Pete drummed his fingers against the inventory list he was supposed to be cross-checking. Across the office, Myka didn't even look up. She was either totally wrapped up in the artifacts she was cataloguing or else she was daydreaming again. Pete figured the odds were about fifty-fifty – way different than he would have bet even a few weeks ago. Myka hadn't been her usual over-competent self for a while, since they got back from Russia – no, even earlier, since Claud nearly self-combusted on that wrestling case.
Pete was pretty sure he knew why.
He stood and crossed the room, glancing out the window. No sign of anybody else. Claudia and H.G. were doing inventory in the far ends of the Warehouse and Artie was back at the B&B with Leena. Perfect. It might get him a punch in the arm, but Pete was going to get to the bottom of what was up with his partner.
"Hey, Mykes," he said, leaning against her desk.
"Hm?" Myka looked up at him, jolted out of her totally-not-artifacty thoughts. "Bored already?"
"No," Pete answered defensively. "Well, yes, but that's not the point." He grabbed a pen off the desk and toyed with it, flipping it across his fingers. "Can I ask you something?" he said, eyes fixed on the pen.
Myka pushed her box of artifacts away and turned to face him. "Yeah?" she said doubtfully. "Is something wrong?"
"Wrong, no. Totally not wrong. The opposite of wrong." Pete sighed and bit the bullet. "Just – have you always been into chicks?"
"What?" Myka jerked back. "What – why are you asking?" She scrunched her face up in a glare that Pete had learned never led to anything good. "You aren't going to be all – "
"Whoa, hey." Pete held his hands up defensively. "No judgment here, nothing like that. I'm your partner! I just want you to be happy!"
"Okay." Myka relaxed visibly. No more scrunchface. Phew. She looked at him, uncertain. "Then why?"
Pete squirmed. "Like I said, I just want you to be happy, and I was thinking, you know, about what might make you not happy, and..."
Myka frowned. Oh, Pete didn't like it when Myka frowned. It always ended badly. Okay, man up, Lattimer.
"Mykes – H.G.? Really?" he blurted out. "I mean, are you sure you can trust her?"
Myka flushed bright red and stared at Pete in shock. "What do you – I mean, I don't – I mean, what?" she said, eyes darting left.
"Okay, even if you hadn't just totally proven me right, you know you've totally been drooling over her since she gave you that grappler, right?" Pete smirked, back on familiar making-fun-of-Myka ground.
Myka buried her face in her hands. "Shut up, Pete," she groaned.
"So, I'm right? I mean, it's not like I'm vibing or anything. Just being the keen and incisive observer of human nature that I am." Pete grinned.
Myka snorted, but she lowered her hands. "Yes, okay?" she said. "Yes, I like women – not 'chicks,' Pete, god – and yes, I think H.G. is kind of interesting."
Pete swallowed down his desire to do a victory dance, confining himself to a tiny fistpump out of Myka's sight. "Man, that must kinda suck," he said, half to himself.
"Why?" Myka said fiercely. "She saved my life, she saved Claudia's life, she – she even saved Artie's life! The Regents reinstated her! What more do you want?"
"Hey, no, that's not what I mean," Pete said, taking a step back. "I mean, it must suck to have a lady-crush on someone from the nineteenth century. They didn't even talk about sex back then, never mind being flexible or whatever."
"The word is bisexual, Pete," Myka said, a tiny smile tugging at the corner of her lips. "And actually, it's pretty much a myth that Victorians were sexually repressed, you know."
"Really?" Pete squinted skeptically. "We are talking about the culture of loads of petticoats and – and those little ruffles that kept chair legs hidden in case dudes got inappropriately turned on by furniture, right?"
"Yeah, but it's not..." Myka took a deep breath and looked down. "Okay, so I did some reading, and yeah, the Victorians did spend a lot of time basically policing sexual discourse, but it's not that they managed to stop everything that was happening. They just changed the way people talked about it. I mean, after industrialization, the government was really focused on figuring out how many citizens it had and how it could put them to work, so it kept track of marriages and births and tried to make sure that everyone who was having sex was doing it in a way that would be good for the empire."
She glanced up quickly. Pete blinked at her.
Myka took it as a sign to keep going. "So they wanted to make sure they had lots of marriages making lots of babies who would grow up to work hard and keep Britain great, and they made it impolite to talk about any other kind of sex. That didn't mean people stopped having it, though, they just had to talk about it in different ways, like in code. They created a lot of hierarchies, but they didn't erase sexuality or anything. Apparently some people got really into, like, secret societies and stuff..." Myka blushed a bit and trailed off.
"Wow," Pete said eventually, rubbing his hands together. A giant grin spread slowly across his face.
Myka looked gratified at his response to her mini-lecture. "Yeah, it's interesting, isn't it? All of the assumptions buried beneath our social order –"
"No," Pete interrupted, "I mean 'wow' as in 'wow, you've got it bad, Myka.'" He pointed at her with both hands. "You've been researching Victorian sex! What else have you been looking up? Fifty sexy uses for corset laces?"
"Pete!" Myka hissed. "Shut up!" She glanced frantically at the windows onto the warehouse.
Pete was on a roll. "Why consumption can be hot? No, no, I got it! How to lie back and think of England!" Caught up in his own cleverness, he ignored Myka's increasingly desperate attempts to shush him as well as the sounds of footsteps outside the office.
Myka jumped to her feet. "Pete!" She slammed a hand on the desk, catching his attention. "Zip it!"
The sound of fabric tearing echoed through the room as Myka spun to face the door. It opened and H.G. and Claudia walked in, deep in a highly technical conversation about engines. Claud had clearly gotten over her fear of H.G., at least where tech-y things were concerned.
"Hi!" Myka said too loudly.
"Smooth, Myka," Pete tried to say. Nothing came out of his mouth. He frowned. Had he lost his voice or something? That was fast – and weird.
Claudia barely glanced up from the diagram she and H.G. were looking at, waving distractedly. Then her head sprang up and she did a double take. "Holy silencers, Batman!" she said incredulously. "What happened to Pete?"
"Nothing yet," Myka muttered, turning around. She stopped dead, hand flying to her mouth in shock. Even H.G. was staring at him wide-eyed.
"What?" Pete tried again. Still nothing. Slowly, watching the reaction of the other three, Pete reached up towards his face. Myka flinched; Pete froze, then forced himself to complete the motion. Instead of his lips, his fingers touched rough metal.
The room was silent as Pete patted frantically at his face. His mouth was still there, he could feel his lips with his tongue, but on the outside metallic tracks held them together. They were flat and interlocking, and on one side there was a tab of some sort.
Oh. Oh, no way.
"You!" Pete grunted unintelligibly, pointing at Myka. "You zipped my mouth shut!"
"Pete, I'm sorry, I don't..."
Zipper, Pete signed angrily. Why is my mouth a zipper! Nothing. He threw his hands up in frustration. They were totally learning some basic ASL next chance he had. After several moments of useless and increasingly frantic charades, he grabbed the waistband of his jeans and ran the zip up and down.
"Whoa, dude, put little Pete away," Claudia said, hand raised to block her view. "We see the giant zipper on your face, okay. What I want to know is, who finally figured out a way to shut you up?"
Pete rolled his eyes and pointed at Myka again.
Myka gasped. "I did not!"
Pete grabbed a marker off the table and turned to Artie's see-through board, wiping a space clean with his hand. ZIP IT?!? he wrote in big letters, underlining the words as sarcastically as he could.
H.G. and Claudia looked at Myka. Defensively, she said, "Well, I did tell him to shut up, but I've done that a million times and it never worked before!"
"Weird," Claudia said, stepping towards Pete. "Maybe we can just, like, unzip it?" She reached up, giving Pete plenty of time to back away. He gritted his teeth and let her grasp the tab and tug. There was a strange pulling feeling, like the time he got his whole mouth stuck to the flagpole in the middle of winter, before she stepped back. The tab hadn't moved. "Well, I'm outta ideas," she said. "Anyone else?"
"Oh, dear," H.G. said, sounding way too amused for Pete's liking.
Pete turned quickly. She was standing by Myka's desk, holding a strip of fabric in one purple-gloved hand.
Pete made a questioning noise. "What's that?" Myka translated.
"This, darling, is what gave our Mr. Lattimer his fine accessory," H.G. said to Myka. "One of the artifacts you were meant to be cataloguing, I believe?"
"I knew it," Pete grunted.
Myka glared at him, clearly guessing what he'd said. "I kind of wasn't paying attention," she admitted.
Pete snorted loudly.
"Pete, shut – um." Myka bit her lip guiltily. "What is it?"
Pete peered at the fabric strip. Closer up, he could tell that it wasn't one piece, but two, held together by a rusty zipper. Some teeth were missing and the tab had come off; it was obviously pretty old.
"World's first mass-produced zipper." Claudia picked the artifact information up off Myka's desk. "Wacky."
Pete grabbed a neutralizer bag and waggled it in H.G.'s face. She recoiled, grimacing. "Yes, all right, easy," she said, popping the bag open and dropping the zipper in. They all shielded their eyes from the crackle of sparks.
Pete touched his mouth. Rough metal met his fingers again and he stamped his foot in frustration. This was so not fair!
Just when he thought things couldn't get worse, his stomach growled loudly. Oh, crap. He was starving. How the hell was he supposed to eat?
"Dudes, you will not believe this," Claudia said, still flipping through the paperwork Myka should have been organizing. He was never going to let her hear the end of this one. If he ever had a mouth to give her shit with again, anyway.
"Do try us, Claudia," H.G. said. She frowned at the neutralizer bag as if its failure was offending her personally.
"Okay, turns out, the first zipper factory in the world was in Canada," Claudia said. "I know, who knew, right? So the zipper can be used to seal the mouth of anyone acting 'uncouth.'" She made air quotes and smirked at Pete. Get on with it, he mimed, twirling his finger in a circle.
"Claudia," Myka warned. "How do we fix it?"
Claudia giggled. "Apparently it'll disappear when the affected party makes amends – you know, the Canadian way, with totally pointless and overblown acts of politeness and saying 'sorry' a lot. Or, I guess you can't do that last one."
"Well, surely that's not so difficult?" H.G. said. "Pete may be a bit rough, but he can certainly be gentlemanly when the situation demands it, can't he?"
"When he's not burping," Claudia pointed out.
"Or eating," Myka added.
"Or watching those sports of his, I suppose," H.G. continued.
Pete huffed and rolled his eyes. Polite? He'd show them polite. He'd kill 'em with polite!
Clearing his throat, he bowed to Myka, then to Claudia and H.G.. He pranced, movements exaggerated, over to the desk and drew the chair out. Dusting the seat off, he tipped it towards Myka. She made an elaborate production out of sitting down, smoothing out the folds of an imaginary skirt, before folding her hands in her lap and looking up at Pete expectantly. Claudia and H.G. snickered, but Pete ignored them.
Picking up Myka's bagged lunch, Pete spread a paper towel in front of her and unwrapped her sandwich. He laid her grapes out in a fancy pattern and popped open her bottle of iced tea. Myka watched with a faint smile, and Claudia didn't even try to hide her giggles.
Pete got more and more frantic as he continued to arrange Myka's lunch. What if this didn't work? What then? He had vague memories of stories where guys dropped their clothes in mud puddles to keep girls from getting dirty and stuff, but there was no way he was sacrificing any of his wrestling t-shirts. Finally, desperate, he grabbed the orange out of his own lunch and started peeling it, placing the individual sections in front of Myka.
"You may need to accept his offering, as it were," H.G. said, looking over Myka's shoulder. "Prove you've forgiven him and believe in his renunciation of his evil ways."
"Okaaaay," Myka said. She popped an orange segment into her mouth.
The same tearing sound he'd heard before echoed through the room. Pete felt his lips pull apart and took a deep breath, tasting the air as it swept over his tongue.
"Awesome," he said fervently, grabbing the orange slices and stuffing half of them in his mouth. Myka, H.G., and Claudia looked at him. "What?" he said, chewing and swallowing quickly. "I was getting hungry!"
"Soooo, no lasting effects then," Claudia said.
"Look, Myka's the one who needs to learn a lesson here, not me!" Pete said around another mouthful of orange. "Using an artifact on her poor defenseless partner. It's fine, I'm a forgiving kind of guy. Just say you're sorry and I won't even tell Artie." He poked Myka in the shoulder and stole a couple of her grapes.
"Oh, hardly," Myka said, grabbing the grapes back. "You deserved it. And now I know how to keep you quiet when I need to." She shook the grapes at him threateningly.
"Now that's just low," Pete said, frowning.
"Indeed," H.G. said, seating herself on the edge of Myka's desk and picking up a few grapes herself. "What could Pete possibly say that would drive you to such extremes?"
Pete grinned. Myka looked at him, silently begging him not to say anything. His grin widened. "Well," he drawled, "I could ask her again if she – "
"Okay!" Myka said desperately. She jumped out of her chair and clapped a hand over Pete's mouth. "Okay, enough, I'm sorry I used an artifact on you accidentally. I won't do it again. I wouldn't, all right?"
Pete stuck out his tongue, making Myka yank her hand away. She wiped it on his shirt, looking grossed out. "Thanks, Mykes," he said. "I don't have any idea what I could say that would make you want to use that thing ever again. At least not in public."
Myka nodded tightly, partner-code for 'fine, we'll talk about this later, if we have to.' Pete winked at her and stole a few more grapes, and this time, she let him.
"Aw, how nice," Claudia said, clasping her hands beneath her chin and fluttering her eyelashes. "Politeness all around. The Canadians would be so proud."
Pete and Myka groaned in unison. H.G. just laughed.