"Welcome to Leena's," says Myka, ushering H.G. through the front door. She clasps her hands nervously as H.G. turns in a complete circle, taking in the house. Her eyes seem to be searching for something beyond the decor--perhaps escape routes and unorthodox exits. Myka can't blame her.
"It's very...cozy," says H.G. She sounds unsure what to do with cozy, and Myka wonders if she's just been living hotel room to hotel room this entire time, or if she found some place to hole up and hide. Whatever it was, Leena's is sure to be a step above, oozing comfort as it does. The scent of pastry and sugar floats out of the kitchen and Myka can see H.G.'s nostrils flare subtly.
"Are you hungry?" Myka asks. "I'm sure we can find something..." She subsides, waiting for H.G. to speak, to act, to stop giving her that sly sideways look.
"Why don't you show me upstairs?" H.G. suggests.
"Uh, okay." Myka starts up the stairs, occasionally glancing behind her to make sure H.G. is following. She pauses at the top, on the landing, and points left and right. "You can pick any empty room. We'll send for your stuff. You know, if there's anything you want from London, or something."
H.G. slips down the hallway, one hand brushing along the side tables and cabinets. She stops, turns to pin Myka with a mischievous stare. "Which one is your room?" she asks.
"Oh, uh, I live on the..." She has to pause to remember. "On the left. That one."
H.G. follows Myka's pointer and sidles to the door. "This one?"
"Yes, and the other rooms are just as nice-" Myka is helpless to do anything but watch as H.G. walks right into her room. Inside, she's already touching everything, lingering on the well-stocked bookshelf, poking at the pile of battered stuffed animals. Myka wishes she'd had the chance to put away some of her childhood mementos first, but of course she hadn't known an enigmatic refugee from the 19th century would be visiting her today. H.G. pauses next to Pete's cage.
"I never pictured you as the ferret type," says H.G., leaning over the cage. She waves one finger at Pete, who regards her with his beady little eyes. "There was a cat who lived in Warehouse 12. No one knew how long he'd been there or how he survived, but dead rats would turn up from time to time, so I suppose he earned his keep." She straightens and smiles at Myka, what Myka imagines a predatory, half-feral cat looks like just before it kills something.
"He came out of a wishing kettle," Myka explains. "If you wish for something impossible, you get a ferret."
"An impossible wish," says H.G., sounding intrigued by the notion.
"Yeah..." Myka watches her warily as she moves on, now running her hand along Myka's bedspread. Myka stays by the door, nearly pressed against the wall, suddenly not in control of her own room.
"I can choose any room I like?" H.G. asks, closing the distance between them inch by inch.
"Yes. The one next to Pete's is--is open..." Myka feels mesmerized, flush with warmth and relief that she isn't standing next to a fresh statue in the bronze sector. H.G. is within arm's reach now, reaching out with one hand, reaching for--the door. She shuts the door, giving the two of them some privacy.
"Alone at last," says H.G., the suggestion of laughter about her mouth. She clasps her hands together, and for a moment, she seems less than completely assured. "I want to thank you, again, for your report. It means the world to me, literally."
Myka goes slightly shy, but is no less earnest for it. "All I did was tell them exactly what happened."
H.G. smirks, leaning into Myka with her hand braced on the wall. She's shorter, and yet Myka feels as though H.G. is looming, filling up all the space before her. She's incredibly aware of the shortening distance between them. "Ah," says H.G. "A well-reasoned and dispassionate recounting of events."
"Of course," says Myka.
"No tears of relief at seeing me alive, still flesh and blood?" H.G. asks coyly. "I believe I saw tears."
"I was relieved, I mean, you deserve a chance, and-and-" Myka can see that H.G. is teasing her and blushes, indignant and embarrassed at the same time.
H.G. takes one measured step forward, which is all she needs to be within an inch of pressing her entire body against Myka's. Her right leg is between Myka's and her right hand is hovering somewhere around Myka's waist. Myka can hardly breathe. "How will I ever thank you?" says H.G. thoughtfully.
"H.G.," Myka begins, but she interrupts.
"Call me Helena," she says, and tips her mouth up to Myka's, kissing her without hesitation or fear. Her body slowly meshes with Myka's from the legs up, her arms slide around Myka's neck and her hands twine up into Myka's hair. It's all Myka can do to let the wall and H.G.--Helena--support her weight. She opens her mouth, taking Helena in, nearly shivering as Helena licks into her, bites her lower lip and tugs gently on it. Her hands are around Helena's waist, fisting the material at the small of her back, pulling Helena's lithe little body against her everywhere.
Helena finally stops kissing her, just long enough to murmur against her mouth, eyes still closed. "Are you ever going to take me to bed, Agent Bering?"
Myka's hands clench tightly, her fingertips digging into Helena for a moment. Her breath comes raggedly as she rests their foreheads together. "I want to. I really want to."
Helena nips at her, teases her lips, her chin, her neck. "So do it." She licks delicately at the hollow of Myka's throat, and then finds herself being pushed back to the bed. Myka doesn't rush, takes every step deliberately, but there is no disguising her desire now.
At the bed Helena begins unbuttoning her shirt, keeping her eyes on Myka. Myka gives as good as she gets, pulling her shirt up by the hem, up over her head. Her hair comes loose in a mass of curls and Helena speeds up, fingers flying over the last few buttons. Myka pushes the shirt from Helena's shoulders and Helena reaches for Myka's fly. Any lingering uncertainty gives way to ardor, and they're fumbling, Myka whipping Helena's belt loose, tugging her skin-tight jeans down, pushing her on the bed to yank off her boots. When Helena is in her underwear she reaches for Myka, pulling her down, hands already sliding under her waistband, crushing their hips together.
Myka braces herself on her elbows, inhaling sharply as Helena surges into her, nails scraping up Myka's back in eight neat rows. Helena's hands come to Myka's neck; she tugs insistently and Myka dips down for a kiss. She moans into Helena's mouth, feeling a thigh flexing against the inseam of her jeans. It's not what she thinks, though-Helena uses her bent leg to gain enough leverage to roll Myka onto her back. She straddles Myka, hands pressed flat against her stomach.
"You," she says, "Are entirely overdressed." And she finishes removing Myka's jeans, letting them fall to the floor, then pulling off Myka's underwear. Myka smoothes her hands up Helena's sides, rounding the curve of her ribs and arriving at the clasp of her bra. The bra comes loose with a snap of her fingers and she sits up, cradling Helena to her for another kiss. She lets her hands roam over the smooth planes of Helena's back, sighing to feel Helena rub against her and strip her out of her bra.
"Take these off," says Myka, tugging at the waistband of Helena's underwear. "Take them off."
Helena is less than graceful removing them but when she settles back into Myka's lap the drag of skin on skin, the soft press of her breasts, is more than enough to make up for it. For long, long minutes all they do is kiss, Helena slowly grinding down on Myka's lap. Then, without warning, Helena pushes her and she lands flat with a thump. Helena holds her down with one hand on her chest; the other reaching down to trace little circles on the inside of Myka's thigh. She takes a moment to admire Myka's body, long and lean, shaped for the hard use of a warehouse agent. Then she runs one finger along Myka's labia and Myka just barely manages to subdue her jump into a twitch. Helena's grin is as keen as it is triumphant, and she leans down to whisper in Myka's ear. "Wet already," she says. "Have you thought long about this?" She is expecting timidity, a certain amount of reserve, but she finds she has underestimated Myka, who stares up at her with her big eyes and open face.
"Helena," she says quietly.
For the first time since she returned to the world, Helena feels connected to it. It's so disconcerting that it makes her want to go on the offensive, to unsettle Myka as easily as she once did. She kisses Myka insistently, not stopping until they're breathless, barely giving Myka time to inhale before kissing her again. She feels Myka struggling not to buck under her and presses two fingers to the slickness between Myka's legs. She waits a heartbeat, then enters Myka slowly, watching her expression, the way her eyes flutter closed and she bites her lower lip. Helena has always loved the sight of a woman coming undone, and Myka is no exception. Her back forms a lovely arch above the mattress, her throat bare and smooth and exposed. Helena licks, then bites as she pulls out of Myka just as slowly, working her with hard-fought patience. She's excited too, longing for Myka's touch, but she won't be rushed. She shivers when Myka's hands trail up the backs of her thighs and grasp her, right below her rear. She's urging Helena on, asking for more with her body, and Helena gives up on patience.
She pushes into Myka again, laps at her breasts and bites her nipples one after the other. She finds a rhythm that's matched by Myka's panting; she can feel the contraction and release of stomach muscles under her tongue, thighs flexing as they bracket her hips. She curves her fingers inside of Myka, who lets out a groan that hits Helena right between her legs. "Ohhh," she says, low and drawn out, and licks her way down to Myka's clit. She licks once, twice, hears Myka gasp just as she clenches around Helena's fingers. Helena watches her ride out the orgasm with hooded eyes, enjoying the show.
Myka manages a long, cleansing breath, then pulls Helena up to kiss her. "Helena," she says again, cupping Helena's cheek.
"Myka," she returns, attempting an impish tone and not quite managing it.
Myka isn't deterred from sincerity. "I'm glad you're here," she says.
Thoughts of playfulness melt away momentarily. "Show me," says Helena.
Myka links their legs together and kisses her.
Helena can't sleep. She's had trouble sleeping since she awoke. It's not that she's scared, but she hasn't properly slept in so long it's almost as though she's forgotten how. Her body doesn't follow its circadian rhythms any more; she forgets to eat regular meals, only to find herself suddenly ravenous at strange times and barely peckish at others. Food is different, too, somehow better and worse than she remembers. They must be doing something to the crops and livestock these days.
Myka falls asleep easily, curled around Helena, protective even now. Helena thinks she sleeps so well because she lives well, and envies her for it.
In the darkness she can hear Myka breathing, Pete the ferret licking noisily at his water bottle, and a clock ticking on the opposite side of the room. She wishes Myka would let go of her, would roll over in her sleep, anything to set Helena free. And yet she finds herself stroking Myka's arm, soft and slow to avoid rousing her. She wants to ruminate more on this wishing kettle, but tonight she lacks focus. So she lies still, unwilling to remove the arm draped over her waist, and to her very great surprise the next thing she recalls is waking up feeling too warm in a room filled with soft morning sunlight.
She glances at the clock--she has slept for nearly five hours, in one continuous block. It's a personal record, and an intriguing one at that. She wonders if it was the sex, or this particular partner, or perhaps just the bed. She will have to recreate the circumstances again tonight.
To her surprise, she is not the first person awake in the house. After she manages to slip out of bed unnoticed, she pulls on Myka's robe and pads downstairs to see if there's any decent tea to be had. She's yet to find any in this former upstart of a country, but hope for Assam loose leaf springs eternal. She clinks about in the kitchen, searching for a mug, and nearly jumps straight up into the air when she turns and finds Leena standing behind her. "Good morning," she says, swallowing down her initial fright.
"Morning," says Leena. "Can I help you find something?" The words are friendly, but the tone is decidedly neutral. Yet another victim of MacPherson's who would blame her.
"Just looking for some tea," says Helena, mug held to her chest.
Leena's eyes narrow for a weighing look. "Ceylon," she guesses.
"Assam," says Helena, "But Ceylon will do very nicely."
There is no need to substitute, though; Leena has a well-stocked cupboard that makes Helena both glad and homesick, and she soon has a kettle on the stove. They sit at the kitchen table in silence. Helena knows exactly how she looks: hair mussed, no doubt reeking of sex, in a robe not her own. She refuses to be intimidated or embarrassed, and she crosses her legs comfortably to wait.
The tea is ready in minutes; Leena has timed it perfectly and removes it from heat just as it comes to a boil. She pours it through a strainer for Helena, who eagerly adds milk and sips. It's scalding hot, too hot for her to really get the flavor, but she savors it anyway. She pours a second cup, adds milk, and prepares to take them both upstairs. It's rather unsubtle of her, but it's too late for this particular secret. "Thank you for the tea," she says.
"H.G.," says Leena before she can entirely leave the kitchen.
Helena glances over her shoulder.
"You know if you hurt Myka-"
Helena declines to roll her eyes. "I know, you'll do something perfectly gruesome to me. I understand."
Leena smirks. "No, Pete will, and he hits a lot harder than I do."
"I'll keep that in mind, then," says Helena, and continues on her way, aware that Leena is watching her the entire time. She walks tall and doesn't look back, despite the hairs prickling on her neck.
Upstairs she sidles through door, pushing it closed with her foot, and brings the tea to the bedside stand. She lets the robe fall to the floor and climbs into bed, scooting right up against Myka's back. Myka shifts, but doesn't wake, unlike Helena who is accustomed to being woken by the least sound.
She lets herself indulge, nosing along the back of Myka's shoulder, feeling the soft skin just under her breasts, rubbing her feet up and down Myka's long legs. Of course there's no way for Myka to stay asleep this way, and she eventually turns over, blinking sleepily up at Helena, who takes her weight on her forearms. "Good morning," says Myka, a friendly voice to dispel the rude start to Helena's morning.
"Good morning," says Helena, finding herself inescapably tender in the face of this frizz-headed creature. She kisses Myka, a light peck to distract herself from her own feelings. "I've brought you tea."
Myka looks inordinately pleased at this. "You did?" She pushes herself up against the headboard, dragging the sheet with her, combing wild curls out of her face. She accepts her tea and inhales its scent. For a moment--just for a moment--Helena is caught by the sight of her, her bare shoulders aglow with sunlight. The moment passes as quickly as it came, an errant nerve impulse making her eyebrow twitch.
"I assume," says Helena, "That any day not spent chasing artifacts is spent at the warehouse."
"Mm," says Myka. "Endless inventory and maintenance."
It's exactly as Helena could have hoped.
The pace of life at the warehouse is almost as Helena remembers: periods of training and paperwork punctuated by tense artifact retrievals. The first key difference being that they're out traveling much more often, because this world has found ways of gathering and sorting information that Helena find as astounding as they are troubling. The spy business must have become devilishly complicated by now.
The other key difference being her involvement with Myka, who almost seemed surprised to see Helena return to her room the night after their first liaison. Even after picking out her own room, Helena spends half her time in Myka's as what began strictly as an exercise in seduction is becoming a hard-to-ignore compulsion. Myka has yet to come to her, and refuses to speak openly about what they're doing in front of the others. "They probably already know," Helena insists one night, kissing Myka's neck.
"You said it's just Leena, and she wouldn't say anything to others without asking me first," insists Myka, and ends the conversation by filling her hands with Helena's breasts.
Despite Artie's gruff orders to keep an eye on her at all times, by her second week, Pete waves her off during inventory so they can cover more ground. "Just stick it in aisle 742-C over there," he says, and wanders away without looking at his clipboard. Preventing someone from falling into a pit of psychologically manifested scorpions engenders a certain amount of trust.
Helena leaves Richard Feynman's bongos in the proper slot, along with a note on their digital tag that the bongos are not to be played by any means lest they invoke the spirit of the Hopi trickster god Kokopelli. Claudia refers to this section as the "Late Greats"; it is a curious disconnect between them, these artifacts belonging to researchers and scientists from Helena's future and Claudia's past. She has a stack of books in her room now, the collected works of Pauli, Fermi, Dirac, Heisenberg, and more. She's glad to see that Einstein boy rose to his potential.
But for every bright pearl of knowledge she discovers, she also finds a dark seed of destruction. Two world wars, hosts of new weapons and epidemics, massacres and genocides; things are messy as ever. Sometimes she thinks this is not a fit world for her Christina.
She slips away to aisle 449-A, where the object of no small amount of research resides. Or, she hopes it resides. The wishing kettle is a fickle, furtive thing, and when she arrives at her destination, the shelf is empty, as she half-expected. She does not bother with the digital tag, does not even approach the empty space. She wants no record of her visit.
Helena enjoys dinner that night; Leena, having softened somewhat since her initial stance, has made a roast and a Yorkshire pudding, with a colorful assortment of roast vegetables on the side. Dessert is Battenberg cake, of which Pete eats three slices, resulting in a sugar high that has Myka retreating to the library. Claudia removes to the carport to work on her Camino (Helena has already helped her take apart the engine and reassemble it; wouldn't Karl Benz just have a fit if he could see her now), Leena to her studio to paint, and Artie back to the warehouse. She almost wants to go with him, but it's too soon. Her list of questions isn't ready, and her records of the kettle's appearances are still sketchy. So instead she joins Myka in the library.
The bed and breakfast's library is an offshoot of the warehouse's, but where the warehouse library is merely a storage area to hold the first editions they must inevitably collect, this library is a cozy room with tall shelves, overstuffed chairs, plenty of natural light during the day, and artfully placed lamps for night. Myka is curled up with Tess of the d'Urbervilles, already engrossed two pages in. It is not a first edition but a well-worn paperback, seemingly Myka's own copy.
Helena noticed that the first night she spent in Myka's room-all her books carry the stamp of being well-used and maintained. She is a thinker, someone who appreciates knowledge. They might have been great boon companions, had Myka been born in the right era. As it is, Helena is, perhaps, in possession of a girlfriend instead. "Mood reading before bed?" she asks, sweeping in and draping herself across the chair next to Myka's.
Myka barely looks up from the print. "Just something to cut the sweetness of dessert." She turns the page.
"Tom would have liked you," says Helena fondly.
Myka does look up that. "Tom? As in Thomas Hardy?" Her voice nearly squeaks.
"Of course. He was a lovely man. A hopeless romantic, but he never dismissed me out of hand for being a young woman."
The book is forgotten now. "Did you ever meet, um..." Myka's eyes flicker as she searches her memory. "Oscar Wilde? Or uh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Or what about-"
Helena reaches over to pluck the book from Myka's fingers, stopping her mid-sentence. The book goes in her chair, to be replaced by Helena herself, sitting shamelessly in Myka's lap. Myka's arms go around her waist, holding her securely. "What about," says Helena, and kisses her. She feels bold tonight, bold enough to wind her arms around Myka's neck and plunge her tongue into Myka's mouth. She hadn't intended on this exhibitionist show, only on a quiet evening in good company. But then there had been Myka, wearing a little frown and already worrying her lip over Tess' fate. Myka shifts under her, automatically trying to draw Helena closer, but then she breaks off.
"No, what if someone comes in?" she asks.
Helena touches her cheek. "Dearest Myka," she says. "Are you ashamed of me?" She asks in jest, but there is an unexpected acrid taste on the back of her tongue.
"Just private," says Myka truthfully. She lets her head rest against Helena's shoulder for a moment. "You know Artie's having a hard time trusting you, and I think if he knew about us, he'd accuse you of--I don't know--seducing me with your feminine wiles."
Helena laughs, a full-throated laugh, and relents. "He'd be right," she says cockily, with one last kiss for Myka's forehead. She saunters to the door, and when she looks over her shoulder, her countenance is perfectly inviting. Myka leaves young Tess where she is and follows Helena upstairs.
"Myka," says Helena, now breathless. She gasps, hips surging into Myka's mouth. Myka's tongue pushes into her, licks up with broad strokes, finds her clit. She almost can't stand the pressure and has to beg Myka to end it. "Please, Myka, please," she says, both hands clutching the headboard. She knows by now that Myka always responds best to Helena's own passions, as though they free her to express herself physically. She feels Myka's mouth close around her clit; pleasure pulses through her and she comes in waves, moaning incoherently.
When she can stand to open her eyes again Helena sighs. Myka is leaving little kisses on her thighs; she pulls Myka up and kisses her intensely, hands clutching her between her shoulderblades, feet rubbing up and down her calves. Myka kisses back with undiminished fervor, with an honesty that is slightly unsettling.
"Dearest Myka," Helena whispers against her mouth. She can't control the words, has to let them tumble out like a basket of spilled fruit. "I do adore you."
Myka's soft reply chills her to the core. "Don't break my heart, Helena. I couldn't stand it if you did."
For the first time in weeks, Helena is unable to sleep.
As usual, the morning brings clarity. Helena takes a hot shower, enjoying the variety of drugstore products just for her hair, her skin, her face, none involving berries or ash or gungy oatmeal. She especially likes using Myka's toothpaste for its deep mint flavor and the way her gums tingle after a vigorous brushing. When she emerges from the much-steamed bathroom in a soft terrycloth robe, she feels as though the night's apprehensions have been cleansed away. Today she will continue plotting kettle appearances on her warehouse map and cross-referencing them with anecdotal data about its appearances. This, of course, requires her to wait for Pete to forget to log out of his account since she is certain Artie is monitoring hers. It's fortunate, then, that Pete forgets to log out almost every day, despite the ingenious note with the sticky backing (Post-It she reminds herself) affixed to the monitor reminding him to LOG OUT PETE.
She waits until Pete, Myka, and Claudia are deep within the veins of the warehouse and for Artie to go fix the fish, then she slides into the chair in front of the terminal and continues her research. The kettle seems to respond to frustration and desire, and tends to cluster away from certain sections. Her current theory is that something in these sections repels the kettle, though she's hard-pressed to find any commonalities between them.
She finishes searching agent reports of kettle encounters and makes sure she's well away from the terminal before Artie returns. A recent acquisition, Leni Riefenstahl's finder, affords her the perfect opportunity to wander the warehouse floor today. Artie had expressed clear distaste for the object, leaving it for her to place.
She intentionally takes the long way to the finder's designated spot, isolated from other Nazi-related artifacts. Artie had been clear that there was to be no build up of these artifacts in any particular section. She crosses through aisles where a heavy concentration of kettle sightings has occurred, sinking into memories of Christina. She recalls a summer spent in the countryside, teaching Christina to catch and identify butterflies before releasing them. They'd studied much of natural history that summer, from entomology to herpetology and ornithology. Christina had loved watching flocks of starlings wheeling through the sky and had labored over drawings of the ones that roosted in the tree behind their summer home.
She nearly trips over the kettle; it is hanging off of a low-set hook on a shelf as she turns the corner, her leg noisily banging into it. When she has recovered her balance and her dignity, she eyes it from a distance. It's a plain, slightly battered kettle, though appearances mean next to nothing in this place. Her list of wishes isn't ready yet, though. She marks the kettle's appearance on her map. "We'll meet again, I'm sure of it," she says. The kettle winks away, as though it has heard her.
Helena finishes her list on a long flight to Savannah, Georgia to retrieve the compass of Juliette Gordon Low, which tends to lead girls to the nearest spot of trouble. It has resurfaced after nearly twenty years and is proudly on display at Low's birthplace, now a tourist attraction. She keeps the wish list entirely in her head, and appends her last carefully worded wish an hour after taking off from Chicago.
Pete is napping in his aisle seat with his mouth open while Helena enjoys the view from the window, watching the earth pass underneath them. Mass transit via airplanes, thousands of miles covered in a day--she wants badly to get into the engines of this beast, to study its frame, to feel the controls. She would like statistics too, on how many people fly commercially, how much it costs, what logistics it takes to organize thousands of flights worldwide. There are planes that fly faster than the speed of sound, that have reached the upper edges of Earth's atmosphere, that can be controlled remotely for unmanned flights. Her theoretical physics books will have to make way for mechanical engineering books, if only temporarily.
Between Helena and Pete sits Myka, patiently making her way through a puzzle book that Helena recognizes as a kind of magic squares, but which Myka calls "sudoku." Periodically she will glance over, point at a square and give Myka the correct answer, much to Myka's irritation. Otherwise she stares at the scattered clouds and the miles and miles of land drifting by.
"We're crossing the Appalachians," says Helena when gentle green peaks roll into view. She traces them north until they disappear into the horizon.
"Landing soon," says Myka, not looking up from her puzzles.
Helena pokes her leg. "You're not interested in the view in the slightest?" she asks.
Myka finally puts down the sudoku. "What's on your mind?" she asks.
"Nothing," says Helena, managing an elaborate shrug despite the confines of her seat.
Myka's eyes dart right at Pete, who is on the verge of snoring, then left to Helena. She leans the tiniest bit closer. "You haven't said a word since we left South Dakota. You're thinking about something." Her hand brushes Helena's where their legs touch, just below the armrest.
For the briefest moment, Helena nearly blurts out everything. It's not in her nature to blurt, but somehow, up here, she feels insulated against her own determination to right past wrongs. Myka is looking at her expectantly, her head turned against the headrest, her foot nudging Helena's. "You do realize," says Helena, "That we are traveling at approximately 570 miles per hour, six miles above the earth? In a device that is expected to work safely and consistently for years?"
"Well, when you put it like that..."
Helena can't quite manage to look her in the eye. "Do you think I'll ever adjust to being here?" she asks.
Myka's face falls, but with more sympathy than disappointment. Her hand crosses the border between their seats and she laces their fingers together. "You adjusted to me," she says quietly. "I think that's a good start."
Helena is unable to stop herself from kissing Myka. Just a quick kiss, an affectionate press of lips that barely lingers, but it makes Myka's mouth curl all the same. She gives Helena one last squeeze with her hand, then returns to her sudoku. Helena is only able to watch for a few seconds before pointing to a quick succession of squares. "Three, three, three," she says, earning a swat to the arm.
Helena volunteers to put away Low's compass. Leena has found a very nice carved box with a hinged lid in which to store it and she leaves it resting peacefully in aisle 219-B. Myka and Pete are arguing over their report and Claudia is tracking something down for Artie, so she won't be expected back for a while. She meanders towards the last place she saw the kettle, once again summoning memories of Christina. It's not difficult; Low's home was swarming with young girls, all about Christina's age, all so much like her bright, inquisitive daughter.
Her thoughts detour unexpectedly, breaking down into Myka's own brief sojourn in the Girl Scouts as related during their walkthrough of the house. She'd earned badges for academic work and nature scouting, but had been unable to socialize with the other girls. She quit after a few months, which hadn't deterred Pete from asking if she still had her uniform. Christina, she thinks again, firmly.
The hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention; she executes a swift turn on one heel and there it is, in all its dented, dim glory. Still wearing her neutralizer gloves, she gingerly picks up the kettle and carries it to a spot she's prepared for this moment. It's fairly secluded, and there's a cage with its top open just in case; she can't unleash a business of ferrets into the warehouse to climb over and into all manner of artifacts. The gloves come off.
She starts simply, even though she knows she will almost certainly receive a ferret. I wish I had my Christina back, she thinks, the words like a mantra, repeated so often that they've lost any coherent meaning beyond being consonants and vowels. She clutches the kettle tightly. In the space between breaths, a ferret pops into existence. It is brown and white, with a wet little nose that is already seeking Helena's shirt. "In you go, little one," she says, and the cage receives its first ferret.
Her wishes become more tailored after that; specificity is key. One warehouse agent wished for and received a full Thanksgiving feast, complete with roast turkey and trimmings. She is eight questions down on a ten-question list, and there are eight ferrets in the cage, but she thinks she's closing in on the right wish. Time machine wishes were all greeted with a ferret, as she expected; the past is immutable. But the present is a different beast altogether.
She thinks, I wish I could find an artifact that would bring my Christina back to life, just as she was before she died, with no ill side effects. Reflexively she moves the kettle towards the cage, but no ferret comes. She's so excited that she nearly drops the kettle, but she makes the same wish again, and still no ferret. She looks around eagerly, expecting to see it on a shelf or lying on the floor, or even in the ferret cage, but her surroundings are unchanged. Specificity, she recalls, and tries one more time. She repeats the wish, this time adding and I wish I knew where it was, right now.
An aisle designation comes to her, unbidden. 601-F. Hurriedly, she secures the top of the cage and runs in the direction of the six hundred block. She mutters to herself as she passes the designations--604, 603, 602, and finally, 601. She jogs down to the Fs and it's there, waiting for her. She knows it as soon as she sees it, a smooth polished talisman of marble, gleaming faintly under the warehouse lights. The kettle is set aside and quickly forgotten as she reaches for the talisman. She stops just short of touching it; no good can come of blindly holding artifacts. She hits the digital tag and begins reading, willing her hands to stay still.
Myka finds her there an hour later. Helena hears her own name being called, Myka's voice lilting over the syllables. She sniffs a few times, composes herself, and responds. "I'm here," she says.
Myka skids around the corner, looking panicked. "Oh thank god, we thought something had happened." She notices that Helena is on the floor, arms wrapped around her knees, and that her face is worn red. "Have you been crying?" she asks.
Helena just has the energy to nod. She means to explain about the kettle, but when she looks for it, it's gone, vanished as neatly as it came. She's thankful for that, at least.
Myka lowers herself to the ground to sit next to Helena, knees drawn up in an imitation of her posture. "What happened?" she asks.
If ever there was a time to confess all to Myka, it would be now. But Helena couldn't bear to see the disappointment on her face or to her hear her rebukes. Don't break my heart, she remembers. "It was just, being around all those girls at the Low house," she lies, the words coming easily because they carry the ring of truth. "I just needed a private cry. Stiff upper lip, you know." She laughs humorlessly.
Myka touches her arm, and when she doesn't flinch or move away, slides it around her shoulders. Myka's thumb rubs her gently, the slight motion somehow comfortingly intimate. "I know you're not used to it but..." She bites her lip. "If you want, you can come to me when you feel like that."
Helena bursts into fresh tears, clutching Myka's shirt as she sobs her guilt and anger into it. It's only for a minute; she has barely any tears left for this new sadness, the affirmation that Myka is all too worthy of her time, that she might be too good for Helena. She sniffs again, willing herself to calm, smoothing out the wrinkles in Myka's shirt. "Let's go back," she says. "We can let Artie stop panicking over whatever nefarious deeds I'm no doubt accomplishing right now."
Myka cracks a smile, rises to her feet, offers Helena a hand. The other hand goes to Helena's cheek, cradling it to hold her still as Myka studies her for long seconds. She seems reassured by what she finds, offering Helena another smile and a soft kiss on the forehead. They're almost out of the section when Helena remembers.
"Actually," she says, scrubbing both hands over her face and then into her hair. "I need to walk around for a bit. I'll catch up to you when I'm in less of a state."
Myka accepts this at face value and leaves her by herself, reminding Helena that dinner is an hour.
The ferrets are just where Helena left them, curled up in their cage in furry lumps, apparently lulled to sleep by the humming energy of the warehouse. She finds a hand truck and wheels them to the warehouse's mountainous side entrance, the very door MacPherson used to steal her away after debronzing her. She leaves the cage just outside the door, covered by a blanket. Then it's the long walk back to the front entrance. Claudia is still in the office, but she's completely engrossed by her computer and Helena has no problem sauntering to the umbilical and out the front door. She takes her car--when Artie had refused to supply her with a government vehicle, she'd simply shown up one day in a Land Rover bought with her own money--around the mountain, reunites with the ferrets, and makes the drive into town. She manages to get to the animal shelter just before it closes, begging off questions about the origin of so many ferrets with vague sounds about an illegal ferret farm at the town limits, and returns to Leena's just outside of the hour deadline for dinner.
Dinner is usually informal, and so they've started without her, but there is nevertheless a warm plate and an open chair next to Myka. She slides in, giving Myka's thigh a squeeze under the table, and tries to act as though this day never happened.
Helena retreats to her room that night. It is still a slightly impersonal space, despite the soft rugs and rich curtains. She has no pictures, no memorabilia. Her things have yet to arrive from London, no doubt doubly hampered by the inevitable scanning by regents to insure she isn't shipping herself something dangerous and the woefully understaffed postal service in this region. Most of what's in the room she's bought recently, either while traveling, or after she came to the warehouse to stay. The crisp blue button down in her closet is Myka's, stolen one morning and never returned. It's slightly too long in the sleeve for her, but she wears it anyway, knowing that it provokes Myka.
She picks up Wiles' proof of Fermat's Last Theorem where she left off and reads until she's drowsy, which doesn't take long. It's been a trying day, and there's nothing like a crying jag to take all the wind out of the staunchest sails. She's reaching for the bedside lamp when she hears a knock on her door, light and tentative. "Come in," she says, knowing who will open the door.
Sure enough Myka enters, cracking the door just wide enough to slip in before closing it again. She looks ready for bed in a t-shirt and shorts, hair loosely braided. "Hi," she says, folding her arms self-consciously. "I thought you could use some company tonight."
Helena's response is to scoot to one side of the bed and pull down the covers. Myka shuffles over and climbs in; Helena turns off the lamp and they spend the next few moments rustling around on the mattress, adjusting to each other's bodies. They settle as usual: Myka on her back, Helena half-draped over her. She kisses Myka's collarbone. "Thank you for being kind today," she says.
Myka is quiet. When she speaks, she says, "Thank you for not using that artifact."
Helena freezes on the spot, breath caught in her throat. "Artifact?" she repeats, though she sounds far too innocent to her own ears.
"I saw the log. I know you wanted to use it," says Myka.
Her voice sounds strange to Helena and for a moment, she fears she is about to be cuffed and handed over to a waiting Artie with regents in tow. But then she feels Myka's hand tipping her face up to receive a kiss, a warm kiss full of promise. "I couldn't," Helena murmurs. "The cost..." She almost wants to start crying again. So close, only to be denied again, and this time there's no one to hunt down and punish except herself.
"I don't believe you could do that to someone else's little girl," says Myka. "Her life for your daughter's."
"I need you to move it," says Helena, not caring if she shocks or disappoints Myka, because if she doesn't ask right now, she never will. "Please move it somewhere I can't find it and lock me out of its records. Please."
"I will," says Myka with no hint of recrimination. "First thing in the morning." She smoothes down Helena's hair in a long, soothing stroke.
"Ah..." Helena coughs. "No. First thing in the morning, I'd rather you were here. In bed."
Myka kisses her with a smile and for the first time in over a century, she looks forward to what tomorrow holds.