He’s sure there is something living swimming around in his shoe. It makes an ugly squelching noise every time he steps down amongst the slosh and the leachate and the rubbish. If this is Helen’s contingency plan, he hopes a shower is involved. A long, hot shower where he can peel off layers of skin and forget what the feeling of half-dry mud feels like coated onto his thigh. Helen guides them without a map, brow wrinkled in deep concentration, and she looks as if she’s trying to read the network of pipelines that follow them. They pass under a grating above and Nikola sees dawn break. “So this is what it’s like to be a rat.”
“A bit further.” she says to combat his notion. Helen’s tired, too. They’re all tired. And wet, and disgusting. Nikola is silently hoping that this is all very, very worth it in the end. He’s almost positive he might never forgive her if it isn’t.
There shouldn’t be doors in the sewers, he thinks. Not conventional ones anyway. But Helen points to a corner and suddenly they’re up and out of the water, walking along brand new metal grating, and there are lights. Lights that lead right to a solid cement door. Helen tries to wriggle out of his grasp. “I’m alright now. Let me go.” He does, and she walks forward with all the grace of a colt. They both wince at the rattle of her knees hitting the floor. She’s scanned, something Nikola thinks also shouldn’t be happening in a sewer, and Henry sounds like a fish rudely surprised by the sudden realization of air.
One shaking hand reaches back for his own and he dutifully pulls her up again and tries not to stare at the swinging hulk of a door sliding noiselessly open. “Well,” says Nikola, “It certainly doesn’t look like a wardrobe.”
“Yes, and slowly rolling downhill from there.”
“What is it?” Finally , the boy finds words. And Helen, she smiles. Nikola is staring hard at her, through the darkness where she thinks that no one can see.
“Oh, Henry.” It comes out as a contented sigh ; pressure against his collar suggests a shift in her weight to brush up against the younger man casually, resting. He doesn’t expect the laugh, so perfectly contented, girlish and relaxed (completely foreign and half way to terrifying coming from her) and then it’s “where would a girl be without her secrets?”
Henry isn’t in the mood for secrets and quasi-madness, and really Nikola isn’t either. “Helen--”
“It’s been a long time coming, Nikola. Let me have my moment.”
“A moment? Fine. No one here but us water rats.”
“Very well then, see for yourself.” It doesn’t sound as inviting as one could have hoped.
“Fur before Finesse.” Nikola waves Henry forward, giving the doorway a skeptical once over. The boy is so into his surroundings he doesn’t even bother. “Cool!” is a resounding echo that draws a softer echoing chuckle from Helen as they disappear out of sight.
Nikola isn’t so impressed with the walls of rock. “I don’t know...I was never into the Batcave chic.”
“Oh do come on , Nikola!”
Grumbling, his hands find their way into the recesses of his pockets. The slab slides back over them as he steps in. The corridor, or what is supposed to be a corridor he assumes, is all angles. Natural for rock, but Nikola has long since learned to forgo any association with what was natural to Helen Magnus. Trailing around the slow loop downwards (which got noticeably brighter and brighter, ‘Helen what are you doing down here?), He meets abruptly with Henry’s back.
“My my, Helen. Someone’s been busy.”
Helen, to her credit, looks far too pleased with herself.