"Welcome back, Ms. Wells."
Helena is startled by the familiar voice of the older Black woman who is sitting beside her. Helena turns to her with eyes burning red and wet with tears. Helena blinks several times to rid herself of the sting, to see the other woman more clearly in the low light of the limousine she’s just found herself in.
She inhales and then she exhales and then she inhales again, holding onto the breath long enough to allow her mind to focus on something more than just breathing. She reaches a hand to the swell of her lips and feels the lingering warmth from Myka Bering’s kiss.
Myka had finally kissed her, and she tries hard to remember why.
She had been expecting it inside the warehouse, after Sykes’ death, when Myka had pulled her away and into some secluded aisle of artifacts. So Helena now wonders why she’s locked into Mrs. Frederic’s limousine, with no memory of how she got there, having just watched the woman she loves disappear into a cloud of dust in front of Leena’s Bed & Breakfast.
"What just happened?"
Another tear follows a trail of moisture down her cheek.
Irene Frederic watches her for a moment in silence. Helena begins to wonder if she was subdued in the warehouse after the job of saving the world had been completed. She wonders if Myka, beautifully dutiful and hard-working and by-the-book Myka, had aided in subduing her. Kissed her into oblivion.
Helena wants to laugh at that thought, but more than anything, she wants to cry.
"What is the last thing you remember, Ms. Wells?"
Myka’s gorgeously quirky lips against her own is her last somewhat coherent thought, if she’s being entirely honest.
Helena takes a deep breath and pulls the warehouse into her mind.
"Arthur defused the bomb." She starts there because it’s easiest and less intimate. "Somehow he knew."
"He knew?" The other woman questions.
Now Helena is thinking of all the unanswered questions. “He knew exactly where the bomb was, he knew which artifact to use to defuse it, and he knew Peter was going to throw Sykes into the portal. It was as though he had already seen it. Like he’d been,” she pauses and shakes her head disbelieving, “to the future.”
"I have had my own suspicions."
Helena hesitates before vocalizing her next thought. “Mrs. Frederic, I happen to know a thing or two about time travel but even with all that I know, I have never been able to change a timeline.”
Helena’s mind wanders too far, now. She immediately reaches up for her locket, only suddenly remembering that she had left it behind in China for Pete and Myka to find. She prays they found it. She would fly all the way back to China just to retrieve it.
She expects to touch only the flushed skin of her own chest, but her breath hitches when her fingers catch hold to something familiar. It’s her old locket. Well, her older locket, she rethinks, because everything Helena owns is old. It's the locket she retrieved from London before she tried to cure the world, as she likes to refer to it now.
Her things, she thought, would have surely been lost to the warehouse furnace after those events.
The name escapes her so effortlessly. It gives away their familiarity with each other. Myka must have saved some of her things before Artie could torch them.
"Is that the last thing you remember?"
Helena startles again, having forgotten where she is, exactly.
"Where are we going?" Helena wants answers before she gives answers. She doesn’t suspect Mrs. Frederic will lead her to harm, but she doesn’t exactly trust the people she answers to.
"To see the Regents."
"We had this discussion yesterday afternoon." Mrs. Frederic narrows her eyes at Helena now, examining her over black eyeglass frames.
"I don’t remember that." Helena’s brows wrinkle.
"What do you remember?"
"We were walking back to Arthur’s office."
"Who was walking with you?" Mrs. Frederic shows only a hint of impatience with Helena’s hesitancy.
"Peter, Arthur, Myka, and I." Helena sighs. "Peter and Arthur walked ahead, Myka pulled me aside and…"
Mrs. Frederic’s brows rise curiously as an involuntary blush creeps across Helena’s cheeks.
"Ms. Wells, you cannot possibly be embarrassed to talk to me about your relationship with Agent Bering after the display I just witnessed."
"She pulled me into another aisle and I’m almost somewhat partially certain she was about to… kiss me." Helena takes a deep breath before she says that last part. She doesn’t know why. "And then she was kissing me. Here, in the car.”
"I happened upon the two of you at the warehouse shortly after that." Helena notices that Mrs. Frederic is showing visible signs of concern now.
"Did the Regents ask her to do this? Did she, I don’t know, incapacitate me somehow?"
The look Mrs. Frederic gives Helena is actually incredulous, and Helena feels sick to her stomach at the accusation she’s just made against Myka. She re-thinks that thought and deduces that if Myka had incapacitated her, in order to hand her over to the Regents, then it was probably for her own safety.
"I can promise you that any incapacitated state Agent Bering might have kept you in was entirely voluntary on your part."
That doesn’t cheer Helena up, it just evokes memories of the day she volunteered to be bronzed. Then it reminds her that she’s missing an entire night’s worth of memories that were apparently spent being incapacitated by Myka Bering.
What if she had blacked out and done some terrible thing to Myka? Maybe she had accidentally touched an amnesia artifact when Myka had pushed her against the support beam in some random aisle of the warehouse.
"You know what this is, Ms. Wells." It’s not a question or an accusation. Irene Frederic is simply stating facts. Helena knows what this is. It was the obvious thing that she was refusing to acknowledge because the implications were actually far more frightening than the idea of Myka turning her over to the Regents.
"How long ago did you see us?" She regrets asking before she even finishes asking.
"Just under twenty-three hours."
Helena sighs. Her sigh is heavy with the weight of confirmation. She leans her head forward, between her legs, because she’s sure she’s going to be sick, and runs both hands through the length of her hair.
"Someone used my time machine."
The emotions that actually come to her are anger and sadness and a great deal if disbelief. She’s angry at herself for creating the device, sad that she’s missing twenty-two hours and nineteen minutes of time, apparently, spent with Myka. Doesn’t believe it’s actually happened. Angry at the idea of someone in the future jumping back in time to occupy her body. Sad at the realization that she’s exposed Myka to the frivolous nature of an anonymous time traveler. Doesn’t believe there won’t be consequences.
"It could have been anyone." A new horror is fresh on Helena’s mind, now. The thought of someone else, anyone else, even her future self, stealing away time with the woman she loved, time that she had waited so long to have, devastates her.
"I’m almost certain that person was you." Mrs. Frederic speaks up.
"How can you be absolutely certain?" Helena asks sitting to face Mrs. Frederic now.
"There’s little doubt in my mind that it was not you, Helena."
Mrs. Frederic’s use of her name is not lost on her. She sees it as the caretaker’s way of trying to connect with her, to make it clear that her observations are more than just a wild guess. But Helena also sees the reality in Mrs. Frederic’s attempts to sedate her wild thoughts and any potential rage that might come along with them.
As if to defuse her like Sykes' bomb.
"You don’t know it was me." Tears are burning Helena’s eyes again. "No one could possibly be so sure. Not even you, Irene."
"Listen to me, Wells, and don’t let me have to repeat myself." The authority that the other woman uses now sends chills down Helena’s spine. "Arthur has become very insistent that you are a changed woman, that you would put your life on the line for the safety of the warehouse. Because of this, and the premature end to your previous sentence, the Regents are gathering to decide your fate, to reassess the threat that you may or may not pose to yourself, the warehouse, its agents, and to society on the whole. That is where we are headed right now."
Helena bites back all of the questions that are now begging to be answered.
Some of the questions are the same unanswered questions from the warehouse. Some are born from the knowledge that she was now traveling through the dusty back roads of South Dakota to be met with some new and humiliating fate assigned to her by the Regents. The biggest question on her mind right now, who had jumped time to invade her body, was the most impossible one to answer because all she could do with that was wait.
The only way she would know is to wait for it to happen, and she was, at the very least, confident that it would be a while, considering the non-working state that her time machine was currently in.
"The slightest indication that you are emotionally compromised is not going to play well in your favor." Helena is suddenly brought back to the present by Mrs. Frederic’s veiled instructions to feign her own content.
"I’m at a point in my life now where I can’t help wondering if I’m better off being imprisoned."
"And that’s the kind of talk that is going to get you imprisoned.”
Helena is shaking her head and wiping tears from her face. “I leave a lot of damage in my wake. I can’t even love someone without losing them or constantly putting them in harms way. And the worst of everything, of all of this, is that I don’t even have control over my own life anymore, hell, I don’t even have control over my own body! Suddenly, I am a product of the warehouse, just another tragic artifact that needs to be drowned in purple goo and discarded on a shelf somewhere to collect dust. And why?”
Helena knows this is the exact opposite of what Mrs. Frederic has told her to do in order to prove herself even a fraction of a changed woman. She doesn’t care. She can only feel how she feels and right now she feels a little undone.
"Because, like any other little thing in the warehouse, I’m unpredictable and there’s always always some unforeseen downside for anyone who interacts with me."
Helena is done. In more ways than one.
She waits for the reprimand but it never comes. Mrs. Frederic only watches her with her trademark look and allows her the tears that fall. Minutes pass before the vehicle comes to a stop and the older woman finally speaks.
"I hope you’ve gotten that all out of your system, because we’ve arrived." Helena glances out the window to see that they are parked in front of an ordinary diner. She wipes away her tears and takes in a deep breath. "You can have the control over your life back, Ms. Wells. Or not, that’s your decision."
"Maybe I don’t need control." It’s the point she’s been trying to make.
"You should reconsider."
"Why? It’s my decision." She doesn’t turn her gaze away from the diner, which appears full to capacity despite the near empty parking lot.
"Agent Bering has demanded your happiness against the threat of leaving the warehouse permanently." This catches Helena’s full attention, she turns to the other woman with what she’s sure is a pained expression, though it’s meant to be challenging.
"She did no such thing."
"Regardless of whether you believe me or not, I would really like to keep her at the warehouse. Considering how good she is at what she does." Mrs. Frederic is not even the slightest bit deterred by Helena’s disbelief.
"You can’t actually guilt trip me into being emotionally stable." Not sure if she means it or says it in jest, Helena puffs out a small laugh at the end of this statement. In either scenario, serious or lighthearted, it is a comical expectation.
"Having you available for all of your ingenious and expertise would be an added bonus, Helena."
"Sweet talk doesn’t work on me either." She is attempting a joke. "Unless your name happens to be Myka." She takes note of the distinct lack of amusement on Mrs. Frederic’s expressionless features. "I didn’t think so."
Helena resigns herself to at least facing the Regents because she’d like to get this over with as soon as humanly possible. Also, she doesn't appear to have a choice in that matter.
Maybe she should at least try to see Myka again, talk to her, figure out what happened. Shouldn’t she? But then she thinks better of it because she’d only be exposing her to more time traveling seductresses, or seducers, whatever the case may be.
And she’s fairly certain, just by the familiarity of particularly stressed muscles, fatigue, ultra-cleanliness, and the new attire, that the motive of her time traveling body snatcher was indeed to seduce.
How had they found the time anyway? Time was one of those things that, ironically, always escaped the time traveler. There was never enough of it and it was fitting that she had missed over twenty hours of it, but how had they found the time to begin with?
Instinct draws her eyes to Mrs. Frederic then and the question answers itself.
"Why are you always silently rooting for us?"
Helena’s curiosity is genuine, which surprises even herself. Mrs. Frederic has, on more than one occasion, brought her back from the brink of isolation by bringing her back to or giving her more time with Myka.
"Why are you always questioning it?" Is what Mrs. Frederic poses in response, and it’s only in this moment that she realizes it’s probably more for Myka and the warehouse, that the caretaker does these things, than it is for her. It is her duty, after all.
"Righty-ho." Helena wipes the remaining moisture from her eyes, takes in several deep breaths, fingers the newly acquired antique locket around her neck, and recalls the kiss she narrowly missed at the hands of some miscreant time traveler. She smiles at the memory, and the smile is real and honest and the Regents can take it or they can kiss her pale white Victorian ass.
She looks at Mrs. Frederic and nods.
And then a thing happens that never happens and before Helena can be unnerved by it, she finds it reassuring and comforting, and it makes her hopeful and happy and optimistic all at once...
Mrs. Frederic smiles.