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and on the heels of hope came creeping fear

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It's getting on for late when they hear Artie's car pull up outside. Myka forces herself to stay in her seat, to not rush into the hallway and throw the front door open to see if he's alone. She and Pete were summarily packed off home as soon as Mrs Frederic and Mr Kosan arrived, which was quickly and without warning - Helena's soft go, Myka still resounds in her head, hardly enough to be called a proper goodbye. Until she heard the car she'd thought she was resigned to the loss of two friends - to having lost Helena again, and how many times can you lose one person? - but now there's this ridiculous little bubble of hope swelling inside her and she's trying to burst it before it grows enough to drive her mad. She waits for Leena to go first, counting to ten before rising slowly (deliberately slowly, and she's shaking) to follow her.

She's not coming back she's not coming back she's not coming back

There are two figures in the car. Only one is getting out.

At the threshold, Myka finds herself clutching at the doorframe like a lifeline.

She's back.

Helena's fingers thread nervously into her hair as Leena approaches. Leena doesn't smile so much as look at her gently, which seems to soothe her. There's a brief discussion between the pair of them and Artie - Leena's expression and tone tell Myka that Artie's going back to the Warehouse without stopping to eat - and then the paper bag Leena was carrying changes hands, Artie drives away and the two women approach the house. Helena trails meekly along in Leena's wake. In borrowed clothes she seems diminished, ragged; the more so for the poor fit of the shirt. It reminds Myka all too much of the hologram, crumpled cloth in shades of grey. She wants to dress Helena in dark brown and cream, give her back the elegance and effortless style she used to have. More than that she wants to hold her.

Pete jumps down the last two stairs just as Helena steps over the threshold. She ducks a little, as if the doorway is far lower than it actually is. There's an awkward little dance in the hallway then, three people trying to decide where they should be and a fourth waiting to be told, and it's Pete who breaks the tension by scooping up a startled Leena, turning through one-eighty and setting her down on the other side of him. That's one way to pass in a corridor. Baffled by the display, Helena doesn't step back in time to avoid the same treatment - Myka can't help noticing how far off the floor Pete lifts her, as if he was expecting her to weigh more than she does. She blinks stupidly at him as he sets her down. Thanks, Helena, he says, and Myka knows he means for saving us. Helena looks less certain, but she smiles and says any time. There's another awkward moment, and then Pete bounds into the kitchen after Leena and starts begging for food - and that leaves Myka standing in the hallway, looking at Helena, wanting...something. Everything. She doesn't know - or she does, but it's all jumbled together like too much stuff falling out of an opened closet and she doesn't know where to start.

She never expected Helena to come back.

Fortunately, reality comes packaged with its own set of distractions. Helena gestures awkwardly toward the kitchen and says shall we...? in a hopeful tone, and Myka all but smacks herself on the forehead because of course, the poor thing's probably half starved. She's pretty hungry herself, actually. So she says sure, and she goes into the kitchen where Leena is fielding Pete with a little less than her usual level of serenity. She can't see or really hear her, but she knows that Helena is following two paces behind. Pete has the cookie jar, of course. She gets it from him with a little less than the usual fuss, takes a couple of oatmeal scotchies and holds them out to Helena; they'll do for a start. Claudia's still in the living room, she says, and Helena's expression says she's understood - she takes the cookies without a word and slips from the room. There. That's something useful for Helena to do. Myka looks around the kitchen for a similar task for herself, and when Leena starts to say could you get the and gestures at a cupboard she's all too happy to oblige. There's too much in this room, in this house, that she just can't think about right now. Helena may have come back, however temporarily, but Steve didn't. Claudia isn't the only one feeling the loss of him.

With Pete sent to the pantry to pick out some drinks (the soft kind, of course - out of respect they don't keep alcohol in the house), Myka and Leena manage to put together a haphazard little picnic spread. By the time he returns, various bottles in tow, they have it arranged on a few trays to take through to the living room. Claudia didn't eat dinner, Helena wasn't here for it, Myka only managed to pick at her food and Pete is...well, Pete; though the food is too mismatched to feel like a true substitute for dinner, it should be enough for everyone. Myka isn't fool enough to think that a full stomach will chase the shadows away, but it might at least make them easier to face.

Approaching Claudia is like walking through a minefield. Myka daren't be too cheerful or too sombre, make too much noise or try too obviously to be quiet, daren't do anything to bring herself out of the background while the youngest member of the family has that dark look on her face. Helena, by contrast, has sat down right next to her on the floor - and as Myka watches in something approaching horror, she gently pokes Claudia's cheek with a fingertip. Leena freezes. Myka freezes. Pete makes the bottles go cloink, cloink as he tries not to drop any of them. Claudia pointedly ignores Helena, and Myka thinks they might've gotten away with it - and then Helena pokes the same spot again, and Claudia says you do that one more time, I don't care how many books you wrote with those fingers I will bite them off. Myka opens her mouth to warn Helena off, but Helena seems intent upon her own des-...truction, no, she's taking one of the cookies and poking Claudia in the cheek with it - and sure enough, chomp, and Claudia's clapping her hand over her mouth, scrambling to catch the other half of the cookie before it vanishes into her lap, and Pete can't keep in his snrrk! of amusement and it's all so ridiculously brilliant - or brilliantly ridiculous - that Myka barely swallows a giggle. There's a tense moment, and then Claudia chews, once, twice, swallows the few chunks of oat cookie she bit off and turns to Helena. You suck, she says flatly, and Helena smiles tenderly at her and says I know, and it feels like the whole room breathes out as Pete and Leena move to set down their burdens. Myka juggles her own tray on to the coffee table, grateful to put it down at last, and dithers only briefly over where to sit. Not too near Helena, no matter how much she wants to; she doubts she could keep herself from holding her, and to do that now seems...inconsiderate. She's always been the closest to Helena, just as Claudia was closest to Steve; of all of them she's come out of this the best. Besides that, Helena's sensibilities are still rather British-Victorian: where and when she comes from it doesn't do to just hug someone in front of a roomful of people, no matter what you've been through together or how much you've missed them.

But as she's sitting with her family, eating, talking, once even managing to laugh, Myka's thoughts keep coming back around to how much she's missed Helena - and how much time she's already lost in waiting for the right moment to be near her.

She's not sure she's going to do anything about it until much later, after the food is mostly eaten and Claudia's retreated upstairs (she didn't stay long, but at least she ate), when the subject of sleeping arrangements comes up (because pulling Helena's room from the Warehouse would take time and everyone's already exhausted), and even then she's not sure exactly what she's going to do until Helena smiles nervously and says oh, don't worry about me, I'm only little, I'll just...tuck into a corner somewhere... - and at that point it's all or nothing, so she cuts her off with the hell you will and all but marches her upstairs, pointedly ignoring both her startled squeak and (with more difficulty) the muffled sounds of amusement from Pete and Leena. What do they think's so funny? She knows there's been a lot of chemistry between her and Helena, but has it really been so obvious it's turned into a running joke? ...Ah, fuck it; after the day she's had (or has it been days now? Does it count if you don't sleep?) she's past caring what anybody else thinks -

- and then they're in her bedroom and the door's shut behind them, and there's nobody else around to think anything at all. Nobody to tell her she shouldn't be pulling Helena into her arms, pushing her back against the door, trapping her there with her whole body, enjoying the little gasp and the way white hands come instinctively to rest on her collarbones. Helena's eyes are wide, startled. When she speaks, it's barely a whisper.

"...Myka..."

Her name in that voice...it sounds like a prayer. It's as if it's the first word she's really heard all evening, as if she's finally waking up from a dream. She threads her fingers into Helena's oh-so-silky hair and kisses her, and god, oh god her lips are soft, and warm, and Helena trembles and makes a tiny sound and for one perfect moment she seems to melt in Myka's mouth - but she's pulling away, putting her fingers to Myka's lips, shaking her head no. Myka feels a sharp chill of worry. "...Oh god, have I been reading you wrong this whole time?"

"No, no," says Helena quickly, as though it isn't a revelation that she wants Myka (and it isn't), "this simply isn't the time. My mind is...elsewhere."

She slips from Myka's arms and wanders restlessly across the room, running a hand through her hair and scratching at her scalp in the way that means troubled. Myka lets her go. Part of her wants to protest with something along the lines of goddammit Helena we almost died today, but the rest of her knows that Warehouse agents don't go long between near-death experiences. She's only been doing this for three years; Helena saw a decade of service before she was bronzed. Almost dying can't be an excuse for much any more. Besides, in Helena's defence there's a lot to think about - a lot Myka's been trying not to think about. "Claudia?"

It's a solid first guess. They've all lost people before, but if anyone knows what that can drive a person to do... Helena shakes her head though; that's not it. "Artie." She perches on the edge of the desk to pull off her boots. (That's a good idea; Myka sits on the end of the bed and follows suit.) "Little doubt remains that his knowledge saved us all. Yet what he knew should have been impossible for him to know, and he will not tell us how he knew it."

If she's honest, that's been troubling Myka as well. The days of Artie keeping everything from his team on principle are long gone, though, and the secrecy surrounding Helena and the Janus Coin was the Regents' fault in any case. She's over that issue of trust. "Maybe he can't tell us."

"And why, dear one," says Helena, stowing her boots under the desk, "might he be unable to tell us? Think; you're very close now..."

Myka pauses, one boot in her hand, thinking. When the answer comes to her, she closes her eyes in dismay. "...Timeline."

"Precisely."

Oh, god, not more time-travel. That never ends well. Unwillingly, Myka puzzles out the implications. "So...you think he saw some kind of...possible future with an artefact and then...used the knowledge of it to stop it from happening?"

"That's one of my theories," Helena confirms, sliding off the desk. (She wasn't wearing socks, Myka notes; that's not like her.) "At any rate he must have seen something momentous, or he would never have had such a dramatic and public change of heart with regard to me."

"Hey. Hey." For the tone if nothing else, Myka has to pull her up on that. "Give him some credit, okay? He might've been thinking about that for a long time."

Helena gives her the really? look, complete with arched eyebrow, and shrugs out of her jacket. "Thinking about asking them to Go With Artie's Gut?" She hangs it on the back of the chair. "I know you want to defend him, Myka, but really."

Myka frowns. "Is that what he said to them?"

"So it would seem."

She hadn't expected that. "...okay, maybe you're right. Maybe...maybe he saw you do...something, something that changed his mind."

"Heroic sacrifice, perhaps?"

Helena is standing by the window now, looking out into the dark. Her reflection in the window puts Myka in mind of the hologram - distant, untouchable. She rises from the bed and goes to Helena's side, thinking to remind herself that her companion is really there, in the flesh, because one of the worst things about the projection was that Helena looked solid until you tried to touch her. "Whatever happened to I'm Not This Noble?" she teases her gently.

"You did." Helena is smiling. It's strikingly lovely in profile. "If I thought it would keep you safe I'd be a saint..."

Myka finds herself smiling, almost laughing. A breath of it comes out, a little huff of happiness. She puts an arm around Helena's back and squeezes her fondly - and that doesn't feel quite as she expected it to. It's...smooth. Uniform. As if there's nothing under the shirt. She runs her hand over Helena's back - no, definitely no straps. "...Sykes gave you these clothes, right?" At the soft mm of affirmation she slides her hand around Helena's side, letting her fingers brush against the side of one breast. Beneath the thin white cloth, soft flesh gives pleasingly. "Looks like he forgot something."

Helena smiles coyly. It suits her far better than it should. "Two things," she says, "besides the socks." Myka barely has time to realise what that means (with a renewed surge of determination to get Helena out of her jeans) before the smile fades and Helena elaborates. "He made a tasteless remark about my sitting around in a dead woman's clothes, so I took them off. All of them. I don't think he'd prepared for that."

It takes Myka a moment to process how that thought makes her feel. Angry, mostly. Protective; territorial. A little sick. "Must've made him happy," she says darkly, her hand moving to grip Helena's side in earnest. Mine. Mineminemine. Don't care if you saw her naked, you sonovabitch, I saw her first -

"No, it didn't." Helena's voice, the tone uncharacteristically flat, brings Myka back to herself. "I doubt he knew what happiness was."

"I can't bring myself to be sad about that right now." The words slip out without Myka's consent, and after a beat she adds, "Awful, I know."

Helena leans against her slightly. "Mm, no more so than my own thoughts. Mourning the innocent boy is simple, but the man...no. I can think only of the mockery of a man he became, and that I refuse to forgive. Quite without considering the time I personally spent in its company, I remember all too well what it did to Ms. Lake."

"Oh god, Emily." She'd almost forgotten, and that she feels bad about without having to try. "You still remember - "

"Everything," Helena affirms softly. "Everything that she was, everything that she knew, everything that she felt..." The pain in her voice is poorly hidden. Myka wraps her other arm around her protectively, and she sighs - not in pleasure, but as if exhausted. "...She was so afraid, Myka. So terribly afraid. The memory of that fear will be with me for the rest of my life, as clear as though it were my own." She rests her hand lightly on Myka's arm, strokes the skin there; Myka supposes she must touch people to comfort herself as much as them. "...I will not forgive, and I will not forget. I owe her nothing less." Myka smiles at that, and only realises she's done so when Helena's expression shifts to one of faint annoyance - she's watching their reflection. "...Is there something funny about that?"

"No, god, no, it's - " Myka struggles to put the feeling she has into words - it's something like you're good, I knew you were good, you're so much better than you think you are, but she can't say that because Helena's ego would never let her forget it. "...I'm Not This Noble is never gonna fly again."

Helena starts to smile. It looks as though she's trying for bitterness, but there's something warmer showing through. "I know. Wretched, isn't it?" She leans back a little more, her body now flush against Myka's, and Myka's heart stumbles in her chest because it feels like they're two pieces of a puzzle finding a perfect fit. Click. Perhaps Helena feels it too, because her sigh is a little less weary this time, a little more pleased. "The things I'll do," she says, "for a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman."

Myka meets her gaze reflected in the window and grins a little; it's true. "You talking about me or Emily?"

"You."

The response is a surprise. She didn't expect a straight answer, let alone one so tenderly spoken, and for at least three seconds the one thought in her head is she thinks I'm pretty. All right, she sort of knew that - Helena's never made a secret of being into her - but it's one thing to read into the way someone looks at you and quite another to hear it said aloud, and there aren't words, there aren't words in any language in the world to express the sum total of how it makes her feel, of how everything is making her feel right now, and she wants this woman to know what she's done to her. So she turns Helena's face to hers with a gentle hand and kisses her, and this time Helena doesn't pull away. This time she kisses her back, soft and slow and easy like they've been doing this for years, and Myka starts to think that maybe physicality is the one thing about this relationship that will come easily. Everything else has been fraught with mishaps, the story of their finding and losing and finding one another again an uphill struggle, but the touching has always been right. Helena shifts, turning in the embrace until she can wrap her arms around Myka in turn, and this, this is even better. God, she's so soft. So sweetly, subtly curved; so delicate, yet so real. Myka strokes her hair, smoothes her hands down her back, slides them up under the shirt to caress her skin, kisses her, kisses her, kisses her until she can't take it any more and even then, pulling away to breathe, she doesn't stop touching her. She can't stop touching her. Helena has had her hands pressed firmly against Myka's back throughout. For her, the need to touch seems to be less about the experience and more about keeping Myka close - a far cry from how she pushed her away just minutes ago. Myka smiles to herself, leans in to whisper how's your mind now? into the soft curve of one ear, and she feels Helena's fingers curl at the small of her back and it makes her throb, right the way through her insides...and then Helena starts kissing her neck, and she damn near moans. She actually has to bite her lip to stop the sound from slipping out. Dear god. She clutches at Helena, at her hair, at the back of her shirt, lets herself breathe deeper - god, if this gets any better she won't be able to stay quiet -

...but Helena's resting her head on her shoulder now, and that gentle breath of warm air is like nothing so much as a swallowed yawn. "...mmm. Oh dear." She lifts her head to smile apologetically at Myka; her eyelids are a little heavy. "It's a job to keep my eyes open at this point."

You fucking tease, Myka wants to say, but the truth is she's tired too. She strokes Helena's hair again, one slow sweep of her hand right from the forehead to the back of the neck, and feels the rest of the truth come easily to her lips. "I feel like if I close my eyes, even for a minute, when I open them again you'll be gone."

"You live with the threat of my extinction." Helena looks and sounds more serene than Myka would like her to, saying something like that. "I know. I live with it too. It's the strangest feeling - I've been ready to die for such a long time, you see. Such a long time." Why must she smile when she talks about dying? "I was ready at Yellowstone, I was ready when they gave me the Janus coin - I was more ready than ever in the woods, having so many good reasons to be gone. If the time had come in the Warehouse, I would've been ready there too." The look in her eyes is a little shy, or perhaps a little ashamed. "...To own the truth, I've viewed death as a sort of relief from time to time. Never to have to be hurt or afraid or alone again, never to have to be anything again...I've longed for that, in my darkest hours." She takes a deep breath and sighs it out, and the slight tremor in the airflow tells Myka she's not as steady or secure as she wants to appear. "...But here I am, stubbornly alive, and after all this time being so ready to die I find myself...ready to live." Her smile is brittle now. "...And I'm a little afraid they won't let me."

Myka winds her fingers into Helena's hair and gently strokes her scalp. "You know I'll fight for you."

"Of course I do," says Helena - but she says it on a sigh, as if relieved, and her smile grows warm again. "If I didn't know that I'd be more than just a little afraid."

They stand there for several seconds, holding on to that moment, before Myka shakes them free. She's beginning to notice just how tired Helena looks. "I'll get you a..." She lets her go, awkwardly backing out of the embrace. "...nightshirt or something."

Helena thanks her softly, turning back to the window to close the curtains. Myka digs around in her chest of drawers, coming up with a soft, aging shirt that's enormous on her (a souvenir of sorts from a brief relationship in college - the only good thing she ever got out of him), and looks around to a view of Helena's smooth white back as she starts to unfasten her jeans. There are a few freckles here and there. Quietly draping the shirt over Helena's nearest shoulder, Myka swears to herself that one day she'll count them. "...Pete'll back you too, you know," she says, for something to fill the silence, as she changes into well-worn pyjamas. "And Claudia. She'd never admit it but she loves you."

"I know."

Of course Helena knows. Myka smiles at that. She slips between the sheets and folds them back for Helena to join her - and she has to fight the urge to squeak a little aww! because the shirt just swamps Helena, and no amount of expecting that makes it any less adorable. The neck is half way to falling off one of her shoulders. She looks so small and fragile that the urge to protect her, to reassure her, returns tenfold. "...And Artie's on your side, for whatever reason, so..."

"Mmh." Helena makes a face as she slides into the bed. "I can't bring myself to be comforted by that. Not when he looks as he did today. Whatever he saw, whatever he did to see it must have required an artefact. You and I both know that any significantly powerful artefact comes with equal drawbacks."

Myka's been trying not to think about that. "Always a downside."

"Always a downside," Helena echoes, testing the modern expression. "What he saw must have been terrible. But what he bought in its place..." She lies back and stares wearily at the ceiling. "I've spent my life looking to the future, Myka. Now I feel that the future is looking at me - and I don't care for its expression at all."

Moments pass in silence. Helena's worry is contagious, Myka realises bitterly. She may never have expected her to come back, but she thought about it. Couldn't help thinking about it. And dammit, she always thought the occasion would be happier. "...Helena?"

Helena turns to look at her, sleepy-eyed but still attentive, and Myka suddenly realises she doesn't know what she's going to say. What she wants to say is that she's sick of worrying about the state of the Warehouse (and by extension the fate of the world) and that she doesn't want to hear about any future that isn't theirs tonight, but at the same time she doesn't want to back Helena into another corner. (A metaphorical corner, that is. Actual corners, oh, she can see herself doing that a lot from now on.) After an awkward pause, she tries a slightly different tack instead. "...I know you're waiting for the right time. I get it. I do. But..." She lowers her voice to a murmur, making the most of the oversized neck of the shirt and trailing one fingertip along the ridge of Helena's collarbone. Her skin is comfortingly warm. "...I'm starting to think the closest we'll ever get to right times are the times everyone leaves us alone for five minutes."

Helena smiles in open understanding, but though she doesn't push Myka's hand away she doesn't relent. "You deserve better than haste in a stolen moment, Myka," she says softly. "You also deserve better than me, but since you appear to have chosen me in any case - and I know better than to argue - I intend upon doing this properly. And that means I won't be rushed."

Myka rolls her eyes. As much as she appreciates the sentiment, Helena and her adorably quaint concept of courting are getting in the way of things she'd appreciate a lot more. "I'm not asking you to rush," she mutters, unable to keep the smile off her lips and unwilling to try much harder. "I'm asking you to start."

"I already have," says Helena, and kisses her softly. Myka draws her in, winding a hand into her hair, but all too soon Helena pulls away, fingertips briefly coming to rest against Myka's still parted lips. "Sleep."

She turns away, but the way she tucks herself in against Myka's body makes it trusting rather than dismissive. Myka wraps an arm around her, breathes in the scent of her hair, and despite herself begins to drift off. Despite herself - or, more to the point, despite the world - she feels safe.

Her last clear memory of the night is of a hand stroking hers, of Helena's steady heartbeat lulling her into sleep.