In her 17 years at the clinic, Ophelia Jackson had yet to make it through a week of duty without hearing the same two words uttered by somebody wishing the power of magical thinking could make all their troubles go away:
Her feet hurt, her back hurt, and she knew for a fact that the woman sitting on the examination table shifting uncomfortably in her thin, paper gown had enough money to invest in a box of condoms.
“Honey, you know how many times I’ve heard that? Trust me, it’s possible.”
This one did look a little more hangdog than most. With her hair shoved back behind her ears and the tears she was trying desperately to blink back, she was almost – almost – pathetic enough for Ophelia to feel a little bad.
“No, I don’t think you understand,” her patient stressed, hands wrapped so tightly around the edge of the exam table that her knuckles were turning white. “It’s literally impossible. It’s not… It’s the stomach flu.”
Ophelia wondered what it was. Affair? Asshole ex-boyfriend she’d finally gotten out of her life? One-night stand, and she’d lost the number? In the end, it didn’t really matter. A zygote was a zygote was a zygote. “Uh-huh. Well then, I suggest you drink a lot of fluids. You should feel better in about seven and a half months.”
“It’s an equipment failure. You’ve switched my test results with someone else’s.”
The way these women talked, her clinic experienced the most equipment failures of any medical office in the northern hemisphere. They acted like it was a soap opera around here, like the staff spent their spare time swapping up babies and taking bribes to tell folks they were dying when they weren’t. They tested the samples just across the hall. Did they go into where these women worked, telling them they’d accidentally filed that document in the wrong filing cabinet, and shouldn’t they check to make sure the file cabinet was working in the first place? That maybe it didn’t file right? She didn’t think so.
“Dr. Desai wrote you a prescription for prenatal vitamins. You can pick it up at the desk.”
The woman’s shoulders sagged. Tears welled in her eyes and she had to blink hard to keep them contained. When she spoke, her voice cracked. “I cannot stress to you the extent to which there’s no way this is true.”
It was the crack that put the tiniest of dents in Ophelia’s armor. She hated it when they got sad like that, all quiet and melancholy and sniffly. Still, though, she didn’t have time to go around handing out hugs. A comforting hand on the woman’s shoulder and a little bit of gentleness probably wouldn’t hurt, though. “Take your vitamins. Come back for your bloodwork. Take a little time to get used to the idea. Decide what you want to do.”
This one was determined. “You’re sure?” she asked, voice small, like one more try was all she needed for Ophelia to break down and tell her it had all been an elaborate hoax. “There’s absolutely no chance that the test is wrong?”
“I could run it as many times as you want,” Ophelia said, not unkindly, “and every time, it’d say the same thing.”
The shoulder under her palm stiffened, and the woman wiped angrily at her eyes. She nodded, like she’d come to some kind of decision, which was good enough for Ophelia. She had a cortisone injection two rooms down; there was nothing she liked more than the opportunity to stick a needle in a grown man’s butt. Their yelps of agony made up for the bad things, like this poor girl trying not to cry on her table.
Books didn’t ask Myka questions. Books didn’t care when she sat down in the middle of the day and had a little cry. They didn’t care when she didn’t feel up to the task of fixing her hair or wearing make-up. They were solid and reassuring and non-judgmental. Well, maybe some of the ones in the ‘Religion and Spirituality’ section were judgmental, but they couldn’t really do anything about it. And anyway, the ‘Self-Help’ section was supportive enough to make up for it.
In her time at the Warehouse, Myka had switched bodies. She’d traveled back in time. She’d seen people possessed by the specter of long-dead megalomaniacs. In comparison, on the list of unbelievable events that could happen to and around her person, a baby wasn’t really all that spectacular.
Okay, maybe a little spectacular.
Books didn’t ask questions, but her mother did. Her mother noticed things and prodded. Her mother made promises; she promised that Myka could tell her anything. That all she wanted to do was help. Then she’d caught Myka reading ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ and nearly had a heart attack, and that was the end of that. Now her mother was living in willful, blissful denial, and Myka almost felt jealous.
Sometimes, she spent time ruminating in the peace and quiet of the classics, imagining all of the questions she knew her mother would have wanted to ask if she hadn’t decided to pretend like nothing was happening.
“But what, dear daughter, has made you so fecund? What quickens inside you?”
“Hell if I know, Mom, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the time I had sex with my lesbian lover in the workplace.” At this part, she’d always pause. She hated having to inflict accuracy on a good parting line, but she felt too guilty otherwise – even if it was all just in her head. “Okay, fine. My bisexual lover. But it was still in the workplace.”
One time was all it took. At least, that’s what health ed teachers had been telling high school freshmen, including her, for decades. She’d told Helena no. No way. Forget it. No way they were engaging in hanky-panky in the Warehouse. It might sound exciting and illicit in theory, but in practice, something was bound to go horribly wrong.
“Where’s your sense of daring, darling,” Helena had said, dark eyes twinkling up at her. Her arm had been around Myka’s waist, holding her tightly, and Myka had been valiantly pretending that she hadn’t noticed. “That hard hat is devastatingly sexy on you, you know. I can’t be held accountable for my actions.”
It’d been very unfair. If anyone made a hard hat look almost like a piece of lingerie, it was Helena.
“I’ve been trapped in a house that wanted to kill me,” she’d said, ticking off the near fatal misadventures on her fingers, “trapped in the looking glass, almost electrocuted…”
“Very well,” Helena had said, hands held up in defeat. “But I don’t know how I’m supposed to complete a task as dull as taking inventory,” she paused to scowl down at her clipboard, the last word a hissed curse, “when all I can think about is dropping to my knees and ...”
“Helena!” She’d shot a concerned, frantic look in both directions, and tried to remember just how far sound carried in the Warehouse. “Behave!”
But the thought had been positively insidious, and Myka had found herself having to check and recheck the artifacts against her list. She’d forced herself to concentrate, matching what was supposed to be on the shelf with what was actually on the shelf with a single-minded concentration that, ironically, turned out to be her downfall.
Helena’s arms were around her waist before Myka even realized she was behind her, making quick work of the button on her jeans. “I can’t honestly be expected to continue on as if you’re not standing here, looking so delicious. You know what it does to me when you’re serious and professional.”
Myka had taken in a sharp breath to speak, but ended up holding it as Helena slid down the zipper on her jeans. “We can’t,” she’d said weakly, but made no move to stop her.
“That’s simply factually untrue.” Helena’s voice had gone throaty, and Myka had decided that she’d put up enough resistance for it to be defensible.
Despite the unexpected and unfortunate outcome, Myka still allowed that there was absolutely something to be said for quick and cramped. Helena’s hand had worked its way inside of her tight jeans with a deftness that must have been born of long practice in getting past Victorian undergarments. There had been something thrillingly illicit about it, with Helena’s breath hot against the back of her neck and her own harsh and echoing against the cavernous Warehouse ceiling. She’d felt free and more than a little naughty, and something had swelled in her chest. Something that felt exactly like happiness, only bigger, until she was feeling little more than the kind of pleasure that made her knees forget they were supposed to be supporting her. She remembered her hands wrapped hard around cold metal, and her forehead pressed against the shelving. She remembered Helena behind her, soft and warm, pressing kisses against her nape so softly that she’d felt happiness welling again. She remembered thinking that her life was maybe close to perfect. She remembered turning with a laugh to kiss Helena deeply.
“You…” she’d said, slipping her fingers into Helena’s thick, silky hair. “You’re…”
And Helena had smiled at her, as if she understood the things that Myka couldn’t find words to name.
It was an infinitely happier memory than the one of Helena with a gun and a trident.
There was going to be a reckoning. There was going to be a day when she was going to have to come up with a story and stick to it, because this wasn’t the kind of thing that could be ignored forever. This was the kind of thing that should probably be reported to the Warehouse, but Myka couldn’t bring herself to do that. Not yet, and maybe not ever. She had six more months to wonder just how much of Helena she’d see in the baby before she’d actually be able to see for herself; it wasn’t so very long away, not really, her secret to keep just a little bit longer. After, improbably, there’d be even bigger secrets, and she’d never been fond of lies. Was there a book to help her deal with a toddler who wanted to know why she only had one parent while her friends had two? Myka didn’t think ‘And Tango Makes Three’, as helpful as it otherwise might be, was going to be enough to cover it.
What to say? Your other mommy tried to kill everyone in the world, so she had to go away. And, oh yeah, she’s over 150 years old, technically, and probably being tortured in a private government prison, so please don’t mention any of this to your teacher.
It made her so miserable to think about it that she almost forgot how miserable she actually was. And, god, a baby. She’d read about it on the internet. An unintended pregnancy, they called it, as if she’d gotten busy, forgotten to turn off the stove, and burned her dinner. She’d thought before about having a child, in the abstract way she thought about taking up gardening or learning how to fly a helicopter. It was something she might do one day, when she had enough time.
She could imagine the expression on Sam’s face, as softly amused as ever. “Well, this is quite the situation, bunny.”
She couldn’t imagine the expression on Pete’s.
And Helena? Myka liked that thought least of all. She couldn’t think of Helena without remembering the press of the revolver’s barrel against her forehead, Helena’s finger tightening on the trigger. She couldn’t think of her without remembering the look in Helena’s eyes, desperation mixed with grief, and on the edge of tears.
“This isn’t a world for a child,” Helena had said, on the brink of driving the trident into the ground. To think, she’d been pregnant even then.
She put her hand on her stomach and rubbed unconsciously. “Not the best of starts, but I promise...”
She paused, not quite sure she wanted to be making promises she didn’t know if she could keep.
Seeing Pete again was like finding a piece of herself she’d been missing. She’d had best friends before, but he was more than that. He was the brother she’d never had, and to see him standing there, wary, hurt, and hopeful, was just the kind of thing to send her newly discovered pregnancy hormones on a bender. There was no argument, not really. The Warehouse needed her and she needed the Warehouse. Pete needed her, and she needed Pete. If she was going to make it through this, it wasn’t going to be with her parents, working in the bookstore. It was going to be by rebuilding her life and relocating her purpose. And she needed to know, anyway, needed to get back into the Warehouse and see how this had happened.
For all she knew, disaster was imminent.
It was, in its own way. She wasn’t supposed to see Helena again. There were break-ups and then there were bad break-ups, and Myka felt they fell pretty squarely in the latter category. Break-ups needed time to heal. Bad break-ups needed complete and total separation and quite possibly a restraining order. Given that there had been guns and threats of genocide involved in hers, Myka felt comfortable in the knowledge that she actually wasn’t being dramatic about it. Then again, maybe it was the pregnancy hormones running amok again, but when she saw Helena, all she wanted was to wrap her arms around her and not let go. There was knowing she should hate Helena and then there was the reality of seeing her again, cowed and ashamed. There was looking at Helena and seeing apology and love in her eyes and looking in Pete’s and seeing distrust and anger.
There was knowing there was a right thing to do, and knowing that she had to do it.
“Do you mind if I keep her – I mean it – for a little while?” she asked Artie, cradling close to her belly the sphere that somehow held Helena’s trapped consciousness. When he looked like he wanted to protest, she took a step forward, her voice a whisper. “Please, Artie. I just… I have to talk to her. It’s important, okay?”
He finally gave her a reluctant nod, and she sat staring at the sphere for most of the night, not quite sure how to tell her holographic ex – who’d been driven to such recklessness after the murder of her daughter that she’d caused the death of her partner and then begged to be bronzed before she could hurt anyone else – that she was soon to have another child.
There was probably no other way than to just come out and say it.
Helena looked both surprised and pleased to see her.
“Myka,” she said softly, hopefully, and Myka reacted on instinct, closing the sphere and sending Helena back.
Having the room be suddenly empty was almost as shocking as having Helena there with her. There was appeal in both, even if she’d like to deny any sort of comfort she took in the latter. But, comfort wasn’t her purpose. Doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do was, and she knew that the longer she delayed it, the harder it would be in coming. So, she took a deep breath, considered how ridiculous it was that she was going to have this conversation with a hologram, and opened it again.
This time, Helena looked confused. “Myka?” she asked tentatively, hand fiddling with the locket around her neck. “Do we have a case? Is something wrong?”
Myka felt as if her face was made of stone. From Helena’s expression, it was likely that it looked like it, too.
“There’s something you should know,” she said, uncomfortably aware of just how formal and distant she sounded. She couldn’t think of any way to make it sound any prettier than it was, so she didn’t try. “I’m pregnant.”
Helena folded in on herself like she’d just taken a solid blow to the gut and then straightened just as quickly, hands at her sides and jaw clenched. Myka wasn’t sure what she’d expected, but it hadn’t been a stoic absorption of the words. Maybe she’d been looking for a flash of something – remorse, happiness, yearning – but Helena’s eyes were dark and starkly accepting, as if this was her due. Another punishment to bear for her sins, and Myka watched as she squared her shoulders as if it wasn’t her right, anymore, to feel pain, and felt pain for her.
Helena had done an awful thing, that was true, and Myka knew she should hate her for it. She’d been subject to deceit and betrayal, had been the only thing standing between Helena and the end of the world as she knew it, but Myka couldn’t find it in herself to feel hate. She wasn’t sure what she felt, but it wasn’t that.
“I’m…” It came out choked, and she watched as Helena swallowed hard. When she tried again, the words were painfully smooth and filled with hollow, false cheer. “I’m very happy for you. Who’s the lucky father?”
Myka was committed to telling the truth. It was the reason she’d asked Artie if she could keep the sphere. It was what she’d decided when she’d realized that Helena was still alive, or at least some version of it. It was, she told herself again, the right thing to do.
Her shoulders slumped and her hands tightened into fists; she contemplated sending Helena back to wherever it was she went when she was away but realized that if she did that, if she was that kind of coward, she might otherwise never find the strength. “There was an incident in the Warehouse.” She brought her hands together in front of her, fingers twisting. Her eyes flicked up to Helena’s, then away again, caught off guard by how difficult the words were to say. “It’s you, Helena.”
Helena’s sharp intake of breath made her stomach clench. Myka looked up, met her gaze, and forced herself to hold it. Helena’s hand was back at her throat, clutching hard at the locket, and the expression on her face – mingled hope and despair – was painful to see. “It has to be yours. There’s no other option. It must have been…”
“That day. The day we…” Helena’s voice trailed off. Her lips twisted up in the ghost of a smile, and she took a step forward, hand outstretched, before stopping self-consciously. “Oh, Myka, are you sure?”
Myka looked away, took in a deep breath, and forced herself into stillness. She wouldn’t reach to cradle the barely-there curve of her stomach, not in front of Helena. “I went to the doctor.” She didn’t mention the ten home pregnancy tests she’d done after, just to see if something, anything, had changed. “It’s official.”
Helena took another step forward and then dropped to her knees, bringing herself level with Myka, one hand outstretched. Myka saw tears glistening her in eyes and turned away, painfully uncomfortable. They weren’t the happy couple learning the good news. They weren’t taking another step down the road to being a family. They were nothing. They were regrets, missed chances, and lies. They were what Helena had torn asunder with such violence that even a miracle wouldn’t be enough to fix the rift between them.
“I’d never thought…” Helena’s voice sounded choked. “After Christina, I never thought I’d want…”
Myka forced steel into her voice. “I’m telling you because you deserve to know. It doesn’t change anything.”
“Of course,” Helena said quickly, but Myka could tell she didn’t quite believe it. “Have you been ill? With Christina, every morning was a torment.”
Anger swept through Myka. She didn’t want to talk about it, not with Helena looking up at her with gentle adoration in her eyes, still on her knees and with her hand outstretched as if to press her palm against Myka’s belly. She stood suddenly, focusing her attention on the floor just to the left of Helena, and tried to force any emotion from her voice. “I’ve decided that I’m going to keep her. I mean, I’m pretty sure she’s going to be a her. An artifact did this, but science is science.”
Helena was silent for a long moment before saying softly, “I’m very glad you’ve made that decision.” In her peripheral vision, Myka saw Helena rise to her feet to stand stiffly. “And thank you, Myka, for telling me. I know that you didn’t have to do that, but it means a great deal to me that you did.”
“It doesn’t change anything,” Myka heard herself saying, again.
“No. Of course it doesn’t.” Helena shoved her hands into her pockets. She looked hesitant but resolute, and Myka had to push back against the perverse urge she felt to pull Helena into a tight hug. “But Myka, to the extent you feel comfortable, I would like to share this with you. It’s… you have no reason to forgive me, but I would hope that whatever you might have felt for me once would be enough to…”
She trailed off, as if not sure that she possessed an argument worth making.
Myka swallowed hard. “Don’t tell anyone, okay. I mean, they’re going to find out part of it soon enough. There won’t be any hiding that, but they don’t have to know everything.”
Helena nodded shortly, hesitantly. “No. Of course I won’t.”
“It’s…” Myka paused guiltily. “I’m going to send you back now, okay.”
“Of course. I know that… Myka, I can never undo what I’ve done, but I can wish forever that I could. It’s not enough to tell you that I’m sorry, no matter how desperately I mean it. I have nothing to offer you. Nothing but my support and my love, and I doubt you’re eager to have either.”
Myka hated herself for the way the words made her want desperately to forgive and forget, to let go of everything that had happened. “You deserved to know,” she said stiffly, fingers tightening on the sphere. No matter what the traitorous part of herself wanted, Helena’s pretty words didn’t fix things, and they couldn’t undo the past. “I can’t promise you more than that.”
Before Helena could say anything in reply, she was gone.
Pete noticed first. It made sense; they were together constantly, and he was a trained investigator.
“I don’t want you to take this the wrong way,” he said, warily eyeing the remains of the two chili dogs she’d decimated, “but I have the feeling something’s up with you. You know, in the, uh, ovary area.”
He circled his hand in front of him in a gesture that encompassed everything from sternum to pelvis.
She put her hand to her stomach, already feeling the beginnings of heartburn. “Whatever it is you’re trying to say, you’re not even close to being biologically correct.”
The look on his face was uncharacteristically serious. “Myks, I don’t need vibes to know something’s going on.” He pointed at the crumpled remains of the wrappers that had held their lunch. “This is, like, clue number 57. At this point, I’m pretty much contractually obligated to notice that you’re, you know…”
She wasn’t even angry with him. She knew that, but it didn’t make her voice any less sharp. “That I’m what, Pete?”
He shrugged and smiled in a way that begged her not to hurt him. “That you’re preggers. Knocked up. With child. You have a wee little bun in the oven.” He adopted a ridiculously overblown accent that couldn’t decide if it was British or Australian. “You know mate – up the duff.”
She wasn’t quite ready to admit it but she couldn’t deny it either, so she didn’t say anything at all. Instead, she laid her palms flat on the table, eyes dropping to focus on its surface.
“This is obviously my business only as much as you want it to be my business, except for the part where you’re my partner so it’s also, like, business business. And the part where you’re my best friend, which also makes it kind of my business. I just… I want you to know I’m here for you. Tell me how to help, and I will.”
He looked so earnest she had to blink back tears.
“I would prefer we didn’t talk about it,” she said finally. “I’m currently pretending like it’s not happening.”
Which, she admitted, wasn’t exactly true. She was going to an obstetrician, taking her prenatal vitamins, and googling phrases like ‘foods high in folic acid’.
“I can not talk about it.” He eyed the remains of their lunch again. “Are you going to start having weird cravings? Because it would be kind of nice if our dietary preferences lined up for once.”
Even thinking about eating a steady diet of the kinds of things Pete was constantly licking off of Farnsworths and fingertips made her nauseous.
“No,” she said, lip curling in disgust. “Come on. I’m in the mood for s’mores. Can you even buy those in stores?”
“Old fashioned or pre-processed?”
He considered it briefly. “No, but I’m pretty handy at building and containing small fires. You get the marshmallows. I’ll get the matches.”
Pregnancy did horrible things, like bring her to the brink of tears just because her partner was being supportive. Her throat tightened and she blinked furiously, because she wasn’t going to break down in the middle of the day, even if Pete had volunteered to start a small fire for her.
At the sight of her clinging desperately to stoicism, Pete’s expression grew serious again. His hand covered hers; the warm comfort of it made it even more difficult for her to breathe. “If you change your mind and decide you do want to talk about it, I’m here. I’m always going to be here for you.”
She smothered a choked sob.
“And in the meantime, we can discuss whether I’m going to be just Pete, or Uncle Pete, or Mr. Lattimer…” He made a face. “Definitely not Mr. Lattimer. I’m partial to Uncle Pete, personally. It has more of a ‘I’m going to spoil you rotten and sneak you chocolate’ feel to it, which, if we’re going to be honest, is probably going to be entirely appropriate. I’m just being upfront about this. There’s about a 100 per cent chance that I’m going to be the fun Uncle who lets the kid get away with way more than I should.”
“She’ll need that,” Myka said, rubbing her hand across the back of her neck. Every time she tried to imagine what the baby would look like, she saw a lonely little girl with sad, dark eyes who rarely smiled.
Pete’s brows shot upward. “She?”
At her last OB visit, they’d done an ultrasound, but Myka hadn’t needed it to know. The image was shadowy and ghostly, but the baby seemed to have 10 toes and 10 fingers and no other appendages, and her doctor assured her that everything looked perfectly in order.
Myka had never heard anything more ridiculous. Nothing about her life was in anything approaching order.
Pete spent the rest of the afternoon rattling off potential names in loosely alphabetical order. “Hyacinth? Helga? Heidi? Hilda? Hermione? Hugo? No, wait, that’s not right.”
She noticed that he very carefully avoided the name Helena. Somehow, it helped.
A month later, she went from looking like she might have put on a few pounds to looking like she’d swallowed a cantaloupe almost over night. Artie grimaced every time he saw her, as if the mysteries of the human reproductive system were just too much for him to take, and Leena started making sure there were always healthy snacks in the fridge. The new guy, Steve, didn’t say much of anything, but Claudia more than made up for it.
“I can help you find the dad,” she’d said. “I mean, if you want to find him. Assuming you might not really remember his name, which I could be totally wrong about. I’m just really good at finding things. People. People or things.”
She’d let them believe, because it was entirely true, that she’d brooded her way through the weeks following the whole Helena fiasco. Where Claudia had gotten the idea that her preferred method of brooding was to engage in a string of drunken one-night stands, she wasn’t sure, but it served her purposes well enough. The questions would come soon enough anyway, when the math didn’t add up and they all noticed that the baby looked somehow familiar.
“There is something you could do for me,” she’d told Claudia. She’d been trying too hard to sound disinterested, so the words came out tight and nervous. When she’d finally screwed up her courage, it had been so embarrassingly easy to find the aisle again that she’d been tempted to ignore it in favor of searching those nearby, pretending that the day wasn’t burned into her memory. “Could you…” the location was scrawled across the piece of paper she slid onto Claudia’s desk, a small piece of her secret dislodged and shared. “Maybe you could look into this for me. Let me know if there’s anything pregnancy related.”
Claudia grew serious. Voice lowered to a worried whisper, she asked, “Are you afraid something might have… I mean, like the baby’s been exposed to something?”
“Just see if there’s anything.” Myka’s face felt hot, tight. “And if you could keep this to yourself…”
“Oh, yeah. Of course.” Claudia nodded rapidly, eyes wide. “I’m a safe, and your secret is…” She paused, brow crinkling in consternation. “That metaphor was going bad places.”
Claudia had idolized Helena, Myka knew. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if she knew the truth of things. She could monitor whatever it was that needed monitoring, or do whatever genius thing she would undoubtedly think of, and they could make sure that nothing went wrong. And if there was something wrong, some roadblock just waiting to turn this unfortunate situation into a tragic one, maybe Claudia could help her figure out some way to stop it.
And then the horn of Jericho resurfaced, and any digging Claudia might have been doing on her behalf was dropped. Helena had come to the rescue yet again, and Myka had to watch her be so incredibly repentant that it took all of the willpower she had not to put her hands on Helena’s shoulders, spin her around, and demand to know why she just couldn’t have figured it all out before she’d ruined everything.
They resolved the case, saved the day just like good, industrious government agents were supposed to do, and still she couldn’t shake her anger. It wasn’t fair, she wanted to shout. She’d made mistakes in her life, but not the kind that made this sort of thing her karmic retribution. It wasn’t as if she was the only person ever to have loved unwisely, but to be taunted with snippets of what she could have had if only things hadn’t gone so horribly wrong seemed especially cruel. And now, threat averted, Helena was scheduled to be put back into storage, tidied away and out of their lives. It all felt so neat and clean, a problem with a simple and effective resolution. Put her away, and she’s gone, her influence abated, her non-life on hold until she was needed again.
It wasn’t enough.
This time, Artie hadn’t put up much of a fight when she’d asked to talk to Helena alone, giving her a harried wave and barely a glance as she’d scooped up the sphere. And then, like before, Helena was standing in front of her before she was quite ready for it, and all of the things she wanted to say caught in her throat. She could only stare, cursing the pervasive sadness in Helena’s eyes that turned her angry words to dust in her mouth.
“Myka,” Helena said softly, lips curling into a tentative half smile. “I didn’t think to see you again so soon.”
The anger built in Myka’s chest, making it difficult to breathe. Anger at herself, at Helena, at everything.
“Then again, I can never tell how quickly or slowly the time passes,” Helena said, eyes falling to Myka’s belly. “I just know that I’m away, and that I can never be where I want to be again.”
At the sentiment, Myka’s hands curled into fists.
“Has there ever been a crueler punishment? To lose everything, and be given forever to mourn and regret it? I had thought there would be nothing in this world that could be worse than losing Christina, but this is its own special torment.” Helena looked up, and Myka saw tears running down her cheeks. “I have so much time to think, to imagine. She will be amazing, I know, because she has you. And maybe, when she’s old enough, perhaps you could read her something of mine. I was always so busy before, never expecting that there would come a time when I wouldn’t be able to…” Myka watched as Helena caught herself, as she forced the memories back into hiding. “Oh Myka, I would so love to be able to tell her stories.”
Despite the tight ball of anger still constricting her chest, Myka found herself nodding. Of all the things Helena might ask of her, this she could do.
“Will it be enough, do you think, that I love her?” Helena took a step forward. Her hand hovered over Myka’s belly, and, perversely, Myka wished she could feel the warmth of it.
Helena’s eyes caught hers. “It isn’t enough that I love you, is it? I still…” Her voice trailed off and she took a sudden and decisive step back, wiping at her tears. “It’s for the best that I’m here, if I would be willing to give up so much.”
Myka’s voice was low and rough and her hand fell to her belly, protecting what neither of them could ever have predicted. “You couldn’t have known…”
“That I would lose you?” Helena laughed bitterly. “I don’t see how I couldn’t have.”
That hadn’t been what Myka meant, but suddenly it was all that mattered. “Then why did you do it?”
Helena’s fingers found the locket at her throat and worried it nervously. “I can’t explain it now. At the time, all I felt was confusion and pain. I thought that I could handle it, being back out in the world again, but I’d been left behind. People do such evil things to one another. There was so much pain and misery everywhere I looked. I couldn’t handle the thought of all those people going through what I’d gone through.”
Myka’s anger slid seamlessly into sorrow. She remembered the nights they’d spent together, and her arm wrapped around Helena’s waist as the other woman slept. She remembered feeling at peace and content, and wondered how she hadn’t noticed that Helena didn’t feel the same. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I couldn’t.” Helena looked away, ashamed. “The time I spent with you was the only thing that kept me grounded. It was as if there were two of me – the person I was when I was with you and the person I was when I wasn’t, and that person was... Well, that person was who I am, apparently. I know I should have talked to you about it, but you were the only solace I had. I was selfish. I couldn’t lose that.”
“You don’t know what you did to me, Helena,” Myka said, arms wrapped around her chest protectively. “You made me doubt everything about myself. How could I be the person I thought I was if I’d been with someone who could do what you tried to do?”
“You have every right to hate me.”
For the briefest of moments, Myka’s face crumbled. “I want to. I wish I could. I want that so much.”
Helena looked up, a glimmer of hope in her eyes.
Myka felt a tear fall and scrubbed angrily at her cheek. “The fact that I can’t doesn’t change things. You didn’t just lie to me. You didn’t just break my heart. You betrayed me. You betrayed everyone.” She paused, her throat growing uncomfortably tight. “You should be here for this, Helena. I shouldn’t have to go through it alone. I know it’s not your fault, not really. We didn’t plan this. We couldn’t have expected it, but it’s… What am I going to say to her, Helena? What happens when she wants to know where her other parent is? What am I going to tell everyone else?” Her hand dropped unconsciously to her belly. “This is the rest of my life – the rest of our lives – and you’re not going to be here for it.”
The glimmer died, leaving behind a bleakness that made Myka ache all the more.
“You’re right.” Helena slumped, defeated, and Myka watched helplessly as she retreated into herself. “I am sorry.”
“I know you’re sorry.”
“I think you should send me back. I can’t change what I’ve done. I can never make it right.” She gave Myka a tremulous smile. “All of this strife can’t be good for the baby.”
Myka felt the anger start to well again. “You can’t just run away.”
Helena looked up sharply, her own anger providing a spark of animation. “If I could be there, I would. I would work every day for the rest of my life to make myself worthy of you again. But, I’m not there, Myka. I’m not anywhere, and still all I do is hurt you. You’ve been more kind than you had to be. You didn’t have to tell me the truth. You didn’t have to let me know that there was still a part of me left in the world. She’ll be everything I wasn’t. You’ll make sure of that.”
“Don’t you see, Myka? I can’t be here. It may be the punishment I deserve, but I don’t think I can bear it. We could have been together. We could have been a family, but I ruined it. After Christina, after everything that happened, I had a second chance, and I squandered it. Even if I hadn’t made it impossible for myself regardless, I don’t deserve a third. I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve her. Let me go back to my purgatory.” Helena took a step forward, her hand ghosting along Myka’s cheek. “Forget me. Don’t be me. Live in the future, not in the past, and be happy.”
Myka shook her head sadly. “How can I? Tell me how, and I’ll try.”
For a moment, Helena looked as if she were going to cry in earnest. “It would have been glorious, the three of us,” she said, voice tight, “but there’s no place for me here. I made sure of that.”
“There would have been. If you’d just talked to me, if you’d just trusted me to help…” Myka broke off, lips set in a grim line. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”
She turned away, unable to look at Helena.
When Helena spoke again, the words were a whisper in Myka’s ear. “Send me back, and don’t call for me again. Please, Myka. It’s for the best for all of us. Please.”
Reeling, Myka groped blindly for the sphere. She pulled it to her and closed it with a quick, desperate jerk because there was no way to go from here. There was no forward, not together.
When she turned again, Helena was gone.
“You’re in the clear.”
Myka blinked dazedly, drawn from her absent concentration on absolutely nothing in particular into an absent focus on Claudia.
“I couldn’t find anything you should be worried about.”
Since her last encounter with Helena, Myka had found it easier to think about nothing at all instead of anything else. “That’s good, I guess.”
“One thing was kind of weird, but it’s not going to cause you any problems. You can only get pregnant once at a time, right?”
It came to her suddenly, what they were actually talking about. “You found something?” she asked, striving desperately for nonchalance.
“Just the one thing, but like I said, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for you.” Claudia peered down at her tablet and executed a complicated series of tapping motions and swipes before spinning it around for Myka to view. “Robert Edwards’ lab stool.”
Claudia straightened in her chair, raised one brow, and adopted a professorial air that was only slightly undermined by her smirk. “Robert Edwards was a pioneer of research into in vitro fertilization. He and his research partner got the ball rolling with their early work, and before you know it, a now lucrative industry was born. Later, he opened up a clinic where they trained other doctors to be specialists. Long story short, there are probably a lot of babies in the world that wouldn’t be here without him.” She smiled brightly. “Totally sweet, isn’t it? The only little problem here is that all that baby-making magic didn’t really limit itself to test tubes. When repressed, lovesick laboratorians started reenacting the virgin birth, it made for some pretty interesting times under the fumigation hood.”
Claudia tapped the tablet, drawing Myka’s attention to the artifact description page she’d pulled up on screen. On it was a picture of an otherwise unassuming, slightly rusty lab stool, the genial, smiling face of a man she presumed was Dr. Edwards, and a brief excerpt describing the artifact’s properties.
‘Artifact has been known to result in pregnancy. Physical contact between the two individual parents is not necessary, though such contact has been known to exacerbate the effects of the artifact. Artifact feeds on the love of each individual parent for the other in order to function. Effects not observed among individuals who spend time in the vicinity of the artifact in the absence of romantic love. To date, all resulting offspring have tested within normal boundaries upon physical and psychological examination.’
The solution to one worry was there, a dry, clinical description assuring her that everything would be okay. She would be fine. The baby would be fine. But, that emotion she’d been feeling, the fleeting sensation that had felt too big to simply be happiness, suddenly became something she couldn’t continue to deliberately misclassify. Love, for the woman who had tricked her, for the woman who had betrayed her. Love, for the woman who had turned everything into a lie. The metal to which she’d clung so desperately as her knees had started to buckle that day must have been the scuffed and rusting legs of Robert Edwards’ lab stool – a stool that had borne witness to the genesis of so many babies who had been wanted so badly that no expense had been spared to create them that it took on the task for itself. But the stool itself hadn’t caused this. The stool was only a piece of the puzzle.
Love, the description read. Love for one another.
“Hey.” Claudia’s concerned face swam in front of her, blurred by tears. “Are you okay?”
In the wake of her realization, Myka didn’t have the strength to do anything other than tell the truth. “No,” she said, breathlessly, heart racing. Of course she’d loved Helena. Of course she had. She’d known that all along. It wouldn’t have hurt so badly, otherwise, what she’d done. Why she’d been forced to have physical, tangible proof of that, she wasn’t sure – a baby, conceived through the love she shared with a woman who’d threatened to end the world. No way she could pretend it didn’t exist, not anymore. No, there was a baby, conceived in love. All manner of artifacts filled every inch of the Warehouse, and she’d managed to find the one that made her admit it. All manner of artifacts, and she’d found the one that would never let her forget. “I’m really not.”
She almost laughed at the way Claudia froze, clearly unsure how to handle her response or the situation. In fact, if she looked as panicked as Claudia did, it would be for the best for both of them if no one chose that moment to interrupt and assume, only partly erroneously, that something dire was on the cusp of happening.
Claudia was somehow a flurry of motion that didn’t move. “Can I get you something? A tissue? Chocolate? Would a comforting pat on the shoulder help?”
Myka didn’t want to fall apart at all, and certainly not in front of somebody. That desire didn’t really carry water, though, in the face of the words she’d just read.
“I’m going to be okay.” Myka didn’t know which of them she was reassuring. “At this point, it doesn’t matter. What’s done is done.”
Claudia nodded her agreement in mystified support, expression mutely terrified.
“I’m trying really hard to hold off an emotional breakdown here,” Myka said, taking deep, steadying breaths. She turned to the one thing that would continue to garner her a pass, at least for the foreseeable future. “Hormones, you know. I don’t want to be rude, but if I fail, I’d rather do it in private.”
Claudia’s relief was visible. “Yeah, okay. Not that I want to abandon you in your hour of need,” she said, already on her feet, “but you just asked me to, so...” She stopped suddenly, and sighed, giving Myka a small smile. “I know we don’t really have the kind of relationship where we divulge our feelings and secrets over cocoa and cookies,” she said, sounding as serious as Myka had ever heard her, “but you’re part of my family now. I’m here for you, no matter what.”
Myka blinked furiously, trying to keep her tears at bay. “I know.” She gave Claudia a watery smile. “And thank you, really.”
“So if you ever want to talk about, you know, how that happened…” Claudia looked obliquely down at her belly, then back up with a nervous smile.
“I probably will, one day. Just not today, okay?”
Claudia nodded gently. “Yeah, I get it. But, you’ve made promises now, Agent Bering. Calendars will be synced and girl time will be scheduled.”
And even though she never would have predicted it, the prospect made Myka feel ever so slightly better.