It's a nice night, for San Francisco—one of those rare nights where the fog is nowhere to be seen, and the waxing moon shines silver on the bay. From where they're standing at the waterfront, they can look out and see the silhouette of the island prison where they spent most of their day. It looks somehow more at peace, now that they've removed the five-by-six foot panel of bars that inspired several employees and even a few unlucky visitors to throw themselves off of the island, desperate to get to shore.
Helena, in her usual inspired way, fashioned a sort of neutralizer bubble-wrap out of duct tape and the entire stock of static bags Myka remembered to bring with them, keeping the oversized artifact safe and dormant for the journey back to the Warehouse. Getting it on the plane will be the difficult part, but Artie insisted via Farnsworth that he would take care of it.
The agents are left with a rare evening off, time to spend just enjoying the sights and sounds—and tastes, Pete was all too eager to point out. Now his enthusiasm has worn off, judging by the way he's clutching his stomach and moaning with every other step.
"I told you one crab was enough," Myka chides, nudging him in the side with her elbow.
He winces, recoiling from her touch with a wounded look on his face. "But Mykes, they had different kinds of crab," he points out, his voice halfway between a whine and a lecture. "We're in Frisco, baby. When in Frisco, you must partake of the local culinary delights. It's like a rule."
Myka just smiles and shakes her head at his pursed lips and raised eyebrows, the pointed tilt of his head. The two glasses of wine she had with dinner (at Pete's insistence—he didn't want anyone missing out for his sake) have mellowed her enough that while she certainly could continue to lecture him on his unbalanced eyes-to-stomach ratio, or point out that he would have enjoyed the food more had he not shoveled it directly down his throat with all the enthusiasm of a starving hamster, she's perfectly happy to stay quiet and enjoy the cool salt breeze coming off the ocean, and the company of her two fellow agents.
Artie has mellowed out toward Helena since the adventure with the woman's time machine, but not by much. He allows her to go out on missions now, but only with both Pete and Myka there, as though she doesn't actually count as an agent in her own right. The thought is not lost on any of them, but it's still nice to be able to get Helena out of the Warehouse, to show her parts of this new modern world that she has yet to be introduced to. There's something amazing about the look of excited awe that comes over Helena's face when she finds something new, like the subway system that zipped them across the bay in an underwater tube in less than ten minutes, or the 3-D movie with moving seats that Pete insisted they experience at least once.
At least the ride was before Pete gorged himself on seafood at Fisherman's Wharf. Myka shudders a little at what a disgusting mess that could have been.
As if on cue, Pete moans again, nearly doubling over. "All right, dudettes," he says, a pained grimace on his face. "I think it's time for the Petester to call it a night."
"Yes, it would seem prudent to retire early to, ah, 'sleep off' your crabs," Helena offers with a sympathetic smile.
It's all Myka can do to suppress the childish urge to snicker at Helena's unfortunate choice of words. She makes the mistake of meeting Pete's eyes, and has to press her fist to her mouth to keep from dissolving into laughter.
"Meanwhile," Helena continues, looking a bit baffled by their obvious mirth, "I find that I am reluctant to cut short such a lovely evening. Would you like to join me for a walk, Myka?"
The urge to laugh dies a quick death as Myka's stomach flips, and a familiar warmth fills her chest—a warmth that has nothing to do with the effects of the wine. She should be over the novelty of hanging out with the H.G. Wells by now, but it only seems to be getting worse. Especially when Helena smiles that little smile that inexplicably manages to be both arrogant and hopeful at the same time.
Something about that thought gives Myka pause—surely borderline-fanatical admiration for an author's work wouldn't normally extend to being so thoroughly affected by their smile—but Helena is waiting for an answer, and Pete looks like he's going to be sick all over the sidewalk.
"Go, Pete," Myka says, urging him away with a wave of her hands. Out of the corner of her eye, she catches how Helena's smile brightens just a little at her choice. "We'll be back later. Good luck with your crabs," she adds as an afterthought, unable to resist.
"Hey hey hey now," Pete says with a stern glare as he backs away, pointing at her with both hands. "I will have you know that I am one hundred percent clean. No glove, no love, remember?"
"Goodnight, Pete." Myka shakes her head, chuckling softly as he staggers off toward the hotel.
"I feel as though I've missed something," Helena says with a bewildered smile.
"It's—" Myka pauses, trying to think of a way to explain without it being unbearably awkward, but she really doesn't want to be talking about sexually transmitted diseases with H.G. Freaking Wells. "It's nothing."
"I'll take your word for it," Helena says, but there's a familiar something in the glint in Helena's eyes, the subtle curve of her smile, that says plainly that she's going to enlist Claudia's help in Googling it later. For now, she bends her elbow, offering her arm to Myka. "Shall we?"
Myka stares at the proffered appendage, unbearably nervous for reasons she doesn't understand. Her stomach is doing that flipping thing again and she's thankful at least that the streetlights aren't bright enough to showcase the flush on her cheeks. Finally, frustrated with herself, she shakes her head and almost defiantly slips her hand around the crook of Helena's elbow, to prove to herself that it's really not that big of a deal.
They walk a few blocks in silence, the waterfront giving way to streets lined with restaurants and gift shops. The quiet seems natural and comfortable for Helena, but Myka spends the entire time searching her mind for something to say, some conversation to start so she can stop thinking about the warmth of Helena's arm pressed around her wrist, or the way their steps seem to synchronize effortlessly. It's not that she doesn't enjoy it—she does—but she doesn't understand it, and that's something she's never been very good at dealing with.
"We did rather well today, did we not?" Helena says out of the blue, casually as though they've been talking all along.
"Yeah," Myka replies, the word coming out in a rush of air that she tries to disguise as anything but a sigh of relief. A smile tugs at her lips, and she decides to allow herself to indulge in a brief moment of pride. They did good—not that Artie will ever tell them as much, especially with Helena involved. "Yeah, we did."
"I'm ever so glad we were able to figure it all out before anyone else could get hurt." Helena's voice is subdued, almost sad, and when Myka looks over at her, a familiar shadow is haunting her features.
Myka knows what she's thinking about. The last near-victim of the artifact was a young girl, no older than ten or eleven. The coast guard managed to pull her from the bay before she could be swept away by the powerful tides, but the frigid water had turned her skin a sickly shade of blue and there were several long moments of agonized waiting to see if she would survive.
"H.G..." Myka doesn't know what she wants to say, but she knows she wants to say something, something to ease the pain she can see lingering in those dark eyes.
"Helena, darling," is the response, a faint smile touching Helena's lips before they purse in fond disapproval. A dark eyebrow arches. "I could swear we talked about this."
Myka looks away sheepishly, concentrating on the cracks in the sidewalk under her feet. They have talked about this, and she's been trying to think of her as Helena, really. She's even practiced, with Artie and when she's alone in her room at Leena's, quietly sounding out the syllables, getting used to how they feel on her lips. Somehow it seems too familiar, too intimate to call her Helena to her face. It's easier to think of her as H.G.—safer, somehow, whatever that means.
"Helena," Myka repeats firmly. She turns her gaze back to the shorter woman, something clenching in her chest at the depth of the sadness etched into Helena's face. "I—"
"It's quite remarkable, really," Helena interrupts, forcing her smile wider, "how no one was ever able to successfully escape."
It's not the subtlest of segues, but Myka's the last person to judge someone for not wanting to talk about painful things. She leans in to Helena's arm, squeezing ever so slightly, offering what small comfort she can before conceding to the change of subject. "Well, even the ones who did manage to get out of the prison would have to make it across a mile and a half of freezing cold water and deadly currents. It was pretty close to impossible."
"Please, darling," Helena scoffs, gesturing with her free hand. "I'll grant that the water may be a bit colder, but the Channel is much longer than that, and people swim that all the time."
"People who have trained for it," Myka argues. It's refreshing to have a conversational partner whose knowledge and interests extend beyond food and sports, and she wants to take full advantage of it. "Prepared for it. These were prisoners who were kept in a tiny cell, only allowed small amounts of exercise—and the clothes they had on their backs would hardly have protected them from hypothermia."
Helena is quiet for a moment, gears turning in her head as she searches for an argument. "Well, all right," she finally concedes with a tilt of her head. "You have me there."
The buildings have given way to a park, grass and trees overlooking a small beach. To the left, a cable car turnaround is surrounded by people waiting to ride the iconic vehicle. To the right, couples huddle together on the sand, watching as the waves lap gently at the shore, crests flashing white in the moonlight. Despite the sheer number of people around them—more than even the most populated areas of South Dakota—it feels peaceful.
"Do you know, I once knew a woman who swam the Channel," Helena offers casually, stopping to turn her gaze out toward the bay. "A couple of times, actually. Not that anyone ever bothered to make note of it." A disgruntled huff escapes her lips as she glances sideways at Myka. "She was a woman, after all, and it wouldn't be seemly for a woman to be recognized for the same achievements as a man."
"That must have been frustrating for her," Myka says. Hell, it's frustrating for her, now, just hearing about it—even knowing it was over a century ago and things have at least improved a little.
"Indeed it was." Helena's frown curls into an appreciative smirk, her eyes lost in a distant memory. "But that frustration certainly played out advantageously in other areas. Not to mention the rather enjoyable benefits of a swimmer's muscles."
The meaning is clear, and Myka's mouth works soundlessly as she tries to formulate some kind of coherent response. "You mean, you and—and she were..." She makes some vague gesture with her free hand, trying to wrap her mind around this sudden revelation.
"Lovers?" Helena finishes helpfully, with that playful smirk on her lips. She nudges Myka gently with her shoulder. "Yes, darling, I thought that much was obvious."
"I—I just didn't...realize that you were—" Myka sputters, repeating her earlier gesture for lack of proper words.
Helena sighs, tilting her head back in exasperation. "Oh dear. I really had hoped society would be past this by now."
"No, it—it is. I mean, it's getting there." Myka's face grows hot against the chill breeze. "I just wouldn't have expected that you—I mean, someone from your time would...I mean it wasn't exactly talked about, or—or accepted," she finishes lamely, cursing herself for being utterly unable to put words to what they both know they're talking about.
A chuckle escapes Helena's throat, and she gives Myka a glance full of mischief and amusement. "There were many things that were unacceptable for a woman to do," she says with a small shrug. "That didn't stop me from doing any of them."
Myka can't help but smile at that, despite how her nerves are singing with energy, as though in anticipation of being electrified. She doesn't know why this revelation should affect her so deeply, but there's no denying that it's changed something.
Helena's expression softens, trepidation and concern creeping into her voice. "Does it make you uncomfortable, to know that I've been with women as well as men?"
"What? No! No, I...I'm not—why would I be uncomfortable?" A nervous laugh bubbles up in Myka's throat, and she is suddenly and awkwardly aware of how her wrist is caught between Helena's arm and ribs, how she can feel the faint thudding of Helena's heartbeat through layers of clothing. To pull her hand back now would send the wrong message, and if she's honest with herself, Myka doesn't really want to break the contact. Instead, she leans in to Helena's arm, squeezing gently but pointedly to prove how not uncomfortable she is. "I'm totally fine with it."
"I'm happy to hear that." The smile that blossoms on Helena's lips is soft and genuine, and there's a faint glimmer in her eyes that tells Myka that she's not just saying it—somehow, inexplicably, Myka's opinion actually matters to her.
There's something more to it, though, something mysterious and exhilarating and more than a little terrifying that Myka can't quite put a finger on. They share a long look; one of those silent, lingering glances that Myka has always attributed to Helena's usual intensity, but that now feels very different—like there's something hanging between them, waiting to happen.
Before Myka can puzzle out what that something is, or whether she even wants it to happen, Helena's clearing her throat, turning away from the water to look at the buildings behind them. "Now, I have heard rumors of a fabulous place around here that serves the most delectable chocolate and ice cream."
"Ghirardelli Square," Myka replies, her eyes scanning the roofs and landing on the large sign shining bright against the dark sky, situated next to a clock tower edged in yellow lights. She chuckles. "Oh, Pete would have a fit if he knew he'd missed out on that."
"We could always save it for the morning, I suppose," Helena offers, with a hint of guilt tinging her voice as though she forgot all about the other agent. Myka can't blame her—the only reason she thought of Pete at all was the unavoidable connection her brain makes between him and food of any kind. "Though we are scheduled for a rather early flight. Perhaps we could bring something back for him?"
Faced with the hopeful arch of Helena's eyebrows, and the sly curve of her lips, Myka really has no hope of saying no—a fact that is further solidified when she easily acquiesces to Helena's insistence that they share a banana split.
"It's meant to be shared, Myka," Helena says pointedly, gesturing to the menu with a clever smile that says she's already won and she knows it. "It's right there in the name."
They find a cozy little table outside, where it's chilly enough to have driven most of the other patrons indoors, but not so cold as to take the pleasure out of eating really good ice cream. The soft splash of the fountain in the courtyard and the muffled voices from inside the shop fade into a pleasant backdrop of sound, interrupted only occasionally by the distant honking of horns and screeching tires that remind them they are still in the city.
Not that Myka notices, particularly; she's more captivated by the sparkle in brown eyes as Helena takes a cherry in her mouth and pops off the stem, and the way her own stomach ties itself into knots every time their spoons clink against one another and they share a small, private smile.
Somewhere between the moment that Helena scoops up the last of the banana and offers her spoon to Myka's reluctantly open mouth, and the moment soon after that when she reaches out with a napkin to wipe at the mixture of fudge and melted ice cream that drips down Myka's chin, the pieces start to fall into place.
Myka feels like a giddy teenager on her first date.
The nervous flutter in her chest jumps into her throat, and Myka's stomach lurches abruptly at the thought. Is she on a date with H.G. Wells? Does she want to be? What would it say about her, what would it mean if she did? A part of her feels like an idiot for even thinking these questions—they all assume, of course, that Helena wants to be on a date with her, and that's so far beyond the realm of possibility it's ridiculous.
Or is it? Myka wonders as Helena takes her time collecting a spoonful of ice cream and bringing it to her own mouth, and the way she slowly drags the spoon from her mouth may or may not be intentionally seductive, but it has Myka's pulse racing either way. She can't stop thinking about the fact that the metal between Helena's lips was not so long ago between her own, and she suddenly finds herself wondering what Helena would taste like.
Her heart beats a rapid tattoo against her ribs, her face flushed and burning despite the chill in the air. Her mind is running a mile a minute, questions racing around one another, crashing into each other, stumbling over panic and insecurity. This feeling is one that she's not sure she's ready to even put a name to, and it's certainly not one she can control.
Helena catches Myka's gaze and smiles, tilting her head just so, and the look on her face is somehow teasing and fond and reassuring all at once, with something mysterious and indefinable lurking behind dark eyes. Myka breathes in slowly, deeply, trying to steady her heightened nerves. She pushes the confusing thoughts to the back of her mind, tries to focus on enjoying the company of the other woman—her friend, H. G. Wells is her friend and isn't that incredible enough?—but the feeling remains.
It lingers beneath her skin as they finish the last of the ice cream (it's been ages since Myka has eaten this much sugar in one sitting, and she'll probably regret it later, but Helena's smile makes it all worth it). It pounds in her ears as they stroll through the shop, Helena casually taking Myka's arm and leaning into her as they pick out treats to bring back with them (hot cocoa for Leena, baking chocolate for Artie, a variety of dark chocolate squares for Claudia, and the largest bag of assorted chocolates they can find to hopefully distract Pete long enough to get it all back to South Dakota). It follows her as she slips her arm around Helena's for the leisurely walk back to the hotel, shopping bag swinging heavily from her free hand.
It surges up in her throat as she fumbles with the key to their room and Helena's hand, warm and sure, covers her own to help guide the card into the lock. She swallows it back, but she can feel it throbbing insistently as they go about getting ready for bed.
Finally, lying in the dark curled around her spare pillow, listening to the soft, rhythmic breathing coming from the other bed—too close yet too far all at the same time—Myka can admit that she doesn't really want to ignore this feeling. Something is happening here, between them; something powerful and intense and exhilarating, but it feels as though if she questions it too closely, pushes too hard or too fast, it will collapse. For once in her life, Myka decides, she can be patient and see where this road leads. Knowing Helena, the journey will be half the fun, and it's not like there's any reason to rush.
After all, they have time.