understands the science behind it all as best as anyone can.
And then there’s Helen. Charlotte can’t decide if she’s the same or not. Sometimes, she seems to sag with the weight of years and memory. But then, she’s also firm and unyielding—sometimes to a fault, but in Charlotte’s experience, it’s usually a good thing.
In a month of relatively constant companionship, she’s still not certain. But she also suspects that it takes much longer than that to really get to know Helen Magnus.
“Last night was good,” she says lamely.
Helen’s shoulders rise and fall, and Charlotte’s certain she hears a stifled laugh. “Was it?”
Helen lifts her head just a little at that, and Charlotte knows she’s looking at her through her lashes. “It was,” she agrees, and Charlotte grins broadly. “I should thank you.”
“Hm… that thing you did with your hands right at the end.”
God forbid Helen use that tone in any other setting. Charlotte bites her lip, then she too begins laughing.
“Show you some more tonight, if you like.”
Charlotte leans back in the chair in the silence that passes. It’s comfortable; she’s not used to comfortable silences, but with Helen, it feels right. Hell, Helen feels right. It’s a thought that’s both terrifying and wonderful. She’s thought she was with the proverbial one before, but that one has never been anything like Helen. Details of personality and wit aside, Helen has a longer history than most—and history tends to provide a much different outlook on the present and future.
That’s not even to mention the length of a future Helen has ahead of her.
The scratch of pen on paper returns, and Charlotte watches Helen work in silence for a while.
“What if this doesn’t work?” Charlotte asks curiously after a span.
“What do you mean?” Helen doesn’t look quite as puzzled as she does inviting, and Charlotte furrows her brows in response.
“Well… workplace romances and all that,” she replies, and she wants to kick herself for the lack of honesty in her reply.
“Ah. I’ll just have to marry you off to someone in one of the outer settlements, I suppose. That, or feed you to a basilisk.”
Charlotte catches herself exhaling in a sardonic half-laugh, and Helen rises out of her seat in a movement that’s sudden, unexpected, but smooth.
“I thought as much,” the other woman says, circling her desk to lean against it.
Charlotte glances up at her thoughtfully, unsure how to feel about the proximity.
“I’m quite fond of you, Charlotte,” Helen murmurs after a few moments of silence.
“For how long?” Charlotte asks, and she can tell by Helen’s expression that the woman knows this is the root of the issue—and, likely, that she suspected it was something along these lines from the start.
“As long as you give me reason to be.”
Helen’s lips part for a moment before she asks: “Isn’t it a little early in the relationship for conversations like this?”
Charlotte stares openly at Helen for a moment, trying to discern the meaning behind her words. When Helen’s lips twitch upward, she realizes that the question isn’t meant to be taken seriously—and that, in fact, it may be more answer than it seems to be.
“Come here,” Helen says, and the tilt of her head is inviting.
She rises out of the chair, and Helen’s arms are warm—her kiss, warmer. Charlotte’s hands find Helen’s neck, tease through her dark hair, and Helen strokes her sides, tilting her head down to kiss her neck.
She’s in the midst of humming quiet approval when the door clicks open.
“Magnus, we’ve got word fro—”
Charlotte breaks away, watching as Helen’s expression transforms until she’s half-laughing at Will’s pause. “Continue,” Helen says, and her eyes rise to the door.
Charlotte turns, trying not to look as awkward as she feels, and Will’s wagging a finger. She watches him in confusion, and when she looks at Helen again, the other woman’s brows are raised in coy question.
“I so should have seen that coming.”
“Pardon?” Helen asks.
“Oh no. Don’t even. I knew you were too interested in her. From the start. I knew it.”
“Does that bother you?”
“Too interested?” Charlotte blurts, and Helen’s attention turns down to her. She looks far too self-satisfied for Charlotte’s liking. “Why you—”
“Conniving witch,” Will finishes. “That’s the phrase you’re looking for. She’s a spider in a web, looking for her next prey.”
“That’s hardly fair!” Helen retorts in obvious amusement.
“An anglerfish,” Will adds, pointing knowingly, and Helen’s whole body twitches with the note of laughter she chokes on.
“Watch her. She’s no good,” Will adds without pause, turning his attention to Charlotte. She watches as his gaze turns back to Helen again in a blink. “And aren’t you on the clock or something?”
“Please,” Helen scoffs, arm tightening around Charlotte’s waist. “If I lived by that philosophy, I’d never have a moment for pleasure.
Charlotte finds herself leaning into Helen again, biting her lip, unsure whether she feels like an insider or an outsider.
But—and the thought bounces through her head as they banter—Helen had wanted her here.
“Right,” Will’s saying, and she glances up at him again. “Yeah, well. Congratulations. Both of you.” Although he’s teasing, there’s also an amiable sincerity hiding under his tone and his expression. And then, to Charlotte, he adds: “but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Finally, Charlotte laughs too, reaching to squeeze Helen’s hip with her closer hand. Will’s busy emoting in that way of his: tosses his hands into the air as he turns to leave, and Charlotte spins in Helen’s arms to place both hands on her sides. “You are absolutely evil,” she declares, but her body crashes against Helen’s when she leans in to kiss her, holding her sides while Helen’s hands move into her hair, an arm rounding her shoulders.
“You’d have left me in Comoros like you didn’t give a shit,” she growls, nipping at Helen’s jaw. “What if I hadn’t made the first move when I got here?”
“You did, didn’t you?” Helen retorts, pulling Charlotte a little closer and guiding her face around to claim her mouth.
Charlotte bites down on her lip, pressing her thighs against Helen’s. “I hate you so much right now.”
Helen laughs, and as usual, Charlotte’s taken with the sound. “So sorry.”
Charlotte sinks into her body at that, the urgency of her touch easing off as her teeth scrape over Helen’s pulse point. “I’m going to do the worst things to you.”
“No complaints here,” Helen murmurs, pushing her hair back as her lips brush Charlotte’s temple. “Charlotte,” she adds after a moment, and Charlotte arches back, watching her. “I don’t suppose you feel I did trap you?”
Charlotte snorts at that, gazing at Helen dubiously. “No.” She means it. “Why?”
Helen shrugs. “It’s a question that’s arisen before. And you didn’t have a lot of options.”
“Helen, you don’t have any idea how quickly I would have come with you after Grande Comore,” Charlotte assures her, again, meaning it emphatically. Helen’s world was fascinating, even if the experience itself had been horrifying. Helen had been fascinating.
“You know, if it doesn’t work…”
“You’ll still have a place on this team,” Helen replies firmly, stroking Charlotte’s cheek with her thumb. “If it’s what you want.”
“Good to know.” And she means that too. She’d like to think they’d be capable of a semblance of normalcy, if it came down to it.
“You know,” Helen adds, and Charlotte raises her brows at her. “I very much prefer to think that this will work.”
Charlotte drops her hands to the desk at that, but leans in close, grinning as her body brushes Helen’s. “That’s good, I guess,” she replies coyly, and Helen too drops her arms, wrapping them tight around Charlotte’s waist before lowering her face into the crook of Charlotte’s neck.
“I’m glad you think so.”