The silence in the room was that of awe and humility and endless wonder as every gaze rested on the artifact in Myka’s hands: the vines, dark and brown with age, twisted one over another, over and over until the ends came together, barbed and beautiful.
“Is that…” one of the Regents began, barely able to speak.
“…The Crown of Thorns.” Myka’s own voice was breathless as her palms shook, the circlet both delicately light and yet carrying the weight of millennia of faith. “The Crown that bleeds on the heads of the remorseful that God has forgiven.” The presence Helena had felt before, now free of its confines, settled over her in a blanket of warmth and greeting, and the gentle sense of peace brought tears to her eyes.
“But…how???” the Judge choked.
“Mrs. Frederic’s permission, Claudia’s help,” Myka replied, nodding to each in turn before turning to the woman next to her. “And Helena’s love. Without that, I never would have made it to the Crown. I wouldn’t have lived to make it to the Crown.” Helena’s breath left her in a stunned gasp at Myka’s admission, and the love present in their shared gaze was nearly as powerful as the holy aura from the artifact.
“This is what you were searching for?” Helena whispered. “This is how you wanted…how you want to save me? Myka, I…” There were no words for this, no way to describe the overwhelming adoration and awe of the depth of Myka’s devotion – that she would go so far and face so much to save one woman from an eternity in Bronze. There were no words for this kind of love.
“But…but…” Artie sputtered. “Why would she…how could she ever be…”
“How am I worth this?” Helena seemed to agree, voice cracking as she stumbled for words – stumbled to express to Myka exactly how much this meant. “How am I worth this?”
“‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’” The words came from Claudia, her voice ringing out. She wasn’t quite sure what made her say them; somehow, she felt as if she had been asked, or urged – that some invisible hand on her shoulder had encouraged her to speak. “‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you.’” Now all eyes were on her, and all she could do was give a helpless shrug. “They made us read the Bible a lot in the psych hospital; I think it’s how they kept their funding.”
“I would hardly call it falsely,” Artie spat. Myka lowered the Crown and shot him a glare, and she was about to launch into a tirade of her own before Helena put a hand on her arm.
“He’s right, Myka.” When the agent looked at her with anguish, the author continued, “I am not a good woman – not after what I did in 1899, not after what I did at Yellowstone. What makes you think the Crown would ever bleed on my head?”
“Because I believe in you, Helena,” Myka replied with fierce conviction. She sat again so she could meet Helena’s eyes with her own, holding the Crown between them. “I made you a promise when I went looking for the Crown that I would come back to you, and if I’d had even a shadow of a doubt that it wasn’t worth it, I wouldn’t have been able to keep that promise. I trust you and I love you; I couldn’t have done this if I didn’t, and if it meant saving you, I’d do it all over again.”
Helena’s tears fell freely down her cheeks as Myka’s words washed over her and cradled her like an embrace. Claudia and Leena were wiping their own eyes, as were a few of the Regents. Hands still shaking, the brunette lifted the artifact.
“Are you ready?”
“I love you,” Helena whispered, giving herself to Myka in those words.
Myka smiled her own love in return and gently placed the crown on Helena’s head.
Everyone in the room held their breath a Helena’s fate was hung from the cross. The artificer tensed as she felt the thorns prick her skin, and the presence that she had felt before – the presence she now knew to be some outreach, some essence of God – seeped below her skin and into her soul – searching learning, deciding…
There was no reaction. The Crown simply sat on Helena’s head. It was Artie’s turn to look triumphant, but it was Myka’s expression that seared into her. The same look of betrayal she’d seen in Warehouse 2, seen at Yellowstone, reappeared on her face, but magnified tenfold. It was an expression of shock and pain and despair and excruciating heartbreak. Helena’s own heart shattered at the sight and, unable to bear the slowly unfolding grief of the woman she loved, she closed her eyes and sobbed, a single tear trailing down her face.
The sound of gasps and screeching chairs and variations of “Dear Lord!” cacophanied the once-still room. Helena opened her eyes to see that Myka’s expression had become one of undying love overtaken by awe. She let out a strangled laugh, covering her mouth as her own tears sprang forth. Confused and scared, Helena lifted a trembling hand to wipe away the warm droplet on her cheek and gazed at her fingertips.
Blood. She was crying blood. Further warmth trickled through her hair and down her forehead, barely missing her eyes. She lifted her hands to her face and pulled them back again, discovering her palms to be stained with red. The presence declared its judgment through the bleeding of the Crown on her head.
She was forgiven in the eyes of God.
Helena’s sobs intensified, and she sagged in her chair as the presence left her, taking with it the once-inescapable weight of grief and sorrow. She felt the crown being taken from her head and she was suddenly enveloped in warm, strong arms. She buried her face in familiar soft brown curls, returning the embrace with both ferocity and relief, her heart singing as she held the woman she so desperately loved. Myka pressed her closer, running her fingers through Helena’s hair, neither one caring about the blood that smeared them both.
“If they Bronze you again, I’m going with you,” Myka whispered, rubbing her cheek against Helena’s.
The artificer pulled back in horror. “Myka, no, no, no…” she choked in protest, but Myka cut her off with a shake of her head.
“I don’t care, Helena. I can’t live without you. I wouldn’t have lived without you. You’re my love, you’re my life, and I would rather be still and silent in your arms forever than face each day alone.” The blood from Helena’s skin had rubbed off on Myka’s cheek, making the brunette’s tears an echo of her love’s.
Then, right then was the moment first kisses were meant for. There was no other way for Helena to express that she felt the same – that an eternity in Myka’s embrace would be eternity well-spent. But there were still too many eyes, too many who would pull them apart, even amidst the shock. So instead, Helena pulled Myka close again, kissing her cheek. “There’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be.” The words made the agent hold her tighter, pressing her own kiss to the Victorian’s cheek. For that shining moment – a moment they’d later swear was edged by that presence in what felt like a smile – it was enough.
Even the sound of the Judge’s gavel was shaky as it split through the astonished conversations and exclamations flying about the room. “The impartial voice has spoken,” the Regent managed, though she was barely clinging to composure.
“Preposterous!” Artie all but shrieked, his turn to send a chair screeching backwards as he staggered to his feet. “This is outrageous! Artifact – even…this artifact! – or not, her actions condemn her completely."
“And what about you, Artie?” Myka demanded, regretfully leaving Helena’s embrace to stare down the man who was her mentor. Her eyes were blazing with loathing potent enough to burn down the Warehouse. “Remember MacPherson?” she began. “Remember how the last thing he said to you was, ‘I’m sorry, Arthur’?” The presence had settled across her shoulders, guiding and strengthening her voice so that the truth of her words resounded through the room. “He understood how much he had hurt you and how much he wished he hadn’t! And even if none of this had ever happened – Warehouse 2, Yellowstone, any of it – you would still condemn Helena for her mere existence! You only saved her life in Russia so you could turn her over to the Regents! Nothing she can or will ever say or do can make you stop hating her, just ‘cause she was in the Bronze Sector – where she asked to go! She was sent there so she could change, so she could be better, so she could start a new life, and you still don’t care! If you’d had your way, she’d be Bronzed without a second thought. And even if you learned later that she was destined to save the Warehouse or something of the sort, you still wouldn’t feel a shred of remorse because you’d argue that you acted with good intentions! You blind yourself with your stubbornness, thinking that everyone you’ve ever met is like MacPherson, and that everyone will betray you! So tell me, Artie – if your good intentions led to evil, would you still believe you were right? Would you feel remorse for your actions? Would the Crown of Thorns bleed on your head?”
Artie’s face had gone white in the sudden stillness of the room. He opened and closed his mouth a few times in search of a retort, but found none. He looked to Pete, Claudia, and Leena for help only to be met with accusatory glares. Stricken, the man dropped back into his seat, finally on the receiving end of the condemnation he was so free to give.
“Well spoken, Ms. Bering,” Mrs. Frederic murmured. She and Helena were both seated again and staring at the agent with blatant admiration, Helena’s mixed with shock. Myka gave them both a shaky smile as she sat beside them, gripping her love’s hand under the table once again.
“I think I had help,” she mumbled, glancing at the Crown. The combined air of purest innocence with unlimited power that radiated from the artifact was both calming and disconcerting. Unable to bear its aura any longer, Myka carefully returned it to the static bag, where it once again glowed instead of sparked, accepting the containment without a fuss.
Once again, silence. Then the Judge cleared her throat. “There will be a temporary recess while the Regents determine their verdict. We will reconvene in an hour. Court dismissed.” She finalized the command with the gavel.
* * *
As much as Claudia was dying to bombard Myka and Helena with questions and congratulations, the two women requested time in the bathroom to clean themselves up. Mrs. Frederic was required to be their chaperone, and Myka took the messenger bag with the Crown with them, refusing to let it out of her sight. Under the Caretaker’s neutral but watchful gaze, Myka and Helena used the bathroom sinks to clean their faces (and in Helena’s case, her hair) of the Crown’s judgment. They were silent all the while, gentle in their cleansing of each other, careful not to let their hands roam as they tried in vain to rid the blood from their shirts. Finally, when all but stained fabric remained as evidence of what would be remembered as a defining moment in Warehouse history, the two women embraced, closing their eyes and swaying in each other’s arms, knowing that their audience would neither mind nor divulge their actions.
“You said you would not have lived to get to the Crown without me,” Helena murmured as she stroked Myka’s back. “What did you mean?”
Myka hesitated, though she never stopped running her fingers through Helena’s hair. “There were…trials I had to pass. I couldn’t have gotten through them without thinking of you.”
If Helena had had any tears remaining, they would have sprung anew at this declaration. “Oh, my darling Myka,” she choked, pulling the brunette closer. “I did tell you I’d always be there for you.”
Myka smiled, and Helena could feel the curve of her lips against her neck. “And you were.” She sagged against the artificer’s smaller frame, and Helena realized that she must have had only slivers of sleep between her retrieval of the Crown and the events of the trial. Helena guided them both to sit on the floor, maneuvering so that Myka was curled up across her lap with her arms around her shoulders.
“I don’t know how you can ever expect me to thank you enough for all you’ve been through or be able to repay you for any of it,” Helena remarked, trying to keep her tone light but betrayed by the emotion in her voice.
“Just love me forever,” Myka whispered into Helena’s shoulder.
Helena kissed the brunette’s forehead. “Always, my dearest Myka. Never doubt that.”
* * *
Myka dozed in Helena’s lap until Claudia poked her head through the ladies’ room door to let the couple and the Caretaker know that it was time to reconvene. Had the situation not been so dire, the girl would have “awwww”-ed over the overt display of affection, but the thought of all the possible verdicts the Regents could come up with had her jittery.
When the Judge banged her gavel to call for order, Helena and Myka were clutching each other’s hands like lifelines, bracing themselves for the worst. Leena and Pete were only just refraining themselves from fidgeting in their seats, and Claudia was all but chewing her knuckles off. Even Mrs. Frederic looked like she might be worried (though she hid it well, as usual).
“Helena Wells,” the Judge began, and the woman in question stood, though she didn’t let go of Myka’s hand. “You have been sentenced to a monitored house arrest for the next two years, effective immediately. You will be implanted with a tracking chip that will allow the Regents to pinpoint your exact location. Your monitor will be Agent Myka Bering, hereby reinstated to the Warehouse. She will have her own proximity implant that will alert the Regents when the two of you are outside a distance of five hundred yards. In addition, you will be required weekly therapy sessions with Dr. Abigail Cho for as long as she deems necessary.” She looked at both Myka and Helena and had to hold back a smile at the women’s shock. “Are these terms agreeable?”
“Yes!” the couple blurted at once with quite some emphasis.
“Good. Then I hereby declare this court adjourned,” the Judge finalized with one last rap of the gavel.
Pete, Leena, and Claudia began cheering, leaping from their seats to smash into a group hug, even as Artie slumped in defeat. Helena pulled Myka to her feet and into a crushing embrace, both of them overcome with relieved joy.
“You’re free, Helena,” Myka whispered. “You’re free.”