Every year, in the first week of July, Leena went away. She didn't tell where she was going, or what she would be doing, but she always came back relaxed and smelling faintly of coconuts, so everyone assumed she went somewhere fun,
Her absence wasn't too heavily noted the first year Myka lived in the B&B, with both she and Pete otherwise occupied tracking down a gold-producing artifact and traipsing all over the hills of Ireland. The second year, they were likewise distracted by Pete having accidentally let Trailer onto the floor of the warehouse, tripping the lockdown procedure in the process. They had spent five days locked within the warehouse, unable to contact Leena to release them, and Mrs. Frederick finding perverse pleasure in their apt punishment for carelessness. It had not been a fun week for any of them, but Poor Pete had copped the brunt of all their frustration; it had taken over a month for his left eyebrow to grow back in fully.
This year, however, Leena's break fell right in the middle of a lull - and oh how they hated them. Say what you will about misbehaving artifacts and end-of-the-world field trips, at least they kept you occupied and saved you from Artie's dogmatic approach to stock take.
It took all of one day without her for them to realise how much Leena was needed. With no artifacts to track, Pete fell back on his default past time: snacking. There was no longer any food (nor even constituent ingredients - what on earth had he done with a pound and a half of flour?) in the place. They learnt that it was Leena who not only did the general housework, but who followed behind Claudia and Helena at the end of the night, collecting all manner of tinkered components and returning them to their work benches. They learnt that Pete the Ferret had an unfortunate tendency to escape and that, more often than not, it was Leena who uncovered where he had scampered off to, scooping him out of the body of the piano and returning him to his pen. They learnt that it was Leena who stocked the shampoo and sorted the mail, who sent Claudia to bed and woke Artie up. Leena walked Trailer and raked the lawn, returned library books and darned socks. Leena had, for all intents and purposes, become their mother. And with mum gone, the children were quickly becoming lost.
On the second day of Leena's vacation, Artie arrived at the B&B to a breakfast comprised of stale pop tarts, orange marmalade (but no toast), half a handful of barely cooked porridge, and what looked suspiciously like a boiled shoe. He looked over his oddly dishevelled agents (apparently it was also Leena who ensured that Pete's buttons were correctly aligned), sitting with their pitiful breakfast in the messy parlour - was that a Farnsworth component balanced against the salt and pepper shakers? - and gave a heaving sigh.
It was quickly decided that this could not continue, that if it did continue, Leena would likely return to find them all dead, or trapped in the bathroom or some other such nonsense. Temporarily hiring a replacement was dismissed out of hand - even putting aside the fact that no temp could ever come close to doing Leena's job, it turned out that there was no agency that hired out workers to super secret government organisations housed in mysterious warehouses. That something must be done, however, was evident, and as such, Helena stood and made her unexpected announcement.
"I shall be Leena." They all looked at her with odd expressions. She rolled her eyes at them. "Okay, I won't be Leena, but I shall assume her duties for the duration of her leave. How hard can it be?"
Claudia eyed her frankly. "HG. Have you met us?"
"Of course I have, darling, which is how I know that if I don't step up it is entirely likely that you will all be at each other's throats in mere days. I have experience caring for others, and have ran a household before - admittedly with a staff, but I shall contend."
Myka smiled to herself. While she did not doubt Helena's good intentions and willingness to help, she also knew that being off active duty was sending her stir crazy, and that she longed for a project - any project. Helena had been (outwardly) patient since her return, accepting her mandated therapy and off-duty probationary status with repentant grace. But inside her spirit was vibrating with pent up energy, and she ached to do something, anything, to show that she had changed.
"HG," Pete said hesitantly. "Do you even know how to use the vacuum?"
"I'll figure it out," she replied cheerily.
"What about the store? You don't even know where it is. Or what cookies I like."
"I'll figure it out."
"And what about the microwave? It's still fritzy from the last time you tampered with it, what if -"
"I'll figure it out, Peter!" she snapped.
Pete fell back into his seat, slightly shame faced. "You'll figure it out," he agreed. "You'll do great."
Helena did, in fact, figure it out, because they returned home to a far tidier B&B than that which they had left. Myka did not think Leena would be too impressed with the modifications Helena had clearly made to the vacuum resting in the corner (Leena had a strict no-'improvement' policy when it came to B&B appliances ever since Helena and Claudia had tried to increase the efficiency of the refrigerator and ended up freezing half the kitchen), but she was beyond caring at this point.
As usual, Tuesday evening was, as Pete liked to put it, 'fend for yourself night'. Artie usually curled up in his den with a bowl of something unhealthy and some records, as he did this particular Tuesday. When Helena announced, however, that she would be taking the opportunity to "procure some household supplies," Claudia and Pete gave up their standing plans for a burger at the arcade and very excitedly asked to join her.
Helena accepted her assistance graciously, but Myka just smirked and said nothing as she grabbed the keys. Helena was quickly acclimatising to life in the 21st Century, but there were still huge gaps in her common knowledge. Despite having visited the mall once or twice with Claudia, Myka was fairly certain Helena had never stepped foot into a grocery store. She could not have known that Pete and Claudia's enthusiasm for the tedious task should have been warning bells.
It was the fluorescent lights that got to Helena the most. Myka had noted that she would always turn off the overhead light whenever possible, favouring the softer glow table lamps. This was clearly not to be an option now, and Myka laid a reassuring hand on Helena's shoulder when she saw her wince at the bright light and even brighter packaging.
Drawing on her earlier cheer, Helena smiled her thanks for Myka's support before fixing them all with her usual grin. "Okay, what's first? We need some sort of receptacle."
Claudia dragged her over to the entryway. "A trolley, HG. It's called a 'trolley'."
There were several awkward moments where Helena severely irritated her fellow shoppers by standing at the rack examining them ("But these devices are substandard! The wheels do not even align. If I could just -") but eventually, between the three of them, they managed to get HG among the actual aisles.
"Righty-ho then," Helena said, pulling a list from her pocket. "Shall we begin?"
"Let me see that," Pete said, plucking the list from her fingers and scanning it. "HG. What is this?"
Helena was taken aback, she had spent quite some time perfecting her list. "It's our shopping list, what does it look like?"
"...there is nothing on here."
"What? Surely there is," Myka snatched the list from Pete's hand, unable to stand Helena's crestfallen expression any longer, and began to read. "Four pounds of flour, sugar, cornstarch, un-homogenised milk... Helena, why on earth would you need un-homogenised milk? I'm fairly certain they don't sell that here."
Helena looked upset. "I wanted to make cream for those delightful personal cakes that Claudia likes so much, the ones with the funny name."
A dazed expression came over all their faces - until pearls of laughter fell from Claudia. Hugging Helena tightly, she had to wipe away her tears. "OH HG, you are the best. The ACTUAL best. But you don't need to bake me twinkies, we'll just buy them."
It was as though a revelation befell her. "You mean Leena doesn't bake them?"
"No HG, she buys them here at the market."
"...and Pete's cookies?"
Myka fought the urge to join Claudia in hugging Helena, "No one could ever bake enough cookies to keep up with Pete. She bakes some, but no, most she buys."
"And you can buy all this here? In this one shop?" Helena looked around at all the items on the shelves with new respect. She tore up her list. "Oh this shall be fun."
In the end, Helena had been just as excitable as Pete and Claudia. Pete had all but ran to the confectionary aisle, and Claudia simply had to have the latest TechToday magazine - but Helena, she had found at least one thing on every aisle to marvel over. Ingenious packaging, foreign foods, cake mixes - all of these amazed and enthralled her. They bought so much Shake 'n' Pour pancake batter that they'd be eating pancakes for a month.
As such, it was quite the exhausted Myka that manoeuvred them out of the store and back home. Between the pair of them, Myka and Helena managed to whip up a passable pasta for them all, and, after reminding Helena of the wonder that was the dishwasher, it wasn't long before they were all tucked in for the night.
Myka woke to the not quite so dulcet tones of Helena swearing outside her door. The accompanied bangs and clattering signalled her attempts at cleaning the window on the landing - and it did not appear to be going well. Helena had not lied in saying that she had had experience in running a household, but she and her family had been well off - it was highly unlikely that she had ever attempted housework of this nature before. Myka considered rising to assist her, but decided against it, knowing that the woman would far rather master the task herself. Besides, the soft curses wafting through the door were rather adorable.
Which was a thought Myka had been tyring to avoid of late. It was also something to which she was not succeeding.
She and Helena had been dancing around each other since her return - since Helena's initial arrival if she were perfectly honest. Myka only had to close her eyes to see Helena's eyes locked onto hers, seconds before she, the warehouse, their lives came crumbling down around her. Myka tried not to close her eyes longer than necessary these days. When awake, she and Helena moved awkwardly, coming together only to run apart again. Things had changed, Helena's loss and subsequent revitalisation had forced a rush of emotion that made it impossible for Myka to go on ignoring all that the other woman had become to her. Myka longed to tell her, to be able to hold her within her arms, revelling in the concrete knowledge of her presence. But she lacked the courage to make that final step - she who never feared for anything their job threw their way, too scared to cross that final line.
It was made all the worse by the clear and apparent that Helena wanted her, she had never made a secret of that fact, her flirtations always a touch too sincere, her stance always a bit too close. But Helena wanted many things these days: forgiveness, safety, friendship, a home. And Myka was aware enough to know that could be all these things for her. Myka could not, would not, be an empty balm to Helena's psyche. She would wait, wait, wait, until Helena could stand on her own, till she could step out from behind the walls of guilt she had built for herself and make the necessary steps freely and openly.
Until then Myka would endure the torturous flirtations, pretend that nothing had changed between them and that their dance was the same as always.
Artie was pleased by the pancake breakfast, piling the fluffy pancakes onto his plate with the enthusiasm of a man unaware that he was seeing his next thirty breakfasts laid out before him.
Helena entered the room with a freshly steeped pot of tea (there was no coffee at her breakfast table), festively wrapped in the Wonder Woman apron Pete had given Leena for Christmas, her mane of dark hair pulled back in a bun, uncharacteristically scruffy for the always well put-together English woman. She circled the table, pouring the tea and neatly sweeping the mobile phone out of Claudia's texting hand and slipping it into her apron pocket. It was a smooth, practiced move, her eyes never moving from the streams of tea she was pouring, and Myka added it to the sad list of motherly movements Helena possessed and often deployed unknowingly.
Claudia offered up a token pout, but said nothing. As the one most frequently on the receiving end of Helena's motherly instincts, more often these days than ever before, Myka thought Claudia appreciated them more than she let on. The girl had been without a mother for quite some time, and the pair had fallen into this dynamic rather quickly. Myka doubted that either of them would ever acknowledge it, and so it simply became yet another layer to the unique family they had all built together.
Breakfast was a pleasant affair, with Pete and Artie consuming far too much syrup without Leena there to cut them off. With still no pings (or 'curiosities' as Helena, and now sometimes Claudia, continued to refer to them) appearing on their radar it was off to the warehouse for another day of chores (Claudia), stock take (Myka) and pretending to be busy while hiding out in the Pete Cave (Pete, naturally). Just as they were about to leave, however, Helena called them back to the kitchen.
On the bench sat four carefully sealed brown paper bags. The first she gave to Artie, it's outsides covered in squiggles and lines, no apparent meaning in them whatsoever, and yet: "You're the code breaker," she said. "Decipher it and you'll get your desert."
Artie harrumphed, but Myka could already see his eyes focused on the squiggles.
The second bag was decorated with a complicated diagram of... well... something, equations and lines disappearing off the edge of the bag. Bouncing gently in place, Claudia knew this bag was for her. She extended a hand excitedly, and Helena smiled as she gave it to her.
"I've put in one of those 'twinkies', darling, but you must promise me that you will eat your sandwich first."
Claudia gave her a one armed hug. "Yes, ma'am!"
Helena gave her back her phone, "And give some thought to the blue print, I could use your help." And with those magic words Claudia would be glowing all day.
Pete wrenched open the next bag as soon as it was in his hand. Disappearing into it up to his ears, Pete's delighted voice was muted by the paper. "These smell amazing HG! Did you make them yourself?" Pete's head emerged from the bag with a cookie clenched between his teeth.
"Yes I did," she said. "And they're to last you the entire day, you shan't be getting any more, understand?"
Pete swallowed half the cookie in one go, returning the other half to the bag for safe keeping. His mouth still full, he gave her a muffled reply that sounded positive enough. Any further responses, however, were forgotten as he walked to the door, happily reading the comic Helena had sketched on the bag, a funny little panel about Pete the Ferret eating all the cookies in Univille.
Myka tried to clamp down on her thoughts, the ones that were screaming in her head, as she took in Helena's happy face. The woman was obviously proud of herself, pleased that the lunches had been well received. But it was not the proud expression of victory or triumph on her face, those Myka had seen before. No, Helena was just happy that she had made them happy, that her simple actions had bought them pleasure. Myka actually saw some of that guilt crumble away, it was a beautiful sight to behold.
Helena picked up the last bag, and Myka was slightly saddened to see that it was unadorned. Had Helena not thought she too would appreciate the gesture. Had Helena not wanted to leave her a message as she had all the others? Covering her disappointment best she could, she accepted her lunch with a smile.
"Thank you, Helena. That was very sweet of you," Myka said, her head gesturing to where the others were donning their coats in the hall, showing off their lunch bags like children.
"It was nothing," Helena said (and was that a touch of shyness in her voice?). "I always thought brown paper bags to be ever so boring. This cheers them up a little."
"Well I'm sure they appreciate it," Myka said, hoping disappointment wasn't creeping into her voice.
And with just a few words about Helena tackling Pete's bathroom (good luck was offered all around), she sent them all on their way with smiles and waves, Myka wondering the whole time what she could possibly have done.
Lunch time was a quiet hour at the Warehouse. Artie preferred to work through lunch (not surprisingly, since he pretty much preferred to work through everything), and so usually ate at his computer. Today he sat at the table, one hand around his turkey sandwich, the other tracing out patterns on his lunch bag. His muttering was slightly disturbing so Myka grabbed her own lunch and went in search of Pete and Claudia.
The Pete Cave (still so named despite Claudia's additions and frequent habitation) was alive with music and twinkle lights when Myka arrived. Pete was alternating between eating cookies and telling Claudia all about Pete the Ferret's adventures while Claud, happily entrenched in a monstrously large bean bag, ignore him for her mystery blue prints.
Myka and Helena usually preferred to eat in the library where it was quiet and they could talk, but still squared away her 'spot' in the Pete Cave - an upholstered linen chair she had liberated from Leena's. It made for an odd assortment of furniture, but it worked all the same.
Pulling her chair over to the work bench Claudia had installed, Myka pulled out her own carefully wrapped sandwich. It was a salad sandwich on grain - no tomato. Her favourite. You certainly couldn't fault Helena on her eye for detail.
Biting into her sandwich, Myka felt Pete's words fade away as her eye caught the black ink on the inside of her lunch bag. Upturning it to remove the remainder of the contents, Myka grabbed an exacto knife from Claudia's table and carefully sliced down the side and base of the bag, laying it out flat on the table before her.
Helena's careful hand covered every inch of the bag, the black ink crawling elegantly over the brown. Myka had always secretly adored Helena's handwriting. Her own hand having diminished to little more than a scrawl thanks to years of dependence on a computer, she always revelled in the neat straight lines of Helena's script, the particular nature of her shaped letters. She had become familiar with Helena's notations, and in the months that she had been gone, Myka's traitorous eye had always been quick to scout out any lingering remnants - a phone message left on a pad of paper, a hand-written report used for reference, one of a million post-it notes that they were, to this day, still uncovering. The truth was, Myka was more familiar with the curvature of Helena's cursive than she was her own, and to have it laid out before her like this was more than she could have hoped for.
Her greedy eyes, long starved for new material, tried to take it all in at once - and as such she failed to see what she truly had in front of her. Forcing herself to slow down, Myka started anew, taking in one precious word at a time.
And with each sentence her heart slowed a little more, an unexpected clam overcoming her entire being. This was no mere phone message, nor a post-it IOU for twizzlers. This was not a comic on a lunch bag or a shopping list to be abandoned. This was a story, the imaginings on HG Wells herself, penned solely for her.
But it was even more than that, for it was not imaginings at all. Helena had written their story. The Time Machine reworked in truth. Myka recognised her own words, words that she had uttered without thought, right there next to the words of HG Wells. Myka was beyond touched that Helena had remembered them all so clearly.
Helena had placed herself as protagonist, she the Time Traveller made flesh, and Myka found herself lost in her words, in the thoughts and sensations that Helena described. To have met Helena Wells once was astounding, a memory Myka would not part with for all the world - but to experience their first meetings through Helena's own thoughts, that she never could have imagined.
Blushing and chuckling gently in equal measure, Myka made her way through the entire length of the bag - only to find herself thrown violently into the here and now when it simply ended mid-sentence. Myka turned the bag over frantically, searching for the remainder of the story that she knew wasn't there.
The rest of Myka's day was consumed with thoughts of Helena's words. She had never been given such a gift, and yet all she could do was think of the non-ending. The story was nowhere near finished.
Helena met them at the door, as she often did these days, her probationary status making her lonely. She had Leena to talk to, and her Regent-appointed therapist (what she wouldn't have given to see that job advertisement), but still, Myka imagined Helena missed the noise and bustle of their presence.
Myka managed to wait patiently as Helena greeted them all with a smile and a plate of "Leena's brownies" (again, she was surprised to learn that these, too, had been procured at the market), watching as she caved to Pete's puppy dog expression, handing him two. As soon as the hall entry was otherwise empty, however, Myka pounced, pulling the carefully folded bag from her pocket and thrusting it toward Helena.
"What is this?" she exclaimed.
Helena's face crumbled before disappearing behind a blank mask. "I'm sorry," she said. "I thought you would like it."
Myka's heart leapt as she realised the error of her words. She grabbed Helena's hand, the paper rustling between their palms. "Oh Helena," she breathed. "I'm sorry. I DO like it, I love it in fact. But how could you leave it there?"
Relief flooded Helena's face and she let out a smiling huff of air. "Myka darling, you scared me terribly."
Realising that their hands were still clasped, Myka slipped her hand out of Helena's, countering the loss with a quick squeeze and a gentle smile.
"I am sorry," Myka repeated. "But I still wish to know what you were thinking leaving it there like that."
Helena lifted the bag up to show her. "I ran out of room."
"That is no excuse," Myka grinned. "You're an inventor, after all. Fix it."
Helena chuckled. She had seen Myka's attempts to hide her crushed face earlier that morning, and was happy to see her smiling again. "But Myka, you know what happens next, it's hardly suspenseful."
Myka stilled. How to say it without using the words? She looked her squarely in the eye and spoke slowly, her tone serious, different from her laughing admonishments of half stories.
"I do know what happens, that's true," she agreed. "But I don't know everything. How could I?" Her voice lowered, steps off a whisper. "Please, Helena. Please write the rest."
Helena smoothed the crinkles they had made in the bag and placed it safely back in Myka's hand. She smiled softly. "As you wish, Myka dear."
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Having been busted for his lack of stock taking the previous day, it was a very crabby, very grimy Pete who joined them in the Pete cave. Artie had assigned him their most hated warehouse chore: dusting. Dusting is an itchy job at the best of times, but take in the artifacts' overabundance of static electricity, and you're pretty much guaranteed a long day. Besides, the artifacts often had rather childish personalities when it came to bathing, and it wasn't unusual for the more troublesome artifacts to sneeze that dust right back at you.
Throwing himself into his chair, Pete pulled his lunch from the bag and settled in to study the Ferret Pete comic he had managed to save until now. Slowly his grumpy face gave way to chuckles as he read about Ferret Pete riding around on Trailer like a horse. With Pete immersed in his comic and Claudia tinkering away at the puzzle that had been included with her lunch (an odd metal contraption Myka suspected Helena had thrown together), Myka curled up on her chair with the next instalment of her - their - story.
Cutting the sides open carefully, she noted that it picked up exactly where the last had left off:
... and in hearing my voice she looked up. I was thrown once again by those warm brown eyes - sad through wet tears, and more than a little wary, but still kind. She was haloed by a gentle green glow, the morning sun filtering though the leaves of the cemeteries trees and I couldn't help by think how appropriate that seemed, she an angel sitting before me.
I spoke to her, our words fraught with distrust and desperation. She didn't trust me, that I knew, and I couldn't blame her. What cause did she have to trust me, a stranger not only to herself but time? What's
more, I knew myself to be unworthy of her trust. I knew my deeds would betray her confidence once granted so why did I push so? Why had I chosen her amongst her peers to be my point of access to the Warehouse. Enlisting her partner would have been easier, he already succumbed to my wiles once with little effort, surely again would be no trouble. Her young charge, who appeared at her elbow all excitement and inexperience bundled up in a single person desperate for approval, for inclusion, she would have leapt at my requests with but a kind word. So why had I chosen her, this Myka Bering, she who was strong and capable and all too knowing?
Again she turned me away, refusing to accept my platitudes as fact and I felt my control slip for just a moment, felt her pull away that carefully constructed veneer. And that single moment's wavering caused words to escape from me, words that I had not intended to spill. I found myself begging for her consideration, found myself explaining my life in a way I had vowed never to share with anyone.
"I asked to be bronzed," I said, my hands tearing at my hair as if I could make them not so. If only I had known the price I would pay for my request. "I wasn't in my right mind."
Her wary eyes closed in on mine as I talked of my daughter. My beloved Christina. I had sworn that her name would not be uttered in this disappointment of a new world. That I would not sully her memory here, but rather work all the harder to return to her. And yet here I was, telling near all to this beauty of a woman, this seduction of a stranger.
Myka's face softened as I spoke of her, as I spoke of a different world - a better one that she could not have known had not come to fruition. With each passing second her distrust faded. Her eyes filled not with pity, but sympathy, and I in turn felt the foundations of guilt start to build up around me. How was it that I had managed to find the one good heart in this fray? How had I chosen the one willing soul among millions to be the one to betray? Why?
"The bronzer was your time machine," she breathed, all soft voice and keen intelligence.
Of course she would understand. It was the cruellest part of it all.
The narrative went on for some time, covering many exchanges between the pair. Some Helena chose to dwell on, her words circling around the instance like vultures waiting to swoop should her meaning not be made clear, the right note of sincerity not be reached. Myka was touched by the moments Helena had chosen to include, to weave into the narrative; small moments, the brushing of hands, or quiet comments made seemingly in passing, having soaked into her memory with clear distinction.
Reading Helena's words, reading her thoughts - brutally honest and endearingly sweet all in turn - was a far more intimate experience than Myka could ever have anticipated. That the woman had a way with words was not surprising. That she could mould her words in such a way, with no pretence, no intent to sway or delude, but simply share what she had experienced was a wonder to which Myka didn't quite now how to respond.
Stuck on floating waves of thought, Myka's surroundings slowly wafted back in around her. Pete and Claudia's words, as they discussed a world in which Ferret Pete and Trailer were agents of the warehouse, bolstered her as she returned to a world outside of herself. There were still hours left in their day, but for the life of her, Myka had no idea how she managed to see them out.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Her knock was far more hesitant than she would have liked, choosing to think of herself, as she did, as far more decisive in nature and act. Still, she knew Helena would be kind enough to forgo mentioning it, granting her entrance despite her the timidness of her request. Receiving permission from within, Myka pushed open the door to Helena's room, not quite sure what she should expect to see.
She had been in Helena's room before, they had all been in each others rooms at some point over the past three years, but Myka's time here had been some time ago and always in a passing or per functionary manner. The handing over of laundry or invitations to tea did not a visit make, and in the moment it took for the door to swing open, Myka realised all this.
There was no denying it as Helena's room, it's state a unique mix between utter tidiness and distracted chaos. Books on every conceivable subject filled every corner, their neat stacks negated by their sheer number. Her bed was made with such precision that even Pete's exacting military standards would have been satisfied. The foot of the bed, however, was littered with what Myka hoped was Claudia's OLD laptop, it's case open and pieces spilled all over the folded patchwork quilt lying there. Amid it all, Helena sat in a tall backed chair, her attention focused on the round [writing table] before her.
With Myka's entry, however, she looked up from her work, greeting her with a pleased smile. "Myka, dear," she said, placing her pen carefully on the table. "What a pleasant surprise."
Myka squirmed awkwardly in the doorway. There was a reason she had not visited Helena in her room before, she never quite knew what to do with herself, her limbs suddenly feeling far longer than they were.
"Is there something I can do for you, darling?" Helena asked.
"No," Myka said, taking another step deeper into uncharted waters. "I just... wondered what you were doing?"
Myka considered her excuse for Helena's company somewhat pathetic, but Helena, it seemed, did not seen to notice or mind. Instead her face light up, and she beckoned her closer, patting the nearby bed for Myka to take a seat.
Myka gulped and crossed the room. She reached out to smooth the worn fabric of the quilt before she sat down, her nail catching slightly on a raised thread emerging from the seam of two aged panels. She sat carefully, and tried to ignore the delightfully amused expression Helena wore. She knew she was being ridiculous.
Drawing her attention to her table, Helena gestured to her supply of brown paper bags. "Just getting ready for tomorrow," she explained as she picked up a bag with a series of boxes penned across it. "I am considering having Ferret Pete exchange artifact labels, with some, shall we say, rather unfortunate consequences for our valiant leader."
The twinkle in her eye told Myka that these consequences would be far more amusing for them then it would be for Artie. "Pete would heartily approve."
Helena retrieved her pen once more, "Yes I thought he rather would."
Myka was grateful that Helena seemed comfortable enough to continue her work, as it gave her a chance to continue her study of her surroundings. At least until Helena's words bought her crashing back to the matter at hand.
"And you, Myka, what are you doing this fine evening?"
Oh how to answer? She could always try the truth of course, that she was going stir crazy sitting in her room knowing that that there was only two doors separating her from Helena. That she didn't care where she was or what she was doing so long as it meant she could see her, hear her, smell her or feel her. That it was burgeoning on agony that she couldn't have the one thing she wanted.
And yet all she could manage was a mere shadow of the truth. "Just looking for some company. Pete and Claudia are locked into a battle to the death. Apparently this is the night Luigi rules over Mario."
Myka recognised the brief look of confusion and quick dismissal floating across Helena's eyes.
"You are always more than welcome to join me, Myka. Please, make yourself comfortable."
And so it was that Claudia uncovered them some hours later, Helena studiously writing all over the inside of yet another brown paper bag, Myka sprawled comfortably across her bed, her stockinged feet tapping gently against the bed head. Occasional words floated between the two, Helena asking Myka's opinion on word choice (and therefore pleasing the eternal bookworm to no end), Myka sharing choice sections on whatever dusty old book she had claimed from one of Helena's piles. It was an adorable image, one that Claudia had been watching them build up to for months.
Smiling over her adorable, slow-to-learn friends one more time, Claudia closed the door gently and returned to her own room.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Helena was doing a wonderful job in Leena's absence, but there was a growing list of things that she refused to do (washing Pete's near radioactive socks, for one) and by the end of the week, their missing of Leena had turned into a desperate longing, Helena amongst them.
As such, when Leena did arrive home, suitcase in hand and that mysterious scent of coconuts proceeding her, she barely made it in the front door before being nearly bowled over by Pete.
"You're hooooome!" he crowed. "Where'd you go? Did you have fun? Did you bring me anything? Did ya, did ya, did ya?"
Too used to Pete to be truly overwhelmed by his onslaught, she simply pulled the airline cheese and cracker package from her pocket and slipped it into his hand. Happy with his souvenir, Pete pulled back and let the others greet her - far less manically, but no less happy to see her.
Dragging her into the living room to talk, Helena pressing tea into her hand as she passed, Leena was pleasantly surprised to see her B&B in amazingly good order (...except for the oddly faint smell of socks wafting from somewhere, that is). She was convinced that she would be in for some hard work post-break, what with all of her oddball family home this year, but it seemed that they had managed to behave themselves.
They had all wanted to hear about her travels and fill her in on all she had missed. No one noticed when, an hour later and halfway through one of Pete's exuberant retellings, Helena quietly stood and excused herself.
Leena did notice, however, that Myka was barely able to wait three minutes before following her.
Myka took the stairs slowly, each step adding to her conflicting thoughts. She wanted nothing more than to go to Helena and take her in her arms. They had been moving towards this for months, but this past week had thrown them beyond anything they had previously experienced or acknowledged.
Myka had spent the week immersed in Helena's words, letting them fill her in a way no other words ever had. She had seen their world through Helena's own eyes. She had met and grown to love her friends all over again as Helena recounted their first meetings. She had experienced Helena's excitement over the minutiae of daily life that Myka had long since come to take for granted. She had fallen into the depths of despair alongside her as Helena's words gave an unflinchingly honest account of her betrayal, of the indelible acts she had committed and could never forget. And she had, floating on wings of joy, read as Helena spoke of her, as she spoke of her curiosity, her affection, her love of her. Even if she had ever wanted to, Myka would never be able to forget Helena's words.
But, despite Leena's return, Helena's story - their story - was not finished. There would be no more bagged lunches, no more hidden sharing of Helena's innermost thoughts and feelings - but Myka found that she could not accept that that was to be the case.
Reaching the landing outside their bedrooms, Myka was drawn to an envelope attached to the front of her bedroom door. She spared a moment to savour the sight of her name written in Helena's flowing script on the front, before chuckling slightly when she realised that Helena had folded the paper bag to approximate the shape of an envelope. Removing the tape gently, she slipped into her bedroom to read the final words this this envelope would no doubt contain.
Closing the door carefully behind her, Myka jumped slightly when Helena's voice came from behind her.
"I am sorry, dear, did I startle you?" There was no one in the entire universe who could manage to sound so sincere and amused at the same time, Myka mused.
"A little..." she said, far too distracted by the sight of Helena leaning up against her behead, long legs stretched out before her, bare feet peeking out from the hem of her grey trousers.
Sensing that Myka was not yet quite ready to form sentences, Helena continued. "I appear to have made a friend," she said, indicating the threadbare teddy bear resting within her arms. "He and I have been chatting while we were waiting."
"What were you taking about?" Myka asked.
"Why you, of course. I was patiently waiting for you, but he seemed to think I should go and collect you," her eyes twinkled up at Myka. "Your bear is rather impatient, Myka darling, but we seem to get along just fine all the same."
Myka smiled at Helena's innocent antics, her playful side one of her most endearing qualities. "Was there something in particular you wanted me for?"
Helena turned here attention to the bear. "Now that is the very definition of a loaded question, is it not?" she asked him.
Starting, but trying not to blush at Helena's words, Myka raised her hand to indicate the envelope. "I found this," she said simply.
"I gathered you would," Helena said before scooting over on the bed to make room, patting the mattress next to her. "I thought perhaps I might join you."
Helena had been somewhat hesitant in her interactions with Myka since her return. Eager to prove herself, clearly delighted to be back, but so scared to misstep, scared to find herself wrenched away again, even by her own doing. All this hesitation had disappeared. The confidence of old had returned, but lighter, happier, than Myka had ever seen. She couldn't help but think that this was Helena at her truest: still broken in places, always troubled, but honest and happier with the world around her than she had been in a very long time.
Helena's undeniable joy was hard to resist, and Myka felt her own reservations slide away as she made the final few steps. Joining her on her own bed, Myka delighted in the lining up of their bodies: shoulder against shoulder, hip against hip, with only Myka's longer legs leaving her feet outreaching Helena's own. Myka had always quietly disliked her height, hating her childhood of towering over her peers only to later find herself abandoning heels lest she wished to peer squarely over the head of any potential dancing partner. Now, however, Myka found that she didn't mind the extra few inches. She liked that she was taller than Helena, and she had spent many an hour considering what it would be like to rest her chin on that pale shoulder, pressing her cheek into the beautiful curvature of Helena's neck.
Sensing that she had again lost Myka to the world inside her own mind, Helena gave her shoulder a gentle nudge. "Myka, the envelope?"
"Oh," Myka said. "Of course."
Slipping her nail under the square of electrical tape Helena had used to seal it (there were some details of 21st century life that still escaped her, and as far as Helena was concerned, one mode of affixing was just the same as the next), Myka gently unfolded the paper bag envelope. Seeing no words on the paper she turned it over, slightly confused, there she saw only no words, just her name where Helena had addressed it. She looked up, giving Helena a quizzical expression. Helena just smiled at her softly, pulling the paper from her hand carefully and placing it on the bedside table.
"Helena..." Myka questioned. "I don't understand. I mean it's not an ending."
If anything, Helena's smile grew at her words. It wasn't her customary grin or smirk, but a true and honest smile, the kind she rarely gifted on anyone besides Myka.
"No," she said. "It's not an ending. But I don't really want there to be an ending, do you?"
Myka's eyes widened. She hadn't wanted to push Helena, had not wanted to move her too fast. But was it possible that she had, in fact, moved too slow? Had she been so concerned about pushing her too far that she had missed the fact that Helena had gotten there all on her own?
Helena reached for Myka's hand where it laid between them and laced their fingers together. When she spoke, it was without guile, or flirtation. "I've had endings, Myka," she said. "I've seen the end of dreams, of hopes. I've seen the end of lives. What we have, what we could have... I don't want there to be an ending. We have the start of a wonderful story, Myka, and I know that I jeopardised that, but please - please don't let it end because of my stupid pride."
Myka squeezed her hand slightly, the shared warmth between their palms hotter than Myka could have imagined. She faltered slightly, but managed finally, to let her own words surface. "You haven't jeopardised a thing, Helena."
"I have," Helena affirmed, not prepared to give an inch on herself. "We all know the truth of that. But... I'm ready now. I can be here, truly be here now, with you."
Myka shifted on the bed slightly so as to face Helena. She ran her free hand through Helena's loose hair, reveling in the feel of the silky strands slipping though her fingers. As she let the final strands fall, her fingers moved to trace the curve of Helena's jaw. Helena let Myka continue her silent exploration, her own eyes entranced by Myka's look of concentration. Lifting her eyes, Myka locked her eyes on Helena's, her brown eyes calmer than Myka could ever remember having seen them. Cupping her cheek, Myka leant in, to the point where their breathes mingled together between them.
"Helena..." she breathed. "Are you sure? Because -"
"I'm sure," Helena interrupted, pressing her forehead to Myka's. "I'm very sure."
Myka felt her body overcome with heat, all the thoughts and feeling she had been pushing down further and further finally erupting with Helena's assurance. Caressing Helena's cheek with her thumb, the hand Myka had been balancing on her thigh rose to thread through the back of Helena's hair, cradling her gently as she moved in to brush her lips against hers. Helena's hand moved between them as she carefully moved the teddy bear to the floor. Myka spared a thought for the care Helena took with the bear, but as quickly as the thought occurred it had disappeared as the space previously filled by the bear was taken up by the warmth of Helena's body.
The pair shifted to lie on the bed, Myka pulling Helena tighter to her as they did so. Holding Helena within the space of her arms, the weight of her body pressed up against her own was a comfort Myka had often dreamt about but had almost given up hope of truly happening. Helena released her lips as she pulled back to look upon her, her hair falling in sheets around their faces.
"Oh Myka," she said, her lips reddened from their kiss, smiling wider than ever before. "What a wonderful story we shall write."