"Hey Doc! Thanks for the video game console. I have no idea where you found it, but it is the most awesome machine I've ever seen. I'm sure my son will love it too!" Henry's excitement made Helen smile. She was feeling guilty for having scared her whole crew, especially young Henry, by faking her death in the explosion. The young man had been really shocked, or so Nikola had told her, and had remained depressed until Will had told him about the underground Sanctuary. His depression had been somewhat cured when he had discovered his new "toys", and his new office, full of new technologies that had kept him busy enough to get over Big Guy's death.
Helen rose from her chair when she saw that Henry was waiting for a hug.
"Believe it or not, Nikola created the device. As for your son, I'm sure you'll have new inventions by the time he is old enough to like video games. Happy birthday, Henry..." She said as his arms were circling her to give her a bear hug.
"Wait, wait... Are you telling me that Tesla offered me a Tesla-made playstation for my birthday?! That's insane!" Henry chocked, suddenly parting from the embrace, keeping Helen at arms length to scrutinize her face, looking for a sign she was lying, which made his boss and adoptive mother laugh.
"Don't be fooled by the man's behavior. I know it's hard to believe, but he does have a heart. Besides, those last few months have been a complete nightmare for everyone, being kind to people around him is a way to relieve our pains."
Henry nodded, letting go of Helen's shoulders. The image of Biggie's body flooded his memory, and he shook them away.
"So what did he give to you then? Jewelry? Wine that he will drink himself?" He said, jokingly.
Helen snorted with a side smile.
"Nothing but resentful comments, and I'm afraid I cannot blame him."
Their relationship had shifted from a complicated but wonderful friendship to shreds of bitterness as Nikola felt betrayed by the fact she had not trusted him enough to share her plans with her oldest friend. However, it wasn't the first time they had entered that kind of crisis, and as guilty as she felt, she knew they would patch things up soon enough. Or so she hoped.
"Yeah, he was pretty shaken up by your dramatic exit. But I bet that won't last long." Henry stated before squinting, wrinkling his nose.
"What is it?" Helen asked, intrigued by the sudden change of atmosphere.
"You smell different... Are you sick or something?"
Helen's eyebrows jumped.
"Why does it sound so weird when I say this out loud?" Henry continued, half-apologizing.
Helen had given up on perfume long ago. Most of the abnormals she was dealing with had an hyper-developed sense of smell, and perfume was at best an aggression to them, and at worst the surest way of getting tracked down and killed during a mission, or simply failing to catch an abnormal. Raising an HAP had not given her the opportunity to wear perfume in her private life either, imagining that she had a private life, the meaning of which she had long forgotten.
"I'm quite alright... Although it might just be my new moisturizing cream... Does it bother you?" She said, surprised.
Henry shook his head.
"No, it's your own scent that is slightly not the same. I'm sorry, it's an awkward conversation."
"It's fine Henry, my body might be adapting to our new environment. You'll get used to it." She said, suddenly back to her professional tone.
"Yeah..." He said, not completely convinced, "Anyway, do you know where Tesla is? I have to thank him too."
"I have absolutely no idea. You should try his lab."
With that, Henry left the office, slightly bewildered by the strange discovery, leaving Magnus wondering about what she could smell like and what was different in her.
Lost in thoughts, Henry bumped into Erika at the corner of the hallway, halfway between his boss' office and Nikola's lab.
"Oh, Henry! Are you okay?" She asked, seeing his confusion, written all over his face.
"Err, yeah... Hey, have you noticed something different with Magnus lately?"
A giant mysterious smile crept on Erika's lips, making him want to kiss it away. Obviously, she knew something.
"Her smell. It took you long enough." She answered, half giggling.
"What do you mean?"
"Your family is going to expand, darling."
At that, Henry froze.
"Henry, Magnus is pregnant. What you noticed is an hormonal change. I bet she doesn't even know it yet." Now, Erika was laughing openly, amused by her fiancé's face.
"Are you serious? Magnus? Pregnant? How is that possible? Who... Who is the father?" Henry asked precipitately, in a childish hush-hush tone, afraid they could be overheard.
"Calm down, I know nothing more. But I'm absolutely positive."
"I think I need to sit down." the HAP whispered, getting pale.
Nikola was quietly sipping a glass of wine in his lab, admiring the view he had on the garden. He didn't know what to think about the fact that Helen had chosen to give him the lab that was the farthest from her own office, but at least, he had his own private one. He didn't have to share with wolfboy, and he had his own stack of wine, only the finest and most expensive bottles. Helen had obviously felt guilty even decades before she had programmed the auto-destruction of her house, and her faked death. It was of some comfort to him. At least she had thought about him.
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts, and he realized he expected Helen to come in. Should he ignore her, hoping she would go away if he didn't answer? He toyed with the idea, and finally gave up on it. He was being ridiculous, especially as he had been walking aimlessly around the sanctuary for the last two days, hoping to stumble into Helen. He craved her smile, her voice, her curves...
He rose from his seat next to the window and almost ran to the door to unlock it.
"Hel... Heinrich... One cannot work on his genius without being disturbed." He sighed.
Henry peeked into the room to see that it was perfectly tidy, except for a few empty bottles of wine standing on the desk.
"You were not working." He noted.
"Right, it doesn't mean I want to be disturbed." Nikola snapped.
Henry was feeling ill-at-ease. He had known the inventor for four years, but he still felt bad when he was snapping at him, whereas it was clear that Tesla actually liked him.
"I wanted to thank you for the console..." He tried.
Nikola rolled his eyes and turned away from the door, stopping in front of the window, looking down on what was happening in the gardens.
"Don't thank me. Helen asked for help to buy your forgiveness. You're both lucky that I have eternity ahead of me to waste time on such trivial things as a video game console."
Henry entered the room, noticing that Tesla's tone was different from usual.
"Are you and Magnus okay?" He asked shyly.
Nikola turned his head towards him, his eyes shining with disdain.
"Oh yes. She made me lock her in the basement of the Sanctuary, watch it explode, think she was dead for SIXTY-FIVE days before sending me a note through Huggybear. Yes. We are absolutely fine. Thank you." he spurted.
"She didn't have a choice, we were under surveillance, you know that." Henry answered, trying to stay calm as he knew perfectly well how Tesla was feeling, but still wanted to defend Helen.
"What I know, is that you and I were in the sanctuary when it exploded, and she could have taken us directly underground instead of leading us to believe that she was dead to us."
Now Nikola was truly angry, and he knew he would feel better by letting out his frustration on someone, even if that someone was not Helen.
"I guess she didn't want Erika to think I was dead."
Nikola froze. He hadn't thought of that before, but it made sense.
"Whatever." He finally brushed the topic away. "I'm glad you like your gift."
Henry retracted towards the door, but stopped dead in his tracks before he could cross the threshold.
"She feels really bad, and she is going to need you more than ever to get over all of this." Henry explained quietly, 'especially if she really is pregnant' he mentally added.
"I've known her for most of her really long life Heinrich, I think I know how to deal with her." Nikola remarked arrogantly.
"Yeah. I'm just saying it's easy to spread venom on someone who is not going to return the favor."
Nikola sipped his wine, smiling. Henry didn't know, but Helen had been 'childish' enough to return the favor... Maybe he was going on with that little game because he liked it. Provoking her was the only way he could engage in something serious...
"Go play with your console and leave mom and dad take care of their own business." He joked.
At that, Henry's face froze and paled, and the young man quickly left the room, closing the door behind him, leaving a dumbfounded Nikola stare at where he had stood. Henry had tried to conceal his reaction to the scientist's classical banter, but thinking you could hide something from Nikola Tesla in the first place equaled fooling oneself.
He shrugged. The young wolf was easily impressed, and was living in his own little world... That was probably not important.
Nikola lost his gaze in the landscape, and his eyes fell on Helen's back, far under him. His heart skipped a bit, like that of a silly teenager in love for the first time. She was talking to a subordinate from Tokyo that Nikola thought was really attracted to her. He stared at the exchange, manifestly professional, until Helen's legs suddenly gave way, making the Sanctuary's head fall to the ground like a rag doll. Nikola let his glass fell to the floor, breaking to hundreds of shards tinted red by the wine it had contained, and he ran out of his office. Something was wrong with Helen, and as bitter and resentful as he felt, he was not going to let her down.
When Nikola reached the entrance of the Sanctuary, a small group had already gathered around Helen. Will was kneeling next to her, two fingers on the soft skin of her neck to check her pulse, the palm of his hand on her forehead.
"William. What is going on? Is she okay?" Nikola asked, pushing his way through the abnormals assembled around the inanimate body of their protector to kneel on the other side of the unconscious Helen, caressing her shoulder.
"Go away people, mind your own business, she needs some air." He added, dispersing the crowd.
Will shook his head, obviously confused.
"She fainted..." He stated.
"Yeah, I know, I've seen that. Teach me something." Nikola answered, slightly annoyed, stroking the woman's cheek, the softness of the touch reminding him of those kisses they had shared in their lifetime.
"She's breathing just fine and she's got no temperature. But her pulse is slower than usual." Will continued.
"A vasovagal episode? That doesn't sound like her. And she's so pale..."
Nikola was strangely fascinated by the porcelain quality of Helen's face at that moment. He imagined that with her blueish eyes open, only one word from him would make her blush and look like a living doll, exactly like the one he had broken as a child and promised to buy again for one of his sisters.
"I haven't seen her eat anything in a long while. Big guy was usually the one making sure she had three meals a day, I don't think she does take care of herself. I should have seen that before, she's depressed." Will said, looking surprised.
Truth be told, a depressed Helen Magnus sounded quite improbable, and therefore absolutely frightening. They had had a glimpse of what depressed meant for her when she had lost Ashley... It required all Nikola's self-control not to react to seeing her cry, or hearing someone mention the girl's name to hurt Helen. He wanted to shield her from the pain. She didn't deserve it. Could it be that she was depressed? How was it that he hadn't noticed? She sure looked thinner, and tired, but she had dealt with lots of things lately, among which was surviving a massive explosion... That surely explained a few things, didn't it?
"Whatever, she can't stay here, lying on the ground. I'll get her to her bedroom. You find some food and don't forget a glass of water." Tesla ordered, taking Helen in his arms to lift her so easily that Will wondered if the vampire was really strong, or if his boss had lost considerable weight.
When Nikola saw Will's disturbed stare, he added: "Who do you think I am? I'm not the kind of guy to take advantage of a lady's unconsciousness.". That somewhat convinced Will that Nikola would not be indecent. The scientist had been strangely off Helen's back lately, which was slightly unsettling for anyone used to the Tesla/Magnus dynamic, but a welcome change for anyone having to work for them both, which was usually Will's case. He wondered what had changed. Could it be that Tesla was depressed as well? The young man silently prayed he wasn't. The last thing they needed right then was a depressed egocentric Serbian vampire...
They parted ways once they reached the huge and bright hall of the building, Nikola entering the elevator to go up to the top floor, where Helen's room was located. While waiting for the engine to take them there, he adjusted Helen's position in his arms, pulling her arm around his neck and leaning her head against his shoulder so that she would not hurt herself or bump into something. This new position also made her weight even less, and Nikola pouted, suddenly realizing how frail she actually was.
"Oh Helen... You're stronger than that. What is going on?" He whispered to her still unresponsive frame.
The proximity of his nose to her body overwhelmed his senses. There was something wrong, or at least really unusual about her blood. He could smell her from a certain distance, only enough to know she was around. But this close... It was completely different, all he had ever known about women, he had learned it after the Source Blood experiment, through his vampire nature, and thanks to Helen's proximity. Of course, she always smelled the same, but every day was slightly different. Her blood system was a general theme, and all the chemical reactions brought variations to it. In more than a century, he had learned every one of them. For decades, he had known exactly where Helen stood in he menstrual cycle... no less. But what he smelt was new, that was a completely new variation yet unknown to him. It was attractive. Even really attractive. And fascinating... But he wasn't sure what it meant. Was it a good thing? Could something bad be as attractive as this? His lips were a breath away from her forehead, ready to plant a caressing kiss on her beloved head when the doors of the elevator popped open, waking him up from his mesmerized state.
He struggled with the door for a moment, but he finally managed to get Magnus on her bed. He took her shoes off and stuffed cushions under her feet, remembering it would help her blood flow back to her brain. Then, the genius sat down on the edge of the bed next to Helen, took her hand in his, and waited, lost in thoughts. 'what is that smell?'.
When Helen woke up barely five minutes later, even with her eyes closed, she knew she wasn't waking up from a good night of sleep: she could see that the light was too bright for it to be morning, and despite knowing that she was in her own bed, something wasn't quite right. When she realized that what she sensed was a presence by her side, her eyes jerked open, and she tried to sit up, regretting it immediately as her vision started to blur.
"Nikola!" She gasped, seeing him clearly enough to confirm he was the one sitting next to her.
The fear contained in his name had the vampire cringe.
"Welcome back sleeping beauty..." He said while she was sinking back in the mattress, knowing she had to take it easy.
"What happened?" She asked, her sight coming back slowly.
"You were in the garden, chatting with... Yoko Ono, and you fainted. I took you back to your room, sent Will to fetch some food, and watched over you. And before you ask, no, I didn't touch you." he summed up.
Well, judging by how moist her left hand was, that was not entirely true. Helen sighed. She knew he would never abuse her, especially when she was unconscious, and yet, he felt he had to justify himself. She missed the old Nikola who would have teased her until infuriating her. The fact that he didn't even try to tease was the sign their relationship had reached its worst point ever.
"When was the last time you had something to eat?" Nikola asked, extending his arm to get a sandwich that Will had brought a moment before, that was lying on the nightstand.
Helen refused to take the sandwich, her palm stopping in midair while she shook her head in disgust. Nikola's exaggerated use of aftershave made her nauseous, and the last thing she felt like was eating.
"Come on Helen, you didn't make me believe you were dead enough time to actually make me believe you were, only to starve yourself to death three months after having me move in." He said, his concern hidden under a thick blanket of resentment.
He regretted his words when he saw tears forming in Helen's blue eyes, and at the same time, he felt strangely empowered knowing he could make the strongest woman he had ever known cry... But before he could decide whether to retreat or push further, Helen exploded, obviously tormented:
"Dear God Nikola... What happened to us? Did I really ruin everything? I'm so sorry... I had no choice..." She swallowed hard, trying not to let her tears take over. Nikola was lost. He had never seen her in need to justify her actions. He had thought she would have defended herself, but all she was doing was giving him satisfaction... He blinked, breathed in, and as calmly as possible, he answered:
"You lied to me Helen. Several times. I'd like to just forget about it, put all that behind us and begin something new, but how can I trust you now?".
At that, Helen's face changed suddenly, and she snorted, a single tear running down her cheek.
"Yeah, because you were always honest with me, right? Never did anything behind my back. Never used me to your advantage. You're the best friend one could have, always selfless. If you can't find it in you to forgive me, you're free to step out."
That hurt Nikola more than anything he had ever experienced. Of all the bullets she had fired at him, this one was by far the most painful one. He rose up from the bed, turning his back on her.
"I don't know how to step out." He spat before going to the door.
Helen was about to say something, but he stopped her while turning the handle.
"Eat. Helen. And rest. You obviously have some unresolved troubles. We'll talk when you stop having mood-swings."
With that, he left her alone, a tear falling from her chin.
"Nikola! Get your arse back in here!"
When it was clear he wasn't coming back, she groaned and threw the glass Will had brought in against the door. What the hell did Nikola mean by 'mood-swings'?
Erika and Will were surprised to find Nikola in the hallway, away from Magnus' room. Will shuddered when he realized the inventor was fully vamped, obviously trying to control himself.
"What's wrong?! Is she okay?!" He asked, wishing he had not left his boss alone with the unstable genius.
"If pissing me off is of any indication, then I'd say she's never been better. Damn her!" Nikola answered, his voice a deeper tone than usual due to his transformation.
Will raised an eyebrow. There was no middle-ground with those two. One day you had to stand in the middle to remind them of the task at hand, the atmosphere so full of lust that you'd swear they would jump on each other regardless of whether there was someone in the same room or not. And the next day, you had to stand in the middle for fear they would strangle each-other. The fact that they had lived through more than a century without driving each-other insane was a pretty impressive performance if you asked Will. Yet, this time, their quarrel didn't seem willing to fade with time, and as exhausting as Tesla was, the young man had no wish to see him turn against the Sanctuary for some broken ego. For some reason, he thought it was going to be his job to do something for them.
"Good luck feeding her. Crazy, stubborn woman." Nikola went on, shaking his head while he was morphing back. And with that, he walked away, his whole body contracted.
Erika's gaze followed him. Her curiosity was aroused by all the troubles between the two elders.
"I bet he has never seen Magnus losing her mind." Will stated, shrugging while resuming his walk to his boss' room. When he caught Erika's intrigued expression, he continued: "I have seen her twice going wacko. I can tell you that: if she was crazy right now, Tesla would be lying unconscious somewhere with a few concussions and multiple broken bones."
Erika nodded, knowing fully well what Helen was going through at that moment, hoping she would be able to help her in some way.
When they reached Helen's room, Will knocked on the door, hoping his boss would be in a better mood than her very own vampire.
"Magnus? It's me, and Erika. Can we come in?" He asked.
Will could not hear it, but Erika did: behind the door, Helen was sniffing, and by the sound of it, the hap guessed she would not answer Will's call before she could regain her composure.
They waited a few seconds, before Will frowned. Erika stopped his fist before he could knock again. He flashed a questioning look at her, but before she could tell him to wait just a few more seconds, Helen's voice came through the door:
"Yes Will, come in."
Erika smiled. Nothing in Magnus' voice could betray that she had been crying.
When they entered the room, Will stepped on a shard of glass that broke a little more under his foot, making him look down to see that the floor was wet and you had to proceed with caution so as not to cut yourself.
Helen chuckled when she saw him open-mouthed and utterly confused.
"Who knew Nikola could drive me to such extremities, hm?" She said with a light smile, her usual self back in control again, as if nothing had happened.
Will scratched the back of his head, laughing uneasily while Erika was trying to hide her smile.
"Well, they say couples breaking china have really hot make up sex..." The young man said, somewhat blushing.
Alarms went off in Helen's head. What was that comment? Tons of images popped up in her head, images that made her feel all warm inside. The tip on her tongue humidified her bottom lip and eventually, it took her only a couple of seconds to brush away her reaction and hide it from her employees.
"Oh Will, it's far from being always true." She finally said in a matter-of-fact tone that clearly meant she had already researched the subject at some point in her two-century long life. And that time, Will felt the situation couldn't be more awkward. But he had been looking for it so he just laughed, genuinely ill-at-ease.
Erika took advantage of the situation to fly to his rescue:
"You scared us." She intervened.
Helen nodded. She had got that already.
"I'd love it if you could avoid doing that again. Tesla is already hard to stand on a daily basis, but he is scary when he starts worrying about someone..." Will began before frowning, his hands hanging in front of him as if he were holding an invisible book. "Wow, did I just use the words 'Tesla', 'worry' and 'for someone' in the same sentence?"
Helen shook her head, smiling. Sometimes, Nikola cared too much about her, which was both endearing and maddening as she hated all the attention.
"Anyway, he was pretty angry at you for not eating the sandwich I prepared with love" he went on, pretending to be offended.
Helen rolled her eyes, but feeling her stomach growl, she decided to make them all happy by eating the said-sandwich, and maybe even a complete meal after that.
"It's no big deal really. We are all pretty busy these days and I am not as young as I used to be, I know I should be more careful, get more sleep, eat regularly...But you know, old habits..." She tilted her head to the side, as if pointing to habits standing next to her.
"If I threaten to appoint Tesla as your personal nurse, will you promise to take care of yourself like the grown up woman you are?" Will asked.
Helen took the sandwich on the nightstand and hurriedly took a bite.
"I take it as a yes." Will said, laughing.
"How are you and the baby doing?"
Helen had finished the sandwich and shoved Will out of her room, reminding him of the paperwork waiting for him in his office. The psychologist had grimaced, but he obviously had to get going, if he didn't want to end up buried in reports before the day was over.
Erika sat down on the chair next to the window.
"Fine. Although I could certainly do without Henry worrying each time I wake up at night from all the kicking." she said, smiling.
Helen smiled softly. She didn't miss those endless nights trying to convince Ashley to stop playing soccer in her womb, caressing her own belly and whispering sweet promises to her unborn daughter.
She had had no one to panic at night, to massage her back or bring her snacks when she craved them. Biggie had been like a mother to her every day, and James had provided her with the medical attention she needed, but the baby had been fatherless, and she had suffered from her loneliness at times.
"Are you sure you want to raise a child here?" She asked the young woman, taking the second chair in front of her.
Erika closed her eyes a moment. This was not really what she had expected for her family, but then again, she had not really expected anything...
"Well, I couldn't possibly give birth in a regular hospital, could I? You are the only one I would trust with delivering a baby hap."
Helen looked down at her hands on her lap and laughed. Erika had a point there.
"This child will need a family who accepts who he is. And you are Henry's family. Now that you're officially dead up there, we didn't have a choice but to follow you."
Helen nodded. It made sense. And she was proud to be able to say that the child Erika was carrying would be safe in the new Sanctuary.
"Is it the moment when I should say 'I'm way too young to be a grandmother'?" She asked, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
Erika froze. She was sure Helen was going to become a mother before Henry and herself could appoint her grandma... But she seemed completely oblivious to the fact she was pregnant. How could that be possible for such an experimented physician who had already given birth once not to detect any sign?
"Did I say something?" Magnus enquired, seeing Erika's internal turmoil.
"Err... Magnus... About that... I would hate to intrude upon your privacy but... Are you taking any kind of hormonal treatment?" She asked, trying to go slowly so as not to trigger Helen's nerves.
The brunette looked utterly taken aback, and somewhat lost, trying to follow the hap's train of thoughts.
"Why, no..." She said, her voice lingering, as if it could help her understand what all that meant. "I'm not sure where this conversation is going." She went on, implicitly asking for explanations.
Erika sighed. She would have thought that the scientist Helen was would piece it together and understand what she meant without having to tell her. She swallowed hard.
"You can't smell it, but your body is creating an hormone that Henry and I can smell... And it's becoming stronger every day..."
Helen's mouth rounded in a silent 'what?', her eyes conveying the same message, then she cringed, her hands resting protectively on her abdomen, suddenly understanding where Erika wanted to go with that explanation. She burst out laughing. She jumped from her seat, stood behind the chair and leaned on it, her usual leader posture on.
Erika was lost, she had not expected that reaction. She had never heard the boss laughing like that. It was infectious, fresh and young, as if she had never experienced any pain or traumas. As good as it sounded, Erika was dumbfounded.
Seeing her confusion, Helen stopped laughing abruptly and shook her head as if the young woman in front of her was being silly.
"You think what you sense is hCG? You actually think I'm pregnant? Don't you think I would have been the first to notice if I was pregnant?" She said, with what could either be genuine amusement or scorn. Probably both.
"Did you know?" Erika asked.
Helen's eyes fell down on her hands still clenching the back of her chair. She was starting to feel ill-at-ease. What was all the madness around her those days? Between some abnormals who had troubles adapting to the new Sanctuary, therefore requiring her entire attention, Nikola who seemed more than inclined to entertain her with his constant whining, and now Henry and Erika analyzing her smell and ending up believing the craziest things... How the hell did they all expect her to take care of herself?
"No. I didn't know, because I am not pregnant..." She began, as if lecturing a child.
"But nothing Erika. I am not pregnant because that is impossible. I've been unable to conceive for two decades".
Hey babe. Aren't you supposed to work on the emergency shut down of the transporters between the colony and the sanctuary?"
Obviously, that was not what Henry was doing. He was playing with printed circuit boards and electric resistances, creating some kind of device.
Erika tried to circle his waist with her arms to pull him back against the bump of her belly, but that last didn't make it possible, and she ended up slightly bumping into the small of his back to get his attention, succeeding in stopping whatever he was doing.
"Err, yeah. Tesla was having one of his crisis again, I figured out it would keep him busy and out of Magnus' way, so I handed that task over to him." He explained, with that side-way smile that was absolutely adorable.
"Hmm. They had an argument. What are you working on then?"
Henry sighed and stretched his arms, gripping his own shoulders.
"If this place is going to turn into a nursery given a few months, then we have to get prepared. This is an improved baby monitor that I intend to connect to the network so that we can monitor baby Foss and baby Magnus from any computer or cellphone around here."
Erika shrugged, smiling. This was a good idea, knowing that life in the sanctuary didn't really allow any mother to have a normal family life... Henry knew that well enough considering he had already been through that as a child.
"About... 'baby Magnus'... I think we've got a problem. Helen doesn't know she's pregnant. She says she has been sterile for twenty years."
"But what we smell is definitely related to pregnancy. How's that even possible? Does it mean she's not pregnant?" He asked, utterly confused.
"She is, I'm quite sure of that. I don't know how that's possible, but the child she's carrying must be really special." Erika stated.
"Could it be that the father has some kind of power on women or something?"
Erika shrugged again.
"No idea. Who knows who the father even is..."
Henry stopped her.
"I hope the doc knows!"
His fiancée smiled. Of course, Helen more than likely knew.
"What should Magnus know?"
The couple turned to the door where Will appeared, his hands holding what looked like a report file. Henry and Erika exchanged a look, wondering if it was reasonable to share their knowledge or not. After a split second, they nodded, and Henry turned to his friend.
"Hey dude, have you noticed something weird about Magnus lately?" he asked.
Will raised an eyebrow.
"Psychologically speaking." Erika added.
"She hasn't been that 'normal' in a long time, which is 'weird' given that we are all a bit off due to post-traumatic shock." Will had a point. No one really knew how to cope with the loss of Biggie, or all the lies and deceit that Helen had used to protect her new home... Their new home.
According to Will's professional opinion, Kate and Henry were the only ones actually going through the different steps of the coping process. They had shed lots of tears, effectively exorcising all anguish, and had somewhat forgiven Magnus for what she had made them go through. Although she had not used them like she had Will or Nikola...
"So what exactly do you mean by 'weird'?" Will concluded, dropping the file on Henry's table.
Henry leaned on his desk, his head lowered, his eyes closed.
"Will, she's pregnant." He eventually said.
Will put his hands in his pockets, looking lost. Henry's sentence felt like a bomb, and in his mind, he saw the Old City sanctuary explode once again. He blinked several times, the news sinking in.
"Wait, are we still talking about Helen Magnus here?"
"Yes. We can smell it." Henry explained.
"But she won't admit it. She says she's been sterile for a couple of decades..." His fiancee completed.
Will stood agape in the middle of the room. He scratched the back of his neck and shook his head.
"So you've talked about it with her, and she denied everything." He guessed.
"She laughed at me, in fact." Erika said before biting her bottom lip.
"Now that is weird." Will agreed. "But it kind of explains why she's been exhausted those last few months. More than usual, that is. She was half asleep yesterday during our meeting with the sanctuary's heads. Good thing I was there to kick her under the table when the debates needed her input..."
They all fell silent. In fact it did explain lots of unusual little things about their boss, from the fact that she didn't like jasmine tea any longer, to their last mission. She had screwed up on this one because she had not been reactive enough to give the attack signal on the giant beetle when she had to. Now, they all knew she had been through a lot and was consequently tired, but she was still Magnus. And even a tired Magnus didn't screw up when her team depended on her.
"Okay. Let's admit that she is pregnant." Will began, earning the same exasperated look from both of his friends. "I get it, you're sure. But how is it possible twenty years or so after..." He hesitated.
"Menopause is the word you're looking for." Erika completed.
"Yeah, I know... It's just strange to use those words talking about Magnus, as if she was one of the abnormals." He admitted.
"Technically..." Henry began.
"Right, you know what I mean."
"Actually, I'm more concerned with the following question: why doesn't she know she is pregnant?" Erika interrupted, sensing the boys' conversation would lead them nowhere.
"Yeah, and that." Henry agreed.
Will sat down on a nearby stool and crossed his arms, his gaze lost in space.
"I guess it could be her brain playing tricks on her. She thinks she can't have kids anymore, she got used to that. Add Ashley's loss, and the fact that her life hasn't been exactly stable since we lost Ashley... That could be denial. In that case, she is not hiding anything, her brain is. She's unconsciously protecting herself."
It could make sense, but it was theoretical. He needed some kind of proof that Helen was really pregnant before he could do anything for her.
"Could you help her?" Henry asked.
"I've never dealt with that pathology before. However, there's no harm in trying."
"Wait, if she unconsciously feels the need to protect herself against the whole idea of having a child again, is it a good thing to get her out of her shell?" Erika realized, staring at Will defiantly.
Magnus was way older than she was, but she still felt the need to protect her as much as she could. She didn't know if it was some hormonal reaction or a way to express her gratitude for taking care of her and the baby, but she would do her best to be there for her, as a friend.
"I don't think it's a good idea. Her body won't develop like yours or any other pregnant woman as long as she doesn't realize what is happening to her. But she will give birth at some point and she won't have time to prepare herself to be a mother to that child. She won't plan anything, and... The father... Is he part of her life? Does she want him to be a part of the baby's life? I think it will likely be worse not to help her through that denial." Will summed up.
He had a fair point. They couldn't decide for her, and she needed to plan the future of the child, if she wanted it, that was...
"So what do we do?" Henry asked, anxious to help the woman who had given him everything.
Will breathed in, blocked the air in his lungs for a few seconds and sighed.
"Right now, nothing. I'll talk to Declan, see if he can explain and prove Magnus is pregnant. And from then on... We'll see when we get there.".
Before Henry and Erika could question Will's decision, he went on:
"Don't worry, Declan will be the only one to know about it."
With that, he went to the door, then stopped abruptly:
"By the way... Henry, I need you to type the third page of that report. Tesla's handwriting is terrible." He said, pointing to the file he had abandoned on the desk.
"Oh man, why do you think I can read his handwriting?" Henry shouted after Will's shadow, which was already far from the lab.
"Do you Canadian folks realize that April's fools are to April what Christmas is to December?" Declan asked dropping his pen and leaning back in his armchair.
Will let a chuckle cross his lips, bowing his head to look at his feet, looking for something to say. He understood why Declan was reacting that way, having himself been in his place not even an hour before.
"Yeah, Declan, listen, I'm not that much into jokes."
That was not entirely true... In the five years he had worked for the Sanctuary, he had been happy to help his teammates pull tricks on Magnus. However, he was never the one to come up with the ideas... Sadly, the brain of the operations was half missing. Will had a sad smile. He missed seeing the mischievous looks going on between Kate and Biggie whenever they were planning something.
When Declan saw the strange shadow of sadness cross Will's face, he put his elbows back on the desk, seeking his coworker's gaze.
"You are serious, aren't you?" It was a statement more than a question, and Will nodded.
"That would not be the first time something crazy happens around here, but this reaches new heights in weirdness." Declan sighed heavily. He had thought that once underground he would be able to rest a bit from all the agitation that had shaken the surface of Earth since he had taken after James... Obviously, being in the same building as Magnus and her team didn't allow any kind of rest from strangeness.
"I have no idea how it is possible, you're the only one who can find an explanation. If Henry and Erika are right, then Magnus needs my help. But I need to be absolutely sure of what I'm up against." Will explained, slumping down on the chair facing Declan. His friend looked deep in thoughts, and he hoped he wouldn't throw his English tact to the wind to go and find his fellow countrywoman and discuss the matter directly with her.
"It's a wise initiative. So you want me to prove Magnus is pregnant." Again, a statement.
"That's the idea."
"I can submit my theory, but the only way to prove for sure she's indeed with child is to run a blood test..." Declan concluded.
Will processed the information. He could probably find a way to get a blood sample from Helen, but analyzing it was not part of his set of competences.
"I will get you a sample... Somehow. What about your theory?"
The Englishman tried to imagine how Will could get Magnus to give him a sample of her blood, and smiled- That wouldn't be a piece of cake.
"I'd like to check my files before I share it with you. I'll keep you on the loop."
With that, Declan stood up, silently ending their interview.
Declan took the key that resided in his pocket at all times and took the heavy box he kept under his bed. He felt bad about keeping it to himself, but it did belong to London's sanctuary, legally, so it was his as much as Magnus'...
He sat down on his bed and turned the key in the lock. When he opened it, the smell of old paper filled his nose, coming from a neat pile of letters held together by a scarlet ribbon. He had not read any of the letters. Most of them were from Magnus, he could tell by the handwriting. The rest of them? He didn't know, and whoever had written them was surely dead by now anyway.
Next to the correspondence where a bunch of daguerreotypes and photographs. The young man reflected he should probably have given those to Magnus, as they were all from the five. However, the pile of photographs that were not in black and white were mostly of Ashley, and he was afraid now was not the moment to remind his boss of her terrible loss.
His gaze fell onto the framed picture on top of the pile, and he couldn't help but blush at how intimate the portrait was. Helen was sitting in an old armchair, a small baby nestled against her bare chest, suckling one of her breasts, a tiny hand resting on it hungrily. The look of adoration on the brunette's face was heart-melting, and the implications of her pregnancy dawned on him. Would there be someone to capture those intimate moments between Helen and her child? Would the father be as present for them both as James had been for Ashley? Who was the father? He was certainly someone from the underground network or Hollow Earth, as she had been rather clear about the fact that no one was to have any contact with the surface unless explicitly commanded by the head of one's sanctuary. Hell, first, they needed to prove she was really pregnant, then, they would see. He rummaged through James' personal memorabilia and finally found what he was looking for. For countless years, James had kept a journal that could be described as Helen's medical records... Everything one could want to know about Helen was contained in four thick leather-covered notebooks. She probably didn't know of their existence, she probably would have asked for them after Jame's death, so that they wouldn't fall into enemy's hands. Declan was now glad he had kept them, as he was sure the answer to many questions was in them. With a deep sigh, he lied down and opened the first notebook. It was going to be a very long night...
When Will entered the kitchen that night for dinner, he was surprised to see Helen sitting at Abby's table, sharing what looked like a perfectly healthy meal. He stopped at the door, taking a moment to simply enjoy the peaceful view of the two most important women of his life. When he had found out about the underground network, he had wondered whether to come back to Magnus or go back to his former and oh so simple life. The truth was that even if he wanted to despise her for all she had done to him, for controlling his life from the moment his mother had died on, he had to admit she had told him the truth about one thing: It was all worth it. It had become even clearer that his life was in the Sanctuary network after Magnus' disappearance. He had been depressed and defeated, and when he had realized his office and Abby's flat were under surveillance, he had made his decision: He would find out whatever his former boss had planned, and go on with her work. And he would take Abby with him.
When he had found out Helen was alive, the second thing he had asked her, after an raise, was to get Abby hired. Surprisingly enough, she had granted his request immediately, both for her safety and the Sanctuary's.
"Look who's late for dinner!" Abby sing-sang, spotting him on the threshold.
"And look who's here for dinner!" He retorted with a smug little smile directed at Magnus.
The leader tilted her head, her chin sensibly higher, sign that he had wounded her just enough for her to show defiance. That was small payback.
"I heard someone say Abby was cooking her famous 'Boeuf Bourguignon'. I couldn't resist." She answered, flashing a charming smile at the cook.
" And as you were late, I enjoyed the company."
Will sat down between the two of them and took Abby's hand in his under the table.
"Yeah, sorry about that. Tesla decided to be annoying."
When he felt Helen's curious stare on him, he dismissed the silent question.
"I've got everything under control." He ensured.
He didn't tell her that Nikola had refused to type his last report because he was 'working' on the emergency breakdown of the transporters; task she had given to Henry... He clearly didn't have anything under control.
"Thank you for dealing with him, Will, I don't know what to do about him anymore." Helen explained, neatly folding her napkin.
Will snorted, proceeding to unfold his own napkin. Helen noticed how their moves where exactly opposed. Funny how simple table arrangements could reveal so much about their current neutral status. "Don't tell me you've ever known what to do about him."
For the first time in a long while, he saw an amused smile stretch his boss' lips.
"Am I the only one thinking Tesla is endearing?" Abby intervened, filling Will's plate.
The young man choked and had to drink before he could speak again, but Helen beat him to it:
"I can assure you that the endearing factor fades away after the first century of knowing him." She said in a complicit tone of voice.
"Oh, I see..." Abby whispered.
Will's gaze went from his girlfriend to his boss and back again. They looked like two teenagers gossiping... It felt awkward.
Helen must have seen his expression as she stood up, collected her empty plate and cutlery to put them in the dishwasher, and walked through the door, excusing herself as she had to perform a small surgery on an inmate.
"You seem to be getting along well." Will observed.
"Are you kidding? History had never been so much fun! And I'm not even talking about Churchill's wine." Abby confirmed.
Will felt an alarm go off at the back of his head, and he searched the table, looking for Helen's glass.
"Wine? Did Magnus have wine?"
Abby frowned upon seeing him so tense. He had always been stressed by his job, which was indeed a source of constant stress, but the present situation was wearing him out. His relationship with Helen seemed to depend on the weather, and he was taking the huge responsibility of being the rock of the team by helping them cope with what they had been through. As a result, he slept poorly, and was unable to relax.
"Err... No, she didn't. Wine makes her hands shake. You wouldn't want that to come between her and her work now, would you?" She answered in a now almost perfect English accent. "Why? What's wrong?"
Will sighed, relieved, and wondered how he would prevent his may-be-pregnant employer from drinking, fighting, or flying... But before he could answer Abby's question, Nikola entered the kitchen, making him moan, not thinking he could take any more of him than he already had that day.
"Don't stop on my behalf. There's nothing you can say or do that I haven't already heard or seen." Tesla said, not even throwing a glance at the couple, on his way to the fridge.
With a look, Will silently asked Abby not to discuss the matter further around Nikola. She looked intrigued, and gestured a mild-approving answer, and he knew he would not be free to go unless he told her what was going on.
"I made some Boeuf Bourguignon, do you want some?" She politely asked the scientist.
Will grimaced, not willing to share one of his scarce quiet moments with the man who set his genius to the task of making his working days seem longer. Yet, the vampire might have had some work ethics, as he opened the fridge, disappeared for a short moment in it, and emerged with a pocket of blood, or plasma (the psychologist didn't want to know). He turned to them, as victorious looking as if he had hunted and killed the animal himself.
"I haven't eaten all day. Thank you kids, but I need more proteins than French cuisine can offer." He declared.
"Suit yourself. Could you just... You know? Not do that here?" Will asked.
He had tried to get used to seeing Tesla vamp out to suck on those disgusting pockets... But all attempts were vain. He had come to stand the sight of blood, but the sight of a man drinking such a large amount of it as easily as if it was only soda was absolutely sickening.
"What about Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, mon cher? Aren't we in a free kitchen?" The vampire protested.
"Ugh... This is why Magnus should really work on a planning for meals..." Will complained as the genius was sinking his elongated teeth in the pocket.
"Oh come on William, am I so disagreeable when you eat with you mouth open?" he answered, his teeth reddened by his first gulp of the liquid.
Abby chuckled whereas her boyfriend looked at them both, slightly offended.
Nikola had a point. The young man had the deeply annoying habit of chewing with his mouth open when he was just out of bed. Nikola knew Helen had noticed: She had shared breakfast once with them, when she had woken up later than usual and had had to delay breakfast until after dealing with an emergency. She hadn't say anything, but they had never seen her again in the kitchen between sunrise and noon, except to refill her cup of tea, proving that her victorian manners still had a firm hold on her.
Finally, Will only rolled his eyes.
The physicist took a moment to admire Will's defeat before deciding to choose a humble victory, leaving the couple alone.
"You can resume your conversation. If you need me, I'll be in my lab... Eating alone." He declared while disappearing in the hallway.
"Seriously?" Will murmured while Abby was still laughing.
"You should eat, it's going to be cold." She said.
"Yeah, I'll try and keep my mouth shut." He mumbled.
"Not before you tell me what you were about to say before we got interrupted."
"About that... I can't tell you right now. But I sure hope this guy has nothing to do with it." He explained, pointing to where Nikola had vanished into the dark.
Declan yawned. He had spent the evening carefully going through James' notes, and sleep was beginning to mess with his brain. Right when he was about to give up and call it a night, his eyes suddenly caught something, an entry was written in a handwriting that transmitted James' excitement... He decided to read one more page.
May 27, 1976:
I am proud to say that I might have discovered something of interest regarding the physiology of abnormals benefiting from an unusual longevity, therefore possibly useful for Helen. In 1948, we rescued a couple of yet unknown mammals in a mine south of Georgia, that Helen believes to be a species somewhat close to humans. We also believed them to be the last of their race. We have been trying to breed them ever since, in vain. However, a young female of the same species was found in Siberia last year, that Helen transferred from there to London.
I suggested that we try to use her for reproduction with the original male subject, and separate the original female from them for a while to preserve their species. Helen wouldn't hear any of it, as those abnormals seem capable of feeling, and demonstrate a strong attachment to each other. Yet, I had no other choice but to follow my idea. At the time, all analysis showed that our original female subject was too old to conceive. Against Helen's advice, I proceeded to separating the couple and placing our new inmate with the male. The experiment was a failure. The original subjects both experimented what I can only guess was a mental breakdown, so I had to put an end to their separation.
Today, during a check up, I discovered to my utmost surprise that the female I thought unable to give birth is with child.
I don't know how it is possible, as we determined her to be around three centuries old and past menopause, but my best theory is that the process, which can last up to ten years for a human female, could be prolonged for subjects with unusual life expectancy. It also seems that the subject's breakdown triggered a peak of hormones, in turn facilitating impregnation.
I haven't told any of this to Helen yet, and I fail to comprehend how any of this is possible, but it might hold the key to Helen's aging process.
That was it... Declan rubbed his tired eyes. After reading through almost three notebooks full of not so interesting facts and bits of Magnus' life, and almost falling asleep about five times, he had finally struck gold with this entry. He woke up completely when he realized he had never heard of those abnormals... Something wasn't right: If their lifespan was so long, they should be under London's supervision, so under his supervision. Yet, they obviously weren't. The idea crossed his mind that they may have been transferred to another sanctuary. He dismissed it immediately. James would never have agreed to let go of subjects of interest for his personal research.
He flipped through pages without finding any mention of them. It was time to open the last notebook. There it was, on the first page:
December 26, 1976:
This Christmas has been tainted with political turmoil, and I fear that my dearest Helen's vacation in London is far from being as relaxing as I wished it to be. The abnormal I was interested in is expecting a girl, that we wished to name Lucy. She's barely a month away from delivering, and the baby shows perfect bone development. However, the Soviet authorities have heard about Helen's transaction in Siberia, and asked our government for reparations. We were recently contacted by Denis Healey, minister for foreign affairs and Commonwealth himself, and had no choice but to let the office organize the transfer of Lucy's family and of the young female from Siberia back to the USSR, along with all my research on them. Failing to do so would have endangered our relationship with the Crown and therefore our finances. I also suspect that surrendering our four inmates may have avoided an international crisis. That is also Helen's opinion after a few inquiries around the city.
We are appalled at the situation, but the tensions between the Soviet Union and the West leave us with no room for autonomy. The best we can do for now is bow to the Crown and hope that one day, we may be able to retrieve our poor friends.
And that was it... The rest of the notebook didn't mention the matter anymore. Most of it was about Magnus' first pregnancy, which was none of Declan's business. He already felt guilty enough about reading those pages. He yawned. It was almost four, and the staff meeting he had to conduct at nine would surely be terrible. He thanked God he didn't have any meeting with Magnus at 7.30. He was, of course, devoted to his job, but he also valued his sleep, unlike the members of the five.
He changed into his pajamas and went straight to bed, mentally noting he had to notify Will after their staff meetings.
"Good morning Will. Do you have a second?"
Will was just out of Magnus' office with the rest of the team when he spotted Declan waiting for him in the hallway. He looked exhausted, and Will wondered if he had even slept. He turned to Abby who leaned in to place a kiss on his lips.
"I'll see you later." He promised when they parted.
"Have fun." She answered, following Erika with whom she had been teamed up for the day.
"I have an appointment in ten, we can talk on the way?" Will proposed.
Declan nodded and they set for the psychiatrist's office.
"I've found something in the archives. James studied the effects of longevity on mammals, and according to what I read, I think Magnus could still be going through menopause. Who knows how long she can live, there's no reason why her menopause couldn't last more than twenty years." He said, whispering so that nobody would hear what they were talking about.
Will entered the elevator, pressed the button to go down one floor and turned to Declan.
"I didn't even know it was possible for a woman to be pregnant during menopause..." He said, frowning. Sometimes, he thought he knew more about some abnormals than about the opposite sex.
"You'd be surprised. We'll need to monitor Magnus closely if she really is having a child. There could be complications...I guess."
Will crossed his arms on his chest. So Magnus could be pregnant. He was seeing for the first time how different the future would be if it was all real. All would be so different... He sighed.
"There might not be any if it turns out she doesn't want this child. We have to think about this possibility, and move fast to give her the chance to choose. I doubt she was already pregnant when she destroyed the sanctuary in Old City. It's been four months. She might still have time to terminate the pregnancy if she wants to, but we'll be walking a tightrope."
He had vaguely wondered when Helen would have found the time to conceive a child. Not that it would take long, but it was difficult to imagine her doing anything else than working, or thinking of working. Her 'big plan' had taken all her attention, so it seemed highly unlikely that she would have taken even a few minutes off to enjoy herself. Of course, how she had convinced her banker to shut down Wall Street for ten minutes remained a mystery... But she wouldn't have used her body that way, right? No, it had to be sometimes after she had moved underground. She had looked more relaxed when he had found her at the entrance of the cave. She was still spending lots of her time arranging the last details of her plan, re-organizing the hierarchy of the Sanctuary network, but she had less on her mind, she had been radiating with positivity back then. What had changed? The answer was residing in the team and the grudge they held against her... When Will looked at that frail, skinny, exhausted version of Helen Magnus, he wanted to hold her tight. He wished to God he could do something to help.
"I could determine how old the fetus would be with a blood test. That's if you can get a sample, of course." Declan said, bringing him back to reality.
Will grimaced, and the doors of the elevator opened.
"Yeah, it kept me awake part of the night, but I think I found a way to get just that."
Declan laughed. Getting a sample of their kick-ass boss would require great skills and cunning. Or a few human sacrifices.
He suddenly froze in the middle of the hallway, causing a young cyclops to bump into him.
"Hey dude! You've got two eyes, they're meant to tell you where you should be walking." She said, rubbing her shoulder while staring right into the eyes she was talking about, somewhat sending a shiver down Declan's spine.
"I'm sorry miss. Are you alright?" He asked, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"Yeah..." She mumbled, glaring at it before walking away.
"What is it?" Will asked when she was out of earshot.
"Henry can smell her hormonal changes..." Declan said, lost in thoughts.
"Yeah..." Will tried to follow his friend's train of thoughts, but lost himself on the way. They didn't know each other well enough to have those kinds of discussions Magnus and Tesla had, in which every keyword was missing, and they could still understand what the other was thinking of.
"Who else can smell blood like none of us can?" Declan finished, waiting for Will to catch up.
The answer flashed in Will's mind like lightening in the sky.
"Tesla." He answered.
The idea had not occurred to him before, but now that he thought about it, he was finding it alarming that the vampire hadn't noticed anything abnormal about Helen's blood. Or had he?
"Don't tell me he hasn't noticed anything..." Declan confirmed.
Will shook his head. He had a few plausible explanations.
"You don't know him as well as I do. He is certainly too caught up in his own melodrama to notice what's going on around him. And he spends his time trying to avoid Magnus. Actually, the only time we see him with her is for the staff meetings. And he keeps his distances." He explained.
"You should give him some credit. He is obviously disappointed by Magnus refusal to let him in on her plans, but I think he was above all scared as hell of losing her in the blast." Declan pointed out.
"That's admitting he has feelings." Will corrected, rolling his eyes.
"Good Lord! You're hard on the lad!"
Will shrugged, opening the door to his office.
"He hasn't exactly done anything to earn my trust."
"Magnus vouching for him should be enough for anyone." Declan argued.
The most annoying part about this argument was that Will knew McRae was right. If he was honest with himself, he could see the vampire's only interest was science. His love for it could lead to countless disasters, but Magnus was making a pretty good job at keeping him in check. Why, then, was it so difficult to get to like him? His cockiness was hard so swallow, along with the fact that Henry and Abby admired his genius so much that they didn't get in the least bothered or offended by his behavior.
"Okay. Admitting you're right about him- I don't think he has noticed. I've seen him worried sick about her, and I would know if it was the case. Right now, his pride is wounded." Will summed up.
"Like everyone else's, from what I've seen." Declan observed.
Will sat at his desk and sighed.
"Except everyone else agreed on following a therapy."
As far as they knew, even Magnus was working through all the events of those last months using meditation. When did she find time to meditate? No one knew. Obviously, her technique had limited effects if her subconscious thought it best to hide a pregnancy.
"So what do you think we should do about him?" Declan asked, not sure himself if he wanted Tesla to be involved.
"Nothing. Let Magnus deal with him when she's ready. He's been trying to get into her bed for years; I don't want to be the one telling him she's pregnant." Will said, his tone warning his coworker that the matter was way above his understanding.
"He could be the father." The head of sanctuary pointed out, serious as ever.
"Then the Maya would be right about the end of the world."
The Englishman snorted, and was about to comment about Will's take on the apocalypse when a knock on the door reminded him Will had to work.
"Call on me when you have the blood sample." He said before making his way to the door.
"I'm working on it."
"So, what changed your mind about learning how to use a needle?" Helen asked later that day while rolling up her sleeve so that Abby could perform her first taking of blood.
The young woman felt her heart race. What if Magnus was suspicious of her intentions?
"You really could use some help. I mean, I don't mind cleaning rooms and habitats, but you have more important things to do than going around performing what others could do for you, right?" She asked.
A few weeks before, her boss had pointed out that she could train her to do a few medical tasks. She had taught her how to take care of some abnormals, how to regulate the Ph of water to match the needs of some of their inmates' needs and small things like that, but when she had broached the subject of vaccines and blood tests, Abby had gone pale and she had let her be. The blonde was eager to learn, and Helen had plenty of 'tricks' she could teach her up her sleeve. She had not anticipated such a sudden change of mind, so quickly.
"Yes. I'd rather spend more time taking care of that myself, and leave the coordination and paperwork to someone else." She confirmed.
"That's why you hired Will. Even if he doesn't have your charisma." Abby pointed out, grinning. She tried not to think too much about what she was about to do. Strangely, Magnus was making her feel more confident. The brunette smiled.
"He will get there, in time. Take the tourniquet there, and apply it to my arm. Remember never to tie it too close to the joint. Here, tie it above my elbow." She instructed, showing the tourniquet she had prepared on a tray, along with test tubes, antibacterial gel, cotton and a needle.
Abby did as she was told, tying the tourniquet tight, staring at her teacher the whole time to check that she was doing it right.
"Alright. Now, you'll have to find a suitable vein."
The former federal agent sat down on the stool next to the examination table to get a better view of Magnus' skin. The inside of her arm was white as snow and her veins were easily seen, blueish against alabaster.
"How do I know which one to use?" The apprentice asked.
"Don't be shy. Touch my arm, tap the veins, choose one you can see clearly, and which doesn't roll."
Helen nodded towards her own stretched arm, slightly annoyed at Abby's question and hesitation to experiment by herself.
"Use your fingers, you'll understand."
Abby finally obeyed, gently caressing her arm with two fingers. Magnus' skin was smooth, and even without pressing on it, she could feel bones, tendons, and veins. The young woman swallowed hard. She had not imagined the strong-willed woman was actually so frail. She moved her fingers slowly up her arm and found one of the veins she could see. She pressed it, and it moved away like a shy animal running away from danger.
"Oh... Rolling." She said, the meaning of the word suddenly clear as day.
"If you tried to jab this vein, you'd probably end up moving it. It would hurt, and you'd have trouble taking blood. Now, I've been through worse than that, so you're lucky, I wouldn't bite you. However, some abnormals would get violent. You don't want that." She explained.
Abby put a finger on another vein, and this time, she didn't feel anything.
"This one seems okay." She stated.
"Tapping it will help you see it better."
Abby searched her eyes. Tapping the big boss was not part of her contract, but... She did as told, and started to see the vein better.
"What do I do next?" The blonde asked.
"Take some cotton and spread some antibacterial onto the zone. Then, wait for a little while to let it do its work."
Abby followed the instructions. She cringed when she opened the bottle of gel. The smell of it reminded her of hospitals. She had always hated them, they rhymed with death, mourning... Her grandmother and her fight with cancer... She shook those thoughts away, focusing on the task at hand. She had to take Magnus' blood, hope that Will would rescue her on time, and get the sample to MacRae for analyzes.
"Good. Now, take the needle. I know it's hard for you, but believe me, it's nothing compared to what I saw in my time."
Abby swallowed hard. She had seen needles used during World War II in a museum, she didn't want to see Victorian medical supplies.
She took the pack containing the needle, wondering if she had to clip the vial on it before or after plunging it into Helen's arm. Just in case, she took one of the vials in her hand. But would two test tubes be enough to perform a pregnancy test? She hoped so...
"First, you'll prick the vein. You'll clip the tube after the needle is in place. When the tube is full, you just change it for the next one. Now, we usually have labels with the identification of the patient and the description of the test to perform. Never, ever forget to stick them to the vials after you're finished. It causes a massive amount of problems and constitutes a considerable loss of time. You won't need those today as my blood will not be tested." Helen saw her young friend swallow hard when she finished her explanation, she took it that her phobia was making her nervous. She smiled, trying to encourage her.
'Okay Abby. Don't screw this up. You've got an important mission there.' the improvised nurse thought.
Will's plan was crazy, but she had to admit it was their best shot. She had Helen give her blood consciously and willingly, and she could hide her apprehension behind her phobia. Will's plan was mad, but brilliant.
"Let's do this." Abby exclaimed, trying to sound enthusiastic.
"I promise I'll be docile." Helen said, a proud, childish pout on her face.
That convinced Abby who took a deep breath, and carefully inserted the needle into the vein she had found.
"Am I doing this right?" She asked.
Breathing in and out slowly, she secured the needle and clipped the test tube to it, careful not to apply pressure on it so as not to hurt Magnus.
"Oh great..." She whispered when she saw blood flowing up into the tube.
She did her best not to give in to the sudden need to throw up. She wanted to look away, but she resisted the urge, focusing instead on the deep red liquid rapidly filling the tube.
"Deep breath Abby." Helen reminded, noticing her apprentice had not breathed out for a few seconds. She was turning white and the scientist thought she was about to faint.
Abby followed her teacher's advice, and felt a bit better.
When the test tube was full, she tried to unclasp it from the needle. Her shaking hands rendered the task difficult, and she felt the needle move slightly, making Helen grimace.
"Oh God, I'm sorry!" Abby apologized, wondering if using the second test tube was wise.
"Don't worry, you're doing fine. Clip the second one, you need training."
Abby turned away to put the first sample on the tray, and took the second tube, that she engaged in the syringe, succeeding in not hurting her victim a second time.
Blood flowed again down the tube. However, the flow lessened after a few seconds, and finally, blood stopped filling the tube.
"What's wrong? What's happening? Did I do something wrong?" She asked, slightly panicked.
Helen raised an eyebrow and tilted her head, staring at her arm.
"No... It looks like my vein is contracting. I had never experienced this phenomenon myself before..." She said, deep in thoughts.
"What does it mean?" Abby asked again, wondering if she had to worry.
"Well, it's a defense mechanism, in a way. When a patient is feeling threatened, even unconsciously, the veins tend to block the blood flow. Actually, when you're afraid, your blood is automatically directed to your legs to prepare your body to escape danger." Magnus explained.
"Oh... So, 'unconsciously', you are afraid of needles." Abby summed up playfully.
Helen smiled, her eyes twinkling. She was impressed by her student's will to stay calm while facing her phobia.
"I guess I am a little on edge. Take the needle out, you won't get much more blood."
Abby did as instructed, unclasping the test tube and gently removing the needle. When she was done, she tapped her pocket in which her phone was securely transmitting the conversation to Will.
Helen took some cotton and pressed the point where the needle had been lodged in her arm, and Abby untied the tourniquet.
"Well done Abby. You can throw away the cotton. However, you'll have to autoclave the needle before throwing it into the bio-hazard bin."
A knock on the door interrupted the 'lesson', and a voice that Abby attributed to Onryunji, the new head of the Japanese sanctuary made itself heard:
"Helen! It has started!"
At that, Magnus jumped from the examination table, pointing at the tape next to the tray.
"I have to go. Put some of that tape on the test tubes and run the autoclave." She gestured towards a machine that looked like an hybrid washing machine crossed-bred with a microwave. "Slow exhaust, 121 degrees Fahrenheit, fifteen PSI for twenty minutes. When the arrow gets down to zero PSI, open the autoclave, check the tape for black lines and throw the tubes into the bio-hazard bin. Then do the same thing for the needle, fast exhaust. Don't let anyone enter this room until you're done."
She was about to open the door when she stopped dead in her tracks, realizing she was asking something Abby might not even understand.
"The instructions are on the side of the machine, you'll be fine." She added.
With that, she left, running.
When Abby couldn't hear her footsteps anymore, she took her phone out of her pocket.
"Weren't you supposed to be the one coming in for an emergency?" She asked.
"I was on my way..." Will answered, confused. "I guess we are lucky, it sounded really important."
"Yeah... There's something going on with these two. Anyway, what do I do now?"
"Do as she asked for the needle, I'll be down in a few seconds to collect the blood samples." Will said before disconnecting the call.
"Hey boss! We came as soon as we got your message."
When Helen heard Kate's familiar voice on her way to the isolation rooms, she turned around and changed direction to greet her guests.
Kate looked great, and Magnus guessed love was the reason of her radiating happiness. Next to her, a man and a woman, looking equally tall and slender, were looking around them, hand in hand, taking in the beauty of the sanctuary that they had never seen before. As Helen got closer, she felt the warmth of their bodies wrap her like that of a small fire on a frosty night, making her relax her a little bit.
"Renta, Ketchan, thank you for coming on such a short notice. Kate..."
Helen bowed her head to her visitors and led the way to the basement, where she had secured a room suited for the phenomenon they had been expecting.
"It's an honor to be of help Dr. Magnus. Enur is one of us, we will look after him like our own son." Renta ensured.
"I'm glad you accepted to take care of him, Enur is a dear friend of mine." Helen said, trying to conceal the feelings which were bubbling inside her.
As they were going down a flight of stairs, the young man spoke up.
"Have you ever seen him go through this before?" He asked.
"In 1912. In fact, I have known him all his life, we met in 1900."
"So you know this isn't the end, right?"
As the group reached the bottom of the stairs, Helen entered her code on the control panel next to the door to the isolation aisle.
"I..." She stopped and turned towards her followers. "I know". Her gaze fell to the floor. "And still, I don't expect it to be any easier than last time."
The two young people looked at each other and smiled.
"I'm originally fifteen years older than Ketchan. It is always hard to say goodbye to each other, even if we know it's only the beginning."
Helen nodded, and resumed her walk. She was not so different from Enur, Renta and Ketchan except for the fact that they were getting older faster than her.
"So let me get this straight..." Kate interrupted, "You've been a couple for... How long exactly?"
"Nine centuries, on and off. Obviously, we are not interacting like a couple when one of us is too young." Kentcha explained, smiling softly at Kate's disbelief.
The young woman left a "wow" cross her lips, and caught Magnus' thoughtful smile. Instantly, she felt she understood what was going on in her boss' head: she was imagining having to raise her oldest friend, Tesla -and Tesla her, in turn- every two centuries... 'Ugh, awkward' she thought.
The temperature was rising as they approached their destination, and soon, they found Dr. Oryunji standing in front of a room in which an old man with a long white hair and beard was leaning against a wall, shivering.
"Ketchan, Renta, may I introduce Dr. Oryunji, and..." She gestured towards the old man behind the window. "Enur.".
While the couple was shaking hands with her colleague, Helen activated the intercom.
"Enur? How are you feeling?" She asked.
The abnormal looked as if her voice had woken him, and he turned to look at her, smiling fondly.
"Helen... Dearest, will you give me a last hug before I get too hot for you?"
The scientist assessed the risks. His usual body temperature was oscillating between 113 and 122°F, depending on his health and mood. Seeing how badly he was shivering, he was probably already running a fever. He was already burning hot according to her standards. But she could see no flame coming from his body. No smoke either. She wouldn't get burned, but if she waited any longer, she wouldn't be able to say her goodbyes. She lowered her head, trying to hide the overwhelming wave of sadness rolling through her system, and she opened the door. The atmosphere in the room was already stifling, and she closed the glass door behind her cautiously. Instinctively, she rolled up her sleeves when she felt drops of sweat form in the crease of her elbows. Erun stared at her arm.
"That's a bad bruise you've got there. What happened?" He asked, concern showing on his red skin.
Helen shrugged. His intent at making small conversation didn't erase the fact that he was technically about to die.
"Blood taking gone wrong. I'll live." She said, nevertheless trying to sound cheerful.
The white haired man extended his hands, and Helen took them in hers without hesitation. His line-covered hands were hot, but not burning, and she brought one to her cheek, her eyes suddenly welling up with tears.
"Shh, sweet love..." He whispered, brushing her cheek. "This is merely goodbye."
She nodded. She knew that, but he wouldn't be the same, not exactly...
Suddenly, she pressed him against her frail body, holding him as tight as she dared, careful not to hurt his century-old body.
His warmth enveloped and penetrated her in a way that dried her eyes and soothed her. Enur sighed against the coolness of her body which was so refreshing. He wanted to touch her long, curly hair, but as soon as he did, the air was filled with the smell of grilled hair.
"Oh, I'm sorry Helen..." He muttered, trying as best as he could to keep a distance so as not to hurt her. She laughed a little bit, and wondered if he had done that on purpose to hear her laugh one last time. She released him from her embrace when she felt he was starting to burn, and she stood there, trying to communicate all her thoughts through her gaze.
He slowly extended an arm and he carefully placed his hand on her flat abdomen, and she followed his move, trusting him, but her gaze questioning his act. A side smile appeared on his face, and he looked at her again before closing his eyes, enjoying the feeling.
"It is so cold inside..."
For a moment, Helen stood in silence, wondering if Enur was beginning to surrender his senses to the fever or if it was a new philosophical statement describing her inner struggles. Then his dark eyes fluttered open, and he slowly took back his hand from her, leaving a lingering warm sensation on her.
"I'll see you again, soon. In the meantime, you take care. You won't be alone Helen, I know that much." He smiled, love filling his tired eyes, and Helen tried to mimic him, ending up grimacing awkwardly.
"Go, dearest one. It won't be long now."
She made her way back to the door, and burned the tip of her fingers when she took the handle. She winced and rolled her hand in the fabric of her blouse to protect her skin. Before stepping out, she glanced back at Enur.
"Thank you, Enur... For everything."
With that, she left the room, suddenly feeling dizzy.
When she was back with her friends on the other side of the window, she saw Enur catch on fire. His skin went purple, smoke surrounding him, and all of a sudden, he spread his arms, and flames erupted from his body, lapping the air, tugging at his clothes, circling him like the sensuous touch of a lover, all that in a colorful inferno that consumed him without a sound, its reflection painted on Helen's face. She wanted to run away. He wasn't yelling, but his face was distorted by pain, and it was all too much for her to bear. He never left his stare wander away from her, so she stood his gaze, never breaking contact, her palm resting on the windowpane. The scene was beautiful. The flames looked like an extension of Enur's body, and soon enough, he was the fire itself. The brightness of the bonfire made the group protect their eyes, and when darkness crawled up again, enabling them to take a look at the inside of the room, this last was empty, except for a small pile of embers still glowing on the floor.
That's when Helen realized she had been crying openly. She decided to excuse herself, and left her colleague to deal with the rest of the operation. She needed to take a moment to regain composure, and mourn Enur for the second time.
Nikola was deep in work, racking his brains over their transportation problems. His throat was dry, and he decided to refill his glass. He was about to take a bottle from a shelf next to the door when he smelled her, literally. He stopped, waiting. Helen's scent was unmistakable. There was that something he had noticed two days before, that swirling hormone or something that made his cold blood sing and warm up, shouting 'mine'.
He waited for her to knock, but she didn't. He got closer to the door, wondering what was going on in the brunette's head.
From where he stood, a step away from the door, he could hear her heart beating loudly, regularly, soothing his mind and body. If she wasn't knocking, then it was likely that she wasn't here on business. So why exactly was she there? Behind his door? He heard a sigh, and a small thud against the door. The vampire could picture her perfectly, her lean frame standing with her forehead on the metallic door. He heard a sniff, and he prayed that she was falling down with a cold, and not crying. He hated that when she cried. Helen in tears was the only thing that made him feel powerless. And coming from the last sanguine vampiris on Earth and father of modern technology, that said something.
He was about to open the door anyway, curious to know what was happening, when he heard her heels clicking away from his lab and fading into the distance. Nikola sighed, shaking his shoulders to relax a bit. She wouldn't talk? Fine. Whatever.
So he got back to work, thinking that if he didn't solve the emergency breakdown, the next visit from Magnus would be to shoot him, or something similarly unpleasant.
He was interrupted again by a distinct knock on the door a few minutes later, or so he thought until he saw the clock had ticked an hour away. He froze. It couldn't be Helen this time. She was not the kind to change her mind in just about an hour, conscious that he had probably sensed her previous hesitation- Hesitation that he would politely pretend he had not noticed, and would never bring up in a conversation.
"Come in!" he shouted, his hands still buried deep in the brake system of a transporter caps.
"The door is locked Vlad."
Nikola smirked. He had never thought he would one day be glad to see Kate Freelander. Yet, he had to admit that between that symphony gone way out of tune with Helen and Henry cooing over his unborn child, he seriously needed someone to behave as if everything was normal. Moreover, he couldn't deny the girl was sharp and witty. If she had had longer legs, maybe, just maybe, he would have tried his luck.
"Can't pick a lock when there's none, can you?" He asked when he finally opened the door.
As soon as he saw her face, he knew she had been crying. What was it with crying women coming to knock on his door these days?
"William's office his down the hall and three floors down, if you're looking for a therapist." he said, half-jokingly.
She looked surprised for a second, before understanding he was referring to the traces her tears had left on her cheeks.
"Oh, no, it's nothing really. I was just wondering if you'd seen Magnus around?"
She followed him to his desk while the doors were closing on their own accord.
He turned to face her, failing to understand why a crying Helen would come by, turn back, and be looked for by a crying Kate, thinking she would be there. Were women always that cryptic?
"No." He lied. Well, technically, he wasn't lying. He had not seen Helen. "She's probably working."
Kate shook her head.
"I don't think so. I had never seen her so shaken up before."
Nikola frowned. What was it all about? He was missing all the pieces of the puzzle.
"I thought she would come to see you..." Kate finished, sitting on a stool.
"Well, she's not here."
An awkward silence fell around them. Kate had heard about the tension between the two geniuses, but it had been hard to believe, and as she didn't live with them anymore, she had no idea that Henry's testimony of how disastrous the damages springing from the explosion were was not exaggerated.
No wonder Magnus looked so run-down if she couldn't enjoy her oldest friend's support anymore.
"She's just seen an old friend die for the second time, you know? She's not okay. Damn, God knows I wasn't okay either, and I didn't even know the guy. Turned purple, caught on fire..." Kate explained at last, leaning her elbows on the desk and rubbing her temples.
Nikola jumped, forgetting all about his plan of getting to the bottom of the brakes problem at hand. So that was why Helen had come crying on his door. It had nothing to do with him. He didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
"Human Torch was here?"
"Yeah. He... Or rather the new Enur just left with his new parents, or children to be... I'm not sure, it's disturbing. You know him?"
If he knew him? Okay, no. But God, he had heard enough about him through Helen to write his biography.
Nikola felt ridiculous. That was probably why Helen had spent lots of time with Oryunji, planning the combustion and deciding on their course of action regarding the baby and so on... The long walks in the garden shoulder to shoulder? All work-related. He sighed.
"No, but he taught Helen a few tricks. Martial arts and meditation techniques mainly. She admires him deeply."
He had considered going to Tokyo countless times to rip his head off. 'Enur this', 'Enur that'... Even the great James Watson, who was well-known for his absolute patience, had been slightly annoyed by Helen's frequent mentions of the phoenix. It had come to an end after his last combustion in 1912, after which they had had to help her let go of her grief. She had been an absolute mess, crying in James arms.
The inventor paced around the lab, followed by Kate's gaze.
Helen had tried to come to him, a clear sign that she needed to talk to someone... To him? Yet, she had decided not to knock on the door. She didn't trust him enough to share her crushing sadness, just like she hadn't trusted him with her 113 year old plan. What was he to do?
"Are you eager to go home to your Romeo or can you spare a moment to help me with that little problem of mine?" He asked, pointing to the corner of the room where he had installed a replica of the transporters on rails, plugged to his computer.
Kate turned to the experiment and smiled. It looked a bit like an old electric train toy.
"That's a beautiful toy you've got there, but what about Magnus?" She asked, jumping from her stool to crouch and take a closer look at the rails.
Nikola got back behind his computer, ready to give his simulation of emergency a go.
"I know better than to go after a grieving woman who obviously wants to be left alone for a while. Don't worry, she'll come out of her hiding place eventually, and then I'll be there if she needs a glass of wine and a story before bed."
He could only hope that what he was saying was true.
"Nikola, where are you with the emergency breakdown?" Helen asked after she had finished briefing her other teammates for the day.
Nikola had been staring at her rather intently throughout the whole meeting, his gaze burning her skin, making it clear he had heard her little display of weakness on his doorstep the day before. He was trying not to be obvious about it, but she could feel it whenever his eyes roamed over her.
Nikola Tesla was checking up on her, and it felt... Nice. For a change.
"With a little help from Kate, I tested the prototype. The improvements can be implemented as soon as you give your assent."
At the mention of Kate, Will snapped out of his notes.
"Kate was here?!" He asked, feeling left out.
"She was... For whatever reason Helen wanted her here." Nikola admitted, his gaze directly meeting Helen's for the first time in... Months. Of course, he had to know about Enur... That was why he was so interested in her behavior.
"How is it that whenever she comes around, she only spends time with Henry and Tesla?" Will chocked, looking for an answer somewhere on Henry's face.
The young tech shrugged.
"Hey dude, I don't know. Why don't you ask her?"
"Enough!" Helen intervened whereas Nikola was obviously enjoying the argument. "If you want to launch into a childish quarrel, feel free to take it outside of my office."
Will sat back in the couch, still glaring at Henry and Nikola, until Abby patted his arm, making him forget why he had reacted so... Freely.
"Henry, I want you to go over Nikola's programs, make sure that nothing has been left out."
Henry nodded, eager to leave the room and get back to some handy work. Working with Tesla seemed more appealing than what Will had to do.
"You could at the very least trust my abilities to do my job." Nikola protested, disappointed.
"It's not about trust, Nikola. I'm only following procedures here. Plus, Henry could learn a few things." Helen countered.
The hap was about to argue when she shot him one of her 'don't-you-dare' looks.
He abandoned when Nikola rose from his seat with a mock satisfied grin.
"Glad to know we see eye to eye on this one. This meeting is over." With that, Helen rose from her chair, effectively putting an end to the staff meeting.
The team left the room, Erika and Abby glancing back at Will, smiling encouragingly.
When the only two people left in the room were Magnus and Will, the latter turned to face her.
"Will. You wanted to talk to me." Helen stated, sitting on the edge of her desk.
"Yes." Will confirmed, breathing deeply. He had carefully prepared this chat over breakfast with Declan, Henry, Erika and Abby, but oddly enough (sort of), having Magnus in front of him was having the effect of a cold shower.
"Don't worry about Kate. She was here on a mission for me. I'm sure she would love to catch up with you." She said, her features softening to try and make him feel better.
"Yeah... She is afraid I'm gonna try and talk her into a therapy session. But I probably need it more than she does." Will answered jokingly, scratching the back of his neck.
Helen wasn't surprised to notice the nervous gesture. While Nikola had been watching her closely, she had been more concerned with the blatant uneasiness displayed by Henry and Will throughout their talks.
There was something about the behavior of her team that made her suspicious. There was something going on with them, and she was trying to understand what was going on. She had thought they had heard about Enur's death, at first. But her two boys had clearly been surprised by Nikola's mention of Kate, so it was unlikely they had been told anything regarding her grief.
There had to be something else, and she wasn't sure she would like it.
"You're not here to talk about Kate though." She stated, breaking the awkward silence.
"No." He admitted. "You might want to sit down..." When she raised a curious eyebrow, he added, "on a real chair.".
Helen tried to read her apprentice's face; what she saw didn't comfort her in the least and she decided to follow his advice. She got to her feet, and made her way to the couch, taking Will by the arm to make him sit down next to her. When he resisted her pressure, she knew for sure it had to be really bad.
Will produced a folded paper from his back pocket and toyed with it, avoiding Helen's gaze.
"What's wrong with you, Will?" She asked, suddenly worried.
He cleared his throat and felt glad she was sitting. That way, if she wanted to kill him, he had about three seconds to make it to the door before she could jump to her feet and grab him by the throat.
"Actually, I'm more worried about what's wrong with you." He said, bluntly.
"Me?" She repeated, her eyes round with stupefaction.
Oh she could begin to see where this was going... She didn't like it at all.
"Before we get into the details... You have to know that Abby didn't want to do it... But she was the only one who could get to you."
Will shuddered when she shot him a murderous look. He could see the flicker of understanding in her eyes.
"The blood test." She sighed, looking at the paper he still had in his hands. Now it all started to make sense... She had thought it strange that Abby had changed her mind about needles so radically, but she had had other preoccupations.
"If you wanted my blood so badly, you should have asked for it." She said, her tone ice-cold.
She could feel anger bubbling inside of her, waiting to be released any minute now... But if she was honest with herself, she was starting to worry about what they could have found that made Will so uneasy. Why would they analyze her blood without her explicit consent?
"Would you have agreed to let us run some tests without telling you what we were looking for?" Will asked, handing her the test results.
She took the paper with more force than intended.
"If you had told me what you wanted to know, I might very well have done it myself." She said.
Will stared at her. He could see her anger, but he had expected her to kill him right on the spot. That was going just fine... For the moment.
"Yeah. Well, Erika tried. But, err... You kinda laughed at her. Anyway, you'd better see for yourself."
Erika... Oh... Oh she had the horrible feeling she knew what was on the lab results sheet...
"You're not saying..." She began, panic flooding her system, replacing anger.
The young man finally sat down beside her, sensing the shift in her mood.
"I'm not saying anything, Magnus. Your blood speaks for itself."
She swallowed hard, and decided to unfold the paper. Hopefully, it was only a really bad joke, and she would laugh about it the very next day.
Will saw her face slowly decompose itself, going from worry to panic, surprise, and... Fear. And when her lips and hands started shaking, he caught her wrists, hoping to ground her.
"Magnus..." He whispered when her eyes filled up with tears and she had been silently staring at the paper for way too long.
Her name uttered with so much concern made her snap out of her prostrate state.
"That is not possible..." She sighed.
Will felt sorry for her. The Hgc levels, according to Declan, were lower than that of a normal pregnant woman, but still consistent with pregnancy. However, he had been unable to determine how old the foetus was. The fact remained: Helen Magnus was pregnant, and she had no clue how to face it.
"Look, we both know there are things out there we cannot even begin to understand. And yet, we do this job. This is what we do: trying to understand. Now, unless you can tell me with absolute certainty that you didn't engage in any kind of... intercourse these past few months- and I'm not asking for details there- I'm going to assume it is possible."
Helen freed her wrists from Will's grasp and ruffled the paper to ease her nerves.
"Let's admit it is... Why didn't I notice anything?" She asked, her voice breaking as she was trying to keep her tears under control.
Will scratched his arm nervously.
"It's called denial. The foetus knows it's not the right moment for you to want it, so it's hiding itself." Will trailed off. She probably knew what a denial was, he was only filling the silence that was so unusual between them.
"We'll work on it... Whether you want this child or not, I'll help you through this."
Helen felt nauseated upon hearing the word 'child'. She was absolutely not ready for that... She wanted out, now. Mechanically, she rose to her feet. She needed to breathe, she needed to feel the air brushing her face, she wanted to feel the wind blow her hair off her shoulders... She needed this foetus to leave her body, now. She wanted to be free from this burden.
"Magnus..." Will began, noticing the dark change taking control.
"Will. I need some time. Alone."
With that, she made her way out of the room, her face blank, her body devoid of any feeling. Will didn't move from his seat. Time... He could give her time. A few hours. But after that, he would seek her out, and force her to accept his help. There was no way he would leave her to face her demons alone... He didn't know what she was capable of, and frankly, it was scaring the hell out of him.
Her steps took her to the roof, her heels clicking angrily, like the needles of a clock. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Each second passing saw the creation of new cells in the fetus that lived in her, that lived off her energy. She gasped for air when the door opened for her and she stepped on the roof, feeling a gush of air rushing to her lungs to give her life once again.
She walked to the edge of the roof and looked up to the sky beyond the dome. That's the moment an eagle chose to fly past it.
She leaned her hands flat on the low wall keeping her away from the ground down below.
She looked down to the ground, five floors under where she stood. She stared at the world she had spent 113 years creating. She seemed to struggle against herself for a long time, until her body heaved and she stretched her legs far behind her, her head directed to the floor, as if considering whether or not to throw up. She was pale in the early morning light, and the sun didn't reflect on the usual warm locks hiding in her hair, which was tarnished by her poor diet. Her cheeks were hallow and her greenish eyes had lost their passionate and amused shine. Eternal youth had its limits. If age didn't show on her face and body, the hardships she had faced did. She was old, and for the first time ever, she looked old. Paradoxically, that old woman stretching on the rooftop was creating life at that very moment.
Her body heaved a second time, bringing up the tears she finally decided to let go. A lonely tear slipped to her chin before it dangled from the edge of it, stopping as if wondering what to do... Drying up here, or jumping to the ground. Jumping it was- It reached the ground without a sound.
She cried silently for a long time, her eyes closed and her chest still parallel to the ground, until her triceps started shaking, threatening to let her down. She stood up and breathed deeply, brushing off her tears.
She slowly regained composure and put her leader mask on again, enough time to cross the few hallways keeping her from her room.
Once inside, she locked the door, and leaned against it. Anger rose inside of her, gradually straightening her back and shoulders, contracting her every muscle.
With a brutal and swift movement, she tore her shirt off her chest, leaving her in her pencil skirt, heels and bra. She walked to the full-length mirror next to her bed and stood in front of it, looking down at her abdomen. She unceremoniously unzipped her skirt and let it fall down her toned legs before shoving it away from her feet.
Her anger seemed to recede and fade when she placed a hand on her slightly in-curved abdomen and drew circles on her skin, slowly, as if to soothe the fetus hidden inside, to comfort it, or seek comfort in it... Only Helen knew.
She looked at her profile, far too flat for a pregnant woman. Now in her underwear and stilettos, she let herself fall on the bed, her long curls spreading around her like tentacles. She stared at the ceiling for what seemed like hours, her body barely moving, following her breathing pattern.
At last, she sat up. She looked rested and resigned, yet far from serene. She stretched a hand to take a frame she kept on her nightstand, and stared at the picture of herself and Ashley for a long moment, her eyes full of fresh tears. The blonde girl was barely fourteen in the picture, but she was already the dangerous soldier she had been before she had been lost to the cabal. A smile stretched Helen's lips. The picture showed Henry sitting in a chair, obviously trying to work and ignore Ashley and Helen who were playing with his long hair. When Biggie had taken the picture, he had captured a beautiful moment. Ashley was smirking, Helen openly laughing so much she cried and showed her dimples, and Henry, while trying to remain serious, had a side smile, ready to burst out laughing any moment. Helen brushed a thumb over her beloved daughter's printed image and fell back down on the bed, closing her eyes, and holding the frame against her abdomen, breathing in and out calmly.
Eventually, her pale voice cut through the heavy silence, when she whispered:
"Please. Please help me Ashley, one last time."
Will was positively surprised when his boss came into his office without requiring a massive hunting party to seek her out of her hiding place. He had set to work barely three hours before, trying to focus on something and forget about the upcoming difficulties of keeping Magnus in check. He desperately wanted to help her, but she had to be left alone for a while, to get used to the whole idea of having a baby again.
He was even more surprised to notice a shift in her mood. She had left her office three hours before, looking like a cat about to go and find some secluded place to die alone. Now she looked guiltily happy and excited. Three hours was too short a time to change so radically one's state of mind, especially in Magnus' present condition.
She leaned on the chair facing Will's desk, and stared at him in a way that reminded him too much of Tesla when he had a crazy idea to be a good sign. He raised an eyebrow.
"Thank you Will for your help, but I will need Henry's, not yours."
Will's mouth opened, then closed and opened again.
"I... I'm sorry?" He asked, failing to understand how Henry could help her in any way. Well, at least, she admitted she needed help, it was a good thing, right?
"Do you believe in destiny?" She wondered, tilting her head to the side.
Here was the good old Helen Magnus giving a lecture on the techniques of delaying the introduction of a terrible conclusion. She had done that to him a few times before- avoiding his questions, launching in a long explanation aimed at winning him over, usually only because he was too tired and confused to argue. He would have none of this.
"Magnus. Would you, once in your life, get straight to the point?"
She froze, and Will knew she had spent quite some time preparing her speech so that he would be gradually seduced by whatever opinion she had to express. Yet, one of their agreements when he had moved in was 'no more manipulation'. How fast she could forget that sometimes...
After nearly a minute thinking hard and hesitating, staring at her neatly cut nails, Helen decided to be honest.
"I believe life is giving me a new chance."
Okay, now she was using his own arguments. If she could reach that conclusion, on her own, in barely three hours whereas he had intended it to take a few weeks of cautious therapy... Then, perhaps she didn't need his help.
"This child will be safe here. You built a little piece of heaven. Your family will be happy, Magnus. I know it must be hard after what happened to Ashley, but you are a great mother figure, and you deserve to be happy, more than anyone here." Will said, meeting her gaze to see fresh tears forming in her greenish eyes.
She shook her head, smiling softly, and turned round, pacing back and forth around the room, as of looking for courage. At last, she stopped in front of the bookshelves in one of the corners of the room, her back to him. Will saw one of her hands running on the edges of his books. She was trying to hide the fact that her hands were shaking, but the psychologist saw her index finger quiver, and the woman shook her hand before hiding it in the pocket of her cardigan.
Will had long wished he was inside her head, to understand the way she thought, what she planned and how so. But not this time. She seemed fragile, almost broken. He waited. Pushing her to talk would only get her to lie or shy away. When she was finished examining the content of the shelves, she turned around to face Will, looking as if she was far away, lost in some place only she knew about.
"There's something I haven't told you. Or anyone else for that matter." She announced at last.
Only one? The young man thought bitterly, resisting the itch to voice his irony. He was his friend and psychologist at present, and acting like her subordinate would be the worst thing to do.
So he didn't react. He sighed almost inaudibly, and let her go on the way she wanted, or had to.
"I saved Ashley."
Will couldn't help it. His hands flew to his eyes, which he rubbed, wondering if immortality could really counter senility. This traumas was like a wave, coming back to break on the shore now and then. Maybe she needed to work more, focus on something so as not to think about Ashley. Maybe this baby wasn't such a good thing after all...
"Will. I'm serious. I've worked a lifetime on building this sanctuary, but I couldn't stand seeing my own daughter die a second time, so I also worked on a way to save her. When Ashley teleported herself, I was in the sanctuary, I messed with the EM shield and derived its energy into a Praxian device. Her consciousness is there, stored away in what could be compared to an external hard-drive."
If he hadn't already experienced downloading consciousnesses into a computer, the young man would have taken his boss for a mad woman. But actually, the puzzle seemed complete. They had looked for Ashley for days after the end of their war with the Cabal, but they had found no trace of her, nothing at all, not even a fluctuation in the EM shield. Henry had found it odd, but he had been unable to prove anything, and at the time, dealing with Helen's grief and their loss had been a top priority.
There was something else that bugged him, and this time, he voiced it:
"This whole nanite business and going inside of the system in Old City... You staged it, right? You wanted Tesla to help you understand how you could interact with Ashley's consciousness."
His tone betrayed his accusation, and yet, it fell flat, as Magnus smiled that special smile that meant he wasn't old enough to understand what was going on around him, but was on the way. God he hated this sufficient little smile.
"I will admit to a few manipulative tricks to get Nikola to suggest the idea of a little trip inside, though he didn't need much convincing. However, I had no idea the nanite was there, and I would never have caused a security breach for the sake of personal research. Call it an interesting coincidence. However, it gave me a few ideas."
Will was at a loss as to what was the link between the new baby and Ashley being trapped inside of a Praxian machine, but there had to be one somewhere, or she wouldn't have been suddenly opening herself about her big secret.
"Okay... Why didn't you tell us about Ashley?" He cut her short. Of course she was the mother, and that meant the world to her. Yet, Ashley had been Henry's sister figure, and she had been a friend to Will when he had been hired. Being left in the dark as to Ashley's survival was, to his mind, a new proof that trust was not Helen's forte.
She sighed and closed her eyes, and her protégé regretted his harsh tone. Obviously, it was more complex than only a question of trust. Helen Magnus was a sophisticated subject.
"I've tried to connect to the Praxian storage unit. I've tried countless times to access Ashley's consciousness. My plan was to download her consciousness into my own body, at least until we could find some other way to help her back into the physical world. But each time I tried to go in, something wouldn't let me connect. That is... I went inside the unit a dozen times, and I was rejected on every occasion. I would stay there only a couple of seconds before waking up in my office. I thought maybe I was wrong and Ashley wasn't there... Or that being two inside of one body is not an empirical possibility. I didn't want to give Henry's false hopes, mainly. I wanted to ask Nikola to take a look at the problem, but things have been- somewhat complicated." She narrated.
The young man was abashed at Helen's confession. They had been pretty close in their time, but this... Admitting she would have shared her body to save her daughter's soul... He rose and took her hands in his above the desk, squeezing them hard to help them stop shaking. He planted his gaze in hers.
"Magnus... You need to stop doing things on your own. For all we know, downloading Ashley's consciousness into your own body might have killed you. And that's the less painful thesis." He was pressing a point she certainly had thought through... He thought afterwards.
"I've lived secluded for one hundred and thirteen years, unable to open my heart to anyone for fear of changing the present. I lived through this century dreaming of my daughter's face, each and every night, knowing that I would one day live through the day of her death once again. I knew where it would happen, how old she would be... Damn it, Will, I could still see her restraining herself from killing me, the fear in her eyes... I don't care about the risks. Dying after such a long life is the last of my problems. Now that the Sanctuary is underground, now that I know my successor is able to take over my position, my death wouldn't change a thing. At best, I would have saved Ashley. At worst, I'd have died trying. And I might have talked to her again, one last time." She explained calmly.
Will felt his heart clench. He didn't feel ready to take over anything. Moreover, Magnus' death was something he had already experienced, and it wasn't something he was looking forward to see happening for real.
"So why now? Why are we talking about this now?" He asked, scratching the crackling varnish covering the mystery that was the Victorian woman's mind.
She disengaged a hand from his grip, placing it on her womb.
"Don't you see? Now, I don't have one, but two bodies. This baby I'm carrying would be a perfect vessel for Ashley's consciousness. I need all the help I can get to access the memory stored in the Praxian unit. I'm going to bring her back."
"How does Magnus want me to go over your interface? I don't understand a word of Praxian. I mean, what does that little... maple leaf, even mean?" Henry asked, vainly trying to manipulate the interface Tesla had modified. He extended his hand to turn a symbol, but hesitated and stopped, not wanting to do something that could ruin the genius' work, or kill them both, or get them killed by their boss.
Nikola smirked, still sitting in his brand new leather armchair.
"What do you say we chitchat for a few hours and then you go tell Helen the job is perfect? Have you tried your new Tesla-console yet?" Nikola wondered, playing with his silver corkscrew -a Christmas present from Helen, and his oldest possession.
Henry sighed, staring at the interface, feeling like a child lost in his older brother's homework.
"You can assure me this thing is gonna work, right? I don't wanna get in trouble with the doc."
Nikola's eyes rolled and he glared at Henry, who shrugged.
"Of course, great, what was I thinking?"
He took the chair facing Nikola's, and chose to answer his co-worker's previous question.
"I tried it, and it's impressive. I'd like to play more, but you know, between work and Erika... I have literally no time to geek anymore. And I really have to take classes in Praxian language. I feel so useless man!" He complained, hitting his head on the back of the chair, the palm of his hand on his forehead.
Nikola rose from his seat, grabbed a bottle of wine on his shelf, and uncorked it before showing it to his young friend, in a silent question to which he answered by shaking his head.
"Cut yourself some slack, young wolf, you're about to become a father." He said soothingly, pouring himself a glass.
"Yeah, you say that because with me out of the picture, you're free to work on whatever crazy and evil project you have in mind." He mocked.
Nikola pouted and shook his head.
"I said that because I care." He said, his tone betraying anger.
Henry froze, slightly scared. He had touched a sore spot, and Tesla getting all jumpy on stupid jokes was rather unusual. Was everyone pregnant around him?
"Wow, sorry dude... Do you- D'you want a hug?" He offered, not sure how to react to the vampire's sudden outburst.
The proposition made Tesla grimace. He did care, but not as much as to actually accept a hug from a mere student. He was about to explain he did not entirely despise him when Henry felt his cellphone buzz. His back arched in the armchair so that he could take the device from his pocket and looked at the screen.
"It's Will" He explained before taking the call.
Nikola could vaguely make out something about Henry being needed in Will's office, and he could hear some urgency in the young man's voice, but that was about it. The most fascinating part of the exchange was written on Henry's face- He looked uncomfortable. He obviously knew what the fuss was all about, and it didn't really look exciting. The 'old' man didn't let anything transpire, but he wondered if it had anything to do with the uneasiness he had felt that morning on the part of the rest of the team during the staff meeting. Something was clearly going on.
"I'll be there in a sec." Henry said before hooking up and jumping from his seat.
"I've gotta go. Something came up." He excused himself before leaving Tesla's lab, almost running.
"Hey! What about me?! Don't you need a genius?!" Nikola called after him, not moving from his cozy chair, only peeking out the door to see the hap turn around the corner.
"I guess huggybear needs help to clean his own mess before mommy comes home, then." He concluded when it was clear Henry would not answer.
"Henry... Please, I need your help."
Henry was appalled at what Helen had just told him, and frankly, he didn't know what would come first: throwing up or yelling at the mad woman in front of him. All he knew was that he was crying his heart out like a wee boy and he couldn't even seek refuge in his protector's arms because she needed help so much more than he did himself.
They were both sitting in Will's deserted office, on a couch that Henry felt grateful was there as he could feel his legs shake relentlessly.
He sniffed and shook his head, his jaws were so contracted they brought pain to his temples. Somehow, his hands had ended up trapped in Helen's, and he took them back, a bit more forcefully than he had intended. His throat was painful of all the sobbing, and he had to force himself to speak.
"No!" He choked. "Who the hell do you think you are? Frankenstein?!" He asked, his voice strangely high-pitched, like that of a wolf dying from a mortal wound and calling for help. Henry was fighting against his animal self.
His sudden rejection left Magnus in a state of shock. Her eyes wide open, she stared at Henry in silence, knowing she would not be able to utter an entire sentence if she opened her mouth to speak. Instead, she waited for him to explain himself. She had learned to let him pour his feelings out and answer only when he was empty of all his fuel.
He was a mess. Ashley's survival was a good thing, he guessed. But he had no idea what four years trapped inside of a computer could do to a human mind, and now the woman he admired the most wanted to play god and bring her back from the dead no matter the risks, whereas he was done mourning. If they lost her a second time, they would certainly both go insane with grief.
"You don't even realize what you're suggesting... Are you?" He assumed, staring at his own hands in his lap.
She was far from stupid, and he knew that she had to have taken this decision on mere impulse. Had she thought it through, she would have seen how ridiculous, impossible and horrible her plan was. Such an impulsive move had Henry worried for her sanity.
Helen's lips quivered, and she couldn't look at Henry's distress anymore, so her eyes focused on her empty hands instead, and she suddenly felt a pang of anxiety when she realized how cold they were after Henry's warm ones had left them. She clutched the fabric of her skirt in an intent to comfort herself.
"I just want my daughter back." She whispered, pain showing all over her face.
"I get it, doc. I really do. I miss Ashley a lot, and if I could bring her safely back home to us, of course I would. But what you're suggesting is crushing a baby's mind to replace it with Ashley's possibly damaged personality... If you don't care about this child or its father, then at least think about Ash'."
That caught Helen's attention, and she glanced back at that boy she had taken care of for nearly three decades. He had just said she was being egoistic, and it hurt. How could he say such a thing when all she was thinking about was her little girl, the apple of her eye?
Henry didn't need to be a psychologist to know she was simply ignoring any of the problems that could come with her ideal solution to bring Ashley back. She was beyond desperate.
His best chance of talking some sense into her was certainly to explain how Ashley would see the matter.
Helen Magnus was a broken woman, and he had failed to see it before. He scratched the back of his neck, breathing out loudly to fight back a sob.
"Have you imagined how Ashley would feel, living in another body with her adult mind trapped inside of a baby's body? And what if the baby is a boy? Have you even checked its sex? I know for a fact Ash' loved her female body. And I'm only raising the questions that could come with a successful transfer, admitting that a fetus' brain could contain a fully-grown mind. That's a desperate move, and you should seriously think it through before killing both of your children. I'm out of this, doc. I'm sorry, I wouldn't be able to look at myself in a mirror after that." Henry argued, before he stopped abruptly, drying his own tears and trying to regulate his shallow breathing- failing miserably to do so.
Helen's heart sank. Henry was probably right. She had not considered anything besides her own desire to hold her daughter against her bosom once again and tell her she loved her more than anything. She bit her lip and dried her nose with the back of her hand, sniffing, vainly trying not to cry again.
She was slowly coming to realize that her decision impacted more lives than only hers. And she didn't like that.
She was about to concede that point when Henry broke out, this time calmly:
"The only reason I'm still alive today is because you took me in on the base that everyone has the right to live and deserves to be protected. You've raised me to think the same and you offered me the opportunity to join you in this work you devoted your life to. Sanctuary for all. That's more than your work. That's your dream. Why would your own child be unworthy of this dream?"
That was the final blow. Helen was defeated by her own mantra. She blinked, biting the inside of her cheeks hard, staring at Henry's face. Her small boy was all grown up, and he was an amazing young man, taking after Biggie's values. Fresh tears were again rolling on her cheeks, but she was unable to move to brush them away. She was transfixed by Henry's words.
The young man sighed when he saw her break under his careful arguments. It was hard to see her in such a state, and he felt guilty. Ashley had been an expert in playing with her nerves, but he had never dared try. He respected and admired her too much.
He didn't think twice: He opened his arms and pulled her to him, sheltering her against life and that awful grief that would probably always be lingering around her. She gripped his shoulders and closed her eyes, her face buried in his strong neck while he patted her back soothingly, one hand in her hair, hiding her from the world. She was so frail that his body seemed to absorb her completely, shielding her. She stayed there, her body shaking violently, her nerves relaxing in Henry's embrace. Her baby was the only remaining solution to Ashley's resurrection, but she was suddenly aware that to the risk of losing both Ashley and the baby, she had to add losing Henry's -and certainly not only his- love. There was no way she could live with that.
"Thank you, Henry..." She whispered, half kissing his neck.
The young man didn't say anything. Learning that Ashley was partly alive was every bit as shocking as knowing that he was not hugging one, but two bodies and souls there, in Will's office. He only wished he was sure to have convinced her to leave Ashley in peace.
Nikola Tesla seldom bothered himself with boredom. His mind was at work twenty-two hours a day, regardless of his mood. That night, he had indulged himself with a break, sitting in the window seat in his bedroom, reading a collection of French poetry he had found in the library.
Hell! Who was he kidding? It was not a break for the sake of reading; he was trying to divert his attention from that strange nagging feeling, keeping his inventions at bay.
He threw the open book away, aiming at the coffee table when it was clear he was reading mechanically without understanding a single word. He missed. The heavy leather bound book fell onto the floor in a rustle of paper announcing that Helen would kill him if she ever came to the conclusion he was responsible for the severe damages to the undoubtedly antique book.
He didn't move from his seat to collect it. Instead, he reclined in the comfort of the sofa-like surface and closed his eyes. He craved the comforting sound of thunder and rain, the power of natural elements, untamed by those proud humans.
In a nutshell, he wished for an environment over which the almighty Helen Magnus had no such authority as the almighty-er Mother Nature.
Waves... His brain suddenly came up with a vivid replica of the sound of waves breaking on the pillars of Brooklyn Bridge on that awful night of April, 15th, 1912. He had developed a severe case of hydrophobia after the sinking of the Titanic, and he didn't like what he felt now. He was feeling exactly the same way than when he had learned that, despite his efforts in getting Helen to change her mind about boarding the unsinkable ship, she had ignored his apprehensions, judging that he was being way too distrustful of inventions which were not his own.
The genius was used to being alone. That was not something that scared him much. Yet, he had never felt alone before, knowing his long time friend would be there to have his back whenever he needed it. However, when the telegram had reached his hotel, uselessly confirming his visceral knowledge of the catastrophe, Nikola had felt alone in the world, an orphan who wasn't sure he would ever see that pleasant mind, gifted soul and passionate body that was Helen Magnus.
In his agony, he had dragged his heaving body, heavy heart and buzzing ears along the Hudson river, following it to its mouth, where he had seen the sun rise on the beach and contemplated his own immortality. He had felt sick with anguish, absolutely powerless while Helen was at best already dead, and at worst about to die, freezing somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. There was nothing he could have done, and yet, he had taken his clothes off and gone swimming till exhaustion. In the sweet morning light, he had seen an angel walk to him, her long blond curls swept by the ocean wind. She was Botticelli's Venus, though lacking her modesty. He had to be dead. He didn't believe in ghosts. And yet, there was no mistaking those salty lips, mysterious smile and watery eyes.
"You should have gone to Vienna." He had stated later, naked and covered in sand.
"Why Vienna?" She had asked, shifting their position so that her leg would cover his middle.
"It's beautiful this time of the year."
She had playfully avoided his kiss.
"Careful Nikola, Vienna in springtime sounds awfully good. I might hold you to it, one day."
He had dreamed of Vienna, and her aristocratic airs. He had dreamed of Helen, and her noble profile.
When he had woken up, who knows how long after that, he had been naked, covered in sand, and alone, feeling as if he had lost Helen twice.
"HELEN RESCUED. STOP. WILL BE IN NEW YORK IN 3 DAYS ON BOARD OF THE CARPATHIA. STOP."
Upon his return to his hotel, the butler had informed him that a certain Dr. Watson had sent him a telegram.
And she, Helen, or at least her shadow, was there at the door.
Three days. That's how long he had spent on the beach, in her, in the water, in her arms, he didn't know. Maybe he had been unconscious.
She was there, and yet, he felt he had never been so far away from her.
He opened his eyes.
Something was clearly wrong. First, he never practiced self-hypnosis to re-live his past. He didn't need to. Why was he so lost when everything about those three days was so clear now? He had dismissed the reality of that dream on the beach as soon as he had read James' telegram. How could it be real when she had been on the Carpathia all the while? He had buried the promise of a lovers' escapade in Vienna deep inside him until learning that Helen had traveled back in time... She remembered. She remembered enough to have the decency to blush. That only served to boost his ego.
He was hot, far too hot, and he had to take off his tie precipitately, suddenly sweating and struggling to breathe. That was not normal. He was a cold-blooded creature who could run a marathon and still feel cold to the touch. His heart was beating erratically, his hands were shaking, but in the middle of his suffocation, he knew the problem was not internal. His ears were buzzing, and when he jumped to his feet, his vision blurred, his head spun violently, and he thought he was about to collapse... Which he did, but not before reaching the door. He cursed Helen for giving him the farthest room from hers. He couldn't tell how he knew, but he sensed it. Something was happening to her. A vampire was a creature of instinct, and his instincts prevailed. Had he been in his right mind, he would have laughed at himself for thinking he could feel what Helen was experiencing; after all, he was a vampire, not a medium.
He opened the door, focusing on his breathing, and felt his way to the elevator, unable to see anything. That was something he couldn't understand either: he was blind, he was fully vamped-out, and he heard voices coming from... His head. Why are you doing this to me? He entered the elevator and opened his mouth to ask the voice control to take him up two floors, but his throat was so contracted and his mouth so dry that he had to try a few times, leaning on the wall, his talons leaving scratch marks on the surface of the elevator cage. Why are you doing this to me? A female voice... A familiar one. Helen? No. Not English enough... Think about me! She was desperate, and though Nikola wasn't sure he knew her, he felt the need to soothe her anguish.
He heard a gasp, Helen's, and he felt his lungs fill with air. All of a sudden, all was quiet. His heart was back to a normal rhythm, he wasn't sweating anymore. And when he opened his eyes, he was seeing again.
The doors of the elevator opened, and he hesitated. It seemed ridiculous to go and knock on Helen's door for such a foolish reason. On the other hand, he needed to be sure she was okay. He certainly wasn't.
A day spent with Henry had done some good to Helen. They had not spent any quality time together in ages. More than 113 years to Helen's careful calculations. And she had missed it. She had always thought that as long as Biggie was around to raise Henry, she could be excused for being an absent mother, not thinking it would impair his development. And now that he had Erika, and a baby on the way, she had somehow felt she was no longer needed.
Truth was, she had learned from her own experience that moving forward without your mentor's guidance was a hardship that was best to be avoided as long as possible. Henry needed her to recover from Biggie's death, she was his rock.
And as hard as it was for a control freak like her to admit it, she needed him too. All pride aside, she needed every member of her team. She didn't have to ask for Will's expertise to recognize she had reached a severe state of depression. She was exhausted, she doubted herself rather frequently, she had trouble focusing on paperwork, and her self-esteem was so down that she didn't deem it necessary to repair her everlasting friendship with Nikola, missing him like hell but thinking he was better off without her anyway. As for desire, lust, she had none. And that alone should have alarmed her sooner.
She had tried to take matters into her own hands, licking her wounds alone in the dark, away from her friends. But after that day, she had acquired a new perspective on the whole mess. Maybe she could mend the team and herself at the same time. For once, her sanctuary's motto would be all for one instead of one for all. Through collaborating to help her get back on her feet, the team would be even more solid than before.
Helen would take one step at a time. She had no idea what her future with this baby would be like, and it terrified her. Nevertheless, she still had about five months to prepare for it and she would make the most of that time. She intended to follow Will's therapy, be more of a mother to Henry, share her burdens so that they wouldn't crush her and... Yes, she really needed to make the first move towards Nikola to try and establish a new trusting relationship.
Yet, if she wanted to accomplish anything, she had to see Ashley first. She couldn't bring herself to simply leave her be in her virtual world. She wouldn't sacrifice any of her children, poor innocent creatures, fruits of her sinful experiments. This new invention inside of her had the right to see the light. And so had Ashley. Helen couldn't resolve herself to leave that Praxian engine alone, knowing that her daughter might want her to do something.
That's how the moonlight found Helen that night when it glowed through the window to caress her pale skin in the darkness of her bedroom- decided. She had developed an habit of lying on her bed with the Praxian hard-drive next to her, or resting on her stomach, or in her manicured hands. It was a brown square box made of a pretty light alloy unknown to the surface but commonly used in Praxis. It was beautifully carved to let its inside show- an intricate system she had yet to crack, made of some material that really looked like glass, although she doubted very much it was indeed glass. Its dark blue color was soothing to look at though. Had Helen been certain Ashley was dead, she would have thought that device made for a beautiful urn.
That night, when her fingers touched it to get it out of her treasure chest, the artifact lit itself up, glowing blue like a soft nursery light. She frowned. She didn't know it could do such a thing. She sat on her bed and took a close look at the device before setting it on the nightstand. As soon as her fingers got away from it, the darkness fell on her again. She swallowed hard. She didn't have to rack her brain to find a plausible explanation- The baby had some control over the Praxian hard-drive. Either its abilities developed with its body, or, as she had been oblivious to her pregnancy, they had remained dormant so as not to betray the fetus' presence.
"You must be kidding me..." She sighed, shaking her head softly.
Those abilities would for sure be a problem on the long run, but if the baby was so powerful, maybe they could both get into the device and stay longer than a few seconds. She had to try it. It could be her only chance of ever getting to talk to Ashley.
It took her a couple of minutes to plug the material and get comfortable on the bed. She was used to traveling inside of computers by now.
Before she closed her eyes to plunge into the virtual world, she put a hand on her belly. She wanted to whisper a few supporting words to explain what she expected from the fetus and get it to cooperate, but she felt it was ridiculous, so she said nothing.
When she closed her eyes at last, feeling a mix of anxiousness and apprehension, she heard the sound of waves. That was probably a good sign, although she couldn't understand why Ashley's mind would pick an oceanic type of environment for itself. Helen focused on her own breathing without realizing it, something she did unconsciously every time she was near an important source of water.
"Ashley?" She asked tentatively.
When no one answered, she opened her eyes. She was on a beach, the sun was rising, and she felt very cold and naked. It all seemed oddly familiar, but she couldn't quite say why. She tried to call out for her daughter again, but she found she had no power over her own body, or its virtual equivalent to be precise. She felt a surge of panic when she saw a wave roll closer and closer toward her whereas she couldn't move to get away from it. She couldn't even close her eyes to try and erase the thought. She was awfully sad but she didn't know why. The wave stopped its course mere inches from her face, and in a flash, she found herself on a bridge. Brooklyn bridge. She was crying and the wind was blowing her tears away. She was feeling helpless. The beach again, in a flash. A succession of images assailed her, images that she did not have time to analyze, even though she felt things.
Sadness, guilt, powerlessness, surprise, love, arousal, despair, loss, a lot of loss, more loss.
"Well, I've been waiting for you. You look terrible." Long blond curls and smug smile.
"You look terrible too. But still better than what I feared." relief found in familiar banter. A shared look, silent agreement about not crying for what could have happened. Longing. Fighting the urge to hug the damn woman.
Vertigo, cold, Venus, Titanic, HELEN RESCUED. STOP. WILL BE IN NEW YORK IN 3 DAYS ON BOARD OF THE CARPATHIA. STOP. Grains of sand playing around in the less convenient of places, pale moon, the smell of seaweeds and newlyweds. A shiver, soft skin waiting to be kissed, a silent 'O' painted on a beloved face triggering a spiral of pleasure, a muffled groan and...hunger. Hunger for something special...
It came as a flash when she saw herself, naked on the beach. Vienna in springtime. She was Nikola... Well, not exactly of course. But she was in his memories. She could feel what he had felt during those three days between the sinking of the Titanic and the arrival of the Carpathia. It was a strange thing, being there in his shoes- or lack of them as it turned out, while a version of herself was lost in the Atlantic ocean and the other was trying to contain a chuckle, naked and cold (she remembered being cold even in the midst of their lovemaking), barely two feet away from herself...Himself... Oi, that was a very bad trip. She felt the urge to touch her stomach, and Nikola's hand flew to her other self's flat tummy. Helen was appalled. She wanted to wake up. It was the worst nightmare she had ever been through.
At least that was what she thought.
But it got worse when she heard, or rather when Nikola heard-for it was way too loud to be her normal hearing- a crack she knew by heart. She or he or even they turned just in time to see the last reddish flutters of light flying around. She had expected to see John there, freshly arrived from hell. But no. Another Nikola was there. Not as young as he had been in 1912, but just as desperate. He was fully vamped-out, and Helen felt the need to protect her exposed body from his sight... Which resulted in Nikola's hands covering Venus' nudity. Helen wanted to slap herself. That was preposterous.
"When were you going to tell me, Helen?" The vampire asked, his black eyes set on his younger self.
Helen wanted to cry. She felt exposed, betrayed, and she didn't know if what she felt were her own feelings or Nikola's old feelings. Could feelings fade in time just like memories? Because everything was as vivid as her present-reality.
"You know what's funny? You want to bring Ashley back using a vampire... Between your dear daughter and a powerful sanguine vampiris, who do you think is going to survive the transfer?" He asked, a fist on his waist while his other hand was on his face, emphasizing his question.
She shook her head.
"No, no you don't understand!" She tried. She couldn't go further as she suffocated.
Nikola smiled wickedly and she regretted not being able to shoot him.
"The more you try to come here, the faster you kill her."
Her? Ashley? She couldn't understand anything beside the fact that she would die if she couldn't breathe, now.
Suddenly, Nikola fell to his knees, and transported himself in a loud crack again. Helen breathed in, and out, before he came back, in the same state as herself.
"Why are you doing this to me?" He yelled, looking distressed, gazing at something only him could see.
Helen couldn't breathe. It was as if Nikola was holding her throat, and someone was holding his...
She felt a hand touch her shoulder, and realized the hand belonged to her own self... the one from Nikola's memories, the one she/he/they had just made love to, albeit in a flash. Just then, the agonizing vampire turned to them and stared intently at her younger self.
"Why are you doing this to me?"
Helen felt torn between running away from the man who was frankly scary as hell and running to him to shield him from whatever it was that hurt him so much. She couldn't do any of those. She was still suffocating. So she stared at that Nikola, the one she had created, fragile, vulnerable, broken. Just like herself.
Then everything started to blur again, and all she could see was Nikola's eyes, human again, not really his either.
"Think about me."
This time, she closed her eyes, and everything was quiet again. She gasped for air and was glad to feel her lungs being filled.
She was on her bed again, and despite being dressed, she still felt the coldness of the Atlantic wind bite into her flesh. She threw away the patches connecting her to the hard-drive in a hurry to get rid of the connection, and sat up before bursting into tears. How could Nikola interact with her through the device? It didn't make sense. And she didn't really think it through, she was too shaken to think about rationality. That little trip inside of Nikola's memory had been a traumatic experience, both because of what he had felt during those three days not knowing where she was and whether she was alive, and because it was all so unnatural, confusing, and malicious. Everything had been so intense... She felt a shiver run down her spine when she realized the depth of Nikola feelings. She had always thought he was way more sensitive than what he let on, but she had never imagined he was living by a whole different dimension of sensitivity that was his own. Sharing that secret had left her tired. Tired and remorseful. She felt a strange but acute sense of guilt for having unwillingly invaded Nikola's memories and feelings, his own secret garden. Helen wanted to forget about it all. Especially that weird experience of worshiping herself through her oldest friend's intermediary.
She was trying to control the flow of her tears when there was a knock on the door. She fell completely silent, hoping whoever was behind the door would go back to sleep and leave her to calm herself down. But a few seconds later, there came an insistent knock again.
She froze. After that little trip in Tesla's head, she could not only detect but also feel the concern in his voice. She wanted to ignore him, but he would not go away. Nikola worrying for her was the worst kind of Nikola. Helen thought for a second. She didn't really have a choice. She could either ignore him and he would probably come up with a way to force the door open to check on her, or go to the door and see why he was asking for her in the middle of the night. She sighed. If any of the children had told him about her pregnancy, she would kill them all.
"Give me a second." She said. She didn't shout. She knew he could hear her every move.
She dried her tears, left the bed, hid the Praxian device and all her traveling-inside-of-virtual-worlds paraphernalia in her nightstand and covered herself with her favorite robe to go to the door, which opened to let Helen see her night-visitor.
To her utmost surprise, he didn't look any better than she did. If she didn't know him better, she would have thought he had run a marathon. He looked exhausted and afraid, and suddenly the brunette wanted to pat his back and kiss his face to try and make whatever bugged him go away.
Yet, she didn't move. She eyed him coldly instead.
"What's going on, Nikola?" She asked, trying to mask the anxiety that was gnawing at her.
He eyed her as if counting her bones to be sure she wasn't missing one, and closed his eyes for a split second, and Helen raised an eyebrow. He was worried about her health...
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
When their gaze locked, Helen knew instantly that whatever had happened to the genius was not a coincidence. She stepped aside to let him come in.
"Try me." She said, inviting him inside.
"Helen, you can't lie to me. That thing-whatever it is-happened to you too. You look terrible, by the way." Nikola concluded, stopping his pacing of the room to look at Helen, sitting on the edge of her bed, trying her best to keep a neutral expression. He was right. She could not lie to him. She was shocked to learn that her friend had experienced the same induced dream, she had no idea how it was possible, but it convinced her to leave the hard-drive be for a while. She had no wish to kill the whole Tesla family only for the sake of trying to get a few seconds with Ashley- or whatever was left of her. If anything.
She stared at the base of his neck, suddenly understanding what was so odd about his appearance- He wasn't wearing a tie and the first button of his shirt was missing.
"You're right. Somehow I ended up inside of your memories." She shuddered. "I don't know how." She said, omitting to mention the Praxian hard-drive, Ashley, her current pregnancy and everything that could show how vulnerable she was.
"You don't know how." Nikola repeated, not believing a word of that statement. Nothing happened randomly, and for once, he couldn't be held accountable for any of it.
His skeptical look burned Helen. She needed to gain time. She sighed.
"I'm not sure how it happened."
Nikola crossed his arms on his chest. He had never liked extracting information from Helen. She was always so cryptic.
"Care to share your theory with the class?" He asked, rolling his eyes.
"I'd love some tea. Fancy some wine?" She asked back, rising to her feet, trying to avoid his gaze.
He caught her elbow as she was walking past him toward the door.
"Helen." He growled.
She stared at his hand on her and bit the inside of her cheek, trying to swallow back a few tears that were quickly making their way to the corner of her eyes. His sudden and unexpected touch invoked painful images to her mind and she was about to shove his hand away when he let her go as abruptly as if he had burned his fingers. Nikola could smell a mix of uneasiness, fear and anger emanating from Helen. It was a smell that belonged to a prey trapped in a cul-de-sac, and he felt hurt about being the one to provoke such a reaction. He nodded.
"Let's get you some tea. Would you happen to have some of that Chateau Latour left from diner? You owe me at least that if you're not going to tell me about what is going on."
It came out as more bitter than it was supposed to and Nikola winced. When had bitterness become such an essential part of his DNA? He knew Helen well enough to know he wouldn't obtain any confession from her in her current state. Pressuring her wouldn't change that. At best he would get shot.
Helen sighed and opened the door.
"If you haven't drunk the whole bottle, there should be some left in the kitchen."
He followed her to the kitchen. Strangely enough, he didn't open his mouth on their way to the elevator. Yet, whereas Helen should have been relieved not to be asked more questions than she was ready to answer, the silence was full of even more questions. She felt Nikola's gaze on her, analyzing her body language. She missed his constant ogling, which was, she now found, more enjoyable than his careful scrutiny. Helen Magnus was ill at ease.
Sure enough, Nikola was staring at her. However, he was not exactly studying her. He was actually absentmindedly breathing her in. There was that strange and intoxicating scent emanating from her again. Of course he would try to decode her behavior, always, but they had so rarely spent time together in the past four months that he wanted nothing more than to enjoy the moment. Keeping relatively silent would probably be the best way to avoid ruining the magic.
She turned to face him after asking the elevator to take them to the first floor.
"Nikola..." She trailed off when he raised a hand, as slowly as he could so as not to scare her, stopping her before she could go on with her line of thoughts.
"I know. Helen. You'll talk to me after the die is cast." He summed up, this time succeeding in remaining calm, civil, his tone not blaming his old friend for her silence, and so he took a second to mentally congratulate himself. Then, seeing that Helen's gaze was full of guilt, and that she was about to try and justify herself, he went on:
"I'm okay with that as long as whatever it is you're planning doesn't involve blowing up things." He concluded, trying to inject a small dose of humor into his speech to make it sound less solemn.
It might not have been the best line in the century, judging from how Helen closed her eyes for a second and swallowed hard, obviously hurt by his new reference to the painful memory of destroying her house.
She opened her eyes again and Nikola could detect some apprehension somewhere between the blue and the green parts of her irises.
"I promise I will tell you everything. Just give me a few days, will you?"
For a moment, time seemed like a notion that didn't apply to them, and truly enough, you could have argued it was true. They stared at each other while the elevator was waiting for them to leave its protective shell. Nikola was transfixed by the despair clearly displayed on Helen's face. She counted on him, and somehow, he got the feeling that she wanted to tell him what was going on, but she was not ready yet. She obviously needed his help with whatever was going on, and the first thing he could do was to respect her need for time.
Obtaining a promise from her was rare, and it was a true call for trust, the trust they both had lost.
The genius felt a tingle of electricity run through his blood, reminding him of how lonely and miserable he was without her friendship.
"You're giving me a few days to figure it out and demonstrate my genius. You must surely know I'm bored without a good challenge." He said, squinting playfully.
This time, the shadow of a smile danced on Helen's pale face, echoed on Nikola's. The vampire felt he had earned a point towards reconciliation, and he felt lighter. He would try and give her a few days. By the look in her eyes, she was feeling the same way about their friendship. They could stay away from each other for decades, but they would never be able to ignore each other while living in the same building. Co-workers only was not a viable policy.
"Now we should really get out of this elevator before it gets suspicious." Nikola blurted out, showing the way out without tearing his gaze away from Helen's eyes.
His heart skipped a beat when he realized what he had said, but she didn't move to take a gun out of some hidden pocket or holster, didn't slap him... She actually didn't even roll her eyes. She simply turned to the doors and led the way out of the elevator and into the kitchen facing it.
Yet, her impassive gait didn't fool the vampire, who had had just enough time to notice her cheekbones turn a faint pinkish hue before she had turned away from him. Charmed Georgian pink, even better than outraged Victorian crimson, he thought, following Helen, a smug smile firmly glued to his lips.
Helen needed to keep her hands busy. Rising up from being a woman in a patriarchal society to being a respected and powerful leader had required some work, and she had developed quite impressive acting skills. It all came down to three things: occupy all the available space on stage, never look down to the ground, and feel your text from head to toes. That would convince any kind of audience. If she was going to make tea, she was going to put her whole body to that sole task, therefore it would not betray any of her secrets to Nikola's scrutiny.
She took her old-fashioned -and oh so British- kettle from her assigned cupboard and filled it with water from the tap before placing it on the brand new induction plate, completely ignoring Nikola who busied himself looking for his bottle of wine. Helen eyed her beloved box of jasmine tea, wrinkled her nose and chose sencha tea instead. Nikola didn't find the Château Latour where it should have been -in his own cupboard- and proceeded to a proper search of the employees cupboards. When Helen had finally filled her tea infuser, and fixed it to her finest china cup, the desperate vampire was considering opening the fridge- Which he did. When he saw the nearly empty bottle of his precious wine neatly aligned with the numerous bottles of coke and orange juice in the door of the fridge, he thought he was having a stroke. He took the sweating cold bottle out and rolled his eyes.
"Sacrilege." He muttered, slamming the door of the fridge shut while Helen was tiptoeing to get some biscuits from the top shelf of her cupboard. She turned to see what the matter was when, at last, she had a couple of vanilla wafers in hand.
She had to bite back a chuckle when she saw Nikola standing there, brandishing that ice cold bottle of red wine and looking positively pissed off.
"Have you never taught Heinrich not to put a bottle of red wine in a fridge?" He asked, wrinkling his nose and showing his teeth in sheer disgust.
Helen shrugged and went back to the cooker where the kettle was whistling.
"I didn't train him to become my sommelier." She retorted.
Nikola sighed and abandoned the bottle on the kitchen counter. He wouldn't go as far as to drink that wine.
"It's not about professional worth, Helen. It's about personal fulfillment."
She chewed on her lower lip to keep from laughing at loud. God, how could he be so annoying and entertaining at the same time? She didn't know, but it sure did wonders to her mental health.
"I'm sure Henry will be more than glad to benefit from your extensive knowledge of fermented grapes." She joked, pouring the water, her back to the sulking vampire who took a small bag of blood from the fridge and a wine glass before sitting down on one of the chairs around the familial table.
"Let's hope it's not too late for him." He approved before sinking his teeth into the bag to pierce the plastic before filling his glass with fresh antelope blood.
Drinking directly from the bag was a good show for the children, but he did prefer the refined way, especially when he was eating in front of Helen. And that way, he could talk.
"How was it anyway?" He asked when his glass was full and the bag abandoned next to him.
Helen raised an eyebrow at him while taking a tea spoon out of a drawer to stir her tea.
"How was what?"
Their gaze locked once again.
"Being inside of my genius brain."
Helen blinked and looked at her perfectly prepared cup of tea. Her hand was not touching the spoon, and yet it was spinning around the cup like the needle of a compass. She opened her mouth, stupefied, but said nothing. She stopped the spoon by catching it between her fingers and deposited it on the counter, mentally chastising the baby magnet that was tricking her.
"It was... Awkward." She finally answered, acting as if nothing had happened.
She took her tray, and made her way to the table, sitting face to face with Nikola.
"You've been through one of the greatest minds of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first century combined and your only word to qualify the experience is 'awkward'. Helen, you can be so disappointing." Nikola said, toasting her silently before sipping the content of his glass.
Helen stared at the tea in her cup. What she, or they, had lived was far too intimate to put words on.
"Nikola... It was overwhelming. If I could have picked the memories I wanted to explore, I would have avoided 1912 altogether." She explained, breaking a wafer in two.
"Granted. I never asked you- How did you find me on the beach?"
She stared at the red liquid in Nikola's glass and wondered, just for a second, how it tasted. It surely had some iron taste, just like her own blood.
"I remembered how terrible you looked when you came back to your room at the hotel. You tried to hide it from me but I knew how you felt. I felt guilty for making fun of your prediction. So when I came back in time and 1912 finally came around... I couldn't stay away. I followed you from the minute you left your hotel. I missed you and you were worried sick. I couldn't tell you a damn thing but I could try something." She explained before sipping her tea.
"I have to say I'm impressed. Until you told me you'd been back in time, I had never suspected you were really there." Nikola admitted, playing with his glass.
Helen stared at his long fingers. She had been proud of her little trick for a long time. Now that she had experienced his sense of loss at waking up alone on the beach, she was sorry.
"And yet deep inside, you felt it was really me."
She remembered that from his memories- While he thought their tryst on the beach was all a vision his mind had created, he had marveled at how different her body looked and felt. His visions were always ferociously accurate, he would never have imagined her with those wide hips and small love-handles he had loved to caress. But the vision was still Helen. She sounded like her, smelled like her, tasted like her.
"I trusted you. Whichever version of you." Nikola confirmed.
Trust. It seemed like everything always came down to trust between the two of them. Helen rose from her seat, collecting her teacup to put it in the sink.
"It's late. I should go back to bed. Goodnight, Nikola." She whispered. She was too exhausted to have a serious discussion about trust.
Nikola emptied his glass, not moving away from the table.
"Sleep tight, Helen."
One last look at Nikola and the brunette was out and alone -almost alone- trying to forget about her problems for the night.
'Strange', 'oogly boogly', 'creepy', 'weird', were adjectives that Helen Magnus had come to know in an intimate kind of way. She flirted with strangeness, protected creepiness, tracked down oogly boogliness and slept with weirdos. And she did not only live with these adjectives- she experimented them quite often too. Her body and mind had been a test field for a good number of more or less legal drugs with more or less known effects and side effects, all weirder than the one she had tested before. She had been the host to quite a few parasitic abnormals, some having total or partial control of her.
To make things short, to Helen's mind, the real monsters crawling under your bed were made of normality. And it did scare her.
What was happening inside of her was absolutely normal and yet very strange. She didn't know what to think of it. Dawn was coming in from the open window of her bedroom when Helen had finally dozed off for a nap. She had gone to bed immediately after her chat with Nikola, but once abandoned to the comfort of her pillows and clean crisp sheets, it had started. Her body had suddenly decided to accept the undeniable truth: she was pregnant. From then on, she had felt the baby move. Dr. Magnus knew precisely what was going on- for sixteen weeks, her uterus had been expanding upwards, the fetus developing in a sitting position. Now that her brain knew she was pregnant, her abdominal wall was relaxing, giving her uterus its normal space... She had gone to bed skinny and frail, and she would rise today as a sixteen week pregnant woman with a small round belly.
Helen opened her eyes slowly. When she saw the large bay window only hidden by her linen curtains, her heart clenched. She was in her new sanctuary, pregnant. Pregnant with Nikola's baby, not Ashey, as she had dreamed during her fifty minute nap. She sighed, yawned, stretched her legs under the cover and felt her toes crack. Once she was stretched, she sat up, and threw the cover aside, revealing the small bump that had appeared overnight. She got out of bed, got rid of her silky pajamas that she threw on the armchair next to her old Victorian canopy bed (modernizing the furniture was one thing, but she couldn't imagine her bedroom without one of those), and went straight to the mirror. The rosy light of early morning didn't enable her to distinguish the details of her body, but her silhouette was enough to have her marvel at how different she looked now. It felt strange, looking at someone you don't recognize, knowing this distorted image to be yourself. Something had happened to her hair- She had not noticed it before, but it had grown so long that she couldn't see her breasts under the mass of uncontrolled curls. She frowned; that was more than weird considering it had taken her almost twenty years to grow out of the boyish bob she had had the bad idea to adopt in the early twenties. He hair had somehow grown a bit faster after she had been killed and revived in Praxis, but it hadn't last long; three or four years only. She looked down at her hands. Her nails were not as long as Nikola's talons, but they certainly were far from acceptable. Helen panicked. That couldn't be right.
She moved her suddenly heavier body to the nightstand, switched the lamp on, and turned to the mirror again.
"Bloody hell." She sighed.
The small bump and the heartburn were not the only things that her brain had unleashed on her body that night... She closed her eyes, focused on her breathing, and calmed down. She would need a razor, hair dye, nail-clippers and nail-polish. She glanced at her alarm clock. It was nearly six. She had two hours to make herself presentable and find something to wear before her appointment with Will.
"If you wish to kill me, at least make it quick for your crazy old mother." She said, looking down at her stomach. Her only consolation came from thinking she had avoided spending the first three months of her pregnancy walking around with a basin.
Around the same time, down the hallway:
"Who do you think the father is?" Erika asked, still in bed, when Henry finally came out of the bathroom, drying his hair with a towel.
He had not had any coffee yet, and so it took him a few seconds to get that she was referring to Magnus junior. He came to sit next to his pregnant fiancée and put his socks on.
"I don't think we'll ever know. I mean... She considered killing the baby. I don't think she loves the father all that much. Either that or she won't see him again." He concluded, patting Erika's knee, lost in thoughts. No wonder Magnus was distressed. Raising yet another child alone was probably not on her agenda.
"Is she always so secretive about her love-life?" The young woman asked, closing her book, more interested in Magnus' life than in the last Stephen King.
Henry leaned back on her legs and gazed at her lovingly.
"She doesn't talk about it...That is... Unless you actually walk in on her. Which is totally awkward." He winced. He had obviously been traumatized by such a situation before, and it made Erika burst out laughing.
"Hey, it's not funny!" He protested, blushing slightly.
"Come on Henry, you're a grown up man, you don't have to be so embarrassed." Erika said, shoving him with her knee.
"Yeah, precisely. I was not a grown up the first time." He admitted, half hiding behind his towel.
Erika bit on her lip. Her poor boyfriend felt genuinely awkward, but it was hilarious. And it was strange to imagine Magnus caught with a man by a young version of Henry.
"The first time? How many times did it happen?" She asked, giggling.
Henry sighed, and decided to come back to bed, knowing Erika wouldn't let him go before getting all the details. He placed a hand on Erika's belly.
"Please Alistair, don't listen to daddy, okay?"
Erika giggled again.
"He or she is sleeping."
Henry fluffed up his pillow and settled next to Erika.
"Okay. Let's talk about unpleasant memories. I was about eight the first time. There was a storm outside, and I was terrified. So I tiptoe to Magnus' room, and I hear her sobbing... Which gets me even more terrified. So I open the door slowly, and there she is, naked and crying on a very old man, and I must have made a noise because she turns her head and looks embarrassed, and so I close the door and go back to my room because it feels wrong to see the doc in that state." He explained calmly, as if he was in his old room, trying to figure out just what he had seen.
Erika had stopped laughing. That was not the kind of funny gossip she was expecting at all...
"She was... Crying?" She asked, frowning.
Henry looked at her in the eyes, and she knew he would remember that moment until he died.
"Yeah. She crept into my room a while later and sat down next to me on the bed and stroked my hair to soothe me and she told me not to feel bad about what I had seen. She told me about sex the way you would explain a eight year old kid, and when I asked her why she was crying, she told me she didn't want the man to go, that she loved him a lot." He told her. He still felt sad when he thought about that night. He had never seen Helen cry before.
Erika pouted. That was getting sadder and sadder by the second.
"What happened to the man who was with her?" She asked.
"She never said. But I think he died that night."
It dawned on the couple that Helen Magnus was probably the loneliest woman on Earth, and they shuddered. For the first time, Erika realized she would probably watch them die, and watch their baby die too. She swallowed hard. Henry sensed her grief, and felt it was time to switch to a more pleasant story.
"The second and last time was funny though. I was fifteen and Ashley was about ten, and it was Christmas Eve, and we had bought gifts for Magnus, the Big Guy and Watson for the first time with our pocket money, so we wanted to put them under the Christmas tree late at night to surprise them in the morning. Of course we also wanted to guess what was hiding in our boxes. Anyway, we go to the office, trying not to wake anyone up, and there they are, Magnus and Watson, making out like teenagers on the floor, surrounded by ribbons and boxes. And Ashley shrieking something like "Mom, uncle James, there's no mistletoe yet!"" Henry said, smiling softly at the recollection of those happy days. Days when Ashley, Biggie and James were there, really there, not only shadows haunting the grounds, days when Helen had been happy.
"I think I love this story better." Erika said, smiling at him.
"You should have seen their faces." Henry said, half laughing. "Watson blushed so much I thought he was going to choke and die on the spot, and the doc giggled and made up something about an old English tradition, it was hilarious."
Erika couldn't help the smile that stretched her lips. She had quickly adopted Helen as a friend, someone she could rely on, and she really hoped the mysterious baby would bring her renewed happiness.
"I should really go get some coffee. I'm working with Tesla today, we'll be out all day, don't wait for me tonight, you never know where you'll end up when you hang out with Tesla." Henry concluded before kissing Erika.
"Alright, have fun." She said, giggling.
Henry gave her a thumbs-up and stormed out of the room.
"I thought you'd never come." Will stated, putting a file aside when the door opened, following Magnus' distinctive knock.
"I'm sorry, I found myself busy with the more – Physical aspects of pregnancy."
Having freed his desk, the young man finally looked at his boss and his mouth fell open. Helen's hair looked shinier and thicker than usual, and it was pulled up in a fancy French braided side bun – although Will would never have guessed the name – to conceal how long it had grown overnight. She was wearing a long sleeved khaki dress that wasn't long enough to hide her entire legs, but certainly loose enough to hide her belly, as Will didn't notice it until she took off her long brown cardigan.
"Wow – You look..." Will fumbled for a word. She didn't look as healthy as she used to when he had first met her. Her hair looked stunning, but Helen still looked thinner than acceptable despite the pregnancy bump. Yet, even frail and lacking her natural confidence, she was terribly attractive.
"Pregnant." She completed with a sad smile.
"I was going for beautiful. I'm sorry, I'm staring. It's just – I knew it would be really fast, but that's still really impressive." He apologized, rising from his chair to guide Helen to his lounging area.
"Oh don't be sorry. Sixteen weeks unraveling overnight? I'm rather used to the contrary, really."
Four months, Will noted absentmindedly. Now was not the moment to try and unmask the lucky bastard that was responsible for that situation, but the information would be useful, so he stored it for later.
"With you, you'd think nothing could be surprising anymore." He teased, showing her to the couch. "Please sit down. I brought herbal tea but it must be cold by now." He took the armchair facing the leather couch and she cautiously lowered herself on the latter. The sweet smell of mint and liquorice was enough to do her in. Erika's pregnancy had obviously trained her whole team to deal with a number of inconveniences. She smiled at Will's thoughtfulness – Mint would help with the heartburn.
"I'll take some anyway. Thank you." She said wholeheartedly, extending an arm to help herself with the tea.
The young man had to restrain himself from trying to help her with the teapot. She was pregnant, not handicapped, and mollycoddling her in the vain attempt to comfort himself would only serve to drive her crazy. She was the kind of woman to dress her own wounds. Of course she could manage with a teapot. So he watched her pour the - now cold – mixture in one of Henry's superhero mugs and took his notepad from the coffee table.
"I'd offer you cookies, but Tesla ate the whole box for breakfast." He remarked both as an apology for his disrespect of her British habits and to try to make her smile earnestly.
He sensed he had failed when her beautiful eyes peered at him questioningly.
"Nikola? I very much doubt it. He hates chocolate." She said, reminding him of a teacher scolding a young child.
Why was she suddenly fiercely defending the sneaky vampire was a mystery. Which didn't change the fact that he had stolen the whole box, and had wolfed down each of the cookies right in front of him and Abby, and Henry. They would all agree to testify against him should there be a trial.
"You'd do us all a favor if you reminded him of that." Will retorted, shrugging.
This time, a mischievous smile showed up on Helen's lips – smile that she hid behind her Spiderman mug. She took a sip of the herbal tea, mentally toasting poor Nikola.
"That won't be necessary." She said enigmatically.
Whatever the reason for that sudden taste for cookies was, the cookie frenzy wouldn't last long. There was a clear limit to how much solid food a vampire could eat in one day.
Same time in the tunnels
"Can I ask you something?"
Nikola had noticed Henry's strange behavior as soon as they had been alone together after breakfast. He guessed it had to do with the reproach he had formulated even before greeting him that morning- Even when he was in a good mood - and he was - Nikola Tesla couldn't let anyone get away with spoiling half a bottle of Chateau Latour by placing it in the fridge. But the truth was that Henry was his favorite kid in the house and he did want to enjoy their day out, assessing the amount of work they had ahead of them to adapt the new emergency braking system to the network of transporters.
"Yeah, shoot." Henry said hoping the vampire was not preparing one of his tricky questions that would inevitably end up being awkward .
"I suppose Helen didn't find you with an insurance card in your pocket. So what do you actually celebrate on the 9th of August?" Nikola asked while opening the last door that protected the Sanctuary's grounds from both the surface and Hollow Earth.
Henry was surprised. The genius didn't usually ask personal questions. It was both scary and reassuring. They would have to work and live in the same relatively confined space, so Nikola was probably trying to find his place in their strange and unconventional family. And obviously, he could not really count on Helen to help him this time.
"When did you start caring?" He nevertheless wondered, frowning at him.
"Our next halt is an hour away. But if you prefer to walk in silence, please, forget I even asked." Nikola snapped, leading the way up the gallery that would lead them to their first station.
"Alright. The 9th of August was the day the authorities granted me my Canadian citizenship, along with the official documents that stated that Magnus was to be my legal guardian." Henry finally answered.
When Nikola raised an eyebrow, he went on:
"You don't think you could take a kid out of the street and call it your own without anyone interfering."
It was the vampire's turn to shrug.
"Right. But you were not just any kid."
"Didn't make it any easier. Actually, that's why the process took such a long time. Magnus had to call in a special team to make sure I'd be alright with her. They stayed a whole week to see how I was doing in the Sanctuary. We also had to let a triad inside of our minds so that everyone was sure Magnus was not a kidnapper and I had really no memory of my biological parents. She built a case thanks to their reports and I officially became Henry Foss, one of the Sanctuary's wards on the ninth of August 1989."
They had reached a large cave in which a herd of buffalo-like mammals were grazing quietly, seemingly left unattended.
"That's a touching little story. Why didn't she give you her name?"
Nikola's curiosity was motivated by the strange sensation he was feeling in his stomach. The displeasing discomfort somehow reminded him of his early childhood, and he preferred to focus on something, anything, else than his capricious stomach.
"Magnus? Are you crazy? Wearing that name is pretty much like running around naked with a target on your back."
"Try Tesla and you'll discover there are more governmental agencies than you've ever imagined." Nikola retorted.
Henry smiled, shaking his head. Even when talking about disadvantages, Tesla was always trying to be above everyone else. He was about to answer that Magnus had probably been under surveillance because of him quite a few times in their good old days, but Nikola didn't give him time for that. The genius had gone deadly pale, and he barely got time to get away from the path before his insides heaved, spilling the content of his stomach on the ground as he leaned on a rock to keep his balance.
"Wow dude! Aren't you supposed to be immune to human viruses?" Henry asked, trying not to panic, as he took off his backpack to get his friend a bottle of water.
Nikola breathed in, and out, opened his eyes, grimaced but felt his stomach settle. He stayed a few seconds leaning on the rock to be sure he would be okay, and then turned to his 'assistant'.
"Feed a vampire cookies and that's what you get." He admitted, taking the bottle he was handed.
He was unable to remember just why eating so many cookies for breakfast had seemed to be a good idea. He was just the kind of guy to act on impulse; even the silly ones.
Henry rolled his eyes.
"Great, I get to team with the only vampire who gets cookie cravings."
"You're going to think me foolish."
Will looked at her with that expression that said 'if you're foolish, then I just lost faith in the human race.", so Helen went on, her hands gripping her teacup to keep them from shaking.
"I've had a lot of time to reflect on my life choices. I'd wake up every morning knowing exactly what would happen that day to my younger self and more broadly, to the world. I was a witness to my own life, watching it unfold according to a pattern of causes and consequences I had never had time to analyze before. Through the pain of it all, I saw the experience as an opportunity to prepare for a new kind of life."
She had not told anyone about the personal aspects of her time travel experience. Most of what she had lived through was somewhat obvious to imagine, therefore no one had dared ask her about any of it. Asking about the construction and organization of the underground sanctuary network was already enough of a torture.
Will nodded. Up to then, Magnus made complete sense to him, and she didn't need to hear his assent to go on. Actually, she felt she would stop and retract herself like a snail in its shell if she stopped talking more time than necessary for breathing.
"I resolved to stop avoiding the shadows living in my heart and take a hold of my personal life once I'd be back to my normal time-line. The resolution didn't make things easier, as I'm sure you imagine." She focused on the tea residues glued to the bottom of her mug, lost somewhere down Memory Lane. "I was surrounded by people, and yet I was awfully lonely. I would sometimes catch a glimpse of some old friend I had buried long before, in a crowded street or in a restaurant and be unable to go and greet them to hear their voices once again. I've relived the death of dear friends who died of illnesses I could have cured in no time, yet I had to stand and watch from afar. After killing Adam, I followed James' advice and left London, not knowing if I would ever get to see him ever again –" She trailed off. She couldn't tell Will. She couldn't tell anyone what it had felt like.
"You often wonder what you'd say to a deceased relative if you were given a last moment together, don't you?" She concluded.
Her gaze met Will's and they shared their first moment of deep and wordless understanding of each other in a long time. His mother. He still had a lot to say to his mother. A lonely tear ran down Helen's face, following the crease of her nose, and she caught it with her bottom lip when it touched the skin of her upper one. Her farewell to James had been one of the worst things she had been through. There had been many things she had wanted to tell him, but none of them could have safely crossed her lips in 1889. So she had leaned on him, using his body as a life buoy against the ocean of her unshed tears, trying and probably failing to hide how shaken she was to have to leave him without being able to open up and speak the same words she had pointlessly rehearsed on his grave. She had swallowed hard when he had kissed her brow - both their first and last kiss, depending on the point of view.
The simple and barely audible thank you she had let out at the time covered more than a hundred and thirty years of gratitude. He would understand, much later, in the ruins of the lost city of Bhallassam, wishing she'd stop crying. He didn't want to take this last image to his grave – he had so many beautiful sights of her to chose from...
Helen closed her eyes and another memory flooded her mind.
"Good Lord, I even played the part of my younger self to get Nikola to help me in 1902. I 'wined and dined' him. I craved the company and innocent, careless chat so much that I had to fight the urge to confess and implore him to join me on my mission." She admitted.
"But kidnapping the man who invented the twentieth century would have had a huge impact on the time-line." Will concluded gently.
Helen was surprised to notice the lack of bitterness or mockery that usually inhabited Will's tone of voice when talking about Tesla, and she felt grateful for that.
She nodded. How many times had she dreamed of throwing away her principles to tell him everything, future be damned? Hundreds. Hundreds of thousands. She had cried herself to sleep each time she had had to lie to Nikola to achieve her goal.
"I had a lot of time to rethink my life. A way to hold on was to escape inside of my own imagination..." Once again, she stopped. She was now sure Will would think she was being ridiculous.
"You created your own version of what 2012 and the years after would be like, a kind of movie to keep you going. And it turns out to be very different from what you've always imagined it would be." He summarized.
Helen looked like the deer in the headlights. That was exactly what she had done. Her heart skipped a few beats when the stupid feeling that he could see her 'movie' invaded her mind, and it took her a few seconds to get her heartbeat back down to normal. Will was perceptive, but he couldn't read minds.
Yes, she had imagined herself attending Kate's wedding, glaring at a smirking Nikola in reaction to a dubious comment about exchanging vows. She had also imagined Ashley testing the new weapons she had acquired thanks to the Praxians. Oh Ashley... She had never been happier to imagine the shenanigans she would drag Henry and herself into. She would get to drink her old friend's awful tea without any kind of complaint and let Will know she couldn't be prouder of him. She would have to find a way to make him stay knowing Nikola would probably move in with them full time. She would hire Abby if he asked for it. Everything was written down neatly in a corner of her mind. There was no way she could go into hiding underground without Nikola; he was supposed to be dead too, after all.
"This child doesn't exactly fit in the picture. Not now, at least." Helen explained.
Oh no. The little munchkin had chosen the worst moment to sneak in unannounced. It was barely the size of an avocado and yet it was a real bomb.
"You haven't imagined it because you thought you couldn't conceive anymore, and you focused on saving Ashley. But does it mean this baby doesn't fit in your life?"
Will almost regretted his sudden bravado. They had made some progress already, but he had to be cautious and take it slowly. He thought she would withdraw into herself, so he was surprised when she closed her eyes, finally putting her mug down on the coffee table to take her head in her hands instead, as if to try and order her thoughts.
"I'm not ready. I'm still mourning two of my old friends. I've recently faked my death and I still have to get used to this status. Some of the abnormals I evacuated before the explosion have troubles adapting to their new home, and the other heads of houses are completely lost when it comes to work with technologies they have never seen before; so they are constantly consulting me whereas I was careful to hire specialists born and raised in Praxis." Helen stopped abruptly when she realized she was nearly yelling. It all made her angry as hell. She had worked very hard for a hundred and thirteen years to create those infrastructures and plan for her independence, and no one would let her rest before everything was working fine. She sighed and threw an apologetic glance at Will who smiled shyly. He knew she was going through difficult times with the other sanctuaries, and he was doing his best to manage theirs with Declan while she was solving the diplomatic and organizational problems. How glad he was that she had survived! Managing one sanctuary was enough. He'd gladly give up on being the head of the network if she ever died and left him in charge.
"Why don't you send Tesla on a lecture tour of the sanctuaries? Or ask him to take care of answering questions dealing with Praxian tec?" He suggested earnestly.
He knew instantly he had put his finger on something when she lowered her gaze, clearly avoiding his.
"I can't send him away now. We've got too much work on our hands here and Henry is nearly as lost as the others." She said bluntly.
She was not lying. She needed Nikola here to make sure everything was under control.
"That's not the only reason you're keeping him around, is it?" Will stated, sensing there was more to it.
He was far from stupid. Something had clearly happened between Magnus and Tesla and neither of them knew how to cope with it and go forward.
Helen breathed in deeply. She would probably have to tell Will about everything, so she figured she could start gradually.
"Nikola and I have never been gifted with words when it comes to settling our disagreements." She paused and looked at her protégé. She finished her thought when it was clear he was not getting it. "One way to avoid confrontation is to flee. Sending him on a tour would be like holding the door for him."
Now they were getting somewhere.
"It's been about four months since he moved in. He's still here, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I've seen you in the same room not arguing. And by arguing, I also mean glaring silently at or even properly ignoring each other. There's got to be more to it than the impact of your faked death. I just don't buy it."
How could someone as young as Will understand any of it? They had known each other for way more than a century, even two if she counted her side of the story. They were the last of the Five – the last of their era, they needed the other to protect what remained of their sanity. She was his center of gravity, and him, hers.
"James died four years ago now, and John is probably dead too. Nikola and I are the only one of the Five to still be alive. Making him watch my faked death and believe it for two months was a cruel thing to do." She paused, sighing. "But you are right. He guessed I had lied to him in 1902, and he confronted me about it shortly before I destroyed the sanctuary. Yet, I didn't let him in on my plan. He gave me one chance of coming clean and I didn't take it. He thinks I don't trust him." She explained with a sad smile.
"He is a genius. But trustworthy? Come on." Will rolled his eyes.
Helen resisted the urge to snap, and let an amused smile creep up on her lips. Of course it sounded funny to imagine she could trust the sneaky vampire.
"We all know he can be a constant pain in the neck. But he has always been on my side. Despite his hidden agenda." She reminded him softly.
"What exactly are you saying?"
"I'm saying that I trust him with my life. But I had to do this alone. It took me a hundred and thirteen years to plan all of this. I couldn't let anyone in just a few days before the end. I buried my loneliness with the explosion, it was symbolical for me – the end of seclusion."
"You trust him with you life, but you question his ability to become a good parent." Will noted.
Helen sighed, biting her lip, eyes closed. The cat was out of the bag. She was both afraid the rumors would reach Nikola's ears before she could tell him herself and relieved that her protégé had done the math on his own.
When she looked at him again, he shrugged.
"You said you were sixteen weeks into your pregnancy, and Tesla arrived here sixteen weeks ago. I guess the warm welcome was not on the agenda. It made a mess of things that were already messy and now that you know you're pregnant, you are afraid it's going to be even harder to deal with the situation."
It was a simple observation, really. And it tore Helen's heart to detect that, just as James had always done, Will was not passing any kind of judgment. She closed her eyes. It didn't mean Will approved of the situation.
"Yes." She sighed. "You'd think I'd be wiser in my old age." She half-joked, feeling the bitterness of it fill her mouth in the same places Nikola's tongue had visited four months before, kissing her senseless against the wall of a tunnel in the midst of their desperation.
Her young friend leaned in, catching one of her hands in his, kindness radiating off him in a way she had rarely felt before.
"What I think is not important. You deserve to have someone in your life and if you feel that Tesla is able to stand by you, then I'll assume you know what you're doing." He said, softly running his thumb on the back of her hand.
She smiled earnestly, moved by Will's support.
"I have no idea what I'm doing." She confessed, chuckling uneasily, tears invading her eyes once again.
"Magnus, we never really talked about this, but do you believe in fate?"
She chewed on her lip. Before following Adam into the breach back to 1889, she would have said no. But history had repeated itself regardless of what she had done or not done, making it obvious she was only a pawn in the vast game of chess played by the galaxy. What happened once in the past is deemed to repeat itself insatiably. Strange how this rule applied to herself and Nikola... How they collided every once and again like a comet crossing the path of a planet every few decades.
She didn't have the opportunity to answer Will's question though, as her cellphone rung, announcing the security systems had detected some unusual activity in the protocols. She apologized and took the phone out of her pocket. When she saw that one of the biometric scans had recognized a certain Archibald, she jumped to her feet, feeling as if her heart was about to rip her thoracic cage to fall to the ground, fed up with her exacerbated sensitivity.
"What is it?" Will ask, mimicking her movement, preparing for an emergency.
"Jolly good news, I hope." Helen answered, wishing to God she was right. "I'm sorry Will, I'm afraid that will be all for today."
With that, she stormed out of the office, leaving her friend to wonder what was so important.
Helen was out of breath when she reached her office, where she knew Archibald would be waiting for her. She was sweating and from what she had seen in the mirror of the elevator, she knew her cheeks were flushed. But she didn't care a bit how she looked. She had not seen 'the boy', as she called him, since way before Adam had blown up Praxis.
When the doors to her office opened at last, he was already there, as she had predicted.
Helen was a tall woman, whereas Archibald qualified as small. Or at least smaller than her, by an inch, so that when she was wearing heels, she could kiss the top of his head. His hair was gray now, slowly turning white whereas he looked to be just over fifty.
He had inherited his mother's frail complexion and lean face, but his slightly apish nose was clearly a curse his father had transmitted to him – one that made him look funny.
However, one easily forgot this strange disproportion, as Archibald's eyes were his chief attribute. Helen had seen just about everything during her long life, but Archibald's eyes were without a doubt the most soothing sights that she had been given the chance to see. His irises looked a good deal like a perfect summer night. Their deep purple color encompassed a galaxy they had never stared at. You could easily get lost looking at those starry eyes, which enabled their owners to get to the bottom of your soul. That's what had shocked Helen the most when she had met him for the first time, as a blond boy of five."You're the woman from the picture in my father's office."
The brunette smiled, she was so happy to see him again, safe and sound, dressed in a simple white linen attire, a satchel as his only luggage.
She felt a wave of love submerge her, but had to contain it when she noticed his pupils dilate and his body start to convulse.
"Bloody Hell! I'm so sorry!" She cried, running to him to catch him in case he'd collapse, then stopping dead in her tracks when he raised his palm, silently asking her to stay back. She didn't panic, knowing it would only make things worse. Instead, she went around the desk to open the last drawer. She took out a small box, which she opened to get a sort of necklace – A leather lace from which a rather big slice of some kind of sangria-colored rock was hanging. She handed the amulet to the man, who immediately put it around his neck, panting for breath. The contact of the rock against the skin of his plexus seemed to soothe him, as he straightened up, sweat pearling on his broad forehead.
"I'm so terribly sorry Archie... I was having a heart to heart conversation when I learnt of your arrival. And let's face it – the hormones aren't helping." Helen apologized, shrugging, a sorry smile on her face.
He shook his head. She was absolutely incredible.
"Great god, Helen. Feeling guilty about taking lives is one thing. But really? Guilty about creating life?" He asked, half-amused, half-exasperated.
He hadn't known what 'guilty' felt like when she had first appeared to him like a dark angel in the huge cave that surrounded his mother's house. By the time he had turned eight, she had come back to visit him quite a few times. He had discovered guilt when she had materialized sometime in the last days of June 1914, battered and bruised, dark circles under her eyes as a proof she was having troubles sleeping. When he had asked her why she was so sad and crushed, she had hugged him to her heart and had told him quite seriously that she had just killed millions of people, possibly billions. Little Archibald would never have believed her if he hadn't felt her guilt.
"You know giving life is not exactly the reason I feel guilty. But enough about me! How are you? I've been worried sick!"
Archibald nodded. He had missed her terribly. He could feel her, how relieved she was at seeing him alive and a bit disappointed at seeing him alone. He took a step toward her and suddenly pulled her to him for a hug. The closeness of their bodies enabled Helen to notice something strange about his right leg – it felt hard and cold through the fabric of his pants, against her nylon-clad shin. She hugged him back for a long time, trying to focus on positive feelings as she knew the amulet couldn't absorb all of her emotions. Yet, she freed herself from his embrace after a couple of minutes, and knelt in front of him. He didn't say a word. He couldn't. It was better if she discovered some of the things he had to tell her by herself. She slowly lifted the fabric covering the leg that she suspected was not the one she had often nursed when he was a young and adventurous child. Her heart sank when her fingers met cold metal, and she closed her eyes for a second, caressing the artificial leg, up to where it met the skin of his stump.
"It is just as reactive as my former leg. And no, it doesn't hurt anymore." He sighed when she raised her head to look at his face.
She had to admit the prosthesis looked like a fine piece of engineering. Archibald was certainly lucky to be the son of a famous doctor.
"What happened to you, dearest?" She asked, accepting his hand to rise to her feet.
He cocked his head, showing the couch, and she led him to her lounging area, sitting as close to him as he would let her. He began his story, his starry gaze absorbing her completely.
"I wasn't in Praxis when it was destroyed. I guess you knew what would happen, which is why you sent me so far away." Helen shivered. She couldn't lie to him, but she still felt awful that he knew everything before she found it in herself to tell him. He probably knew she had not intended to lie to him, right?
"When I heard of what happened, I went there to see if I could help potential survivors. When I arrived, fires were still burning. I did my best to use my abilities to find and rescue poor souls here and there. When I reached the great library, I sensed some familiar presence." He went on, not commenting on Helen's guilt.
Her eyes suddenly lit up, and she gripped his hand.
"Father." She murmured, her breath catching in her throat.
"And Rana." He acquiesced, trapping her hand under his. "I went inside to help. But you know how special the library was, architecturally speaking." He paused. "I saw them both, lying on the ground under a study table." Helen cringed. The study tables Archibald was referring to were made of pink marble. Even if Rana and Gregory had survived, they would probably be badly crippled by now.
"I tried to reach them, but a column fell on me and my leg was trapped. What happened after that is still a bit blurry. I watched them die until the pain of it and of my leg was too much to bear and I fainted. When I came to my senses again, I was in a kind of field hospital, missing a leg. The place was crowded with lost souls. I couldn't take it. I fled as soon as I was given a new limb. I stayed away from society until my mind was rested."
Helen was crestfallen. She had kept her ears and eyes open in case she should learn of his whereabouts, hoping to God he had not been around Praxis when it went ablaze. She threw her arms around Archibald.
"You should have contacted me." She whispered.
He ran his hand up and down her spine, soothing both of them.
"You were already on the surface, replacing the young you. I needed time."
She could understand that. So she didn't say anything. He was there now. That was all she needed to know.
"I tried to tell him before he died."
Helen closed her eyes and hugged Archibald tighter. She had had time to get used to the idea that her father would die in Praxis. However, it was something she had had to keep from the young boy.
"You've got to give father some credit. I think he knew about me nearly the whole time."
She had tried her best not to run into Gregory or his new wife while she had nearly raised her half-brother the whole time she had been in Hollow Earth. She knew she could trust Archibald with her secret. Yet she was aware that as careful as the boy had been not to betray her to their father, there were things that nothing could prevent, such as the bunch of words he had stolen from her. Mostly curse words for which she had been chastised in the good old days and that were far too archaic to come from one of his classmates. His recurrent use of the word 'Hell' had almost certainly been the death of her secret. Knowing Archibald as she did, he had certainly stared at the pictures in Gregory's office with renewed interest after he had met her, too.
"He would have been so proud of what you've accomplished here." He said softly, massaging the back of her exposed neck.
"Of all things and people, he would have been proud of you the most."
There was no doubt about it. She had offered him a position as head librarian in her new sanctuary. He had taken it early on, never telling their father what he was doing all that time, while he traveled Hollow Earth, collecting the most precious works that had been written about abnormals.
"Oh please, we both know who the favorite child was." He teased.
She giggled, taking her brother by the shoulders to tear him away from her, and he smiled. He had not often heard the sound of her laughter, but it was amongst his favorite sounds. It reminded him of a time when his poor empath mother was still alive and happy, and when Helen secretly took him to the river to play. She would growl when he splashed her playfully, but soon enough, she would relent in his fun and giggle happily, as if she was barely older than him.
"Your room should be just as you left it. There's no rush for you to get back to work, take all the time you need." She said, glad to have a new ally in those troubled times.
He nodded, smiling. It felt good to be home again. She had taken care of adapting his room to his special empathic condition, isolating its walls with the same kind of mineral as the one he was currently wearing around his neck. It kept the flows of emotions at bay, ensuring him a space he could truly inhabit, filling it with his own feelings.
"Good to know you resisted the urge to tidy my room." He said with a cheeky smile.
Helen laughed. Few people knew of her OCD tendencies, which her old friend had covered for for decades in Old City. But Archibald was her polar opposite. What she described as tidy, he described as oppressing. Give him piles of books anytime.
He rose from the couch.
"I'll go and settle in. I might have a nap too." He announced, helping his sister to get up.
She nodded, and he kissed her hand before going to the door.
Before he left the office, he turned to her one last time.
"This child – It's Tesla's, isn't it?" He asked.
He smiled. She couldn't keep a secret from him. Not those she couldn't keep from herself. So he had always felt her infatuation with Nikola whenever she had talked about him.
"Good. I have a good number of books I think you'll find interesting. They might answer some of your interrogations on the matter of giving birth to a sanguine vampiris."
Henry had expected Nikola to keep on walking all day without a break, complaining each time the young tech wanted to stop for a snack. That's why he had been dumbfounded when Tesla himself declared they would stop for lunch. Henry was worried about his mentor. His stomach seemed to have settled completely, but now he looked tired, and he was doing a bad job at trying to hide a case of lower-back pain; stretching with his hands on his hips whenever he thought Henry wasn't looking. Of course, Nikola was doing his very best to hide it, but Henry had developed a sixth sense that enabled him to detect Erika's every discomfort.
The young man froze in the midst of munching his sandwich.
Morning sickness, strange and unusual cravings, lower-back pain, mood swings...? That sounded awfully familiar. Surely the man couldn't be pregnant -unless he was hiding something- but what if – What if it all was related to Magnus' pregnancy? They had seen weirder things in their world.
It was a good thing that the vampire decided to share his thoughts just then, as Henry's brain might have exploded from the flow of questions he had just let free.
"From what we've seen until now, it could take us months to implement our new system." He mused, gazing down at the village they had gone through barely an hour before.
It occurred to Henry that somehow, during the course of the week, 'my system' had slowly become 'our system', whereas he had not helped a bit. A linguistic evolution which, at least, proved that Tesla tried hard to be a part of the team.
"Why don't we ask the other sanctuaries to send a team to give us a hand?" He asked, trying to visualize the animal that had been killed in order to fill his sandwich – A game that had become highly popular around their dining table in the last few months.
Nikola bared his teeth, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the mere idea.
"I'm just getting used to babysitting you, I'd rather avoid getting stuck with a whole herd of kids slowing me down." He pointed out.
A goofy smile stretched Henry's lips when he realized Nikola's barely concealed admission that he had taken a liking to him. When the inventor noticed how gratifying his remark must have sounded to his young friend, he went on-
"Besides, would you trust complete strangers with your child-to-be's security?"
Henry gulped, considered the question, and shrugged. If there had been a Nobel prize for control freaks, Tesla and Magnus would have had to share it.
The mention of his child had Henry wondering. There were so many things he didn't know about Tesla, he just had to fish for information.
"So, you know, I've answered your questions about my birthday and stuff. It would only be fair to let me ask you something..." Henry backtracked when Nikola stared at him expectantly. "I guess." He finished before downing his energy drink.
Nikola knew how nosy Helen's employees all were, and he admired her patience, answering some of their questions, leaving others unanswered, leaving it to their imagination to fill the numerous blanks in their knowledge of her life.
Once, Kate had harassed her over dinner, asking about her relationship with Scott Fitzgerald, brandishing the signed copy of "The Great Gatsby" she had found in the library. Helen had eluded most of the questions, and Nikola had hidden his knowing smirk behind his glass of wine. He had loved the fact that only the two of them knew the answers to Kate's questions. He had also loved that threatening glance Helen had directed at him, afraid he would betray the secrets of their debauched summer on the French Riviera.
He sighed. Answering so many personal questions would not be fun on a daily basis, but how bad could it be to satisfy the boy's curiosity once in a while?
"I'm going to say yes out of fair play. But it's gonna be really annoying to have to answer each one of your questions each time I need to satisfy my own curiosity, so you'd better choose carefully."
Henry considered the warning for a few seconds. He knew for a fact that Tesla would always answer technical and practical questions, because he loved to show what a genius he was. He would probably also provide answers that would portray him in a good light. Now was a good time to indulge in a touchy topic.
"When I told you I was going to be a dad, that day when the doc and I showed up at the SCIU, you had a strange reaction. It looked as if children were a sore spot." He paused, scanning Nikola's face for a sign that he was right, but besides seeing his jaw contract slightly, there was nothing. "And I realized we never talked about your private life, and we all just assume you never had kids-" He didn't really know how to formulate his question, so he was glad when Tesla helped him out of his misery:
"You want to know if little Teslas ever roamed the face of the Earth." He finished, slightly amused at how uneasy Henry seemed to be.
The young man nodded.
Nikola stared at the group of small figures down in the village, working the land next to the dirt road they had taken on their way up the hills to what was their sixth station of the day.
He was happy for Henry and Erika, he guessed. Okay, maybe he was only indifferent to the whole situation. What Henry said was true though. His first reaction to the news had been to think that that kid was going to be a father whereas he, Nikola Tesla, handsome and gifted with a genius mind, was still single -for good reasons- and childless at one hundred and fifty-something (you stopped counting after a while).
He thought about the question. He could answer by the negative and be done with it. Or he could bare himself to that young man he had come to think of as a nephew or something like it. He glanced at Henry, and sighed.
"I'm not sure."
The young man frowned. It didn't really sound like the sensitive man he knew was hiding under the arrogant mask.
"Okay. That's a cryptic answer, dude."
Nikola shrugged and took a sip of the blood he had stored in a flask so that it wouldn't attract the attention of potential witnesses. Vampires were not really loved in the area.
"What do you know about H.G. Wells?" He finally asked, tapping his index finger against his flask.
Henry was at a loss. H.G. Wells... He searched his memory for something relevant. Magnus had read H.G. Wells' books to Ashley and him when they were young, and he remembered he had loved them for all the steampunk stuff and geeky side of the stories, whereas Ashley had complained about the lack of guns and fights. Clearly, Nigel Griffin had served as inspiration for the invisible man.
"He was born in 1866, and he dated Magnus. So he clearly wasn't your son." Henry finally deduced.
Nikola turned his head to him, and Henry was slightly scared to see the man had a bright smile on and a mischievous light in his gray eyes. That was the kind of face he usually reserved for Helen on good days, when she let out something that could be interpreted as a sexual advance. And that was just weird in the present context.
"Lewd minx. I always thought she had a thing for Helen." He said victoriously.
Henry chocked on his chocolate bar. He coughed for a few seconds, accepted the bottle of water Nikola opened for him, took a few sips and breathed in.
"You seriously telling me that H.G. Wells was a woman?" He said, his voice suddenly high-pitched.
He didn't know what was the biggest shock- the father of science-fiction actually being the mother of his favorite genre, or that Helen Magnus had dated a woman... Possibly several then.
That was an interesting development, but Henry didn't see how it was answering his initial question though.
"H. stands for Helena. I always wondered about the G, although she wouldn't tell me." Nikola mused, lost in thoughts. "Quite a woman indeed. Charmed men and women alike with her ravishing good looks, her brilliant mind and her unique way with words."
Henry felt he was changing the topic of their conversation, yet, seeing Nikola staring at a distant point in front of them with dreamy eyes made him think twice before interrupting him.
"We're not done talking about her. But you're not answering my question."
Nikola flashed him a rather threatening smile. If there was one thing he hated more than the Twilight saga, it was clearly being interrupted.
"You should thank me for the bit of context I grant you. I thought about telling you outright that H.G Wells and I had a daughter. I wish I had, only for the sake of seeing you choke on the news."
Henry fell silent for a few seconds, trying to process everything – H.G. Wells was a woman, a very hot woman who had slept both with Magnus and Tesla, and Tesla and Wells had had a daughter. The young man was both dying to know more and regretting he had ever asked.
"Huh. Okay. Go on. You've got my word, I won't interrupt again." He promised.
He had the awful sensation he was blushing, but Nikola was polite enough not to point it out. He only nodded with a side smile, thinking Helen must have had the same kind of issues with the young boy when she was still reading bedtime stories. Strange thought really. But that made him feel a surge of affection for both Helen and Henry.
"Helena and I were first introduced by Helen in the early days of 1882. These two had met at a feminist gathering gone wrong in which Helena got hurt." Nikola smirked. "Although not after leaving serious bruises on her assailants. Anyway. Helen brought her back home where James, Nigel, John and I were being entertained by Gregory. Helena was only sixteen, but she was already radiating confidence. She was a fast-learner too. James once told Helen that she would have had a serious rival in Helena had she been to Oxford with us."
Henry smiled. He was glad to be told about the Five, or Six, as it was. The fact that Nikola looked like he had fallen hard for that mysterious woman was making the story even more fascinating.
"Helena wanted to learn everything she could. She believed education was the key to emancipation, and so she came to spend a lot of time with Helen and James. She was fascinated by my work. She would spend hours sitting next to me and watching silently."
Noticing a sign of impatience from Henry, Nikola went on.
"When I announced I was going to New York to work for that bastard of Edison, things got – Interesting." He drawled, with a sly smile.
"You dishonored the lady and didn't ask her to marry you?!" He exclaimed.
"I did both. I was in love, and I thought she was too, but she was not one to tie the knot, and she would have died rather than to leave England. She wanted to be free. As long and as much as her brother would let her. We stayed in touch. She insisted that I should tell her everything about my work. So I did. I came back to England when I learned about Druitt's killing spree, so as to support Helen. I had not seen Helena in six years. When I came back to London, she was a fully grown woman of twenty-three who knew how to use her charms. And she was the mother of a five year old girl. Christina." Nikola paused and drank from his flask.
"Yours?" Henry asked.
Nikola shrugged, and the young man swore that he could see a flash of sadness cross his features.
"She never told anyone whose child she was. But the dates coincide. Besides, James was Christina's doctor. He noticed that it would rarely take more than ten minutes for a needle mark to disappear from her body."
Henry wondered what more proof was needed to get him to conclude that that child had some source blood in her, but he didn't voice his excitement. There would be a reason why Tesla spoke of her with some distance.
"What happened then?" He asked.
"We started a relationship. It worked fine. She certainly knew how to distract me from my work, but she would also be of great help. She was working for a secret agency, for which I had designed some stunners. So I helped improve their weapons while working on my own projects. From all the women I've been with in my very long life, Helena Wells is the closest one I came to marrying." He explain with a smile tainted with nostalgia.
"I don't understand why she didn't want to. I mean, with a daughter and all?"
Nikola sighed. Helen and him were the only ones in this sanctuary still able to understand the ancient ways. They both loved how some things had changed, but sometimes, they forgot how strange their era seemed to young people.
"Don't forget, Tiny Tim, that back in the days, women belonged to their husbands as much as the children. Maybe she would have married me, knowing I would never treat her as my property. But Christina was hers, and she didn't want to lose her to anyone." He kindly explained.
Henry nodded. He could understand that. Somehow, this H.G. Wells, sounded a lot like Magnus.
"Being a single mother back then must have sucked." He concluded.
"That's why she said to most people that Christina was her niece. She had quite a reputation, but she didn't want the girl to suffer from it."
"So what happened?"
Nikola looked depressed now. And Henry understood the story didn't have a happy ending.
"1891 came about. Helena was running here and there on missions, and I was working on a new AC motor. Christina was sent to Paris to spend a few weeks with some distant cousins. To make the story short, she was killed by burglars who expected the flat to be empty. Helena never recovered from her loss and she started a long descent into madness. We all tried to help her overcome her grief, but she became obsessed with finding a way to travel through time to save Christina. She worked days and nights for a couple of years on a time machine. In 1898, she lost it completely. She found the men responsible for her daughter's death and she got her revenge. She tortured them for days." Nikola stopped for a while.
He had never talked about all of this with anyone else than Helen. He had believed in utopias back in the days. Helena's transformation had smashed his vision of the world. Some people were bad from the start. John Druitt had turned evil after an awful experiment. But Helena... Sassy, rebellious but oh so sweet Helena. Nikola would never have thought she would turn out to be such a monster when confronted with crushing sadness. From then on, he had wondered whether one could truly know anyone inside and out. He sighed.
"Helen and I saw the bodies... I've never seen anything matching that kind of gruesome since then. None of it soothed Helena though, and she ended up asking her boss to put her away for good."
Henry was horrified. The story was even more sad than he had expected. It explained a lot though. From Tesla's mask of selfishness and arrogance to why Helen had not chased the members of the Cabal after Ashley's death. It also explained why Nikola was so angry with Helen for her faked death. They had lost countless friends and lovers, and these two shared a lifetime of memories, of pains and heartbreaks they carried together.
"Sounds like Adam Worth and H.G. had some affinities." He noticed. "What happened to her?"
Nikola's gaze pinned him, and Henry was shocked by the amount of hurt laying in his gray orbs. He felt he was being fully entrusted with the soft side of the man. A vulnerable side only Helen was acquainted with. That kind of epiphany was probably what the doc meant when she called her vampire friend and 'acquired taste'.
"I never knew what became of her. No one ever saw her again." Nikola paused.
There was a long moment of silence during which Henry tried to process the whole thing while Nikola was re-packing the rest of the food in their bags, focused on avoiding his young protegé's gaze. Not that he exactly regretted opening up to him, but Helena was one of the scars that would still hurt on cold days, even after more than a century. Ashley's death had made him fear for Helen's sanity. He was still afraid that she would lose it someday and follow in their old friend's footsteps. Nikola didn't want to think about what he would do then. What if he wasn't enough to help her through her grief? What if he was forced to watch her lose her mind, just as it had been with H.G.? He swallowed hard. Sometimes, in the dead of night, he was still haunted by the look in Helena's eyes the last time they had made love- empty. He had made love to an empty shell. He shuddered and rose to his feet, biting the inside of his cheek when his back protested loudly to the weight of his bag. That was also something he should worry about...
"You got your answer, now let's go back to work." He announced when at last he felt he could get over his confession and move on.
Henry nodded and followed. He had only been offered a glimpse of the man that lived inside of the shell. Still, he felt he had earned something special. Something that felt a lot like friendship.
Declan could see why Magnus would choose the waterfall as a hiding place: Who would have guessed, from the gardens far below, that an artificial cavity had been dug, concealed behind the curtain of water flowing into the turbines that powered the whole sanctuary? Declan smiled. The big boss had built herself a sanctuary inside of the sanctuary.
His smile turned into a frightened grimace when his foot slipped on the wet, stony step of the stairs that were perfectly hidden from view between the rocks of the cliff.
"Jesus!" He swore under his breath, grabbing some asperity full hand and balancing his weight on his stable leg so he wouldn't fall to his death. It took him ten more steps to come to a Magnus-sized tunnel delving into the cliff and leading to Helen's hiding place, right behind the waterfall. He had to admit that while the probabilities of a pregnant woman falling down those slippy stairs and leaving a mess down on the bank of the river was unreasonably high, this small retreat was so peaceful that, as a head of house, he could easily see the appeal.
The cave looked like a small mountain chapel, the size of a British townhouse bedroom. The only natural light came in from small openings from which one could only see the steady flow of water, cooling and relaxing. Yet, the most part of the light was produced by tiny bio-luminescent flowers growing on the walls and roof, casting a strange but soothing lilac glow.
Magnus was there, lying down on a beautifully carved wooden recliner, seemingly – but the young man knew she absolutely wasn't – asleep and peaceful, an old notebook clasped against her heart.
"I do appreciate your solicitude, Archi, but after all you've been through, I think you well deserved that nap you were considering earlier." She greeted without bothering casting a look in the intruder's direction.
Declan frowned and leaned on the arch marking the entrance of the grotto.
"Sorry to disappoint, but a napping head of sanctuary sounds like either an oxymoron or the recipe for a disaster." He joked.
Helen opened an eye, then, surprised, both, sitting up.
"Declan!" She exclaimed, rather surprised to see that, after a lifetime of secrecy, someone had finally discovered her hiding place.
"Please, Magnus, I don't want to disturb. A strange new little resident told me about your lair."
The second in command was relieved to see half a smile appear on Helen's face. She looked very emotionally unstable, yet oddly peaceful. After so many years, it was awful to witness her still absorbing hardship like blotting paper does ink, without so much as a blink, piling up dark memories into a massive house of cards that was miraculously holding up.
"You might want to revise your judgment of Archibald once I've told you he actually designed the plans of the library in 1939, and he's run it quite effectively ever since." She corrected, looking positively proud.
"Well, I have to say, I did find it a bit cheeky for a new resident to be calling you by your Christian name." Declan admitted, still in the doorway, carefully respecting Helen's private space.
"Suffice to say Archibald Magnus is my half-brother."
The young Brit was more taken aback by Helen's way of dropping this small bomb than with the news itself. She made it sound casual, as if introducing her brother to someone she had just met. And indeed, it sank in in Declan's mind that she had actually met this secret half-brother a long time before meeting him, or Will, or even Henry... Well, not literally "before" them, but she has obviously spent more time with her sibling. Damn if that whole 'trapped in the past for 113 years' business wasn't confusing enough already, but he would have to keep the flow of personal questions for some other time. Declan was there on business.
"So that's who he took his nose from." Declan thought at loud, realizing why the small white haired and remarkable violet eyed resident had looked so familiar. His tone, however, closed the subject at hand. He wasn't there to complete the Magnus family tree.
Helen bit the inside of her cheek, trying hard not to burst out laughing. Although she would definitely never admit it, Declan Macrae was probably her favorite colleague, and not only because he was an English citizen. The main reason for that was that he never let his feelings cloud his judgment, and he wasn't at ease mixing personal and professional matters... Which, seeing how brilliantly he managed keeping both apart, was rather impressive, to say the least.
As a result, he only asked personal questions during meals or when absolutely necessary. This was something Helen liked about him.
Archibald would never have betrayed the secrecy of her private cave, so Helen guessed he had sensed Declan was looking for her in her own interest. It was safe to assume he was here about her pregnancy.
"I trust you'll keep this hideaway a secret." She began, her tone somewhere between threatening and pleading.
Declan scoffed, in that oh so very Zimmerman-like manner that got on Helen's nerves on occasions, betraying just how much time he had spent with her partner in the recent months.
"I wouldn't dream of taking this small piece of quiet away from you. Listen, Will must have told you I processed your blood sample for him. I'm sorry I did not bring this fact to your attention sooner. What I've done is absolutely illegal." He declared without a second of hesitation.
At least, Helen thought, he was decent enough to look sheepish.
"Your ethic was – arguable, indeed. But you did what you deemed right, and I am grateful. Thanks to you and my team, I still have a few months to get prepared for this baby. I am thankful for you all forcing the knowledge onto me. I can't imagine what would have happened had no one thought wise to tell me of my condition. I could have entered labour right in the middle of a staff meeting for all I know, or worse." Helen paused, her gaze suddenly lost in contemplation, her lips parted. "There's a very real possibility I'd have had a miscarriage on a mission." She finished, feeling as if she had just swallowed a handful of rocks.
She could have lost yet another child without even knowing she had one to protect. She shivered. Nevermind what monster her DNA could produce when combined with Nikola's, she would do her best to tame it and make sure her offspring would never be a danger to her new Sanctuary.
Declan finally entered the cave, standing a few steps away from Helen, hands in his pockets, as if, maybe, being closer to her could help her feel better, supported.
"I know you voted against the law I drafted about the control of the heads of houses' health," he said, "but still, I'd be honored to help monitor your pregnancy. That is, if you don't mind being checked by a man."
The last thing Helen needed that day was certainly for someone to broach the topic of the new Sanctuary Charter. Burying the network meant freeing it from governments and legislation, therefore many articles of the old charter needed to be at best erased, but mostly modified or rewritten altogether, as the whole political structure of the Sanctuary had changed. Helen could have re-written her father's laws during her 113 years of seclusion, yet she had decided that letting every head of house take part in the writing of the new constitution would prevent any internal crisis and ease them all into their new lives. It had been decided, early on, that every member of the assembled committee should vote in favor of a draft in order for it to be adopted as a law, and anyone could come up with one. The system was a complete utopia considering that her first demand had been outright rejected by most, as including Will into the negotiations, as her partner, had been seen as giving herself a second vote – which was damn right stupid as no law could pass without unanimous vote anyway. Moreover, Will was not afraid of opposing her ideas, and was slightly paranoid, feeling she was using him as a puppet; Not without reason, all things considered.
This first refusal had some advantage though, as Helen and Will had agreed upon consorting before voting for or against an article, which forced them to confront whenever they did not agree. The mere fact that they were both still alive and mostly okay was enough to prove they had acquired a new team balance, which they were quite proud of.
The last discussion that had taken place during the council's meeting had tackled heads of houses' health. The question had been raised whether they should submit to regular check ups or be left to their own device to deal with their health as they saw fit.
Declan had proposed that each one of them should be treated by another head of house so as to avoid self-medication or the occasional underestimation of one's condition. Helen was ready to admit that some limits had to be imposed for their own safety. She herself would have died a few times had her team not chosen to ignore her numerous occurrences of "I'm fine, only a bit tired" and "It's only a few scratches". Yet she wasn't convinced by Declan's idea.
"Oh I do think it is in our best interest to be followed by an objective doctor. However, I know from experience that you should not put health and politics in the same bag if you want to keep both your life and your job." She clarified.
Declan raised an eyebrow.
"You think one of us would be ready to abuse their position to gain power." He realized, finding the idea highly disturbing.
Helen put her father's notebook aside on her wooden bench, and crossed her legs.
"I sure don't want to tempt anyone."
When the silence stretched between them, Helen remembered she had not answered the young man's question yet, which she corrected:
"However, there's no clear rule yet. I trust there's no one I'd rather entrust with my health and that of the baby than you." She ensured, "Especially considering how special this fetus is."
Declan hesitated a few seconds, as if torn between two ways to carry the conversation, but he finally frowned:
"how special is your 'special'?" He asked.
Helen didn't say a word. Instead, she opened the notebook at her side, and pulled a strange little tie-clip or bookmark out of it. Glancing up, she made sure Declan was focused on her every move, then furrowed her lip, which made her look like a chess player trying to figure out which move would ensure his victory, extended her arm and let the tie-clip/bookmark fall to the ground. Or as it turned out, float above the ground and ascend back to Helen's hand, as if she were a living magnet.
She didn't move an inch, and only her eyes looked for Declan's gaze before she talked:
"And it's barely sixteen weeks old."
She was somewhat proud of this little parlor-trick, which she had spent quite a few hours practicing alone, with the sound of the waterfall as only witness. She had found out that she had some influence on the fetus' magnetism. There was some connection between them, as if it understood her needs and she didn't know how to feel about it. It was so small, yet already so human, so aware... So... Nikola. She could see his smug little smile whenever she succeeded in using the baby's magnetism, as if he had made it. Oh how proud he would be, learning, and then talking about his most recent invention.
And how scared it made her feel, knowing exactly how proud he would be to revive the mighty vampire race!
Declan frowned. He had never seen that before. To be honest, he had not had the chance to look after lots of pregnant abnormals, and most of them did not have special abilities that could show like that. He knew that when an empath woman was pregnant, the fetus would enhance her empathic sensitivity, which explained why most empaths would not have children in a city. The risk of losing the baby during the first trimester was awfully high due to the awful amount of stress the mothers were submitted to.
But that... That was spectacular.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks a lot like what Tesla can do." He finally broke out.
"It does. And it's not a coincidence. Although I'd like him to hear about his son or daughter from me rather than from anyone else."
Declan swallowed. There was no way of knowing how dangerous having this baby would be. That was a real leap in the dark.
"Nice. Before you trust me any further, there's something I need to tell you. To clear my conscience." He said, deciding that her honesty should only be met with the same coming from him.
Helen tilted her head to the side, not sure what her young colleague could feel bad about.
"Come and sit down. I don't bite." Yet, she mentally added, really hoping they wouldn't come to that because of the little bloodsucker.
Declan complied, sitting a safe distance away from the boss, his palms flat on the wood on each side of his legs.
"There's a whole box of Watson's notebooks under my bed. He gave them to me a year or so before he died. He was obsessing over his memory losses, always flickering through the pages to find the bits of his life he could not remember. One day he lost it, and he asked me to keep his notes so that he would have to use his memory rather than looking for all the answers in those. I know I should have given them to you when you came to London to pick up a few things after his death. But I guess I just don't want to let go of the man." He confessed, looking at the floor all the while.
There was a moment of silence between them, until he felt Helen's hand on his shoulder and looked up to see she had a sad smile on.
"Oh Declan... I already knew. James wrote an informal will. He didn't have a lot of personal belongings, but he donated all to the London sanctuary. So me, I guess, as we lived together in my father's house for so long. There's one thing he gave away though. The whole collection of his notebooks. To you. I thought he had made it clear that you were to keep them..." She explained.
Declan was confused. He had always considered Watson and Magnus as a kind of married couple. It seemed strange that she should not get his diary as a keepsake.
"Why? There's some personal data... About you, mainly."
Helen shrugged. She had thought about that a lot. At first, she had considered asking Declan for the notebooks. But she knew James inside and out, and was sure there was nothing in this diary that would make her blush were Declan to read them. James was a passionate man, but his notes were purely factual. She knew that from the amount of time she had spent trying to get his attention while he was writing.
"He loved you. And he knew you would need them, for guidance, or only so as to know about the sanctuary's history. That's something I would do for Will too."
Declan smiled. He did not have a big ego to feed, but it was still good to know he was part of the family. He felt his body relax, and he sighed.
"I did learn a few things..." He admitted. "What in the name of God happened between the Sanctuary and the USSR in 1976? What happened to Lucy and her family?".
Helen's comforting smile melted away as soon as he evoked 1976, and Declan thought he had made a mistake.
"I told James not to mention this to anyone." She said, quite obviously defensive again.
"I guess he didn't think writing a few lines would do any harm." Declan tried.
Helen sighed and closed her eyes. She had thought she would never have to think about this huge mess again, and here it was, whereas they were all either dead or at least dead to the surface of the planet.
"I guess it doesn't."
Helen thought about it for a few seconds. There was no big risk talking about it to Declan now. No... But he would have to bribe her.
"The notebooks are yours. But I want my correspondence and photos back. You want the whole story? Quid pro quo, my friend." She said with one of her impish smiles.
The sun had set a couple of hours before, and Helen was done with paperwork for the day, which was good news, as the clock showed it wouldn't be long before a new day was due. To her utmost surprise, she had had time to take a nice break so as to cook some kind of curry – they constantly had to adapt their recipes according to the food they could find in Hollow Earth – which she had shared with Erika. She hadn't been quite that efficient in weeks, not to say months. Whether this beautiful efficiency was due to the baby or to the renewal of her team's affection, she didn't know, but she could almost believe everything would come along quite nicely in the end. Almost.
Anyway, her day of work was drawing to an end. She had spent the last two hours devising with the head of the Cairo sanctuary through video conference, and she was looking forward to ending their conversation. Not because she didn't like her colleague, but her back was hurting from the sitting position, and the comfy sofa seemed to call to her from the other side of her office.
"Pili, I'm not sure you should mention that I helped you with the details of this draft. Not if you want it to pass, anyway."
On Helen's computer screen, the young woman smiled, looking positively amused.
"Helen, you're wrong if you think that any of us has any animosity towards you, or your work." She ensured comfortingly.
Helen chuckled lightly.
"Are you saying I'm paranoid?"
"Not that I can blame you for it, but we all agree to say you're the only one able to run this organization. On the surface, no one wanted your position as no one wanted to deal with the UNO and governments. Here in Hollow Earth, you are the only one with diplomatic relationships with the Praxians. And I'm not even talking about all the new technologies you invested in. You have no opponent, and we all admire what you are doing for us."
Helen offered Pili a tired and knowing smile.
She knew that no one would have wanted to depose her, not in a million years. It was she herself that was fed up with this position. That was saying something. She was a doctor in cryptozoology and terratology, not a bureaucrat, for God's sake! She had not seen one of her residents in days!
She was about to thank Pili for her honesty when the door opened, revealing a pale Nikola, holding – as per usual – a bottle of red wine and two glasses.
"Something just came up, I have to go. Thank you Pili. I'll see you at the assembly."
With that she ended the conference and leaned back in her armchair, trying to hide the sudden tension that had invaded her body when she had caught a glimpse of Tesla.
She couldn't have hidden her surprise had she tried to. She had not expected him to be back from his little trip around the transport network so soon. But more than that, it had been a very long time since they had last shared a bottle and their sorrows in her office, for no reason other than the pleasure they took in each other's company.
"You're back!" She added, choosing not to mention the prime source of her surprise.
Nikola grinned, weighed the bottle and put the glasses down on Helen's desk.
"I even bathed and had dinner." He said, with childish pride.
Helen couldn't help but smile at that: she noticed he seemed ill-at-ease, and her heart melted. He was trying to fix what laid broken between them, even though he had no clue as to how to do that.
"You'd deserve a cookie... But someone wolfed down the whole box this morning." She teased.
The sparkle of playfulness in her eyes eased him instantly back into their old banter. He grimaced, vaguely rubbing his stomach with his free hand.
"Ugh. Please. 'thou shall resist any temptation taking you away from the path that leads to wine'. I'm pretty sure that's in the Holy Bible." He said, crashing down on the armchair facing Helen's desk.
"It does seem wise, indeed." She agreed.
"It was. Until I smelled curry..."
Helen cocked her head to the side, frowning, and he went on.
"Evil unleashed. I finished the pot." He explained with nonchalance. "I craved spicy food all day."
"Oh Nikola..." Helen began, rolling her eyes, exasperated.
"Help me wash it down with Bordeaux?"
She sighed, looking at him through her eyelashes. She was both relieved and disappointed to have to decline his invitation. Relieved because as much as she had rehearsed the moment she would tell him about the fetus, she was still not ready to talk about it, and disappointed because she knew she would be ready to do it, in time, were they to spend more time together and let their defenses down.
"I would love to, but Declan should be here any second." She said with a sorry smile.
Nikola felt his hopes deflate in an instant. He wasn't there in her office only for the sake of socializing with his oldest friend. He needed help. Of a medical kind.
He had always been considered as a kind of hypochondriac, who always contracted the strangest of undiscovered illnesses. In time, he had learned to keep his mouth shut whenever he thought he was going to die of one of those illnesses afflicting him. But this time, he was sure there was something wrong with him. His back was hurting so much that he had put an end to his hike, telling Henry they had seen everything they needed to see. He knew he should not be eating so much either, but he just couldn't control himself. It was just like blood in the first years after his transformation. He craved food. Badly. All of his proper education was forgotten when he saw food, and he also ignored the part of his brain that told him he would get sick if he did ingest so much solid food – a thing he had never been used to anyway.
As a vampire, he was not supposed to be feeling this kind of pain in his lower back either. His body was resistant, and any injury was quickly repaired by his organism. And yet, there he was, sweating all over because he was in pain – a thing he wasn't used to anymore. Not physically anyway.
He was silently begging Helen, the stoical and gorgeous goddess, to understand he needed her help without having to ask for it. But she was blind to his silent pleas. Damn his pride, which prevented him from kneeling at her feet to beg.
Coming to think of it, this was weird too. He was a sensitive man, always dramatic, always on edge, sometimes inclined to exaggeration if you asked around. But those sudden flights of lyricism were reaching new heights. Seeing Helen Magnus had always triggered physical responses in him: his heart frequently skipped beats, an electric current flowed through his body, buzzing, tingling in his toes and fingers, a warm fuzzy feeling settled in his lower belly, he had sudden cravings for her blood, or the touch of her lips and skin... All of which – being a man of intellect and not a beast of instincts – he had brilliantly learned to control, at least most of the time. But there was something about her these days that turned him into a stupid and cheesy poet. Being a romantic was one thing, being ridiculous was unacceptable.
He swallowed hard when he realized he was staring at her, wondering if her hair was as soft as it looked. It looked beautiful, tied up on the side of her head, in that braided bun. The strangest thing was that it looked like there was more curly mass to grab in the throes of passion than usual. That was it, he was going insane.
"It's midnight, Helen. Surely you can both stop working without provoking a major crisis." He argued, trying hard to focus on safe thoughts.
She shook her head, smiling.
"It's not work-related. He wants to talk about James."
She didn't like to lie to him. But it wasn't so far from the truth. She shifted in her seat, trying to find a more comfortable position for her back.
"Are you alright?" Nikola asked, frowning, when he noticed the flash of pain that Helen tried to conceal.
Once again, Helen was surprised to hear Nikola ask about her health. He didn't usually bother asking. He much preferred guessing. She offered him the warmest smile she could muster.
"My back is sore from all the sitting, it's nothing to be worried about."
Nikola didn't think twice. He jumped to his feet and took a few steps, coming around Helen's desk. Yet, he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw her every muscle tense in anticipation. With her hair up in that new fashion of hers, he had a clear view of her neck, and he could see her pulse point on her carotid. Her heartbeat was erratic. She looked at him, her blueish gaze full of apprehension, and once again, his heart sank. He had ruined the fragile trust he had just established, once again. He sighed.
"Please Helen, let me give you a massage. I'll stop the second you get uncomfortable."
Judging by her demeanor, he could stop right there, as she was already looking like she was trying to disappear inside of her chair. He didn't move, and decided to give her the time she needed to weigh the pros and cons of letting his hands roam over her shoulders and back.
Helen pouted, biting the inside of her lower lip, which gave her a comical – yet cute as hell – profile. She awfully needed Nikola's gifted hands to work their wonders on her tired limbs. But she had no idea what could happen if he touched her. Would the fetus react in any way? Would they be glued together like magnets? Or on the contrary – would he be unable to approach her? Both reactions would require her to break the news, and now was not the right time. Not with Declan on his way to see her. She was so worried that she didn't notice right away that her fountain pen was slowly and silently making its way toward her hand.
She was saved when a knock on the door broke the tension of the moment. She sighed, and flashed a sorry smile in Nikola's direction. She felt like crying. It was so frustrating! For once, he was doing his very best to show he was a reliable friend, and yet, she had to keep him at bay. She had never felt so far from him, whereas she was carrying a part of him.
They stared at each other for a few seconds, Nikola was trying hard to interpret the sadness he could see in her big eyes, Helen trying just as hard to make him understand that, in time, she would open to him.
"Come in!" She called out, not breaking eye-contact with her vampire, who looked vulnerable until Declan walked in, forcing him to straighten his shoulders and assume his usual composed stance. He shrugged, turned away, and went to the door.
"I'll be in my lab if you wanna take me up on my offer." He announced, a smug smile on his face, all for Declan's benefit.
Helen shook her head, smiling to herself, or to feel more at ease – she didn't know herself.
The engineer stopped right in front of the door, but didn't turn back to look at her. However, the cat-like movement of his ears was enough to ensure he was listening.
"Thank you." She said truthfully.
Nikola didn't answer. He left the office, leaving Helen to wonder whether he had understood that her 'thank you' did not only cover his offer but his first move towards... Towards what? Reconciliation? Something more? She looked down at her joined hands, and frowned when she saw her fountain pen resting against her fingers. Odd, she usually put it down on her right side, next to her keyboard, meaning...
"Oh bloody Hell." She muttered to herself, hoping Nikola had not noticed this little parlor trick.
"Did I interrupt something?" Declan asked, stepping closer to the desk.
Helen cleared her throat, and rose from her seat, showing Declan to her lounging area.
"I wish you had." She said, inviting the young man to sit down.
Although relieved he had not disturbed any ongoing peace negotiations, Declan didn't comment on Helen's despair. He simply put a bundle of paper on the coffee table, careful not to even unintentionally dog-ear any of the century old pages.
It was quite a large parcel of yellowish bits and pieces of envelopes and letters, mixed with old daguerreotypes from the nineteenth century and more recent pictures. The whole bunch of documents was bound by a red satin ribbon, which Helen recognized with emotion as being one of those James and herself had used to wrap Christmas gifts for decades. A strange bubbly feeling invaded her when she recognized the handwriting on the envelope on the top of the pile as being that of Arthur Conan Doyle, and she could also distinguish some sheets of the letter papers as being that of which she had used for years. She extended her hand, barely brushing the knot holding the letters together with her index finger, and sighed. Her instructions to all the people in the network who had decided to bury their old lives in order to now live underground had been clear: their disappearance had to be fast and discreet. Of all the things Declan could have put in the simple duffel bag he had brought with him when he had faked his own suicide, he had chosen James' archives. If she had had any doubts about his abilities, that would have finally convinced her that he was James Watson's perfect successor.
"Thank you, Declan, it means a lot to me." She said softly.
Her colleague stared at her hand for a few seconds, taking in the tenderness with which she was assessing the materiality of the memories under her fingers. Then he sought her blue gaze, looking for any sign of weakness. He found none, but it didn't mean a thing. He had done his best to conceal the most painful pictures of the lot between folded letters, so that she would not see them first. She would find them though, after a while...
"Am I doing the right thing in giving these back to you now?" He asked, worried she would eventually lose it.
It took a few seconds for Helen to understand what Declan was talking about. But when she did, she offered him a reassuring smile, and nodded solemnly.
"I don't have much time to indulge in memories from the good ol' days. You shan't worry, I'll lock this safely in a drawer and wait for better days." She promised, doing her best to bite back her annoyance at how everyone seemed to mollycoddle her now she was pregnant.
Declan squinted, and it took Helen two seconds to get to the bottom of her stocks of patience.
"Now. You honoured your part of the deal. I believe it is my turn. What has James' diary taught you about the abnormals we found in the USSR?" She asked, getting down to business. She left James' personal papers alone, and crossed her legs, joining her hands on top of her knees.
Declan sighed, trying to gather the pieces of information he had memorized from his readings.
"Watson didn't write much about them. I know that in 1948 you found two highly intelligent humanoid individuals, a male and a female. Watson described them as being strangely similar to humans, as if they were the missing link. Their longevity was unusual for that kind of species, so he thought you might learn a few things about your own longevity. He mentioned they seemed to be a monogamous couple, and that the female seemed sterile. You found another female of the same species in 1976, and Watson went against your wishes by trying to get the male to mate with the younger female, which was a failure as the couple seemed to experience some severe state of depression. The older female finally got pregnant when Watson reunited her with her mate, whereas you both thought it would never be possible. He monitored the pregnancy until December 1976, when the government seized the three abnormals to send them back to the USSR. Watson's account ends there."
Helen had to admit that what James had consigned in his notes did not cover even half of the story, which was not surprising, as she had not told him the whole story either. James had always cared more about her safety than about the transparency between them. This sort of freedom had been a huge thing to expect from a man born during Victoria's time.
"Alright. This is going to be a long night. What do you know about...'humanzees'?" She asked planting her gaze in Declan's.
"Humanzees? I know some scientists have tried to breed human-chimpanzee hybrids, but it didn't work out." He hesitated. " That whole story of Stalin's humanzee army is nothing more than an anti-sovietic urban legend, right? These hybrids would be sterile anyway, so the abnormals you found could not be humanzees."
Helen lowered her gaze, smiling.
"You are absolutely right. And they were neither really human nor chimps. Until 1976, James and I were totally baffled by our discovery." She breathed in deeply, and began her story "In February 1948, I received a call from one of my collaborators in Georgia. Seismic activity in the Caucasus mountains had made an old disused mine collapse, and the abnormal couple you read about were lucky enough to escape out of the tunnels before they could be trapped inside. I organized their safe shipment to London and I flew there to analyze them as soon as they arrived. I was utterly unable to learn anything useful about them. They were remarkably intelligent, to the point that we succeeded in teaching them sign language. They could have spoken English too, but they seemed to react very badly to sounds. But even when they started being fluent in signs, they were still unable to teach us anything. They didn't have any memory other than that of being alone together in the mine. We soon realized we were wasting our time by randomly fishing for answers we knew we would not get without some major technological advances. Then in 1976, an entire village located in a recluse region of Siberia became the target of what a Russian expert, as well as myself, had believed to be a wendigo attack, pushing the villagers to kill each other and consume their flesh." Helen paused when she noticed Declan's agitation.
"A wendigo?" He asked an eyebrow raised, shaking his head slightly, clearly lost. "I thought they only lived in North America! Besides, they only ever use their psychic abilities on humans when they feel threatened and outnumbered." He argued.
"They are not frequently found in Siberia, but there were some living there, of whom some considerably older than those we've met in Canada. Wendigos live where they can find prey, which is why their population decreased dramatically over the years in Siberia. There were only a few of them left after the great famine of 1921. Still, the attack bugged me too. It bugged me so much that I decided to go there myself. The village was more of a hamlet, where little more than two families of political dissidents had lived relying on their own crops. There was no doubt that they had been the victims of a wendigo. But the most surprising thing is that my team and I had found that it had been chased down and killed by another abnormal that had not seemed to be influenced by the wendigo's psychic abilities."
Helen would have stopped for theatrical effect, but Declan had already guessed, so she let him voice his deduction.
"The young female..." He muttered, intrigued by his colleague's tale.
"How is that even possible? So far, there's never been a human being able to resist the hallucinations induced by a wendigo."
Helen pursed her lips.
"You actually knew one quite well." She corrected tilting her head with a sorry smile.
Her colleague frowned.
"You mean Watson?"
"Yes. His quick thinking and observational skills were only the most obvious gifts that came with the source blood injection, although we didn't suspect his high resistance to psychic invasions until he had some pentothal-related issues."
Declan raised an eyebrow again, but resisted the temptation to ask what that story was all about. There were things in the Five's lives that one preferred not knowing about. Ever.
"Wait a minute, Magnus, I thought the vial of source blood your father hid in Bhallassam was the only sample of its kind. How could an unknown species of abnormal lost in Siberia show some sanguine vampiris related mutations?" He asked, properly lost this time. There was probably another reason for this oddity, but then again, why would Helen lead the conversation towards the source blood if there was no link between that and the humanoids from Siberia?
"The abnormals we rescued were the results of Ilya Ivanovich's breeding experiments. He and his father had tried to breed humans and chimpanzees in the twenties, as you know. They never succeeded, but then Ilya got his hands on a sample of source blood, which he apparently used to create super-hybrids."
Helen stopped, just long enough to breathe in. It was not an easy story to tell, and obviously, Declan was at a loss.
"His research was certainly funded by the Russian government, which explains why they were so afraid that I had discovered something that they didn't want publically known. So much so that they came banging on my door to force me to hand the abnormals over to them. On Christmas day, a delegation from our English government paid me a visit, and produced proof that Ilya Ivanovich had acquired his sample of source blood from my father during a stay in London. Moreover, his father and himself had acquired chimpanzees from the Pasteur Institute in Paris, with which my father worked on a regular basis, out of brotherly love for Louis, my godfather. I knew Gregory would never have given anything as dangerous as source blood to the Ivanovichs, but I was not able to refute this. A good hundred people could testify to having seen the two of them in my father's house, as they had indeed stayed in London with us for a few weeks in 1918. And the delegation even had a letter from my father sealing the deal. A forgery, of course, but a brilliant one." She explained.
Declan was dumbfounded. No wonder Helen had such a hatred of politics when she had had her issues with almost every government or world organization on the face of the Earth, including their own dear England.
"They blackmailed you with a forged case against the Sanctuary. Bastards."
Helen had a side smile. She had come very close to losing all support from her country and the UNO, and maybe even her place as head of the network. Two lifetimes of protection and studies thrown away for some political blunder from part of a foreign power. Sometimes, in the dead of night, she wondered if she had made the right choice in letting the government inside her house to take the abnormals away. But no matter how much she thought about it, she always came back to the conclusion that she had made the wisest choice. Even though she had not followed her convictions on this one.
"They did. Times were different. Everyone was paranoid, spies were thought to be everywhere... And the network was not spared. The heads of houses were frequently mixing our work and politics. I had no choice." She explained, not sure if she wanted to convince Declan or herself, once more.
Declan cleared his throat.
"What happened to the abnormals?"
"I paid the Russians so that they would take care of them and offer them a decent life. Which they did, according to a highly placed friend of mine. But they did not exactly send me a newsletter every year, and my informant died a few years afterward. I'm afraid I'll never know what became of them."
She lowered her gaze, biting the inside corner of her mouth, lost in thoughts. Three years before, she had given up on her position, and almost on her life so as to save Big Bertha, not thinking even for a second about politics. But then again, Declan would most likely have been elected as leader of the network, and killing Big Bertha would have threatened the planet's entire balance. She snorted. She could be so contradictory, thinking about downloading her daughter's consciousness into the fetus growing inside of her one day, and regretting having sent four hybrids back to their place of origin the next.
Declan had known Helen Magnus for a good decade, and seeing her doubting her own decisions was a first. He shifted closer to her on the couch, and put a comforting hand on her shoulder, squeezing it lightly.
"You saved thousands of our residents. As usual, you acted wisely. Don't be too hard on yourself, Magnus. You can't always get what you want." He said, as seriously as he could.
She turned to him, puzzled, and offered him a warm, bright smile.
"I can't believe you just quoted the Rolling Stones." She teased.
"Whatever works." He confirmed, laughing softly.
That morning, what Helen needed wasn't just a cup of black tea, but the whole teapot. Being two centuries old, she had learned to shut all negative thoughts to sleep on demand, whenever she could, without being troubled by insomnia. Still, she had not slept much, and she certainly hadn't slept well. In the span of five days, she had lost yet another old friend, learned she was pregnant with the last sanguine vampiris' child, told Will and Henry about Ashley, shared a deep emotional connection with Nikola and relived distressing memories, reunited with her brother and been confirmed that Rana and her dear old father had perished in Praxis. She had been through worse, but the accumulation was taking its toll on her body, and she was exhausted. So on her way to her office, she was considering taking the day off, or rather slow anyway. She could manage with the required minimum to ensure the building would stand for yet another day, and go see Will for her therapy session, and maybe even meditate for a while.
She was lost in thoughts when she entered the office. The lights turned on automatically when her presence was detected, and she almost dropped her breakfast tray when she caught sight of the familiar shape sitting in her armchair.
Helen quickly recovered from the initial shock when she realized it was only Nikola, and she wondered how he had tricked the auto-lights to be able to lurk in the dark, looking depressed and already drinking Cabernet whereas it was only 7.30 in the morning, lost in contemplation. The question quickly faded from her mind though, replaced by another: what did he want from her?
"You needed something?" Helen asked when it was clear Nikola wasn't moving, and had no intention of starting the conversation.
He leaned his elbow on the arm of the chair, his jaw on his hand, and stared at the deep red liquid dancing in his glass. He looked awfully quiet, and this kind of quiet, Helen knew, was a sign of danger. She gritted her teeth.
"Do you know why in most Slave languages, you say that a couple, and not only the female, is pregnant?" He asked.
That was it. The secret was out. She didn't know what or who had betrayed her secret, but Nikola was in on it.
Her mouth was dry, her voice barely audible.
"It is because a legend says that once upon a time, husbands and wives used to share the burdens and joys of pregnancy." Nikola paused, tapping the rim of his glass. He moistened his lips with wine, planting his gaze in Helen's, which made her shiver in the same way she always did when she felt rain falling down on her skin whenever she was forced to surface from Hollow Earth. It was intimate, for the first time in too long a while.
She walked to the desk to get rid of the tray she was carrying, and sighed, closing her eyes to gather her thoughts without the distractingly intimidating sight of Nikola.
"Were you even planning on telling me?" He asked.
The softness of his question broke Helen's heart. She expected him to be angry, disappointed even, but certainly not sad. She opened her eyes again, and sat on the edge of her desk.
"Nikola. Don't be silly. It is your child, of course I was going to tell you. I learnt I was pregnant only a couple of days ago and I'm having a very hard time dealing with the notion." She explained, slowly extending her hand to fetch his. Nothing happened when the skin of her digits touched the back of his hand, so she squeezed it, and smiled.
Nikola gazed at their joined hands and caressed Helen's knuckles with his thumb.
"I'm sorry."He said calmly.
That was a first, and also a nice proof that Nikola Tesla was unpredictable. Although Helen could not make out what on Earth he was sorry for, hearing him ask for her forgiveness was good... Unless... Was he about to tell her he didn't want to be a father to their child? A wave of panic invaded her mind, and without warning, Nikola's corkscrew – which Helen recognized as being the one she had offered to him at the end of the nineteenth century – left the side of her desk, aiming straight at her head, at a dangerous speed. She let go of Nikola's hand to catch the tool inches from her face and sighed.
Nikola looked unimpressed.
"And to say I was treasuring this silver corkscrew as my most precious belonging. Helen, I'm shocked. I know that's the thought that counts, but nickel?" He complained saucily, in that false way that said he already knew.
Helen looked at the offending object, as if it had personally betrayed her twice.
"I paid this piece of junk two pounds and a guinea." She protested, happy that the seller was already dead. She put the not-so-precious corkscrew back on the surface of the desk and shook her head.
"It's sentimental now. Our child just tried to kill you with it." Nikola remarked with a side smile before his expression changed from amusement to uncertainty. "Do you plan on keeping it?"
"The child." He added, pocketing his corkscrew to avoid any further incident.
"Well, yes. You've seen what this little one is capable of, I don't think we really have a choice in the matter. Is it why you're sorry?" Helen asked softly.
She couldn't understand why Nikola sounded so worried about whether she would keep their child or not and still look ashamed and sorry about its very existence. She frowned when he looked down at her hands again, looking as if he was gathering his courage. When he gulped, she took his face in her hands and forced him to look at her, her gaze full of questions begging to be answered.
He didn't blink, holding her gaze as if he wanted Helen to see right through him, to touch his soul and mingle with it.
"I forced myself on you Helen. I don't want you to look at our child everyday and remember how I lost control and abused you." He confessed.
Helen's eyes rounded, and she stayed agape for a few seconds, shocked by what her best friend and part-time lover had just said.
All those months he had spent carefully respecting her private space and refraining himself from cracking dirty jokes, those weeks without obvious flirting – All of this was not only a result of his wounded pride. He was seriously thinking he had raped her. It certainly explained why he had looked so hesitant in touching her, withdrawing his hand each time he had taken her arm out of friendly habit, and why he was so jumpy. Good Lord! They had both misinterpreted every gesture or word the other had made or said in four months. She couldn't help but smile, slightly amused by their foolishness.
"Nikola... You would be dead by now had I not been a consenting victim." She pointed out. The look of adoration in his eyes made her stomach clench, and she tapped her thumb against his closely shaved cheek. "I needed to feel you, and I also needed to surrender my control to you, both to show my trust and because I had been in control of everything for a century." She clarified, toying with the hair at the nape of his neck.
He covered the hand that was on his cheek with his, as if this simple touch could bridge the distance that had brought them apart all those months.
"Except I wasn't in control."
Helen grimaced exaggeratedly.
"I got that when it took you two minutes to take what you needed and left me frustrated as hell." She reminded him, trying to sound teasing while deep inside, she resented him just a little bit for that.
Nikola was not a selfish lover. He had an ego to feed and he had taken pride in satisfying her the first time they had enjoyed the physical side of their blurry relationship. That's why when he had burst into tears on her shoulder, she had been so surprised that she had failed to react. He had fled without a word, and they had spent the next few months avoiding the confrontation.
A grin appeared on the vampire's face, and he used her hands to help himself up, his face finding itself literally millimeters from Helen's.
"I could make up for all this accumulated frustration..." He whispered in a conspiring tone, his breath hot on her cheeks.
She was torn between the need to roll her eyes and that of laughing with joy at seeing her insufferable friend back. She squinted playfully, leaning in to whisper in his ear.
"I'm glad you're suggesting to. You could start by telling me what you meant when you talked about sharing the burdens and joys of pregnancy."
The mention of their current issue sobered him up instantly, and he sighed.
"Always so bent on ruining the mood." He complained.
Helen smiled and pushed him lightly back into her armchair.
"As if you needed help." She retorted, with a sinful smile while pouring tea in her china cup.
He grimaced, but said nothing. Instead, he picked a biscuit from Helen's tray and shoved it in his mouth.
"I'm pregnant too." He announced. "Or, more accurately, your pregnancy is affecting me, physically. I have all the symptoms: stupid cravings, heartburn, back pains, mood swings... Can you believe I'm even starting to feel affection for your rugrats?"
Helen pushed her breakfast tray out of Nikola's reach when he took a second biscuit from her plate.
"Most of what you're describing is due to progesterone and estrogen variations." Helen explained, worrying her brow.
"Are you telling me it's impossible because I'm a man?" Nikola asked sarcastically.
"Oh I do believe you're not ransacking the kitchen for no reason. Men also produce progesterone and estrogen. Their progesterone keeps their estrogen level in check, to be precise. I'm only trying to understand what triggered a surge in your levels." She paused long enough to finish her tea. "Henry and Erika were the first ones to find out I was pregnant. They can smell it. Surely you've noticed it too." She asked, a theory taking shape in her mind.
Nikola's first reaction was to mentally curse Henry for not telling him a damn thing about Helen's state. But he quickly left his disappointment aside, judging he much preferred hearing the news from her, with whom he didn't have to hide his feelings.
"I did. At first I thought I was going crazy." Nikola mused.
Helen frowned, her face a perfect mirror of the questions racing in her mind. Nikola grinned. He knew this face well – he had fallen for it the day they had had to share a table at the library in Oxford. He remembered the moment quite vividly, even though he could not have told what she had been trying to understand back then. A mathematical formula maybe? She had always struggled with maths.
He noticed a few wrinkles at the corner of her eyes that he had never seen before. She was the same young woman she had been in the 1870s, and yet so different.
"You want to know what you're smelling like, don't you?"
She smiled, amazed at how the genius could know exactly how her curiosity worked when she had only discovered how much more complex and intense than she had suspected he was.
Nikola sighed and breathed in deeply.
"I can't describe the smell, really. It's heady, it's you, but there's something of me in it, something that makes me feel protective and possessive." Seeing Helen tense, he quickly added: "which I am not, and you know it."
"I guess I could be producing pheromones. That could have triggered a surge in your hormones..." She supposed.
Her fellow scientist considered the possibility for a few seconds.
"Don't you think it's incredible that such an advanced civilization as the vampires' was not deemed worthy of a Vampire Biology for Dummies?" He asked, wishing – and not wishing – they had had some time to gain some insight thanks to Afina.
Helen smiled. She had been mistaken thinking Nikola would be insufferable and proud of his ability to revive his race with her. Instead, he seemed considerate and reasonable. For the moment anyway. He had probably thought about the matter for a long while. However, the baby was not the only thing she had to tell him about... Far from it. And at this thought, the flame of hope burning inside of her flickered and died.
"Nikola... There are lots of things you need to know about the life I've lived these last hundred years." She hesitated, looking down at the empty bottle of wine next to her, and Nikola's voice forced her to look up.
"I know. Let's take one thing at a time, as slowly as you want." He jumped in.
He let his words sink in Helen's mind, before quickly resuming :
"Except if you need me to propose before your pregnancy shows. Your honor comes first."
Helen rolled her eyes, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. She jumped off the desk and straightened her dress.
"We're taking the day off. There's someone I've wanted you to meet for a hundred years, and he might be able to help us figure out what exactly is around the corner for us. So let's kill two birds with one stone." She declared.
"I appreciate your need to elope with me, really, but what about my work? I can't leave Henry alone with his new toys, he doesn't understand how to use them!"
In any other circumstances, he would have followed Helen without thinking twice about it. Her presence somewhere signaled the epicenter of interest in lots of different scientific fields. But he was supposed to be teaming with Henry to modify the braking system of the transporters. Not that he didn't trust the young man but one man was not enough for what they had to do. That, and – he didn't trust him fully. Yet.
Helen stopped on her way to the doors and turned to him.
"A report came in yesterday. Rana and my father were last seen dead in the Praxian library. I knew her council would have approved of our modernizing their means of transportation, but now we have to wait for a new council to be organized before we can agree on implementing your back-up system."
Nikola rose from Helen's armchair. He wasn't fooled by his friend's matter-of-fact tone. Of course it pissed him that he had worked so hard and so long for nothing, but he had clearly heard that Helen's father was dead. He had all the time in the world to catch up on his inventions, but Helen only had one father.
"How many times has this good old Dr. Magnus been declared dead already? That trick's getting old."
Helen smiled. He was right. Gregory had disappeared from her life more times than she could count before reappearing in the most dramatic fashion, beginning when she had only been two years old. She had learned to be prepared for the day he wouldn't come home to her. In the end, she was only sad he had suffered a violent, long and dreadful death.
"This time, he is not coming back." She certified blankly, hoping to make her friend understand she didn't wish to discuss the matter any further.
That certainly put a damper on Nikola's joy. Gregory had always treated him with kindness, offering him a home in the summer, when he couldn't afford traveling back to Croatia, or lending him small amounts of money for his experiences. They had had their disagreements, but Nikola admired Gregory too much to care, and the old man had always been polite enough not to point out the student's many flaws of character.
He had very detailed memories of the last time he had seen the man, on May 8th 1945. Helen and himself had been drinking champagne on her balcony, watching the people cheering from above. They had watched hundreds of people kissing in the street, celebrating the armistice, and Nikola had turned to her, looking perfectly gorgeous in her V-neck red dress reaching just below the knees, joking about how he too deserved a victory kiss. And he would have had it too, had Gregory Magnus – whom everyone thought dead at the time – not stormed in the room with James, both crying with joy, tearing Helen from him.
At a loss for words, Nikola walked to Helen and threw his arms around her, crushing her body against his in an awkward embrace. Surprise took her breath away. They had never been of the hugging type, it was simply not who they were. They had always shown the other they cared by providing intellectual distractions from their emotions, always finding practical problems that required their whole attention. However, with her cheek against his shoulder, her nose in his neck and his arms around her, she had to admit it didn't feel bad, and she guessed she could do with a hug from time to time.
"Gregory Magnus-Tesla. How does that sound to you?" Nikola asked, his chest vibrating under her ear.
She freed herself from his arms and took a step back, shaking her head.
"Shall we try to learn more about what we're signing for before we fight about names?"
"Alright. It's a girl anyway." He announced lightly, shrugging.
Helen stared at him, desperately trying to find a sign that he was messing with her.
"How could you know?" She quizzed.
He tapped his temple.
"Same way I knew the Titanic would sink, or that World War I would last four years, or that Nigel would die before the rest of us."
There were many major things that Nikola should have predicted, many which he had believed in vain, but his visions had never betrayed him. Helen felt her heart sink. A girl. Please don't be anything like Ashley, she thought.
Archibald hated video calls. He hated them with a passion. Not as Helen hated coffee, or as their father had hated his mother's "I-know-you're-feeling-guilty-look". No, the coffee thing was half-fake and out of chauvinism and the look only made Gregory feel guiltier. Video calls, however... They went against everything Archibald Magnus was. They prevented his empathic abilities to function, therefore he could never tell whether his interlocutor was being honest. He built his opinions of people on their feelings, and he was a very good judge of character if he dared say so himself. He understood why people acted the way they did, whereas Helen always had to struggle and ask for explanations. Most of the time, he could boast his abilities. But whenever he had to answer a video call... Well, he wished he were as great as his sister was at reading facial expressions. He looked up at his clock. Great, it was 8.30 in the morning and he had either 'won the lottery' or lost half his salary already.
Something shifted inside of him, and his anger was gradually replaced by such an overwhelming uncertainty that he felt tears gather at the corner of his eyes. He breathed in, slowly. There was no reason to feel so down only because he had agreed on paying more than usual for a rare book, he reasoned. His reasoning didn't help though, and a few seconds later, he felt his insides clench in a weirdly delightful way he identified as desire and he sighed – What he was feeling weren't his own emotions. Archibald frowned. He was in his office, at the back of the library. The walls were made of the same material as that of his bedroom's, meaning he wasn't usually feeling any feeling other than his own, or at least, he was always able to tell the difference between his and others'. Whoever was coming his way was a very special kind of sensitive. Not human, and not alone either.
He didn't have to ponder on the identity of this lost and lustful abnormal for very long, as his gorgeous-looking sister – how awry it was, looking at his sibling with the eyes of someone who was obviously burning for her – appeared in the doorway, followed by none other than Nikola Tesla, whom Archibald had no trouble recognizing as he looked barely older than the student on the pictures he had seen around Helen's private quarters.
"Good-morning Archibald. How are you feeling?" Helen asked.
That wasn't a question he wanted to answer when the only thing he could think of was how attractive she looked. He bit the inside of his cheek, trying to reinstate the frontier between his empathy and his own perceptions, which he had not needed to consciously do for years.
"It's good to be back home." He said, smiling in that usual knowing way of his.
Rubbing his hands on his linen shirt to take the sweat off them must have given his anxiety away as Helen stared at him, squinting almost imperceptibly. Never-mind the fact he was now more than a century old, he still felt like a guilty six year old whenever she looked at him that way.
"What is it?" She asked.
Archibald cringed in that unique Magnus fashion, and Helen glared at him.
"Arch, what have you done?" She asked again, this time inquisitive.
They stared at each other for a moment, holding the other's gaze under Nikola's careful scrutiny.
"Cyrillus called asking for a raise." Archibald finally admitted.
Helen sighed, exasperated.
"Boy that man's got some cheek! He brings us nothing but trouble and he still expects to be paid the double of what he's worth. I don't get why you insist on working with him after all he's done these past thirty years."
Deep down, Archibald knew she was right. In the three decades he had worked for him, thinking he was the owner of a private collection, Cyrillus had brought more than his share of troubles. The young bounty hunter of the literary world had stolen some rare books from libraries, on his best days, but he had pushed even further, selling Archibald a "complete manuscript of the Satiricon"... Written in Italian; On vellum. Whether he had known his Satiricon was a ridiculous fake or not was still undetermined, and the librarian couldn't bring himself to sack him.
"He has been on his best behavior these past five or six years. Moreover, the thicker he thinks I am the more oblivious he is to the Sanctuary's existence." Archibald argued.
Helen gasped. She couldn't believe an empath could be such a fan of second chances, especially when being so obviously made fun of.
"You gave him what he asked for." She accused.
"He says he has a lead on a rare copy of the History of Praxis, the complete twelve volumes. Don't worry, I took the money off my paycheck. At worst, I gambled and lost. At best, it will make the perfect gift for your two hundred and seventy fifth birthday." Archibald explained.
Nikola took a few steps towards them, hiding a faint smile behind his hand.
"Listen, I hate to interrupt a good argument between brother and sister, I'm even a tad nostalgic. But we came down here for a reason."
Won over by Nikola's amusement, Archibald smiled. He turned to him and extended his hand to the physicist.
"Nikola Tesla. What a pleasure to finally meet you." He greeted.
Nikola looked at Helen, who looked absolutely taken aback by his educated guess that Archibald and herself were related. He shook Archibald's hand, transfixed by the depth of his purple eyes, and felt the arm of the man shake lightly. He had the odd sensation that this little man knew him in a very personal way, intimate even.
"How did you guess Archibald was my brother?" Helen asked, her gaze going from one man to the other.
Nikola shrugged, smirking.
"Who would be born in Hollow Earth and still have such a posh English accent? No offense Archi, but you've got your father's nose, and you..." He said, turning to the brunette, "would never dare question an uncle's decision." His gaze went from one Magnus to the other, and he wrinkled his nose. "It is so obvious that James would have known right before stepping in. I'm glad he isn't here to make fun of how long it took me to get it." He finished, muttering to himself.
Helen and Archibald exchanged a look. They probably did look alike in some ways, the youngest thought, it was bound to happen when you shared the same father. The resemblance was certainly to be found in their attitudes though – while Archibald lacked Helen's radiating confidence, they both had the same strength when it came to standing up for their convictions.
"How come I've never seen you around here?" Nikola suddenly asked, thinking he would have noticed the singular man had he come across him in a hallway.
Archibald had a side smile that reminded the vampire of Gregory when he was interacting with a young and inexperienced youngster. He had never loved being on the receiving end of that kind of smile... Except maybe when it came from Helen... Nikola could think of a few occasions.
The librarian cleared his throat, once again feeling uneasy around the scientist's boiling emotions.
"I came back from Praxis yesterday. I went there when I heard about the explosion, to rescue who and what little could be rescued." He explained.
Helen felt it was high time to change topic, before Nikola could realize that the report confirming her father's death was Archibald's.
"Nikola, if you want to grill him, would you at least have the decency to wait till diner?" She chastised before turning to her brother. "You said you had found something about the sanguine vampiris."
Nikola was about to protest, but Helen was right. As exciting as getting to know her half-brother was, reading about his race and preparing for their new life as a family sounded even better.
"Yes, yes of course." Archibald turned on his heels and limped to the back of the office, towards a safe embedded in the wall.
"You told me your leg wasn't painful." She reminded him while he was composing his code.
"It's not. I've been sitting for a long time." He retorted, trying to keep his annoyance at bay. He hated being mollycoddled, but he could understand how worrying it was to bid goodbye to your "younger" brother only to see him come back old and crippled. He ignored Nikola's curiosity and took a pair of gloves out of his back pocket, and put them on before he opened the safe to take out a pile of charcoal drawings – or what looked like drawings – that he placed on the only empty table in the office.
Helen and Nikola got closer, but when Nikola extended his arm to brush his fingers against the vellum, Archibald looked daggers at him.
"No glove, no..." Helen trailed off, her hand on Nikola's arm to stop him from touching anything.
Nikola raised an eyebrow at her, grinning.
"Should have told me that four months ago." He teased, making Helen roll her eyes. They looked at each other for a second, before Helen lost their little eye-fight. She looked down at the drawings, thus hiding her smile from Nikola, and blinked. They were not drawings at all, but actually transfers from some carved surface, reminding her of the copies she and Nikola had made of the hieroglyphs in King Tut's tomb. Except these transfers featured vampire glyphs.
The librarian took a box of latex gloves from his desk, which he proposed to the parents to be. Once they all had gloves on, they leaned on the table.
"Now, this is why I did accept Cyrillus' demand. He found these at a deceased historian's house and thought it was only artwork. I played along saying it would look good in my living room and he gave them to me." Archibald explained.
Nikola flashed him a surprised look, to which he answered, nodding.
"He has no idea what he's doing, that's partly why he's interesting." He clarified.
"Not interesting so much as expensively entertaining if you ask me." Helen corrected, examining the first sheet of inscriptions.
The physicist took a sheet out of the pile and laid it out in front of him.
"This is amazing, it looks like one of the earliest vampire dialect form." He commented.
"It is. I collected information on the historian, talked to his neighbours... It turns out the chap worked in a remote cave, here in Hollow Earth, located under what you know as Lebanon. He spent eight years there before the cave crumbled down."
Both Helen's and Nikola's attention was instantly and entirely turned to Archibald.
"In Hollow Earth? There were vampires in Hollow Earth?" Nikola asked.
"No. Well, only one. A woman. What you are looking at is her autobiography. From what I've translated and understood so far, she immured herself out of grief over losing her husband, and she carved the walls of the cave while awaiting her death. I still don't know how she found a way to Hollow Earth, although I suspect the continental drift must have closed some of the original entryways."
Helen's cheekbone twitched.
"The sense of drama must be part of the vampire package." She pointed out, looking sideways at her friend.
"Says the woman who left the surface of the Earth with a boom." Nikola retorted.
Archibald cleared his throat again. As happy as he was to see that his sister had such a strong relationship with someone, it wasn't any less weird to bear witness to such a display of affection, to such an unveiled familiarity and care.
"She talks about her five sons a lot, and if I'm not mistaken, she seems to think of them as their father's murderers. It doesn't make much sense to me, but then again, I'm not an expert in vampire dialects. You two should take a look at – " Archibald rummaged through the piles of texts and found the piece of vellum he was looking for, both happy to be of help and transported by Helen and Nikola's scientific excitement. "This." He finished, placing the sheet in front of Nikola.
The scientist raised an eyebrow at the librarian, but complied, examining each character on the page to try and solve the mystery that had occupied Archibald leisure time for just under a year.
Helen fumbled with the rest of the pile to find the first line of the vampire's story, which she read quickly, stumbling on a few words. She found no interest in knowing what her name was, or where she was born. There were more pressing matters, so she turned her attention back to Nikola, trying to read over his shoulder.
Archibald could feel just how baffling what Nikola was reading was, and he focused on that feeling alone, trying to understand whether it was a good or bad kind of bafflement that surrounded Nikola's discovery. A sudden flash of understanding crossed the genius' mind, followed by an intense feeling of dread. He glanced at his sister, whom he felt like wrapping in his arms and never let go, shielding her of any harm. Nikola did, anyway. She too had sensed the change in Nikola's composure. He had paled, and his fingers were contracted, his jaw clenched.
"Nikola? What is it?" She asked, unable to understand what he was reading.
He shook his head.
"It can't be."
Helen put her hand on the vampire's arm, gripping the fabric of his shirt, trying to get his attention.
"Her five sons didn't exactly murder their father. They took his life force." He said, looking straight at Archibald. "He became mortal after his first son was born and grew older faster and faster with each birth. She was hoping to conceive daughters to age at the same pace as her husband, but she never did." He finished, turning to Helen. "It's impossible. Helen...".
The pleading and frightened look in Nikola's eyes showed her exactly what Archibald could feel emanating from the vampire, and she caressed his arm, taking his gloved hand in hers.
"It would explain how the sanguine vampiris regulated their population." She reasoned.
Nikola was about to protest, but she cut him before he could let a single sound cross his lips.
"Think about it: how could immortal beings reproduce without overcrowding the planet and quite possibly endangering the balance in the food chain? The species had the almost perfect way of self-regulating their population genetically, ensuring that the male and female populations remained relatively constant. That's brilliant!" She exclaimed, contemplating the pile of vampire writings.
Nikola faced her, forcing her to look at him, which she did, one arm still leaning on the table.
"Helen, if that's true, it means –" He began, his voice catching in his throat at the prospect of losing her, his only friend and the mother of his only child, faster than he had expected.
She looked down, unable to meet his hurt gaze.
"I'm aging faster than usual. Yes. Until now, I thought my hair was growing as a result of hormonal changes. But while cutting them this morning I noticed a few wrinkles on my face that I'd never noticed before." She admitted.
"You had to cut your hair?" Nikola asked, incredulous.
"How is that relevant?" Archibald intervened, now clearly as panicked as the father-to-be over the possibility of losing the only family he had left, while he had never thought she could after all be the first of them to die.
"Oh believe me junior, it is. Once she went from Rapunzel to Louise Brooks overnight. It took her eighty years to grow her hair back to half its original length." Nikola recalled, obviously remembering the multiple hair fashions Helen had adopted in their lifetime of friendship.
Archibald had vaguely heard of Rapunzel, which he quickly dismissed as irrelevant, considering Helen's half-annoyed, half-amused stance.
"Listen, both of you. I'm already half through menopause, so I don't think I'll be giving birth to any more children after this one. Therefore I highly doubt that giving birth to one vampire will shorten my life as dramatically as you seem to think." She explained.
"Oh, right, because you're a world class expert on vampire reproduction now? What if you being more human than vampire affects the way your body is aging? What if after about three centuries, your body decides it's high time you start looking your age? You have no idea what is going to happen, so please stop pretending everything is going just fine."
He had spoken so fast and with such anger that he choked on the last words, and had to take a large intake of breath, turning on his heels so that he wouldn't see Helen's surprised face any longer.
Archibald didn't know where to hide. He had always hated arguing, and indeed, he had never really argued with anyone. However, being the witness to an argument was worse, as he could understand both parties.
Helen breathed in deeply, then out, soothing her nerves.
"You're right. We have no idea what could happen. But there's not much we can do, is it?" She asked.
Nikola knew the question was purely rhetorical, and he waited to hear the rest of Helen's line of thoughts, but nothing came. Not even the sound of her breathing... Nor that of Archibald's, for that matter, so he turned around, worried, to find both of them perfectly motionless, eyes wide open. He raised an eyebrow.
"What is it?"
Helen's lips twitched, and for a moment, Nikola thought she was about to cry. He glanced at Archibald, who seemed to be in the same state of apathy, and the younger man smiled at him.
"The baby... It is moving. It feels like thousands of bubbles." He explained, excitedly
Nikola's first reaction was to take a step towards Helen, who still looked quite shaken, to grasp her elbow gently. Then it kicked in that Archibald had sensed what was going on – somehow. The strange connection he had felt earlier made sense now.
"Empathic abilities." He said with a grin.
"A curse from my late mother, may she rest in peace." He confirmed.
Nikola's light touch on her arm seemed to tear Helen from her torpor.
"You felt that?" She wondered, looking at her brother.
The queer old man shrugged.
"It seems that vampires are immune to sarclonite. And no, I am no threat to you, Nikola." He added with a side smile directed at the physicist, who had been quick to measure the danger of letting an empath lurk around his house, always assessing what was on his mind.
"Any other family members you think I should know about?" Nikola teased, looking at Helen with a twinkle of pride in his eyes.
She let out a small laugh. Her poor vampire's day was only beginning.
"We are all here." She ensured, blinking slowly in her usual comforting way.
Archibald was taken aback by the casual attitude she could demonstrate while telling a lie. Obviously, Nikola didn't know about Ashley's situation. Then again, 'here' could mean either 'here in the library' or 'here in the sanctuary'. That was Helen for you – Not exactly lying so much as retaining information.
The vampire did not seem to notice anything suspicious though; he was far more interested in what her use of the pronoun 'we' encompassed than he was in what perimeter was in the 'here'. Helen had just included him in their said-family, and it surprised Archibald to feel him so glad and proud of it. He had always heard his sister talk about Nikola Tesla in a way that left no doubt that he was a member of their exclusive club. Only he didn't seem to have read the invitation. Hell, this chap was not as confident as he tried to make the rest of the world think!
"That's already a lot to take in..."
It was more than a lot. It was overwhelming. Nikola's mind was a crowded space in which Archibald felt pretty much as if he were drowning. It was an amazing experience – The genius seemed to be able to think about several things at the same time, each thought following its course, parallel to the others like the strings of a guitar. Tesla was a maestro, but the orchestra he directed was way too powerful for Archibald, who felt sea sick with his emotions.
"If you don't mind, I'm going to fix some tea." He said precipitately.
Helen turned to him, her mouth half open to ask what was going on, but her brother was already out the door. She eyed Nikola suspiciously, and he took a defensive stance, a hand on his hip, a palm offered in front of him.
"I'm processing." He protested. After all, he wasn't used to refraining his thoughts. That was something he would never even have considered doing before, he couldn't see a reason why he would.
She breathed in slowly, an awkward smile on her lips, turning to lean on the table again, and he saw they were both in the same state of confusion. Most of the time, he didn't need to know what was on her mind to show her his support. He would linger around until she looked better, and even a bit longer, because why the hell not? But they were in this together, and frankly, seeing her so silent and thoughtful was torturous, mainly because he knew that her silence was ominous. Helen belonged to this kind of people whose complaints tend to decrease according to the seriousness of the issue. She was able to scream her head off because he had kept a stupid, source blood derived bug, but she would shrink away from society and be a ghost for weeks if she discovered her fiancé was killing prostitutes and having a little fun with the police.
"Helen, you know you can talk to me, or scream at me if you're... You know...Afraid?" He tried, softly, getting a bit closer to her so that their shoulders would touch.
She looked sideways at him, moved by his offer.
"Are you, Nikola?" She asked with as much serenity as a confessor.
Sweet euphemism. They both knew what he meant: he was petrified, chilled to the bone with the thought that he was doomed to see her age and die faster than anticipated. Because of a child. What an irony it was to make his dream of reviving his race come true but to sacrifice his queen in the process. That would have made a very good Shakespearean play.
She remained silent for a long while. Long enough for Nikola to gaze at her profile, looking for clues as to what she was thinking about. Her gaze was focused on the long velum sheets spread on the table, but he could tell she wasn't looking at them. She was lost in her secret garden, growing thoughts for her alone to see. Her cheek twitched under the pressure of her teeth sinking in the soft flesh, a sign he knew meant she was torn between sharing what was on her mind and keeping it to herself. A wrinkle at the corner of her eye attracted his attention, and he found himself wanting to trace it with the tip of a finger. She was aging, but she did so gracefully, as everything she did.
"There's something I have to show you before I – "
Helen never finished her sentence. There was no way on Earth he would have let her quietly delve in the formalities of her burial or her last requests. Not then, not ever. So he took her by the back of her head and crushed his lips to hers before she could pronounce the dreadful word. She was stunned by the sudden and unexpected move, but she didn't push him away. She didn't instantly grant him access to her mouth like she had done on the day he had arrived at the sanctuary either, but she sighed, reminding him of a content cat stretching on its bed. She was comfortable with this renewed intimacy. So comfortable even that she let her lips brush against his quite delightfully. It lasted only a few seconds – not more than five – before he broke the kiss, dizzy with lust. He totally blamed his hormones for that. He was even a tad ashamed of himself that he'd feel that way under these circumstances.
His hands fell back to his sides, leaving Helen's hair just a bit tousled, but she didn't move back, placing a hand on his cravat instead.
"What was that for?" She asked softly, raising an eyebrow.
"I couldn't let you drown in a sea of clichés on your own. It's not like you to write your will instead of looking for a way to cheat your way around dying." He explained.
Something in her eyes broke, all softness and affection fluttered in her gaze until she bit her lip, and Nikola understood he had ruined her moment. Yet, she forced a smile which didn't quite reach her eyes, and tapped his chest.
"Before I go meet Will. That was the end of my sentence."
He blinked. Oh. That was more like her – changing topic before it could get more emotionally revealing than she was comfortable with. It was to be expected, but his disappointment still left a bitter taste on his tongue when he realized she simply wouldn't talk about her fears, or inquire about his. They used to share these things... The Blitz had come as a fantastic cement for their friendship. True enough, life – and his death – after that had not made sharing anything with her any easier, but he would have thought she'd love to have someone to talk to after all these years of relative seclusion.
"So that's it? Aren't we going to think about a solution? You're admitting defeat..." He chided.
He knew he had hurt her when she took a step back, her hand leaving his chest, looking insulted. He would have regretted his words, but deep down, that was the reaction he had hoped for. Angry was a good color on her. A color which would make her talk, liberate her – them.
"We can't do much without a good understanding of the situation and a battery of tests. Plus, I'm alive for the next five months, at the very least. I wouldn't mourn just yet."
While he could clearly detect contempt in her first sentence, even a bit of scorn in the second one, affection was barely hidden in the last one.
He sighed. She could be so infuriating when her life was threatened, always shutting everyone out.
"Would an abortion stop the clock?" He suddenly blurted.
If there was a choice to be made between Helen and their daughter, the choice was already made, as much as he hated the thought of killing one to save the other.
Her face grew serious, and she seemed to consider the option for a few seconds before she shook her head.
"It would be like trying to stop a bullet from leaving the barrel once you've triggered the gun." She explained, linking her hands in front of her, a contrite expression on her face.
When Nikola didn't answer, looking away from her, she took one of his hands in hers and squeezed it to get his attention.
"Nikola. If anyone can find a solution in these, I trust you're the one." She said with a smile, showing the testimony spread on the table.
He wanted to kiss this smile again, to show her how grateful he was for her faith, but she went on hurriedly:
"Don't forget to keep your gloves on. And please try not to be too much of a nuisance to Archibald." She instructed.
"Didn't you say you had to show me something else?" He reminded her, wishing she would forget about Zimmerman and stay right beside him where he could see her.
She wrinkled her nose, thinking about the little blue hard-drive that was safely tucked in her bedroom safe, her darling daughter trapped in her prison of glass for yet another day. She was desperate for Nikola to take a look at it. His genius mind would certainly find a way to bring Ashley back home, something that had escaped her attention. Yes, he would. He was brilliant, and ambitious, and he always fell in love with a good challenge. He wouldn't turn his back on the next huge scientific breakthrough.
Yet, she didn't mention it. They had just made it through a rough patch, and she had to take it slow. Moreover, she wasn't blind to his fear of losing her. She had to give him some time to stomach everything he had learned in barely three hours. Especially given his hormonal state... Their...Their hormonal state. How peculiar a thought that was. They were linked on a molecular level.
"One thing at a time, remember?" She reminded him gently.
He raised an eyebrow at her.
"You broke that rule when you introduced me to Junior." He pointed out.
"Exactly. Get to work Nikola. I'll be back for lunch. Or so I hope."
He gave her a disappointed look, but let her go nonetheless.
She was almost out of earshot when he called out:
"And don't exhaust yourself, darling. You're pregnant."
She rolled her eyes. It was precisely the kind of behavior she didn't want him to adopt. This innocent enough statement could have got on her nerves, but she remembered that Nikola was pregnant too, and against all expectations, the thought made her chuckle. There would be a justice if this shared pregnancy led him to experience shortness of breath, bladder deficiency and insufferable back pains. Oh, and the kicks. She so wished he would share the kicks...
Hey there !
I know... it's been the worst cliffhanger ever. I'm so sorry I haven't updated this story in such a long time... I started writing this chapter just after posting the last one, but something wasn't right. And then I found a job, and then love, and yeah, my life changed a lot. Anyway. I hope you're all fine and happy and as impatient and ready as I am to reintegrate the team :). Thanks for your support. Even though I stopped writing for next to a year, lots of you kept on discovering this story and commenting. This fandom is the best fandom ever. I'm grateful for this journey and for the beautiful people I've met thanks to this super silly project :D. I'm also super humbled by this experience.
This one's for you, Enjoy :D.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"So, how do you know when a pterodactyl is about to lay eggs?" Abby asked excitedly while Erika and herself were exiting the greenhouse where the flying abnormals were vigorously feeding on the fruits they had just brought.
"It's quite easy to see. The sand around the pond has been trampled and searched. There's a hole already dug next to the winter cave. What's more, the male is defensive. Have you seen how he scared the other species off the feeding ground to select the best bits for his female?" Erika inquired, turning to the glass-panel to point what she was talking about to Abby.
"You make it sound kind of romantic. So when is she due?"
"Today, or tomorrow... I think she'll lay whenever she feels safe enough."
"Shouldn't we move the couple to a safer environment?"
"No. The eggs will be perfectly safe here. The other species do not feed on eggs. Although they don't like being caged. As big as this greenhouse is, we'll have to try and let everyone out this afternoon. The pterodactyl might take advantage of the diversion to relax and lay her eggs."
Abby looked around them and felt joy bubble in her heart. She loved to see the gigantic cave they now lived in being so animated. Seeing all these abnormals flying around and shrieking gaily reminded her of the pigeons and seagulls she had used to contemplate on the surface – well, almost. These specimens were slightly more – majestic and peculiar.
She smiled when she noticed her friend's dreamy stare.
The woman had always looked lively and enthusiastic, but she seemed even more happy there, amongst people and things who respected, accepted and loved her as she was.
"You love this job, don't you?"
The HAP turned to her, suddenly back to Earth, and beamed at her coworker.
"What's not to love about it? I don't have to feed them pills or lie about who they are. I can see their true nature, they trust me with their most beautiful secret. Which they don't even think of as a secret. It's the most wonderful job there is, don't you think?"
Abby was mesmerized by her friend's confession.
It seemed only natural that Erika should be part of the team, she thought. The former FBI agent had noticed that whenever Erika, Declan or Magnus opened their mouths to share their visions of the world, it seemed that only the purest form of poetry could cross their lips to convey the depth of their feelings. She would have loved to blame their Britishness for it, but she had another explanation. They were old souls. They were wise beyond their years and it would have been easy to think that the hardship they had faced had shaped their wisdom. Will had been through pretty harsh situations too and still, Will was a young soul. He still didn't abide to the beauty of little things to be worshiped and treasured.
"More like a lifeline, I guess." She agreed, retracing her steps back through the tunnel to the door that led to the rest of the enclosures.
"It was very brave of you to forsake your normal life on the surface to come and bury yourself here." She said, looking sideways at the blond woman.
"I mean, it's not as if you didn't have a choice." She added, feeling her words could easily be misinterpreted as a rejection.
A side smile appeared on Abby's face.
"When I received Magnus' job offer, I jumped right in without thinking about the consequences. That's not what bravery looks like." She countered, her eyes twinkling with amusement.
"What about now? Do you regret 'jumping right in'?" She wondered.
Abby shook her head.
"Not in the slightest. Sure, I miss my old friends, the never ending Sunday lunches with my grand-parents and even getting really sunburned. But I feel privileged to be working with the Sanctuary. And then, I've got Will. And we're sort of a family, right?"
Erika felt emotion clench her throat. As strange as it was, they did feel like a dysfunctional but loving family.
They had reached the secured door, and Erika was still thinking of an heartfelt answer when she noticed a huge hole in the iron door. She frowned as she made her way to the damaged entryway, kneeling carefully to examine it.
"Holly Molly." She sighed. "It looks like something clawed its way through the door, scratching at it until the hole was enough to pass through." She observed, her fingers brushing the iron scraps that covered the floor on the inside.
Abby's eyes were wide opened. How could Erika look so calm when she could do nothing but panic at the thought that whatever beast had succeeded in piercing through a double-secured door was roaming the hallways of their house?
"What should we do?" She asked, her voice catching in her throat.
"Go in and check on the abnormals. Determine which one got out, and how." Erika answered, decidedly.
"Is it safe?"
She offered her friend a comforting smile and extended her hand, silently asking for help to get to her feet. Feet that seemed like they'd never stop swelling.
"Whatever did this was obviously decided to get out." She remarked raising an eyebrow as if to press the point when she was back to the blonde's level.
That seemed to hasten Abby's decision, and she quickly swiped her badge to open the door. Considering the size of the hole in the door and how thick the metal had been? The thing that was on the loose had to be big and it certainly had very sharp claws. It was not the kind of abnormals Abby liked to scratch behind the ear.
Everything was deadly quiet inside the restricted area, and the tension was so palpable that Abby's hands curled up into fists.
Erika could smell the overpowering smell of fear that the residents that had seen the escape had felt, or were still feeling. She could hear the collective shiver too, and it did nothing to soothe her nerves.
It didn't take them long to figure out which habitat had hosted the escaped creature. A faint trail of blood led them straight to the remotest door in the hallway, in which a hole had also been pierced, in following the same scheme as the first one.
Abby was not comforted in the slightest by Erika's evocative sounds. It was the first time she was on feeding duty in this section of the sanctuary, but the brunette obviously knew what was supposed to live in the broken cell. She felt her heart beating faster and sweat pearling in the nape of her neck.
"What?" she sighed, unable to come up with a more eloquent question.
Erika raised her wrist, on which her communication bracelet was secured, wondering whether she should disturb Magnus or try and seek help from another head of the sanctuary.
"That's the southern cassowary." She stated.
Abby raised an eyebrow.
"Why does it sound bad?"
"Because they have huge claws that could easily kill you in less time than it would take you to say your prayers." Erika answered, swiping through her contacts.
Now Abby was completely panicked. She tried to calm herself, breathing slowly and deeply, in and out, thinking about what Will had said about his partner.
"I think I saw her with Tesla earlier."
Erika grimaced. She couldn't disturb her protector. She woke the device up, turned on the holographic screen, and quickly made her way to her contact list to call Declan.
They didn't have to wait long before the Brit's face appeared on the screen, surrounded by what seemed to be the infirmary where they supposed he was treating a patient.
"Good morning ladies. What can I do for you?" He greeted them with a smile, reaching behind him to grab a cotton pad from a metallic basin.
"Declan, the southern cassowary escaped."
They had no time for civilities. This kind of abnormal would not wait to be offered a cup of tea before slashing its host open.
The doctor's face had that mole-ish expression he usually harbored when shocked or disgusted by something, and in other circumstances, Abby would have had to try hard not to laugh at its cuteness. But she was way too stressed to even smile.
"It carved its way out through the secured doors." Erika explained, turning her arm so that Declan could see the extent of the damages.
"Bloody – Alright. Let's not panic. I presume you haven't told Magnus yet?"
"I didn't think it would be a good idea."
"Good. Prepare yourselves for a complete lockdown. I'll call you back."
With that, Declan disappeared from the screen and Erica turned off the hologram.
"What do you think he means by lockdown?" Abby asked, her palms opened towards the sky.
Just as she finished her sentence, they heard several successive thundering noises, as if a giant was stomping around the hallways. A giant iron door fell from the ceiling as the blade of a guillotine at the end of the hallway, cutting them off the rest of the building. All the lights were turned off and the emergency lights switched on, emitting a blueish light.
Abby rounded her lips in a silent "O" and turned on herself, checking her surroundings.
"Okay... I guess it's a pretty clear definition." She sighed.
That time, when Helen showed herself in Will's office, she didn't knock. He only saw her head appear in the doorway, as if making sure she wasn't interrupting anything.
"Magnus." He greeted her. "I thought you were taking the day off."
She smiled and entered the office, closing the door softly behind her, and made her way to the chair facing Will's desk.
"I was with Nikola." She said, as a way of explaining herself.
Will glanced at his agenda, making sure he was free for the whole morning. Whatever the issue of Magnus and Tesla's early morning meeting, he could be sure his partner needed to unburden herself.
One look at Helen was enough to understand that Tesla knew. She looked as disoriented as he had ever seen her.
"Where do you want to start?" He asked.
There was a long moment of silence during which Helen looked as if she were far away.
"Funny how the first thing we think about when talking about going back in time is what we would change there." She paused, staring – but not staring – at the bobble-head vampire Henry had thought would look dashing on Will's desk corner. "Once you are actually trapped in your own past, your only goal is not to change any thing. Not even the smallest bit.".
"Why?" Will asked, not sure whether the question was his, or the one Helen wanted to hear from him.
"Fear. You're afraid of what could change. Afraid of the unknown, of never being reunited with your loved ones. The smallest things you do drives you mad with uncertainty. 'What if I drink a cup of tea? Will it change the face of the Earth? What about taking the omnibus, or the train?' Eventually, even if you're not a control-freak, you start thinking of yourself as a time keeper, ensuring that all the historical events you've already seen happening unfold as they did in your timeline. And you don't hesitate to make them happen if they delay." She stopped, biting her lip, suddenly out of her trance, seemingly unable to go further.
"Are you telling me that you spent more than a century waking up everyday, brainstorming in front of your calendar to remember what happened that day and... What? Going out to make them happen? You couldn't be everywhere something was to happen..."
That accounted for how bossier she had become since she had reintegrated their timeline. Still, it did more than that, as it deepened Will's comprehension of how deep her scars were. She was not the same person she had been when they had first – properly – met.
"Indeed no. I had to make choices. I quickly realised that the most judicious choice was to go for the events that impacted the most people, and things would follow more or less the way it should." She interlaced her fingers on her legs and closed her eyes for a second.
"That's not what a holiday sounds like to me. That's crazy." Will remarked, leaning back in his chair and stretching his arms on his desk.
"I was crazy." She confirmed, planting her gaze in his.
A shiver ran down his spine at the seriousness of her eyes. What he saw in them was an ocean of guilt, and he gulped. It had to come out.
"What have you done to deserve being called that?"
"I triggered the First World War."
She dropped her bombshell that way, as calmly as she had ever been. Yet, Will saw her eyes glisten with tears, and as much as she tried to, she couldn't repress the shaking of her hands.
"Quite literally, might I add." She went on, trying but failing to smile.
Will sighed, and massaged his temples.
"The First War." He repeated, dumbly, trying to understand what his boss was saying. "Wait. You were in Sarajevo?" He asked, suddenly remembering his history lessons.
Helen pinched the bridge of her nose.
"Yes, Will. I shot Franz Ferdinand." She confirmed.
Will was dumbfounded. It didn't make sense. It was insane, and it didn't match any of what he knew of the story he had been told.
"I don't get it. Magnus. I thought it was a Serbian activist. That's what is written in history books."
She had a wry smile and nodded.
"Gavrillo Princip. Yes. I will never forget his face. He was only nineteen, only a wee boy with a gun and strong convictions. I never properly met him. But I kept an eye on him and his friends for days. I knew he was the less likely of the bunch to waver. Still, I had to be sure he would carry the deed, so I put my hand on the same model of Browning as the one he carried in his pocket and followed him as a shadow in the crowd on the twenty-eight of June. He did pull the trigger. Once. It touched Franz' spouse in the chest. It sobered him up somehow and I saw his face become as pale as death. His hand was shaking and I knew he wouldn't shoot a second time. So I did." She confessed, this time well anchored on the present, as if she had rehearsed her speech for a police interrogation of some kind for years. She was not reliving it. Will had no trouble believing her. He knew her well enough to believe she was capable of such a thing. And she was so detached he understood she had lived with that burden for such a long time that being cold was the only way she had found to survive it.
"How is it you weren't arrested?"
"I was fast in pocketing my gun. Plus, there was a wave of panic. A woman is always transparent in such a moment. You look for a man with a smoking gun. And here he was, thinking he had done it. I was gone before the archduke or his wife were dead."
Will was chilled to the bone. Helen Magnus had had to play God for a century so as to preserve her time line, no matter the price. How many people had she killed by shooting Franz Ferdinand? Probably any poor teenage boy sent to the front. The toll could also include the victims of the second world war as well. She lived with the ghosts of billions of people she could have saved. And yet, hadn't she saved all the souls that had walked the earth thanks to the wars?
"Magnus, you had to do it. Someone had to, don't you think?" He asked, trying to meet her gaze.
She shook her head, violently.
"No. You don't understand!" There was fierceness in her eyes when she looked back at him. "I didn't change any thing whatsoever!" She shouted, her fists landing on the desk as she rose from her chair to try and make her protégé get what she was saying.
Will raised an eyebrow.
"Wasn't that the point?"
"It was." She said. "But my mere presence in the past should have changed at least some things if not everything." She paused, staring at him, waiting for him to pick up her train of thoughts, unsuccessfully.
"Will! I have met with Nikola several times. James knew of my condition, I punched John in the face, I built this sanctuary, I assumed a new identity as Helen Bancroft and lived several lives at once. I removed abnormals from their natural habitat and threatened ecosystems to save towns... And NOTHING changed. Absolutely nada." She stopped her rambling, closing her eyes and sighing, trying to soothe her nerves.
The psychologist was starting to get what she was trying to make him understand.
"The ripple effect doesn't exist then, right?" He concluded, scratching the back of his neck.
"Further than that."
Helen's face got closer to his, and he felt as a schoolboy pressured into reciting a lesson he had not learned.
He thought fast. She hasn't altered the future...
"All is written." He stated, frowning. "But if all was written, why didn't Princip pull the trigger a second time to get the archduke?"
Helen's lips twitched as her head fell slightly to the side as if to say "now you've got it".
"Because I did." She finished.
Will stared at her, mouth half-opened, disbelief written all over his face.
"What, you mean the First World War started because Helen Magnus thought it had to happen if she were to respect a time line?"
She nodded, and he saw tears invade her greenish eyes.
"Oh come on, Magnus – " he started.
Before he could tell her how stupid he thought it was, they felt the ground shake under their feet and the lights died out, only replaced by the blue emergency signals.
"Dear God" Helen sighed.
Will jumped out of his armchair.
"What the hell is that?"
Just as the question left his lips, Will realized his partner wouldn't know anything more than he did and he felt silly. Yet, Helen pointed to the blue spots.
"One of our residents has escaped from a restricted area. That's what the blue light is for."
"Because there are other colors?"
Not caring to elaborate on the topic, she raised her arm and turned her communication device on.
"Declan has commanded the lockdown." She stated, reading the notifications before she called her colleague.
"Declan? What is it?" She asked when his face materialized in front of her.
"The southern cassowary has escaped."
Helen's eyes rounded.
"What?! How so?!"
"Wow isn't that the huge ostrich-like bastard that has swords instead of claws?" Will intervened.
"It is. It used them to get out its cell through the door. Are you both in a secure area?" Declan enquired, looking worried.
"Huh, yeah. We're in Will's office. All the issues should be locked so we're good for now. But we have to act quickly. If the cassowary managed to destroy two doors between two feeding sessions..."
"I know. I've got both Henry on the line and Mark with me here, they are already trying to localize the cassowary on the surveillance cameras. I'm moving with my team as soon as we've got a visual." He explained.
As Helen nodded her approval, Henry's face popped up on a second screen next to Declan.
"Hey doc. We've got everything under control." He ensured.
"More or less." Came Abby's voice from a third screen.
A worried Will came closer to Helen so as to be seen by his girlfriend.
"Abby! Are you alright? Where are you?"
"We are next to the beast's cage. Probably the safest place around as it worked so hard to get out from it." Erika answered.
Helen felt herself relax a bit, knowing that her team was safe, before bubbles in her lower abdomen reminded her that there were still two people she had no news from.
"Not that I don't like your brother, but being locked up together in a library is not exactly my idea of bonding." Nikola said, suddenly joining the conversation, forcing a smile from Helen.
"Brother? Magnus? What the – " Will began while everyone was exchanging questioning looks.
"I don't think it is the right moment to introduce myself." Archibald chided, shouldering Nikola to see his sister.
"Trust me, Archie, it will never be. Those kiddos are not really into sharing their mummy." Nikola grimaced.
"Tesla, I swear..."
"Enough!" Helen shouted. "We have a dangerous abnormal on the loose and I'd appreciate it if you could all behave as responsible adults." When she was greeted with silence, she turned to Archibald.
"How are you feeling?" She asked.
"Like someone who's trapped in a small room with a guy who's reading his thoughts." Nikola reacted.
Helen looked daggers at him and refocused on her brother, who, she was sure, was fighting against a bad case of compulsive eyeroll.
"I would be alright if he wasn't polluting me with his stress. I sense his restlessness already. Is there anything he could do to help?"
"I'm sorry Archibald, the abnormal which escaped is not to be underestimated. I need to know you're both safe. What's more, we don't know what pushed it to escape. I'd like Nikola to stay with you. Something must have changed in the cassowary's environment to push it to escape, and the only change that I can think of is your coming back."
Nikola cleared his throat.
"Sorry to interrupt but isn't our little monster of a daughter an even more disturbing change than Empath here?" He suggested before turning towards Archibald. "No offense, buddy, but..."
The younger shrugged.
All eyes turned to Helen, awestruck, and she almost prayed for the cassowary to break the door open an offer her a distraction from this unveiling of her secrets.
When Declan opened his mouth, she promised herself to give him special thanks for helping her out.
"Tesla's supposition is reasonable enough." He agreed.
"All set then. I'm coming to you. Mister McRae, would you be nice and send me the codes to unlock and lock the safe doors? Or should I sabotage the system?" Nikola ordered.
Helen's hands curled into fists.
"Nikola don't be stupid!"
The screen displaying Nikola's and Archibald's faces disappeared, followed by Declan's and Helen growled, exasperated. When she met Will's gaze again, he crossed his arms on his chest, unimpressed.
"A brother, huh?"
"That and – Holy shit Tesla's the father!" Henry rejoined.
At first, this chapter wasn't supposed to be that long... But then I felt bad about not posting in a long while, and that last group conversation came to me at the most random moment and made me smile.
I'll try to update before another year has passed, in case you were wondering ;).
“So what? Aren't we worthy of meeting your brother?”
Will's accusation stung Helen, whose jaw clenched defiantly. It was exhausting to have to justify herself for everything she did or didn't do, and she wondered if this trend was ever going to fade.
“Don't be ridiculous, Will.” She sighed, once anger had receded. “I intended to introduce him tonight, actually.”
It was hardly the right moment to play nurse to Will's ego, but there was nothing they could do from his office, and it would take the tech team some time to localize their fugitive. So they might as well take advantage of whatever time they had at their disposal to vent their frustrations.
“Why not before? We've been here for months already.” The psychiatrist protested.
He was growing tired of her habit of hiding things until it was 'the right time' to share information, or until she had no choice in the matter any longer.
“I thought he was dead, alright? He was on a mission when Praxis was destroyed, and he came back only yesterday. What would I have said? 'Oh, by the way, I found out I had a half-brother. But he's probably dead now.'?” She wondered, leaning against the wall next to the door, her hands joined behind her back.
Her tone hurt him. He was not a petulant child that needed remonstrance. But what hurt Will the most was that she had imposed herself to hide her grief to her friends, not thinking they would gladly help her. He huffed. Some of her Victorianisms were so rooted in her that she'd probably die strangled by their vicious vines.
“That's not the best introduction there is to the topic, but at least it is one. And we would have helped you through this.” He said, his arms opened in unconscious sign of his good-will.
Helen let out a snicker.
“Oh right, the way you helped me cope with Biggie's death.” She sneered, her eyes filling up with tears, before she turned away from Will to brush them away, cursing herself for being so emotional.
Will's stomach clenched with guilt, and his eyes fell to the ground, ashamed. She was right. They had all let her down when she had needed them the most, blaming her for hiding her plans and making them believe for a while that she was dead.
“I'm sorry, Magnus.” He confessed.
And it was true. He had felt like a pawn in her game of chess, to be fired and put to the service of their enemies, abandoned after years of loyal services. And yet, she had made honorable amends, and not only by offering him to become her fellow head of sanctuary; she had made a home for him. His room was everything he had ever wanted it to be, as if – and he was sure it was the case – she had designed it to be his own. She had even moved some of his most precious belongings there, he had discovered, before they could be destroyed by the explosion of their former sanctuary. She was not making sure her pawn would stay on her side, she was welcoming a friend home.
Helen closed her eyes, tasting the sweetness of his words and letting them soothe her. She let them wash over her and when she was confident she would not look weak to him, she turned back to look at her protégé.
The young man breathed in deeply. Acknowledging his mistakes wasn't his forte, but saying he was sorry was lame on its own.
“Not trusting that you knew what you were doing. Blaming you for the hard choices you made when you were only trying to protect us. Not showing you enough or even some gratitude. And still asking you to be transparent despite of all that. Blaming you and your uncalled for decisions was easier than to get used to all the change, and I for one was as weak as to do just that. I'm not trying to find excuses for myself there, but what we all saw in the flame of the old sanctuary was that we were orphaned for a second time, whereas we had got used to the idea that we would grow old and die under your roof, while you'd... gracefully live on and open your arms and doors to other misfits.”
He had taken a few steps towards his mentor while speaking, and when he met her gaze, he felt naked. He had just bared himself to her as he had never done, and it felt both liberating and awkward. Was it how she felt when she was sitting in front of him and telling him about her guilt, her pain and her hopes?
Her face showed she had no trouble accepting his apology, and that she was moved, in some measure, by Will's sense of belonging. But what little transpired on her face was nothing compared with what she was feeling. She felt blessed to have such loyal and caring friends. 'Misfits', yes, that they were, and she had found herself in every one of them. Maybe – she had to admit it – because they were at least partly orphans. She was glad that they had found a place and people to call home, and proud to see how fine these young persons had turned out to become. Will's words resonated in her as she realized that she too had felt 'orphaned' without them.
Before she could formulate an answer, he forced a smile.
“And you know what? I hate to admit it, but Tesla may be the less immature of us.” He said, trying to lighten up the mood.
This time, the chuckle that came out of Helen's throat was a real one. She couldn't imagine why Will would ever say that of Nikola.
“What do you mean?” She asked, her lips curling into a small but playful smile.
Her protégé shrugged.
“He doesn't sound too bothered by the fact that you've kept a brother hidden from him.” Will stated.
It could, she thought, seem odd coming from Nikola. But then again, they had never shared everything. Partly, of course, because guessing and digging up things about her was one of Nikola's favorite pastimes, but also because they respected the other's silence. At least when the genius was not planning a disaster.
“What do you make of that?”
“He knows you well enough to realize that just because you keep things from him doesn't mean you don't care for him.”
“And you don't?”
They stared at each other, searching each other's face in the dark in search of their old complicity.
Will lowered his gaze, slightly ashamed that he would most likely hurt her again.
“Sometimes I wonder if I still know you at all.” He confessed.
“I can relate to that.” She sighed. After all, she had thought that she knew Nikola inside and out, whereas she had interpreted each one of his action wrong in the last four months. “Will, I'm deeply sorry that I took you all for granted. And I am sorry we haven't yet had time to get reacquainted. The last century has changed me, but if anything, it made me realise I belong with this team like I've never belonged anywhere else.” She admitted.
Will pursed his lips, letting out a breath he had not even realized her was holding, and extended his hand to his friend, nodding reassuringly when she raised an eyebrow at it.
“Dr. Helen Magnus, I presume? I'm Will. Will Zimmerman. I believe you saved my life when I was a kid?” He said.
His smile was playful, but his gaze was serious and the love written on his face melted Helen's heart and she laughed, shaking her head.
“Come here, you cheeky monkey.” she sighed, taking his hand, only to pull him against her for a hug.
He was a bit taken by surprise. But he returned her embrace enthusiastically, burying his nose in her hair.
It came to his mind that he was hugging a murderer, pregnant with the last member of a species which had long enslaved the human race, and he held her tighter, almost bruising her shoulder and side, wishing to take her burdens away. And as if feeling what he was trying to do, she tightened her grip on him, anchoring herself in the present and the comfort of feeling home at last.
“Now. You haven't even opened the manual, have you?” She asked, breaking the comforting silence.
He cursed her for breaking the moment, and caught her elbows to take a step back, not breaking their proximity.
“I have!” He protested.
“Liar.” She accused, squinting at him.
“Hey, I've been through the first two hundred pages!” He countered, not without pride.
“Ah. Three hundred left before you reach the lockdown protocols.” She informed him.
Will winced. He could feel it was a disguised reproach. And she was right, after all. She had made him her associate, it was only fair that he read the damn manual. But he had been discouraged by the thickness of the book, and distracted by all the new things he still had to discover about his new environment. That, and revising the laws of the network was taking them lots of time. Time that he sometimes wouldn't have minded spending on a couch instead, reading Magnus' careful account of the features of the new building.
Helen's communication bracelet emitted a light signal, and she took a step back from Will to take Henry's call.
“Doc, we've localized freaky bird. I thought you'd be glad to know it's not interested in anyone, but you're not going to like it when I tell you where it is.” The tech announced, speaking so fast that someone who wasn't used to his company wouldn't have understood a word he had said.
“Straight to the point Henry!” Helen ordered, watching Will's reaction from the corner of her eye.
Henry's shoulders contracted and his lips curled downwards.
“It's trying to get into your bedroom.” He mumbled, sharing the visual he had on the security cam.
“Your bedroom? What could it be want to do there?” Will asked, frowning.
She avoided his question, looking at Henry instead.
“Henry, is Declan's team protected?” She inquired.
Her question seemed to get him to focus. He could feel in her lack of hesitation that she had a plan.
“Huh, yeah, they took the noise-canceling headphones.” He answered.
“What about Nikola?”
Henry looked at his computer screen, checking the vampire's status.
“Still coming your way. We haven't given him the cassowary's position.”
Helen nodded, approving that decision, whoever had taken it. It wouldn't have surprised her had Declan thought he would be a nuisance to his team. The young soldier was not used to see his orders being disobeyed, and had been frankly annoyed to have to work with the Canadian team on a few occasions. Not that he blamed Helen for a lack of authority – “so long as no one gets killed, it's your work ethic, Magnus” – but he preferred his strict organization whenever he was in charge.
“Do you have his exact position at the moment?” Helen went on.
“Yup, he's just out of the elevator, turning towards you. He still has two doors to go.” If he doesn't happen to find a cookie jar on the way, he added for himself, having noticed
Tesla's hand massaging his stomach during the elevator ride.
“Alright. Henry, I need you to unlock all the areas but the hallways around my apartments. Now that the threat has been isolated, there's no use scaring our residents. And the doors will only slow Declan and his team. Once you've done that, grab me two pairs of headphones and meet me on the rooftop. Can you do that?”
“Yeah, supposing you give me access to your codes.” Henry said, already on his task.
“I'm sending them to you right now.” She promised, opening a new message on her device to tap her codes.
“Are you gonna share your plan with the class?” Will asked, trying but failing to understand where she was going.
For a second there, he wondered whether her brother could understand her better than her team did. He definitely couldn't wait to meet him in person.
“This species of cassowary have mutated in ways we don't fully understand yet.” Helen began. “The sounds it emits have special frequencies. We cannot hear most of them, but it seems it has the ability to deafen its enemies or make them lose their balance. Some people have experienced nausea as well.” She paused just long enough for her team to catch up. “I'm thinking that if it can produce these sounds, it can probably also hear frequencies we can't.”
Will shook his head, losing patience.
“It's all very interesting but what's your point, Magnus?”
Helen bit her lip.
“The hard-drive containing Ashley's consciousness is in my room.” She reminded them. “It started emitting light the day before yesterday, I guess the child I'm carrying has something to do with it. Whatever the reason, it might also be emitting sound on a frequency we do not have the ability to hear. A frequency that might disturb or even hurt the cassowary.”
“Isn't its cell sound-proof?” He asked.
“Only so that we cannot be affected by its rumble. But it only goes one way.”
“Am I the only one thinking the first thing I'd do would be to run away from the noise that hurts and not get closer?” Henry asked, entering the lockdown parameters.
Will turned to Helen, thinking that Henry's reaction made sense.
“I would find the source and neutralize it.” She corrected. “And that's why this particular specimen is here. It tends to destroy whatever bothers him.”
Her partner opened his mouth, finally getting what she was about to do.
“So you're going to retrieve the hard-drive before that thing can put its claws on it.” He concluded.
Before he could even try to dissuade her, arguing that Declan was already well on his way to sedate the escaped abnormal, Will's door slid open, and Nikola appeared, a hand on his hip.
“I hate being late to a party.” He complained. “What have I missed?”
Helen took him by the arm, barely looking at him on her way out of the office.
“You'll catch up on the way, we're going to my bedroom.”
“My my, Helen, what is pregnancy doing to you?”
Honestly, I intended this chapter to be longer. But Nikola's line was too good a way to end it...
I'm not even sorry. Okay, I am, a bit. But I translate each chapter after posting them so that my French followers can also read this story, and long chapters sometimes take me a whole day to translate (and I scarcely have a whole free day :p).
I'm off to write chapter 35 ;D.
Hello everyone :D. I'm crossing my toes hoping the update will work just fine now. I've spent the whole day trying to access the internet but it seems that my Wifi is having some sort of trouble.... *sigh* the perks of living in a remote village on the mountain side where thunderstorms hit everyday.
I'm excited as this chapter is one of the last coming before a series of chapters I'm thrilled about (not yet written, but the ideas have been there for SO long now!!).
As always: thank you so much for the reviews. So long as this fandom lives, SANCTUARY IS NOT DEAD (I'm in denial, alright?).
Also, for music lovers or those who, like me, are always looking for new things to listen to : I've created a Wisdom playlist that you can find on Spotify :). It has like... Nothing to do with this fanfic, except that I've listened to these songs while writing and I now associate them to some of the scenes. Some might have inspired me unconsciously but... Yeah. There's no particular style to the playlist (I listen to lots and lots of different things), and yes, you'll find some of my guilty pleasures *shrugs*.
“First, I've got to say you're brilliant. Not that I had any doubt about that. That being said – I'm offended.” Nikola declared, holding the door for Helen to emerge out on the roof.
She threw him a questioning look while passing him, and he grinned at her.
“When did we stop sharing our toys?” He asked, raising an eyebrow, with that canine-showing smile Helen found ridiculously – and in those circumstances, annoyingly – appealing.
He was not in the least surprised that she had taken advantage of her little trip in the past to research a way of saving her daughter. He had found it somewhat odd, upon his arrival, not to find that young reminder of John and Helen's past history sauntering about the new sanctuary and threatening every living thing with guns twice her size – such a perfect mix of her parents, really. And out of sympathy, he had not broached the subject.
Had he ever imagined she would hijack one of the hard-drives the Praxian senate used to store the consciousness of all those they killed before they could be tried? Or that she would hack into her past self's electromagnetic shield to derive her daughter's energy and store it inside the said hard-drive? No. It was insane. Genius, but insane. Both qualities he admired in a woman.
If anything, it explained the weird energetic signatures he had found while checking the EM shield on that fateful night Ashley had teleported herself and her little mutant friends directly against the shield after almost killing her mother. It also could kind of explain that strange vision he had shared with Helen not two nights before. Although he failed to see where Ashley fitted in that event.
“It's all yours to study when we have recovered it.” Helen promised.
“Wait, we ? Shouldn't you take it easy?” Will worried, gesturing at her stomach to remind her she was not in the best condition to fight an abnormal.
Helen looked daggers at her protégé.
“I'm pregnant, not impotent.” She chided.
A look at Tesla sufficed to see the scientist would not even try to side with him on this one, so the young man gave up, looking towards Henry, whose expression seemed to say “Sorry dude, she never listens to me either.”.
It forced Nikola's admiration that she was ready for some action while he would have gladly lain down somewhere and prayed for death to deliver him from his physical sufferings. Being 'pregnant' was making him love his own mother more for having gone through so much pain to bring him into this world.
Still, there were two things he couldn't resist – Helen, and the prospect of toying with a piece of advanced technology.
“Let's get moving. I'm afraid we don't have much time.” Helen reminded them.
Henry gazed at his tablet, checking that the abnormal was still being held back by the door, and judging that said-door was not going to hold long, he pointed to the material he had brought with him.
“Your headphones are connected on a different channel than Declan's, so that you won't interfere. We'll be the only ones able to hear you. And I also brought stunners.”
Helen nodded, taking the headset he was handing her with a grateful look.
“Good thinking. I hope we won't have to use them.”
Nikola was not elated by having to wear one of those stupid items on his poor, sensitive ears, but he reluctantly took his headset, which he placed on his head, making a mental note that Helen would owe him one. Although, she might argue he owed her. Really, it all depended on whether they counted from 1871, 1943, her rudely interrupted conference in Rome, or the day she had decided to blow herself off the surface of the planet.
“Nikola?” Helen's voice came through his ear-bud when they were both equipped.
“All set.” He confirmed. “These aren't so bad after all. I swear I can't even hear Bert and Ernie, which is nice for a change.” He added, somewhat impressed.
He grinned when two exasperated looks turned to him to remind him that they could hear whatever disagreeable comment came out of his mouth.
“How do you plan on breaking through the window?” He inquired, remembering what he had heard about the bay windows being as good as unbreakable. He had given to the urge of checking that affirmation for himself, of course, being a man of science.
Helen reached for her gun, which she usually wore – out of habit more than necessity – on her thigh. When her fingers met with its solid absence, she cursed under her breath.
Of course, Nikola had surprised her before she could get settled at her desk that morning. She had not taken her Glock out of its locker.
It dawned on her that she would never have time to run to grab a weapon before the cassowary had quite destroyed her bedroom door, and possibly what was left of her daughter. However, a gun appeared in her visual field before she could think of anything crazy, and she stared at Will, incredulous.
“I learned from the best.” He mouthed, knowing his friend would have no problem reading on his lips.
Helen had a small, shaky laugh at that, taking the gun that felt warm to the touch after its sojourn under Will's shirt.
There was not a second to be lost, and she ran to the very edge of the roof, not stopping when that delirious feeling of being a step away from death seized her. She knew the building's every nook and cranny, and when she was confident she was right above her quarters, she aligned her side to the edge of the roof and crouched so that her right hand could reach down to approximate same level as the window of her room. She made sure her angle was right and fired once, twice, and a third time, aiming at the exact same point, hoping that her bullets would alter the solidity of the material.
By the third shot, Nikola had joined her, stretching his neck to watch the effectiveness of her technique.
“I bet you never thought you'd ever need to break in your own house when you chose the windows” he remarked when it was clear that the window was not giving in. “Let me?”
He asked, his palm turned upwards in that usual affected way he assumed when he had an idea.
Helen weighed the pros and cons of leaving the last three bullets to him, but she didn't have a choice, and she safely deposited the gun in his hand, praying he knew what he was doing.
Fast as lightning, Nikola emptied the magazine, with a precision that amazed him considering he had never been a good shot. As he had calculated, the window pane broke, leaving a triangle shaped opening that he supposed would be large enough to let them in, although not without a few cuts.
Helen bobbed her head at him, impressed.
“Maths, Helen. And some physics.” He bragged. “But you're admittedly better with breathing targets.” He conceded.
“Not that you'd know what you're talking about.” She joked.
“Of course not” he cringed.
“Henry, I'll trust you'll hand us the stunners when we're down there.” Helen instructed, turning to her youngest technician.
Henry nodded, bracing himself for the next part of the plan. He had seen her do some freaking dangerous things in the last twenty years he had spent with her, but he couldn't get used to seeing her dangling from the top of a five story building without feeling dizzy and sweating with fear.
Helen gripped the low wall, facing away from the emptiness waiting to swallow her, and hauled herself up, slowly coming to a halt, head down, straight as a T, her knuckles white. She took a big breath in, looking at the upside down landscape, and balanced her legs down, parallel to the ground far below her. She then pushed herself off the wall, hoping her legs would get enough energy to reach inside her room.
She landed barely a floor lower, crouching closer to the edge of her windowsill than she would have liked. Feeling pulled back into the nothingness, she gripped whatever she could, slashing her palm open on the broken window pane, and jumped to the floor, her heart trying to beat its way out of her chest and the pain coursing through her nerves.
Nikola followed, all vamped-out, and found her already emptying the content of her wooden chest to fish some kind of iron cube which was flashing a soft, baby blue light. He felt a rush of excitement at seeing the thing, but was distracted by vibrations coming from his right. He turned his head and had to fight a wave of panic. The door had just given in, and giant and very angry looking turkey stormed in. It looked as if it had not anticipated finding anyone there and for a few seconds, it stopped, looking as if it were thinking about what to do.
“Helen... We've got company.” Nikola whispered, careful not to make any move that could be interpreted as a threat to the animal.
Helen retreated towards the window, walking backwards painstakingly slowly, holding her precious belonging against her stomach, not breaking eye-contact with her resident.
“Get out. I'm covering you.” The physicist told her, claws ready to slash the cassowary into fillets for dinner.
His friend was opening her mouth to protest, saying that if he so much as scratched any one of the residents under her roof, she would personally take him to the SHU and lock him there. But she was cut by the cassowary's sudden move. It lowered its head to its chest, in what the cryptozoologist recognized to be the first step of a rumble that would shake them hard.
“Quick, behind the bed.” She ordered, taking his upper arm to guide him to the ground, not caring about the shooting pain of contracting her injured limb nor about the awful blood stain she'd leave on Nikola's blazer.
They were half-way down to the floor when the cassowary was shaken by an electric current and fell down unconscious at their feet, revealing a boyish-looking woman of about thirty, standing in the doorway, stunner in hand.
“Just in the nick of time.” She exclaimed with a proudish smile taking her headphones off to comb her fingers through her electric-blue hair.
“Jess! Perfect timing as always.” Helen agreed, throwing her own material on her bed to kneel next to the cassowary and check its pulse.
“Magnus?! What the Hell were you doing here?” Came Declan's voice from the doorway.
She chose to ignore the question to focus on their next issue : what would they do with the abnormal? They had up to thirty minutes before it came back to its senses. They had no sound-proof habitat on hand and no way to turn the Praxian hard-drive off, or stop it from doing whatever it was doing to the cassowary.
“It's waking up already.” She stated, testing the animal's reflexes gently.
Jeremiah, a tall, black man in his twenties stepped into the room, handing her an hypodermic gun.
She nodded her thanks and inserted the needle in the cassowary's flank without delaying.
“The sedative should give us an hour or two. Which is hardly enough to find a long-term solution to our problem.” She explained, caressing the bird's feathers.
“Does it mean you've found the cause of this shenanigan?” Declan asked, uncrossing his arms.
“The only explanation I can find is that this device”, she began, pointing to the hard-drive Nikola had picked up from her, “is emitting some sort of infra-sound. And I have no
idea how to stop it.”
“I'm gonna go ahead and guess destroying it is not an option.” Jess intervened, with what seemed to be a hint of disappointment hidden behind her thick Northern Irish accent.
“Wanna go ahead and try?” Nikola growled cynically.
If risking their lives to save that device was not enough of an indication that it had a strong value, Tesla's fierce protection of it added a special touch to the matter, and Jess had a side smile.
“Not that it would entirely erase the issue. We are bound to work with an increasing amount of Praxian technologies. And we have no way of checking each piece of equipment for infra or ultra sound emissions.” Helen argued.
When she got back on her feet, she saw that Will and Henry had joined them, and were following the conversation from the hallway.
“We've got to find a solution.” She ended.
Declan placed a hand on her shoulder, reassuringly.
“You won't. You need to get that hand stitched up. And you've done quite enough already – for someone who's taken a day off.
She would have protested, hadn't she seen Will's threatening stare.
After all, she had chosen to move three sanctuaries in one building precisely so that these kinds of crisis could be dealt with efficiently and with less stress. Enabling everyone to get more free time had also been one of the aims. Not that she felt less guilty about enjoying some “me” time.
“Are you absolutely sure?” She asked, not wishing to leave a friend to deal with such a matter on his own.
“You don't have the monopoly of making miracles happen.” He confirmed with a hint of amusement. “I'll get a team to clean the mess, but I'm afraid you'll have to find another room for a couple of nights.” He added, grimacing.
She turned to survey the state of the room. The door was shattered on the ground, splinters of wood mingling with shards of glass and spilled blood, and she wondered why she had even gone for the good old wooden double-door in the first place when designing her room. She winced when her eyes fell on the canopy bed. Two of the bullets she or
Nikola had fired had grazed the beautiful carvings of the mahogany bed posts. She guessed it would become a good story some day...
Oh, this? That's from the day your father and I decided to break into my bedroom through the window.
Later, in the infirmary
Nikola was torn between the urge to run to his lab and lock himself there to study the artifact that was still providing them with a blue light, and staying right where he was till Helen was stitched up, sure that no nerve or tendon was badly damaged, and ready to tell him everything about her little treasure.
So he was sitting on one of the available stools, turning the thing in his hands, Henry staring over his shoulder while Helen was examining her hand under a magnifying lamp light, her tools ready at hand.
The genius had to swat his apprentice's hand as it reached the hard-drive.
“Look but don't touch.” He chided.
Henry's face darkened with hurt and his jaw contracted. He didn't open his mouth to protest, but he didn't have to. His eyes said everything there was to know. His sister was supposedly trapped in that, Nikola remembered. The vampire considered the artifact as a wonderful piece of engineering, something to be understood and mastered for the sake of knowledge and research. For Henry, it was all that, but it was also the materialization of something far more sentimental and gripping. And so he reverently gave it to him, nodding his defeat, and rose, sighing faintly before getting closer to Helen. He leaned on the desk, facing her above the metallic surface and looked at her hand through the magnifying glass that hanged between them.
“I thought the wound was deeper.” He mused.
Helen nodded. That's what she had been thinking about too. She flexed her fingers again, carefully. It cost her no pain or difficulty, whereas she had felt herself on the verge of fainting when she had done that same move a mere half an hour before.
“Our fights are going to get way more interesting.” He pointed out with a smirk.
She looked at him, amused, and contemplated what to do. She could stitch it. But if their supposition was right, her palm would heal on its own in no time.
“Don't get too excited, Nikola. It's likely that this accelerated healing process gets back to normal once the child is born.” She explained.
She highly doubted that she was turning full sanguine vampiris. Not that she really had any wish to anyway.
“And then what? You're back to being a mere mortal? Making a fuss about your hair getting whiter and finding a new line on your face?”
Henry's attention was snapped away from the device he was trying to decode, and he turned to look at where Helen and Nikola were facing each other, only to see his mother's face and her sorry smile as she caressed the genius' cheek as she had so often done to him when he was a small boy in need of reassurance.
“Doc? What is this about?” He asked, feeling his life was about to change more drastically than he had thought that morning upon waking up.
He was glad that the baby's father was Tesla. He had grown to appreciate the man, and had seen past his defenses and affected looks. He was an arguably good man. One who didn't need to kill people to feel at peace, and who wouldn't crush Helen's heart repeatedly. They would be the most atypical parents ever, but that could only be funny to see.
Too many cats out of the bag for one day, Nikola realized when Helen's peaceful traits were disturbed by a worried frown and the warmth of her hand had left his face.
He turned halfway to include Henry in the conversation.
“Our child is the vampire equivalent of AIDS. And I'm responsible for contaminating Helen.” Nikola confessed.
Helen shook her head in exasperation, sighing.
“Nikola!” She reprimanded. “Will you once in your life stop chastising yourself? It takes two to conceive a child.”
“Hey-oh!” He intervened, not in the least interested in the details of the conception.
Helen shot him an apologizing look.
“The sanguine vampiris' population was regulated by their unique biology. Every pregnancy would take out on the child's same-sex parent's lifespan. My pregnancy is accelerating my aging process. That's how I'm sure the child is a girl.” She explained softly.
Henry's face darkened with dread. She had to live. She had succeeded in creating the perfect place to go on with her mission of sheltering and studying abnormals, the perfect place to live and start a family. She had to watch his great-great-great-grand children play in the river, a fond smile and amused look plastered on her face, whispering to the memory of Henry Foss.
“I'm nearly two hundred and seventy five years old, and I look no more than ten years older than I was when we injected ourselves with the source blood.” She reminded them both.
At that, Nikola's eyes roamed over her.
“Not even five.” He corrected.
She raised an eyebrow.
“Flatterer. Anyway, I don't think having one child will rob my life of a thousand years. So I would appreciate it if you could forget about this, Henry, and keep it to yourself. Nikola and I are the only ones concerned with this change. No need to worry everyone.”
Truly, Nikola would be the only one to deny her the right to die. Not that she would blame him. He would end up walking alone, the last of the Five, carrying his cross on frail shoulders.
She was really sorry for him. The curse was the worst thing she had had to live with. But knowing she was rid of it? That she would die some day, even though it would take her yet a few centuries to get there? She was grateful. She had lived her life to the fullest extent. She could die now and leave a newly up and running Sanctuary between good hands. Of course, she wasn't quite ready to die yet – She was curious to see Henry become a father, she was still trying to find a way to get Ashley back, and... Yes, she was starting to look forward to meeting Ashley's little sister. She had tons of questions begging to be answered – What would she look like? Would she look like her? Have blond curls and these Magnus-blue eyes? Or would she be more like Nikola? A full vampire, tall and lean with uncontrollable brown hair? Would she grow up to be mommy's or daddy's girl? Or totally independent? Would she be drawn to biology? Or physics? Electricity and magnetism? Sporty or totally bookish – and spending whole days with Archibald in the library? Or something else entirely? What kind of trouble would she and Henry's child brew up? How would Ashley react to meeting her? To not being the spoiled lone child any longer? Would the youngest look up to her sister? What kind of parent would Nikola be? She could imagine him well enough, but having a child had changed her so much that she knew it was useless to speculate.
Henry nodded, not completely comforted by Helen's apparent peace of mind.
She stared at him, as if trying to infuse him with her own state of mind, until she felt a cold finger reverently caress her injured palm, still lying open on the table. She turned her gaze to see Nikola lightly tracing the cut she had set up to stitch, and raised an eyebrow. Her hand was as good as new. There was no sign that she had indeed cut herself.
“Seems like I've got no excuse not to cook lunch.” She commented, impressed by this new physical ability.
Henry bumped his fists against his forehead, suddenly remembering something.
“About lunch – Kate is coming by. And she's bringing cake.”
“Come on, Helen, this is ridiculous. I should be putting my genius brain to the service of studying that Praxian database, not cutting weird carrots in cubes.” Nikola protested.
It was funny enough that Helen had not asked anything of him whatsoever. She had simply locked her most precious belonging in one of her desk drawers, to be taken out later – as, of course, she was as eager as Nikola to get to work on it together – and he had followed her to the kitchen, whining all the way, but not once thinking of getting to work on his own projects in his lab while she was enjoying lunch with her team.
“It could go faster if you'd only stop complaining.” She suggested, getting a saucer out of a cupboard. He ragingly finished cutting his vegetable, pushing the cubes to the side to get a second one.
“I'm not complaining. I'm only questioning your priorities.” He corrected, pointing his knife at her.
She let the saucer fall on the induction plate with more force than she had intended, and licked her bottom lip, turning to him.
“I'm not giving up on Ashley, if that's what you're thinking.” She clarified. “Still, I haven't been the best of friends lately. Cooking lunch for my team isn't a big effort to show my gratitude for their support.”
He fell silent. There was no use to try and get her to change her mind and rush to the lab. What's more, they were alone again, and even cooking was nice in such circumstances. And he was starving. So he peeled the weird tuber she had taken out of the fridge, watching her from the corner of his eyes as she poured a bottle of oil into the saucer. They had never shared such a domestic moment, he thought. They had camped together quite a lot, eating from rations and sleeping on the same side of the fire. But nothing had ever felt like this, simply preparing a decent meal together. When he saw her hand come to rest unconsciously on her abdomen, he sighed, unable to contain himself any longer.
“I hate to be the first one breaking the question, but – ” he hesitated. It was not the way he would have liked to broach the topic of what seemed like their burgeoning 'more than friendship', but starting a family was a pebble in the gears.
“Does it change anything to our relationship?” He asked, sounding more frightened than pesky.
Helen looked right ahead, stopping what she was doing, and let a breath out. She had feared this question. Only because they had a child on the way didn't mean she would consider Nikola as her property or let him think of her as his.
She sighed. If that child could bring them anything else than more complications to their relationship, it would be wisdom.
“I'd like to think it does change everything.” She said, honesty radiating from her every pore. “To the way you set off in the night whenever we don't see eye to eye. For instance. We have to find different ways of coping with our differences if we are to raise this child together.”
He gulped. That wasn't really the answer he had been hoping for, but he had to admit she had a point there. Starting a family would leash him to the Sanctuary. Permanently. It was a frightening concept. Although he did have his own lab, and quite the large selection of nice bottles. He shrugged.
“I was running out of excuses to haunt your little zoo.” He pointed out, looking at her sideways, smirking.
Helen leaned on the counter, facing his side.
“That's it, you see? You don't need an excuse to stay. So long as you respect my rules, my house is yours as well.” She assured.
He winced. He had felt that, a long time before. At least until James and Helen's relationship had deepened to the point where he no longer had had his place under the same roof. Or even in the same country, to be fair.
“I like the fact that we don't need to put words on what we are, what we have, you know?” She confessed, a soft smile on her lips. “But I guess we should really get to try and communicate more. If at all.” She suggested. He nodded, decidedly.
“Then I should tell you I was only half joking.” He sighed, putting his knife to the side of his cutting board, all his previous frustration vanished from his complexion. Helen searched his gaze, confused, and he shrugged.
“This morning. About marrying you. If a contract can help you believe I’m serious about staying around...” His words hung in the air.
For a few seconds, Helen was taken back to their Oxford days. He was wearing that very same expression of wonder he had had that day, when she had gripped his hand as he injected her with the source blood serum. He was resolute, it seemed, but unsure of her reaction. She softened, and on an impulse, she extended her hand to take his, gripping it the exact same way she had back then.
And she huffed.
“My, Nikola. I didn’t think you were so old-fashioned.” She whispered, smiling softly.
He looked at their hands and shrugged again. “Only when it counts.”
“Even if any country could legally unite two dead people, that’s not what I need.” She finally answered.
It wasn’t the first time Nikola had evoked that wish to make her his eternal bride. Except that this time, there was no underlying plan for world domination. It was the second time in four months that she saw him so raw. Which was, she reflected, a nice change if she were to open herself more to him.
“We’ve known each other for quite a long time. And still, our relationship has always been a dotted line.” She paused, and let her thumb run along Nikola’s palm. “Can we maintain what we have if we decide to live under the same roof without interruption for the next few centuries?”
He freed his hand from hers and turned back to his task. Helen’s heart missed a beat as it dawned on her that he was not as sure of himself as he usually was when talking about their future. He too was afraid. Afraid that their friendship fed on the distance, that they would get on each other’s nerves in the end or wake up one day with no trace of love left for the other, that a child wouldn’t be enough to hold them together. And – maybe – frightened that their mutual desire would eventually burn them and leave two cold bodies with tired minds.
Somehow, it comforted her to know that she was not a passing fancy to him. He was in earnest. She smiled to his back and crossed the distance between where she stood and the fridge to get eggs while he resumed cutting vegetables.
“I can’t see the future. But I’m willing to try my best to make it work. And not only for our daughter.” Nikola promised.
Helen closed the door of the fridge with a bump of her hip, and smiled. “Good.” She approved. “Because I intend to make it work too.”
They chatted amicably for the next half hour while cooking. They kept the conversation light enough, sharing their hopes of seeing a new Praxian Council that would be inclined to cooperate with the Sanctuary, and exchanging about their pending scientific research. Helen was fishing her last vegetable pancake out of the frying oil when Archibald came in, wearing not only his sarclonite pendant but also a large collection of bracelets made from the same isolating material, which made him look like he was just getting back from a fashion week.
She beamed at him.
“I'm delighted to see you've decided to join us for lunch” she said, carrying two plates loaded with pancakes to the table that Nikola had set for the occasion. Her brother shrugged.
“Might as well quench your friends' curiosity about me.”
The loud ‘pop’ of a cork being torn from a wine bottle directed their attention to Nikola, who pointed his corkscrew to Archibald.
“You see, that’s lesson number one there – There’s no quenching the chipmunks’ curiosity.” He corrected. “Give them the satisfaction of answering one question and they’ll think they can harass you with a thousand others.” Archibald glanced at Helen, looking for confirmation. She shrugged with a sorry smile.
“They have a bad habit of betting on personal details.” She added. “It can be quite profitable to have someone bet for you.”
Nikola’s hand flew to cover his heart, as his face took on a shocked expression.
“Helen! How shocking of you!” He exclaimed.
A satisfied smile came to grace her lips.
“Now, I’m not such a bad sport, I keep the gains and reinvest them in the losers.” She explained, defending herself.
Nikola’s eyes lit up, energy suddenly coursing through him in understanding, and Archibald could have sworn he was blushing, ever so slightly.
“You… That’s how Nigel was always wining our bets!” He realized.
There had been a day, back in Oxford, when he had lost every penny he owned in gambling. Nigel had been the only one to know about his debts. That’s why when he had found a jar full of money on his desk, he had thought his old pal had taken pity on him. Now he understood why Nigel Griffin had looked utterly lost when he had thanked him. He had not been modest – it simply wasn’t his money. Helen pursed her lips, squinting.
“Ow it took you so long to figure it out.” She said, grinning like the Cheshire cat.
Nikola didn’t have time to share how grateful he was that she had cured his gambling compulsion as the door opened again and Helen’s starving team entered, chatting joyfully. Kate and Garis were there, flanked by Will and Henry, who obviously had been filling them up with the last events surrounding the boss’ life. When they had all entered the room, Kate’s gaze went from Helen to Nikola and back, beaming, before she nudged her fiancé.
“You owe me.” She whispered to him.
Helen bit her lip, glancing sideways at her brother, who frowned, wondering if she had been a part of that bet as well.
Kate followed her gaze, and froze when she saw Archibald.
“Archibald?” She asked, her voice catching in her throat.
The aging man looked equally surprised as her, but the smile on his face was one of pure delight.
“Kate…” He greeted her, nodding. Henry and Will exchanged a questioning look.
“You know each other?” Abby asked, raising an eyebrow. Kate crossed the space that separated her from the older man and threw her arms around him, laughing in relief.
The force of the woman’s hug nearly suffocated him, but Archibald felt all the questions hanging in the air about them and he found enough force to answer at least one of them:
“This young lady here saved my life.”